Posts Tagged ‘writing’
Book Review: Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine by Peggy Tabor Millin
Posted December 9, 2013on:
We cannot write well by staying on the surface of our lives or by attempting to hide our true selves behind our words. We free the pen to dig deep whenever we pick it up. Peggy Tabor Millin
What can women who wish to write discover about themselves if they enter into conversation with a nonlinear, archetypal feminine process? What is the wisdom and inner authority that awaits them in their own bodies, moving through perhaps limiting feelings of shame, blame and judgment? In the richly inspiring book Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine, Peggy Tabor Millin argues that what awaits women, if they so choose to explore, is their deepest self from which springs their writing life. And, she asserts that excavating this self is more important than the outward goal of publishing. Drawing on her extensive experience as a writing teacher, practicing Buddhist and cartographer of women’s cycles of creativity, she argues that the real struggle that many women have with writing is not just about a lack of time, writing space or support. It is the struggle for authenticity. Women’s multiplicity of social roles and living in a world that often undervalues them add to the challenges of finding the courage not just to write, but to create a worthy self. In Women, Writing and Soul Making, Millin offers a fresh and inner directed path to the writing life through what she calls an ‘archetypal feminine approach’ to writing and self-making.
Millin shares insights of how to access the subterranean territory of the writing experience that has seldom been mined. Many writing books crowding the shelves today assert principles, programs, and protocols for becoming a bestselling author with a platform that will entice agents and publishers. We can characterize much of this work as outer directed, active, assertive and perhaps linearly driven. Readers, in this book, will not find tidy exercises and chatty language about how to pitch ideas to editors. Millin, however, offers women writers (and male writing instructors) another way to think about the writing life by first acknowledging that women writers struggle with claiming a voice. She names and explores internal and external barriers that stop women from writing and from taking themselves seriously as writers. She argues that women must make new meaning for themselves by paying attention to what innate wisdom residing in their bodies and buried in their psyches, they (and the world) may have devalued.
She successfully yokes together concepts about women’s spirituality, Jungian and archetypal analysis and embodied learning. Her book is part of a growing trend that employ a contemplative and body wisdom approach, gleaned from eastern traditions, as a foundation for a writing practice, including Gail Sher’s Writing the Fire (yoga and writing) and Larraine Herring’s Writing Begins with the Breath (mindfulness and writing). Through vignettes, koans and stories Millin’s method is subtle and almost easy to overlook. The task is to move from our heads into our bodies, easier said than done. She reveals her technique of ‘Centered Writing Practice’ which includes two elements: “writing to neutral prompts and writing in community.” Neutral prompt are phrases, concrete nouns and active verbs that carry no obvious emotional connection for the writer. The writer follows where the language takes her. The second and important aspect of this practice is writing in community. Centered Writing Practice happens in a circle of women, regularly, and with focused attention. Each chapter begins with a piece that emerged from some of the free writes and ‘word circle’ exercises that Millin uses in groups. The reader is thus invited in to see how the book was constructed through many nonlinear techniques. The spiral graphic sprinkled throughout Women, Writing and Soul-Making remind us writing and coming into self has no final destination. Miller notes: “Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. Practice—of sport, writing, art-making, meditation, music—has no goal but revelation.”
Along the way, we meet Lord Mother, Millin’s contribution to an archetypal support system rooted in women’s experiences with the Divine, mystical, cyclical and seasonal. Millin helps us to recognize that our judgment, shame and victimization can be acknowledged without being indulged in, constituting a resting place versus a stopping place. Readers will also enjoy getting to know the intriguing archetypal figures of ‘Lady Underground’ and ‘The Blood-Raw Savage’ who can also support in getting to know our bodies’ wisdom and unconscious desires.
Although shunning simple and formulaic steps toward writing, Millin does offer organizing principles for writing and exploring consciousness that include the Four Wisdoms: ‘The Wisdom of Not Knowing’, ‘The Wisdom of the Ecology of Body and Earth’, ‘The Wisdom of Fierce Compassion’ and ‘The Wisdom of Diversity’. These Wisdoms explore what she identifies as feminine processes of ‘relationship and responsiveness’, an awareness of interconnectedness and fierce compassion that links soul work to creative work. Through these wisdoms she tackles many ‘hotspots’ of women’s lives including how we grapple with power, vulnerability, and expectations in relationships. This is a chapter most readers will want to linger in.
