All Out Of Ink

May 20, 2011

“This Ain’t No Dress Rehearsal” (or, Make the Words Count)

Filed under: Inspiration,Pieces of Life — Laynie @ 12:58 am

“How are you today?” I asked the man as I began scanning his groceries.
“Fine thanks, and you?” he responded.
“I’m doing alright,” I said.
“Good,” he said. “Because this is your life. It ain’t no dress rehearsal.”

I was in a drama group that summer. I spent a lot of time practicing and performing a long play, so I was quite familiar with rehearsals. We did plenty of them. There was about an 8-week window during which I worked at a grocery store as a cashier. I interacted with lots of people. I don’t remember most of them now. In fact, I don’t remember a whole lot about that summer at all. It has become a bit faded in my memory, along with a few other large chunks of my high school years when I was getting very little sleep. (Yes, lack of sleep affects long-term memory too.) Out of all the people whose money I handled and whose food I touched, I remember that man. He only bought a couple of items. He was there less time than most. Those were the only words I remember exchanging, though I probably responded agreeably and wished him a pleasant day. Yet, it was that man who voiced the wisdom I needed most.

I can’t talk like that. I can’t use “ain’t” and “no” one right after the other without sounding like I’m making fun of someone. I kind of wish I could. “This is not a dress rehearsal” just doesn’t have the same effect. It sounds more like a teacher giving a book-learned lecture than a man who’d lived life and come by the wisdom honestly.

While I can’t talk like that, I want to write like that. I want to write words that carry wisdom and meaning far beyond the capacity of the letters and spaces. I want to join experience with expression so one can carry the other. There’s an authenticity I crave in my work that doesn’t come from being a writer. It comes from being a person, living life, seeing others do the same. I desire to impart knowledge as that man did in the checkout line at Winn-Dixie some random summer afternoon to a girl he’d never seen before and would never see again.

Did that man know he was saying something I’d remember 15 years later? I doubt it. I wish I could tell him. Then again, it’s probably best I can’t. I’d have to also admit I didn’t listen until a long time later when I finally realized I’d made far too many “safe” mistakes. Now, though, I know there’s no waiting to see how it turns out so I can make better choices next time. I really do only get one shot at this.

I need to take the chances that create the wisdom that makes me different.
I need to take the time to write the words that mean the most.
I need to live the life that’s worth the space those words take up.

“This ain’t no dress rehearsal.”

I need to make it count.

May 15, 2011

Make a Note of It

Filed under: Inspiration,Writing Tips — Laynie @ 10:37 pm

Even for a diligent writer, sometimes writing takes a backseat to the necessary living of life. With kids, that’s even more true. Big things, small things, and nearly-invisible things gang up on you. Well-meaning (or sometimes know-it-all) folks will tell you to take things one at a time. These people may come from any of the following scenarios: 1. They do not have children, 2. They have forgotten what children are like, or 3. They have been living in a land of makebelieve long enough to think they can create reality by saying things out loud enough times. (The third situation can be caused by re-reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” too many times in a row, so be careful; you could be next.)

There are nooks and crannies writing can fit into. This is not to be confused with cracks it might fall between. Those are larger and easier to find. No, nooks and crannies are the minutes in between things. It would be nice if you could collect these in a jar like loose change, then count them out and use them all at once. But you can’t. Instead, stick notebooks where these precious seconds tend to happen. In the glove box of the car for while you’re waiting in the pick-up line at the kids’ school. In the spice cabinet for while you’re cooking. In your lunchbox or locker for breaks if you go to an outside job. This sometimes works better than trying to carry one notebook everywhere.

Instead of collecting moments and using them all at once, collect pages. When you put the page from today with the page from yesterday and the three pages from last week, it starts to resemble something. You can make pages from many things. A plot line. A bit of dialog. A character sketch. A random line or stanza for a possible poem. A striking turn of phrase. Don’t limit yourself to your own thoughts. If you’re in the grocery store and overhear a stranger say something uncommonly wise or particularly stupid, make a note. That could be useful too.

One of my favorites is from a doctor’s office. A man waiting for his appointment was talking to the lady who had brought him. She was associated with an assistance program for his transportation. It made me sad when I realized she wasn’t paying any attention at all to what he was saying. I paid attention.

“I was miserable and I should have gotten out long before I did,” he said. “I had every right to. But there were those good moments and I wouldn’t have missed them for the world.”

