Tag Archives: writing process

just write the book

Good morning. It’s a Tuesday out there. Are you ready?

I have been reading books about writers recently, having found Writers [on Writing] (a collection of essays about writing from the New York Times) and the Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction, Vol. 2: Inspiration and Discipline on my sweetheart’s bookshelf. I am looking, over and over, for one thing: I want them to tell me how they do it. How do they get up and get themselves to the desk? How do they make the writing happen? How how how. I don’t want the theory — I want the practical: I get this much sleep, I get up at 6, I sit at the typewriter/keyboard/notebook and do not stop for two hours or six or forty-five minutes. Then I get up and I do something completely different. If I write a page, that’s great. If I get two new sentences, I feel successful. Eventually it all coagulates into a book.

Later, I’ll want the next part — how to get an agent, how to get it published, how to get it edited enough that someone besides my best friends will willingly read it. For now I’m still at the beginning and this is what I’m looking for: how to incorporate writer into a real life that also includes job and family and friends. Tell me how to we take care of our bodies while we do that, how to get a book finished when we have too many jobs and everyone’s telling us it’s impossible, how to write a book when we’re depressed and disappointed, how to do it anyway. Continue reading

writing the hurt

graffiti of hands forming the letters o u c hThese days hurt. These days it takes me hours to get out of bed, months to stretch enough to risk putting my right leg on the floor, years to walk the dog half a block and back home again. During our walk, I stop repeatedly to bend over double, easing the pain in my leg. I stand up again, I take deep breaths, I keep moving. I know it’s necessary for me to take this walk if I want the rest of the day to get better.

After that first walk, though, time changes, de-elasticizes, returns to something that feels more like normal. After that first walk, something shifts and opens. I have to show my body (yes, my own body; this pain body that is mine) that I’m willing to walk in on with the fire. After that first walk, I lie face-down on my bed again and let the muscles and nerves relax (such as they do). Sometimes I take the bedspread into my teeth and chew. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I just breathe and scratch the puppy’s neck — she comes in to check on me, to be where I am. She is patient, no longer tries to wake me at 6 or 6:30 — we have a new normal now.

I don’t want this to be my normal. I’ve lost my morning writing time because it takes so long to get out of bed and get to a comfortable enough state to be able to sit at the computer or sit with the notebook. I am watching too much silly tv these days — I have (re)discovered what tv is good for: occupying the mind. When I am pushed into the bright colors and constant stream of someone else’s story, I do not feel as much pain. TV as pain medication; sometimes it’s necessary.

I don’t know this pain body. It’s not yet familiar to me, even after a month. I feel like I’m walking in someone else’s skin, trying to move their skeleton — it’s not mine; that’s why it doesn’t fit. That’s why my hip hurts so much, right? How could it be my body dealing with this? Why, after a year of powerful re-embodying, am I having to shape myself inside these new bones now? There’s a heavy and consistent nausea riding just at the top of my chest, at the lowest part of my throat, that feels fully connected to this ribbon of pain/ache/weirdness that has (for this moment) taken over my right leg. Why wouldn’t I be nauseous in response to this embodied disembodiment? It’s been a long time since I’ve so strongly wanted both completely out of and more fully into my own skin.

I am thinking about the embodiment of identity. How do we stretch our creative selves to accommodate unchosen or unwelcome changes in how we do our work, how we write or otherwise create? How do we allow ourselves to hold on to who we know we are when we can no longer do what we have consistently defined ourselves as able to do?

Every one of us has to engage this question, repeatedly, in our lives. Our sense of ourselves is always shifting, even as we (maybe you don’t do this, but I do) try to hold on tight, make ourselves certain. But we are uncertain. We are always in flux. How many times will I have to learn this lesson? Maybe, if I’m very lucky, a hundred hundred more times.

Yes, there is this pain, and yes, I am lonely, and yes, I am scared about the future. Also, I am in a space of sheer delight and wonder about my life and love. How to allow both realities to exist in flow against each other, to feel the pain shunting itself alongside the joy, to allow the joy to ribbon through and around the pain?

My prompts are few and far between in this just right now. For the workshops, I come up with ideas. For me, they look like this: Just sit. Just write. Just take as many minutes as are necessary to write out your three daily pages. Get up and stretch if you have to, lie down on the floor and take the notebook with you. Yesterday it took me an hour to get them done. Ridiculous, but done. Painful, but I know I have to take that walk if I want the rest to flow.

Keep writing. Keep breathing all the pain and all the magnificence that is your very own tender body. Thank you for the bone and brea(d)th of your words.


shaping a writing home

mural: fish and faces and movement and kitties and eyes and eyes and eyesgood morning good morning– it’s early, the tea is cooling, the sun is pearling the morning clouds, the candles flicker over everything.