I was predisposed to like this book as I am intensely curious about how women navigate a creative life given the obstacles borne out of the social tensions around caretaking, relational work and constructing a core self. Finding new metaphors of creativity that don’t pit women against codified ways of knowing the world, their work and families is of vital importance. In my teaching and coaching work, I’ve found similar patterns of challenges that women face, in pursuing a creative life that is aptly described by Millin. And, Millin does a good job of arguing for exploring and being open to a repository of suppressed ‘women’s wisdom’: “Tribal cultures that honored women’s rhythms understood women to hold the creative future of the culture-not only because they produced children, but they fathomed the sacred nature of the cycles of creation.” However, in several places, I was uneasy with some of Millin’s uncritical language and assumptions about women’s experiences (including “when women feel stress, they are biologically wired to seek solace with other women” or “the power women innately hold confounds thought”). As I read, I felt the tension between embracing and feeling good about ‘feminine’ patterns and my understanding that gender is also mutable, historically varied and socially constructed. There isn’t one universal women’s experience or even ‘female ways of knowing’. Each reader will have to navigate and make sense of this tension.
Toward the end of the book and again drawing on Buddhist thought Millin makes use of the four paradoxes writers face: ‘Pleasure and Pain’, ‘Praise and Criticism’, ‘Fame and Disgrace’ and ‘Gain and Loss’. The dynamic of dualisms confound and often frustrate us yet form a way into understanding the writing life. I found myself lingering here, too.
Her book also addresses those writers who are transitioning from one type of writing that may be more analytical (i.e. technical writing, academic writing) to one that is symbolic and abstract (i.e. poetry). She wants a general respect for all writing. Despite the lack of specific exercises, Millin’s material will ignite an intuitive spark in each reader about how to proceed: some might journal more, some will try using ‘neutral prompts’ to begin a project, some might list the ways they experience societal femininity and how that is or isn’t congruent with their personal ways of knowing the creative cycles of the earth. Some will want to explore deeply the archetypal figures Millin presents. Some readers will be better able to recognize where some of their negative voices about writing came from (which are personal and which are cultural), some will feel relief to find that many women struggle with inner barriers that often go unrecognized; they might seek or start a writers’ group based on Millin’s thoughtful guidelines. According to Millin, if we get focused on our own excellence and joy in creating and living, this will support our inner most desires. I can see why this book was a Next Generation Indie Book Winner. It is so useful, innovative, playful and fresh that it is worth a place on every aspiring woman writer’s (and writing teacher’s) book shelf.
This book review first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Western North Carolina Woman
We’re at the beginning of a long holiday season. This can be a time for relaxation and much needed connection with friends and family members. It can also be a time when our creative work goes out the window. Here are a few tips to keep one’s creativity ignited.
- Work in smaller chunks of time. During the holidays there are many demands on our time with planned and spontaneous social engagements. Just like keeping ourselves healthy with more frequent workouts during the holidays is advisable, the same could be said for creative work. With all the imbibing, late nights and celebrating, trying to find solitude for creative work can be in short supply. Decide to work in smaller increments of time.
- Stay connected to discussions about creativity. If you’re traveling for much of the holidays and that interrupts your creative routine, find ways to stay connected to your interests. I’ve become a big fan of Mur Lafferty’s ‘I Should Be Writing’ podcast and plan on catching up on several episodes during holiday travel.
- Design a ‘Creativity Permission Slip’. While you are writing your holiday cards, take a moment to design a big beautiful ‘creativity permission slip’. This permission slip empowers you to take at least an hour a week for yourself and do something related to your creative life. Post it in your creative space.
- Play with a Creativity TA-DAH List. We all know our ‘to-do’ lists grow exponentially during the holiday season. What about having a ‘ta-dah’ list? Right now, if you throw your hands in the air and say TA-DAH!, I bet you’ll smile. Motivational speaker and humorist Loretta LaRoche, in Relax: You May Only Have A Few Minutes Left, recounts being at a conference on health and wellness that felt deadly serious. Later, in the hotel, Loretta saw a girl of about three waltz down the corridor, twirl her arms and yell ‘TA-DAH!” Many of the adults stopped in their tracks and grasped that “the child knew what they had paid hundreds of dollars to find out: how to enjoy life in the moment.” Your ta-dah list could be composed of anything that makes you smile during the next five weeks. It could also be a celebration of every creative thing that you’ve done this year. Let the ta-dahing begin!
- Treat yourself. Go and purchase the one gift that will support your creativity that you’ve been meaning to give to yourself all year. Think of it as a down payment for the great work you will produce in 2014!
