The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘poetry

 “Meditation is push-ups for the mind.”- Rachael Herron

As some of you know, I’ve been a long-time advocate of meditation. I use meditation as a tool in my life and I have often taught secular meditative techniques to writers.

Clinical research supports the claim that meditation helps to strengthen the mind, increase concentration and slow our thousands of thoughts down. This is so helpful for writers!

Why do meditation techniques work? Because all human minds, despite their great diversity and capabilities feel and experience the same basic emotions that include joy, fear, rage, happiness, sadness, etc. We also tend to experience similar thoughts both positive (‘I’m great!’) and negative (‘I’m horrible!’). We all also get distracted, frustrated and irritated on a routine basis in relatively the same ways (though about different kinds of things).

There lots and lots of meditation styles and techniques out there from a variety of secular and spiritual traditions. You’ve probably heard a lot about a type of meditation called ‘mindfulness’, so let’s start there.

Mindfulness is a practice of maintaining an awareness of your thoughts, feelings and environment in the present moment. Slowing down and paying attention to the present moment allows us to be more available to what’s happening right now, instead of living in the past or racing ahead in the future. Mindfulness also involves getting some distance from your thoughts and mind chatter without judging them.

Cultivating mindfulness can mean focusing on one’s breathing and being quiet.

Mindfulness can support your writing in a few ways:

-Mindfulness can get us back in the body

“Whatever stories we have, they are organically connected to our physical bodies. Cultivating that connection—that pathway between our heads and our bodies—creates deep writing.”
                                                                    Larraine Herring

Ever have that experience where you don’t know where time went and not in a good way? Ever realize that you’ve been on autopilot and not in the moment? To write well, we have to be connected to the body, our experience, the pain and joy of being alive. Taking a few minutes to recognize we are in a particular place in time and space and we are actually breathing is quite helpful when writing. Sometimes I’m working so intensely, I have hunched my shoulders, clenched my jaw and have tightened up all my muscles. It’s good in that moment to stop, breathe and readjust my body. Mindfulness can open us up to sensations in the body that we tend to ignore. And, indeed in slowing down, we can connect as Herring notes we can open ourselves up to greater bodily knowledge in service of storytelling.

– Contributes to Writerly Equanimity

Mindfulness helps us stay the course. Bad writing day? OK, we all have them…tomorrow will be better. If we have cultivated equanimity, when we hit an impasse in our writing, we’re more likely to be open to tapping our resources (including connecting with writing buddies, groups, etc.,), trying out other techniques (like taking a walk, freewriting) as opposed to thinking we have to solve it all ourselves or because we can’t figure it out, or that we’re bad writers.

Don’t Worry about What You Can’t Control

Practicing mindfulness allows us to see when negative thoughts arise, but also let them go (especially helpful when trying to write!).  It helps us recognize what we can’t control. If we overemphasize what we can’t control, over time that leads to stress. The only thing we can control is what we create, how much we create and over time, the quality of what we create. We also have a say in how we show up and interact with industry professionals. We can’t control an audience’s response to our work, nor the shifting and fickle interests of the publishing industry.

-Quieting the Inner Critic

A practice of mindfulness helps keep us connected to our inner creative self. I don’t know about you but I have gone through cycles of having a very active inner critic. For me, I’m less susceptible to believing the words of my most upsetting and vicious inner critic if I’ve been practicing mindfulness. Also, if I start to have an attack of the inner critic, if I soften my breath and tell myself, OK, I’m going to take a five minutes and watch my thoughts. Do this can give me the perspective I need to return to the work after the five minutes is up.

Less Easily Distracted

Mindfulness cultivates a resistance to being easily distracted. Practicing mindfulness teaches us about distraction and keeping with something, even when difficult.  If we are to succeed as writers, we have to develop both our attention and our intention. Then over time, we become better able to resist the false siren calls of distraction that are always around.

Something to Try:

One easy way to start to practice mindfulness is to start with the breath. You can practice the following before you write. Breathe in and out a few times (breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth a few times to get relaxed). Then breathe in through the nose for a count of four, pause for a moment at the top of inhale and gently breathe out through the nose to a count of four (over time you can do a longer exhale to six or eight counts, which tends to relax the nervous system). Continue this breath cycle for a minute or more and then build up to 3 minutes or more.

Don’t try to stop your thoughts, notice them and then keep returning to the breath. Visualize thoughts as passing clouds over your mental landscape.

