“Writers and travelers alike do their best work when they don’t know what they’re looking for; disorientation requires problem-solving, and a new landscape holds secrets still.” ~Nathan Heller, The New Yorker Magazine, February 1, 2016 issue.
A little morsel of wisdom from Nathan Heller, who writes an incredibly fascinating article about the culture of airports and the future of commercial flight. He sites Christopher Shaberg’s book, “The End of Airports” as a thesis on how travel by air has become more commerce and retail rather than experience and excitement. It’s beautifully written and provides some thought into the strange hermetically sealed, other-world air passengers find themselves in while committed to the tightly controlled world of flight.
I highly recommend this article, not just for the subject matter, but as a sample of truly tight, well organized and fluid writing. The expression, the structure, the fluidity of words and thought is inspiring.
If you don’t have a subscription to the New Yorker Magazine, you might be allowed ten free viewings.
Ceiling at The Morgan Library, NYC. Photo by Debi Rotmil
When you look at the photo of the Morgan Library ceiling above, what do you see? Do your eyes gaze at the intricate pattern, delicate in its grace? Do you notice the daylight filtering through the iron carved repetitive spirals and curls contained in stoic squares? Do you feel the moodiness of the black and white? Does it take a moment for your brain to see that within the swoops and curves, are little birds adding texture to the visual?
Do you approach your writing this way? We envision a huge idea for a writing project, but the details get obscured by the bigger picture and patterns, distracting us from the true story at hand. Sometimes that bigger picture hinders the process by bringing up fear and concern over how a story is going, or how words will come to mold and define an ending that will tie up the lose ends perfectly.
I’m very much like you, my lovely stuck, blocked, confused, successful writer. I get overwhelmed by the big picture and can’t see the hidden treasure behind the pretty patterns I’m creating. Then the second guessing and doubt comes in. I grind to a halt. I lose my way. Then I turn off the computer.
Then I turn on the computer and start again.
Life also kicks up lots of dust, to the point where we don’t see the details or the meaning of why things happen. Sometimes we lose our way because we get distracted by shiny things, like a new job that pays more but provides the same drudgery as the job you want to leave. Or a dress or coat that looks stunning on a size 4 model in an Anthropologie catalog, only to find out it looks like crap when you actually try it on. How about having a crush on a gorgeous person, only to find they have the intelligence of a door knob?
Objects may appear closer then they seem. They can be illusions, until you break them down and create a defined personal portrait to work from. Try character outlines.
Outlining the details of your characters can help the stuck writer not see “the forest for the trees”. Not just in the beat of your story, but in character development. Think of your character and their details. Bring it straight down to the length of their fingernails, beyond the color of their hair, eyes, complexion.
You don’t have to express these particular details within your work, but having this outline on hand can provide a palate from where you can swipe aspects of color and transfer brushstrokes onto your canvas to make characters consistent and vibrant.
Even if you’re writing a memoir or biography, keep that character outline of yourself and of others handy so you can express your personality through the work. Sometimes we don’t see our own ticks and individuality, especially not in the way others do. It’s nice to have a reminder – yes, even of yourself.
Keep writing. Give us more to read, to dream and to aspire to. Don’t let bright shiny distractions make you loose sight of the details that weave the entire story and don’t let it make you stray from the work at hand.
Stay focused on what your heart wants to express. Find the flow, and then ride the wave.
I’m still reeling from the loss of David Bowie. The past week and a half has been spent re-listening to albums I’ve put aside, or cranking up my personal Bowie playlist lined up with my favorite songs – ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Starman’, ‘Moonage Daydream’…so many on the queue.
I came across a paparazzi photo taken within the past year or two of David Bowie hailing a cab on the streets of New York. Decked out in jeans, sweater, scarf, sunglasses and hat, he looked like any New Yorker hailing a cab. He blended in. He was anonymous in this vast island of tall buildings that sprout like canyons among the noise of traffic and ongoing construction. I miss New York terribly, but what makes it even harder is knowing that Bowie was part of the fabric of something I left five years ago and long to return to.
When you live in New York, you know that someone famous could live right across the street from you, down the road, over on the next avenue. They are living there – somewhere behind the thick concrete and brick walls that hide multitudes of small apartments, crammed with people – or large enough to house the most wealthy.
