Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Radical Writing Advice : Cheryl Strayed Video

* Radical Writing Advice will return next week.

In the meantime, here is a TEDx video of Cheryl Strayed, talking about "Radical Sincerity."



Saturday, July 28, 2012

Razor's Edge for ... a day late: Say Yes

I realized earlier today that I'd missed posting my weekly writing prompt yesterday. I felt guilty, and a little embarrassed (see, I made this promise to myself and have an implied promise to you). Then I let those feelings drift on through and knew I'd go ahead and post the weekly Razor's Edge; just a day late.

This is a quick one.

But not necessarily easy just because I want you to do it quickly.

I'm going to give 2 options of how to do this one. I have the theoretical approach which I think will yield some fabulous ideas. And I know that I, at times, would balk or alter that same idealistic approach.

The prompt: What I'd like is for you to quickly think of 8-10 things you feel you can't (or shouldn't) do, can't have,  and so on. As each one comes to mind, don't write it down. Instead write down its opposite as a positive, "YES! I can/will do/get/have...".

My intent in not writing down the negative is to not give it any more power. Keep the power of the word on the positive; on the YES!

As an example, here is a short excerpt from Alexis Pauline Gumbs article, "Reclaiming Yes" at Utne Reader.  This is a group created poem and there is much more to it on the original posting; it's worth the click.

Reclaiming Yes  
YES!!! to acting on the impulse inside 
YES!!! to defining the erotic as strength  
YES!!!to claiming what we know deepest inside us as KNOWLEDGE 
YES!!! brilliance remastered means brilliance unchained visible everywhere NOW!

YES!!! to our deepest desires 
YES!!! to our power 
YES!!! to being love 
YES!!! to being me and not caring ...

The option: make a very quick list of the "can't"s and write out the positives. 

Write your positives quickly, too, but feel free  to expand and include more details.



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Radical Writing Advice: Follow your Urinetown Idea

If you're not a theater buff, you may be thinking, "What the heck is she talking about now?!?"; or  maybe , "WTF, Dot?!?"

"Urinetown? Excuse me. But what?"

But whether you know what "Urinetown" is or not, don't worry, you know I'll tell you what I mean.

See, "Urinetown" was someone's "huh?" idea. I mean, accept it. A play with 'urine' in its title? Let alone as its title?! A play about urine? It's true. I'm not making this up. It has been a very popular play, it ran on Broadway, it is now being done in theaters around the country; around the world.
From The Broadway Musical website, here is the synopsis of the play:

In an attempt to regulate water consumption, Urinetown has outlawed the use of private toilets. The citizenry must use public, pay-per-use amenities owned and operated by Urine Good Company, a malevolent corporation run by the corrupt Caldwell B. Cladwell.

See? I told you. A play about peeing.

"Get to your point, Dot." I can hear you. And that's okay.

My point is that this was someone's "bad idea." Well, obviously not a "bad" idea; but an idea people may have scoffed at or doubted or thought ridiculous. People were perhaps reacting much as some of you may be reacting. Incredulous that anyone would even think of it, let alone actually do it.

But they did. They wrote the script. They were able to get it on the stage and even on a Broadway stage.

So this week's advice is to look at all of your ideas. Don't judge them; look at them. Write them on a piece of paper or type them up in an electronic document or an Excel spreadsheet. The what or how isn't important. What is important is writing out your uncensored ideas.

See, sometimes these little germs of ideas aren't germs at all. They are gems. (Okay, go ahead and groan. I didn't plan that; it leaked out as I was typing this up and I thought about deleting it. Then I realized, as corny as it is and that I would certainly groan if I read this written by someone else, it is a little ge(r)m.)

And these little germs can be sensitive. If we squash them too quickly they may disappear. And we will never know what gems they could've become through our alchemical process with words and editing and sharing. We may lose our own "Urinetown" idea.