How does your morning lift you so far?

I’m in the quiet writing room where I can’t see out any windows, where I don’t look out into the quiet uncommutered street, where I am only focused on the screen, on the notebook, on the words.

Above me, on the built in shelves, are the sticky notes I brought back with me from Hedgebrook (such as this one from Christian McEwen’s World Enough and Time: “Fall if you must fall / The one you will become will catch you”), a short string of Tibetan prayer flags (which can’t strictly pray, since there’s no breeze in this room — maybe sharp exhalations of frustration, though, would flutter them, would offer movement enough), the poems (Wild Geese, yes, of course, and Roberta Werdinger’s fabulous “Poem,” which opens Give me your blood your bone / your sockets your breath and closes with the lines Open my body leave in a mark / Open me river me do what you will.), and image of Artemis the moon dancer that I received from a friend many years ago back when I lived in Maine.

Continue reading

without knowing what will arise in its place

stencil graffiti: I can taste your dreamsgood morning good morning from the chilliness. I was not up nearly as early this morning as I was yesterday, and that’s all right. I did wake up with a bit more motivation and energy than I’ve had in a few days, and that feels good. I have come to trust and lean-into the sinking-down that happens for me in December; I get quiet, move more slowly, read a lot more.

A year ago, today, I wrote here in this blog:

I didn’t let you help, not then, and I’m sorry. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that, these 15 and 20 years later: how to lean, how to say, Yes, I’m not ok. Yes, I need you. Please, I need help.

and then

After the arrest, my mom wasn’t legally allowed to contact me or my sister for about six months or something. She had to sell the house during that time; she didn’t know what to do with our things up in the attic — most of it, she got rid of. All the papers and things I’d saved from jr high and high school: gone. I save things so that I can keep my memory. And that’s why I wrote, too, for years: so there would be an external(ized) memory. What to hold on to? What to release? What to take back in?

It’s fascinating, painful and also connecting, to go back a year and find that I was tackling then what I’m still tangled up in now: how to honestly reach out to friends and those who love me and who I love, how to be vulnerable with them, risk connection, risk being all of myself and trusting that they won’t turn away (trusting, too, that if they do turn away, that I’ll be all right). And that part about letting go. Not a single step, a single action, is it? Another (goddamn) process. Whew.

I have been thinking again about survivor identity, and how to let it shift — even, maybe, how to put it down. I’ve written about this before, I know, and probably will again: how survivor has been a core identity for me, first before anything (before woman, before queer, maybe even before writer) and how I’m not sure who I am or could be without that badge on my chest. There’s the sense I have of lying if I don’t say it, passing as something I’m not — and what is that something? Normal? Even though I know, intellectually, that the vast majority of women, maybe the majority of folks of all genders, have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives — still, that fact, that experience, doesn’t (normally) enter into regular everyday conversation, does it? It’s one of the things we smooth over, don’t mention, don’t bring up, so that we can move through the work of the day. That elision is a part of the lubrication necessary to most social interactions.

You could say that I just need to change the whos and wheres of my social interactions. It’s true that there are some communities where folks talk about the realities of sexual violence and other forms of oppression as a part of everyday conversation — and that those conversations aren’t downers, necessarily, they’re just a sharing of the realities of our lives. I’m talking about communities (of friends, let’s say) where we can be all of who we are — survivors, yes, and writers, too, and gardeners and potters and funny and great cooks and bookmakers and clothes-artists and candle-light writers and cat lovers and parents and lovers and fucked up and silly and and and… where survivor doesn’t have to be a brand or a shield or a badge anymore. Where it doesn’t have to be the only lens to see the world through. Where we can trust others to look through that lens sometimes, so that we can look through another lens.

Those communities exist. I am finding them. But, more, I’m letting myself out into them.

There’s another piece, too, about shifting the whys of writing: writing for more than just an externalized memory, a declaration of old story, a litany. Writing to create something new. What about that?

Here’s some of what she says about survivor identity in Women Who Run With The Wolves:

Once the threat is past, there is a potential trap in calling ourselves by names taken on during the most terrible times of our lives. it creates a mind-set that is potentially limiting. It is not good to base the soul identity solely on the feats and losses and victories of the bad times. While survivorship can make a woman tough as beef jerky, at some point it begins to inhibit new development.

When a woman insists “i am a survivor over and over again once the time for its usefulness is past, the work head is clear. we must looen the person’s clutch on the survivor archetype. Otherwise nothing else can grow. I liken it to a tough little plant that managed–without water, sunlight, nutrients–to send out a brave and ornery little leaf anyway. In spite of it all.

