Sunday, May 2, 2021

Make Room for Headspace

For years, I've been whispering into my own ear: "Go on a retreat." Several of my more intuitive and spiritual friends plan them routinely, sometimes more than a few times a year, to get out of their heads. Frankly, for me, making time to make time is a little like digging in sand. 

I bump into myself regularly trying to commit to stretches of only writing. When brilliant flashes of freedom tempt me, it doesn't take long until I'm cleaving to door jambs, afraid to leave the chores undone and the cats to their own devices. But streaks of creativity don't just spontaneously happen. You plan them; or, you practice them. Otherwise, you just aren't productive. 

The added bonus of going away from home is finding inspiration. I went away for a few days recently and, even though my wordcount was low, the rejuvenation factor was high. The trip reminded me of the importance of making room for headspace, because writing is a head thing. Even if speech-to-text becomes more universal, thinking is an essential ingredient to crafting a story. Thinking without a cluttered mind and surroundings (bills, dust bunnies, laundry) can be priceless. 

Let me show you where I went. And, I'll be upfront that the hosts of the Inn on Mill Creek in Old Fort, NC, generously gifted this trip. I'm sincerely grateful for their hospitality. It's fitting that the materials promoting the Inn include quotes from writersJane Austen, John Muir, Robert Frostbecause this place is suited for solitude and contemplation. The number of places on the property where peace and quiet are available is much longer than my favorites list.

Best Spots at Inn on Mill Creek for Writers

#1 The desk in the shared TV room of the Deck House. I was lucky enough not to have to share the TV room with anyone because of renovations. But, you can see why this hovel screams WRITE! Apparently, I'm not the first writer to think this spot is the bee's knees. It overlooks a water feature.

Writer's Desk at Inn on Mill Creek in Old Fort, NC

#2 The deck off of my bedroom. Brigette Walters, who's an innskeeper, told us that the adjacent lake and wetlands sound like a meditation app. No kidding.

#3 The boardwalk. This marvelous area emerged recently from the handiwork of Brigette's husband and co-innskeeper, Dave. Dave's a retired engineer who decided in late 2019 to build a floating boardwalk over a wetland area on their seven private acres. He finished it in about five months, constructing 10 feet at a time. It's an amazing addition to the grounds, and I didn't spend nearly enough time on it. I'm going back when he adds the bell, hand-crafted from an old fuel tank. BTW, the seats in the magnolia tree are placed in the exact spot where Dave got the inspiration to build the boardwalk in the first place. Dave, you're cool!

#4 Brigette's gardens. Brigette loves plants and birds and people. She even recognizes a few of the squirrels, who she admonishes when they visit the birdfeeders in the garden near the breakfast solarium. It's okay, Brigette. We'll wait for the hummingbirds. 

This place makes a writer wanna go Thoreau: just slip into the woods and not come back. Maybe next time, I won't.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Advice for Becoming a Writer

Photo of Northern Lights by NOAA

Looking back in the 10-year rearview mirror, here are some lessons learned about writing fiction. If you're new to "creative writing" and want to make a name for yourself or switch careers, let me clue you in:

  • If you're not reading, you won't make it. Not only must you read in your genre and good books in general, you should be reading ABOUT your genre and WHY books are good. Not only must you keep learning how to write better, you should be practicing what you learn. Not only must you market, you should be dedicating time to marketing, because in a larger sense, that's the only way anyone will ever see your work.
  • Don't bank on making a living by writing fiction exclusively. Despite that statement's negativity, it's realistic. If you put that kind of pressure on your creative life ("I must be a bestseller by XYZ or write the Great American Novel before I'm 30"), you will find all kinds of stresses will invade your psyche and take the joy out of creativity. 
  • Keep earning a steady source of income, even if it isn't writing and even it if cuts into your writing/creative time. Having resources for food, water, shelter gives you the headspace (and physical space) to write. If you love writing enough, you will continue to write regardless of having a day job, and your writing will reward you in ways other than financial. Can you make it "Big," whatever "Big" means to you? There's always a chance.
  • Break the rules, but know what they are first. This goes back to the advice: Keep learning.
  • Just because you write it, doesn't mean they will come. Readers and sales don't flop in your lap.
  • Your work isn't for everyone. That's okay. In fact, if it was liked by everyone that would be an anomaly the likes of an asteroid hitting Earth. Carve out a niche for yourself. If you want to be market-savvy, then hyper-focus on trends and popular tropes in your genre. Or, if you're like me, experiment. There's richnesses in following your own muse.
  • Your creative life is yours and yours alone. You don't have to live it any way but your own. If you find success with one piece and like the success enough to repeat it, then follow that path. If you never want to write another story like it again, then don't. You're the master of your spirit. Follow your spirit.
  • Have some FUN in your creative life! Do something that puts you out in the world (virtually, these days, of course). Make people smile, and the act will reciprocate.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

A Boxy Blog of (Dis)Comfort

When events beyond my control drag me down, many feelings can take hold. One, the feeling to retreat. My little voice, what could it say to make any difference for myself and my country? I have no grand designs on making things better. (Maybe I should run for office?) People want to feel safe, and art/artists can sometimes give this gift. A beautiful painting. A stunning creation. Music that lights a dark place, a song that conveys hope or makes a statement. Here, in this boxy blog, would anyone find a little comfort, like I do in the writing? I'm able to funnel the racing heart and anxiety of what ifs. What if I have to buy a gun? What if I lose my job? What if someone decides to ram a car through a march, and my body is in the way? That is fear speaking. We are a country full of fears. We fear violence, whether perceived or real. And, we should fear the real violence, too much this year. Peace seems unachievable. We fear lack of resources, that someone will get something that should be ours, or scarcity will rule the household. As millions file jobless claims, those are tangible fears. We fear death. The virus. Being alone in sickness. These are not easy thoughts to bend. Afraid can become a constant state of being. I'm reading the memoirs of black writers, and fear of brutality is woven into their very being. Those memoirists found ways to express the struggle in meaningful words with eloquence and new perspectives. They gave the searing steam an outlet. We might all need one. We need to learn to cope with the afraid and the realities of what produced it: somehow find a practice or method to examine it. We need ways to overcome, talk it out, be the light, let it go, and raise up something more positive for ourselves and each other.