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Month: October 2016

Episode 32 – 10 minute writing practice

Episode 32 – 10 minute writing practice

The Writing Promptcast is the podcast you listen to while you write.  It’s filled with random word prompts, with plenty of room in between to write.  See how it works here.

November is coming fast, and I am super excited to be doing 30 minute daily podcasts for the month.  I’m also terrified I’ve set myself up for failure, but I’m going to do my best!  Because in addition to doing a podcast every day, I’ll be writing, on average, 1700 words a day.

Sleep?  Who needs sleep?!

Mentioned in today’s podcast:

Also, here are a few online word generators:

  • Text Fixer gives you the option to generate 6-10 words
  • Creativity has a word generator, but also some other fun exercises – check out the drop down menu for tweening!
  • Random Word Generator gives you more options for word generation, including word size
  • There’s also an app (available on android, and I’m sure it’s on ios as well) called Random Word Dictionary
NanoWriMo 2016 Participant
add me (ssjohnson) as a buddy!

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Big Magic: Parts V (Trust) and VI (Divinity)

Big Magic: Parts V (Trust) and VI (Divinity)

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is the fourth in a series of posts about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Join the discussion, and read more with us at the Books on Writing Reading Program! 

Do I love writing?

Of course I do. I’ve been writing, sometimes more effortlessly than other times, for almost 30 years.

Does writing love me?

I think it does. I think it loves me like a parent loves their child. I think writing wants what’s best for me, and wants me to be happy. I think it’s disappointed in me when I don’t do as much as I can or should, or when I haven’t been trying my best. I certainly don’t think writing hates me.

I’ve never gone for the Tormented Artist thing myself. I tried writing drunk a couple of times, and all I got was illegible gibberish and a hangover. I’ve never wanted to do drugs or hurt myself. But, unlike Gilbert, I do feel like I write better, or perhaps more, when I’m unhappy. Not that I make myself unhappy in order to write, but that the times I’m unhappy I feel I’m looking for the escape writing provides.

I’ve written about this before, I know. I always did the most writing after a breakup, when I was sad and alone and desperately wanting a different life. When I was happy – Prince Charming, dream “job” – I couldn’t write for shit. (For the record, I’m still happy – I’ve just finally forced myself into craft, into the job of writing, rather than just writing when the stories came to me.)

I love the idea of combinatory play – “…the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another….It quiets your ego and your fears by lowering the stakes (p. 253).” I’ve always heard occupying your hands will help loosen your mind. Knitting seems to be a popular pastime with a lot of writers I’ve read. I like cross stitch, myself, since I never learned to knit, but the latest coloring fad has also been great for me. It doesn’t matter what you do, just that you do something else.

On a forum I’m part of, a young woman was recently asking for advice. She had made it 16 chapters into writing her first book and was stuck. Many people told her to take a break – advice she adamantly refused to take. But that’s the advice you see time and again:  take a walk , go to a museum, get away from the problem long enough for the solution to come to you. “You might think it’s procrastination, but – with the right intention – it isn’t, it’s motion. And any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion (p. 254).”

Just like with Part IV, this part didn’t resonate much with me. Maybe I need to reread it when I actually finish something and nothing happens – either it’s crap or it’s a failure. Maybe then this section will help. Right now I don’t need this sort of motivation/inspiration. But one day, I probably will.

This, though. This is going up on my bulletin board:

“You are worthy, dear one, regardless of the outcome. You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome. You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome (p. 258-259).”

We’ll be taking a couple of months off, then I’ll be back in January to discuss a new Book on Writing. Stay tuned to find out which book!

Episode 31 – 20 minute writing practice

Episode 31 – 20 minute writing practice

The Writing Promptcast is a timed writing practice filled with single word prompts, each separated by several minutes of silence.  The idea is to simply write with a single word prompt, and then continue writing with the next.

During the month of November, I’ll be doing daily 30 minute Promptcast episodes, to help out those of you doing National Novel Writing Month.  If 50,000 words seems like too much for you, check out The Notebook Project.  Spend November filling a notebook cover to cover – it can be as small or large of a notebook as you want.



Big Magic: Part IV (Persistence)

Big Magic: Part IV (Persistence)

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is the third in a series of posts about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Join the discussion, and read more with us at the Books on Writing Reading Program! 