You never think about who is famous nearby. There isn’t a GPS or an app to tell you. Even if there was, it doesn’t matter. The famous blend in with the grey and dark streets. The unexplained, spiritual energy of New York does something to disperse someone’s presence. You have to look thrice to notice someone. Probably because no one looks anyone in the eye – it’s easy for anyone – even the famous -to slip away when the city filled with eyes never meet the eyes of others.
But please know that in saying this – I’m speaking for my own perception. The idea of New York is subjective. The idea of New York is misunderstood. It’s a vision by own making. It’s a concept many love, hate or envy. It’s a concept of dreams and nightmares. Everyday hustle and romantic skyline vistas outside the window of a skyscraper at night.
In New York, there’s a need to flow with the slipstream of everyday humanity so one doesn’t drown in the crowded subway cars or tire of the energy, the vibration of human life staring you in the face as soon as you leave your building.
In order to survive, you stay within an invisible cocoon. You remain within your own mind space. You don’t let anyone in unless someone needs help. You don’t give yourself away lest you lose your self to the constant barrage of sound and visual stimulation.
In New York, you understand it when someone needs to be alone, especially those iconic faces that have been taken in by millions upon millions of eyes.
We place our idols – especially those who mold themselves into godly forms on stage – on such high pedestals. They seem otherworldly – especially Bowie. But he was a guy who did extraordinary things. Like any devoted writer, singer and performer, Bowie had a line to a cosmic source. He used it to bring down an element of creation.
Yet, in the end…he was a husband, father, an artist and a New Yorker.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you are a writer who believes your words aren’t worth reading, remember the power of Reverend King’s wisdom. His quote above is one in hundreds of life affirming, soul strengthening edicts honed through his own adversity, love of mankind, human frailty and his ability to overcome.
It’s my belief that we are all born into this world with a specific talent to contribute in this world. We are poised to give something of ourselves in order to better the lives of others.
We all need to lead by example. We must all concur fear and adversity to be the person we are destined to be so others may do the same.
Write your words. Tell your story. Allow others to learn by you. You’ll never know how many people you will positively touch unless you write that first word.
Check out Adam Braun’s ‘Pencils of Promise’ website, and see how his desire to help children of third world countries gain the education they need by raising funds and resources to build schools where school no longer existed. In his own way, Adam is following MLK’s spirit in making this place a better world for those less fortunate, for those wronged and for those with fertile minds ready to bring forth their abilities into this world.
Or look at Malala Yousafzai. Her own story, strength and defiance against injustice, oppression and hatred illustrates the spirit of MLK. Her words, both spoken and written are beacons toward change and inspiration for others to take her example and use it toward their own cause, their own story.
Although their circumstances are vastly different, in doing their work, both Adam and Malala are just two of many people in this world who emulate MLK’s humanitarian drive. In Malala’s case, it was through her own adversity, one that made her face a violent act that almost killed her. In Adam’s case, it was an affluent young man on a student trip, moved by the simple want of a child who only asked for a pencil.
As a writer, you can bring forth the same power in your own way, with your own experience. You can change the world with the written word.
Don’t let negative thoughts cloud your talent. Be an MLK. Create to inspire, teach and enlighten. You never know who you will reach.
Perhaps you’ll inspire a future Adam Braun or stimulate someone to open the minds of others, to speak of the human condition like Malala.
And his or her word will inspire another…and another…and another. In in doing so, we fulfill Reverend King’s essence – the man he sought to be.
As someone said online the other day, the planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Aren’t we lucky to have lived in the age of Bowie?
The same can be said for Alan Rickman, a supreme talent who, like Bowie, also left this world, from cancer at the age of 69. Strange how two beloved creatives, both British, both 69 years old, died in the same week. And it seemed, within the similar stance of their booming voices, both toiled and created within darkness and light.
Two sucker punches in the second week of 2016. May we, as writers who daily fight and struggle to overcome the negative to tell our story, keep their creative work and words in mind. They left this world a little better for us all.
“It is a human need to be told stories. And the more we are governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are and where we come from,and what might be possible.” ~Alan Rickman
“Once I’ve written something it does tend to run away from me. I don’t seem to have any part of it – it’s no longer my piece of writing.” ~David Bowie
“Don’t you love the Oxford Dictionary? When I first read it, I thought it was a really really long poem about everything.” ~David Bowie
Hello writer! Happy end of the first week of 2016!
Has your holiday hang over ended yet?
