Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's All About Trust

Sometimes it’s hard to believe in our writing or that it will amount to anything but a bunch of messy pages nobody would even use for kindling. We’ve all had those days or months when we feel like giving up, ripping to pieces every draft we’ve ever written, deciding that we’re really best suited to being “readers” rather than “writers.” Yet no matter how seriously I may contemplate that possibility, I never feel any better after telling myself, “You’re right! Quit while you’re ahead—who wants to be a writer anyway??” Rather than feeling relieved (“Oh, good, I can go eat bon-bons and re-read The Eight for the umpteenth time) I always feel much, much worse. What’s even more annoying is that the only way to seriously feel better is to go write something!

After squirreling through this kind of burn-out more times than I can count, I’ve finally realized that what it all comes down to is trust; total trust that no matter how scary or frustrating or even boring writing can be, it’s what I like to do best in the whole world and it will always be there for me. The other day I made a list of what I’ve learned about writing and trust:

  • Trust that when it comes to your own writing, only you can know what’s “right for you.”
  • Trust “happy accidents.” Typos or omissions can turn into whole new phrases or ways of looking at a paragraph or character from a fresh perspective.
  • Trust that all writing is fixable—no matter how extreme the “mistake.” Every piece of writing contains a nugget of gold.
  • Trust that there is always someone who will want to read your work.
  • Trust that you can always publish the writing you believe in.
  • Trust that weird twist you feel when you just know something in a sentence or scene feels “off.”
  • Trust that the right words will come to you to make it all better.

While you’re at it, consider the concept of “distrust.” For instance,

  • Distrust the voice that says your writing is “bad.”
  • Distrust the critique group member who always, always tells you you’re “wrong.”
  • Distrust perfectionism.
  • Distrust anything that makes ready excuses for why you can’t write today.

But more than anything, trust that if you’ve ever felt even the smallest urge to write, paint, draw, dance, sing, sculpt—it is a genuine call from your creative spirit! Never ignore the call.

Tip of the Day: Stop what you’re doing and sit down with pen and paper. Trust that the words will come. Start by writing the first word that comes into your head. Then another. And another… See? It’s really that simple. Trust simplicity.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Review, Marry Your Muse by Jan Phillips

I love “how to” writing books. In fact, I like them so much I wrote one myself, (just in case I haven’t mentioned it often enough !): The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript. But I couldn’t have even started that book without an entire library of great titles to encourage and inspire me. Some of my favorites include the classics such as Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. Other titles on my bookshelf are less well known and these are the ones I’d like to share in this and future reviews, starting with, Marry Your Muse , by Jan Phillips.

As romantic as the title sounds, Marry Your Muse has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day or finding the perfect partner. Rather, it’s about committing to your creativity, for richer or poorer, for better or worse. And “poorer” is where my interest in the book began.

I met Jan Phillips while we were both teaching at the summer conference of the International Women’s Writing Guild. One of the perks of the conference was getting to attend other people’s workshops and Jan’s was high on my list of “must-do’s.” On the very first day I was in her class, I heard a woman say that her husband didn’t support her writing “unless it was for money,” a difficult task as she had only started writing a few months before the conference. The rest of us murmured our sympathy, but I couldn’t help but wonder if we were all just as hard on ourselves, thinking if we didn’t have huge sales and fame right from the start we were failures. In her talk that day, Jan confronted this and other very real fears that each contribute to various forms of writer’s block. More than anything, Jan suggested, we can eliminate the negativity of worrying, “Am I really a writer? Or am I just wasting time?” by simply trusting your inner Muse to look after you. The initial trust may be the most difficult part for some of us, but it’s really just about letting go and showing up.

The following year, Jan’s book, Marry Your Muse, was published. It was as good as her workshops, filled with good ideas, strong inspirations, and seriously helpful advice. Divided into three parts, the book begins with “The Artist’s Creed,” an affirmation with lines such as, “I believe that what it is I am called to do/will make itself known when I have made myself ready,” and “I believe that the time spent creating my art/is as precious as the time I spend giving to others.” The rest of the section expands on the creed with short powerful chapters filled with very human and personal anecdotes from Jan’s own journeys on the artist’s path.

Part II, “Staying on the Path,” is designed as a series of exercises and meditations complete with music and video suggestions for developing your creative commitment. Chapter headings include “Giving the Artist Within Half a Chance,” “Start Anyway,” and “Leaving the Chaos Behind” (a personal favorite!). Most of the exercises can be done with a writer friend (lots of fun), and readily lend themselves for use or discussion in a writers’ group.

Finally, Part III, “Passing the Stardust” is a compilation of stories from ten established writers and artists who share their own struggles—and triumphs—with the self-doubt and isolation of the creative process. As the section heading stages, “They are here as wind for your sails, candles to your dark, the voices of your sisters and brothers calling you forth."

Drawing on her belief that we are all natural born artists, whether our medium is the written word or the camera lens, Jan’s style is essentially joyful and centering. For those of us who have ever wrestled with the seemingly endless reasons for why we can’t or don’t have the time to write today, Jan is the best friend we’ve all wanted to stand right beside us, cheering us on. Her gentle sense of humor and her insistence that we each have a right and a reason to create will send you soaring for pen and paper. Beautifully designed throughout, Marry Your Muse is illustrated with Jan’s black and white photography. The book finishes with an extensive reading list of works cited in the text. Five stars from me!

Tip of the Day: There are literally hundreds of books on writing, each one offering a wealth of writing advice, exercises, and affirmations. Rather than trying to absorb several books at once, choose just one and commit to reading it straight through, doing all the exercises and writing assignments. Set aside a certain time of day, every day, to do this. In other words, just show up. When you’re finished, evaluate everything you’ve learned and written. Maybe you’ll come through with the draft of an entire novel or a poetry collection from just the exercises alone!