Tag Archives: writing

Book Addiction. Are you a Pro or an Amateur?

I have a problem. Book buying has become an addiction. Another shelf has been added to the already limited wall space in our open-concept home. The new shelf puts it up to five bookshelves in our house. Two and a half are dedicated to fiction, one to children’s books, one to spiritual-minded or self-enrichment books and half of a book shelf is dedicated to poetry plus a couple of poetry baskets on the floor by the fireplace . This doesn’t include the books that are stacked on coffee tables, side tables and night stands. Books take over my house. But you know what? It makes me happy. Yes, I did say I have a whole shelf dedicated self-enrichment and spiritual books and many of those are Eastern philosophy.  Therefore, I get that ultimately “things” cannot make you happy. However, perhaps it is the ideas in the books, the connection to the authors on some level, the creativity and inspiration that pours out with every inky word. When it is a rainy day environmentally or internally, I head to a book store or library for solace (Libraries are the best because books can follow me home every time without any bank account guilt!). Two of the independent bookstores in Calgary have actually curbed my addiction by encouraging me to hold books until I have read a couple ha ha! I get asked that a lot, have you read any of the books you have bought? I am reading all the time, usually twelve on the go at one time. Here’s the thing I am beginning to notice: Although I have a library in my house with so many to choose from when I finish one, the books find me at the right time.

Exhibit A: Overflowing bookcase

Exhibit A: Overflowing bookcase

 

The Writer’s Midwife is in the process of growing wings and expanding to offer online courses by the summertime. Currently, I am enrolled in b-school and it begins tomorrow. It is an eight week online business course that helps you launch your online business. We were sent bonus material to begin our journey and one of the things Marie Forleo talked about in one of her videos was the book The War of Art  by Steven Pressfield. Ding! I knew I had that book somewhere! I had never even cracked it open but I had it for years. Twenty minutes of searching and I found it! I read the part Marie was talking about on being and amateur vs. a professional. This section of the book hit me between the eyes. Basically, Pressfield defines a professional as someone who shows up everyday. I show up to my mat everyday to do yoga. That’s great for my mind, body and soul, but writing? Writing and procrastination go hand in hand for many and I am one of them…until now. I am tired of being “The Writer’s Midwife” but cannot birth myself on the page day after day. I have been an amateur. Now, I am showing up to the page every day. This blog doesn’t even count. It needs to be journaling or creative. Moving me towards the poetry book I so desperately want to publish.

When I teach yoga, I highlight whether or not the practitioners are cheating on their mats. Are they actually lowering themselves to hover in Chattaranga Dandasana? Or are they making it look like they are as they swoop into Upward dog when it was about to require  a lot of strength? The same can be applied to the page and I will not allow myself to cheat by blogging or making notes about a book I am reading. While those things are important, they will not get me closer to the book I want to birth.

Pictures taken by Jamie Hyatt Photography

Pictures taken by Jamie Hyatt Photography

I had the amazing opportunity to meet and hug and hang out with Chris Hadfield. Just being around him “lifts” you up. He is the hero you want to meet. After meeting him and reading his book, he taught me a valuable lesson in turning dreams to manifestation. From the time he was a child, he asked himself whether an astronaut would make the decisions he would make. Would an astronaut eat ice cream or broccoli? He ate broccoli. Would an astronaut sit on the couch eating potato chips and watching t.v. or would he/she run around the block? Hadfield would run around the block. Would a writer answer the phone in the middle of  a writing session? Or would they ignore it? Would the writer write after the kids go to bed or watch t.v.?

It all depends on whether you want to be a pro or an amateur. I’m pretty sure I have my answer.

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You Call Yourself a Writer?

I am currently reading Therese Anne Fowler’s Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. Fictional or not it is always a fascination of mine to be taken into the world of some of the great writers. The appeal of writing and writers is that it is such a vulnerable act that humanness bleeds through everything they commit to paper.