At this point, the best way to conclude this entry would be to say writing is like that and draw a nice comparison. I can’t. I don’t think it has anything to do with writing. Writing isn’t something you should ever get out of, in my opinion.

The statement stuck with me because it meant something else. Three years have passed, and I’m still finding new ways to understand the wisdom in it. I know it’s partly about this one vehicle I owned. I think it’s probably about some of the friends I’ve had. So far, it speaks most directly about all the places I’ve lived, especially the ones I hated.

I wrote his words on a fresh page in the notebook I had with me. I wanted to remember them. Someday, I am going to use them at the end of something special. Until then, I will keep making pages in the moments between things. When writing takes a backseat to the living of life, I will refuse to feel guilty about it. Instead, I will enjoy the living. In fact, I will enjoy it twice because it is what I plan to write about.

May 10, 2011

The Benefits of a Creative Affair

Filed under: Writer's Block — Laynie @ 12:46 pm

As a lover of words, I have tried to be faithful. I have made a sincere effort. Time after time though, I find myself growing weary of the same old rut and longing for more. The grass is always greener, they say, but what if you’re sick of grass and you just want to sit down with a knife and fork and tear into a steak dinner?

Enter: The Creative Affair

To be clear, I am 200% against unfaithfulness, adultery, and polygamy, especially the marriage kind. But when it comes to my writing, well, that’s a different sort of union. When we quarrel, I need to turn elsewhere for comfort.

Writing is not the only thing I will ever need to love, just as I am not the only person the writing demon (or angel, or spirit of any variety) must possess. Reading is only half a step away from writing because I’m still entertaining that spirit.  I need something more.

I’m not talking about a one-night-stand-up comedy routine at a hotel ballroom. And Disney World is fun, but it’s just a summer fling. I need another solid relationship I can be sure of. I need something that’s going to be there consistently. I need an art on the side.

Remember the days when writing was all you needed? When you never got bored with it because the ideas were fresh and new and had room in your mind and soul to breathe? If you think you remember that, you can forget it. Writing was never the only thing you needed. And if you still think it was, realize that just as your child has necessitated adjustments in every other relationship in your life, your relationship with words must also grow and change. Don’t worry though. Just as room appeared in your heart for that little person, your creativity will expand as necessary for this too.

So what’s it going to be?

I enjoy photography. Some benefits are that it gets me out of my same-old-same-old environment and lets me go places, like the lake or the park, where Em can have fun too. On outings where your kid has to be the primary focus, you can still be on the lookout for creative opportunities to snap a shot or two, especially candids of the little one. To make this easier, I often opt for my smaller point-and-shoot over my DSLR because it interferes less with life between pictures, making the outing more fun and less frustrating (and involves less financial risk).

BC (Before Child), I enjoyed singing, playing the guitar, and occasionally picking up Chris’ violin. It’s hard to fit guitar time into my daily schedule without Em wanting to play too. And my violin playing would probably make her cry. But what I can do is put music on in the house during the day while I’m doing other things. Em enjoys it, so sometimes we’ll dance and sing along. It doesn’t matter if I can carry a tune or if I know all the words; she doesn’t care.

If you don’t always feel artistic but enjoy making something pretty, get yourself a book of mandalas and share the kiddo’s colored pencils for some fun-time you can both enjoy. It sounds silly, but my bet is you’ll find yourself coloring one when the kid’s not around. Mandalas are great for meditation and look so beautiful when they’re finished.

Maybe you like to keep a flower bed or vegetable garden looking nice. Maybe you enjoy cooking or baking. Drawing is a fairly portable fun thing. So is needlework if you’re of a meticulous mind. Glass etching is a fun naptime or evening project. Painting might be a bit too involved for the narrower time slots in your day, but if you can carve out the time periodically, it’s a great art form. There’s also woodworking, fixing up an old car, mowing the lawn.

The possibilities are not necessarily endless (after all, you still have someone pulling on your pantleg the whole time you’re stirring the cake batter), but there are enough that you can find something you enjoy and that will fit your lifestyle.

Once you’ve gotten the writing frustration out of your system, you can pull the project back into your life again. After all, no matter what else you are (butcher, baker, candlestick maker, whatever else), you’re a writer.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live.

PS – Have a look at my page Fun Favorite Links for more on where to get mandala books. I’ll be adding more info on glass etching, photography, and some other things over time.