But thriving means, now that the bad times are behind, to put ourselves into occasions of the lush, the nutritive, the light, and there to flourish, to thrive with bushy, shaggy, heavy blossoms and leaves. it is better to name ourselves names that challenge us to grow as free creatures.

(page 197, 1992 edition, emphasis mine.)

Once the time for its usefulness is past. Only each of us can know when that’s true for different parts of our own survivorship — when is a good time to set that banner down or just let it rest on our side for awhile, not releasing it forever, because it saved us, that sense of ourselves, claiming the power of survivor. But there comes a time (doesn’t there) when it’s ok to set it down without knowing what will arise in its place.

(I myself am a little weary of the survivor-to-thriver language — maybe the easy rhyme just gets on my nerves. I do like this language of “put[ing] ourselves into occasions of the lush” — yes, please.)

What about this for a write for today: both what “survivor” means or has meant for you/your character in your life, and, too, what it could mean to put yourself or your character “into occasions of the lush.” 10 minutes (or more, if you want!) — and follow the words wherever they seem to be pulling you.

Be easy in your writing today. Thanks for your shifting over time, the way you make space for yourself and others to grow. Thanks for how you are easy with others as they change, how you allow others to be easy with you, too. Thanks, yes, for your words.

(nablopomo #8) in the other rooms

graffiti of a pink-red heart with a black bar emerging/opening from the middleGood morning. It’s light already by the time I’ve gotten myself situated at the computer and by the time my poor old pc gets all booted up and warm and ready. I’m tired this morning. The alarm goes off at 4.30 and I don’t even pretend to get up, just reach over, turn it off, and snuggle back down under the covers.

Last night’s Write Whole workshop was fantastic: strong, deep and engaged writing. It’s been a couple weeks of hard processing around my head and heart, lots of excavating writing, all that damn self care and the energies that it stirs up and the way I need to slow down, take some time to process it all without writing, away from the notebook.

I figured that this morning I’d just get up and do a quick blog in response to the nablopomo prompts — last week those were pretty light-hearted, writing-focused prompts, so, no problem.

Today’s prompt is:  Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event. (Guest prompt from Adrienne McDonnell)

This is the part where I’m taking a deep breath. Ok. Where to begin? Part of me wants to write about prompts (about the ones that work the best for me and in my workshops), part of me wants to just respond to the damn thing, part wants to write about the morning tea and then take the dog out for a walk.

Anything traumatic. What’s interesting about this prompt is that it doesn’t ask us to write about the trauma itself — it’s asking for the scene surrounding the trauma: what was going on in the other room, what was happening elsewhere, what’s the setting look like? It can be so powerful to write about difficult events — how do I want to say this? Morning writing isn’t the best time for deep didactic engagement with writing process — it can be as powerful, when writing about trauma, to describe as to just suggest or leave off. What we don’t say, that is, is often as or more powerful as what we do — because when we hint or suggest details or a larger story, the reader begins to draw their own conclusions, gets pulled into the story more deeply because their imagination is engaged.

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This is one scene:

I don’t remember if he ever took me in his office during the daytime. I can remember afterhours, dark parking lot, quiet offices in the complex, a couple of lights on in windows, a lawyer or realtor working late. This complex was new, the whole area recently developed, in Omaha’s western expansion. Maybe there was a daytime time, though. In the other rooms of the small therapy office, my mother and their business partner, a psychiatrist, would have been seeing clients. The whole office would be quiet, the business manager and receptionist at her desk behind the check-in counter, the place was like a medical doctor’s clinic — she’d be chewing gum, typing up insurance forms, whiting something out, answering the phone: Hello, Collins and Diercks Therapy, how can I help you? (God, what was their office called? How would she have answered the phone? I can’t remember. Go ahead, Jen, it’s all fiction.)

There would have been quiet conversation in every corner of the building, in every space of this office. Maybe mom met with a young client, a child and his own parents. The child and mom play with some of her toys, he pushes a wooden firetruck around the beige carpeted floor. His parents sit stiff on the couch, sweatered, khakied, the blonde mother with her hair pulled back, they watch their skinny, towheaded son bang the firetruck against his father’s brogues, over and over, it can’t get through, it can’t get through. Mom kneels on the floor with the boy, not over him, on the other side of the room from his parents. She’s calmer than she ever is at home, has taken off her shoes. All the lines in her forehead have gone smooth, and she asks the boy, why does it want to get through? Why can’t the truck go around?  She wants to get the boy comfortable enough to say why he’s wetting the bed, why he’s throwing up at school. The boy abandons the firetruck at his father’s shoe, walks back over to the toys, takes up a wooden articulated snake; my mom watches him, relaxed, smiling, alert, she watches his hands and face and can respond to what he does. His parents gape anxiously, the mother grabbing hard at the father’s hand, digs a broken manicure into his palm, to keep herself from interrupting.