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The Fitzgeralds via google images

A topic part of the book explores through Zelda’s eyes is how one knows whether or not they are a writer. Zelda asks Scott about this question and he says he knew he was a writer because without it he would cease to exist. Through our writer’s workshops, which is comprised of 100% women, many struggle with whether they can attach “writer” to their identities. We have many preconceived ideas about what a writer is. We categorize and often venerate or glorify what it means to be a writer and stop ourselves from attaching it to ourselves. One workshop, we had a homework assignment where people were required to tell total strangers that they were writers. The assignment was difficult for many and they felt as if they were lying or fraudulent. The strange thing was they thought of themselves as writers enough to take a writing workshop. I am guilty of the same thing. One of the main things I tell myself is that I am not a writer because I am not published. I have tried to abandon this limitation in my writer-self by asking myself who would I be without writing and would I be okay if I could never write again? The answer is that I would not be okay without it. This is my mode of self-expression over painting, sculpting, singing, acting etc. When I received my first rejection letter, I asked  myself if I could call myself a writer then? This is only when I think about other people’s perceptions. Perhaps others will not accept me as a writer until I am published. When I am alone, in silence, in connection with the deepest part of myself, I am a writer. I am a writer because I write. Yes, there are days when I will choose picking up dog poop over being with my pen, but ultimately I need writing like I need air.

For the past two weeks and going on a third, my husband has been working twelve hour graveyard shifts trying to get High River, Alberta back up and running after the worst flood they have ever seen. I see him for two hours a day and I have taken on twice the load at home, especially when it comes to being a parent. I have no time to write and the time I was able to steal away, I needed babysitters to help. After two weeks of this, I felt as if I was going insane and falling further and further out of touch with myself. This is because I need writing in my daily life (at the very least every second day). I need writing like I need to shower.

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Image via google images

Perhaps this is the question we, questioning writers, need to ask ourselves: Can I function without writing?

We would love to hear about your explorations on this subject! Please comment.

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Yoga and Writing: Levels of Practice

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.

Photo via yogainfo.ca

Photo via yogainfo.ca

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?

Photo via joelrunyon.com

Photo via joelrunyon.com

 

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!

cartoon via google images

cartoon via google images

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Let me Out!!! How I Keep my Writer-Self “Boxed” in

My favorite part about watching the Scotiabank Giller Prize awards is the advice the author’s give on the writing process before the winners are announced. Nancy Richler, who was nominated for her book, The Imposter Bride, struck me with what she had to say. There is no one handbook that all writer’s go to on how to work this craft. I feel, that as a writer I often go into this blind. A lot of should’s come up from reading a lot of final drafts which are published. Nancy Richler brought into light that I held the belief that fiction writers had fictional worlds and characters set up in their heads before they even hit the page. J.K. Rowling, for instance, had Harry Potter and Hogwart’s rolling around in her brain five years before she even started writing it. As a poet, I guess I limited my beliefs into thinking that this is the way all fiction writer’s think. Richler, on the other hand, expressed that she has no idea what she is going to write or which stories are going to pour out of her until she starts to write. The very act of writing is her muse!


Once I heard this, I swear my brain created a new neural pathway. I realized that I am the same way! I get the feeling to write (or even if I don’t) I go to the page on a daily basis just out of the sheer curiosity of what is going to play out there. I really have no preconceived idea of what is going to come out of the page. In some way, I wronged myself for this process. I guess I am always searching for the “legitimate” writer in me. I would like to break out of the mold–that voice who tries to keep me in the box. The inner writer in me wants to be freed. Every time I hear an author speak about the process, I am freed a little more.

How are you limiting your writer-self?

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Writing for Therapy?

The current workshop “the midwife” is doing is an intense one. I have found that I have been in the centre of a group of fabulous women who want to go deeper into their writer selves despite any resistances. There have been many resistances which have raised the question, “why do we write?” The answers will vary based on the individual, but for me it raised the question about whether writing is therapy.

