NaNoWriMo and A Sense of Possibility

First, an update on last week’s promise of new creative adventures. I was asked to participate in another anthology. (For information on the first anthology I was published in, see Slants of Light on my Stories page.) I was also asked to be on the core committee that will read and critique all the entries. My two favorite things, writing and editing!

Dreams and Possibilities

Dreams and Possibilities

 

As I work my way through chapter five of The Artist’s Way–Recovering a Sense of Possibility–I find myself thinking big thoughts, dreaming big dreams. This chapter is all about reviving that childlike ability to play and dream, both of which are essential to a creative life.

 

And speaking of possibilities, have you ever declared, “Someday I will write a novel”? Has a friend ever told you you should write a book? Well, I have good news for you. “Someday” is here. That’s right, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts tomorrow. Since it has been one of the most important writing adventures of my life, opening my mind to all sorts of creative possibilities, I think now is a good time to reprise an earlier post on the subject. I hope it will raise in you a Sense of Possibility.

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me.

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November is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to write a new novel. Yes, folks, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. This annual event is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. If you have never tried this, I highly recommend it. Here are some things I learned from my first NaNoWriMo that I have integrated into my writing life.

Your first draft is supposed to suck

Nobody writes a perfect first draft. Writing a first draft quickly allows you get past your inner censor and get the story out. I love my inner editor. He keeps me in line and saves me from putting out sloppy work. But I had to send him on vacation in November. He deserves it, believe me; he works overtime the other eleven months of the year. This way I was able to free myself to write uncritically, creatively, messily, knowing that he would be back to clean things up later. I can trust that I am not going to lose all my training and skills if I just let go and let myself create.

My inner editor spends November in Barbados

My inner editor spends November in Barbados

Just keep writing

Once I learned to ignore my inner critic, the words started to flow. It wasn’t always easy. I squinted, I squirmed, I winced at my mundane prose and horrible dialogue. But I kept on writing, and magic happened. Characters took shape, backstories developed, scenes rolled out before me. I cringed at unexpected violent scenes; I giggled at the naughty bits as I tapped out love scenes. And I kept on writing.

You don’t have to write from A to Z

It's okay to write disjointedly

It’s okay to write disjointedly

I gave myself permission to write disjointedly–a scene here, a character sketch there. Beautiful imperfection. Until week four, I didn’t know how–or if–it would all fit together. All the parts seemed to be scattered about like a car waiting to be assembled. When November’s over and the editor’s back, you can rearrange scenes and connect the dots. Using writing software such as Scrivener makes this easier, but it’s not necessary.

 

The power of focused intent

I learned that when I allow myself the freedom to focus intently on one purpose, the world around me and within me will cooperate with my efforts. Dreams, experiences, conversations, ideas out of thin air all fed into my story. So where did they come from? The mystery and the magic of focused intent.

Creativity loves company 

Just Writing

Just Writing

I think we all have that vision in our minds of the lonely writer hunkered over a typewriter. In my mind this image is as outdated as the typewriter. Until I participated in NaNoWriMo, I was always thought I needed quiet, distraction-free work time and space. But I discovered I could write in coffee shops, in bookstores, in my basement, even in the car (not while driving, of course). I worked alone or with others at the weekly write-ins. I learned that distractions can be harnessed into creative avenues. Being surrounded by books in a library or bookstore generates creative energy. That energy becomes electric when the room is full of others writing with abandon toward the same goal.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish

Perhaps the most surprising lesson NaNoWriMo taught me is that creativity is never a selfish act. Taking time for yourself and your dreams feeds your spirit, giving you more to give in return. But before embarking on an endeavor like this, it is important to enlist the support of family and friends. Let them know that you will not be as accessible during November as you are the rest of the rest of the year, but that you will emerge a better you for having accomplished such a monumental goal. Better yet, recruit them to take the challenge with you.