Overall, I struggled with this section.   I actually found it discouraging and rather pessimistic, despite Gilbert’s attempts at levity and her belief that good enough is fine.  Do people strive to be “good enough” at something?  I think people either try to be their best or they just work, without trying for anything, other than to get a pay check. “It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done” is great advice for a first draft.  But with each edit, with each advancement of the quality, it should get to good.  I feel like it should strive for something beyond good.  Not perfect, but certainly a final product you, the artist, is happy with, something you can set free in the world and happily claim, yes, I did that, and I’m proud of it.  I don’t know, maybe I am a perfectionist.

Reading about Gilbert’s devotion to the writing craft – going so far as taking vows – I couldn’t help but think, not for the first time, that maybe writing isn’t what I was meant to do.  I don’t feel entirely grateful, and I’ve certainly done my share of complaining.  I’ve never made a promise to writing, at least not in so many words.  If I had, I would have broken that promise a hundred times by now.  Maybe that’s the problem – maybe I should have made a promise.  But I know myself well enough to know that, yes, I would have broken the promise.  Which again makes me wonder if this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

I don’t love writing enough to get up at 5am.  I don’t love anything enough to get up at 5am.  Not even my husband.  When he’s leaving for a business trip early in the morning, I kiss him without opening my eyes and roll back over.  I worry that because I don’t want it bad enough to get up early, I don’t want it at all.  (I also don’t stay up late for it, usually.  I’m not a morning person or a night owl.  I’m more of an early-afternoon kind of person.  I can rock 1pm.)

When Gilbert says, “I went through a Hemingway stage (who didn’t?)…”  Well…I didn’t.  I didn’t even read Pride and Prejudice until about two years ago, and even now, I can’t figure out why it has such a rabid fan base.  I haven’t read a lot of classics, and there are ones I haven’t read that would make you gasp out loud.  No, seriously.  I read romance growing up.  Good old fashioned Harlequin romance.  My grandmother had one in her hand every evening, she’d go through 3-4 a week, and I would go through her book table and pick out ones to read myself.  That was the genesis of my love for reading.  My goal, early on, was never to practice the craft of writing.  I only wanted to get the stories in my head onto paper.  That may be is probably why I’ve never completed anything.  I got the story out of my head – by which I mean the bare bones screenplay of the movie playing inside my head.  The problem was, all I saw was a lot of beginning and the final product – all that stuff in the middle never played in my head, or it got summarized into CliffsNotes.

(You know, looking back, whatever did my grandmother do with all her books?  She didn’t have bookcases of them, just a stack inside an end table in the living room, maybe 50 at any given time…)

I feel like, based on this chapter, I don’t love writing enough to continue pursuing it.  I know that wasn’t Gilbert’s intention, but it’s my read.  And I’m feeling a bit depressed about it.

…mere completion is a rather honorable achievement in its own right (p 177).”

There are so many things I haven’t finished, even before you get to the pile of unfinished writing.  That’s why I’m trying so desperately to finish this one book.  I know, on some base level, that if I can finish this one book, I will be more likely to finish the next book.  Finishing will give me a sense of accomplishment that will stay with me enough to finish something else.  At least, that’s what I hope.

However, I don’t think I could finish a book I thought was terrible halfway through.  I wrote a manuscript for NaNo a few years ago, and I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t stand the story.  I didn’t want to demoralize myself by continuing to slog through it, when there were other possible stories looming.

While I fully get what Gilbert is saying – you’ll think everything is crap at some point and want to stop, and you can’t stop every time – I don’t really agree with slogging through something you know is awful.  At some point you have to respect yourself and your time. There are better things worth doing.

There was one bright spot in this chapter for me.  “Through the mere act of creating something – anything – you might inadvertently produce work that is magnificent, eternal, or important (p 171).”  This, I feel, is what The Writing Promptcast is all about.  No plot, no character sketches, no outline and no plan.  Just write, just create something.  It may one day be magnificent.

What did you think of Part IV?  Did you find it more helpful than me?

Join me next Friday to discuss Big Magic, Part V (Trust) & VI (Divinity)

Repost – Episode 14

Repost – Episode 14

Procrastination and construction work combined this week led to me not being able to record a new podcast this week.  My apologies.  I’m reposting Episode 14 today, which, if you’re new to the podcast, will give you a rundown of what it’s all about.

I’ll be back next week with a new podcast, promise! ; Twitter: @bySaraJohnson ; Pinterest, Facebook

Big Magic: Part III (Permission)

Big Magic: Part III (Permission)

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is the second in a series of posts about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Join the discussion, and read more with us at the Books on Writing Reading Program! 

…you will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try (p. 92).”