Start yourself a file and give it a title which works for you. It may be a file with 3x5 notecards, an electronic file, a manilla envelope. Whatever helps you keep it light and keep it real. Call them snippets, or germs/gems, or flutters, or talking frogs, or drooling clowns. Then periodically go through them. One of my "catchers" is a special folder in one of my email accounts. I have a certain thing I put in the subject line and the email with whatever it contains is filtered to that file. So I send myself "notes" because I tended to lose the paper ones or they would get buried in journals.

What is your Urinetown idea?



Just for fun:  In my research about Urinetown (I was looking for a "fact" I'd heard but couldn't corraborate), I came across this webpage with "10 Dumb Ideas that Made A Lot of Money;"

I know some of these things may be cherished favorites for some people - but I love this list. Among the items are Pet Rocks, Billy the Big Mouth Bass, Antenna Balls, and Doggles. Check it out. I don't think I'd call them "dumb ideas," but I might call them seemingly silly or ridiculous ideas. Which made someone a lot of money.



Friday, July 20, 2012

Razor's Edge for 7/20/12: Listening and Shadows

Today's prompt is a video and a sentence starter. As always, don't feel that you have to include the phrase, but you can, of course. It may spark a completely different direction or you may start writing towards it but never arrive; whatever you write is fine.

Of course.

This week, read the word prompt and then watch the video. You may feel drawn to write before the video is done, so go with it. This week is about listening to your writer voice inside. If you feel wrapped in the movement and/or music of the video and want to hold off putting words onto the space until it's done, that's fine, as well.

Listen in. Write. For 10 minutes.

PROMPT:  Stepping back into my life I noticed . . .


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Radical Writing Advice: Taking a Pass

There are many types of "pass," I realized when I wrote the title for today's post. I mean, we all know that; but I had one of them in mind and as I typed and got a handle on what I was going to say, more "pass" definitions came to mind.

Language is good. It keeps us engaged and alert if we let it. It keeps us looking at more than just the words or symbols for the meaning, if we care, if we dare to go below the surface.

And I dare.

So. My original intention was to write about a "pass" as in: "No, thank you. I'll pass on ___________." Fill in the blank for whatever it is you feel obligated to do, unless you're ready to steep yourself in some heavy guilt or excuse making or having to make up for not doing the Big X if you follow through and "pass."

But as I started to make notes, I started thinking about other meanings of "pass," which may have some opposite connotations, much like the word "sanction."  That word can mean to punish or to reward.

To "take a pass" generally means to do something like "skip a turn" or turn down an offer. But a person can also "pass" as being something other than they are. One specific example I'm thinking of is in the LGBT/Queer community, a person can be said to "pass" as a member of a group even though they're not. Such as back in the 80s, when that community was still primarily called the "Gay Community," there was talk of gay men or lesbians "passing" as straight; or the stone butch women before that time who "passed" as men.

Sometimes to "take a pass" may imply avoiding a bad situation. Or avoiding getting in trouble by revealing something which is not supposed to be shared if someone asks you for information.

It may also mean - and here is where the opposition comes in - to take a turn. Such as asking someone to "take a pass" at repairing something. Which means give it a try and see if you can fix the thing.

Now that I've wandered down that side path, I'll come back to my original intent, which was to "take a pass" and let a deadline roll by without a submission.

Yes. I'm saying that sometimes we writers might find it useful to let a deadline slip by.

I want to be clear that I am not advocating for ignoring deadlines. And if you've made a commitment to an editor or a publication and you have a story or a poem or an article due, yes, do it. Your reputation and perhaps your livelihood could be affected if you just blow off a commitment. Although if you have an emergency situation ... well, you know what I mean. I don't want to wander down yet another side path. (Though I could, quite easily, I think.)

My point is that sometimes it is in our best interest to not put the pressure on ourselves and let something slide if there are not significant repurcussions. Especially if there is another opportunity.

