Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil


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Writing Beyond Convention

writing

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Was it as soon as you learned how to read and write? Or perhaps it was during elementary school when you put together your first story or book review for class?

Perhaps you were a book worm and adored every texture and nuance of storytelling. You devoured pages of fantasy and story line. You believed you could do this too. You wanted to tell stories about people real or make believe. You wanted to dazzle strangers with beautiful books the same way beautiful books dazzled you.

For me, the love of writing took time. When I was a teenager I adored drawing cartoon characters of my teachers and wrote funny, dorky dialogue in squiggled bubbles above their inked heads. I’d pass them along to a friend who would add to the cartoon or the dialogue – and before you knew it, we created little vignettes of school satire that produced suppressed giggles.

Being a writer wasn’t on my mind. I think Jimmy Oxley the cute senior who was the captain of the football team fascinated me more. Then Robbie, then David, the Glenn, then Marc….

Perhaps I was a bit boy crazy, and not the brightest bulb on the marquis as a kid, but I wrote well. However, my understanding of grammar and defining adverbs and adjectives, split participles and run on sentences was lacking. Grammar and its strict rules bored me.  Everything did.

As a child, I used to daydream while gazing out the window.

I’d take California comprehension exams – you know, the one you had to take with a number two pencil, multiple choice,  fill in the dots and you’re done?

I used to glean over the questions and fill in any dot. Or I’d create a pattern with the dots. Perhaps a square or a circle. Sometimes I’d legitimately answer the questions and fill in the dots and then connect them with drawn lines. But most of the time, I’d just fill in random dots just so I could go home.

I had to take summer school between first and second grade because my first grade teacher terrified me and I didn’t understand what she was trying to scream into me. And also – because I filled in random dots on my comprehension exams.

Thanks to my love of dots and going home early on exam day, throughout elementary school I’d be taken out of class to see the school psychologist to talk about my life.

I’d have to take tests to see if I  knew how to put round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes. I’d have to circle photos of things that were the same, determining the difference between two images.

Sometimes they’d take me into the nurses office to conduct hearing tests, to see if my lack of understanding was due to bad hearing.

This was the 60’s and 70’s. They didn’t know about ADD. They only knew that I wasn’t learning the same way the other kids were.

I was able to bring my test scores up, and found myself to be an average student, kept from the more rigorous classes like AP Chemistry or Mr Clancy’s tough English class where students were required to read big, ominous thick books – Dickens, Steinbeck, James Joyce…within days of each other.

Despite all that, I somehow got into AP/College English when I was a senior in high school. I applied for the program because I knew I was so much better than my school thought I was.

Yes, I got in and thrived. But when I entered college, I had to take Basic English because I couldn’t define the fundamentals of sentence structure and grammar.  I could use them appropriately, but I couldn’t technically define them on a test.

I used grammar the best I could. I’d create a well drawn thesis, funny, well crafted and perfectly backed up with thought provoking samples. I had teachers applaud my good work. One even took me aside and thought I was a professional writer.

But I couldn’t tell you what a split infinitive is.

It took me a long time to learn that just because you don’t get the answers right, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

I mean…look at this creative answer.

creative test answers

The student may never know what an ovary or adrenal gland is, but he/she created the “Kung Fu gland”, which feels right in so many ways.

It took a written communication class in my freshman year at college for everything to click. Professor Elsa Nunez busted my butt into teaching me good writing – both creative and analytically. After stumbling with errors and falling on my wordy little butt, it suddenly all clicked.

Writing was my thing. And as I endeavored into the drudgery of the nine to five world,  I pushed it aside like a hobby.

Big mistake.

Yes, I have my bad writing days. No, not everything written and posted is amazing. But the drive to create something, to bring it out in the world – to “finishing the hat”, was the true nugget of desire that stirred in that class and many classes thereafter.

Some writers always knew they wanted to write. Others discovered it through a teacher, a good paper or winning essay. But with so many brains and perspectives, there is no one definite way to be a writer.

And if you stumble over imperfections and poor grammar, pick up Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style”. Don’t stifle your imagination due to the rules of English.  Hire a great editor and learn from her.

Remember why you wanted to write, even when you are stuck. Even when you feel your writing seems to suck.

No one can write your story but you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Can’t Write? Use It To Your Advantage

painting of writer

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.

The only thing you have to do is make a commitment to this process and know you will return to face the page to write and write and write like a “motherf&*ker”, as the phenomenal Cheryl Strayed, aka ‘Sugar”, once wrote.

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!

Take a breath.

Now write!

 

 


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The Transience of Bubbles

Couturesoapbubbles

‘Soap Bubbles’, painting by Thomas Couture: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Early one morning, a few days ago, I was walking up Sixth Avenue by 21st Street listening to a playlist I made on Spotify. It was a virtual Frankenstein hodgepodge of various playlists I discovered during late night listenings. It was so early in the day; yet, songs from Broken Social Scene, Eric Chenaux, Camera Obscura, Little Dragon and many tracks that live on the edge of my mind helped me recover from an early spin class. Perhaps I hadn’t woken up yet.

A moment passed between songs as I walked along the Michael’s storefront (which sadly used to be a giant gorgeous Barnes & Noble). I looked up and noticed in the distance,  a flurry of bubbles floating and rising over the street. Hundreds of them. They shone against the reality of the buildings,and floated over the cars until they popped one by one. I didn’t know where they came from. Maybe a street vendor? It didn’t matter. The bubbles seemed to momentarily dance with the silvery toned violins playing in my ears, until their soapy selves exploded and splat into oblivion.

I went to The Metropolitan that afternoon and I found myself in front of the painting above –  a creation by Thomas Couture, a French artist who painted historical figures and taught other famous artists like Manet and La-Farge.

Entitled “Soap Bubbles”,  it’s rife with metaphorical content. Bubbles symbolize the transience of life. The books depict  education and learning, the laurel above symbolizes achievement. Yet, the boy watches the bubbles, shining against his reality of the room, rise above – like I witnessed earlier that day – until they likely disappeared like moments and time and days and thoughts. So fragile, fleeting and ever changing.

Yesterday, I wrote a very confusing and sad post about a lost opportunity to meet someone I really admire. (“A Crispy Realization”. Thanks, Bon Iver.)  It was heavy hearted. Self indulgent, but necessary for my own self. (Sorry blog-verse. Sometimes I need you as a sound board.)

It occurred to me later in the day that the flurry of anguish and thought was transient, like a fragile bundle of water, air and soap.

There is a time and place for things. There are moments when we are not ready to meet our destiny just yet, or say hello to that person we look at with admiration. Whether that moment ever occurs is not in my hands. I wasn’t ready. One day I will be. I know that moment will come, and when it does – I’ll be ready.

I say this to anyone feeling down about lost chances or stuck feelings or blocked creativity. Holding back or losing connection only means we aren’t ready yet. It also means fear has blocked the way. But in my case – in this particular situation – I didn’t feel fear. Something else held me back. A sense that this wasn’t the right time.

Feelings are weird. They’re caused by thoughts, and thoughts tend to be nothing. Our thoughts stir up dust until our focus is out of alignment. Like a snow globe, we shake ourselves raw and those flecks of snow obscure our view.

Quiet the mind. Life is transient. Use this time to fill up your well so creation comes.  Looking back, you’ll see the pattern.  You’ll see how everything connected, despite once believing you lost the thread.

At least – that’s how I feel.

How about you?