the thing about ruts is the familiarity

an abundnce of apples hanging off the tree in our backyard

there's no way we're going to use all the apples on our tree, but we're trying

Yesterday I just wanted to be in the kitchen, thinking of interesting things to do with apples — I made multi-grain apple muffins, we finished the apple butter, another batch of apple sauce — but didn’t get to the cider, yet, or the apple ‘cheese.’

We were out for much of the day, though, first on a walk around the neighborhood, then to the San Rafael-Civic Center farmer’s market, then to Oakland Pride then to ikea and dinner at foster’s freeze (oh yes) — with the ice cream first.
Here’s something I’m thinking about today: What happens when your writing’s in a rut? In my experience/opinion, it’s helpful to do something entirely different, either on or off the page — go someplace you’ve never been in your town, take the bus or ride a bike to work if you always drive, spend some time at the museum, go to the library, notice who’s around, or walk into a random aisle, close your eyes and pull down a book: what you grab might spark some interesting writing!

Filling up with new and surprising experiences fills up our creative selves — Julia Cameron talks about this in The Artist’s Way, and its one of the important things about the artist’s dates that she advocates: a weekly date, just for you and your artist-self, doing something that you both really want to do or are curious about. These expediences fill the well, which you dip into later, when you’re writing.

This is also when a writing workshop can come in handy, and I don’t mean that as a marketing jibe, but as something that’s true from my experience. In the writing workshops I attend (as a participant, not as a facilitator), where folks are writing together, I get to have someone else come up with the prompts, which takes out of my hands the wondering where to begin. The beginning of something new is often the hardest part, and at the writing workshop, I don’t have to worry about that.  Someone else will show me to the stepping off point, the jumping in place, and then I’m swimming, I’m writing, I’m finding my way through the words to where I want to be, to a new place, to someplace I might not have arrived had I not allowed someone else to offer a new starting point.

That, plus short writes, helps me move through a writing rut — not feeling like I have to write my whole book today, but instead writing for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, stop, read it aloud (if there’re others writing with me), then start again, with the same piece and a new prompt, or letting the prompt take me someplace different. Anne Lamott talks about short assignments in Bird by Bird.

When I’m in a rut, it can be useful to try an entirely different kind of writing: what about science fiction, or something more journalistic? What about a kind of writing I don’t normally do?

The thing about ruts is the familiarity — there are times when I get tired of my own words. I want different words, more exiting ones, more interesting formations of words: I want a different sort of writing than the kind that I do, with my voice here behind it, with my mind framing these casings. And so a way through that is two-fold, for me: taking a break, and filling up new arenas of experience, and trying a new sort of writing, pushing through into — breaking new ground. And if I can just stretch this metaphor out to the end of time, this can be a bumpier ride, since you’re not traveling in the ruts anymore, but the scenery sure is interesting.


Some prompts for a labor day:

  • Make a list of the different jobs you’ve had (paid and unpaid, both).  Leave a couple of lines between each job, where you can write something you learned at that job, whether you still use that skill or not.  Let yourself choose one of these jobs as your starting point: describe how you came to have that job, what you liked about it, what you hated about it, or anything else–
  • Close your eyes and pull a book off your nearest bookshelf. Without opening your eyes, open the book and put your finger down on the page.  Take part of a sentence near where your finger has fallen, and use that as a starting place for some new writing — (When I tried it, I pulled down Voices Under One Sky: Contemporary Native Literature (ed, Tish Fox Roman), and opened to a page with just one word on it: “Warriors.” Hew’s that for a great starting place?)
  • If you’re feeling especially in a rut, maybe consider giving yourself permission not to write today. Take some 3×5 cards with you or a small notebook out into your day, though, and a pen, and notice the moments when you think something you’d like to write about, words you’d like to remember, or take a photo of something that sparks your imagination –just hold on to those for a few days, and when you’re back at your desk, get them out and notice what they spark for you: memory or a new story, maybe? Let yourself begin writing exactly as you’re inspired, just for twenty minutes.

Thanks for being there today, for all the hard work you do — don’t forget to be easy with yourself at least once today.

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