Story Jam

Last week I participated in a Story Jam, an event where local writers read their works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry around the theme, “You give love a bad name.”

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That’s me reading about First Love

Sponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of the Women’s National Book Association (the original WNBA), and organized by local author, Rae Theodore, the Story Jam drew about thirty-five people–ten readers and twenty-five listeners. The owner of a local coffee shop,  Brewed Awakening, was gracious enough to open late for this special event.

As I listened to these brave souls share their work, I was struck once again by the amazing power of a prompt: give ten people–or twenty or fifty–a word, a phrase, some theme to write about, and you will get that many diverse responses. I see this every Tuesday morning at our Just Write writer’s group.

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Our ten brave storytellers

Look closely at this picture of all the writers who read their stories that night and you will see we are looking in all different directions–indicative of how we write–with unique views and unique voices.

Some of the varied takes on our theme involved First Love, Free Beer, Psycho Alcoholics, Ice Cream, and a Vengeful Wife.

As a reader, I experienced the power of having an audience, a mirror for your work. This is a lesson I am grateful to have learned at the Women’s Writing Circle. There is magic in oral storytelling, an alchemy that transpires between speaker and listener when written words are given voice. I can’t explain this in scientific terms, but I’m convinced there is research out there somewhere that would corroborate my claim.

wnba story jam flyers 2016What’s in a name? I tried to have a “reading” last year, but I couldn’t muster any interest. There was no theme, no exciting name like “story jam” or nifty flyers to pass around. My vision of a reading was of a sedate group of listeners pretending to be interested in hearing us read our stories. Having a theme brought cohesiveness, fun, and energy to the event, and having the backing of WNBA lent extra weight and officiality. I will put this in my “lessons learned” category.

These lessons could be applied to other arts as well. Imagine putting out a call for artwork surrounding the theme “You give love a bad name.” Or any theme. Perhaps a combination of arts.

Can you envision a room filled with works of art based on a theme, with authors reading, musicians performing, dancers dancing?

Can’t wait for the next Jam.

I Dream of A Writer’s Room

I have a vision in my head of a large room filled with writers, each with a private desk and comfortable chair, the perfect blend of privacy and camaraderie. Heads bent over laptops, fingers tapping, muses dancing in the air, stories being born. A creative haven–the Writer’s Room.

No, not the BBC-TV version.

BBC-TV, The Writer's Room

BBC-TV, The Writer’s Room

More like the New York and D.C. versions.

NY City Writer's Room

New York City Writer’s Room

DC Writer's Room

DC Writer’s Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How cool is that? A dedicated space just for writers. Published and emerging writers. Novelists, memoirists, and poets, oh my!

In this era of telecommuting, shared office spaces are springing up all over the country. Working from home sounds like nirvana until the loneliness sets in, or the laundry starts calling, or the phone won’t stop ringing with nuisance calls. It can provide a wonderful sense of freedom until you start to feel stagnant from lack of interaction with other humans that aren’t inside your head.

For these very reasons, Writer’s Rooms have existed since the 1970’s. In addition to providing a place for writers to go to get out of the house, a Writer’s Room is a community, a place where collective creative energy will invite the Muse and inspire great writing, (If more seclusion is needed, a good set of headphones can shut out distractions while you stay surrounded by community.)

Some comments from the DC Writer’s Room explain it best:

“Many writers, even writers with workspace at home, are finding that a totally distraction-free environment can do wonders for their focus and productivity.

Another often-mentioned benefit, interestingly, is the presence of other writers. Motivation and seriousness are highly contagious. Some writers also ­value the chance to talk with fellow writers in a social space like our kitchenette.” 

Writer’s Rooms generally have a tiered membership pricing schedule–a pay-as-you-go, monthly, quarterly, bi-annual, or annual fee for use of the space. For just over a year, I have tried what I call a seed experiment. For the price of coffee and breakfast, our writer’s group, Just Write, has reserved space at a local coffee shop every Monday morning for three hours. There might be as few as two or as many as ten writers on any given Monday.

 

Just Writing at Java's Brewin'

Just Writing at Java’s Brewin’

Novels have been written here, memoirs drafted, blogs posted. It is an atmosphere of focused intent and warm camaraderie. It is my dream to create a space where this atmosphere can thrive on a daily basis. My vision also includes a creativity room for brainstorming, workshops, classes, and coaching sessions.

It is a big dream, and I worry that it will remain just that–a dream. But I know that big things can happen with consistent small steps, so I will continue to put one foot in front of the other. Next steps: 1. Find a space to meet more frequently. 2. Impart the dream to more writers.

Where do you do your best writing? Do you have a writing community? Would you take advantage of a Writer’s Room if one were available in your area for a reasonable cost?

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….

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

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.

It's okay to write disjointedly

It’s okay to write disjointedly

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 

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.

Just Writing

Just Writing at Towne Book Center

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 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?