Yogetry is here!!! The new workshop has a home at Samadhi Yoga and Wellness Centre! You’re invited to join us and get your downward dog on to the sounds of Leonard Cohen. After Savasana, we will traverse down the poetic rabbit hole with some writing exercises. This workshop is open to anyone regardless of your yoga or writing experience. See the poster below…
Category Archives: The Writing Process
A close friend of mine introduced me to the works of Guy Gavriel Kay about a month ago when I was admiring the cover of River of Stars at a local bookstore. She began almost jumping up and down upon discovery that he had released a new book and she promptly whisked me away to the fantasy section to show me more of his works. After, reading a couple first sentences in his novels, I needed no more convincing and immediately downloaded The Lions of Al-Rassan when I got home.
Last night he graced our city with a visit to our public library and with his new book in hand, I realized I was listening to one of the greats in Canada. Last night, he taught me something about the fantasy genre. How much of a playground fantasy truly is for the writer and how much imaginative freedom one can find in this genre. Kay described himself as having “chronic grad-school syndrome” when it came to research for his novels. A place where you always need to get one more footnote, or find one more article. It never ends. Finally, he gets to the point where he just has to start to write the book based on all of the notes he made (which are handwritten in Moleskine notebooks). He said that was his least favorite part because, “writing is bloody hard work!” Kay mentioned that the reason he chose fantasy, although he is on the edge of historical fiction, is that he doesn’t want to pretend to know what historical figures did in privacy. Fantasy gives him the room to imagine what they did and how they thought. One reviewer of his work described him as having a “quarter turn to the fantastical.”
During the question and answer period, many people asked different question about his writing process. He proceeded to tell us that he “hate[d] authorial pontification” and that author’s will always give you conflicting information on what works for them. He gave the example that Margaret Atwood recommends having a Thesaurus beside one’s writing desk at all times, where as another author whom I can’t recall, said to take a Thesaurus out to the garden shed and lock it up and throw away the key, essentially. I also know that Stephen King advises against a Thesaurus and says that if you need a Thesaurus then it is clearly the wrong word. Although writing has a community surrounding it, it is ultimately a solitary act. This can be terrifying and liberating at the same time.
Another inspiring tid-bit about Guy Gavriel Kay is that his story began with an opportunity to work at Oxford for a year (I missed the details of what he was doing there) and after that year he decided to go to Greece and become a writer. One of the professors at Oxford warned him not to “leave a winning ball-game, Mr. Kay” but he did anyways and look at where he is now. I can already tell I am going to go back to that story over and over whenever I feel discouraged in this business (which is often).
Kay also shared his method for revising and he said he “write[s] endlessly as [he] goes.” Every two weeks he goes back and rewrites what he wrote in those two weeks and then every six to seven chapters he takes a break and re-writes again, etc. etc. Although, he really stressed to writers to do whatever works best for them, he also shared his disdain for the separation between an engaging story and the language. Some reviews Kay has received mentions how Kay delivers both an engaging story and language. He expressed that there should never be a separation because it is in part the language that does make the story engaging. If I could have I would have high-fived him right then and there. The only way I will read a book is if it has both of these elements.
Lastly, when I finally got to speak with him in the book-signing line he was personable and made you feel as though he really cared you were reading his books. I have been to many books signings and not all authors possess this quality.
Thank you, Guy, for making lasting fans out of the midwives! Now we better get reading!!!
In B.K.S Iyengar’s Light on Life, he mentions the four different levels of practice:
1) Mild Practice: attending a class once a week and getting distracted from doing a practice at home. This level of practice is not bad or wrong, it will just not include big rewards. Some people have to stay at this level because of other things they have in their agendas.
2) Average Practice: increasing our application and devoting more time and effort. This level of practice promises greater results, although the practice is not always consistent. However, the practitioner becomes more aware of “fibre and sinew, liver stretch (as in back bends), and heart’s repose.
3) Determined and Intense: This level of practice allows the practitioner to refine their awareness and become more sensitive to the subtleties within their bodies.
4) Total Investment: This level of practice is characterized as “relentless, inexorable and a total investment of oneself in practice.” Over time this and as life’s demands shift and change in one’s lifetime, this level can become attainable.
As Westerners, we could typically berate ourselves for not being at the third or fourth level at this time in our lives. Heck, I teach yoga and I’m not even at the third level. In fact, last night I was awake for and hour and a half because I felt guilty for not going to a yoga studio in over a week. I’m here to tell you, it’s okay.
