Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dance with your skeletons

"If you have a skeleton in your closet, take it out and dance with it."
--Carolyn Mackenzie

Somehow what you least want to write about, what you shrink from, finds its way into your writing.   Your soul is blocked.   Free it and smooth it out with your writing.

Put your skeletons to work and make them dance on your page.

Catherine@catherinealexander.net


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Great artists struggle just like the rest of us

"Great artists who produce great work are just like us.  Really.  Just like us.
–They struggle with fear and avoid their work, just like we do.  It’s just part of their creative process. They tell themselves it’s too hard.  They tell themselves that they suck and that they’re not good enough.  They worry about what other people think about their work.  Both Pam and Cheryl do this and said that every other writer they know does the same thing.
But, here’s their secret–they’re onto themselves–they expect that inner backtalk and their resistance.  It no longer surprises them.  They know it’s part of their process.  And they don’t let it stop them.  
Writing is hard, they agreed.  Getting what’s in your head onto paper takes hours, lots of false starts, and often brings frustration.  But the difficulties are not reason enough to avoid your soul’s calling.
After they fret and flounder, they roll up their sleeves and go to work.  In Tiny Beautiful Things, a stuck, self-loathing young woman complained she could only “write like a girl,” and sought Sugar’s advice.  Cheryl famously advised: “Don’t write like a girl.  Don’t write like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”  In other words, do what burns inside you to be expressed and do it ferociously.
–The demands, routines, and curve balls of life do not keep them from their work or their dreams. Both Pam and Cheryl cope with the ordinary and extraordinary interruptions of life, too.  Just like we do.  They deal with email and phone calls and heavy schedules.  During the week with us, Cheryl’s young children wanted cheeseburgers and their Mom’s attention, and an out-of-control forest fire raged within a mile of Pam’s beloved ranch in southern Colorado.  In fact, Pam had evacuated her home only a few hours before she flew to California to be with us.  Neither of them uttered one syllable of victimy complaint.  They shared their knowledge, passion, energy and showed up smiling and present, every session.
–Moving towards their dreams, improving their skills and doing their creative work is part of the tapestry of their lives.Notwithstanding packed schedules, they regularly develop their skills and move forward with their visions.  Cheryl reads works by great writers daily, paying careful attention to details like how the writer moves them from place to place in physical space.  Pam regularly reads poetry to improve her impressive precision with words. She gathered ideas for stories during class breaks and shared them with us.  Pam turned her personal disaster into a creative exercise and had us write about what we would rescue if we had to evacuate our homes in four hours, like she had.
–They don’t know the path before they take the journey.  They don’t expect to know it either.  While some writers may know exactly where they’re going and have it all figured out, these two definitely don’t.  Pam describes her starting point as The Forest of Not Knowing. She likes it there and explained the many advantages of not-knowing.  Cheryl likewise has no idea where her writing will take her—the path arises organically as she writes.  Wildwas originally intended as an exploration of her grueling Pacific Crest Trail hike and, after she began, it veered into the deepest waters of human experience.  If “not-knowing-where-it’s-going” worked for Wild, which is being hailed as one of the great masterpieces of our times, it might just work for our challenges.
In other words, when we have a project ahead of us, we don’t need to know where we’re going or where we will end up.  That’s okay.  We just need to start.   In personal development, this approach is extraordinarily successful.  I encourage my coaching students not to worry about having a plan for their clients and to proceed a step at a time.  Our clients’ attention, awareness, and insights will light the trail, bit by bit.
For me, hearing that even accomplished artists cope with the same things I do and the same things my clients do gave me great reassurance.  Whether we want to create great art in our lives or whether we want to master the art of living, we can expect bouts of inner resistance and fear, a variety of obstacles and losses, and lots of time in The Forest of Not Knowing.
This is all part of the experience of creating anything, as well as the experience of being human.  If we’re willing to then dive in notwithstanding the inner and outer forest fires, and keep moving towards our dreams and desires, we can express what yearns for expression.  We can create our own masterpieces.
And sometimes, if we’re very, very lucky, we can sit with our bared souls and our bared butts in the company of understanding friends, and contemplate the mystery, the wonder, and the everyday magic of it all."

-Getting Naked and Getting Real, Terry De Meo

catherine@catherinealexander.net

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dialogue Exercise

Write a dialogue between two people.  Pick an example:
·         “Are you listening to me?” 
·         “You always . . .” 
·         “I’ll never forgive you.” 
·         “Don’t worry about it.”  
·         “I may be an alcoholic, but I’m not a racist.” 
·         “Don’t start with me.” 
·         “I thought you wanted children.” 
·         “But you promised!” 
·         “What is this all about?” 
·         “Now I’ll never get the job!”  
·         “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
·         “Do you want to talk about it?” 
·         “I’ve got a dress just like that.  How much did you pay for yours?”
·          “Just don’t take me for granted.”
·         “Get over it.”

·         “You don’t seem excited, that’s all I’m sayin.’”  

catherine@catherinealexander.net

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Writing Has Bad Days -- Never Give Up!

I'm sharing a bad day.  I've cleared the time to write, am sitting down at the computer but nothing seems to come of it.  My keyboard types the wrong letters, my dog barks at illusions, I'm hungry after just eating and I think I need to go someplace but where?  My writing space is disorganized, the dog is maddening, I can't concentrate, I'm bored by my characters, I can't figure out what comes next, I'm losing confidence in my work, I must check email.  And now I've left the caps lock on and everything I entered so far is in caps.

STOP WITH THIS NONSENSE!  (all caps intentional)  I know my enjoyment comes after I write, not during.  Sometimes the process is agony.  I write a scene and hate it.  Can't think of a good name for a character, and after some research, come up dry.  I should be more organized.  I should come up with new ideas.  I am in a rut.  I am stumped.  Writing gives me a headache.  I'm tired.

But I won't give in.  Writing is me and I am the writer.  So I'm going back to it.  One scene is what I'm after.  One scene or bust.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.

catherinealexander.net


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Moving Your Characters Around

Think about passages in which your characters must move from one place to another.  Then write some sentences where you make these moves clear.  For example, walk some characters from the kitchen to the backyard or vice versa.  Try a few sentences where your character moves from a safe place to one where she will have to explain herself if she is discovered.  Or write a brief transition from the car after a long, solitary drive to a party full of hostile strangers.

Often writers want their scene changes to be unobtrusive.  Some novelists even divide their chapters like scenes in a play, with a new chapter beginning every time a change of scene is called for.  That way writers can skip unexciting sentences, such as "She drove the station wagon to the bank."

On the other hand, stage directions can do more than move characters around; they can also help establish personalities or advance a plot.  "She twirls her cigarette in the ashtray until the long, red ash is shaped into a cone."  Is she dangerous, scared or both?  

catherinealexander.net

Best Submission Rejection Ever

"Catherine, at this time, we don't handle projects with swearing in them."