In the other office, the psychiatrist consults with a patient about his prescription. The man is manic depressive, hates that he’s lost all possibility of flying on the drug that the doctor gave him, wants to know if there’s something else he can take. He is dark-haired, wan and think but gaining weight, finally, after being on the drug. He wears an expensive suit, has come to his appointment between meetings with legal clients. He says to the doctor, You took away my flight. You took away my flight. The doctor bites his lip on the inside and hopes that the patient can’t see, looks out the window, and then is calm. You were going to fly off a roof, do you remember? The man turns to look out the window, onto the wide swath of new concrete parking lot, out toward the developments of fat empty houses, the tiny trees planted along new roadsides, each one tamped down with rope ties. The man doesn’t exactly nod, but does shift his hands from a clutch between his legs to resting them, bony, heavy, on  the dark material over his thighs. Isn’t there something else you can give me?

Outside the office, there was a small open courtyard, a little terrarium-like garden, a fountain. In the other offices, men talked to women; people typed letters; someone got a cup of coffee; a woman connected a modem to the phone lines, her computer emitted the insect-drone of the modem connecting to her internet service provider; a client opened a door and set a bell tingling; a grey mottled cat from the second-most recent development prowled through the courtyard, looking for more prey.

In my stepfather’s office there was no therapy going on during that hour with me.

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Want to take this prompt? You could write about something traumatic, or any other intense experience for you or your character — what was happening in the surrounding spaces, outside the window, on the other side of the wall, etc? Give yourself, your room,  15 minutes — follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thanks for all the layers of your attention and creativity. Thanks for the breadth of your imagination. Thank you for your voice and your words.

(nablopomo #6) because my writing had asked more

Bansky graffiti, of two Bobbies (British police officers) in a passionate embraceHappy Sunday evening to you — it’s late-night blog time (at least for me). No prompts today, just the need to blog every day, as a part of my commitment to nablopomo, so I’m going to return to some plain old free-association for tonight.

I want to write about quite a lot tonight, about community and spirit, about radical honesty, about sorrow, about connection and form and hope. But I’m giving myself 20 minutes to pour this stream of consciousness out onto the page (which is the screen before me), so I’m not going to get into any of those. Instead I’m going to write about the pain of attending to one’s desire.

I went to google images to find the image for today’s post, like I always do; using the advanced search, I looked for “graffiti Sunday” in images that labeled for reuse, and the image above is one of the few results returned. It feels like exactly what I hope for in much of my writing, in particular, the writing I do around desire: capturing that moment of profound transgression, when we cross a deep line inside ourselves or within our community, in order to reach for what we need. The bobbies up there aren’t just violating the still-extant taboo about men desiring,  embracing and kissing other men, they’re also violating the taboo around those in power showing vulnerability, softness, public displays of affection. Affection, I mean — not laciviousness — certainly, we have plenty of examples of those in positions of power taking what they desire by force and hostility.  These two at the top of this post, they are melting into each other, so longing for lips against lips that they don’t care about any of the other rules and regulations. We see how even they, ultimately, are not bound by the stringent rules we place around sexuality and desire, rules they so often are supposed to enforce.

What do I want to say about this? The erotic can break us open in this way, tear us out of the constraints of conformity that we accept for ourselves. The writing feels distant, not nearly close enough, I’m not all the way in it. I want to tell you about naming what we need, how even just the articulation of desire — whether sexual desire or in any other aspect of our lives —  can leave us feeling like everything is breaking — because, maybe, everything is. In allowing our longing to come to voice, we are breaking; breaking open, breaking down, breaking through. The closed and clotted places in us begin to shift and tear, begin to release what they were holding back, we feel messy, exposed, raw: because we are these things.

What I experienced, and wrote about, after my first erotic writing workshop here in San Francisco in 2002, was that experience of breaking open and subsequent transformation. Because I allowed myself to write desire, and then speak it out loud (through the process of reading aloud what I’d just written, with no expectation of follow through or action in that moment of sharing), I had the experience of embodying that desire. Does this make sense? Writing is a bodily experience. Speech is a bodily experience. Whether I was writing my own desire or a fantasy character’s longing, every week I stepped into a place of deep honesty and truth-telling — and that changed me, charged me. I found myself writing, journaling, outside of the workshop, about other desires, the ways I wanted and needed to be in my life, from work and love and home, ways I needed my relationship to open and change, what I could allow myself, finally, to want from (yes) this “one wild and precious life.” I got to embody those desires, first through the writing, and then, often, through the living. I began to ask more from my life, because my writing had asked more.