The all powerful deadline

To quote NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty, “A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form…The bigger the artistic project, the more it needs a deadline to keep marshaling those shy ideas out onto the world’s stage.” (No Plot? No Problem! p. 26) I don’t know about you, but I find that self-imposed deadlines tend to keep slipping by, leaving guilt and discouragement in their wake. Adopting the thirty-day deadline imposes an outside force on the creative process that squeezes out those “shy ideas”–the best ideas we tend to edit out if given too much time.

“One day” is here

National Novel Writing Month is for everyone who aspires to write a novel one day. What better time to start that journey than when hundreds of thousands are walking (or running) that path with you.

Will you take up the challenge this November?

A Sense of Integrity

Continuing my series on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I come to chapter four–Recovering a Sense of Integrity. The definition of integrity is “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” Did I really need to recover my soundness of moral character? I don’t think I ever lost it. But I will admit, I’m not always honest with myself. Integrity is also being true to yourself, “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.”
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So, I will be honest with you, my readers, and tell you that I am having a difficult time stringing two thoughts together this morning. I will be true to myself and not try to conjure up some happy horse manure. I feel as if my brain got derailed and I can’t get back on track.
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Brain derailed

Four nights ago I was on my way to my Artist’s Date, a Native American Drum Circle. After winding my way through dark, narrow country roads for nearly two hours, including two wrong turns, I was frustrated, angry, and late. Three minutes from my destination, a deer popped up out of nowhere and hit my car. I slammed on the brakes and she rose up on hind legs, front hooves pawing the air above my hood, then disappeared.
I screamed, crying hysterically, horrified that I might have hurt this beautiful, gentle animal–and in all honesty, enraged at yet another obstacle that would make me even later to my meeting. After a few minutes, I gathered myself, turned the car around to see how badly the doe was hurt. She was gone and left no trace.
When I finally arrived at Drum Circle and told the group what happened, my wise teacher of Native American ways looked at me, slowly nodded and said, “Deer medicine. Hmmm, creativity, gentleness, new adventures.”
Where is she leading me?

Where is she leading me?

Animal “medicine,” in Native American culture, is the essence of an animal and what that being has to teach us. There are countless stories and myths of deer luring hunters deeper into the woods until they are lost and encounter a new adventure. I have been pondering all week on what new adventures in creativity this animal guide might have in store for me.
Stay tuned.

A Sense of Power

I have to report a major victory this week. About two months ago, I announced to my writing group that I would finish a short story and submit it to the Writer’s Digest popular fiction contest. I made my intentions public in order to have some accountability. When the September 15th early bird deadline whistled past my ear, I got mad at myself for, once again, missing a goal.

In Chapter three of The Artist’s Way, Recovering a Sense of Power, Julia Cameron writes about anger. For most of us nice people our typical reaction to anger is to suppress it, tamp it down, swallow it. But anger, Cameron says, is a map. It shows us boundaries, and if we listen to it, anger can show us where we want to go.

Anger can point the way

Anger can point the way

My anger at missing yet another deadline told me it’s time to get serious about my writing goals.

I wrote an affirmation on my mirror: “I finish what I start.” I read it out loud every day, and as the October 15th final deadline approached, I got serious. I made a commitment, and I was determined to keep it. Clicking that “submit” button gave me a sense of power.

I did it!

I did it!

I had wrestled my doubts, set boundaries on my writing time, fought perfectionism, procrastinated away my procrastination.

I finish what I start. It is an empowering step in the direction of another of my affirmations: “I am a brilliant and prolific writer.” (Yes, I cringe to call myself brilliant.) Maybe I should switch those two adjectives. Isn’t “prolific” the path to “brilliant”? Practice, practice, practice.

Do you get mad at yourself for falling short of your goals, or at someone else for being more successful? Don’t ignore or deny or bury it. Anger turned inward can morph into depression. Translate that anger. Read the map. Where is it leading you?

Sense of Identity

As I gather my thoughts for this next post, I realize that I am tired of writing about fears and doubts, and that means I’m making progress. After all, getting past all that is what The Artist’s Way is all about. Recognizing the source of those roadblocks is the first step to getting past them.

