Ideas

People ask artists and writers “Where do you get your ideas?”

I heard a story somewhere that when the brilliant science fiction and fantasy writer Roger Zelazny, was asked this question, he said something like: “Every night I leave out milk and cookies, and in the morning the cookies are gone, but there are loads
of crazy ideas in their place!”

I wish that were true.

I don’t know where ideas come from. They just show up.

I have tried to coax an idea out of myself and I have learned that
coaxing an idea is much like getting a shy cat to come out of hiding.
You have to be very persistent and patient and willing to wait.
Eventually the cat comes out from under the bed and so does the idea, but you might be doing other things at the time and not really notice.

Sometimes the best thing is to proceed whether you have an idea or not.

Sometimes we need to just pour a cup of tea, sit at the desk, and stare at the blank page until something comes to mind.

Sometimes nothing comes to mind. But that doesn’t stop me.

Neil Gaiman says that–“The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.”

I think that very ordinary things can become wonderful things when a little attention is paid to them so– whether or not I have an idea, I will often just begin to write about something ordinary but as if it were absolute magic.

If you think about it, you will agree, many beautiful films and novels and paintings have been created by artists who have spent a lot of time looking closely at the ordinary everyday world and finding the hidden magic.

When you really look closely nothing is ordinary or every day.

Sometimes I just have to start with a character and the character usually
tells me something about how to create a world for that character to live in and then quite often I learn that the character wants something really badly.

Well Of course she does. Everybody wants something very badly.

Desire is always at the heart of a good story.

I often don’t know where I am going when I write–

and this is turning out to be true in this particular post.

I think I just want to remind myself that not really knowing what I want to write about–not having an idea– should not stop me from writing.

THe point is to physically begin the process of putting words on the page.

Our task is to wake up Imagination and invite it to come and play.

The everyday world is alive and breathing and filled with the life force.

If you play close attention to the world around you, including everyday objects and ordinary people–pay more attention than you normally would I mean–
it’s quite possible, Imagination will show up, and maybe bring an idea or two along with it.

A conversation with famous writers

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning,
and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
Oscar Wilde

I can so relate to this Mr. Wilde.
I have agonized over one line and fiddled with it until it didn’t make sense any more.
I have cut lines and put them back. It is an arduous process but necessary.

“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good,
will ever come out as you first hoped.”
Lillian Helman

I know exactly what you mean Lillian. When I start to write a play there is a point where it starts to write itself and I either get out of the way or it all just shuts down. I have to give up on what I thought I wanted to write and give in to the mysterious powers of the creative process. I have tried to force the issue but it never works. There is a point where the play reveals itself and tells you what it wants to be.

“You must write every single day of your life…
You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders
to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads….
may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days.
And out of that love, remake a world”
.
Ray Bradbury

Oh Mr Bradbury I love when you talk like this.

“The first draft of anything is sh*t.”
Ernest Hemingway

Well in my case that would be true. As a matter of fact I secretly call the first draft
the sh*t draft and sometimes I will have sh*t draft number three before I actually start writing the actual first draft.

Well I guess I should stop having imaginary conversations with famous writers and actually
start writing. I must say though that connecting with these brilliant writers through their words
is like connecting to some kind of amazing magic. I feel the spark ignite.

Keeping the promise.

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet” –FRANZ KAFKA

Here are my writing goals for the next five weeks.

Find time to sit down and work on my script every day.

a) find the stories and time frames of my characters.
b) discover how they relate to the overall structure of the first play in the trilogy SALLY LIVES HERE.
c) To resist distractions and stay focused on this play.

Finish the rough draft of the play by February 28th.

And resist perfectionism.

Just get it down on the page regardless of crap I hate or stuff that sucks.

Now this statement is written and published and promised hand on my heart–

here on the blogosphere with the idea of putting virtual pressure on myself–

to attend to these goals.

I have no writers agent or editor or producer breathing down my neck–

so my blog is my agent, my editor, my boss, etc.

I am writing this to help me keep the promise I have made to myself.

Why is it so easy and so compelling for me to honour commitments,

to others but so difficult to do the same for myself?

Why is it so easy to let myself down?

Why do I expect others to keep their commitments to me

But I let myself off the hook so easily?

This is my over all goal for 2012.