I don’t have anecdotes right now. What I have is a need to begin to ask more, again. Several months ago, back when I started blogging in earnest daily, or close to daily, I stopped writing with regularity in my journal. This is a loss, I’m finding. Handwriting in my journal is an integral part of an erotic (and by this, here, I mean embodied) writing practice for me. So I need to keep finding time for regular notebook writes — maybe I can start getting up at 3am. (just kidding.)

I start with these phrases: What I really wanted to say is… or If I told you what I’m afraid to tell you… I take 15 or 20 minutes and let the words pour out onto the page, pen moving fast and fearless, even if what I’m writing scares me. Especially then. No stopping, no censoring, no blame, shame or guilt. Just write it. Transgress, transgress. Let it come all the way into my body.

Thanks for the ways you let your body into your life, your creative practice, awareness. Thanks for the ways you cross the boundaries that are meant to keep you small and silent and contained. Thanks for you deep and stunning words.

(nablopomo day 3) what sings to you?

graffiti of a bass clef on a window

Good morning! It’s the day after Oakland’s general strike — do you feel the transformation in the air? The people are singing. That, yesterday, was real change. Real hope. Real democracy.

We were there for part of the march/action at the ports — I’m so deeply grateful to have been able to participate, to put my body in the place of the work.

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Here’s the blogherblogging prompt for nablopomo day 3: can you listen to music and write? what song did you hear today?

My first response to this prompt: without music (and maybe without portable music players), I wouldn’t be writing at all.

This morning, I got up with my second alarm (4.30, after snoozing the 4.10 alarm for 20 mins), untangled myself from my sleepy sweetheart, and got dressed in the dark. I leave all the lights off, as I move from sleep to morning writing. Stopped in the kitchen to start the tea water, went and did my basic ablutions, then came into the office to light the tall candle for a little natural illumination, and started up the computer. Headed back into the kitchen to turn off the singing teapot, poured tea (jasmine green & mint), took tea into office. Always plenty of light outside the kitchen window to pour boiling water by, plus the light of the stove, since I’ve got some yogurt cooking in there. Sophie woke up right as I brought the tea into the office, as I was settling in for the morning write; we’re making a new routine. I opened a new notepad window (first morning write into notebook or blank, non-internet-connected word processing document, so as to avoid any googling or other internetting, which will bring me further out of the morning/dream state) and then I click play on itunes. how do I want to say this — in the morning, I listen to internet radio, something soft but rhythm-y, downtempo music that doesn’t distract me from my own stream of consciousness (no words in these songs) but that helps me stay out of too easily-triggered a place. When it’s too quiet for too long, although at this point in my life I am able to write in the quiet, my startle response can be way more easily invoked. There’s a better way to say that. When it’s too quiet for too long, although, at this point in my life, I’m able to write, I get drawn into a sense of protection and separateness that’s pretty violently shaken when Sophie barks at the downstairs neighbors or there’s some other unexpected sound. My startle response is trigger-happy, and I prefer to avoid that adrenaline-heart-pounding moment of shock whenever possible — music helps.

Since the mid-80s, when I got my first Walkman, I have been one of those with a personal soundtrack. I listened to top-40 radio on the school bus that took us to and home from jr high, in spite of the teasing it got me (who would tease a kid for wearing headphones now?); maybe it was in high school or not until college that I got a portable tape player, and could start having more control over what I was listening to. When I began writing again in earnest, midway through college, when my life began to disintegrate and I broke contact with my family in order to get away from my stepfather, I’d take notebook and portable tape player to the nearby cafe and set up shop for hours, with endless cups of french roast coffee. I needed the music to write; without it, I got lost in the noise and conversation around me and the terror and panic in my own body — I couldn’t get quiet and down deep enough to write.

I’d listen to music I knew well, songs that had gotten into my system, that didn’t pull me out with a need to attend to their lyrics or structure. The music was almost always driving, full of energy, and I used that to push me further into whatever it was I needed to get down onto the page. These were years of urgent journaling, a frantic, almost desperate desire to record what had happened to me, all that my stepfather had done, and the music helped me clear enough space in the panic to be able to get it all down.

