The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘freewriting

I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo and loved it. I set a goal in July of writing 20,000 words on new WIP. I’ve been posting my daily progress on my Author FB page. My final count was 22,813! I love the challenge of doing a fast draft and breaking things down into a doable word count.

I am grinding hard working on my WIP and trying to find time to submit my work and read (and see) as much in the horror genre as I can. Whew! I decided to take a break today, have some fun and do some freewriting related to summer themes. I came up with some cool ten minute prompts. I thought you might enjoy taking a break from your normal writing schedule and give these a go.

These prompts can work while writing about yourself or a character:

–big hair/what do you do with your hair? (humidity during the summer can wreck just about any hairstyle)

I’m always looking for more ease with my hair during the summer. I got my hair done in ‘false locs’ (i.e. dreadlocks) a few days ago. The last time I got my hair braided or did anything besides what I usually do with it was more than a decade ago…and it would take 4-6 hours. Now there are lots of new techniques and I was in and out in 2 hours! This style will last about 5 weeks. You know one of the things I enjoy writing about is hair and its meaning in society. So, I engaged my stylist about cosmetology school, hair shows, the business of being a stylist and other good stuff that will probably one day end up in a story!

-the first time I ate a snow cone

-my first summer job (I handed out flyers on Christopher Street in the Village)

-when the lights went out

-the sexiest person in shorts

-your first summer crush

-a beach party gone wrong

-watching fireworks

-a fight at a backyard gathering over who makes the best BBQ

-a girl that gets lost at an amusement park

– a kid who wins a strange item from a seaside arcade

-the time you almost drowned

-a crush on your summer camp counselor

-a couple goes to see the summer blockbuster movie and when they emerge, the world has changed in some dramatic way

-who *is* the man that owns the ice cream truck?

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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I’ve been working on a Passion Project since the beginning of the year. In my January newsletter, I shared some thoughts about the joys of committing to a passion project. I have expanded the piece here:

In order to begin my PP, I had to do something pretty radical for me. On Jan 1, I stopped listening to writing podcasts, I stopped reading craft books and clicking on the columns of my favorite writing experts. I took a break from everyone else’s wonderful advice, knowledge, tips and went within. I got reconnected with my own CORE WRITING VOICE AND WISDOM.

This was hard to do! As you know I am a ‘resource maven’. I LOVE finding resources and sharing them with my community.

I, however, also believe it is super important to take breaks from the avalanche of others’ advice and guidance and deeply connect with our inner writing intelligence. That inner writing intelligence is always there, of course, but by the end of the year, it craves recognition and reconnection. It craves being in the center and having your undivided attention.

I also truly believe that whatever you focus on the first couple of days and weeks of the New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year. I decided to make room for a passion project that I’ve been dying to tackle. I am writing a creative nonfiction piece (maybe a memoir) about the year my mother left my abusive stepfather and we were almost homeless. I was ten and my sister was four.  Through a special state program, we wound up living in a Manhattan hotel on a floor designated for “battered women and their children”. This year changed my life and I’m investigating all the ways it shaped the woman I became.

A passion project is one that is both scary and ambitious and tugs at your heart. It’s one that has urgency. The one that has been trying to get your attention for all these years. The one where you don’t know if it will “pay off”, the one that is unruly and messy.

How do you make room for a passion project?

You look at your schedule and you notice what activities you do that are either draining, time-wasting, unnecessary or just take up space. We all have some of those. You look for slivers of 10-20% of activities that can be consolidated or cut to give you time. Then you get into the frame of mind where you get excited about your passion project (the one you would LOVE to do, but never seem to find the time). You imagine yourself working on the PP within the time that you have made for it.

To make room for a passion project in light of what’s already on your plate (and I’m assuming that could include, work, childcare, eldercare, exercise, life stuff, other writing projects, etc.) takes some effort. I know it’s not easy, but isn’t it also important to make space for a passion project that has been on your list for a LONG TIME that you intuitively know will bring you JOY, or at least make you feel really ALIVE?

