Archive for January, 2012

Barbara’s Path to Authorhood – Part 1

Monday, January 16th, 2012
A few juicy writing prompts

A few juicy writing prompts

I moved to New Mexico from Philadelphia in September of 1991. At that time I was a working visual artist  (painter/muralist/set designer) and an amateur actress, with no plan to become a professional writer, author or literary anything. The only “writing” I was doing were loosey-goosey “scripts” on 3×5 index cards for my own sketch comedy shows. I am pretty darn funny when I concentrate and I was frustrated at the lack of good parts for over-25-females in plays, blah, blah, blah. I was occasionally performing these skits on the street – Miss Revlon, The Doll Before Barbie debuted at Montezuma and Guadalupe streets –  in my attempt to fit in to the Santa Fe lifestyle and make some friends in my new town.

Another, more successful, attempt at building a community of friends for myself was to join the Santa Fe Book Arts Group (B.A.G.).

The B.A.G. group was full of Wild Boomer Women. It was great for me because the meetings involved making tremendous messes. We ripped, snipped, wrote, glued, pasted, cut, shredded, glittered, strung, hung, tore apart, mail-arted, hammered, re-assembled, and rubberstamped upon, in archival and non-archival ways, papers, books, journals, you name it, to make luminous wonders of book and paper art.

This is where I met Ursula (Mueller), who is from Austria and who looked very well-behaved but was not and, still, is not. Ursula had a secret and I found it out. After knocking back a half-a-glass of wine at the 1994 holiday B.A.G. party, Ms. U revealed all.

Ursula was living the secret life of an Improvisational Storyteller. There was a clandestine, invitation-only,  improv storytelling group happening in Santa Fe. On Wednesday afternoons. From 3 till 5. As they say nowadays: OMG!

I had taken several improv comedy and acting classes by then and LOVED IT. There is something thrilling about jumping into the abyss and living to tell. Improv storytelling would be a blast, too, I just knew it.

It took a year’s worth of B.A.G. meetings for Ursula and I to get to know each other and for Ursula to decide I was okay enough (as in: a lively creative mind, yet well-behaved) to be invited to join the storyteller group.

The very next Wednesday, I went to the house where the secret storytellers met.

To be continued…..

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Notes on Procrastination

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

A journalist once wrote about his experience at a procrastination workshop: most who signed up either never showed up or straggled in late.

What is it about procrastination that makes it so tenacious? I posed this question to two painter friends recently and they both had not only answers, but solutions, too.

One painter, through her therapist, learned to see her art as the portal through which she goes deep,deep into exploration, deep into knowing herself, deep into being. The interior place where creation starts is ‘one’s room of one’s own’. Going there can be the biggest gift one can give to oneself.

The other painter said she often works without lifting a brush by gently thinking, meditating and musing until ideas percolate and inspire her to render the colorful results. Her other trick is to literally write a painting appointment with herself in her date book. Even if she breaks it, she will move it forward and there it is in black and white, a constant reminder until she honors it-and herself.

One can reframe the question,’ why am I procrastinating’ to ‘why am I not gifting myself right now with my creativity?’ It works for my painter friends. Maybe it can work for us writers.

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Posted in Creative Process |

First Day at Writing Group

Monday, January 2nd, 2012
Writing desk

My desk, given to me by Kate Van Roeken, the first "Mrs. Iptweet" I'd ever met.

I wandered into the Writing Group about 13 years ago, when it  was a children’s book writing class held in the home of author Jennifer Owings Dewey. I’d brought five very short stories with me. My first five ever. Long-story-short: Jennifer and Deb and Catherine and Nadine and Janie welcomed me. They liked the stories a lot. I thought that meant the stories were perfect and complete and I was a genius. Wow, writing is easy.

I know now that the kindness was a ploy! After that first day, I was gently but thoroughly whipped into shape. I had sloppy habits from writing for the stage. As a comedienne, I needed only the barest written outline of my routines. Who needed specifics? My hands, voice, body, and especially my eyebrows, would fill in the gaps on stage. And I left myself lots of room for improvisation.

In class, I was made aware of my “habit” words and phrases. I was taught the golden rule of writing: SHOW-DON’T-TELL. It was explained that DETAILS ARE EVERYTHING. And five million other very important writing tools. What a workout.

 Those first five stories became The Magical Mrs. Iptweet and Me, my first book.

Mrs. Iptweet is a middle-grade novel, the first in a series. Azro Press published it in 2009. It has won three awards. It would not exist but for the love, encouragement, badgering and unrelenting honesty of my writing group.

I’m working on formatting the manuscript for an e-book now, as well as writing the next books in the Iptweet series. More about that another time.

MY CREATIVE PROCESS

I like to stall, procrastinate and delay my writing as long as possible. I am not sure why. Once I am in the flow, nothing feels better. Sometimes I think stalling is just part of the process and I can relax already and mark down some writing times onto my calendar and it’s okay if something comes up and I move it to the next day or week. It’s okay if I am busy over the holidays, or don’t feel like writing.

Other times I think I am tragically flawed and will never amount to anything. I work myself up into a lather. This is good because lathers drive me to look at what I’m doing and see the avoidance and fear. Oh, an entire blog could be written about the fears. For me, now, it boils down to….

