Making Space To Write

Our new house lacks space for me to dedicate as a creative space of my own. Each previous house I have lived in since returning to writing has had a room that we set aside as my office – and, in every house, I have failed to write in it.

We fell for this living room, so we bought the house.

It turns out I prefer writing on my laptop in a more comfortable space, away from the mental constrictions that arise when I place myself in an office environment.

We have desks, tables, filing cabinets, etc. for the business end of things. But I have no dedicated writing space.

What I do have is a writing routine that I am working to establish: rising early in the morning, making a single cup of coffee and taking it to the living room, soul writing, and then moving into my work.

This morning, writing as the sun rose, I realized the sofa I have chosen for my writing space literally provides a window into the natural cycles of the year.

The view from the sofa as I finished writing this morning.

I have long contemplated embracing an environmental spiritual practice described by Star Hawk in her book The Earth Path, a practice of developing a relationship with one specific natural element by spending time looking at it every day, but I have never managed to build that discipline into my day.

From my newly established writing spot, I can see the central tree in our garden. Daily writing where I can see one specific natural element as it changes through time will incorporate two spiritual practices in one ritual.

It is not the closed retreat space I always thought I wanted; it is the writing space I need.

How are you supporting your creative needs?

A Creative Space of Your Own

Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it.

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Do you know what kind of work environment is most conducive to your creative productivity?

One of my favorite reading rooms: the A. D. White room in Cornell University’s Uris Library

Do you dream of a seriously cool office? Have you ever had a workspace that looked like it should work, but didn’t?

Where we work has an impact on how we work. Sometimes, we need to work wherever we happen to be, but for our daily routines, we can establish an inspirational space.

Be prepared to experiment until you find a place and then stick to it.

Things to think about as you plan:

  • What do you want to see? Do you want to see nature, or will nature distract you? Do you want toys or art to look at? Are there colours that invigorate you?
  • What do you want to hear? Does music help you focus? If so, what music? And what quality of player do you need? Do you need silence, or the hubbub of a crowd, or something else?
  • What do you need to feel? If you are thinking about your comfort at your chair or your desk, you probably aren’t thinking about your work. Do you work better if you are slightly warm or cool?
  • What do you want to smell? Fresh flowers? Coffee? Essential oils
  • What do you want to taste? Coffee, mint, lemon, toothpaste, licorice?

All five senses are conscious of your environment. It is possible to use them all to inspire you.

Even a simple routine involving a comfortable place to work with something to drink and the ambient sounds touches all five.

If you are struggling to find a routine to support your creativity, spend some time experimenting with your environment. Change one element for a week and see how you respond differently to the space.

For inspiration, here are some photos of where writer’s write. Here are some written descriptions. And here, Ken Scholes mentions that his constant is the music on his iPod. The Guardian ran a long series on writers’ rooms. And finally, a longer piece on where writers write and why from Poets & Writers.

Me, I like to work on my bed or a couch with a cup of tea or coffee beside me, listening to silence or mellow music without lyrics. The only trouble is my lap gets hot from my laptop, so I’ve been eyeing one of these lap desks. And I think my back would appreciate a reader’s pillow.

Have you given thought to your work space? What environment helps you move forward creatively?

The Challenge of Writing Flash Fiction

Microfiction, nanofiction, sudden fiction, flash fiction: some of the many names for short fiction. Definitions vary, but the key is brevity. Some publications stretch the definition to 2,000 words, but many are looking for several hundred words.

When all you get is a glimpse, it has to be spectacular.

Flash fiction demands special skills. Narrative must begin as close to the climax as possible. Denouement is hinted at. Word choice is crucial.

Twitter has prompted some short fiction writers to distill storytelling into 140 character tales. Or even shorter. For yesterday’s Canada Writes Twitter Challenge, entries had to be no more than 126 characters so the submission tweet could include the hashtag #canadawrites.

The classic example of powerful microfiction is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though it may actually be the work of John deGroot.

For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

What makes microfiction challenging?

Concise storytelling. There is no time to set up the story. More must be implied than said. And yet, there must be a story: a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Formatting your story like a joke is highly effective: a quick set-up followed by a twisted resolution.

The entries in this week’s CanadaWrites challenge showed how hard it is to tell a story in 126 characters. Many of the entries described a moment or a turning point. Others conveyed the inciting incident and hinted at a possible resolution. Few truly told a story. Some gave up on narrative entirely and simply presented a poetic moment.

The fun in writing short forms come from the tight restrictions. Arjun Basu has written thousands of Twisters (140 character stories) since discovering Twitter. He has a searchable database of them here.

Short fiction isn’t easy, but it can be fun. And, because the form is short, you can write a lot of bad first drafts quickly to keep the muse engaged.

I learned about the Canada Writes Twitter Challenge about an hour before it started. By the end of the submission period, I had submitted several entries and discarded more. Unsurprisingly, the best were the ones I spent more time revising. And I had some ideas that I just couldn’t distill. But the challenge was invigourating.

Have you tried any of these very short forms of storytelling? What is your experience of this type of structure?

What To Write In Your One Wild and Precious Life?

Lost time is never found again.

Benjamin Franklin

Time is precious. What will you write with the time you have? If you are like most writers, you find ideas everywhere and the challenge is choosing which ideas to follow.

Advice is easy to find.

