Eating Poetry for Breakfast

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Daily rituals and habits have always fascinated me. You barely notice your own rituals and habits until you either don’t/can’t do them for some reason or if someone points them out to you.

What are your daily creative rituals? What kickstarts your day?

I am not a morning person. Partly because as an insomniac I often only manage to finally get to sleep in the early hours around dawn. Partly because waking to me is a form of cruelty because I always feel like I am being cheated from getting a proper rest.

“We all have morning rituals that give us the comfort of familiarity even if our days are unknowns.”
― Maria Alexandra Vettese, A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart

Mornings are one of the times of day when most of us enact certain rituals to kick start our day. We have a certain ritualistic schedule of mundane tasks that ready us for whatever the day may bring.
From waking up and having a mug of coffee – although sometimes I feel like an intravenous injection is needed – to having a shower, to choosing your outfit for the day and making yourself presentable and finally to eating breakfast.
The order you do these things in may be different and you may not be a morning breakfast type of person.

““When you wake up in the morning, Pooh”, said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for Breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing” he said.”
– Winnie The Pooh

But you do eat breakfast. It doesn’t matter whether you do it in the morning after waking up or later on in the day. That first meal, that first refueling of your body, is your wake up moment.

A few years ago I read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It resonated with me in so many ways. But one of the most important tools I learnt through that was the Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning.
*There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow. ~ Julia Cameron

Until recently I was only doing the morning pages when I was stuck creatively and feeling uninspired. This wasn’t happening every day. I found I was journaling more at the end of my day rather than the start.
But recently this has started changing. My “morning pages” have changed. They have turned into “Morning Motivation” – little pep talks I write to myself to begin – but even more recently I have added another “morning” ritual to my day.

Just as my body needs a breakfast to break the fast of the night, I felt like my mind needed a creative breakfast to awaken my brain cells. For me, the initial morning pages and then followed by the motivation pages just weren’t cutting it. For some reason it wasn’t unlocking my creativity in my sluggish morning-insomniac-induced-hungover brain.

But things have been changing and all because I am now getting the right creative break-fast for my brain.

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep. ~ Salman Rushdie

I have started eating poetry for breakfast.

I am making it a habit to start the day with poetry. First, I write down a poem or two. (I always “write” my poetry. I need that cathartic, physical process of putting pen to paper.) Then I put aside those raw pieces of poetry and spend some time reading others’ poetry. Often this state of reading will have me putting pen to paper in some more poetry of my own. Before long, my brain’s creative side zings into wakefulness and suddenly I am not feeling so sluggish.

The courage of the poet is to keep ajar the door that leads into madness. ― Christopher Morley

For me poetry is the purest form of art. Poetry is the one that truly moves me to feel those down-deep emotions we all feel: the emotions that don’t have a name. Poetry is also the most creative form of art for me. I love playing with images, words, moods, sounds, the surreal and emotions; poetry is the one space I get to do all this.

Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers. – Yevgeny Yevtushenko

So starting my day with a daily ritual of “eating” poetry for break-fast allows me to enter that creative space immediately. It is a key to that fearless place in me. I need to get into that fearless space each day because then I can face my prose without doubt and filled up with the fearlessness that is poetry for me.

What is your break-fast ritual to kick start your creativity?
Have you tried morning pages or your own version?
Do you refuel with any other art – mine is poetry, yours might be; music, dance, sketching, painting, pottery, sculpture – every morning?
What’s your “poetry” to break-the-creativity-fast
?

The Cost of Creativity: Unblocking the dam before it breaks me

*Warning: This post is messy and doesn’t sugar-coat the ugly truth and is a personal confessional of sorts*

Writing is hard work. Writing is especially difficult when you are expected to plumb through the dreck, muck & mire in real life dramas to find a spark of creativity. Non-writers who think that writing a story is easy have obviously never tried themselves. Life is no easier for a writer than it is for a non-writer. There is no “escape” from real life dramas. Real life is Messy at the best of times and at the worst of times it takes all your strength to keep swimming to keep yourself from sinking and drowning. Sometimes the mess that is LIFE drains all the energy – both physical and mental – out of you and you are as creative as a dried-up sponge with all the water squeezed out of it. It is so tempting to stop swimming and just let the tide take you. You tell yourself “It is not giving up. It is just giving in to the inevitable.”. You wonder what the point of fighting it all is for. Why bother to keep swimming if the tide is going to overpower you and wash you out to sea eventually?

