Are you in the mood for some serious writing prompts? These do not let you waffle your way through.
As part of my research for other things writing related, I came across the website, Funds for Writers, which offers, neatly alphabetized, a list of grants writers can apply for along with deadlines and other relevant informaton.
I don’t know about you, but I have long harbored a fantasy of being awarded a fellowship at the McDowell Colony or the like. There’s something about the idea of all of my needs being satisfied in the service of my writing that seems magical to me. As in, I would magically write the purest of prose, with no tendency to procrastinate.
Here’s me as a fellow at a said writer’s conference:
I wake up to the sound of bird song. Is it the fucking jays twittering outside my window or is it the sweet sparrows warbling away?
Ne’er mind–my eyes open and I stretch and yawn and think of the exciting day ahead. All mine, to write, to create, to fantasize whole worlds—to go back to that fucking draft I left in the middle last night because it was turgid and going nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.
I climb out of my nest of comforters and open the front door of my cottage. There, just at the stoop, is a steaming pot of coffee and a wicker basket of freshly baked rolls. Will there be the ones I truly cherish–the baking soda, brown sugar, pecan knots–or will someone else have gotten the only rolls that are talismanic for my daily productivity? I root through the basket, find one twisted pecan knot and feel relieved that the omens for my day seem on my side.
And thus my day at the writer’s colony continues apace, as filled with the dark and the light, the yin and the yang, the blithe reduction to utter absurdity as any a day at home.
For those of you who want the real story, however, I offer this blogpost, All About Writers Colonies. The author, Nova Ren Suma, has surveyed a number of her fellow writers who have actually spent time at some of the most prominent colonies. They offer their experience–and their advice.
My fantasy about being awarded a fellowship at a writer’s colony will always remain hovering, somewhere just beyond my ability to actually sit down and apply. If you are more proactive than I, check out the list of grants from Funds for Writers.
And let me know how it goes. Really. Feed my fantasy with your own experience!
How do you feel about grammar & punctuation? Is it the writer’s responsibility, or can it be off-shored to a paid editor?
That’s the going debate on a private Facebook writer’s group I belong to. The responses, which seem to be running fifty-fifty, are passionate in both directions.
All that grammar stuff stifles the creative urge
Words and the correct use of them are an essential part of the writer’s toolbox.
I say both of those are true, and what we’re really talking about is…
The crying need for a First Draft.
- First Drafts, which I affectionately refer to as the Vomit Drafts, are where you just pour it all out without a thought for whether it makes sense or is legible.
- The First Draft is the draft that only you, the writer, see; therefore, you can spill your guts with impunity.
- In First Drafts, you can leave blanks to fill in later when you can’t come up with the words you’re looking for now.
- You can write notes to yourself in your First Draft remind you of something you want to describe but aren’t quite ready to.
- To treat the First Draft as a Final Draft in which you focus on correcting grammar, punctuation and spelling is to deny yourself…
The essence of the First Draft,
which is the freedom of discover.
Okay, so the little Q&A is obviously somewhat tongue in cheek. But–this is an issue that I hear a lot from writers I work with. Hell, it’s an issue that I dealt with way back when I started my career. I definitely felt that calling myself a writer was a privilege earned. But what was the privilege that earned it? Hence, the four points of the Q&A above. As I recall, however, the whole issue for me was resolved when I applied for a new passport and had to fill in the blank marked “Occupation.” Since my days pretty much consisted of writing, I guess I felt the truth trumped whether or not I had earned the privilege.
The fact that this is an issue for others has something to do with the ambivalent view the outside world has of writers. We do something most people can’t imagine doing. Yet, anyone who is capable of holding pencil or tapping a keyboard can do it. It doesn’t require any education, even if the MFA Writing Programs would have you think so. We tell secrets; we make our version of the story stick; and oh, it doesn’t pay very much, if at all.
In fact, of all the things that make people disparage writers, it’s the money thing. As I wrote the other day in What Real Writers Know, we are a culture that values product over process. The worth of a particular product is determined by how much money it has made. For those not part of our world, the financial end of the writer’s life–who pays us, why they pay us, how much they pay us–is very murky. And for many, if they can’t put a dollar value to an activity, then it has no value.
The other day on a Facebook writers group that I belong to, this was part of a long conversation: how do you deal with family and friends who question your being a writer? There were a lot of opinions that ran the range from “Fuck anyone who questions you” to “Do your writing in secret.” Both responses seem extreme to me. The middle ground–have confidence in yourself without needing external approval–strikes me as therapeutically correct, but, damn, hard for a person with a normal amount of self-esteem to do.
Valuing yourself and valuing your writing, no matter what–is it really so hard to do? What do you think?
In a comment last week, I responded to Laura of Wordgrrls suggestion about doing Morning Pages with one of my quip-like responses: “I had done MPs for ages (okay, not really, but it’s so cutely alliterative) and was quite successful then. At least doing the Morning Pages; I’m not sure what the rest of my productivity was.”