  1. Maybe all my best stories are already written, and
  2. How can I top Book One?

My way of getting past this crap is to take Drastic Action. I call a writer friend and say let’s do a two-week experiment. Let’s meet everyday for two hours at a cafe and write. And we do and I get so much writing done. Stories show up on the page even on days when I feel restless, bored or uninspired. I have had to face it: I need the company. I need another person to sit with for a while – about two weeks. Then I can write at the old home desk again, on my own. I’m back in the Inspired Flow…. until I’m not again, and more Drastic Action is required. Hey, whatever it takes.

The other thing I notice is that when I show up for the Flow of Stories, every other part of my life gets better, too. The Flow of Stories somehow flips on the Flow of Life switch. It’s pretty wild.

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Writing Prompts for 12-30-11

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

This was my first time to bring prompts and it was suggested that I keep them fairly simple. So I wrote what seemed obvious to me.

On the eve of New Year’s Eve, Prompt #1 was Write something about the new year, or new beginnings. It could be your New Year’s resolutions, or a new beginning for you, or a turn in your plot — some new beginning for your character.

Because we are starting a new website and blog, Prompt #2 was Write about your experience of being in this writer’s group. Or write about anything involved in the practice of writing, such as how to access your own creativity.

We wrote for 45 minutes. We read. We gave feedback. We drank tea and ate red velvet cupcakes. We also spent a bit of time talking about this website, and our ideas for making it fun and helpful to other writers.

This was my favorite week so far. Later, I realized it was because everyone wrote nonfiction so I knew how to listen, evaluate, and comment. Everyone selected prompt #2 and wrote blogs, which will eventually show up here. It was fun for me to hear people writing in their own voices, instead of their characters’ voices. I felt like I got to know them better. Barbara even made a list of topics she wants to blog about — I think I’ll do the same.

We’ll post our prompts every week, except for the first week of the month when we work on ongoing projects, which is this following week.

Happy New Year!

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Writing in Santa Fe

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Every week I’m invited to an intimate party on Friday afternoon from 4 to 6 at Catherine’s house. Seven or eight of us gather in the living room of an adobe house with hardwood floors, and kiva fireplace in the corner. Catherine makes tea, and the person responsible for that week’s prompts brings food and lays it out on the antique oak table that we sit around. Homemade cookies, cheese and crackers, almonds, and chocolate (of course) sit in pretty mismatched china plates and bowls.

We check in with each other for the first few minutes while everyone is showing up, choosing a place to sit, and steeping their teabags.

“Did the runaway cat return?”

“Did your husband get back from China?”

Legs fold up underneath bodies on the couch as fingers curl around teacups, teabag tabs dangling over the edges. Everyone is settling in and getting comfortable. Then the prompts are presented–a jar of mustard, a ceramic donkey, a deck of tarot cards (select as many cards as you want), and sometimes a verbal cue, “If none of these speak to you, write about someone who is angry, but is trying not to show it.” The room goes silent as everyone sits for a minute of two, deciding on a prompt. A couple of women go to other rooms with desks, but the rest of us bow our heads in silent meditation and begin to write. For the next hour, we just write. The only sound is the heat kicking on and off in about ten minute intervals. Occasionally, someone looks up for a minute, grabs a handful of almonds, and stares into space while they’re waiting for the next words to come. Or their hand will stop moving across the page as they close their eyes in order to hear the voice of their character, or their own inner voice.  Within seconds, their hovering pen begins writing again.

I close my eyes and wait to hear a lead, and then begin to write. If I’m not satisfied with the direction my work is going, I stop. I close my eyes again, listen, and begin again. It’s intense and focused and passionate. It’s also about learning to be open and vulnerable, allowing the story to come in. If you look around the room, you can see the total physical and mental immersion. Mainly, we try to keep the pen (or computer keys) moving, mining something deep inside our souls and imaginations. Each woman has her unique process, and it’s fascinating to watch.

After an hour, everyone comes back into the circle. Some of us stretch our arms, roll our necks, or shake out our writing hands, but no time is wasted. The first person begins reading her work. The moment she stops, these caring, trusted women immediately give feedback.

“What if you started the story in the third paragraph? I like that better?”

“I want to know more about your main character’s feelings.”

“My mind wandered during this part — could you develop it more?”

I’m new to the group. I’m not used to listening so intently. I’m hoping my listening skills will develop over time. The women banter back and forth with gentle, direct feedback.

“Oh, that worked for me. I totally got where you were going with that part of the story.”

“No, I wanted more said about the orphan. It didn’t make sense to me.”

“Maybe it needs an epilogue.”

“No, I think the story ends there. It’s understood he’ll go to prison for murder. He’s been caught.”

Opinions fly around the room freely until they’re exhausted. Then the next person reads, anxious for feedback. When we’ve gone around the room and everyone has read (or chosen not to), two hours have passed. We’ve heard children’s stories, young adult fiction, magical realism, a poem, and essays. And the party is over.

“Who’s got the prompt for next week? No wait, it’s the beginning of the month — no prompt. Just bring whatever project you’re working on to read. It’s Reading Friday.”

Teacups are washed. We check in with each other again as we put on our scarves, coats, hats, and gloves. I leave with a feeling of fullness, grateful to have been in a room of such talented women. The familiar practice of writing grounds me, yet I feel the excitement of once again expressing myself, and maybe more importantly, being heard. I won’t be listened to with this intensity until next Friday when I show up again, full of hope and excitement, to gather with my sacred community of friends and begin again.

 

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Posted in Jillian Brasch |