I had dinner with a writer friend the other night and one of the many things we talked about was, you guessed it, writing. We have very different styles, approaches, voices, methods, you name it but each of us has stumbled on a system that mostly works for us. We are also constantly tweaking what we do, trying to improve it. He is more of a binge writer; he can write seven or eight pieces in a day and then not write for three weeks. My first writing teacher, Lisa Vice, was like that. She would sit at her kitchen table and write for incredibly long stretches not eating and barely sleeping for days when working. Back when I took her class her first book Reckless Driver had just come out and it was a stunning debut. Her process of writing was clearly a system that worked for her.
I have a white board at my desk where I scribble phrases that float into my head when I am folding laundry. On that board I write key words to remember, parts of conversations with my many muses or odd words that just stick in my head. Some of these snippets sit on that board and eventually get used in a piece where others get erased. I start with a word not knowing what I will write, but write to see what happens. In fact that is more often true than not, I rarely know where the work is going, how it will end or how it will all tie together but generally it does. Sometimes I even have an idea where it will fit category-wise, other times my editor makes that call. She is smarter than me. I write a few times a week in one form or another when I am not working on a deadline of a large project. Then I write almost every day, some days all day. I love those days. There is a freedom in throwing a plate of spaghetti at the wall; some of it is going to stick. Some of the tumble jumble of words will start the flow of something good, some vein that has been struck and there is life force in that. Which leads me to the following quote from Martha Graham, I heard it years ago and it has been one of the truest things I have heard.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
So whether it is writing, painting, encaustic, or speaking your mind it is about using your unique voice clearly. Say what you mean, mean what you say, do it without judgment or fear and let it go. It is not our jobs to determine what value it is, it is our jobs to bring it forth for everyone’s benefit. It would be like having an orchestra filled with cellos, which is an instrument I love, but we get a fuller, richer sound with violins, trumpets, drums, everyone playing. In music you need all the notes to get the richness, to get perspective, to get the wonder, which is the same in life. We each are a distinct note and everyone has to play loud and clear for the magic to happen. If you spend most of your time thinking about playing, or planning to play when the time is right, or even strategizing your way on how you might play when you know more, you are procrastinating. To make use of another brilliant mind here is another quote that speaks to procrastination.
“There is a saying. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why we call it the present.” Master Oogway, Kung Fu Panda
Granted Alice Morse Earle said it in 1902 but she was not an animated turtle so she had no credibility. So with the new year coming what better time to pick up a pen, a paint brush, or a roller skate and take a tumble? Why not take 15 or even 30 minutes to create or express your self today? If you need an idea on how to get started here are a few:
If you are a writer put on some great music, pull a book you love off the shelf and read a few pages for inspiration (if you find yourself reading more than a chapter you are now procrastinating!) Or troll the Internet for a crazy news story and use it as a jumping off point. Describe a favorite meal in a restaurant using all your senses when you write. Tell a cherished childhood memory in such detail that the reader becomes enveloped in your world. For a visual artist look at work that inspires you. Take a walk in nature and look at shapes and color, shadow and light. Use poetry as a muse.
It can be as simple as getting your journal out and setting a timer for 15 minutes. Don’t stop writing (or drawing) the entire time even if what you are doing is cruddy. There have been times I have done this and ended up with a half page of, “I don’t know what to say. I hate this. I feel like an idiot.” But usually down at the end of that junk I hit a vein of something interesting. By doing this kind of exercise you are simply practicing tapping in, over and over. It’s about allowing your creativity, your life force, your truth to flow. In order to find your voice you have to use it. In doing so it emerges and by practicing you build strength, purity and vision. So all I have to say before I go imbibe on some nog is, “What are you doing still reading this?” Get going!
“Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.”