How will you keep your creativity flowing during this holiday season?
Posted June 19, 2013on:
I feel lucky to call Julee Snyder both teacher and friend. I met her when I began my yoga teacher training almost a decade ago with Lisa Clark and David Beadle. She was already a massage practitioner, explorer of Body- Mind Centering (BMC) work, yoga innovator and an assistant teacher in Lisa and David’s program. Her wisdom, compassion and clarity make her a gifted teacher. All these qualities are present in her guest post.
Supporting Your Mid-Year Vision with Restorative Yoga
Some people love summer…the beach, pool, mountains, hiking, biking, vacationing and being outdoors. I often wish I was one of them. For me, it’s a second winter. I often find myself sequestered away in the air conditioning with blinds drawn to avoid the heat, the sun, the bugs and the sweat. Regardless of whether you come alive or wilt a bit in the summer months, it’s worth taking time to turn inwards and check-in with where your year is going and whether you are staying true to your authentic vision for your life.
Restorative yoga is a practice in consciously resting and turning inwards. Most yogis will note that the energy of their practice begins to pick up in late spring. We somehow feel called to twists and inversions, to stronger standing poses, and vinyasa. We want to sweat and move and come alive after turning inwards for the winter. The cycle begins to revert a bit once we hit the solstice and the heat of the summer is on us. Our poses are still strong, but more static. Please, by all means follow these internal rhythms. But don’t forget to include your restorative and meditation practices. A weekly resting practice to balance your active practices is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Include one resting pose per day followed by a five-minute meditation, if you can.
‘Legs-up-the-wall’ is one of my favorite restorative poses. All you really need is a quiet spot with open wall space and maybe something to elevate your pelvis and something to cover your eyes. When you’re ready:
1. come close to the wall
2. roll onto your back
3. swing your legs up the wall
4. shimmy as close as you can to the wall where your legs can rest comfortably long.
5. cover your eyes with an eye pillow or cool cloth.
6. hang out there for 5-20 minutes while focusing on your breath
When you come out, sit against the wall and set your timer for five minutes, but don’t push go right away. Next, practice alternate nostril breathing. Take your right hand and curl the middle three fingers exposing the thumb and pinky. Use your pinky to close your left nostril and inhale through your right nostril. Then close the right, open the left and exhale. Inhale left, close it, open right, and exhale. Continue this cycle for several rounds until you feel a calm state of mind. Then release your hands, hit go on your timer, and sit in quiet meditation for five minutes.
Now you are ready for your day (or maybe that writing practice)!
Julee Snyder is a massage and yoga therapist in Raleigh. For more information, go to www.jsbodywork.massagetherapy.com.
Posted June 17, 2013on:
I am so happy to welcome fellow creative entrepreneur, Florence Ditlow to the ‘Jump-start Your June’ series designed to bring you fresh ideas to support your goals and vision mid-year.
Trying to Build Your Creativity? Use Your Own Humor!
I enjoy the way Arieti defines creativity: “Human creativity uses what is already existing and available and changes it in unpredictable ways. It brings about a desirable enlargement of human experience, liberating us from conditioning and usual choices. The creative work may make us laugh when we are confronted with something new, which is witty and comical; may offer us aesthetic pleasure when we are in the presence of works of art; may give us a feeling of transcendence, as in the fields of philosophy and religion; or may provide the qualities of usefulness, understanding and predictability as scientific innovations do.” Arieti, Silvano (1976) Creativity: The Magic Synthesis. New York: Basic Books
Creative ideas appear differently from one person to the next. They arise out of need, come along while doing exercise or pop out of nowhere in the shower. These spur the mind then the body to act, to build and form the new.
An open mind where flexibility fires imagination helps us create. However, stress overload, discomfort and distraction do the opposite and are obstacles to creativity- a resulting example is writer’s block. We need to play with most problems, to be able to step above the scene and get perspective like a doctor I knew who arriving to help others revive a patient, began by taking his own pulse.
How do you get playful or find hope wrapped in your “ha-ha?” Years of seeking humor in the forest of daily realities drove me to create a silly humor blueprint. I intended to get ease, get a laugh and revive a refreshing perspective, in order to leap obstacles and to empower myself. I needed not a joke, not a trick soon forgotten, but a road toward my humor. Here it is, my personal “Yellow Brick Road” to creativity. The search for humor or…
The Humor Quest
Humor Chest- Open your chest. This is where you’ve been storing up laughs! Let ‘em out.