One example is from the online writing group I'm in, the Wayward Writers in Ariel Gore's Literary Kitchen. Week before last I let the due date go by without submitting a writing for that week. I'd taken notes and worked on a story. And there were some intense and time-intensive things going on that week. To complete the story and get it in on time would have meant cutting back on sleep and not getting something else done and would have increased my stress level. So I let the story deadline for that week go by. Unattended by me.

Another example is that many publications, especially the well-established ones, have multiple submission deadlines. Often they repeat. If you miss it this time around, it will cycle back. There are exceptions of course, like zines with themes - that theme may not surface for a while, or The Sun's "Readers Write" which also has changing themes. But even those publications often accept general work. So, unless your piece of writing is for a specific theme, if you are feeling pressured and stressed to meet another deadline, maybe you can take a pass, as in letting it go.

I've done that with some general submissions. Places I want to submit but the deadline fell at a particularly hectic time or there were other timely conflicts. When I gave myself permission to let a deadline pass - such as a famous, well-established publications "short story contest" month, and they have that twice a year - it relieved the pressure. Yes, I missed that month's, but it will come back again. And it did.

So this week's advice, if you're struggling with feeling overwhelmed and stressed, is to look where you might be able to let a deadline go. Take that pass *for now* and swap it for the next opportunity.

Of course you are the only one who can make the determination if taking a pass will be less stressful or not. But sometimes it can feel good to know that you are in charge of your own deadlines. I believe in deadlines and they help me; sometimes more than I like to admit. But, like me, you may also find that sometimes not meeting that deadline really is okay and you can submit the story the next go 'round.

Try it. See if there is one thing on your list which can wait until later. Unless you have plenty of time and everything is perfectly balanced and you have no stress. Which could be true. Just one thing. Like the sales on computers (laptops, specifically) I've been tracking recently, the best new hot awesome "inventory sale" gave way to the "spring break specials" which gave way to the "mother's day sale" then the "grad sale" and the "dad's sale" - oh, I forgot the "Memorial Day Sale" - and the "Fourth of July Sale" and then the "New Release Sale" and now the "early back to school sale."

You get my point.

Except in the case of themes or special events, timely events, many things come back around. Sometimes it is in our best interest to "take a pass" on the current deadline and wait for the next. And, just maybe, sometimes it's in our story's best interest to let it age and take another look, as well.


Or you can look at it as "taking a pass" and letting the deadline go by, or "taking a pass at it" and giving it a try.

See which is most true for you and take a pass, your way.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Razor's Edge for 7/13/12

On Monday, in Radical Writing Advice, I talked about the impermanence of punctuation. I'm not saying there is not a place in writing for punctuation, but I am saying that there are options. There are creative ways to use punctuation and it can be another too we as writers use. For pacing. For tension. For emphasis. And more.

Today I'm continuing on that theme.

Today's Razor's Edge is a challenge. To play with punctuation. Don't worry, you can go back to your usual patterns, be it a graduate degree strict adherence to the rules or line editor preciseness, or rebel to the rules. But let's venture into prose without periods and commas and other textbook markers for a freewrite.

Oay, let's play with punctuation. I've put in a couple of samples below, taken from a short story I'm in the early stages of developing. If you're up for it, try writing without any punctuation, without capitalization. This is what I've done in the first sample below. Or try like I've done in the second sample below, using space to represent the stops and pauses which would usually be filled with punctuation.

After reading the samples, use the picture and the prompt to write. For 10 minutes.

