Journal Mining

Day after day, month after month, year by year, I scribble my thoughts in journals, sometimes faithfully, at other times skipping whole chunks of time. I will call them journals, although most are Morning Pages–three pages daily of stream of consciousness handwriting, as prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.

Scribble Stix

Scribble Stix

Many days I wonder what purpose this serves, dumping my thoughts onto the page, as I rarely go back to read them. Recently, though, I committed to contributing a piece to an anthology themed “Life Unexpected.”

A couple of fitting experiences came immediately to mind, so I looked to my journals to refresh the details. After retrieving nearly ten years of notebooks from various places I’d stashed them, I stacked them in chronological order, isolated the time period I wanted to focus on, and started reading.

IMG_1531Memories, and the accompanying emotions flooded back. I sensed that I was holding the feelings at bay, like viewing events through a telescopic lens. Was this because I have achieved a level of detachment that only time can provide? Or are those emotions still locked away, trapped in the pages of the notebooks?

I told myself, I’m just skimming now–strip mining, so to speak. Strip mining is a practice used to remove overlying soil or rock, waste material that covers up the rich minerals underneath. The reference seems appropriate here; I unearth a gem now and then, like this quote from Mona Eltahawy:

“As a writer it is my duty to poke the painful places.”

IMG_1537My journals are where I “poke the painful places.” Revisiting those rough times–the life unexpected–I extract the lessons learned and, through the alchemy of writing, transform them into gold.

At least that is my goal–to transmute my experiences into stories  others can identify with and benefit from.

 

Do you journal or write Morning Pages? Do you mine them for material or keep them, and the stories they contain, locked away?

 

 

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?

A Sense of Faith

The twelfth and final chapter of The Artist’s Way is so rich and full it is difficult to sum it all up. Here are a few tidbits from each section.

Trusting
Faith is the underpinning of creativity, and faith requires loosening our death grip on control. That is a frightening proposition. But look around you. Take a close look at your life and you will discover that control is an illusion. The effort it takes to maintain this illusion often creates confusion, anxiety, and depression.

Let go. Trust yourself, your own inner voice. Have faith in the Source of that “still, small voice” of inspiration. Try using these affirmations to bolster your confidence: “I know the things I know.” “I trust my own inner guide.”

Mystery
“Creativity–like human life itself–begins in darkness.” (p. 194) Inspiration often seems like it comes in a flash of light, but in reality ideas have been swirling around under the surface, in the “delicious dark,” gestating until they are ready to see the light of day. Trust the darkness.

“So you see, imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” Brenda Ueland (p. 22)

This “moodling,” or mulling on the page, in Morning Pages can at times seem pointless. Have faith in the process.

Escape Velocity
Escape velocity is a term Cameron uses to describe that point in time when you are ready to launch into a new realm. Whether it’s leaving behind a bad relationship, a stifling job, or old, unproductive patterns, you’ve built yourself up, you’ve prepared, you’re ready to go. Then…bam. Something–or someone–throws you off course.

This is the story of my last few weeks. I was flying high, excited about the growth I’ve experienced through The Artist’s Way process, planning new creative adventures for the new year, posting a weekly blog. Then came “The Test.”

The busyness and increased expectations of the holidays, which I wrote about in my last post. A sick elderly parent needs extra help. My own physical limitations and mood swings slow me down. These are all a normal part of my life at this point. I’m learning to ride the ebbs and flows and trust my resolve to pass those tests in whatever form they take.

What are the tests you encounter when you reach “escape velocity”?

sailboatinpeacefulwaters-300x225

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” André Gide

Go forth, brave souls, and create! You will make the world a better place.

 

A Sense of Self-Protection

Chapter ten–almost through the twelve-week Artist’s Way recovery course–is where we learn about recovering a sense of self-protection. We all need to learn to protect ourselves from the crazymakers in our lives (see chapter two) and when to say “no” to infringements on our creative time and space.