I decided that I would write daily on the PP for 10-45 minutes beginning around 9:30 pm. This meant giving up and rearranging late night time with my partner (we moved our TV time up), ignoring work email (unless it was urgent),  not listening to podcasts, and shuffling other creative writing projects to earlier in the day. It has been challenging but also super rewarding. I began with a brief outline, but most writing sessions I started freewriting with, “I remember”. I now have about half of a journal or 65 handwritten pages.

As luck would have it, I also found my first diary which chronicles a few months of that year.

This was buried under many other journals.

It’s humbling to see what one decides to document when one is a ten-year old!

My handwriting was much neater at 10!

Today, I have begun to transfer these writings into Scrivener. It feels good to move this work from my journal into the computer.

Passion projects replenish our creative wells. They are also addictive. I now will do just about anything to keep this work going though I have other writing projects to finish. These, however, are good problems to have.

I encourage you to find a way to go deep into your work, be it a passion project or something you have already started. And, that might mean taking a break from the outside world for a bit. That was crucial for me. The first quarter of the year is a great time to mirror nature. Winter is about going within and metaphorically playing in the dark.

Do you have a passion project that you want to tackle this year? I’d love to know!

Yoga has been an integral part of my life for the past twenty years. I am a yoga teacher and have become increasingly interested in exploring the relationship between yoga, creativity and writing. I have noticed that many people often feel so fatigued it prevents them from making time for their creative life. Restorative yoga postures can help relax the mind and body which then leads to greater energy for creative focusing. The practice of writing and the practice of yoga also need similar things from us: patience, devotion, activity, silence and reflection.

Through attention to the breath and gentle movement, yoga can help release the body’s wisdom to nurture the creative process.

Over the past 9 months, my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson and I teamed up to plan a weekend beach retreat that would feature writing and yoga. Although I have taught ‘Yoga for Creative People’ workshops, what we were attempting to do was different. Marjorie would take care of the writing prompts and I would teach the yoga classes and intersperse meditation and stretching throughout our writing sessions. Marjorie is also a yoga enthusiast and understands the importance of movement for writers.

Last weekend, we traveled to a retreat center in Emerald Isle, NC and met the ten amazing writers who signed up for this weekend of exploration. About half of them had some knowledge of yoga and about half had never done yoga.

Each day of writing was interspersed with gentle yoga postures, meditation and breath exercises that support the creative process.

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We also came up with an original way to talk about stages in the writing life through exploring the chakras. ‘Chakra’ is the Sanskrit word for “wheel”. In yogic wisdom, the chakras are identified as an energy system in the body (from the spine to the top of the head). Each chakra is associated with particular talents, skills or gifts.  They are often described as colorful vibrating balls of light.

We used the chakra system as a way to metaphorically reflect on aspects of the writing life. When we gathered to do our daily writing, we had 7 candles that reflected the 7 main chakras and lit the appropriate candle to the exercises we were doing. Understanding the chakra system is complex and detailed. We, however, just wanted to give the participants a taste of the chakras and how they could think about their writing in new ways. The writers in the room were so open to what we had to offer. Marjorie and I lucked out!

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One of the writing and chakra exercises that helped participants go pretty deep was looking at the 3rd chakra.

Briefly, this chakra physically corresponds in the body through the solar plexus. It is seen as the seat of personal power and as medical intuitive Carolyn Myss notes it is “our personal power center, the magnetic core of our personality and ego.” (Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing). The color associated with this chakra is yellow and emotionally it corresponds in the body to willpower, commitment, persistence, inner authority, personal responsibility and our ability to stand up for one’s self.

In introducing this topic, I led a guided meditation, asking participants to imagine the strength of the sun in their solar plexus.