May 9, 2011

Finding the Time (or, Writing in Spite of Exhaustion)

Filed under: Inspiration,Writer's Block — Laynie @ 6:19 pm

I hate to disappoint you, but I cannot tell you how this is done. Many helpful blogs, parenting websites, self-help books, magazines, and childless great-aunts exist to help you learn how to do it with a dramatic energy second only to Bon Jovi at Jazz Fest. (This is on my mind because Bon Jovi was as Jazz Fest last weekend 30 miles from my house and I couldn’t go.)

If I was presumptuous enough to think I could tell everyone how to find time for writing, you would be within your rights to dismiss everything else I had to say as hogwash. But what I have to say is not hogwash, and to prove it, I am not going to be presumptuous like that. My goal is to help us all push past the special brand of writer’s block that develops along with our children.

Right now, exhaustion has me a little stuck. My brain can’t seem to find its way into the land of the living. Only my body moves. I’m typing, not because I have something helpful to say, but because I’m supposed to be blogging. Just like I change diapers because I’m supposed to be doing it. Or washing dishes. Or chasing the toddler who’s chasing the cat that’s not supposed to be inside. I’m here because I’m supposed to be.

Yet, words have begun to happen.

When I get stuck, one thing I do is think of someone I admire. Today, I thought of John Keats. He wrote a vast number of pieces considering he died when he was 25. His words have echoed my own thoughts many times.

Keats once wrote about how he felt the first time he saw the Elgin Marbles. His amazement caused me to learn what the Elgin Marbles were, and I also found them — and their history — amazing. (For more on the Elgin Marbles, here is a site that gives pictures, history, and the poem itself: Learn More)

Historical art forms may not serve as inspiration for you, but something does. I don’t mean inspiration like the “ah-ha” moment that comes before an idea for a 3-part novel (Lord of the Rings) or an epic (The Iliad). I mean inspiration that gives you the ability to like an idea enough to write a sentence about it. Just one sentence. Everything ever written started with a word or group of words that conveyed either a piece of life, or a reaction to a piece of life. If your mind is too tired to create a piece of life, then react to someone else’s.

Let me say that again. If you just can’t create something new and special, if you don’t have anything in yourself to share, then let your mind react to something someone else has already created.

Your reactions serve as the basis for everything you will eventually create because your observations change you. When you are different, your creations will be different. Your response to another idea is important. Don’t hesitate to record it.

It can be as complex and remarkable as “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles.” It can be as simple as a sentence stating why you like or don’t like a quote someone posted on facebook. And then, over time, it might develop into something more. If not, that’s fine. You have created something.

I don’t know about you, but that’s what makes me feel like a writer who’s not all out of ink.

(One note of apology: This works primarily for creative writing. Academic and research writing don’t always benefit from this exercise, though it can be a good way to get enthusiasm rolling if your subject doesn’t immediately intrigue you.)

May 7, 2011

Can You Say “Mama?” (or, The Words You Don’t Have)

Filed under: Writing Tips — Laynie @ 10:08 pm

Em is a little over a year and a half old. (Almost 20 months, for those of you who divide by 12 easily.) She has words she likes to say. She enjoys using the words she knows. I’ve caught her falling asleep at naptime singing “Juice, dog, cookie, moon, juice, Dad, cat, ball…” though it seems her favorite song is “Cookie cookie cookie….” When she wants to know what something is, she asks, “Dat?” When she wants to be picked up, she asks “Up?” And when she wants to be put down, she asks, “Up?”

So we’re still working on a few things.

I think she gets aggravated sometimes with the number of words she doesn’t know. Sometimes, she’ll pick up something she knows the word for, such as her stuffed cat, frown at it, and tentatively try a word that isn’t right. “No,” I can see her face say, “That’s not it.” And she’ll try again. And again. I can see her confusion, her frustration, as she realizes she can’t remember. That’s a frustration I wouldn’t will on anyone.

It’s also a frustration I know all too well as a writer. “There’s a word for that,” I frequently say. “There’s a better way to say this.”

I try a word, a phrase, a paragraph, a few pages… only to come back to my original problem. I just know there’s a way to say this, and it is illuding me.

The first bit of advice I have is not to get hung up on that one thing. Give it some thought, frown over it a little. And then, move on. Like they used to tell you in school, if you don’t know the answer, skip that one and come back to it later. There’s no reason to let go of everything past this snag. Make a note in the margin, leave yourself a parenthetical message in the text, draw a blank line where that bit should go, and move along. After it sits in your mind a while, the right words might come to you. If not, you can struggle over it later when the next section of your piece is not at stake.