The thing is LIFE is a journey and not a destination. Nobody said it would be a vacation. Nobody said it would be fair. Nobody said it would be easy. Nobody said there would be enough good to balance out the bad. Creative people are by nature more emotional and more sensitive. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and with every tear and every scar from our lives we flesh out our characters, shade our stories with emotional truths and try to make sense of the MESS. But sometimes real life truths are too painful to plumb for a creative spark and a kernel of inspiration. Sometimes the last thing we want to do is rehash real life in a story. Even fiction has an underlying element of emotional truth. And sometimes it is easier to believe the white lies than face the truths. This is when writing is hard for me. This is when I go into hiding from my own creativity. This is where I have been living for the past two months. Although ‘living’ is an optimistic term because really all I have been doing is ‘surviving’ at the best and treading water just keeping my head clear enough to gasp out a few breaths at the worst.

Usually writing helps keep me sane. Only 3 times in my life have I been in hibernation from writing and now is one of those times. I look at my screen and the flashing cursor mocks me. I take out my notebooks and try to write down words, any words at this point will do. But the words don’t come. It feels like I have a dam inside me just about bursting through the walls of my heart. I know I should let the dam wash through but I am scared the heaviness of the waters will pull me under. So instead I tamp down on the dam’s strength, I build the walls higher and bolster them with false euphemisms, easy white lies I tell myself. Every time I look at the screen or open a blank page of my notebook I know what I want to write but they are not good words, not a creative spark. They are dark thoughts, heavy emotions and poisonous threads that will weave themselves into a cobweb around my words and my creativity.

As I write this post I realise though that I am a writer and words are my way of dealing with crap that I don’t want to deal with. Which is why the cursor mocks me, the blank note-page empty of ink splotches mocks me. Because I am fooling nobody but myself. I don’t want to process the dark emotions. I want to hibernate from everything but especially words. Because one thing I cannot do is write a white lie to make things easier. That is just not how I am built. My words are the truest part of me. When I want to take a vacation from my real life I escape into the world of stories. I realise I have been blocking myself. I am my writer’s block. Hibernation and not writing is easier but it kills me a little more inside. I am the dam wall holding back the words, keeping the emotions at bay. Life should not be about surviving. It should be about LIVING and that means the dark shades are as important to colour in as the light shades are. Perhaps the darkest shades are the ones we need the most because if there is no dark there need be no light. I am ready to un-dam those waters and let the dark words out so the spark of a match will lead me back to my creativity and back to my place of sanity: writing. I have to remind myself  that even the rubbish words are still words. As scary as it is, it is time to un-dam the words. Otherwise I may as well just give up now. I am too stubborn to give up yet.

I am reminded by an old saying that some parents tell their toddlers: USE YOUR WORDS. 

How do you find the creative in the dreck of real life drama?

Have you ever felt like you were your own wall, your own block?

How did you work through it?

I leave you with the advice of one of my heroes: F. Scott Fitzgerald. A man who knew the darkness and wrote a way out of it.

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

*Aside: For my writer friends out there, this is a great letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald about the price one needs to pay to be a successful writer. 
A little background, in late 1938, eager to gain some feedback on her work, aspiring young author and Radcliffe sophomore Frances Turnbull sent a copy of her latest story to celebrated novelist and friend of the family, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before long the feedback arrived, in the form of the somewhat harsh but admirably honest reply seen above.*
[Source: F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters; Image: F. Scott Fitzgerald, via. Globe Bookstore and Cafe (facebook)]
***
The greatest creative minds don’t waste time telling white lies and don’t waste words sugar-coating the ugly truths. They dive into the deepest tides of that sinking mud and they get messy with the truth. They embrace the dark to give the light a canvas to shine from.

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Monday’s Mental Muscles | Beating Procrastination

 

Procrastination = gift wrapped in all sorts of packaging…

We have all been there. You are halfway through your WIP or halfway through your edits and suddenly there are a whole lot of pressing tasks that come up that have to be completed before you can continue with your writing/editing on the WIP. In steps our old frenemy “Procrastination”…

Frenemy, I hear you say, scratching your temple? Yes Frenemy. Not all Procrastination is necessarily bad. Now, don’t get me wrong I hate procrastination even while I find myself slipping into its slippery clutches again and again. Why do we procrastinate?

