Friday, January 25, 2013

The magical state of flow

This poem is about flow, that magical state you enter when doing something you love:

Creativity | Day 108
Photo by Mr. Simbol
(Click to see original on Flickr)

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

-Billy Collins

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Singers and musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth...."*

Photo by Debbie Friley
 “Singers and Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Every day, they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they'll never work again. Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream. With every note, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment. With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life - the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. Why? Because musicians and singers are willing to give their entire lives to a moment - to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience's soul. Singers and Musicians are beings who have tasted life's nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another's heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.”*

~David Ackert, LA Times

UPDATE: I verified that the original quote was slightly different - it referred to actors and not singers and musicians. From the original author:
"I wrote the quote almost 20 years ago for actors but it has since been adopted by numerous disciplines, including musicians, dancers, and painters. Each of these groups have swapped out the references to acting to match their creative experience."
David Ackert
I am still enamored with the quote. It describes beautifully the creative process (but the quote as above was not the original). I'm not sure who changed it but if anyone finds out, please let me know so I can update this again.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Writers, how fast do you write?

From a thread on Facebook:

Writers: how fast do you write? About how many words an hour is a comfortable pace for you? Do you keep track? Are there things that come very quickly and others that take much more time? Tell me about what it feels like to write. Do you start write away? Do you take breaks in the middle? Do you enjoy the process?
"It all really depends on what I'm writing. In an hour I can crank out hundreds or words... or just a few dozen. If I'm researching while I'm writing, it takes longer. If it's an emotional email, it tends to go more quickly. Same is it's something I know backward and forward... and, let me tell you, there are more than a couple of topics that I can show you a dozen emails I've written over the years that match almost word-for-word (even without having referenced the previous ones)."

"Hemingway wrote 500 a day. It's not a race."

"It's a threshhold rather than linear process. Hours can pass without meaningful writing. Then moments can occur in which hundreds of words pour out."

"I don't think I enjoy writing anymore. I used to feel like I had this amazing creative energy I could not hold back. I had so much to "say." These days, really, I don't feel that anymore. So, I'll tell you how it was when I did write because I wanted it more than anything in life. Now, it's like pulling teeth, painful, and the words won't come quickly enough. If anything, I feel anxiety because I'm on a deadline, feel blank, frustrated and have total and complete writer's block."

"I write very fast. Especially fiction. The way I've always described it is "a hot gush." I get an idea, then I sit down and type until I'm done. I tend to go from start to finish, top to bottom -- I rarely write an ending or middle part first. But then, I mostly write short pieces. That doesn't mean the hot gush comes out perfect. I edit and re-edit constantly. If I look at a piece from years ago, I can almost never resist making at least some tiny edit. Non-fiction and professional/work writing takes a little bit longer, but once I have the gist of what I should write, this goes fast for me, too. The idea is always the part that takes time for me, never the writing. I have no idea how many words I write an hour. I guess because I write and type so fast, "an hour" sounds like a long time for me to be sitting down and typing. It always just feels like everything takes about five minutes, although that's probably the hot-gush effect on my perception. The hot-gush effect freezes time sometimes."

"I don't keep track, no. Of anything. Hmm, maybe I should. I kinda just write."

"I might take days or weeks to mentally chew on an idea that I have for a fiction piece. And if I have to write an article or something for work, I might take a few hours to just think, brainstorm, do some research, interview people. Once the gist of the piece is there, though, I just crank the sucker out. I don't tend or like to pause halfway -- I almost feel like I can't rest until I've got it all out."

"It feels very good to write. It feels like being possessed by the coolest demon ever. I feel privileged, as if I'm receiving some special message from the Muse of the Universe or something. Kind of like back when I went to my grandparents' Pentecostal church and people would speak in tongues. I feel lucky and grateful for each idea I have, and there's this constant background worry that someday I'll lose that channel, that it will close or dry up. I think that's part of why I write with a sense of urgency, and share my writings right away with my friends (i.e. post it online). It feels a little bit hot-potato, like, "Here, this is hot off the oven -- take it! Pass it around!"

"I start writing as soon as I get an idea and the first words for it begin to form in my mind -- a first sentence, a scene I want to get down into words. I feel anxiety at the prospect of putting something into words if I'm not at the computer -- I feel like I can't think clearly unless my fingers are moving on the keyboard. I never write anything in a notebook, for example. I actually try to avoid thinking of concrete words or sentences until I'm "safely" at a computer where I can type it out and see what the words look like and can preserve it."