I look at the pages of my journal wondering what prompted me to return time and time again to the blank page. My first response would be curiosity. Curious to see where my pen will take me that day. Curious to see if there are insights I haven’t examined yet, or a poem. I am always in search of a poem. This does not mean that I write with the objective of therapy. However, what happens after ink hits paper is therapeutic for me. I return here because it is a sanctuary. When I’m broke, when I’m challenged, when I’m grieving. Whatever life throws at me, just the thought of being alone with my pen and journal makes it suddenly fall away.

There is something to say about returning to the imagination time and time again. At this time in my life I rarely have the time to go to this magical place. I know this is temporary also. In the meantime, I have the honour of watching what people do with their imaginations. As I mentioned before, this workshop has been an interesting one in the sense that many of the “homework” assignments are met with resistance because they ask the writer to explore areas that may not want to be explored. To that I say, let the pen go where it wants. At the very least, these exercises will lead the writer into a creative place they weren’t aware of before. Do you write for therapy? Only you have the answer and I would love to hear it. What I do know for sure is that the act of writing takes us to a place only the pen can access. I am not sure whether that is a therapeutic place or not. Writing is a challenge for the writer, they say, so why does he/she keep writing?

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Love-Energy and True Community

As I gear up for the new Skin & Stories workshop this fall, I am reading the text-book I will be using. Writing and Being: Embracing your Life Through Creative Journaling  by G. Lynn Nelson offers ways to take your journal writing into public writing and everything in between. I good friend and poet, Bob Stallworthy recommended it to me and I am so grateful. As I was sitting in Starbucks last night having a writer’s date with myself, I decided to read a little bit of this book before going home. I was on the chapter about community and was struck by its honesty and connectivity. He talked about how we live in a world where we need to keep up appearances. Groups judge us and accept us based on our “resumes” and we proceed to try to keep up this image of ourselves that others find there. Nelson said that he went to AA with his father (who was an alcoholic) and he was struck by this place where people were completely vulnerable and had gotten to this place where they needed to be taken as they were, failures and all: “After seeing how AA works to heal those in its circle and how powerful it is, I hungered for such communities. For a while, I even considered becoming an alcoholic so I could belong to AA, but I was afraid I might fail. I wondered: Why does it seem we have to become alcoholics or drug addicts or have mental breakdowns or attempt suicide before we can come together as a whole people, without pretense, before we can speak from our hearts and tell our stories to each other?” (p. 132). Nelson goes on to speak of a love-energy created in these types of groups.

I started to think of the first Writer’s Midwife workshop and how I think it was so hard to let go of because we had all created this “love-energy”. Every writer felt safe sharing and exploring in their journals because there was no judgement nor expectation. I was in one poetry class that had this ingredient in University and my writing flourished. It didn’t flourish because I was being critiqued. It flourished because I felt like I could be myself and it was okay. My intention is to create this for the new workshop as well and every workshop moving forward. As social creatures, community is everything. True community is essential. When we commit such a vulnerable act such as writing, the difference between a group with love-energy and one without can mean the difference between whether a person writes or not.

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Am I a Journal Snob?

It seems I have been on a journal craze lately. After filling a Moleskine journal in half the time it normally takes me ( six months vs. a year), I decided to try out a new, pretty journal I found. I bought the journal with the thought in mind that the geometric and hypnotic design on the cover, not to mention the scrolling vines on each coloured page inside would entice my creativity. This is not the case. In fact, I think that each colourful, fun page dulls my words. Granted I use  black pen and perhaps a blue ink would pop out of the artistic vignette, but I love the seven year pens and can’t be bothered to hunt around my junk drawer for a blue pen. All I can think of is that I long for the feel and simplicity of a Moleskine journal.

Yes, I am a sucker for their marketing. Tucked away inside the secret back pocket on the back cover is the Moleskine’s history. Tell me that Hemingway once wrote on a journal like this one and I’m sold. Even if it costs me $28 CAD. Even if I am falling privy to their marketing ploys, I love the feel of the paper. I love the covers and admiring it sitting on my coffee table makes me want to write and write and write.