Keeping promises I make to myself.

Day one is Monday.

Today I am clearing my space and cleaning my house chasing away the clutter both physical and emotional.

If you would like to help me with all of this please send me your comments and encouraging words.

If you are working on something and have goals you are welcome to join in the conversation here.

Happy New Year

So far the new year is having a bit of a hard time getting itself off the ground in my world.

I am still tying up loose ends and processing 2011.

It was a pretty intense and amazing also difficult year.

I will announce my new years celebration when it finally rolls around.

I do have a word for the year. Reveal. But I’m not there yet.

I am not even ready to commit to the word never mind the new year.

Maybe I will celebrate the Chinese new Year in February

I should be ready for new beginnings by then.

I am planning to post a few old posts from last year and delete some others as

part of the get ready for the new ritual.

Here is a post from the end of 2010.

“I like too many things and get all confused and hung up running from one falling star to another till I drop. . .I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”
Jack Kerouac

I put the above quote here–one of my faves–

because it always speaks directly to something deep within me.

There was some inner longing triggered by these words that I identified in myself–

and that prompted me to be an artist.

The following is from my hand-written journal Novemeber 2011.

The other day on the Broadway bus, I saw a young girl reading

ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac.

The book was beat up and dog eared.

She held it so that the front cover was curled back around the book.

She was small with bright cherry red lipstick, and purple polish

on her bitten down fingernails–

streaks of white paint on her hands

and in her dreadlocks

and on her combat boots.

There was a time that I had my own version of this kind of rebellious fashion statement–

but it wasn’t her clothes that somehow reminded me of myself, a long time ago–

it was the book ON THE ROAD

To this day Kerouac remains an important icon in my sacred temple of artistic deities.

I still love reading quotes by him, and biographical material about him.

I continue to identify with his way of expressing his life experience, even if my present life,

bares no resemblance to his. He still speaks of something very familiar to me–

his words, his poetic images– and his fiery, crazy, sensibilities.

I had whole passages memorized.

I loved reading and imagining the Beat Poet rebellion,

and the association with revolution and jazz.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!

I was very young when I first read these words.

Jack Kerouac was long gone from this earth.

I probably didn’t actually understand most of what I read,

but something in me responded.

Something woke up hungry and thirsty.

I wanted to drink it in.

I loved the galloping pace of the narrative

and the raw images stacked up on top of one another.

When I first read these words–

“the only people for me were the mad ones”–

I was in the quadrangle outside my high school.

At sixteen, I had never met anyone who was like the people that he described.

I had never had any opportunity to experience the kind of feelings that these words seemed to evoke,

and yet I immediately identified with them, as if I had intimate knowledge of such things.

I can remember fantasizing that I lived in a world like he described–

and knew personally, some of these intense and driven poets and painters–

and of course I was one of them.

It was just a teen age fantasy of course.

But Kerouac helped me find my own direction in life.

He articulated something I needed to discover.

I wanted to be an artist.

I needed to be an artist.

His words and the words and images of other’s like him made me realize this.

I had no evidence that I could be an artist– no opportunity to make it happen.

No particular sign of talent.

No one in my family or community had education, or the kind of experience,

that would allow me to have such lofty dreams. Nevertheless–

I was claimed by this dream.

I was taken away and forever changed by this dream.

I was defined by it, in a way that no family heritage, or cultural traditions,

or shared history, ever could.

I have a few iconic artists, writers, and musicians,

that I feel this way about.

Artists that I think of as my creative ancestors.

I hold their names dear to me for how they liberated me and nurtured me

in ways I can’t describe.

They were the ones that flipped a switch in my soul.

So thanks for the reminder, cute little hipster girl on the bus.

With all that paint on your hands and on your shoes, I am sure you are well on the road.

Thanks for taking me back to those early days where my artful dreams began.

Here is an art journal page I made a couple of years ago about this very thing.

My Art Heroes is what I called the page.

Up there in the corner is Mark Rothko, and then comes LeRoi Jones and Diane Di Prima.

Of course Picasso is very recognizable and–

there he is Jack Kerouac– on the left in his check shirt.

LIke I said before, most of these people were dead by the time I discovered them, but their souls burned brightly through their work and helped me find my own path.

I am eternaly grateful.

