Bringing out the best (or: Git ‘Er Done)

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“How many people die with their best work still inside them?”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sadder question.

That’s the opening of James Clear’s piece for The Huffington Post called “The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers (And How They Can Help You Succeed).”

I landed on that post because I always find myself in myriad writing conundrums, and I have a deep fear they will prevent me from ever getting that “best work” out.

There, I said it.

Grab a cup of tea or a pint of beer, people, we might be here awhile.

I started writing with an intent to publish in the early 1990s, when I was instantly smitten with my first journalism class. I felt so fearless then… Since that class I have written a lot. Some of it crap, some of it good, some of it – if I may say so myself – pretty great.

But when people ask what I do, I list a lot of other things before saying, “Oh, and I write.” I say it like that because I often feel like a fraud. There are days – weeks, even months – during which I do nothing but nag myself about not writing. I do countless other creative things during those times (I actually said to myself recently, “Now why in the world didn’t I become a carpenter?”), but writing just somehow doesn’t seem to happen.

Eventually, I always get back to it, and it’s usually because I read something that inspires me. I’m always reading something, but rarely does it have this thrilling effect. It’s amazing when I start feeling like a writer again, and I start creating. There’s nothing like it. I just never know how long it’s going to last.

I don’t know if this is normal. I don’t know if taking such long breaks is an acceptable part of the writing process, or it’s a necessary part of my personal process. I do know that the energy I spend feeling guilty about not writing would be better served being channeled into the actual writing, even if it’s subpar. Right?

I’ve heard countless successful writers talk about consistently reaching a set word count per day, or writing every day at a specific time, without fail. “When you can’t create, you can work,” Henry Miller once said. Those writers are able to treat writing as a job when they aren’t feeling the passion, and that, I realize, is what makes the difference between an okay writer and a great one. Or even just a published author and an unpublished one, greatness aside. Practice.

I have always struggled to keep – er, create – a writing schedule. I come up with countless reasons to justify procrastinating. It was easier not to do this with news writing because the central ideas of the articles weren’t my own; I interpreted them, sprinkled them with quotes, explained them (to give a simplistic explanation of news writing). It is a much more intimate thing to create something out of nothing, or out of one’s own life.

And here’s my other current issue, which is just as much of an obstacle: I feel an intense urge to drink and smoke while I write. Sounds so cliché. But it’s truly so much so that if I were actually doing it, I wouldn’t have hands to type. It’s baffling.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I didn’t sit at my desk with a snifter of whiskey and a Marlboro dangling out of my mouth. (I was born in the wrong decade for that. Drat!) But I still churned out my articles daily. So that must be part of it, I guess – that I was cranking out assignments instead of writing anything personal. What I’m working on these days is completely different and self-involved in a way news stories absolutely cannot be.

But these (self-destructive?) urges – I even get them just knowing I’m going to start writing. So what’s happening here? Is it escapism? Is it self-sabotage? Is it avoidance? Is it fear of failure, or of success? Is it worry?

Is it a need to loosen inhibitions so I can write from a place of more intense emotion?

My guess is it’s probably all those things and more.

In his book The Heart of Addiction, psychiatrist Lance Dodes says addicts use their drugs of choice – or food or sex or shopping – when they are feeling helpless and overwhelmed by their emotions, and they need to do something to regain a sense of control. He writes that no matter what the addictive act is, it’s irrelevant, really – that it’s the first thought of acting on an addiction that exposes the root of the problem.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve come to a conclusion, though unfortunately not a solution… I’ve realized I am, after all these years, a jumble of nerves when I sit down to write. And I find it downright bizarre.

How do I turn my nervous disposition into a catalyst for, or a complement to, my writing, instead of an obstacle?

Although this is geared toward academic writing, it provided me with a little insight. First, University of Richmond writing fellow Lauren Cone writes that “some level of anxiety associated with writing is often a sign that you care about doing well.” Okay, well, that’s good news for me.