The next suggestion I have is to try saying it the wrong way. If you know there’s a right way but you can’t remember how, then put down the wrong thing and tell yourself you’ll come back to it later. When you look at it again, you might realize the “wrong” way is closer to your original intent than you thought.

Another (rather novel) idea: Look it up. For those times when it is a single word, I have a couple of best friends. Dictionary and Thesaurus. When it’s not convenient to lug extra books (even small ones) or I’m too lazy to walk across the room for them, I pull up for all my spelling, definition, and thesaurical needs. (No, thesaurical is not a word. I’m taking my own advice and saying it the wrong way because I’m not sure there is a word for that.) I like that site in particular because it is easy to remember, and it has dictionary entries from several sources for each word. Plus, you can click the Thesaurus tab at the top to switch instead of having to pull up another page. I’m all for simplicity. It saves time. And as we know, when the baby wipes are being gleefully yanked out of the package one by one, every second counts.

The bottom line here is that writers have moments like Em does, where we know there’s a way to express ourselves, but it’s just out of reach. There are words we don’t have, but that doesn’t mean we will never have them. Even if we keep stumbling over the same snag over and over, we’ll eventually get it. Just like one day, Em will point to me and say “Mama,” instead of “Dat?” She knows what I am. She just doesn’t have that word yet.

May 5, 2011

The Wall

Filed under: Writer's Block,Writing Tips — Laynie @ 9:17 pm

There are many entries in the Great Phone Book of Life for The Wall.

The Wall, Hang a Picture On
The Wall, Arrange the Furniture Along
The Wall, What Color Shall We Paint
The Wall, Another Brick In

Each of those has its own listing. My number, however, has multiple entries.

The Wall, Clean the Crayon off of
The Wall, Beat My Head Against
The Wall, I Said Do Not Lick (I only wish I was kidding)
and the one that hurts the most:
The Wall, I Was Writing and I Hit

Throughout my writing life, I have hit many walls, some of them repeatedly. Usually, I experienced a period of great frustration, re-discovered my direction, and pressed forward with renewed determination (which is never as simple as that sentence makes it sound).

One day, as I was making rip-roaring progress on a book project, I ran into a very little wall. This wall was 19.75 inches tall, um, I mean 19.75 inches long. She arrived by scheduled c-section one Friday morning. When I saw her, I said, “Hello. Are you confused?” I knew how confused I felt much of the time, and I’d had 29 years to adjust to the variations of life. For her, the world was suddenly much bigger than she’d realized, and it wasn’t very comfy. Poor little thing.

I didn’t wait for her to answer. I passed out.

When I regained consciousness about a year later, I was unpacking in a new house. Boxes of notebooks, journals, legal pads, file folders, presentation portfolios, and plain old stacks of paper filled with my writing. I prepared to put them in attic storage, but my husband, Chris, stopped me. “You’re not putting that stuff in the attic.”

“I never use it. Besides, if I want it, I know where to find it.”

“But it’s your writing. You wouldn’t let me put my writing in the attic.”

“No,” I admitted. “But you actually write.”

“Why don’t you?” he asked.

Right about that time, a little blond giggle came around the corner, bumped into my leg, landed on her bum, looked up at me, and smiled. I didn’t have to say anything else.

Chris had a point, though. I couldn’t put it all away. I’d lost a lot of bits and pieces of individuality since Em was born, but I couldn’t sacrifice being a writer. It had never been just something I did. It had always been something I was whether I was actively writing or not.

It’s the same for every writer who suddenly finds herself (or himself) in charge of a small person (or persons) and filling more bottles than journals. You haven’t stopped being a writer. You’re a writer who’s doing something else right now.

Do you remember how easy it was before? How effortless it was to sit down and say what you meant, how simple it was to make the time? If you think you can remember that, you need to forget it. Creating something was never that easy, and it never will be. It is difficult. And if you think it’s harder than it used to be, remember you’re a different kind of strong than you once were. You can handle it.

You’ve experienced a period of great transition; now it’s time to reorient yourself and push forward again. I know it’s not as simple as that sentence sounds. That’s why I made this blog: for ideas that work, ideas that don’t work, frustrations, solutions, successes, non-successes, and everything in between. It’s the new entry in the Great Phone Book of Life:

The Wall, What to Do When You Hit

My book is coming along, by the way. But if I’m going to finish it this summer, I better get back to it.

More soon…

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