But I took a different twist on this chapter. Cameron writes about the “dangers of the trail.”  When creative energy starts to flow and you’re not sure where it’s leading, you might feel shaky and out of control. Where is this path taking me? You slam your foot on the brakes; your artist child sits down in the middle of the road and refuses to take another step. This, in a sense, is another form of self-protection: we protect ourselves from fear of the unknown.

As a writer, I have heard and read, written, and spoken a lot about writer’s block, but I am only recently beginning to understand that there is only one thing responsible for writer’s block: ME. Wether we realize it or not, we all have our favorite ways to block creativity (because, you know, that Muse can be a scary bitch).

My go-to blocks are sleep, daydreaming, reading, television, and Facebook. And sometimes food. I need a muffin. Now.

For some, alcohol, drugs, or destructive relationships might be the chosen blocks. Others escape into busyness–work, work, work to numb out those nerve-wracking creative ideas.

How to stop reaching for blocks? Make friends with creativity-induced anxiety. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety and use it to fuel your imagination. Put on some calming music, or whatever music motivates you and helps you focus. Exercise. A simple twenty minute walk can calm nervous energy, un-jumble anxious thoughts, and bring clarity to your path forward.

I don’t mean to over simplify what can sometimes be a crippling issue, but here is another situation where small steps can bring about big changes. If you recognize that your artistic blocks might be self-induced, that can be the first step to overcoming them.

o-CALIFORNIA-DROUGHT-facebookIt is easy to confuse a block with a time of drought. While blocks are often self-induced, droughts “appear from nowhere and stretch to the horizon like a Death Valley vista.” (p.169).

 

A creative block is when the Muse is speaking, but we are not listening. In a drought, she is silent. “A drought is a tearless time of grief. We are between dreams.” (p. 170) I am learning to appreciate these periods as a time of gestation. A new dream is being implanted.

But how can anything grow in that parched landscape? Think of your morning pages as rain. To continue the practice of writing, stream of consciousness, three pages every morning when you feel it is an empty exercise–that is an act of faith. It will water the tiny seed that you may not be aware of yet and eventually, it will bloom and the drought will end.bloom-where-planted

What do you do when you feel creative energy carrying you along at a faster pace than you want to go, or you’re not sure what direction it’s leading you? Do you go with the flow or do you go into self-protection mode and reach for one of your favorite blocking devices to slow things down? Are you even aware that is what you are doing?

Have you experienced a creative drought? Are you in one now? Hang in there. Keep writing morning pages, and a path will emerge.

A Sense of Connection

With chapter seven, we pass the halfway point on The Artist’s Way journey. I should say the halfway point of the book, because the journey will continue long after we have completed the reading, tasks, and exercises. Morning Pages, for many, become a lifetime practice.

So we come to Recovering a Sense of Connection. Connection to what? The creative energies that live all around and within us. By learning to listen, we find that art is more a matter of getting something down than thinking something up.

Artists are the conduits of creative ideas

Artists are the conduits of creative ideas

 

In other words, “we are more the conduit than the creator of what we express.” (p.118) A conduit can take many shapes and forms, even colors, just as artists are able to receive an idea and shape it by their own personality, adding the color of their own voice.

Make listening a part of your artistic practice. Meditate, go for a walk, or turn off the television as you go about your daily chores. Give those creative ideas a chance to find their way through all the noise.

I think my favorite topic of this chapter, and perhaps the whole book, is that of perfectionism. I have often heard people say with pride, “I am a perfectionist.” But is perfectionism more of a hindrance than a help in the life of an artist? Cameron proposes that, “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.” (p. 120)

Don't confuse excellence with perfection

Don’t confuse excellence with perfection

The fear of not doing something perfectly can prevent someone from ever trying in the first place. I used to be so hobbled by this, that I could stare at a blank page for hours, waiting for that perfect first sentence to take shape in my mind. National Novel Writing Month cured me of that for the most part, as it taught me the value of a first draft, though I still struggle at times.

Don’t confuse excellence with perfection. We can always strive for excellence. Perfection belongs to a higher realm.

 

I hope these posts have encouraged and inspired you on your creative path. What are some methods you use to listen for that creative voice? Does perfectionism prevent you form pursuing those ideas?