The most helpful tidbit was this: “Resist the urge to edit as you go along. This interrupts any thought flow you have, and it often wastes time in the long run. Focus on getting out your ideas first. You can stop and review later.”

I have trouble with wanting every single sentence to be perfect in a manuscript. It eats at me until I get it just right. I can’t move on to the next paragraph, and it can take me ages to move forward. It’s funny in a way; I don’t consider myself a perfectionist in any other way… and I certainly wouldn’t ever expect to be a perfect writer. There’s no such thing.

To get back to James Clear, he quotes The Kite Runner author Khaled Housseni: “You have to write whether you feel like it or not.”

So, in a very roundabout way, that brings us to my Optimistic 7-Point Plan. AKA the Git ‘Er Done Plan. AKA the Poop or Get Off the Pot Plan. *

  • Get back to the basics. Reread the books about writing that inspired you initially to go into the field. (On Writing Well by William Zinsser, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.)
  • Before writing, meditate or take a walk. Clear your mind of negative thoughts about your writing. This is extremely important. This Meditation for Working with Difficulties is an example of a good meditation podcast for getting me into a better headspace.
  • Write at least five days a week, for at least an hour a day.
  • Revise whenever you want, but revising cannot be a substitute for writing.
  • Seek out literature that doesn’t just entertain. I love reading all kinds of books, but I should be reading more of the best of the genre in which I’m working. There’s simply no substitute for learning how to write than to read good writing. (I should do another post on how to find out good sources for good literature…)
  • Write in a quiet space, and minimize distractions. (In my case, try not to write while preparing dinner. Disastrous consequences for both goals there!) This includes turning off the phone and not checking facebook during writing hours. It’s sad, but it must be said.
  • Join a writers’ critique group. Actually, I’ve done this, I just haven’t gone to any get-togethers. Participating will not only give me feedback from objective writers; it will impose deadlines.

* I reserve the right to revise this 7-point plan whenever I see fit. Kidding! That’s a little humor for those of you who got through this whole post.

This is a fun read from The Atlantic: ‘Also, the Drink Helps’: Famous Writers’ Daily Writing Routines

P.S. The photo featured is from the amazing free site www.pexels.com.

Enhanced creativity? Yes, please!

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Several years ago, I went through a phase where I had more article ideas than I could tackle, but all of a sudden, it just… stopped. Just like that.

I talked to a counselor about it, and she made this suggestion: Sit still for five whole minutes. Whatever thoughts enter your mind, gently push them out. Focus on nothing. Do that once a day.

Nothing? I never focused on nothing. My kids were 3 and 1, and I was “home” with them – i.e. at the library, playdates, playgrounds, etc. I was also trying to keep the house clean, make homemade meals, find a little time to work out, and write freelance articles, all (or mostly) during nap times.

But I tried what she suggested. The theory was that I had too much going on in my head, and these five minutes would somehow create a little space for new thoughts.

Lo and behold, the day after I did that exercise for the first time – and let me tell you, five minutes can be painfully long – I had three new article ideas. I realized I hadn’t been giving myself any down time, and clearly I needed it.

But even knowing how effective that meditative practice can be, I still have a hard time quieting my mind. If you, too, have trouble sitting still and thinking about nothing, here are a few other ways you can enhance your creativity.

Increase psychological distance

In a 2009 article in Scientific American, Oren Shapira and Nira Liberman write that scientists at Indiana University at Bloomington (woot!) “have demonstrated that increasing psychological distance so that a problem feels farther away can actually increase creativity.”

One study asked participants to come up with as many modes of transportation as they could. Some participants were told that the study was developed in Greece (far), and others were informed that it was developed in Indiana (near).

“As predicted, participants in the distant condition generated more numerous and original modes of transportation than participants in the near condition,” reads the article.

Another study was an insight problem, and the outcome was similar.