I am reminded of an incident that happened several years ago while tentatively taking my first steps back to my passion for writing. A well-known local author asked me what I was writing, and I responded with mumbling uncertainty. Instead of encouraging me, he treated

Dismissive – feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration.

Dismissive – feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration.

me in a dismissive and, I felt, arrogant way. I felt small, unwelcome, and unworthy. I have never returned to that writing group, thus limiting my network of fellow writers and mentors.

A gentleman in our Artist’s Way cluster related a story from years back when someone told him he couldn’t sing. This budding musician laid down his guitar and gave up his dream.

Another woman told of her sisters dismissing her creativity and never being interested in what she had to say.

The world is rife with these stories of artistic injuries. Sometimes well-meaning, sometimes intentionally hurtful, they diminish our self-identity as writers, musicians, artists and cause us to bury those passions.

So, how do we recover that identity? Face down the old hurts and turn those negative thoughts around. I started calling myself a writer before I believed I’d earned the right to do so. I found a more nurturing group of writers and eventually created my own group to nurture others. (See Just Write.)

My musician friend has picked up his guitar again and started taking voice lessons. The artist is allowing herself to explore colors and textures again.

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What keeps you from indulging your creativity? Seek out those old injuries and tell yourself you deserve to nurture that part of yourself. Say it: “I am a writer.” “I am an artist.” “I am a musician.” It will feel false and weird at first. When I read the affirmation scrawled on my mirror, “I am a brilliant and prolific writer,” I still hear the evil laughter in the back of my mind. But someday….

A Sense of Safety

I’m back with my second post in a week. That’s progress, folks!

As promised, I’m blogging my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and this week I’ll cover the first two chapters, Basic Tools and Recovering a Sense of Safety (which is actually chapter one). That’s a lot of material, so I’ll touch on the highlights.

Morning Pages
What are the basic tools for “Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self”? The first tool espoused by Cameron is a practice called Morning Pages–three pages of stream-of-consciousess, longhand writing done first thing in the morning.

Write Morning Pages

Write Morning Pages

The purpose, basically, is to dump the brain sludge onto the page and write your way to some clear thinking. And it’s not just for writers. Everyone–and I think creative people especially–suffers from the inner critic and negative self talk. If you’ve read my previous posts you know this is a recurring theme with me.

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Don’t share your Morning Pages

Morning Pages, or MP3’s, as my friend Jan calls them, are not meant to be read by anyone, even you.

So what’s the point? In between the “blah, blah, blah” new ideas will surface. Ideas for changing your circumstances or plans for a new story or art project. You won’t be able to stay stuck. As Cameron puts it, “It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action.” (p. 15)

Artist’s Dates
The artist within us needs nurturing and something many people find frightening–alone time. An artist date is a block of time set aside for yourself and your creative inner child. It might be a walk at sunset or it might be a visit to an art museum. This week I went to a craft store and bought all kinds of fun stuff to experiment with.

Morning pages are for sending–dissatisfactions, hopes, dreams. Artist’s dates are for receiving inspiration, guidance, insight.

Negative Self Talk and Affirmations
When those critical thoughts raise their ugly heads, bat them down with a positive statement about yourself, even though it doesn’t feel true at the time. 
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I have to admit, this is the hard part for me. Oh, not the negative part, I’m really good at that. But turning those negative thoughts around to say something positive about myself, that makes me uncomfortable.

Another woman in our group is great at it. She gave me a paint pen to write affirmations on my mirror, but I haven’t done it yet. That will be one of my goals for next week.

Cat-Lion-Mirror

Perception is everything

I will let you know if affirmations really work. Have you tried them? Did it work for you?

Oh and P.S.–I have decided to tie my weight loss goals to this creative journey. One pound per week will have that lion in the mirror looking a bit more slender and feeling healthier. One down, eleven to go!