These are some of the artists that have made it possible for me to write: Moby, ani difranco, bt, crystal method, erasure, the prodigy (this would be a fun list to keep going with). I’ve gotten rid of most of the tapes that I used during my early writing times in my 20s; I kept them for years, not because I was listening to them anymore (no more portable tape player after my sister gave me an ipod one year for xmas) but because they were a part of this history, this restructuring of a life, a necessary part of this pulling away from the bleakness that had felt inevitable in my 20s to the place I got to, where I could imagine a future, where I could take a walk without the need for music drumming in my ears, where I could be with my thoughts and not feel a certain sense of doom and overwhelm.

Now, the morning music feels like a gentle part of the ritual that I set up for myself: candle, quiet music, blue screen blaring in my sleepy eyes (ok, not every part has to be gentle) — the music connects me to other artists, to the dj that is putting together the playlist, to all the other listeners, and reminds me that I am not alone in this project to create something new and beautiful to share with others.

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What about you? Do you write to music? Do you have different music for different times, or different sorts of writing? One of the women in my workshop at Tomales Bay said that when she has different writing projects going, she will have a song or a piece of music that is associated with each project, and she listens to that music to get herself into the frame of mind for that work.

Want to give your writing-music relationship 10 minutes today? Or if there’s no relationship, if your writing and music are separate, let yourself get into a favorite song, a favorite record (yes, I said record) — notice what images or sounds arise as you read those ideas, and let yourself begin with one of those responses. Let yourself follow your own history down onto the page. What time in your life does that song or record take you (or your character) into?

Thanks for all the ways you have let yourself be sung to, and thanks for the ever-present dance that you are. Thank you for your words.

(NaBloPoMo) #1: What you like best

graffiti that reads 'If not now, when?'It’s National Blog Posting Month over at BlogHer — since I’m already in the middle of a novel and don’t want to start another one right now, I’m going to take on this daily challenge instead. The folks at BlogHer are suggesting topics for each day’s blog, so I’m going to start out with those.

(I love how November has become the month for writing your heart out: Besides NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, there’s WNFIN and I know a few folks who are taking on 30-poems-in-30-days challenges this month as well. How are you marking this month of writing like mad?)

Edit: Dorothy commented to let me know that it’s also National Playwriting Month. Thanks, Dorothy, for passing the word!

It’s evening here where I am, maybe where you are, too. I don’t often write at night, but I’m in a space right now where the words are coming best when it’s dark outside, whether at 4:30 am or 8:30 pm, so I’m going with that pull and energy. The puppy is calm for the moment, though she is waiting for her blue racketball to jump up and bounce for her so she can keep attacking it; for the moment, the ball seems to have lost its vitality. Outside, it’s gone quiet, and so even though things inside me aren’t especially peaceful at the moment, the lack of other distractions helps bring me back here to the desk for a little more writing time today.

Here we go — the first prompt for this year’s NaBloPoMo is this: What’s your favorite part about writing?

My answer (I bet you can guess my answer) is this part right here, the part you can’t see, the part where my fingers are moving hard against keys or the pen drives fast and furious across the page, the part where it seems that my fingers, the movements of these hands, contain or manifest a direct link to my thoughts, where it seems clear that my thoughts weren’t exactly my thoughts, not clearly my thoughts, until my hand/s started moving and I could see them splayed out. I like this act of creation, the generative part, the part that is  the sense that these words were waiting for me to reveal them, no, waiting for me so that they could reveal themselves. This is just starting to happen with the keyboard — I’ve been having that experience for years with handwriting, though, a mystical experience now and again when I’m deep into whatever it is that I’m writing and suddenly I become aware that the pen is simple releasing the words that were already in the page; I can almost see the tip of the pen drawing the words forth from what was blue-lined whitespace just an instant before. Kind of amazing moments, those, and they don’t fare well under scrutiny — when the watcher part of me tries to observe the experience from too far a distance, the mysticism fades. Here’s why, I think: part of that experience, that sense of my just being a vehicle for the vehicle for the words’ release, has to do with interconnectedness — in that moment, all (or at least most of) those fragments I usually live within (you know those fragments: the part that’s worried about money, the part that has to watch everything and tell me how I’m doing, the part that hopes  look good, the part that knows I’m a genius, the part that knows I’m a fool and a failure, the part that thinks I should just be eating something and watching a movie, and the other parts that are somewhat scarier or sadder and more difficult to describe) have quieted or interwoven themselves or hung themselves just barely together, lightly (like a vase that was broken into many pieces that can be fitted back together again but not touched or looked at too hard or breathed in the vicinity of, lest everything crumble again), and we’re all working toward one purpose, and that’s this whatever it is that we’re writing.