Fiction writers are frequently told not to worry about what subject matter will sell well because something else will be hot by the time you finish your manuscript, and lots of people find ways to argue either that what you love is what you know or that what you know is too restrictive to use as writing guidance.

I have been struggling with a variation on the ‘What should I be writing?’ question. Should I really be spending my precious writing time learning the craft of writing quality fiction? Or should I concentrate on writing non-fiction? In the realm of fiction, I am still working on my million words of dreck. But, in several areas of non-fiction writing, I have already put in a lot more time. I am probably more likely to be published if I focus on forms that are closer to what I have already learned how to do well.

But, and I think this is crucial, the fiction is demanding to be written. So, I write it because I love it, because at some level I must to satisfy my soul.

I invite you to do the same.

Even if you write what you are good at to make a living, making space to do what calls to your heart is important. Even when it means going back to the start and being a beginner again.

Writing at the Speed of the Unconscious

What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.
Ray Bradbury

The subconscious harbours all sorts of useful material for writers. Our brains store all of the facts we have absorbed from living in the world even if we are not sure how to access them. The images and passions that fill our dreams are the stuff that makes our writing rich, if only we can connect with them.

Thinking Space

Getting the subconscious to work on a problem in the background often benefits from slow, calm, repetitive activities: taking a shower, walking, sleeping, driving. My mind is always happy daydreaming about my current writing project while my body is washing the dishes or folding laundry.

Tapping the subconscious while at the keyboard is more challenging. Once I start seeing words physically appearing on the screen, my internal editor and heavy-handed conscious mind want to get in on the action. So I have to trick them into getting out of the way.

There is an instruction in InterPlay that made me aware of how I do this. When InterPlayers start a hand-to-hand contact dance, we bring a hand to touch our partner’s hand. Then, we move our hands to change how they are touching. After a few such moves, the leader asks the participants to change positions faster than the speed of thought. And we do.

Our subconscious mind is fast, faster than our conscious mind. By forcing our bodies to move fast, we can force the conscious mind to yield to the unconscious mind. In InterPlay, we use moving faster than the conscious mind to remind ourselves that our experience is bigger than our conscious mind. We become aware of the limits of consciousness and the power of the subconscious workings of our bodyspirits.

I realized recently that this is why I find NaNoWriMo a useful challenge, though I set myself additional challenges beyond the formal challenge. NaNoWriMo pushes me to write faster than I usually do.

By writing fast, I bypass my internal critic and go straight for the good stuff. The images that come out of my subconscious are usually more interesting, more emotionally charged, more multilayered in meaning that what comes out of my conscious mind. For my fiction, I need those qualities.

When I write blog posts, I write slowly.

I ponder the content of each blog post in the spare minutes of my day, mulling over ideas and starting to craft sentences during routine parts of my day – in the shower, washing dishes, picking up the kids toys, etc. By the time I sit at the keyboard to compose, I know what I want to say and have a general outline in my head. The actual writing is careful and controlled as I focus on articulating the ideas clearly.

Writing fiction is entirely different.

My first drafts are fast. They have to be.

By writing fast, I tap into my subconscious and discover the metaphors, characters, and details that enrich my fiction. My first drafts are messy, like my subconscious, but there are rich veins for me to mine during editing.

That is what works for me. Check out these links if you want to see other approaches for tapping into the subconscious.

  • Holly Lisle uses a form of timed writing exercise inspired by Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
  • Jody Helfand shared 7 of her techniques on the Poetica Magazine blog.
  • Sara Douglass primes her subconscious by posing the question she needs to solve and then takes a bath.
  • Patrick Ross directs his subconscious while he sleeps.
  • Angela Booth recommends improv exercises.

Are there other techniques that work for you?

Back to the Doodling Board

Please, doodle at work

Sunni Brown, The Miseducation of the Doodle

Do you take life too seriously? I often do.

I am a Serious Person in recovery. I am also a Sensitive Artist. These two personas have been in conflict recently. Imagine the following  – it’s been going on inside my mind.

Playing With Paint

Serious Person straps Sensitive Artist to the chair and says “Produce creative stories to make the world a better place.” Sensitive Artist curls up in ball and hides, “I can’t take the pressure.” Serious Person then steps in and creates, but the result is pedantic and uncompelling. Sensitive Artist withers in shame that this is the product associated with her name and finds comfort in Shiraz and chocolate rather than in writing. So, Serious Person drags Sensitive Artist to laptop and the cycle begins again.

This is what happens when I let that Serious Person persona have too much control.  Oh, I know, she’s useful when it comes to doing my taxes, but she’s not much help writing a story until the final stages of editing.

Painting with my daughter this week, I remembered the joy of being creative in a medium where I have no expectations for myself, where the process really is the product. And, this joy makes the Sensitive Artist happy.

Playing With Colour

While my daughter attempted symbolic painting, I just stroked the paint on the paper, feeling the way the cheap paintbrushes caught on the paper and noticing the way the paint came off the brush unevenly. I looked at the paint colours in front of me and the paint on my paper and decided to try a new colour just because it appealed to me in the moment.

And it was fun.  I even liked some of what I created. But more importantly, I reconnected with the playful side of creativity and my Sensitive Artist persona came out of hiding. The next few things I wrote had a freshness that has been missing in my work recently.

What do you do that helps you tap into your playful creativity when the world looks too serious? Do you have tricks or games you play? Let me know in the comments.