"I dislike taking breaks when I'm working on a writing. Sometimes life demands it, but I feel panicky until I can finish, and worry that the ideas will evaporate while I'm gone."

"Yes, I enjoy the process of writing. It's no exaggeration to say that when I'm writing is when I feel most alive. When I'm writing is when I most feel as if I have a purpose and value in this world."

"It's a geyser or a leaky faucet, with no middle ground. I either can't stop and hours have gone by, or I'm staring at internet fluff instead of wait, what are we talking about?"

"I'm replying from my phone at the moment so I don't forget, but... I shoot for a thousand words a day, which I achieve on a good day. In an hour, I have not the foggiest idea; I'm a novelist, not a secretary. Often if it isn't flowing it's because it's going in the wrong direction and I need to change gears, but sometimes I know I need to write this scene and am just not excited about it; once it gets underway I often do better (in other words, getting started is the hard part). Frequently, quite frankly, it's hormonal; I write best two weeks out of the month, and that's just the truth, sorry. I can't take hormonal BC because it makes me a crappier and slower writer. Yes, I really just said that."

"When I have a good idea I'll usually prioritize it over neary anything else, because inspiration is precious, although any pro novelist will tell you it's an amateur belief that inspiration is necessary for a project; consistency and commitment are necessary for a project. Money and ambition help, when inspiration fails, and the work is no worse off for it much of the time (see "King, Stephen"). Do I enjoy the process, absolutely! Absolutely. Bringing characters and a story to life is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. And when you hear someone repeat your story back to you and you know it's come to life in THEIR mind-- it's magic. I'm really only satisfied with my writing these days when it's "elevated," or what I think of as the "pushing it over the top of the wall" stage-- good enough that you think, "and THAT is gonna show up as a Kindle Highlight."

"Regarding ideas, I'm always surprised when I hear writers say they have no idea what to write next, or when my agent said most of her writers struggle with coming up with the next idea. I'm working on my sixth full novel and I have a backlog of three partially written, kick-ass novels I HAVE to write or die unfulfilled, and that doesn't even count the other novel ideas I'd like to work on or short story ideas. Two of those partials are at the 40k word mark and I sneak time with them like they're my mistresses. Inspiration for individual scenes can be a problem, but book ideas? I suffer from being unable to clone myself."

"It's just a different type of focus. Writing is like dropping through the floor into the trapdoor of another room's ceiling. Breaks don't make sense because I'm not living in the world of laundry and lunch and bathrooms during those times; if I am aware of real-world needs, I'm not in the writing world. Pace varies. I write dialogue faster because I can hear the characters talk in my head better, and they don't burden their speech with self-aggrandizing, over-ornate language (which I do with prose). When my art-trance is good, I can get about 800 words per hour in. If I were in practice, I could probably write for about 3 hours a day (2400 words) day in and day out. I've written 5000 words in a day, but it's exhausting. I don't think anybody's pace is relevant to anybody else. There are times when I feel more readiness to slip through that trap door. But honestly, I can't wait for those times to happen to me. I have the time I have. I use it or I don't. It's not so magical-special that I have to line up all the things like some religious ritual. I choose to do it, and I learn to "drop through" quickly, or I don't get to write."

"I do the breadcrumb thing, too -- if I'm away from the computer, I'll jot down code or reminder words on a napkin or piece of junk mail or something. Sometimes I find the code words on a napkin many months later and think, "What the heck?" Life as a writer can be kind of kooky and fun like that."

"I'm totally down with the "write on everything" habit."

"When I am inspired I can write 3 pages in an hour, but it doesn't happen all the time."

"I tend to write very slowly unless particularly inspired, which is more likely to happen after a vivid dream. I'm currently working on an apocalyptic fiction piece based solely on a terrifying dream I had. It drives me nuts if I have to wait to write something down, which is why I almost always have a notebook and pen in my purse/bag. I have no clue how many words I write in an hour. It's never crossed my mind that I should track that. Writing about negative emotions is so much easier for me than sappy, happy stuff. I guess because the pain is so much more common in my life than the soft, fluffy things life deals me. Also, I find it really hard to get started. Finding the perfect opening sentence will take me forever. Once I feel like the opening paragraph doesn't suck, then I tend to speed up and write like a woman on fire. I enjoy the process, even writer's block, because it forces me to break out of my routine and try something new to get the creative juices flowing again. I am constantly building, destroying, and rebuilding my techniques and myself. Hence, my "Epic Roadtrip of Self-Discovery" that starts tomorrow and lasts who knows how long. I hope to find myself along the way. Maybe on a hiking trail, maybe at a waterfall, perhaps even while journaling about the trip and my thoughts. Feel free to use my full name, no restrictions."