Humor Desk- Clean the dust off your desk and laugh at the mouse. She’ll invite you to enjoy working. Have you listened to your phone answering message? Are you smiling? People on the phone hear smiles and they have a nice effect on the smiler’s brain chemistry. Is there anything uplifting on your desk? Be creative and give yourself object d’ uplift!
Humor Fest- Use an object to create laughter. Juggle on your break; if you’re saying “That’s not fun, picture yourself juggling hot dogs, then do it in front of a dog. Guaranteed humor.
Humor Guest- Visit or phone a friend and ask for a laugh. You may invite more than one guest!
Humor Jest- Just kidding around! Letting out the kid inside you can be more than playful, more powerful than a gang of comedians.
Humor List- How long has it been since you read a hilarious book? Look for one in a new place; ask a friend what makes her laugh. I recommend “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.”
Humor Pest- Feel angry or upset? Balance this through outrageous exaggeration. Example: “I’m late for a meeting…and this may be a news headline!”
Humor Request- Ask a friend for humor, knowing it resides in every one of us.
Humor Rest- Down time can be a podcast or video guaranteed to pull your spirits up.
Humor Test- Learn a humor skill, joke or even try cartooning.
Turning ha- ha humor into a creative ahh HA! may take practice, but will be rewarding. A playful mind is one delightful way to keep your perspective, your health and your cool.
Florence Ditlow R.N. is an advocate of humor in the workplace who authored “Long in the Tooth: surviving chronic illness with a sense of humor.” Contact her via www.thebakerygirls.net, Twitter, Linked-in or Facebook.
Photo credits: http://www.laughteryoga.org/miscellaneous/get_content/3, & Google Images
Mariah Wheeler is a creative spark in the small, but vibrant town of Pittsboro, North Carolina where I reside. Her Joyful Jewel Gallery is in the heart of downtown Pittsboro and has become a destination to explore, marvel and buy works from over 150 local artists. Her deep passion for art and supporting artists has enriched the community.
Writers always need fresh ways to tap into their imaginations. Three years ago, Mariah, along with poet Sheridan Bushnell, conceived of the idea of inviting writers to come to the gallery and write about art. Their idea developed into the much anticipated annual ‘Vision and Voice’ event where writers are asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists are asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.
Engaging with art objects, in this event, provides a unique opportunity to stretch one’s aesthetic sensibilities. I’ve participated in ‘Vision and Voice’ since the beginning and each time I’ve been amazed at how focusing on a work of art challenges my own assumptions about what I can write. In looking closely at a piece of art, I find myself asking different questions (about plot, character and setting) than when I usually sit down to write. The ‘Vision and Voice’ event also supports an enriching cross-fertilization of ideas and collaborative engagement between writers and artists that doesn’t often happen.
Mariah’s poem ‘A Hat is Better than a TV’ was inspired by hats made by Brooks, a fiber artist. Brooks makes all kinds of textile wonders and sells them at the Joyful Jewel. Mariah modeled the hats while Brooks read the poem. The audience loved it! I’m so glad that Mariah is letting me pass on the sweetness, whimsy and insight of this poem to you.
A Hat is Better Than A TV
I am invited to Kazi Jane’s 2nd birthday party, and
I’m in the pink along with:
Cotton Candy Kisses
Giggles, Games, and Balloons
Glow Worm Tea Cakes
A Grandmother’s Love
The military calls me, and
I’m at the ready:
The medals have already been earned and attached
I can divert attention at the last minute
(the enemy is dazzled & confused)
Hiding in trees or in a meadow is possible
I am just too cute to shoot
The Queen is found to be an imposter, and
I visit Buckingham:
A Palace Guard (in a similar hat) recognizes me as Queen
A stately fascinator is ready for me to wear after my coronation,
and it has room for the crown jewels on the crown
I feel like Dudley Moore as Amadeus when riding in the parade
I decide to safari in Africa, and
my camouflage allows:
Closeness with elephants and giraffes
A gazelle’s invitation to dance
Frolicking in the dirt (which remains invisible on my head)
A bird to find a nesting site complete with fuzz for the nest
I’m in my own hat, and
standing out in the crowd, I:
Bring fun to strangers by eliciting their smiles
Know that blue matches my eyes and I feel pretty.
Am reminded of Christmas tinsel and break out in song
Have a bad hair day and still look good
I say “A Hat is Better Than a TV” because:
Imagination has a prop ready for action
It can go with me, in a useful way, when I’m outdoors
I can take it with me wherever I go
Because Dreams accumulate underneath a hat
and nothing happens underneath a TV
Author Reflection: I am proprietor of the Joyful Jewel, where every day I see the great beauty that local hands guided by an undefinable muse are creating every day.