The journal I am currently using scares me. Not because I am worried about messing up its pretty pages with my writing, but because it is too loud and busy. Perhaps this is quirky, I am okay with that, but I can’t go back to my Moleskine until I finish this one. There is something about completing a journal once I have started it that makes me breathe easier. Therefore, I am stuck. I may be a Moleskine snob, but I have discovered that I will not try a new journal unless it is simple and the paper feels inviting.

What is your favorite host to your writing?

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Rainy Days Mean Fatter Journals

The beauty of Calgary, Alberta is that it’s weather embraces the knowledge that nothing is static. Our weather report can change literally from one hour to the next. Big, burly, intimidating clouds can roll in bringing an ominous mood and the next thing you know they’ve disappeared. Bracing yourself for the threat that they bring, only for those clouds to pass you by. Last week we were trapped in a heat wave. As a Calgarian, I personally do not fare too well in the plus thirties (Celsius). I get cranky, irritable and the last thing I want to do is write. I have to force myself to write and what dribbles onto the page is nothing but complaints about how sweaty and uncomfortable I am. Today, I am lucky that the heat wave has broken and brought us below seasonal temperatures. It has been raining on and off all day and I have basked in the creativity it brought me.

I am not alone in this. There is scientific proof, I recently found out, that cloudy, rainy days entice creativity. Currently, I am reading Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. In this book he mentions an experiment (and the page number escapes me) where people remembered four times as many objects while standing around a grocery store when the sky was overcast and they were playing melancholy music. It is almost as if depression causes a person to get in touch with their surroundings and therefore remember more details (always a welcome thing when writing). After a week of sunshine and heat, I am taking advantage of my melancholy surroundings, I’ve lit a candle and I am writing to you. It feels great. I love that I can wear a sweater, curl up with a blanket, listen to Death Cab for Cutie and let the muse show his or herself.

Another experiment mentioned in that book was using background noise. I cannot find the part in the book where I read about that one either and I am starting to wonder if I am making this up! Coffee shops are conducive to creativity because there is  just the right amount of decibel from the whirring of the coffee machines and background conversation. It is no wonder I gravitate to this setting whenever I set out to write and feel like I’m in need of some inspiration.

Therefore, take advantage of a rainy day this summer, grab a latte and allow the imagination to take over.

Happy Writing!!!!!!!

~S

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The T.V. Trap

After taking the leap and working from home with a dedication to words, I have developed hyper-awareness as to what devours my precious writing time. Having a little one at home really highlights what Virginia Woolf was talking about when she said women writers need money and a room of their own to be able to write. Children love to cling to their mother’s rightfully so, so how do I commit to writing? Being a mom as a full-time job makes writing for me a necessity on the priority list. Back in January, I made a deal with myself that I would commit to writing everyday. I figured if I was to embrace “The Writer’s Midwife” persona, it would be imperative that I “walk the talk,” as they say.

After we finished our first (and very successful) workshop, Skin & Stories, I was very tired. I was sad to say goodbye to a group who had created such a safe space on Monday nights for writing and inspiration. Those Mondays, as I’m sure many of the students would agree, kept my writer-self fueled for the entire week. Luckily, there are some students who still carry journals and steal away writing time in parking lots and movie theatres…whenever they get the chance. This was my dream for the workshop and it is uplifting to know that it has been realized. For me, I slumped into a funk when the workshop ended. I tried to write everyday, but it was a chore and I even missed some days which was unheard of up until that point. I started retreating to my basement and watching T.V. ..Television! I soaked in reality shows and even some sitcoms. When I came out of my funk a couple of weeks later, I couldn’t believe how much creativity had been wasted on that box. There was no inspiration.