So, what does that mean to us? The authors write that thinking about things such as travel, the distant future, and “unlikely alternatives to reality,” as well as communicating with “people who are dissimilar to us,” can expose us to new ideas, thereby “allowing us to think more abstractly.”

“So the next time you’re stuck on a problem that seems impossible, don’t give up. Instead, try to gain a little psychological distance, and pretend the problem came from somewhere very far away,” Shapira and Liberman write.

Physically traveling to a faraway place has the same effect.

Add these to your diet

According to this 2015 article, fruit, chocolate, carbohydrates, alcohol, and walnuts are all beneficial to creativity.

Fruit contains tyrosine, which has been shown to “increase our ability to think deeply,” according to a study conducted at Leiden University, says author Dana Dovey.

Chocolate contains flavonols, which increase gray matter flow for two to three hours, according to another study. But before you get too excited, Dovey goes on to write, “Although the researchers noted that the amount of flavonol they used in this study is not available in commercial chocolate, it still wouldn’t hurt to have a quick cocoa snack before a big day.”

Carbohydrates such as potatoes and oats can help concentration and memory because they provide a quick shot of glucose.

Walnuts are effective at boosting all-around brain function because of their high content of omega-3 fatty acids. Does that mean salmon and other omega-3-rich foods do the same thing? Yes, but it’s best to get the fatty acids from whole, real food sources (not just supplements).

 

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Alcohol manipulates focus in a way that can spark creativity, says Jennifer Wiley, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, according to a 2015 Men’s Health article called “Why Drinking Boosts Creativity.”

“If you’re doing taxes – not such a good thing. But when it comes to puzzles or ‘out of the box’ tasks, relaxation and flexibility – what you’re feeling after a few drinks – can spark creativity,” writes Cassie Shortsleeve.

A Danish brewery created a beer specifically for this. It’s a 7.1 percent-alcohol by volume India Pale Ale called The Problem Solver. Wiley says a person’s creative peak comes with a blood-alcohol content of 0.075.

If you want to figure out how many drinks will get you to that sweet spot, check out this chart. (I suspected 0.075 was not the same thing as imbibing like Ernest Hemingway or Charles Bukowski – god love ’em.)

 

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Get some exercise

I thought exercise would help creativity because it gives your mood a boost, as we all know. But it turns out, the creative increase it gives is independent of any effect on mood, according to a 1997 report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors write that the creative uptick is also independent of the kind of aerobic exercise, although “dance was perhaps marginally more effective,” perhaps because it allows the body to move freely.

Sally Koslow, author of How Exercise Makes You More Creative, suggests doing exercise that lets your mind wander – brisk walking, swimming, hiking, running – and not sports that involve strategizing.

Here are some of her other tips:

  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes.
  • Unless you’re brainstorming on a shared project, exercise alone.
  • Bring a notepad or recorder to keep track of ideas.
  • Get to work right after exercising.

“Whether your goal is to redecorate your living room, write a report at work, or paint a portrait, working out can deliver fresh ideas and inspiration almost by osmosis,” she writes.

 

— Want to see what Ray Bradbury, Charles Mingus, Steve Jobs, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Picasso and others had to say about creativity? Read BuzzFeed’s The 23 Absolute Best Quotes To Boost Your Creativity.

— Here’s an interesting article from Psychology Today: Love, Lust and Creativity.

The artist, the art

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I’ve been a huge Woody Allen fan ever since my parents took me to see “Hannah and Her Sisters” in the theater in 1986. I had never seen a movie quite like it, and I watched all the Woody Allen movies I could after that.

“Broadway Danny Rose” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors” are up there with my all-time top picks. I even hung a portrait of Woody in my high school locker.

So, when news about his situation with Mia Farrow and his subsequent marriage to Farrow’s daughter hit – okay, that was even a little disturbing to type – I wanted to ignore it, and I did for a long time. Today, the allegations against him are getting nastier and nastier. More accurately, they are just more and more public.