Marjorie then read a short passage from To Kill a Mockingbird where Jem (the brother of Scout who is the narrator) runs to Arthur “Boo” Radley’s house (Boo is a strange reclusive character). She invited folks to freewrite for 20 minutes on either:

1)      The bravest kid I ever saw or 2) A time when I was afraid- and acted with courage.

People had the option of writing nonfiction or fiction. Stories and poems of exile, bravery, immigration, leaving difficult situations,and of standing up to inner and outer bullies poured out of the participants. Almost everyone in the room chose to write about a personal experience.

A little later, we talked about how important the message of this chakra was in relation to our writing lives. Marjorie and I asked for them to reflect on: What are your commitments to the writing life? Have they changed over time? How have you stood for your writing life? What shape do your commitments to your writing life take?

These are fruitful questions for writers and creative folk. In order to be productive and gain confidence, we must create structure and accountability in our creative lives. We must have the perseverance to keep going in the face of rejection and the daily grind of life. We have to make decisions about how to stay committed to a particular piece of writing (or creative work), when it feels like we have revised it for the 99th time and it is still not finished. Although we can keep an eye on the marketplace, we must draw on our inner authority to write the things in our heart that desire expression.

Sharon Blessum, one of the poets in the room, and I had a great discussion about how this chakra related to her writing life. She’s been writing all her life, so it’s not that she struggles with the commitment to sit down and write (often a challenge for beginning writers). But, the issue is that the fruits of her commitment to writing now perhaps requires a different level of support. Sharon realized that she’d been functioning like an isolated ‘Lone Ranger’ character in relation to her creative life. This practice has often left her feeling tired and frustrated. I suggested that the isolated, solitary mystical artist archetype is one that may require updating. I also suggested that maybe the commitment required for her writing life now is realizing that it’s OK to seek additional support to help her organize and create a pathway for her work.  This can be accomplished through writing coaches, workshops and even a virtual assistant. We both felt like this was useful territory to explore further. The next day, she delighted the group by sharing a poem that emerged from these reflections. I’m so glad she gave me permission to share it here:

HI HO SILVER

I am a Lone Ranger
I ride Silver
too fast
too many directions
because smoke signals
are in neon lights for me
even invisible messages
stop me in my tracks
challenge me to manage
this earthplane incarnation
while riding bareback
with full backpack
of paper and pens
to write every gd*%&  word
God is giving me
from the seven directions

I need a Tonto

Tonto would say
go away
mortal one
go away
pray
rest
I will
mail your poems
walk your dogs
feed your horse
clean your house
brush your kitty
publish your books
arrange your readings
massage your feet
manifest your vision

you go drum
flow on the river
I’ll be sure the sun
comes up

stand
stretch
breathe
up-dog
down-dog
lion
cobra
headstand
oh my

read the not-rejection letter
write
rest
above
all
rest

I’ll
keep
the world
spinning

©Sharon Blessum May 19, 2013

The workshop was a great success on multiple levels. Marjorie and I coached each other and offered the participants fresh ways to think about the writing life. People left with hearts open and pens drained (at least temporarily). I got to work with a dear friend and mentor and get a taste of how I can support others. A great way to kick off the summer!

I hope that you’ll take a moment to explore the writing prompts that we used. You may surprise yourself remembering your own acts of bravery.

For 20 minutes freewrite about:

1)The bravest kid I ever saw or 2) A time when I was afraid- and acted with courage.

For 20 minutes freewrite about:

What are your commitments to the writing life? Have they changed over time? How have you stood for your writing life? What shape do your commitments to your writing life take?

I am always amazed at how much insight a spontaneous writing prompt can yield. In my ‘First Thursdays’ writing group, we come up with a prompt generated on the spot, freewrite for 5-10 minutes and share. We also critique 3-4 pages of work we’ve brought. Yesterday, my dear writing buddy Al offered this prompt: “I like it best when…” We put pen to the paper for 8 minutes.

I wrote a list:

I like it best when I’m in charge.

I like it best when I find a book that makes language feel fresh.