We procrastinate when a task becomes too difficult or too boring or feels too routine. As writers, we have all reached that part in the novel when you just want it written to get to the next climactic scene. In editing, you may have found that scene or two that needs to be cut but you just don’t want to cut it because every time you attempt to you remember how much work that scene took to write. So in steps our frenemy “Procrastination” and we go willingly hand in hand down a slippery slope of time-suck.

Procrastination can come in many forms. It can come in the form of household errands that just have to be done because if you don’t fo them, they will just pile up. It can come in the form of checking and responding to emails. It can some in the form of our favourite buzz-word: social networking. It can come in the form of perfectionism.

Perfectionism? How can that be a form of Procrastination?

Perfectionism is the ultimate procrastination for a writer with a perfectionist Type A personality. A perfectionist is never happy with their work, it is never good enough for them. So they will write and rewrite a scene 100 times and reading over it, they will still find something to perfect, correct and change. Don’t even get me started on the editing process.

I confess I am a Perfectionist. It is a gift and a curse. It also makes me my own worst enemy. My work is never good enough and never quite edited enough or grammatically perfect enough for me to step away feeling happy. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I see all the glaring faults – whether they are actually there or not. It is not fun.

So what do I do to ward off this facet of Procrastination? Do I need to ward it off? Surely it is good to be a perfectionist and want the best manuscript to go out into the public eye. Yes I do want to ward it off. If I don’t stop perfectionism in its tracks, I will not ever let go of my WIP. I will still be making changes 20 years from now. Seriously, I am not kidding.

So if your Procrastination comes as Frenemy “Perfectionism, here are some ways you can counteract this or use it to your benefit…

  • Set yourself a minimum times you will rewrite a scene. (Three is usually a good number for me. It appeases the perfectionist professor in me but also makes sure I don’t procrastinate with the perfectionism for too long a time.)
  • Have at least three writing buddies who will make you turn over your WIP to for a read-through. 
  • The writing buddies will also come in handy in making you accountable. (Your butt may get a tad tender from the kicks but it is worth it.)
  • Set yourself both writing and editing time in the day. (The editing will again appease your Perfectionist.)
  • Join in something like NaNoWriMo to turn off that internal editor.
  • Practice Morning Pages – these are 3 A4 longhand written pages that you write first thing in the morning and do not go back over. (This will help the creative flow in your brain and put a stopper in the perfectionist.)
  • Start a journal – this will have the same benefits as the morning pages in blocking creative thought.
  • Write in shorter spurts of time. (You will have less time in front of the screen to be losing focus on trying to nitpick faults.)
  • Critique someone else’s manuscript – or even read a book and critique it – focusing on someone else’s faults will leave you less time to focus on your own faults.
  • Try writing your first drafts longhand. (I don’t know what it is about the effort of longhand writing but I am less eager to find fault with it then on the screen with the ease of a delete button or a backspace button.
  • If all else fails, step away from the WIP and take a walk outside. Going to the gym or going for a run will also work. Both the fresh air and the physical exertion will tire out the perfectionist in you. The outside air and exercise will also give you positive vibes which means you will be less inclined to look at your work negatively.

 

How does Procrastination come packaged in your world? 

What tips or exercises do you use/do to ward it off?

Do you procrastinate more in the drafting or the editing stage of your WIP?

Middle Book Blues Magic | Leigh K Hunt

Today I have the pleasure of Leigh K Hunt guest posting. She comes with a wand of magic dust that she is going to use to blow magic back into your manuscript.

We all have those times in a manuscript when we hit a crossroads. We may have been excited by the beginning and can’t wait to write the climax but then there is that pesky middle that we have to get through. We know we have to get through it, there is no other way to the climax. We may read over what we have written and just think it is rubbish because it is not moving fast enough.

Slowly a whirlpool starts pooling at out fingertips and we feel ourselves sucked into a vortex that threatens to overwhelm us. Leigh calls this the Middle Book Blues. Our fight or flight response kicks in. Do we give up or do we forge ahead, sword waving. So if you are at this point, Leigh is going to tell you how to fight back and refuse to give in or give up. She is going to give you some tips, from her own experience, on how to blow magic back into your manuscript.