This reminds me of Cameron’s idea of audacity.  If I got nothing else out of The Artist’s Way, I got the idea that it is not the best writers who publish, it is the ones who have the audacity.  I’ve repeated this idea to no fewer than ten people since reading the book.  It’s an idea I can wrap my head around, and it’s a trait I’m trying to cultivate in myself.  I want to be audacious, to have the audacity to publish a book that I think is good enough to be published.

I’ve always had a problem answering the “What do you do?” question.  I hesitate on the word “writer,” afraid of the next questions:

  • “Oh, what do you write, have I read anything?”
  • Me:  “Well, I’m not published yet.”
  • Them: “Oh.  I see.  So you’re not really a writer.”

I dread this conversation, but I also refuse to call myself “aspiring” because, dammit, I am a writer.

I write.

And one day I will be audacious enough to be published.

I want to start a running tally of the times Gilbert brings up Eat, Pray, Love.  I get that she’s using it to make a point, but at some point I couldn’t help thinking, “Okay, I get it, you wrote that one book that everyone went on and on about for years.” (For the record, I read the book and enjoyed it immensely.)

I’ve actually thought of writing a memoir.  When I moved overseas, almost everyone asked if I would write the next Eat, Pray, Love, and I fully intended to do it.  I even have some of it written.  My working title is Welcome to My Sauna.  But my heart was never in it, and I never felt like there was that much to say, certainly nothing better than others had already said, much better than I ever could.  It goes back to Gilbert’s theme of not writing to help others, and authenticity (which my memoir didn’t really have), and I never felt like I truly needed to work through the experience by writing about it, even for my own benefit.  Maybe someday that will change, maybe I’ll still write it, but for now, the file is sitting in the cloud, untouched.

…the results of my work don’t have much to do with me.  I can only be in charge of producing the work itself….  I refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to police what anybody thinks about my work once it leaves my desk (p. 123).”

Granted, Gilbert is talking more about her critics than about interpretation, but I spend a lot of time thinking about “death of the author.”  I always hated English teachers talking about what the author meant – sometimes the curtains are just yellow, they don’t represent anything.  Or maybe they represent something to you, but something else to me.  Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong?  The author isn’t there telling us what he/she meant – they wrote it and set it free, allowing others to read into it what they will.

Gilbert even says, about a woman who had read her book, “…she had embroidered herself into my story and erased my actual narrative in the process.  Strange as it seems, I submit that it was her absolute right to do this.  I submit that this woman has the God-given right to misread my book however she wants to misread it.  Once my book entered her hands, after all, everything about it belonged to her, and never again to me (p. 125).”

I agree completely.  I write the story I write.  I read the story I read.  Everyone, everyone, puts their own life and experience into it, and the message is different for everyone.  That’s why reading is so rewarding.

Gilbert’s story about interviewing Tom Waits struck me, stuck with me:

“…Waits went on a whimsical rant about all the different forms that song ideas will take when they’re trying to be born.  Some songs, he said, will come to him with an almost absurd ease….  Other songs, though, he has to work hard for….  Still other songs are sticky and weird…while some songs are like wild birds that he must come at sideways, sneaking up on them gently so as not to scare them into flight (p. 131).”

I feel like different parts of each story are like this, or maybe different stages of writing.  Ideas tend to come to me pretty readily, it’s the working out of those ideas that get progressively more difficult.  Right now, in Memory Thieves, I’m in the potato digging phase.  Ann and Luke…sticky, definitely, and I’m sort of sneaking up on it.  I’ve tried being authoritative…that hasn’t worked….

I especially love the part about kids and “their total freedom of creative expression.”  “They never seemed to worry that the flow of ideas would dry up.  They never stressed about their creativity, and they never competed against themselves; they merely lived within their inspiration, comfortably and unquestioningly (p. 133).”

I love this.

I have no delusions that my writing will some day change someone’s life.  The world is not missing something because my book isn’t out there yet.  I can, however, hopefully give someone some diverting entertainment for a few hours.  That’s what I strive for.

What about you?  Have you given yourself Permission to be creative?  Have you thrown off your self-absorption and tried treating creativity like a child treats it?  How has it worked for you?  I’d love to hear from you!

Join me next Friday to discuss Big Magic, Part 4 (Persistence)

Episode 30 – 15 minute writing practice using word prompts

Episode 30 – 15 minute writing practice using word prompts

The Writing Promptcast is the podcast you listen to while you write.  It is a series of word prompts, each separated by several minutes of silence.  Write whatever story comes to you.  Find out more here. ¦ Facebook ¦ twitter ¦Pinterest