The thing is, I still want his art to stand alone. Frankly, if I’m going to have to support on a personal level every artist whose work I enjoy, well, let’s just say my list of music, movies, and literature would shrink considerably.

I hope this all goes without saying that if someone has broken the law, he or she should be held accountable. I just don’t necessarily want to hear about it all until the authorities do whatever they have to do.

And I really don’t want anyone telling me which movies I should avoid because of someone’s alleged wrongdoing.

That said, I don’t feel the same way about writers who give advice. I recently tried to reread “The Road Less Traveled,” a book I absolutely love by the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck. Halfway through, I decided to find out more about this fascinating man. (In this age of Google, I’m nosy that way. If I’m watching a show I really like, I immediately look up all the actors because I’m curious about how they got where they are.)

I immediately regretted having looked Peck up, and here’s why. His 2005 obituary in The Guardian had this subhead: “Pop psychiatrist who ignored his bestselling advice on adultery.” Yikes, right?

The opening sentence is, “Psychiatrist M Scott Peck, who has died aged 69, made millions with his first book by advocating self-discipline, restraint, and responsibility – all qualities he openly acknowledged were notably lacking in himself.”

It goes on to say, “He spent much of his life immersed in cheap gin, chain-smoking cigarettes and inhaling cannabis, and being persistently unfaithful to his wife, who eventually divorced him. He also went through estrangement with two of his three children.”

I suppose at least he was open about his faults, but I still had to call my friend to discuss my outrage. I was mad at Peck because I thought his words were so heartfelt, so spot-on, and ultimately, something to which I could aspire in certain areas of my life. He wrote this brilliant stuff, so how in the world could he not have lived it?

My friend’s reaction really made me think. “Well, he wrote a truth, but that doesn’t mean it was his truth,” she said.

Could the same be said for Woody Allen? Who knows? All I can say is that no matter what happens in his personal life, I likely will still continue to watch and re-watch his movies.

An interesting piece on this: Can we separate the life and work of artists? (from CNN.com)

 

New (to me) words

I found a few new-to-me words that I like, just because of how they sound.  I looked them up, and here’s what I found. (These are very rough definitions.)

  • corsairs – pirate ships or privateers, also considered an “archaic” word, though I beg to differ because (obviously) I just read it somewhere – I like that it sounds like “coarse airs.”
  • lintels – (Yum! Wait, no, that’s not what we ate for dinner!) a structural horizontal block between two vertical supports
  • sobriquet – I realized I knew this (but forgot it) when I read: a person’s nickname
  • extirpate – to remove completely, as in during surgery (My husband said, “I think that’s a made-up word because we haven’t heard it on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Yes, we are still hooked on watching Meredith and her cohorts and all their shenanigans.)
  • facepalm – self-explanatory, but it’s a new and wonderful term for me

I asked my 8-year-old daughter which words she had learned recently. Here’s her list, and her descriptions:

  • legit – as in, “did you do it legitly?” – as heard from a friend
  • enthusiastic – she likes this because it’s long and means “crazed”
  • rapid – it means “fast”; likes it because it sounds like ““wrap”” and she loves birthday gifts
  • horizon – heard in art class, “where the sun touches the ground,” likes it because it’s pretty
  • apply – heard it in karate a couple days ago, and she likes it because it means “to get more / learn more” of something
  • vaporize – “get warm air-ish from one of those machines you put in your room if you have a stuffy nose,” learned at Grandma’s

Then I asked Myles (6) if he had any new words, and he said:

“Extirpated and litnels.”

Greetings!

Few things are more exciting to me than stumbling upon a stationery store. I love the beautiful paper and address books, fancy pens, and, of course, greeting cards.

I once thought it would be fun to write greeting cards professionally, but I just toyed with the idea and never got serious enough to look into it. My comedian friend Courtney Stewart wants to start a line of greeting cards for dysfunctional families (NSFW), but that’s another topic altogether*…

I especially love blank cards that feature fine art (Edward Hopper’s Hotel Room comes to mind). Unless it’s for a birthday or Christmas, I opt for blank versions so I can write a more personalized message than what I generally find in the store aisles.