*sample one*
the key card slid smoothly into and out of the slot on top oftthe faux gold security box on the door it was followed by a whir and then silence and the illumination of the central pinhole yellow light in the traffic light pattern on the box yellow damn i said though there was no one around i wouldnt have said it if there was someone nearby it would ruin my image i repositioned my bag on my shoulder as it was slipping toward my elbow and this had the markings of a longer than a quick dash to get into my room i might even have to make a trip to the front desk sigh all i wanted to do was slip into the room change out of this chimp on a rope uniform and crash the bottle of makers mark was calling me from the mini fridge and i could taste the reeds extra ginger brew which was the reason my bag kept sliding towards the floor shit another expletive without an audience ice
*sample two*
the key card slid smoothly into and out of the slot on top of the faux gold security box on the door    it was followed by a whir and then
and the illumination of the central pinhole light in the traffic light pattern on the box      yellow

damn  i said though there was no one around     i would not have said it if there was someone nearby

it would ruin my image.

i repositioned my bag on my shoulder as it was slipping toward my elbow
and this had the markings of a longer than a quick dash to get into my room i might even have to make a trip to the front desk


all i wanted to do was slip into the room change out of this chimp on a rope uniform
and crash
the bottle of maker s mark was calling me from the mini fridge and      I could taste the reed s extra ginger brew which was the reason my bag kept sliding towards the floor

shit    another expletive without an audience


As he approached the street corner I noticed . . .

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Music Discovery: Jami Sieber, cellist

I've been searching for my direction, for options, for that intuitive spark that jumps up and shouts, "me! over here!" Only my intuition doesn't shout and so, sometimes, I miss the information. And I've been taking more of a passive approach, because I learned long ago that chasing that unknown something can result in missed opportunities and missed paths.

So I've been waiting, watching, listening. And in this process have discovered some new music. It's not "new" music in terms of just released or undiscovered; but musicians I haven't noticed or haven't sought out more of their creations to listen to. Leonard Cohen. Regina Spektor. A Fine Frenzy.

Today I went for my massage appointment and was introduced to another new-to-me musician: Jami Sieber, electric cellist. It was the perfect introduction - during my cranial sacral bodywork session. {And if you're looking for a skilled massage therapist, for regular massage, light touch massage, or cranialsacral approach, I highly recommend Daria Howell, LMT. I've been seeing her since the person I was seeing previously moved away for some amazing opportunities. Daria is skilled, friendly, intuitive respectful and has really helped me physically.}

Back to Jami Sieber. Cellist; electric cello. I love listening to cello, a wide range of styles. But I'd never heard of her; although I may have heard her but not known it. I did a little looking around and found that she has done performances with other musicians, with writers, with authors who have translated written text, with dancers, and more.

Another interesting fact about Jami Sieber, which Daria told me, is that Jami played with the Elephant Orchestra in Thailand. I searched online for links of that and found a couple of good videos on YouTube, which have excerpts of that experience, in which she talks about that a bit. Check it out.

But I also found a few videos she posted herself. Some were from a performance in Seattle and, since she posted them, I thought I'd pass one along here. And I'm going to buy one of her CDs.

The video below includes another musician and a performance. Perfect: music and theater.
Jami Sieber:  

Below is the video with some information about her music with the elephants project. I'm going to do a little more research into this project and see what I can find. But, for now, her is a tidbit. Oh: I hear that she comes somewhat regularly to Portland, so I will keep my eyes out for her next local concert. She is one musician I would enjoy seeing in person.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Radical Writing Advice: Punctuation Impermanence


I've been on an interesting search this week in my quest to come up with a fresh topic. Something I'm interested in and which fits the notion of "radical." Or semi-radical. Or maybe just clever. I started with a brainstorming list (which produced some future topics and some ideas which will lead to future topics because on their own they're not that interesting in my not-so-humble opinion).

I started one piece and my heart wasn't in it. It fell flat. Or more accurately, it fell into the drafts file. I wasn't ready to toss it out but I wasn't in a mood to develop it further. Luckily I'm my own Editor and can decide to axe an item without anyone knowing.

Except you. Now I've told you.

So I went back to my list and looked at it again. This piece is from the second look and, while it veers from the original spark, this is its growth.


There are rules for writing; to communication through language, any language. Right?

"Duh, Dot!"

But did you know that this hasn't always been true? That statement is true. I knew that language, as a living entity, changes over time. I knew that there have been words and phrases and spellings which have evolved over time.