What does this have to do with writing you ask? Writing, like yoga, is a DISCIPLINE. Writing can be looked at from the same levels of practice. How often are you writing a week? If you aren’t able to write for twenty minutes (or whatever daily goal you set for yourself) one day, do you write for forty the next day? Are you telling everyone you are a writer, but only writing when the inspiration hits you?
I am at the place in my life, with little kids and self-employment, where I have trouble fitting in when I can brush my teeth, let alone being at the “total investment” level. Yoga asana practice tends to fall to the wayside sometimes, but meditation and writing are two things I ensure I squeeze in everyday. I wouldn’t even consider myself at the “determined and intense” phase due to my lifestyle and this is OK! I AM STILL A GOOD PERSON! It may take me longer to do a head stand in the middle of the room and publishing a book may be a five to ten-year plan, but I do what I can and I pat myself on the back for still pulling out the pen and rolling out the mat.
I think if we beat ourselves up for the should’s a little less frequently we can see the magic and miracles in these types of practice. Pick up your pen and congratulate yourself for taking the step to look at the blank page today!
The dream work we did this week proved to be interesting. The dreamers of the group had trouble experiencing a dream that made sense for the homework project and those whom could not remember their dreams, had lucid ones last week. I am in the lucid dreamers camp and as if my dreams were self-conscious, they ran and hid for the sake of this exercise. I borrowed a dream I had weeks prior. This is my mandala:
When it came to the writing portion, it proved to be more difficult than the week before. For myself, a poem poured forth that I didn’t expect in a style I was estranged from. I embraced it, however, and it some senses it was healing to meditate this long on a dream image and process some latent emotions I didn’t know were there. Others in the group resisted the assignment, asking what the point was. I have explored this question myself and reminded myself what The Writer’s Midwife is about and why we explore this type of territory. The point is to keep writing. The point is to explore writing you didn’t think you had in you. The point is to step out of your comfort zone and see what lurks in corners you didn’t want to shed light on, especially with a pen. As a yoga teacher, shedding light or exploring these places in ourselves that we naturally avoid allows us to accept ourselves as whole beings. In yoga, there are postures I cringe to get into because they make me uncomfortable for one reason or another. In my self-practice I avoid them. In a studio setting, my ego won’t allow me to go into child’s pose, so I try it. I stay with it. While I’m staying with it, I get to explore what it is about it that makes me uncomfortable and it gets easier each time I face this. Writing in a group setting can achieve the same result. If the assignment is to explore dreams and write from that place, the group-think will push us to go there regardless of how we feel about it. Sometimes it works and it contributes to other writing in ways we didn’t expect and sometimes is doesn’t. Either outcome is okay.
This week we are going into fiction and the art of the short-short story. The short-short is a sub-genre of the short story and it can sometimes be called flash fiction or postcard fiction. Geist magazine from Vancouver, B.C. has a postcard fiction contest every year. Flash fiction can be found all over the internet. This week we are reading short stories and exploring the craft. Also, we are writing a list, as suggested by One Year to a Writing Life by Susan M. Tiberghien, to introduce ourselves to a character for our short-short stories. Tiberghien says to write a list of ten random things that comes to mind and then start to create a character from that list. Next week we will be introducing our characters to the group. Feel free to introduce your characters in the comments below and please tell us what your favorite short stories are!!
This week at The Writer’s Midwife, we are delving into dreams. A couple of women in the workshop had trouble remembering their dreams but even the mere mention of having to remember them for homework brought on an onslaught of the lucid stuff. In the book we are currently studying, One Year to a Writing Life by Susan M. Tiberghien, she suggests going to bed with the 5th Century Greek chant of the priests and priestesses, “Sleep now, dream now, dream the dream of the Healing God, sleep now, dream now.” (p. 84). Another technique is to go to bed and drink half a glass of water with the intention of remembering your dreams and upon waking, drink the other half and it will awaken your dream memories. Personally, I find I have the most lucid dreams and an easy time remembering them when I meditate before bed.
After you have a dream you can grab onto, write about it. After you write about it, pick out a specific image, describe it and draw a mandala of that image. After your mandala is finished, write down a conversation with your mandala. You can start, as Tiberghien says, by asking questions to your mandala such as why it is here and what does it want (p.92). Finally, work it into a piece of writing.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this exercise.
Sweet dreams! Happy writing!!!
Rudiger Dahlke, in his book, Mandalas of the World tells us to rediscover as your own the forms and symbols that we come across on this
journey will be easier and easier in time, because these structures are universal. They don’t belong to anyone and they jointly belong to
everybody. They are the basic elements of creation, part of everything and at the same time also the Whole. He continues to say no matter
how far modern research advances, they find only the same basic patterns that we already find in ourselves. As above so below – as on the
outside so on the inside. We cannot avoid this timeless law as we explore the mandala and it will be, above all, our own experience that we will
be concerned with. In fact, it is actually difficult to become absorbed in a mandala and remain unaffected by it. It is equally difficult to look at
a rose window of a Gothic cathedral without being touched by it. It is almost impossible to create mandalas without being moved inwardly.