I have a couple of boxes of cards waiting to be sent. I’m always on the lookout for new ones, and lately I’ve had my eye on Hedgehog Press, based here in Fort Wayne. Sometimes I pick up bags of cards at Goodwill or other secondhand shops because they can just be so odd (as evidenced by the clown, below).  Trader Joe’s and Etsy are good sources. Look at this sweet card from Jessica Hogarth.

I really appreciate getting cards whose messages surprise me, and I always keep them.

In honor of Mother’s Day – the third most popular holiday for greeting cards, behind  Christmas and Valentine’s Day – I’ve decided to spotlight some of my favorite cards. I’ve excluded Christmas cards because I think they probably deserve their very own blog post this winter.

 

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Inside: “Where does the thyme go?” From my sister-in-law, who knows I love Simon & Garfunkel. (Shoebox Greetings)

 

 

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Blank cards by Two Bad Mice, sent from my sister. I love these sweet illustrations. What’s not to love about naughty mice?

 

 

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Inside: “So pretend tomorrow is from me.” Also from my sister-in-law. She’s sassy.

 

 

 

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A postcard of a Jamaican market my mom glued to cardstock. We traveled there together in the late ’90s, and it was amazing.

 

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Blank card by illustrator Katie Vernon. This is my all-time favorite card. I got it years ago from my friend Courtney. I framed it for our guest room.

 

 

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Random thrift store finds just waiting to go to their forever homes.

 

 

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Blank cards my mom made – pressed flowers under tissue on the left, a Hummel illustration glued to cardstock on the right.

 

 

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Inside: “But you already are.” From my dad on my 22nd birthday. (Shoebox Greetings)

 

 

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Swoon! This painting by Gustave Caillebotte is just amazing. It makes feel like I’m right there in the scene. Had to buy a set of these.

 

*Want to see more of Courtney’s standup? This is my favorite! (NSFW)

Email tone

*Mean People drawings by Myles (l) and Alice (r).

I know we’ve all had interactions over email that leave us scratching our heads and asking, “Why is that person so snippy with me?”

Sometimes it’s a conclusion we reach because of a one-word, uncapitalized, unpunctuated answer to a question or message that we feel deserves more. And sometimes it just boils down to our interpretation of tone that may or may not be on target.

I had two experiences like that this week. The first was a quick “thanks” that made me interpret: “Why are you emailing me? Go away.”

The second, which happened today, was when I got an answer to a question I sent a company. The CSR’s answer was obviously copied and pasted from the web site FAQs (I know this because the top said “Frequently Asked Questions”). I read this between the lines: “Lady, why do you keep emailing us when you could just go to our site? You’re annoying our whole department, you’re lazy, and now we’re all talking about you.”

In the past, I’ve also gotten messages that I misunderstand completely at first glance, but after combing through it like a handwriting analyst might, rereading it over and over, I found it really wasn’t bad at all. That makes me feel like I’m truly a little crazy, but it happens.

Now, I might be overly sensitive (people who know me well are saying sarcastically, “No, you?”). But I’m certainly not the only one who has felt this way.

In an article in Psychology Today, David F. Swink writes that when communicating in person, we have the element of “physical climate,” as well as an emotional one. We look at facial expressions, body language, etc., and get a feel for the person, in addition to their actual words. In other words, it gives us more context.

Most interesting to me is that we remember the tone of an interaction more than we remember the words, and that goes for in-person communication, as well as electronic.

I have a much easier time accurately assessing the tone of an email from someone I know outside of cyberspace – for better or worse – and that’s probably true for all of us. It’s clear that e-communication is hugely dependent on the biases we hold.