These hats by Brooks make me laugh and get my imagination going. They do the same for any patron who tries one on.
I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?
She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.
After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.
Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.
It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.
It is atypical that a writer gets anything published during a normal week and highly unlikely that more than one thing gets published. The first two weeks of April have been exceptionally good to me, so I’ve got new things to add to my list.
I received news that I am the 3rd place prize winner in the Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest, for my speculative fiction short story ‘Urban Wendy’. They will publish the piece in an upcoming issue.
For fun, I’ve included a few lines from the beginning of the story:
Marisol pulls another strand of red hair from a perfectly glazed Dunkin Donut, holds it up and looks at the stray bits of delicate pink icing clinging to the hair. Marisol reminds herself that her other team members working this shift don’t have red hair, nor does anyone else working here. Just like the icing clinging to the hair, Marisol knows that Wendy is trying to cling to her.
When Marisol announced she was leaving Wendy’s to work at Dunkin Donuts, two weeks ago, her co-workers warned her.
“Expect a visit from Wendy,” they said. Marisol looked at the goofy-looking freckled girl on the napkins she had passed out so many times to snot-nosed kids, harried mothers and dope addicts.
“She doesn’t like it when we leave without warning,” one of them whispered.
“You gotta to be kidding me. I’ll tell her a thing or two,” Marisol said. She filed their concerns of Wendy the phantom stalker, under ‘another urban legend’ and said good bye to the drab brown uniform, the never ending work of keeping the salad bar clean and organized, and sought her fortune among coffee and donuts.
* * *
A prose piece, ‘The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank’ that I wrote in 2010 found a perfect home at Trivia: Voices of Feminism, an online magazine. This piece was created for the wonderful ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel gallery (in Pittsboro, North Carolina), where writers are invited to write about art. Then the writer gets to read the piece and the artist attends, too, and remarks about the inspiration behind the art.
Sharon Blessum’s photograph (below) triggered a memory about a powerful dream regarding my grandmother and other female elders that I wrestled with for many years. In the piece, I tackle the metaphorical ‘poison’, given societal constraints, that many of our female ancestors swallowed, and how I integrate this knowledge into my work as a professor and coach.
Spring is here!
Spring presents writers with a perfect time to reassess, reorganize and rededicate ourselves to the projects that we most want to bring into the world. Spring powers us with the energy to tackle physical spaces (and states of mind) that no longer serve our writing life.
Last December, I made a major commitment to re-imagining my writing space. I was tired of being one of those people who always seemed to ‘be in the process of organizing’, arguably one of the most important rooms in my house, without ever accomplishing a significant change. My writing career during the last two years has taken off in remarkable ways and I began to view my perpetually cluttered room as a pattern of self-sabotage.
These before pictures show that my space definitely needed some attention!
The challenge came as I began to unpack. I needed to create new systems and to let go of stuff. During the cold days of December I often found myself frustrated, overwhelmed and entirely baffled that I could feel so emotionally undone by this process.
I began to explore how some of my discomfort in relating to space was closely tied to childhood patterns. Due to financial constraints I shared a room with my mother from the age of nine until eighteen. I missed out on a lot of developmental experiences of the joys and challenges of having one’s own room and caring for it. Although this wasn’t the sole cause of clutter in my life, I understood why I held onto things too long (often coming from a place of scarcity or deprivation), and also how I simultaneously paid little attention to the aesthetics of space. After these insights, the organizing went a lot smoother.
Although this spring I still have a few more things to work on in my new space, I am in love with it!
Spring cleaning, for you, may not involve any deep-seated emotional issues. But, if you think it could, you can begin by asking the following questions:
-Is clutter an ongoing issue for me?
-Have I experienced patterns of deprivation that may effect how I relate to material objects?
-Do I feel unusually sad, frustrated, or angry as I try to declutter and organize my space?
Depending on your answers, you may want to solicit support from a coach or therapist who specializes in organizational issues.
The first step in my spring cleaning process is to reassess your space, your schedule, and patterns of mind to see what is supporting or not supporting your writing life.
Go and look at your writing space. What’s the state of it? Do you feel a sense of ease when you look at it? Is it crammed with stuff that belongs in other rooms of your house? If you live with other people, is this space known as your special writing area?
Have you even claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else? If you’re struggling with this, see my post on claiming creative space.