"I either record it with my iPhone or jot notes down that will trigger the words later. I sometimes think most writers aim for Walmart ie many words piled high because they are paid by the word. (newspaper journalists are really bad at this). I aim more for the minimal number of words that can get an idea across, as people are busy. Plus typing on a phone is tiring."

"I find that writing is fast -- once I know what I want to say. The preliminary reporting and sorting of thoughts its what takes time, not the actual writing itself."
"Writing is changing my life in the best way possible. I resisted it for a long time, but I can't anymore. As far as recording, I'll typically wake up from a dream and take a voice memo, then repeat it as much as possible to anyone listening. My co-workers tolerate me, but one idea has them intrigued so I'm fleshing it out for a screenplay! In the meantime, I'm recuperating from surgery so I'm trying to get as much writing in as possible! Breaks like this don't come that often."

"No system. I find that once I've immersed myself in a story, the narrative just pops out. If that sounds magical, then keep in mind that (1) At least for me, the hard work is in conceiving of something to say, not in saying it. (2) Once you have something worthwhile to say, there's more than one way to say it effectively. All that matters is that you hold your readers' attention from sentence to sentence, from paragraph to paragraph."

"I write sort-of on auto pilot, so once I sit down to write, it all tends to flow out of me fully formed until it's done. Fiction may have stops and starts while things stir around, but legal briefs, 80-page term papers, emotional e-mails, blog posts, etc., all just come. I don't usually get the urge to write when I'm out and about, but when I hear or read some discussion or debate, then I often want to write soon so I don't forget the points that occurred to me that take a different tack from what I heard/read. Jotting down notes is sufficient for me. I can usually write a couple of hundred words an hour, I'd guess, though I've never counted -- but I wrote a full book chapter in about three or four hours, so 200-300's probably about my average words/hour. Brevity is my Waterloo, I'm afraid, mostly due to the fully-formed, flow way my writing occurs."

"I have NO IDEA how many words per hour I write. I find that I get my best work-related writing done after brainstorming with knowledgeable and engaging subject matter experts (I'm an extrovert, remember, so I get my energy from others), and then I retreat to quiet to hammer out a rough draft, and then reconvene with the group for a communal edit. Hope this helps?"

"I never timed it. When I'm inspired to write, I just write. I remember taking a creative writing class in college and that was actually harder because we had to write something even if there was nothing in our heads to write. I did a lot for a beginning story I had about my trip across country with Dolores. But that story petered out. I'll have to dig it up and see if it's worth reviving."

"Lately, I've had to perform either academic or policy writing tasks. That might be about 1-2 pages per hour (250-600 words), including proper citations, references, endnotes, etc… Not including research, usually. My style is to do many, many, many hours of pure research over time, take a few notes along the way, tag and bookmark my references as I go along using citation software (Zotero), then… turn to my writing app (Scrivener) and just let it all flow. May end up being just a few pages a day or an entire 15-20 page paper in a weekend, it all depends."

"Ultimately, the ah-ha moment of inspiration, pulling a methodology together, making a skeleton outline, listing key points- all these preparation exercises are crucial and not included in the writing time listed above."

"Writing speeches and op-ed pieces are really fun, IMHO. Then I can get all dramatic & use rhetoric and all kinds of fun stuff without the chains of formal academic attribution."

"For scripts it's always an outline then another and anther. And when I start to write it flies. Then rewriting and rewriting and so on. So the writing part is very minor indeed." 

And now, for extra bonus writerly information, here is a good post on one blogger's experience with trying to find an agent:

Friday, January 4, 2013

It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

silhouette at sunset
Photo by Beth Currie
(Click to see original on Flickr)

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old man simply replied, "The one you feed."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The meaning of life

Photo by Ohrfeus
(click to see original on Flickr)
 “The meaning of life is to treat your life like a work of art. An individual dies when [s]he ceases to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil, I’m not accommodated to the violence. I’m still surprised. So I can fight against it.”
     ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

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