At any rate, if questionable e-tones has taught me anything, it’s that:

  • a thick skin can serve me well when it comes to electronic interactions,
  • I should never send an email response when I’m feeling defensive about tone, and
  • that I should be sensitive to tone when composing emails, especially to people I don’t know well.

By being “sensitive,” I don’t mean being too nice. “No problem (happy emoticon)!!!” comes to mind. The three exclamation points is overkill, even if the sender is an excruciatingly bubbly  person.

Have a great weekend!

Letters

Two recent experiences got me thinking about personal correspondence as a way to gain important insight into people, art, and history. It’s also making me ask: What could we miss by relying on electronic modes of communication?

About two weeks ago, I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to see Van Gogh’s Bedrooms, where alongside the art were projected images of his letters and drawings. They provided some context, including personal opinions about the places Van Gogh liked to paint.

And, just a few weeks ago, I found myself sorting through dozens of letters my parents have written me over the years. I was looking for some specific information. It occurred to me that if I hadn’t kept those tangible papers in a box all this time, whatever interesting tidbits they contain would have been lost to me forever.

Take this gem, from 1978:

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I love knowing that when my dad is gone, I will still have a trove of letters he carefully composed for me.

Now, say my parents had been emailing instead of writing all this time. There’s no way most of that correspondence would still exist (to say nothing of those drawings!). I literally delete hundreds of emails at a time because I get too overwhelmed to sort them. I just can’t keep up. I’m sure many things have gotten lost in the shuffle that way, but I’ll never even know what they are.

I know, I know, people say once something is put online, it’s there in some capacity forever. While that may be true, aren’t those things only really “there” for those who actively seek them and know where to look?

I recently wrote a letter to my dad, and believe it or not, I noticed that my handwriting has deteriorated considerably, and my hand was sore when I was done. So sad!

For all you letter lovers out there, check out the myriad correspondence available at Indiana University’s Lilly Library (novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., war correspondent Ernie Pyle, poet Ezra Pound, and writers Edith Wharton, Orson Welles, and Ernest Hemingway are among them); and New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s Archive’s artists’ letters and manuscripts (painters Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Henri Matisse, and Paul Klee are a few featured).

Here are a couple related articles I found interesting:

What You Won’t Learn From Writers’ Letters (from The New Yorker)

Which Writer’s Letters Are Most Worth Reading? (from The New York Times)

Night-waking

Waking in the middle of the night has been an issue for me since high school.

I find myself staring into the darkness and worrying about things over which I can do absolutely nothing at that particular moment. I just watch the clock, getting more and more anxious about falling back asleep as the morning fast approaches. I know this is common for a lot of people.

But if I allow myself, I can enjoy the creativity that manifests itself in a different way in those wee hours than it does during the day. I’ve composed long, eloquent letters to loved ones, designed intricate plots for screenplays and novels, and written comedy that totally cracks me up. It can be so entertaining if I let myself just go with it. I even stop stressing about the impending buzz of the alarm.

Unfortunately, I never write any of it down; I’m always afraid that getting out of bed or turning on a light will just prevent me from ever getting back to sleep.

I thought this heightened creativity in the night was fascinating, so I did a little research (i.e. Googled some stuff) and found something really interesting.

In her amazing essay Broken Sleep, Karen Emslie says that in the days before electricity, night-waking was the norm. Virginia Tech historian A. Roger Ekrich, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, says that sleep back then was divided into two segments, separated by a period of night-waking that could last up to several hours, Emslie writes.

That awake time “was used for activities such as reading, praying and writing, untangling dreams, talking to sleeping partners or making love,” she notes.

“Ekrich’s ideas were the subject of a dedicated session at Sleep 2013, the annual meeting of the U.S. Associated Professional Sleep Societies. One of the biggest implications to emerge was that the most common insomnia, ‘middle-of-the-night insomnia,’ is not a disorder but rather a harking back to a natural form of sleep – a shift in perception that greatly reduced my own concern about night-waking.”