That moment. That’s the one that I like the best. That moment when I know I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, maybe even exactly what I was meant to be doing. The part where I feel entirely the same as the eight year-old girl who also loved to watch the pen move across the page, and never knew for sure whether she was making the words appear, or if the words were already trapped in the paper, and she just happened to be in the right place at the right time. That moment when I feel her still smiling in me, and I know we’re still together.

What about you? What’s your favorite part of writing? Want to give that 10 minutes tonight, before bed? Grab your journal and let whatever comes, come.

(You still have time to sign up for the NaBloPoMo, if you’d like — you can share your month of blogging, too!)

Thank you for knowing what you love, for attending to that love, for giving your art and your creativity time and space in your life. Thank you for your words, always for your words.

Tomales Bay

graffiti typewriterToday I head out to the Tomales Bay Writing Workshops, head out for  a five-day writing workshop with Dorothy Allison and deep writing community in a place that I love, and it’s thanks, completely, to you.

Thank you.

A few months ago, I applied for a fellowship to this workshop, and then didn’t receive it. I had told myself, initially, well, if I don’t get the fellowship, then fine, I just won’t go. But I got the letter informing me that I’d been placed in Dorothy Allison’s workshop and they hoped I could join them just the same, even though they had given the fellowships to other folks. Something in me said, the writer part said, we have to go anyway. I couldn’t afford it, not without help. We had sudden bills that were coming due, family business that needed dealing with, low enrollment in workshops — still: we have to go anyway, the part in me said. Just ask for help.

So I asked you for help. And you came through with help, and I was stunned. I still am. I described the process to someone yesterday, and she said, And how does that feel? Like affirmation, right? and I said, Oh, right, yes, like affirmation. I was going to say, like pressure. And so she and I talked abut shifting that inside message, paying attention to the way in which each of those gifts of money and messages of support and encouragement weren’t about pressuring me to write something in particular or to “be good” in some specific way (sigh), but about supporting this side of my work, the writing side. (The Mr. helps me re-think those messages, too.) I’m a little overwhelmed, considering it now, and kind of verklempt, and so very grateful to you all. I want to do right by you, and can’t wait to share with you what I learn at the workshop.

I’ll be working on a tiny excerpt of this novel I’m in the middle of, that I may be in the middle of for awhile. Right now it’s at 168 single-spaced pages. Sometimes I double-space it, just to give myself a thrill. I’ll be working with Dorothy Allison. (You know her work, right? She wrote Bastard out of Carolina, which about everyone has heard of and should read, and also the amazing collections Women Who Hate Me, Skin, Trash and Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, as well as another novel, Cavedweller. I would invite you to read them all.) I think I mentioned that already, and I might do again — it’s not quite real to me yet. Hold hopes for me that I don’t devolve into a slavering fangirl in front of her, ok? Also, Danzy Senna will be there, whose book, Caucasia, I reread at least once a year or so — I very much hope to get a chance to talk with her as well.

She asked us to have read Ursula K. Le Guin’s book on writing, Steering the Craft. I’ve liked reading it as homework, and appreciate, too, the opportunity to think more on craft. In the workshops I offer, while we do some craftwork (not kraftwerk), it’s always rather through the back door — we’re much more focused, at writing ourselves whole, in generating the material to work with, in trusting the guidance of our writing voices, and learning by listening to and commenting on one another’s work. The craft comes in through the backdoor, when I offer an exercise that’s all in dialogue, or we use a simile/metaphor prompt, or a prompt that invites us to consider setting and detail. We just don’t talk about those craft parts as much as folks might happen in other writing workshops. It’s good, sometimes, to refocus, to let craft in through the front door, and I’m enjoying Ursula Le Guin’s clear, invitational-yet-instructive voice. Reading the book, I have the sense of being in a workshop with her, which, of course, is the point. (Also, she encourages a re-reading of some of the classics, for specific writing-related purposes, and also purely for love of reading. I haven’t read most of our classic works, and am feeling invited to do so after spending time with Steering the Craft.)

So this morning we’re headed up to Tomales Bay for some time in Inverness, maybe a little stop at Spirit Matters, maybe some beach time for the puppy and the mama and the papa, and then I’ll go to the workshop. I won’t be blogging from there, I don’t think — I’m leaving the computer at home, anyway, will be handwriting this weekend. Whew. I do have a little wordpress app on the cellphone, so we’ll see what the at&t service is like up there.

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As a prompt for today, and maybe for the week, I’d invite you to generate a list of places that you or your character love. Choose one of them for today (or let one choose you) and describe that place — begin with just the place itself, no people, no description of why it’s beloved to you or the character; stay with the details.  Then, if you are feeling drawn to, bring yourself or your character or other people into that place — let us see what happens there.

