How Writing a Book is Like Riding a Roller Coaster

Writing a Book is Like Riding a Roller Coaster.

Writing Roller Coaster

Writing a book is sometimes like riding a roller coaster.

It’s been a long slog uphill as I’ve worked on a long piece of narrative non-fiction on and off for going on three years. The on part has been the research and some published articles; the off part has been a heavy sense of guilt for dragging my feet.

But in the last few weeks, something’s shifted, and I’m coasting now.

Maybe it’s a decision not to be so hard on myself, or to give up feeling badly about the slow pace of my creative process, or finally getting some snow in March. Whatever the reason, I’m riding this wave of focus and forward motion. In fact, I’ve dedicated myself to it so thoroughly that yesterday I didn’t draft my post for Live to Write – Write to Live. And this morning, I decided that I had to work on my project first.

So, while I’m sorry to disappoint any readers who look forward to my posts (and honestly, I have no idea if there are any readers who anticipate my alternate Tuesday posts), my excuse is that I’m modeling the behavior of a writer dedicated to her work. And like writers and plumbers and workers of all kinds, and parents and caregivers and volunteers, I have only so much time, compressed by middle age, when the reality of time running out becomes tangible.

Like all of us, I’ve had to prioritize, and today I put writing Learning to Hunt ahead of my commitment to this blog.

I know I’m lucky: I’m choosing one writing project over another. I know that many writers have to choose between making their kids breakfast or sitting down at their desk. I’ve been there – at that desk at five in the morning so I could write before the kids woke, and I taught them how to make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as soon as they were counter height (with the help of a step-stool, I might add).

And while kids grow up, parents age. I’m now caring for my 93-year old dad. But I still make it a priority to write. And now, I’m making it a priority to advance the first draft of this book.

I’ve achieved a critical mass on this project, climbed up the steep slope of trying to figure out how to start. I’m now in one of those sections of composition where each decision I’ve made up to now makes the next one more evident.

I know this roller coaster, though. I’ve been on it before. And I know that there will be other steep hills ahead. But I’m making the most of this exhilarating ride where the words flow and the story takes place.

I’m counting on your forgiveness for posting a few hours late, and I’m wishing you all equally joyous rides where ink flows from your pens, forming just the right words on your page.

Deborah Lee Luskin makes her blog deadlines most of the time: every other Tuesday here with thoughts about the business and craft of writing, and essays every Wednesday at Living In Place. Thanks for reading.

What I Saw on My Artist’s Date

Mark Rothko

What I Saw on My Artist’s Date

It was completely irresponsible to drive to Boston and spend the Monday of a packed week at the Museum of Fine Arts, but that’s just what I did yesterday.

 

My husband had the day off after a week of being on-call at the hospital, and at first I couched the sortie as something he needed before returning to the clinic today. But it turns out, the expedition was a good reset for me, too.

What I Saw

One of Takashi Murakami’s huge paintings.

Neither of us wanted to look at Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentrics. My resistance to viewing the busy, cartoonish paintings of this contemporary Japanese artist was all the red flag I needed to force myself to go. Reluctantly, Tim joined me in visual discomfort.

What I Saw

Japanese scroll hanging in the same gallery.

 

The best way I know to make sense of challenging art is to play a game of “I see,” naming the different elements in the painting. Both of us quickly fell into the first giant canvas, and our prejudices fell away as we looked and learned. It’s a spectacular exhibit that juxtaposes Murakami’s contemporary work with Japanese masterpieces from the MFA’s collection. I saw the connections, learned a bit about Japanese culture, and expanded my own store of metaphor. This was hard exercise for the visual processing part of my brain. My overworked linguistic muscles appreciated the rest.

Is rest the same as stillness? I think not, especially after viewing Seeking Stillness,  another exquisitely curated show of meditative pieces in different media. I was drawn to the abstract paintings of Agnes Martin: white canvases with lines, like a piece of paper waiting for words.

These paintings contrasted sharply with the dark, color block work of Mark Rothko, hung in an adjoining room.

All these canvases showed me how paint can have texture, pattern, rhythm, line and color. Some paintings told stories; some were intellectual challenges; others simply/complexly emotion.

Tim and I walked and talked, rested our feet at the museum café, and returned for more, more ,and more.

Art Changed How I See

This building looked like a work of art after a day at the MFA.

We finished with a stroll through an ongoing exhibit of modern paintings, before stepping outside in the late afternoon, where the sky looked like a seventeenth-century Dutch landscape, and the fenestration of a building across the fen looked like a Mondrian.

I highly recommend an artist date, especially if you don’t have the time; and I encourage you to look at art, especially art you think you don’t like.

Have you been on an Artist’s Date lately? Where did you go? What did you see?

Women Walking and Writing Toward Wisdom

WALKshop participants at Chaos Junction.