I assumed that there have been punctuation changes, as well, although I hadn't given that much thought. Other than the use of contractions. I think about contractions because I use them. I have friends who write with minimal or no contractions. Their language is more formal and when they do use them, it is more deliberate. I write in a more conversational tone - most of the time, let me qualify that, because I actually can write a proper piece when required - and contractions are a part of the language of the world I write about. I've had discussions with other writers about whether to use or not use contractions, and when. I often don't use them during NaNoWriMo, until last year. That has been a good exercise in what my writing sounds like without them and, let me tell you, it's not good. My characters sound stiff and perhaps a little psychotic.

Oh, and I still made it across the 50k word line in 2011, even with my contractions.

But this isn't about me, this is about Punctuation; and the capitalization is intentional. Another tool we have as writers - capitalization - right there along with grammar, punctuation, and more.

So, I thought of a catchy little title for the original topic for today's writing: "grammar schmammar." The first thing I did was do an internet search for the phrase. I know there are other resources out there for research, but this is quick and easy and what I had at hand. I try to make sure I'm not stepping on toes ... and I often pick up tidbits in that process. Which was true today.

My cute play-on-words title turned out to not be original. But it did result in some interesting information; some trustworthy and some questionable; some just plain interesting. It also landed me at the Sun Sentinel's website and a piece about evolving English, including contractions and grammar.

Grammar schmammar: How 'proper' English is evolving

Not until the 17th century did people begin thinking that the language needed to be codified, and the details of who would do that and how have yet to be resolved. Should it be accomplished through a government-sponsored academy, an officially sanctioned dictionary, or what? These and other means were attempted, but meanwhile ordinary folks, dang them, kept right on talking and writing however they wanted, inventing words, using contractions and so on. 
Odd quests against specific words and uses were cropping up even in the 1600s, and they reveal the modern-day grammar warriors who campaign against, say, "finalize" to be tomorrow's ridiculous footnote. Jonathan Swift, for instance, had a thing about the word mob, a truncation of the Latin "mobile vulgus" (fickle crowd). Who knows how many other masterpieces he might have written had he not wasted all that energy fighting a battle that didn't need fighting. 
So, in my quest I found a nice piece of history to share. And support for this week's writing idea.

The idea that punctuation isn't necessarily necessary. Or that we have options in how we use punctuation. Or that the rules we've learned about how to use commas, colons, semi-colons, hyphens, and so on are flexible.

If you want a nice, concise overview of some of the things I'm dismissing, I ran across the Tameri Guide for Writers guide for punctuation. It's short and sweet and you can brush up on, before you brush off, punctuation. I also found a useful bit of information on the "Grammar and Punctuation" page at the Texas A&M University Writing Center website.


"So, just what are you proposing, Dot? That we completely give up punctuation?"

Fair question.

And. Yes and No.

For now. To challenge yourself. To open up your writing. Yes. At least as you're writing your first draft.

I am not dismissing punctuation as a tool available for writers: to give meaning, for clarity, for emphasis. Why, just look at my sentences. What would it look like or mean without punctuation? How would the meaning change? Would it? That last one is silly; it would change. You've probably heard of the popular "Eats Shoots and Leaves" book - a good example.

But, suppose. There have been authors who write without punctuation. Or with non-standard punctuation. And how many times have you found yourself slowed down by wondering whether a single hyphen was appropriate or if a colon would be better; or perhaps if you should break it out into two sentences?

What if you wrote without punctuation? Put your words onto the page (tactile or virtual) as they came to you.

Space can be used to show beginnings and ends. A symbol, perhaps, here and there. A period when it felt absolutely necessary.

Play with it.

Writing without worrying about punctuation can be very freeing.

Besides, that's what the editing process is for : putting in what you can't do without and taking out what doesn't work.


Below are a few examples of non-standard punctuation usage. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say deliberate punctuation manipulation.