Tomorrow choose another of the places from your list. Just ten minutes — give yourself ten minutes for this thing you love, this writing work. If you start on the prompt and end up going in a completely different direction, if you stop and write, You know, this isn’t what I really want to write about. What I really want to say is — and then take the work in the direction of whatever it is your heart wants to write just now, that’s exactly perfect.

(You can also create a list of people you or your character loves, and start writing by describing one of those people — just describe them, and let the love and relationship come through in the details you or your character notice to reveal to us.)

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Thank you thank you. I’ll be back with you in five days. Thanks for your affirmation. I want to be able to offer just the same back to you.

what we attend to shapes us

Labyrinth Habitat mural by Johanna Poehig;  I wake up from layered and complicated dreams. There are things I want to tell you about, but it’s not time for them yet. The alarm goes off at 4, and I think, I could just snooze for a little bit, and then I forget to press snooze, and now it’s after 5.

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The Fall writing workshop series begins next week — Write Whole: Survivors Write starts on Monday, and we do still have a couple of spaces left! Friday is the last day to register — if you have been thinking about joining us and giving yourself and your stories a regular, weekly writing time, please do contact me.

Tonight’s the Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture; a good time for me to go through recent notebooks and find a story that I want to work more with. Have you seen the  call for submissions for Sex Still Spoken Here, the Erotic Reading Circle anthology? If you’ve participated in this latest round of the erotic reading circle (since about 2006), we want your stories and poems!

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We’ve started leaving the door to the puppy’s kennel open at night, so she can get up and come out when she’s ready in the morning. So far, she seems to stay in there all night, only getting out after I’ve been up and at the computer working for awhile. Right now she’s here with me in the office, digging behind the office door for something. All I hear is snuffling and claws scraping carpet, not hard, but persistent. I say her name, and she stops. She’s ready to go outside, but it’s still dark out. When she first came home with us, it was light at 4 or 4:30, and we could go out then. The earth’s rotation is thwarting our early morning walk.

There’s something about putting the work we believe in the most at a centered place in our day. How does that work for you? For me, it means writing first — whether that’s journaling, morning pages, blogging, freewriting on a story. Not editing, but generating new words, first thing in my day.

A message I heard this weekend talked about this idea that what we pay attention to, what we attend to, reveals what we love, and shapes who we’re about to be:

Attention is a tangible measure of love. Whatever receives our time and attention becomes the center of gravity, the focus of our life. This is what we do with what we love: We allow it to become our center.

What is the center of your life? Carefully examine where you spend your attention, your time. Look at your appointment book, your daily schedule. These things – these meetings, errands, responsibilities – this is where you dedicate your precious days, hours, and moments. This is what receives your care and attention – and, by definition, your love.

We become what we love. Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, this is the kind of person you will eventually become. Is this what you want?

— Wayne Muller

When I was listening to this message, I was thinking about how I shoved what I loved most to the far edges of my life, for years, in order to protect those things: writing, femininity, deep connection with other people. What I actually paid attention to was my stepfather’s desires, how he wanted me to be in the world, the work he expected me to do. That, plus I paid attention to his moods and emotions — I did these things, attended to these things, for my own survival. So, what did this reveal about what I loved? That I loved him more than writing? That I loved his moods more than my mother’s or my sister’s? I certainly gave his more attention —

I understand the core of this message, this idea: what we focus on shapes our days, shapes what will come for us. If I spend three hours writing today, I have that writing to work with tomorrow, and I am closer to having something to submit to an anthology next week. If I spend five minutes today attending to the state of my own body, I may be beginning a pattern that will let my body know that its states of being matter to me — what does that mean? I mean, if I pay attention to my body today, by next week, I might be sitting or moving differently because I paid attention to what my body needed. Every small action toward or in service of what we love builds up that place in us. Think about a ball of rubber bands: begin with one tiny band, add one more and one more, do this over a period of months, and you end up with a baseball-sized collection. Small actions, small attentions, add up to big ones.

Let this be a write for today: what aren’t you or your character attending to that you want to be? Take 10 minutes for that part of yourself today, and write about it. Or write about how you make space for what you love by attending to it. Just turn your attention to a part of yourself (or apart of your character) that you want to grow, and let the writing flow from there. (This could be a good morning for a love letter to the body, if it’s the body that needs some attention.)

Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. And be easy with you, ok? One small step, every day, that’s all. That’s powerful beginning.

Thank you for your attentiveness, your witness, your awareness, your tender ferocity. Thank you for your words!