So I’ve decided that I, too, will no longer view night-waking as a problem – although, let’s face it, it’s no fun to be tired during the day. Instead I will grab a pen and paper or my laptop and record my ideas. I’m sort of looking forward to it. (I just hope it happens on a weekend.)

 

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From diary to writer’s notebook

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I cringe when I hear someone talk about journaling, or when I learn someone has died and left behind a diary full of intimate details.

I remember my first diary so clearly. It had a textured, green leather cover and pages edged with gold. I was 8 or 9 and thought it was super cool because it locked. I catalogued all the mundane details of my days, and the only time I wrote something private, I was so worried my sister would pick the lock and read it that I scribbled feverishly over it with a black pen.

In my teens I called my diaries “journals” because that sounded more sophisticated. I used those five-subject, college-ruled school notebooks. I doodled the MTV logo all over and wrote things like, “I am sitting here in history and all I want to do is listen to John Lennon.” (I got a D in that class.) Again, I never wrote anything too personal; what if my mom snooped around my room and read it?

I kept diaries faithfully until sometime in my 20s, and I lugged all of them with me every time I moved over the years, which was often. I sincerely thought the insights they held were just too fabulous to throw away. Thank goodness I actually reread them and saw them for what they were.

The thing is, I never actually wrote anything real about myself, probably in part because I had no idea who I was or wanted to be. I just wrote what I wanted someone else to read, and I wanted to sound cool.

I threw them all away in 2003. What a relief it was to be free of all that drivel!

I have tried to write about my feelings since then, but it always seems so self-indulgent and sounds so goofy that I usually end up with a shopping or to-do list. I just can’t do it, though I know it can be a healthy outlet.

Well, on Saturday I got a great idea from children’s author and poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich, who has written some 35 books. It’s such a no-brainer, but I’ve never thought to do this: Rebecca keeps a journal of ideas related to her writing, whether it’s specific words she thinks sound good together, possible picture book layouts, drawings, maps, and more.

She showed the audience at her talk at a Young Authors conference some of her pages, and I noticed she had even jotted down the correct spelling for lilies (“one l”). I loved that.

Her system seems like such a fun and efficient way of keeping track of what’s rolling around in her brain. It’s much better than the scribble-on pieces of junk mail and post-it notes I have stashed in my bag and around the house.

I decided to copy her. My writer’s notebook has already come in handy; I wrote a list of words I like that never make it into my writing, and “drivel” was one.

By the way, check out Dotlich’s new release, The Knowing Book. It would make a perfect graduation present.

 

 

 

Kill Your Darlings

It’s bittersweet, clarity that arrives uninvited.

You’ve looked at what you’ve written a hundred times, making small changes here and there, reading aloud, thinking that whole time, “Wow, this is just about perfect.”

A particular passage or sentence or phrase – you’ve reread it to inspire yourself, to keep going when you’re stuck. To convince yourself that yes, you should be writing this. Sure, the rest of the story might need some help, but this part… This part is staying put, for sure.

Then, after a good night’s sleep or a jog or wasting time on Facebook – whatever you do when you’re not staring at your work – you see the bigger picture.

And you have to kill your darlings.

“Kill your darlings.” I’m obsessed with that phrase and just taped it next to my desk.

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I never gave it too much thought until today. But early this morning I printed out some writing, and was hit with a realization: “Whoa, it took me two double-spaced pages to get to the real beginning of this story.”

Cut, cut, cut.

When we become so enamored with something we’ve written, it’s hard to accept that in a first, second, or third draft it’s highly likely to change. But making that change comes, at least for me, after I have spent so much time with that writing that I’m sort of ready to let it go and find inspiration elsewhere.

When I cut big chunks of text or move things around drastically, I expect it to sting, but it actually feels fantastic. Even better than being in love with the writing in the first place.

Kill your darlings, indeed.

I looked the phrase up to find out who said it. Here’s a great post about it at slate.com: Who Really Said You Should “Kill Your Darlings”?