FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

Curse of the Dampeners

May 24, 2017

Tags: writing life, positive thinking, dreams, goals, persistence, negative voices, dream dampeners, real writer, rejections, art, artist, talent

PRAIRIE WRITERS ASSIGNMENT, APRIL 2017 - HAZEL JEAN SPIRE


CURSE OF THE DAMPENERS

Jean loved to write. Jean lived to write.

That was before the voices began.

From the time she discovered the power of words, essays and stories poured from Jeanís pencil, earning stars of red, blue, even gold, from her teachers. Hearing of Jeanís prolific output, Mr. Carter walked across the playground to lend her a book with a turquoise coveró Letís Write a Storyóabout how to become an author!

A dream was born. Poetry flowed from Jeanís fountain pen, and found a place in the school magazine. But then the Dream Dampeners moved in: insidious, naysaying voices that cramped her style for decades to follow.

"Those whimsical tales might suffice for grade school, but this is College."

"Your syntax is all wrong."

"Will you ever get paid for this?"

"Boys donít like stories about girls."

"You canít get your foot in the door without an agent."

"An agent wonít take on a writer without a platform."

"Your zip code is too obscure. You must move to New York City."

When she was not writing, Jean loved to draw. Jean lived to draw.

That was before the voices began.

In grade school, her stories were embellished with colored pencil scenes, which Miss Cassell allowed Jean to outline with Indian ink in her secret cubby behind the 5th grade classroom. With the encouragement of Mum, Dad, and Miss Wheeler, she entered her seascapes in the Baptist Festival.

That was before the Negatories took root: niggling questions as to whether Jean was wasting her time.

"What good is art to you?"

"Artist is such a pretentious word."

"I could show you someone with REAL talent."

For a while, these ruthless intruders drove out all hopes of success in the arts, either visual or literary. So many of them took up residence that she could no longer pinpoint the source or validity of the voices. People who knew what they were talking about, or those who knew nothing? Her own deep-seated insecurity, or sheer laziness?

At each stage of life, with each relocation, Jeanís passions resurfaced. She would dust off her sketchbook, buy a new journal, and seek out kindred spirits. In due course, she learned howóand whereóto prepare manuscripts to submission and paintings for exhibition.

That was before the voices returnedówith a vengeance.

"Rhyme doesnít sell."

"Kids want to read about todayís time, not history."

"Memoirs by unknowns are hard to sell."

"Agents only take on young authors, for career-long relationships."

"Top houses want attractive faces on their book jackets."

"Never write without an outline."

"You donít have an art degree, or backing from prestigious galleries."

"Editors are looking for a something fresh, something edgy."

"This is too quirky, too controversial."

"Cozy stories are passť."

Jean took the hurdles in her stride. She decorated her gigantic trash can with rejection letters, and won a string of awards.

The Dampeners and the Negatories went on murmuring.

"Itís a local contest, not a Pulitzer Prize."

"There were only five entries."

"Sure, you sold a painting, but only to someone who knows you."

Eventually, Jean racked up credits with magazines.

"Just Sunday school take-home papers and regional rags," the voices countered.

Finally, three years after signing a contract, Jeanís first middle-grade mystery came out. Now would the voices let up? Not a chance.

"One spouse and two friends make a poor showing at a book event."

"Did you see the lines round the block for that other author?"

"Your little paperback will get lost among the hefty stacks of the latest Harry Potter."

"Chain bookstores wonít place works by small presses, and Indies are going out of business."

Nevertheless, Jean kept writing--and painting. She invited the voices of Discernment to take up lodging instead. She acknowledged the truths about mergers and budget cuts, with gratitude for the emergence of self-publishing options.

She did it for the adventure, finding her place in the fellowship of writers and artists, who graciously shared the benefit of their experience. In due course, Jean would do the same for the students following in her footsteps.

E: EXERCISE

August 25, 2014

Tags: Write-Brain Workbook, Lifewrites e-book, writing process, writing exercises, clustering, character bios, free writing, right brain, sensory detail, sense of place, morning pages, dreams, emotions, memory, fiction

In grade school, I wrote in exercise books, nurturing the dream of becoming a writer. As a piano student, I repeated scales and arpeggios to limber up my fingers and facilitate performance for exams or entertainment. So too, physical exercise is beneficial to health at any age. Practice may feel like a chore, or a child's play, depending on the task, coach, energy, mood, etc. But it results in a sense of accomplishment, bringing us closer to our goals.

A helpful exercise I learned from Jane Cross in Dallas is Clustering. Write a word inside an elliptical bubble. As one thought or image leads to another, add lines and words radiating out from the first. (This is also called mind-mapping. The bubbles may omitted. Our brains store information in a similar way. I cluster people, objects, places, seasons, etc. for use in a particular story, or with random words as a general exercise for the "writing muscle."

One instructor guided my writers' group to empty our minds of distractions and recall a moment from childhood. I saw myself jumping the waves on Sandown beach, licking ice cream, smelling the salt breeze, enjoying a carefree summer. Then we imagined a character and saw what was in his or her pockets, shopping cart, etc. These details were noted in "free writing" sessions of 10 minutes each. They re-emerged when I wrote poems for HOMEWARD TRACKS and scenes for ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD. I also interview protagonists about loves, hates, habits, and what they want to achieve.

An SCBWI author once recommended writing to music, which I often do now, matching style to story. Whenever I played "Arabian Dance" from The Nutcracker, I was back with Maryam in the Middle East, where SECRET OF THE SEVENTH GATE takes place. I surrounded my desk with pictures of Iran from National Geographic and Newsweek. For ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD, I listened to Elgar and found magazine pictures of people who resembled my characters.

Several writer-friends swear by 3 Morning Pages a day. I do this (sporadically) on the backs of discarded rough drafts, stashed in my nightstand. I record fleeting emotions and events from dreams while in a sleepy state, over my first cup of coffee. Later, to engage the left side of the brain, I might write a list. Lists generate ideas and can even turn into a finished piece, such as my "Exotic Places" poem.

Shery Ma Bell Arrieta-Russ describes 10 approaches to journaling in her e-book, LIFEWRITES: Descriptive; Process; Comparison; Classification; Persuasive; Definition; Characterization; Analysis; Inductive; and Deductive. "Journaling is a process that lets you discover and re-discover yourself," she states in the introduction. I've enjoyed all these approaches, because they provide new ways of looking and thinking. A range of gel pens and journal covers makes exercises fun.

I recently worked (actually, played) my way through THE WRITE -BRAIN WORKBOOK by Bonnie Neubauer: no white pages, but lots of word games, fill-in-the-blanks, and visual tricks, to get the juices flowing.

If I go for a walk or a swim, to stretch my legs after slaving over the keyboard all day, the wheels go on turning. Plot developments pop up subconsciously; I jot them in a portable notepad, ready to add to the mix during the next writing session.

Hands-on activities I've taught over the years are listed on the Works page of this website. My blog is another form of exercise. It's more rigorous than Facebook posts, but a great way to find readers in cyberspace, as I sift my thoughts and advance the current writing project, RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR. Time to put on my Loreena McKennitt CD, An Ancient Muse, and cluster SAMOVAR.