I like it best when I work in the background and help others—but also acknowledged for a doing a good job.

I like it best when others believe I’m smart.

I like it best at home, hanging out without any makeup on, in comfy clothes, with plenty to eat in the fridge.

I like it best when I have uninterrupted writing time that fuels long spells of imagination.

I like it best when I’m healthy.

I like it best when I have a new book that I’ve written, hot off the press, in my hands.

I like it best when I wake up with a line for a new poem on the tip of my tongue.

I like it best when I have cooked a sumptuous Indian meal.

I like it best when I laugh so hard with a friend that I sound like I’m snorting.

I like it best being inundated by the lights, sounds and smells of a Las Vegas casino.

I like it best right after a facial.

I like it best when I hear from a former student who tells me about their achievements.

In reading over my list wonderful contradictions and tensions are present.  My writing group pointed to the tension in my statements between liking to be in charge and wanting to play a supporting role. I see a tension between my enchantment with casinos (I lived in Las Vegas for two years), and therefore intense stimuli and the joys of solitude that accrue through the practice of writing.

Tensions and contradictions are what make humans fascinating and writers mine these facets of personality to make their work emotionally compelling. Try this writing prompt and see what you discover about yourself. Or, you can apply this prompt to the fiction that you write. How would your main character answer the prompt? What contradictions and tensions from the character’s list could you draw on to deepen a conflict or plot development?

 

Photo Credit: http://www.nailbartallahassee.com/v2/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=362&Itemid=205

At the close of the summer, I’ve been rummaging through several journals containing writing from the past year. At the end of a writing workshop last December, my instructor gave us a stimulating prompt. The prompt was: ‘The writer I was meant to be’ and we had ten minutes to free write about it. I wrote the following:

“The writer I was meant to be writes with the courage and sophistication of James Baldwin
-the irresistible beauty of Gish Jen
-the depth of Ursula Le Guin
-the creativity of Ntozake Shange
-the honesty of Alice Walker
-the fearlessness of Walter Mosley
-the precision of Sheri S.Tepper
-the humor of Jonathan Lethem

The writer I was meant to be encompasses the qualities of writers I admire above. It [a writing career] takes craft, training, persistence and subtlety. I’m still working on it! I’ve written probably under a 100 beautiful pitch perfect sentences in my fiction (even though I have written a lot!). Hmm, maybe a new goal for 2011?”

In the ensuing discussion, everyone shared remarkable insights about the distance between the ‘writer that they were meant to be’ and ‘the writer they were’ at that moment. We bemoaned and laughed about this distance and congratulated ourselves for what we had already accomplished. After I left the workshop, I thought about that ‘100 beautiful sentences’ line. I made an intention for 2011. I wanted to generate a lot of writing, but also aim to craft more beautiful sentences. I felt this was a worthy goal. I haven’t gone through all of my writing this year and evaluated how many beautiful sentences I’ve crafted. But, I know that holding this intention during the last ten months has helped me pay more attention to the quality as well as quantity of my writing. And, I’ve found myself writing more poems, a pleasant surprise, and enjoying using language in fresh ways. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Stanley Fish’s provocative and helpful How to Write a Sentence (and How to Read One). It is a spirited meditation on sentence craft. I highly recommend it.

So, as fall approaches and we turn naturally inward, I pose to you these free writes: ‘The writer I was meant to be…’.Try that for ten minutes and then try ‘The writer I am right now at this moment’ for ten minutes. Compare the two lists and reflect on patterns, similarities, differences, challenges and opportunities.

And, finally have you written 100 beautiful sentences this year? Is that an interesting or worthy goal for you? To answer this question might mean making some time to pour over your journal entries, blog posts and other writings. I see you curled up in comfortable warm clothing, as the leaves are turning outside, with a cup of soup near by and lavishing attention on your prose.

These exercises might seed something in you that ripens later this year or in 2012.

I’d love to hear your reflections.
Photo Credit: Ismoyo’s Vintage Playground


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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