"A vegetable garden in the beginning looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables." - Gertrude Stein

"Every adolescent has that dream every century has that dream every revolutionary has that dream, to destroy the family." - Gertrude Stein

"Listen; there's a hell of a good universe next door: let's go." - ee cummings

Then Nuvoletta reflected for the last time in her little long life and she made up all her myriads of drifting minds in one. She cancelled all her engauzements. She climbed over the bannistars; she gave a childy cloudy cry: Nuee! Nuee! A lightdress fluttered. She was gone. And into the river that had been a stream . . . there fell a tear, a singult tear, the loveliest of all tears . . . for it was a leaptear. But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh! I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!”  - James Joyce in Finnegan's Wake


Friday, July 6, 2012

Razor's Edge : Sacrifice

The past few weeks or so I've been thinking about the role of writing in my life. Or I've been thinking about myself as a writer and what I want that to look like. You may have noticed I've started a new weekly series "Radical Writing Advice," which came out of these contemplations.

Although I am wondering how "radical" I can keep things in this new set of posts. Isn't that the challenge, though, to keep it fresh and keep not only my energy moving, but to help others, as well. After all, I am a writer. So I'm writing. About writing.

In this process of writing about writing, and starting - again - to do some drawing with images instead of with words, a story is emerging. It started out as a snippet of some unknown larger context in the online Literary Kitchen Lit Star Training with Ariel Gore. I took that quick write and used it for a later assignment to expand a quick write and then that was the basis to build on for last week's story. And it's still not done. I don't know the character yet. The character has only revealed pieces of that life and I have some of the same questions as the other writers who have given me feedback on what I have so far.

The reason I'm telling you this is that writing about writing has oiled my writing joints and there is a story moving through me. I can't force it to be this way or that, or it hides away. And I find it interesting that I've been thinking about writing as my other career choice - which it is - and this new story I am following emerges. Writing my passion and drive and the thing I do when I'm not interpreting or sleeping or swimming. I've considered doing freelance writing as another income stream but I don't think that is for me. I like interpreting and I'm good at it and it's a part of me. So why not keep with the interpreting - which I know - and allow the writing to develop.

Books and articles and blogs and e-newsletters about freelancing are again crossing my field of vision. Questions are coming up about being a "professional" or being an "amateur" or being a "real" writer.

Earlier this week the book "The War of Art" came up in a blog which was about the author, Steven Pressfield, and his newest release, "Turning Pro." As I often do when interesting writing (or other) books are mentioned, I look them up. So I did with these, as well.

This week's Razor's Edge is based on the Amazon blurb for Pressfield's recent book. The title of the book is a little challenging in an "I dare you" kind of way; at least for me. The earlier book is intriguing, as well, and that one I did order in an electronic format. A book I will have with me anywhere I go since I can read it on my computer, my tablet, and even my Blackberry. I don't have many electronic books; I prefer paper, but this one? It felt right to get it electronically - it's the second electronic writing book I've purchased.

So this week, read the Amazon description of Pressfield's most recent book below. Once you're done reading, set a timer for 10 minutes and then use the prompts which follow the description and write. As always, feel free to post your writing or a section of it; or post a response. I'd love to heard how this affects you."

The Amazon description of "Turning Pro," by Steven Pressfield:

The follow-up to his bestseller The War of Art, Turning Pro navigates the passage from the amateur life to a professional practice.
"You don't need to take a course or buy a product. All you have to do is change your mind." --Steven Pressfield
TURNING PRO IS FREE, BUT IT'S NOT EASY. When we turn pro, we give up a life that we may have become extremely comfortable with. We give up a self that we have come to identify with and to call our own.
TURNING PRO IS FREE, BUT IT DEMANDS SACRIFICE. The passage from amateur to professional is often achieved via an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at great cost, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. We pass through a membrane when we turn pro. It's messy and it's scary. We tread in blood when we turn pro.
WHAT WE GET WHEN WE TURN PRO. What we get when we turn pro is we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and live out.
Now, set your timer for 10 minutes.