Another way to practice: You can place one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly and observe your breath. Ask yourself the following questions:

-Where am I breathing? (meaning where do you feel the breath the most—the belly, at the nostrils, in the expanse of the lungs)

-What’s the quality of my breath? (Slow? Shallow? Tight? Rapid)

Observe without judgement and then take a few more deep belly breaths.

You can also begin by pausing to notice your breath for a minute and then the next week, up it to two minutes and so on.

Interested in learning more? I particularly like Dr. Sara Lazar’s Ted Talk about meditation—she is a neuroscientist at Harvard who started studying the brain changes in people who meditated regularly.

There are lots of apps (many are free or at least free for 30 days) and places on line to investigate mindfulness and meditation.

I’d love to hear your experiences with mindfulness or meditative techniques in support of your creativity!

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I’ve been named as one of the judges for two upcoming opportunities for North Carolina writers. If that describes you, please consider applying as the deadlines for both are soon.

The Sally Buckner Emerging Writers’ Fellowship is sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network. Writers must be in the early stages of their careers and must be between the ages of 21 and 35, as of December 31 of the year in which they apply.

Fellowship recipients will use the $500 award to allay the costs associated with the business of writing: paper, printing, writing supplies, submission fees, research expenses, travel, conference registration fees, etc. In addition to the cash award, recipients will receive a complimentary one-year membership in the NCWN, as well as scholarship aid to attend the Network’s annual Fall Conference.

Deadline June 30

More details here.

The Linda Flowers Literary Award is new and is sponsored by the North Carolina Humanities Council. The North Carolina Humanities Council invites original, unpublished entries of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry for this award.

The award is given to exceptional North Carolina authors whose work celebrates the North Carolina experience and conveys excellence in writing. Entries must not exceed 10 pages. Entries must be from authors who are at least 18 years of age and currently live in North Carolina. Entries should detail examinations of intimate, provocative, and inspiring portraiture of North Carolina, its people and cultures. Entries should be deeply engaged with North Carolina by drawing on particular North Carolina connections and/or memories. Entries should demonstrate excellence in the humanities. Entries, regardless of genre, should be original, unpublished works. There is a cash award of $1500 and a writing residency.

Deadline: June 28

More details here.

 

Writers’ conferences provide fantastic opportunities to meet authors through other writer friends and also serendipity. Both played a recent role in how I met today’s guest, Miriam Herin. I was introduced to Miriam by Marjorie Hudson, my writing teacher and friend. Last July, we all were attending the North Carolina Writers Conference (NCWC). The NCWC is an invite and membership only, volunteer based organization that’s been around for over six decades co-founded by esteemed writer Paul Green. I was a newly admitted member.

During one of the breaks, I found myself chatting with Miriam and her husband, Tom. There was time before the next session and we were all headed to the bar for refreshments. I was about to sit on a stool by myself but Miriam and Tom waved at me and asked me to join them, which I happily did. The three of us talked as if we had known each other for a long time. I love it when I make that kind of connection. I enjoyed hearing about Miriam’s journey as a writer and her persistence and perseverance on the path. I’m grateful for the introduction; our conversation was a highlight of the conference.

Miriam Herin is an accomplished author. Miriam’s first novel Absolution won the 2007 Novello Press Literary Award and was cited by Publishers Weekly as an “impressive” debut that “skillfully combines a contemporary courtroom thriller with a subtle look back at the competing passions and pressures of the Vietnam War era.” The novel also received Independent Publisher‘s Gold Award for Best Fiction, Southeast Region, and was a Finalist for Foreword Magazine’s 2007 Novel of the Year.

Miriam is a short story writer, too, and her short story Lucky, won the 2018 Doris Betts Fiction Prize, and was recently published in the North Carolina Literary Review. To read the story: https://issuu.com/eastcarolina/docs/2019-nclr_online-final/140

Miriam’s second novel A Stone for Bread (Livingston Press, West Alabama University) was a top-ten finalist in the 2014 Faulkner-Wisdom novel competition, received a starred Kirkus Review through the Kirkus indie program, and was named a Kirkus Best Books of 2016.

About A Stone for Bread:

In 1963, North Carolina poet Henry Beam published a collection of poems supposedly saved from a Nazi slave labor camp. The authorship controversy that followed cost Henry his university teaching position and forced the poet into decades of silence. Thirty-four years after the poems’ publication, Henry breaks that silence when he begins telling grad student Rachel Singer the story of his study year in Paris, how the naïve young American became entangled with fiery right-wing politician Renard Marcotte, his love affair with the shopgirl Eugenié and his unnerving encounter with the enigmatic René, the Frenchman Henry claims gave him the poems. A Stone for Bread moves back and forth in time from 1997 North Carolina to post-World War I France, to Paris in the mid-1950’s and into the horror of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

Miriam writes across historical eras and tackles big themes in her work. I couldn’t wait for her to share her wisdom with us. I’m so delighted to welcome Miriam Herin to The Practice of Creativity.