Are you void of writing ideas? Even if you have time to write, just doing a stream of conscious dump text of writing for the day makes you recoil?
I hear you.
But let’s make this clear. You’re not “blocked”. There is no such thing as being “blocked”. Believing you’re “blocked” will only perpetuate your inability to write. So don’t say it because you’re not. You’re a creative being that is an open conduit to a creative source. You don’t “block” anything. You want the flow of words and ideas to come. (And I place quotes on the word “blocked” because “blocked” is a highly used word that is a supposed reason for not writing. Seriously. Lose that word. Screw that word.)
But sometimes we write and write and write for days, weeks and months – and like any worker who works hard – you need a break.
Yes, every regular worker takes a vacation to step away from the daily grind and replenish their energy. That includes the writer.
If you can’t find the motivation to write because you don’t want to sit still and think for an hour or two – or even ten minutes, then don’t beat yourself up over it. Use it. This is your time to explore the world for new ideas, for new visions and new words to express your story in ways no one else can.
Take a break, but take it with the knowledge that you’re going to return to the page.
Fill the void by reading books, seeing movies, seeing friends, traveling, sleeping, and living. Get out of your wordy, imaginative head.
And as you do these things, try to take down notes of what you’re feeling.
View the world from the perspective of a writer. Explore the senses. How does the book you’re reading make you feel? What do you see? Smell? Taste?
Do you want your reader to feel the same when they read your work? Do you want them to feel,see, smell and taste the same way?
What does that film or that online series you’re binge watching tell you about humanity? How can you infiltrate that creative energy toward the manuscript sitting all lonely on the shelf waiting for you to return?
Allow for quiet time. (If you can!)
Meditate on why you feel stumped.
Marinate on what is stopping you from even wanting to seek out writing prompts and goals. It tends to be a deep reason that goes beyond lack of time or just not feeling it. It could just mean you’re tank is empty and it’s time to fill up with super unleaded creative gas.
Is it Fear?
Fear is our enemy. I feel it everyday and battle it with Thor-like strength. But instead of swords, I use the mental technique of ignoring fear.
In a few weeks, and hopefully it won’t take longer than that, go back to your work. Or, go back to your exercise of daily journaling and see what you’ve got. You will likely come back refreshed with new ideas and outlook.
There is truth to the writer’s adage to always be writing. But sometimes, no matter what my personal writing gurus, Stephen Pressfield or Elizabeth Gilbert will say, taking a break from writing after a long year of dedicated work is needed.
Letting go of writing when you are empty is part of the process.
Putting it aside, and giving it a rest (like you would do with any paying job) allows you to step back and return with a better vision.
You didn’t think you were getting off THAT easy, did you? Yes, take a break, but you have to keep your promise to write. If you don’t, then your story – your words – your thoughts meant to go forth will never be read or heard.
Come on, don’t do that to us! We want to read you!
I hope you all had an amazing, fun and restful holiday season. I am so grateful that you’ve been following my blog over the year and a half it has been up and running! Thanks so much for your support and readership!
Furthermore, your blogs have kept me going and were a tremendous inspiration to me. I look forward to writing for you and continuing to read your work in the new year!
2015 has been a rough one. News around the world has been devastating for humanity. Through the difficult images on the news and in our personal lives, there has to be a budding flower of goodness. I’d like to take the initiative to help us all do a little good in the world.
Let me know what you think.
It’s my intention to help bring my writing coaching company, ‘The Good Write’ into 2016 with a purpose. Not only do I endeavor to help writers find their voice to tell stories for the world to read, I also want to give back to those who do not have a voice to do so.
Children around the globe (and of course, I include the United States in this) are not able to go to school due to poverty and cultural standards imposed on children, and in some countries – specifically on girls.
Join ‘The Good Write’ and gain a writing coach (ME!) who will not only help you meet your personal writing goals, but will allow you to help out a child in the world to get the education so they can one day write their story. The choice on which charity above you’d like a portion of your payment to go is yours. It’s tax deductible and it’s a win win initiative!
Let’s make 2016 a creative and purposeful year. Let’s share our stories, let’s live our dreams, and let’s help children who are in dire need of education to do the same.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on private sessions at a reasonable cost. All sessions are confidential, and your creative property will never be copied or shared.
Join me! Let’s all find creative wealth in the new year while giving aid to the next generation of storytellers.