Survey your space and make a quick list of what you feel needs your attention most. The questions below are not exhaustive, but offer a good place to start.
-Do you need to organize and sort your paper files?
-Would it be useful to create an index for your piles of journals?
-Are there notes from conferences and workshops that need to be reviewed and filed?
-Are there writing exercises that could be useful to you if they were typed up?
-When was the last time you did a backup of your computer files? Do you need to delete or add programs?
-Do you need to release some writing books? Welcome others?
-Do you need to physically clean your computer?
-Do you have visible reminders of your writing accomplishments? Is it time to take some down and put up new ones?
-Do you have too much or too little of something in your space?
-Do you need more or less shelf space?
-Are there big physical jobs you’d like to do (i.e. paint)?
Once you have your list you can break each item down into specific tasks.
It’s important to not get overwhelmed during spring cleaning. Many people decide they will devote a day to a spring cleaning project and then realize that they’re cranky after two hours and that the task requires at least two days. Start small and reward yourself often. Why not take from now until the official start of summer to spring clean? You could choose one project each week. I suggest working in 15-30 minute intervals so there’s less chance of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I enjoy using an online stopwatch.
What are you reassessing right now in support of your writing life?
Scratching can look like borrowing and appropriating, but it’s an essential part of creativity. It’s primal and very private. It’s a way of saying to the gods, “Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just wander around in these back hallways…”and then grabbing that piece of fire and running like hell.
-Twyla Tharp, choreographer
Where do you get your ideas? How do you generate small ideas that lead to big writing projects? It’s almost springtime and as we put away our winter coats, boots and hats, we naturally desire to generate fresh ideas for our writing life. Twyla Tharp, world famous choreographer, in her understated, but powerful book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use it For Life, uses the concept of ‘scratching’ as a method for finding and incubating new ideas.
‘Scratching’, she observes is what we do so we aren’t always waiting for the “thunderbolt” of inspiration to hit. Tharp says, “That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.”
Twarp notes the importance of reading, as a place to scratch for ideas. Many writers reread the classics or work by mentors they love as a way to sharpen their senses and generate new perspectives. Tharp likes to read ‘archeologically’, backwards in time, working her way from a contemporary idea back to an ancient text. When working on an idea for a dance she began with Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy which led her to Dionysus and then studies of Dionysus (worship of and symbols connected to), which led her to Euripides and his The Bacchae. These readings led to her choreograph ‘Bacchae’, a dance that explores hubris and is loosely based on the Euripides text.
Years ago, inspired by her idea of reading as a type of scratching, I made a list of the subjects that I typically read about both as an academic and as a creative writer.
List: self-help /’how to’ in yoga, health and wellness, women’s health, women’s empowerment, public speaking; craft of writing books; cookbooks; leadership; 18-20th century African American history, spirituality; creativity; women’s spirituality; African American women; black feminism; dreams; sociology of race; women’s and gender studies; elections and campaigns; feminist theory, history of the American university; genres: speculative fiction, thrillers, literary
When finished with this list, I felt pretty impressed. But then I asked myself, what are the subjects I rarely read, have no working knowledge of, couldn’t put two sentences together about, or even avoid?
List: biographies, colonial American history, travel memoirs, animals, romance, celebrities, sailing, cars, history of language, math and science, sports, nature, children’s books, plays, poetry, Christian fiction, true crime, technical books
Doing this exercise motivated me to dig into many unexplored subjects.
What would your reading lists look like?
Here are three scratching strategies:
-Flirt with a different genre (or subgenre)-It’s always fun to explore a different genre than the one that’s become your norm. In a recent writing workshop, the instructor encouraged us to take a short piece that we were working on, keep the characters but rewrite it using a different genre. This exercise felt so liberating. I found myself exploring space opera with what had started out as a realistic story. I have little working knowledge of space operas, but it was fun to use my imagination to fill in the gaps.
-Visit a writer’s residence or historic site-Traveling to see a writer’s home is a kind of pilgrimage that can bring us fresh insights. This spring, I’m hoping to travel to Edenton, NC to learn a bit more about Harriet Jacobs, a fugitive slave, writer and abolitionist who penned Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl under the pseudonym Linda Brent.
-Mine Magazines-Acquire ten magazines that you never read (you can buy some and collect others from friends, the doctor’s office, libraries, etc.) and read them from cover to cover. Keep a list in your notebook about the trends, ideas, musings, and writers that spark your interest.
Where are you going to scratch for ideas this spring?