-Why did you write A Stone for Bread? What’s in store for readers?

I think a general answer to the first question would be I haven’t a clue, at least not in terms of what the novel is about. When I first started discussing the published novel at bookstores and with groups, I would say that the opening chapter seemed to have come out of nowhere. But not too long ago, I realized that wasn’t true, having recalled my own very early childhood at Fort Benning, Georgia, when our family would picnic in the woods and I would pick up bullet casings from the soldiers’ war games. The rest of the book was more rationally contrived from the notion of a lost collection of poems and a disgraced poet. I had also just finished a very long and still unpublished historical novel set in France, so I decided to use what I’d learned in my research of the country for the novel’s setting.

I think the real answer to the first question, however, is found in the answer to the second one. I hope that readers will find in the novel compelling characters with their separately revealed stories that may also shed light on our day from the vantage of epochal and horrifying 20th century events. Taped beside my desk is a very old 3 x 5 card on which is typed (probably on a long ago typewriter) my personal mantra as a writer: “If the world were clear, art would not exist.” Camus

-How did you get bitten by the writing bug?

I had wanted to write novels from the age of six, after my mother read Bambi to me. This wasn’t the Walt Disney version, but the original novel by Felix Salton which dealt with death and loss and the trials of coming of age. However, I didn’t seriously begin writing fiction until I was forty (I’d had a short story published in my college literary magazine but was too shy even to put my real name on it). My sense of myself through school and later teaching college students was that I didn’t have the ability to write fiction. So I had studied it instead, spending four years in grad school. What pushed me to try writing fiction were life-changing sessions with a therapist through which I also discovered the power of “story” to shape our lives and choices from our earliest childhood.

 -What advice would you give a writer attempting a historical novel?

Characters don’t have to be actual historical figures, but they need to seem authentic to the time period and place in which the story is set.  This isn’t always easy to know or visualize and may take a good bit of research to come close to that authenticity. Dialogue in fiction, for example, seldom resembles or even should resemble “real” speech (if it did, it would be deadly boring on the printed page). What’s important is for dialogue to seem realistic to the characters and setting as well as authentic to the time of the story. When setting fiction in an early time period or a place that is non-English speaking, I find simulating dialect usually works better than trying to recreate in English the actual language or its “foreignness.” This is when the old adage “less us more” can be very important.

There are two literary terms that I find helpful in this: verisimilitude: creating fictional places, people and stories similar to the actual places and people of a particular time period and anachronisms, which are to be avoided, such as vocabulary, objects, styles, etc. that would not have existed at the time a story is set. What writers need to know about a particular place and time are such things as types of houses and styles of clothing, vegetation, landscape, types of work and vocation, and something about what people’s everyday lives might have been like. We don’t have to be meticulous to the point of boring, but we do need to give a sense of authenticity to a fictional place and period.

 -What’s your process like when you work on a book?

I usually write on as many weekdays as possible with my best time in the morning, although not too early. I no longer give myself a daily page quota because these days, I don’t have to force myself to stay in the chair. I then use afternoons for research when needed. For very busy people, writing two pages a day, five days a week can result in a hundred pages in ten weeks.  I’m very fortunate to have a retired husband and enough income under us to do what I do. However, I haven’t forgotten the early days and the free-lance jobs that often took me away from my desk to help keep the family solvent, as well as the activities of our two children who needed chauffeuring to ball teams and music and art lessons, scout troops etc., etc.

-What is your next writing project? What are you working on now?

I started a new novel last year, one that’s quite different from anything I’ve written before, mainly because I’ve chosen to write it from experiences in my own life, which require little or no research! This is taking me imaginatively to places where I’ve traveled and into situations I’ve experienced. I don’t consider it a particularly “literary” novel, but it has certainly been a lot of fun.

-What’s your best writing tip you’d like to share?

If you let others critique your work in progress, consider the 11th thing.*

* From a filmmaker: After he previews a rough cut of a film, he listens to all the critiques, especially the negative ones. Then supposing ten different criticisms, his job is to figure out the real problem, the eleventh thing they may all be actually talking about.

Miriam Herin is an author. Her most recent work is A Stone for Bread (Livingston Press, West Alabama University) In January, 2016, the novel was featured in The North Carolina Literary Review in a joint review with award-winning novelists Robert Morgan and Terry Roberts.  See the review.  The novel also received a splendid review from North Carolina’s ChangeSeven Magazine. See the Review.