Every morning, I would sit outside in my garden, with my coffee and cigarettes, and write my three pages in longhand. I amassed a notebook full, and much of it was devoted to a story I had been chewing over for a while based on my version of the life of my mother-in-law. We’re talking Grapes of Wrath with a feminist twist. I still have that notebook. I still think the story is worth telling. I don’t do Morning Pages anymore.
For one, I no longer have that peaceful brick-walled garden, and I no longer smoke. For those of you who have never smoked, you can’t imagine how those of us who were smokers found our writing process intwined with cigarettes.
So that time and place in my life is over, and with it seems to have gone the urge to do daily Morning Pages. Now I do free-writing of the Morning Pages-type when I’m trying to dig down as far as I can go into my thoughts and feelings. I just write and write whatever without judgement until…
I’m not sure what follows the until: I get tired…hungry…bored. Or maybe until I’ve gone as far as I can with the topic. Then, whether my three pages are done or not, I start wanting to shape the thing I’m writing and make it presentable for publication.
The unconscious writer leaves home and the editor takes over. I’d like to think the editor is a consequence of forty years of shaping words professionally. That’s part of it; the other part, I think, is that the editor is more concerned with the turn of a phrase or an interesting story line than the utter truth of the moment.
I have all sorts of responses to myself here. The part of writing that is fun for me has to do with putting the words together that speak the thoughts intended. However, the me who has a grad degree in psych says, “hmmmm, what were you actually working on when the editor takes over? Is it something that you’re uncomfortable getting into?” That’s the me that understands there is a psychodynamic of writing, and I best be aware of it if I want to do more than just go along to get along.
Oh yes, is it ever! When I first saw this quote from New Yorker writer and editor, Roger Angell, it said perfectly what I had been thinking just that morning. Which was: I don’t want to have to think before I write something. I wanted it to come burbling out of my unconscious, preferably via an app that creates a conduit between my brain and my fingers on the keyboard. Is there an app for that–ya think?
While Roger Angell, who has spent a lifetime writing award winning essays and as the fiction editor for the New Yorker, uttered these words of advice, I’m sure he has never felt the angst of sitting down to write and–blank, there’s nothing there. Of course not. Real writers, of which Angell is certainly one, never face a blank page without a veritable fountain of words–superb, multi-syllabled, emotionally evocative words pouring forth.
I, on the other hand, am obviously am not a real writer since I face the blank page syndrome on many occasions. Usually when I’m poised at my desk full of grit and determination to write something. I’m not sure what, but something articulate, meaningful, and, yes, wonderful. Then I remember Angell’s words and realize that my problem is one of form and not content. That is, I can picture the printed page, but have no idea what the words on it actually say. And that, I’ve learned over the years, means I’m not done thinking about this particular piece of writing. It’s back to the drawing board–the notes, the research, the talking it out in my head, and so on–that I must go.
It gets down to what is the bottom line of writing: that it is essentially a tool of communication. So if you haven’t put in the thinking time, then you really have little to communicate.
How do you handle the blank page syndrome? Do you ever sit down primed and prepped To Write and–nothing happens? So what do you do?
The first thing I know about writing is that it’s a process. Writing is not something you have done; it is something you are doing.
Sound nitpicky? Actually, it’s a radical idea, which is blasphemous to the mindset of our culture. Think of it: inherent in my statement is the assumption that the product of your writing should not be the singular point of your writing.
Unfortunately, we in the Western world have been trained otherwise. We are a product-centered culture. Our tendency is to think that the things we do don’t matter until and unless they’re finished. Even more, for many of us, the things we do don’t matter until someone else values them. So we focus on our product, on getting it done and making it worth someone else’s approval. It doesn’t really matter what it means to us, whether we value it. Our opinion is not enough to count. It’s like when our mothers told us we were pretty.
So if that product, that piece of writing, turns out to be less than we imagined? Or, it doesn’t achieve the end we intended, get the comments, provoke the compliments, make the sale? Then we’re dealing with the soul-sucking notion that our whole effort was a failure. Our goal was not met, our time was wasted, we let ourselves down. Clearly the fault is ours: we’re not talented enough. Or we didn’t work hard enough. Or….
…Maybe it’s that we weren’t inspired to begin with. Maybe real writers are always filled with inspiration. How can we ever be real writers if we have such trouble being inspired? That leads to magical thinking that involves lucky pens and shaman-blessed stones, maybe some incense as well. It also leads to a work ethic that is choppy at best. We don’t sit down to work unless we’re sure the inspiration is there, waiting to flow over us. As a result, we never get into the groove of writing. We never learn that some days are inspired writing days and some days suck, and some days are just mediocre. We never learn the secret of the “real writers”, that the aggregate of your writing practice is what counts, the median, not the high and not the low.
It’s called putting in the time. Writing
- …no matter what you’re feeling
- …no matter whether you want to
- …no matter if you have nothing to say
Who among us hasn’t been there? I dare you to raise your hand if you’ve never sat in front of the screen or paper and just thought, shoulders slumped, I don’t wanna. Fact is, however, that those of us who are writers do it anyway. It’s our job, and if it sometimes feels like Monday morning on the assembly line, well, so be it. That means, deal with it.