The mandala is movement -a wheel of life – the image of the universe, constantly emerging from the one centre, striving towards the outside
and at the same time converging out of the diversity to the one centre. Every person recognizes this basic pattern, because it is carried within
the Self. So we take the task that comes towards us, really just as they come, without judging them.
I was speaking with a teacher-friend of mine who has taken mandala and dream workshops from the FCJ Christian Life Centre in Calgary, AB where Sister Eta, a Catholic
nun and Jungian analyst, teaches. My friend is enthralled with mandalas. She teaches special education students and has them draw their own mandalas. She believes it is
helping them to stay calm and focus on their work. She just came back from a week in France where she visited the Notre Dame churches and was in awe at the true
mandalas at the prime of the Gothic.
It seems that I am seeing or hearing about mandalas more than once this week. They seem to be showing up in my conversations. I had brunch with my nieces and they
were showing a picture of a tattoo they were impressed with. One was planning on getting a tattoo and was having an artist draw it for her. She was enamored with this
picture of the tattoo. Of course the picture was a mandala!
I am still working on my mandala and have had some experiences or should I say obstacles with it. The process of drawing your own mandala is not as easy as I first
thought. You have to abandon the chatter of your mind, the planning, the intellectualizing, the criticizing and allow yourself to fall under “the spell” of creating a mandala. I
have found that the best way to get out of your own way is to draw or doodle mandalas until the mind gets bored and then it just seems to flow. Allow yourselves to play and
work from the centre and beyond. Let go and have fun and enjoy the journey.
Last night marked the first night of the new spring Skin & Stories workshop. We began by introducing mandalas as a writing prompt. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle.” Mandalas are of Hindu origin, but are used as meditation objects in various types of Buddhism, namely Tibetan. It can be said that the world itself is a mandala. Our cells are mandalas. Mandalas are a map of consciousness. A symbol representative of the universal microcosm. Our homework for this week is to draw one. In order to to that, start with a small circle in the center of a piece of paper and draw shapes and symbols that extend outwards to a greater circle. Do this in a quiet place and let whatever images come to you flow out onto the page.
After your mandala is complete, write a story about it. Allow the words to spiral out onto the page in the same way. Here are some more examples of mandalas:
~ The Midwives
The new Skin & Stories is underway with emphasis on the Chakras. After discussing the sacral chakra last week and getting in touch with our sensual and creative selves, I couldn’t feel more creative. I have emerged from a dramatic dry spell and there were days that I wondered if I would ever feel the freedom of creative spillage. Having said that, I am almost overwhelmed with the amount of things I want to put my energy into. One of these things is that all-elusive Al Purdy poem I have been working on. It was tabled for a while, but with Al Purdy showing up on the CBC and a large fundraising event in Toronto last week, I cannot get that poem off of my mind. However, before I can work it any further, I need to know why Al has entered into my psyche and never left. He sits next to Michael Ondaatje and stares at me daily from my desktop background and I have cleaned out the Calgary Public Library of as many Al poetry collections as I could find.
This morning I was reading Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy. Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje wrote a forward each and they both talked about how Al Purdy paved the way for poets by writing in a Canadian vernacular. There was a deep honesty in the two forwards that told about Purdy’s struggles with the writing process and that when he started his poems were not very good. Even Margaret Atwood, herself, admitted that when writing poetry, she often did not even like the stuff she wrote in her early 20′s: “I was just into my twenties, writing a lot of poetry but not liking much of it…” (p. 17). Ondaatje went on to reminisce about how Al Purdy invited him and his friends in because they were poets. Not published, just poets. He said they would sit around reading and sharing their poetry and arguing about it (p. 20). This is how they learned. Self-taught within a community of writers. This is where Al Purdy seeps into the furthest corners of my consciousness and whispers that this is what is missing. To get involved in a community costs money and usually what is out there is critiquing circles, instructional classes and workshops. All of these things have value, but it also removes the level playing field. There is usually a leader figure who knows more than the rest, and while it is important to learn from those who have already been there, this almost creates and observer effect. I always find I am more self-conscious of what I say and how I answer questions in front of the “leader.” I am hyper-aware of their knowledge the carry and I want to learn as much as I can from them. However, I am also not totally myself. My language is confined, my questions are held back and worded in the most academic way possible. While I do learn a great amount this way, I have yet to be in a group of poets whom I do not automatically place on a pedestal.