Her short story Lucky, winner of the 2018 Doris Betts Fiction Prize, was recently published in the North Carolina Literary Review. To read the story: https://issuu.com/eastcarolina/docs/2019-nclr_online-final/140

She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband Tom and their rescue-dog Chance. She is the mother of two adult children and the grandmother of a delightful eleven-year-old.

Visit her at http://miriamherin.com/

It’s March and winter hasn’t quite released its grip yet, at least not in the southeastern United States. I’m late this year in getting to begin a new gratitude jar as I usually start one in January. I’ve been traveling for work and was feeling a bit more cranky and tired than usual and I needed a life-affirming pick me up. I checked out my 2018 gratitude jar, still full of entries.

But first, what’s a gratitude jar?

The idea is simple…get a big jar, write one thing you are grateful for at the end of the day and put it in the jar. The jar offers a visual touchstone of joy as you see it filling up with entries during the year.

For many years, I have kept a gratitude jar focused around my creative life.

Keeping a gratitude jar is a symbolic act. As creative people, we have to take physical action in the world to pursue our dreams, I, however, also believe in utilizing symbolic acts of power. Symbolic acts of power are those that connect us to mystery, the unknown, serendipitous help and support, luck, and universal good. Symbolic acts of power can also free us from a constant focus on the mundane aspects of the creative life. Using symbolic acts of power can help boost our confidence, remain playful in the face of adversity, and develop trust in ourselves and the power of the universe.

I like to use a big jar (see first image) but you can also probably find ones like these in stores or online

At the end of the year, one of the things that fills me with delight is to go through and read my entries. I rarely get close to having 365 entries, but that’s OK. I definitely love reading about all the special moments that happened last year that I had forgotten. The majority of the entries relate to giving thanks for some aspect of my creative life going well. I was grateful that I had gotten a submission accepted, or someone had offered kind words on a reading I gave, or I had a day where good ideas seemed to flow endlessly.

Today, I plucked a few from the jar and read them. They transported me back in time and space and jogged my memory about all sorts of big and small events. They made me smile and I immediately felt less cranky.

In reading a dozen or so I was reminded of these two simple facts:

-most things in life work out just fine, creative work included

-we live in a powerful interlinked circle of friends, associates, colleagues, loved ones and even strangers that give our life meaning through their acts of kindness, grace and love. It’s important to remember!

The powerful benefits that stem from a gratitude practice are ones that science now validates and that spiritual traditions have always claimed.

This week, I’ll be reading all the entries of 2018, honoring them and then starting afresh. One new entry per day.

What about you? Why not grab a jar and dedicate it specifically for your creative practice/life/ dream/goal? Or you can put something in the gratitude jar before you start work on your novel, book of essays, musical score, etc. List what you’re grateful for before you begin or end a project. There are many uses for a gratitude jar. There’s actually so much that goes right on our creative paths, if we just slow down and notice.

This is a practice that you will wind up loving and is like rocket fuel for your creative life! Promise!

 

Dear Creative Community,

I hope you are having a fantastic holiday week. Given all of the hustle and bustle at this time of year, I wanted to remind you about my two holiday gifts that are just for YOU. One is a FREE webinar TODAY and the other is the opportunity to work with me (e.g. my new e-course which includes a coaching session)–that gift is time sensitive and the price and bonus expires late on 12/31.  I am also offering a special half hour coaching for $49 (also expiring late tomorrow). All details are below.

FREE webinar: ‘Affirm the Writer in You 2019”. This webinar is designed to allow you time to reflect on your 2018 writing accomplishments and chart what’s next in 2019.

During the webinar we’ll explore:

-The sequence of success on the author journey
-Trends for authors in 2019
-Cultivating the “maker” and “manager” energy of the writing business
-Harnessing urgency in order to write in 2019

-How to supercharge your productivity and sustain your momentum
-How to get unstuck and approach the page with more ease
-Cultivating audiences that love your work

(we’ll be able to interact in real time!)

No need to signup—just bookmark the details below

DEC 30th-3-4:15 pm EST

Dial-in number (US): (605) 475-4081

Access code: 380339#

International dial-in numbers: https://fccdl.in/i/bergermichele2005

Online meeting ID: bergermichele2005

Join the online meeting: https://join.freeconferencecall.com/bergermichele2005

(copy and paste the above link–you’ll want to join the online meeting so you can see my slides!)

My second holiday offering to you is an opportunity work with me through my NEW e-course Charting Your Path to Publication NOW.