Who are your creative icons? Who is in your temple of creative heroes and who changed your life with their art and writing?
Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

if you are interested here is Kerouac

How to begin.

Why do we avoid sitting down and writing?

It’s so strange isn’t it.

There is a lot written about how fear is the enemy.

It’s more than fear.

Writing is difficult.

It is not easy to build a well made stage play–or a work of fiction.

It takes work and courage and a thick skin.

It also takes knowledge of craft–

which is something that we acquire by committing to a rigorous practice.

To write requires a deep understanding of ourselves and the world around us–

along with a willingness to admit that we don’t actually know all that much about either.

and therefore must continually keep learning about both.

Right now I am working on a character that I am worried I can’t write.

Because he is a man and has lived in ways that I have never lived and

I don’t know much about him. Not from the inside anyway.

I don’t know that I can authentically speak in his voice.

This is difficult. But I need to write this character.

My recent response to the difficulty is to do nothing and distract myself

and fiddle about with other things more instantly gratifying.

Oh well. I suppose I am not alone in this.

But I am determined to break this particular slump and enliven my character

somehow.

How to begin I ask myself?

Begin at the beginning or begin anywhere I answer.

Anywhere?

Just begin?

Ok.

Louis enters. He stands in a pool of light. Stage Right.
He is wearing jeans and a peacoat with the collar up.
He carries a guitar case.
He wears a wooly cap.
He is about fifty.
He sets down the guitar case and opens it–
Straps on his guitar–
Throws a loonie and a five dollar bill in the open case
He begins to sing

Ok it’s a start

Just start.

When it comes to the commitments we make to ourselves– things like I will write for three hours a day on my novel, play, screen play, short-story—-some of us inevitably break the promise as soon as possible because some part of us is trembling with fear and doing it’s best to protect us from the cruel possibility that maybe we can’t write.  Some of us prepare to write, by researching ourselves to utter exhaustion and end up with more information than we could ever need,  and others simply decide cleaning a closet and having lunch with a friend is more important. The secret to all this is to start with what you know and get it down on the page even if it is rough and weak and scant and inconsequential.  Abstract Painters know that they have to splash some paint on the canvas or make some marks or shapes or lines that may actually never be part of the painting but that lead to the painting.  I sometimes begin with writing words in a water colour crayon randomly or pick a colour and a brush and apply some painterly scribbles and doodles that lead me to whatever is next in the painting. My mind will respond to the marks and a conversation with colour and line and shape and texture begins. Sometimes an argument occurs and a choice is made and it’s the wrong choice– but it can be scraped off and painted over. Same with writing. Get thee to your computer is my advice– and start writing a few things you know about the character, the setting, the plot. Start.  Be random. Be a beginner. Be awkward. Write badly. You just have to start. And be willing to make a mess–that’s all. Because the part of you that wants to write will rise up and figure it out. Maybe not immediately but it will. So start with what you know and then you will have kept your promise for another day and pretty soon something in your brain will shift and a door will open. Just start and don’t quit.

 

My writer’s process

Sometimes writers will talk about process.

They will describe their process very specifically sometimes.

Here are some random things I have heard writers say:

“I always create an outline”
“I never create an outline”
“I write the last scene first I have to know where I am going”
“I never know where I am going, I just start writing and see where it takes me.
“I start writing about myself and then gradually get farther and farther away from myself.
“I start with imaginary characters and then gradually get closer and closer to myself”

Ok. So what’s my process?

I usually say that my approach to writing is organic,and intuitive.

But lately I have been thinking that this might be just another way of saying–

I have no process that I am aware of and actually–

I am totally and completely haphazard unfocused and undisciplined.

Maybe it’s time I get more specific about my own process.

A process should lead to something right?

That’s why it’s a process.

My so called intuitive and organic writing process

doesn’t seem to lead to much writing.

I know that I want to write. I love to write. I need to write.

But often I don’t write.

The only way I actually write is when I have a deadline or some other kind of

external structure that snaps me to attention.

More than anything deadlines and commitments keep me on task.

Maybe a looming deadline that terrifies me into doing the work is my process.

I know that fear stops me from working–maybe it kicks my ass too.

Late last fall I was invited to be in a group with other playwrights

who were writing and producing their own plays in the The Fringe Festival.