On the other hand, reading books begets writing. I always feel inspired by the dance of words on the page and it encourages me to write things I hadn’t thought of through silence and the breath. Music does the same thing. One of my most productive days out of the week is when I’m traveling 40 minutes one-way to tutor. Listening to music and feeling the car’s grip on the road always accumulates lists of things for me to write about upon arrival. But the television sucks it out of me and I am left without even an inkling to pick up a pen. Television serves it’s purpose for me when I don’t want to think or feel inspired, but it is rare that I choose this. In fact, the television was removed from our living room and currently hides away in the basement. Since, I do a lot of writing in my living room and host my writer’s group here as well, I decided to dedicate the entire space to creativity. It was strange to get used to, but months later I can’t imagine it any other way. Incense spills into the crevice where the  t.v. used to sit and an altar of candle light decorates the open space. The sound of leaves grooving to the breeze enters into the open window.  Books litter the walls of this place. It is the perfect distance away from the tea kettle, so my mug is always full. It is my creative sanctuary.

 

What’s more, there will be other workshops (in the fall) and we will hold each other accountable then. For now writing remains was it always has been, a solitary act. I disallow the television to call my name and stop the ink from flowing. I will heed to my journal’s beckoning call and write and write and write.

I hope you join me this summer. I would love to hear your struggles and triumphs in your daily writing. What encourages you? What stops you?

Happy writing!
S.

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First Drafts and Being Gentle with Yourself

The place where inner writing demons come out to play most in my mind is when I attempt to revise. A good friend/poet, Bob Stallworthy calls it “re-vision.” Many of my poems have sat ignored in drawers after the first or second draft from hearing the constant drone of “I am not good at this.” Despite how Bob offered me a way of re-naming the act of editing, I still sit down and dread moving on to the next draft. However, I am getting better.

When I was tutoring a high school student last week, I asked her to write me a creative piece about the love between two inanimate objects in the room. She could barely touch her pen to paper and she had a sheepish grin on her face. “Where are you stuck?” I asked her. She replied that she didn’t know if what she was about to write would be good enough. I told her to tell me what she was thinking and she said she was thinking that the love between the bookshelf and the table was like a Taylor Swift song. She continued on to tell me that the love between these inanimate objects was sad because although they were always close to each other, they could never actually tough. Furthermore, she said they had to bear the  pain of watching people express their love all day through affection. I thought this was brilliantly creative! So what had stopped her before she even allowed her pen to touch the page?

 

I have often wondered if having our writing is evaluated in school is where it all begins. Seeing red scratches on the page and grade levels is stressful and sends the message that how our thoughts are conveyed is prone to criticism. People talk about writers in polarized terms of “good” and “bad.” My student is clearly a victim of this. The fact that she saw me as someone who was better than her at writing, caused her to freeze up for fear that I would see it. The fear that I may have judged her. I’ve been there many times. In fact, it took me three years to work up enough courage to take an English class in University. From what I had experienced in high school, I had received the message that I couldn’t write essays. I carried this message with me to University and it wasn’t until a professor who taught me upgrading showed me a different way to write them. Even then, I believed that I was not good enough to be at the level the University expected me to be for essay writing. It wasn’t until my interest outweighed my fear that I took an English class. After that, I was hooked and I switched my major.

How many writers never make it past the high school mentality of being evaluated? Everything counts for something, including first drafts. In the real world though, there is more freedom with first drafts. First drafts can become eighteen drafts. I believe it was Yeats, who wasn’t satisfied with one of his poems and it took him ten years and countless drafts before it reached the masses. I have made a commitment to myself to not let my first drafts sit idly in my poetry folder. I have made a commitment to  set aside some time once a week for “re-visioning.” I create space to let the poem speak to me in a different way. To tell me whether this line is needed or give me clarity on the central image. Some days are harder than others. I remind myself that I am my own creative authority and there is no judges peering over my shoulder. I wish the same for you. First drafts are just that, first drafts. Honour your thoughts, your self and your birthright by being gentle with yourself and your creative side. Writing is a process, try to clear your mind of the final destination.

~Samantha

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