So many writers feel daunted navigating the submission process and often find themselves stymied by inevitable rejection and not making progress on the path of publication. I’ve been teaching this successful live workshop over the years and have taken all that wonderful content (and wisdom learned from what writers need) and created an amazing e-course.

This transformative course will empower you with the necessary tools and skills to move your writing forward in 2019

SPECIAL BONUS: If you sign-up by Dec 31st, you’ll receive a 30 minute coaching session with me!

Click here for the FULL DETAILS and see the fantastic price of this offering.

If you are interested in a short coaching session. I am offering a 1/2 hour coaching special for $49. Depending on your interests, we could focus on:

  • me as a a friendly first reader of your work (up to 5 double-spaced pages)
  • help you brainstorm where to submit your work/submission strategy
  • how to grow your social media strategies
  • how to create smack-dab in the midst of your busy life.
  • ways to harness both “maker and manager” energy for the writing life and business
  • creating a realistic action plan for your writing in 2019

If interested in coaching, please email me at mtb@creativetickle.com

Offer expires tomorrow at 11:59 pm.

I look forward to serving you in 2019!

The literary community has lost a brilliant playwright, poet and visionary–Ntozoke Shange has died. I am quite sad.

I discovered her work in college and was transfixed by it.

Two of my favorite novels of hers include Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, a novel about three African American women who are sisters and their path of creative self-discovery and Betsey Brown, a historical novel that chronicles what desegregation was like for an African American girl in the 7th grade in St. Louis, Missouri.

Shange wrote poetry, plays, children’s books, and novels, leaving us a rich corpus of work.

I took a workshop with her in my early 20s that was truly transformative and gave me courage and inspiration that I drew on decades later. Her work influenced a whole generation of women of color creatives. She will be missed.

Read more about her here.

I got an idea and it wouldn’t let me go this weekend. If you know anything about some of my writing projects, you know that I’m pretty interested in hair, and its role and meaning in our beauty and adornment practices.

I loved the creativity of Cyndi Lauper’s hair of the 1980s.

 

I’ve always loved the way Grace Jones has cut and styled her hair.

My sci-fi novella, Reenu-You is about what happens to a community when a virus is seemingly transmitted through a “natural” hair care product. In this Inspirations and Influences essay I wrote for Book Smugglers Publishing, I explore why hair and cultural ideas about hair fascinate me.

I have worn braided styles like this one.

 

Diane Ross was known for very thick and gorgeous mane.

During my search for submission opportunities, I stumbled upon this call for poems about hair for an upcoming anthology. Hair poems? How cool! I have many other projects in my queue to finish and write, but this call stuck with me.

Intrigued, I pondered, puttered, and made some notes. I thought about Bea, a beautician, and one of my favorite characters in a novel that is part of the Reenu-You “universe”, though not yet published. I’ve always loved her voice and her inner life.

In the back of my mind, I was also still mulling over the panel “Writing To Play” from last month’s North Carolina Writers Conference. (see more here about this super cool volunteer organization that hosts a great low-key conference and my becoming an invited member. They are different from the North Carolina Writers Network.) The panel was about cross-fertilization—what fiction writers and poets can learn from playwrights and vice versa. It was an impressive panel moderated by Howard Craft; panelists included Barbara Presnell, Nathan Ross Freeman, June Guralnick and Pat Riviere-Seel. Several panelists discussed having their poetry and/or fiction adapted into theatre productions. Both poets and fiction writers remarked how sound, dialogue and character operated differently across various genres.

Yesterday, I pulled out Bea’s first person narrative and began stripping it down and rearranging it. I thought about how a beautician views herself and her trade might work well as a persona poem. I adore persona poems and like to occasionally try my hand at them.

Here’s snippet from the poem, tentatively titled, ‘When the Beautician Thinks of Herself as a Healer’.

  I am a healer,
a modern day shaman
whose tools
are metal flat irons,
big pink rollers,
slippery, translucent gels,
and hair oils
that smell like
exotic fruits
from faraway lands.

I loved that first line in its fictional form and I love it as a first stanza! I’m having great fun playing which is the most important thing when one experiments. Also, the lesson for me is that if I follow my passion and subject matter, I can adapt the form a project takes. The deadline for the anthology is 8/31. That’s soon! My goal is to submit this poem and also to write another poem titled, ‘The Math of Hair’ or ‘Hair Math’. I will be sure to update you on my progress!

Have you ever taken a piece of your writing and changed the form (moving from poetry to short fiction, poetry to a play, etc.)? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Photo Credits: #1, #2, #3, #4


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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