For three months I wrote every day and came up with a finished draft.

Then for another three months I wrote another draft.

THen for two months I tweaked and trimmed and tweazed until I had a draft

that the director liked. THen we went in rehearsal and then the play was performed.

Deadlines and external structure made me do the work.

The desire to get my work done made me confront my fear but the fear of looming deadlines

and being ready with a play on time kept me going and maybe this is what fear is for.

I might put in an application to the Fringe just to kick my butt into writing another play.

Or perhaps it’s another kind of deadline that I have to find for myself now that I have

done that I might need a new adventure. I am not sure.

I wish I didn’t have to scare myself to be motivated.

Anyway at least I am thinking about this and hey I am writing about it so

there you go. The fact that I created this damn blog and then had trouble posting in it

kind of forced me to put something in it just because it was there waiting for me.

Maybe I just have to accept that my process is to scare the shit out of myself.

My art thrives on a little adrenaline and the possibility of humiliation.

Sheesh.

To be continued.

First steps in a new direction.

Today I went to the first meeting of a writer’s group.

Five of us gathered on this dismal cold and rainy Saturday morning for the very first time.

Everyone was excited and confessed their fears.

We spent the first hour discussing what we wanted to achieve in the group.

We all agreed that being accountable to each other was important

to our own creative process.

We discovered that we are all the kind of writers who need deadlines.

Left to our own devices we would just do other things.

I have never been part of a serious writer’s group before–

and I am so happy to have this opportunity.

I want to allow myself to be encouraged and to expose myself to hard and honest critical feedback from the other writers.

But maybe I can’t write plays

. Maybe I am just full of myself and my ego is telling me lies about all the plays I am dying to get down on the page.

I find that people are not comfortable giving or receiving truthful feedback–

especially the tough kind–and so this is going to be part of our adventure together.

I hope we will be learning to expose ourselves to both encouragement, and  criticism without dying on the vine.

Maybe that metaphor is a little precious but–

I want to learn how to both accept and reject critical feed back.

Both are necessary. Sometimes advice or direction can be damaging and confusing.

You have to know when to say thank you but ignore what ever was said– I hope I can do this.

And You have to know when to accept the criticism because it is useful and reveals something to you.

I think all artists are fearful of perceived judgement. I am anyway.

We fear the thoughts of others.

What someone thinks of us really has no real weight in our lives.

Yet  we cringe at the thought of it. We hide from the possibility that we wont be acceptable to someone.

We often interpret criticism to mean we are not good enough.

The actual judging is something we are doing to ourselves.

Criticism given in the right spirit is not judgement at all,

but a kind of collaboration in the forward movement of the work.

At least it can be.

I also want to constantly remind myself that the desire to write comes

from a deep love of the written word.

It’s a joy that we experience.

We see how the world is illuminated and made to shine

because of the way someone has written about it.

And we want to do that same thing.

We don’t realize the extent of the effort and struggle that is involved.

We aren’t prepared for the loss of faith in ourselves or the challenges that arise.

I think we worry too much about our ability and our talent or the lack thereof.

I have decided to be unconcerned about whether I have talent

and just focus on the work.

I want to fuel the work with my passion for the work.

And to constantly remind myself about my love for it despite the pain.

I want to keep writing–

even badly if necessary–

to get to where I can write well.

I am here for the long haul.

Now, on to staring down the blank screen.

On to the task of defeating my self-doubt one more day.

A message to my fellow writers.

 

lunapicmorningstar

Writers are like stargazers,

searching an imaginary sky

for distant galaxies

of meaning and metaphor–

trusting in the existence of a story-

an act of faith–

knowing that the story is  there.

Somewhere beyond the flash of the idea.

Scientists and astronomers have a name for

the invisible material surrounding a galaxy.

They call it dark matter.

As I explore the galaxy of  my imagination

I hope that somewhere,

beyond the dying stars of my early scribbles,

somewhere in the endless night

of all that is unknown to me

I will find the story that wants to be told.

I do know that the flickering brightness of my ideas,

just like the stars in the night sky, seem much closer than

they  really are and  may take longer than I think to

reach them.

I have come a certain distance with my  writing explorations.

Sometimes I feel as if I have been traveling for a long time,

too long–and I will never arrive at my destination.

 

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