What is it you are afraid of giving up? What have you experienced to get where you are today, the familiar and perhaps the comfortable only because it's familiar?

If you were able to do the thing you desire, what would it be?

Where is your power? What do you need to embrace your power?

Tell me.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Radical Writing Advice: Perspective

Perspective. POV. First person, second person, third person, omnipotent. As a writer, you've surely at least heard these mentioned. You may or may not remember what they are. Perhaps your time in school was long enough ago that you've integrated the information but the labels fell off long ago. You may use some of them or a combination. Or you may just write and see what happens.

Perspective goes beyond who is speaking. I mean, obviously, who is speaking is important unless you are inentionally obfuscating the narrator. But even then, perspective is used with intent.

Before I write more, I want to share a video I found, which led to this week's topic.

As you know, last week I talked about dialogue. About being in the world around you for authentic conversation in your writing. When I was preparing that writing, I had mentioned sushi-go-round, more accurately called kaiten sushi. I wanted a picture and was surfing my photos and online.And, surprise - but not really if I'd thought about it - I found videos of kaiten sushi bars.

One of those videos caught my attention and I was going to include it last week as a postscript to my piece. Then I realized, it was a perfect companion to this topic of perspective.

So, before I delve into this any further, watch this video. It's a little long for some of you, I know. So feel free to watch a part of it, although if you stop early, you will miss the trip through the kitchen.

Perspective. From the point of view of the belt at the sushi go round. Thank you, MJRecession, whoever and wherever you are. After the video, I will continue with this week's topic.

How much did you make it through of the nearly 8 minutes? Did you see the kitchen? The reaction of the diners as it emerged on the belt from the kitchen?


I'm a fan of sushi. Regular sushi where you order off a menu and the kaiten or conveyor belt style. I find the sushi-go-rounds entertaining and relaxing and it's good for those "I can't make up my mind" times. I also enjoy the opportunity for overheard conversations and interactions - or lack of - of the people around me, sometimes nearly on top of me. And I've never thought about things from the point of view of a plate on the belt.

It can be challenging to write from a perspective we've never experienced, or perhaps one that is in direct conflict to our own. What do we do to quiet our voice, our bias, or preferences? How do we get to the point of the other if a character appears who is unlike us?

This is not an impossible task, but it can be a challenge. What we risk when we write from a perspective which isn't us or which we have no direct experience of is having our characters become cariacatures, stiff, cliche. But no, I'm not saying that we should try to experience everything or to stick only to topics we've experienced firsthand.

I am saying that we need to open up our experience of perspectives and to be aware of perspective when we write. Opening up perspective experiences may include something like this video. What does it look like from the sushi belt? Doesn't a sushi chef in a kaiten restaurant have a similar perspective to that? Write a story of a sushi chef who works in the front, with his creations going around and around, as he monitors what is popular and what they need more of, if something is staying there too long. What about the customers who don't see what they want and order off the sushi chart? Who want the orange spicy sauce? The low salt soy sauce or the teriyaki sauce? What does the sushi chef see?

What are some other perspectives you could try? Just for something new? How about lying on the sidewalk (or near it) of a popular running and walking track, perhaps near a lake or a river? What is the perspective from the ground up as people jog by, or pass on bicycles, the strolling walkers and the practicing race walking groups? You've probably sat on a bench or a fence or in a picnic chair as walkers and runners go by, but take it one layer lower. Or go sit outside a restaurant with big glass windows and watch the people inside. What do people do when they notice you noticing them? What do you notice about the flow of traffic; perhaps how do the customers travel through the space as compared to the people who work there? Can you tell who's worked there a long time from the newbies by their behavior?

Very important in this proces of learning about other perspectives is to talk to people. Talk to the people who are doing what your characters are doing. Open your mind and meet them with honest curiosity about their experience. Talk to them. Ask some questions and then listen. What do they want to tell you? What is important to them about this thing or this place or where they've come from?