One of the wise women who attends the workshop we offer is a prevalent figure in the playwright community. She mentioned last week about “dramaturgy” where there is a safe space created to explore a play. Wikipedia defines dramaturgy as, “a comprehensive exploration of the context in which the play resides. The dramaturg is the resident expert on the physical, social, political, and economic milieus in which the action takes place, the psychological underpinnings of the characters, the various metaphorical expressions in the play of thematic concerns; as well as on the technical consideration of the play as a piece of writing: structure, rhythm, flow, even individual word choices.” However, there is also a sociological concept of dramaturgy which is defined as, “The dramaturgical perspective can be seen as an anchor to this perspective, where the individual’s identity is performed through role(s), and consensus between the actor and the audience. Because of this dependence on consensus to define social situations, the perspective argues that there is no concrete meaning to any interaction that could not be redefined. Dramaturgy emphasizes expressiveness as the main component of interactions.” Both of these definitions express that reality that there is an expert (dramaturg) or an awareness of the audience. There is obvious benefits to this in the creative process in the sense that it is difficult to get out of your own head and an “expert” can assist you in the craft and an awareness of your audience changes your behavior. However, this can get out of balance and we, artists, can become too self-conscious and begin to write/create for what we think others want/expect. I would like to appropriate and redefine the term for poets and make a “Poeturgy”. “Poeturgy” which could be the Al Purdy way. Have a facilitator or a host instead of a “leader”, no judgments no criticism, no critique, just poems and discussion and readings and debate for free minus the cost of a latte. This is what I see for the future. A call for the return to the warmth of the metaphorical A-Frame. Each writing community needs an A-Frame. A safe, unassuming place to go and talk about art and it’s process. Turn on your fireplaces, let’s begin.
As the new year approaches I am looking back at how my writing held up in 2012. Fortunately, for me, the published poets I have the pleasure of surrounding myself with have a record of writing a total of 12 poems a year. Twelve poems a year on a sabbatical when there was nothing else to do. I suppose having zero poems to share with world and a whole lot of unfinished ideas is not so bad. However, I am still giving myself a hard time about it.
Part of my problem is that I lack a goal or a direction. I have no one to keep me accountable and no deadlines to meet. Instead I have unlimited time to play around in journals and I do. In fact, this past year, that is about all I have done. My goal in 2013 is to not only have poems that want to put on a cape and bravely superpower their way into the world, I want to actually research literary magazines and send my poems packing with a postage stamp.
Furthermore, I am currently reading Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott and she offers a pretty inspiring yet simple structure on how to write fiction. Many of you reading this may not need it, but if I have any hope in re-wiring my poetic brain I need this advice. Therefore, I would like to try my hand at writing fiction this new year. I believe it will do a couple of things for me: One is that it may stretch the imaginative part of my mind to greater heights and secondly, I will be stepping out of my comfort zone and this may even enhance the poetry side of my writer-self.
One thing I’ve learned about my writer-self this year is that death does not fuel my creativity. Unfortunately, I have had to attend three funerals in the past three months and I stay away from the pen like it’s the plague. I’m not sure if this is because I fear what will come out of me in ink or if I just avoid the page when I am going through a tough time because I’m “not in the mood” to write. Either way I have used the funeral excuse more than I would have liked these past three months. However, I am planning on having a regular writing practice in the new year.
Do you have any writing resolutions? I would love to hear them!
Now that Skin & Stories 2 has officially drawn to a close, I have been able to review what I have learned from this past workshop. This workshop went really deep really fast and people did not just write, they took the exercises and bared their souls. I am amazed at how courageous this group of women were and most of the time I sat back in awe. I am honored to witness how a group that starts off as strangers can quickly share some of their most profound and deep secrets off the page with each other. There were times when some students strongly resisted the exercises that asked them to review their lives in a different way, or redefine a charged word such as “prayer.” I was always surprised to see what their pens would produce despite their protests. What I noticed is that when these people were asked to write from a deeper place the words were richer. The writing had a quality to it, almost without effort. They always say to write from the heart or from truth and I was able to witness the truth in this statement.
The trust these women had of their audience gave their words wings. Week after week the work people shared with each other made the mouths of the audience drop. There was no judgement, just reverence. A recognition emerged that writing is a very vulnerable act. Writing is sacred. Writing connects us on a deep level when it abandons superficiality. Open your notebook today and go deep. Allow the mind to release the “should’s” and “should not’s.” Write from the place beyond the mind. Think of an experience from your past, sit in silence with that experience and let your focus come around the heart centre. Be here for about ten minutes. Pick up your pen and let the words flow. You are your audience.