 

Blowing a little MAGIC back into your Manuscript

 

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago – if I hit the middle of the book with nowhere to go, I would stop writing, shove that blasted manuscript in my drawer, and walk away from it forever. I would give up on it… Somehow, I could always justify it to myself. “It’s just wasn’t worth the angst,” I would say. Then I would start on the next book that I had been dreaming up. 

It wasn’t until I had done this to three or four different novels that I realised something incredibly significant to me. It wasn’t writer’s block that I was suffering from. It was the Middle Book Blues. 

You see… Writing the middle of the book wasn’t like writing the rest of it. It wasn’t all shiny and new like the start. I was no longer developing and getting to know my characters. I wasn’t setting the scene and spending loads of time really discovering what was going on. I wasn’t setting out on a new journey. There was no longer any of that excitement. 

It’s not the end of the novel either, where you are tying up all the loose ends, everything is exciting, and you feel as though you are on a rollercoaster ride of writing adrenaline. 

Nope. The middle of the book just wasn’t exciting. I felt starved of action. And in feeling starved, I lost all motivation to bother finishing it. There was just something that stopping me connecting with the book, the characters, or the storyline.  

I figured it out. 

My characters were too happy! Yes, they were just living their lives… happily! That is boring. There are no happy middles in good books. Happy characters and happy scenes make for some pretty boring writing and reading. And the only way I discovered that, was by actually being there. Then I would throw my manuscripts into my dusty literary drawer. 

So, how do you get yourself out of the Middle Book Blues? Well. It’s simple.

  • Create mass destruction of your character’s lives. I am not kidding.

There is nothing quite like throwing horrific events at your character and watching them work their way out of it. When this happens, there is a huge emotional pay off for your book, your characters, the situation – but most of all – for you as the writer.

In the planning stages of the book, or at least when you get to know your character a little.

  • Write down five things that would be devastate your character, and make them happen.

It doesn’t have to be horrific. Not all of us write like that. An example would be if your character is a materialistic millionaire, then taking all of their money way would force some sort of drama, action, and change to that character. 

Suddenly, the middle of the book becomes exciting again, and more importantly – it’s exciting to write. You learn more and more about the boundaries of your character, and your readers become more emotionally invested in your character’s plight. This in turn creates action, reaction, and commitment. 

Writing your way out of the Middle Book Blues with action will turn your novel into a well-paced and riveting read. Before you know it, you’re wrapping it up, and ending it. 

Remember this: There is no happiness in the middle. The only way out of the Middle Book Blues, is to write your way out. If you find yourself floundering… ask yourself,

‘What is the worst thing that I can do to my character?’ And do it. 

Leigh K Hunt can be found online at:

Her Author’s website 

Her Writing Blog 

Soul Photographs

Art Journal: April 4 - from Blissjournaling Gr...
Image by juliejordanscott via Flickr

Dear Reader,

Photography….sometimes when you look through the lens of a camera you are able to see true depth. The red indians used to believe that when they were photographed that a piece of their soul was stolen for the time that the photograph was taken. I think that there could be something to that. A photograph is a modern marvel that has allowed us to capture moments and emotions and keep them for posterity. You see a beautiful sunset and you may remember it for a few hours or a few days…but if you have photographed it…every time you look at the photograph you are taken back to that moment in time and are able to recapture that moment.

I think beauty forever alters the soul. The important thing is to search for the beautiful in the ordinary. Our lives are filled with beautiful moments but so often we miss sight of these moments because we are so caught up in living. We need to be more observant.

We need to have a soul-photograph of moments of beauty…

Think of an incoming wave…or the arch of a rainbow…or the petal of a daisy…so many very beautiful things and moments surround us daily. Let me not rush through life and rush through living. Life is so short that I must search for inspiration every day in the things around me. I want to take soul-photographs….I want to capture the beautiful, the extraordinary, the amazing, the miraculous….and all of these things are brought into my life daily. Let me not take life for granted. It is the most precious and rare commodity in this life.

I have just had an A-Ha moment…

I write daily morning pages in an unedited diary-style. I got this inspiration from a wonderful book called “The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron”. (If you have not read this wonderful book, please get yourself a copy….)

I call these morning pages My Soul-Photographs. This is truly what they are…photographs caught of my soul early in the morning…This is a way of unlocking my creative juices and sometimes allows me to even unlock the creative imagination locked into my dreams.

How do you exercise your creative mind? Do you have a ritual…?


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