A few months ago I took an online writing workshop with Inga Muscio and she had one assignment which relates to the idea of perspective, as well as other things good for writing. Her assignment was to go to a place where you normally don't go and interact. Talking to people who are unlike us or more like our characters will be beneficial to our stories. There are limits, of course. If you're writing a horror story you probably don't want to meet with an unstable serial killer; no. But if your serial killer grew up in a small house by the railroad tracks in a very small town, you might at least find a small town to visit. Meet some people.

For example, my grandmother taught in a one-room school house which was in the high desert, along the highway. Her trailer was next to the school house and the main part of town was a gas station-library-diner-post office-grocery store across the street. There was a small compound of a few houses a couple miles up the road for state highway workers, and a couple of houses near the multipurpose building across the road. But most of the people lived on ranches and farms miles away in both directions, in the hills. That is probably the smallest place I've ever visited and I'm sure it's grown at least a little by now.

So even in that itsy bitsy town, there is a social gathering place. You could stop for some gas, sit down for a piece of pie and a cup of coffee and probably meet at least two or three people. Talk to them. Get a sense of their stories.

Perspective. Like the difference between a road leading to the horizon in a painting or the cat which looks like it's sitting on the table leg with the blue pitcher floating above the table, the story changes with skill and with authentic knowledge of the origin.

Perspective is a tool we can use as writers to reveal parts of the story and obscure other information until we want the readers to know. But poorly written perspective has that cat levitating the pitcher and the floor in the room crawling up the wall. Spend a little time out in the world.

Or borrow other's research when you can. Like the sushi video. There are characters for stories in there. People's reactions - those who notice, those who don't, those who are excited or giggling and those who look embarassed or confused.

Step out of yourself and into the world. Into others' worlds at times.

Well written perspective helps hold the reader in the space and time of your story.

And there is nothing wrong with writing about a cat levitating a blue pitcher. Just make sure that is what you intended. You might even want to try lying on the floor with a blue pitcher above you and see if you can levitate it yourself. Get down there and see what the cat sees, feel what it's like.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Creating more than Writing

Yesterday my partner and I were talking. About life. About writing. About art.

I've been a bit in what we call the "lowly worm" state, especially when it comes to my writing. I'm going through a period where my writing feels a bit dry, boring, like I have nothing to say. No time. No inspiration. Well, not enough time or inspiration or ability to put a word after a word  after a word and have it come out like anything but drivel.

That's only a slight exaggeration. I go through this from time to time. Wonder if I should give it up, stop trying. Which is why I made a commitment to myself to give writing a try again no matter what for two years, which became five years and now I'm into a ten-year commitment. The commitment is to me, to my spirit, to the depth of who I am who is a creative person who is primarily a writer.


That's it!

My partner suggested I try doing something else. Not instead of writing, but in addition to it. Or instead of it at times when I felt stagnant. Make some art. Or just play. Collage. Draw like I used to. Sometimes I used to make cartoons of what was happening or of the story rather than with words.

See, sometimes, words have been used to manipulate or control or unreasonably influence me. As they have been with many people. And sometimes words don't come easily to me to express what I'm feeling or I get too negative about them. There were times in my life where using words, telling the truth, expressing a feeling was dangerous; so, sometimes, that feeling comes back. And I have to get through that to get to the words.

So my partner suggested it. And last week our quick write in Ariel's online class was doing a few other things than just writing. There was another important person in my life who also told me (again) to try other avenues to get to the stories, like doing collage or making something tactile.

Yesterday I did.

One of the things my partner and I did together yesterday was to go to the new, expanded Muse Art & Design store. It's very roomy and they will be getting new and more materials. I bought a spiral sketch book, a few colored pens, and I started with a couple of drawings. Nothing major or important.

But it was creativity in action. With a few words, but not many.

Sometimes I have to access my creativity in different ways, not words. And now I have a place to do that, which won't get junked up with work notes and schedule plans and to-do lists. It's only for drawing and words and creating.