Here’s a photo of Women Walking and Writing Toward Wisdom last Saturday,  where we learned tools to nurture and listen our wise, inner voice.

You can learn more about what I write and the professional services I offer at Deborah Lee Luskin.

Can We (as writers) Have Too Many Journals or Notepads?

Small sampling of my journals and notebooks

Small sampling of my journals and notebooks

I enjoyed all the responses to my post last week about personal libraries and how many books we have, don’t have, need to get rid of, and so on.

On a similar track… I’ve always enjoyed journaling and my mom and friends know that, so I’m always receiving beautiful journal books for special occasions.

I can use journals for:

  • Personal thoughts
  • Notes about individual novels I plan to write (someday)
  • Short stories that need to spurt onto a page
  • Travelogues
  • Trip planning
  • Story idea collecting
  • 5-year journal for brief snippets of my day
  • Morning pages
  • Poetry
  • Personal growth (some journals come with daily exercises)
  • Wines I’ve tried
  • Books I want, are recommended, have read, have reviewed…

I also have a collection of various types of notebooks and note pads and use those for writing workshops, writing group exercises, conferences, and so on. It’s difficult to pass up back-to-school specials on some spiral bound notebooks or pads of paper – so I have a lot!

Do you find different uses for different types of journal books, notebooks, and note pads? Do you have a favorite type of journal or notebook that you use most often?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

On Creative Drought Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links Jul 31

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

While our situation is not as severe as the one in California or many others around the world, this summer has been one of the driest in recent history for our little north-of-Boston town. Water bans are in effect all across the region, causing lawns to wither and crisp under the cruel and oppressive rays of the sun. Garden plants and flowers wilt and fade during the day, recovering as best they can in the slightly cooler and blessedly darker overnight hours. Rooted in the ground, the parched plants have no escape from the heat or the searing touch of the sun’s rays. They can only endure in silence and hope to survive long enough to feel the life-giving caress of a good, soaking rain.

For weeks now, we have been watching the weather reports for any signs of precipitation. On a few occasions, the meteorologists have forecast rain, but it seems like our tiny town has some kind of forcefield around it. Again and again, our hearts are lifted by the promise of rain, but more often than not, the storm detours around us, or the drops evaporate before reaching the ground. Even last weekend, when towns on all sides were ravaged by impressive thunderstorms, we had only a brief shower that barely managed to properly wet the dry earth before rushing out to sea.

I feel for the plants. I can imagine how they pine for a long, slow drink of water. I can imagine this because I have been feeling the same way about my creative work lately. Summer arrived at my doorstep with a flurry of client projects, and while I’m always grateful to be gainfully employed, keeping up with the deadlines has meant putting aside not only my Big Picture creative projects, but all of my daily creative and self-care routines as well.

My morning pages practice has dwindled to only a few pages every couple of weeks. I have only done yoga (a practice which provides me with time and headspace for nurturing random thoughts and writing ideas) a half dozen times in the last four or five months. My pleasure reading has been slow to the point of having to sometimes back-track when I return to a book because it’s been so long since my last read that I’ve forgotten what was happening in the story.

Each of us faces period of creative drought. Whether we’re overwhelmed with work, dealing with a personal crisis, or have had our creative time usurped by the family and social obligations of summer, there will be days (or weeks, or months) when we simply can’t make the time we’d like to nurture our creative projects. Though I’m in the middle of such a period, and – I won’t lie – am feeling a little cranky about it, I can still step back and offer a little encouragement to others who might be going through a similar experience right now:

  • Number One: This too shall pass. Yes, I know it’s a bit trite, but it’s also true. Whatever is taking up your time and keeping you from your creative endeavors will eventually move on and out of your life. You will get back to your projects and your dreams. You might have to be patient for a while, but that’s not such a bad thing. Just try to roll with it.
  • Number Two: Even in times of creative drought, you can create. While I have been feeling frustrated and put out by my inability to make time for my usual creative pursuits, I am trying to remember that there are tiny creative acts that only take a few minutes. I may not have large chunks of time to write on a story or tackle the complex task of organizing source materials for a larger work, but I can pen one or two lines or edit a photo for Instagram or doodle in the margin of my notebook. Those may not be impressive accomplishments, but something is better than nothing.
Despite it's diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

Despite it’s diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

We must remember that we are not the drought. The drought is just an external circumstance, not a reflection of our creative spark or spirit. Even if we are unable to engage in the external act of creation, the source of our creativity is alive and well – hunkered down beneath the cracked earth, just waiting until the rains some so it can burst forth and blossom.

Just you wait and see.

_jamie sig

 

 


My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

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Finally, a quote for the week:

I’m stealing borrowing this week’s quote from the lovely and delightful Sara Foley, who borrowed it in turn from Raising Ecstasy:

pin vonnegut edge

Here’s to getting close to the edge, weathering the droughts, and always being ready to emerge from underground when the rains finally come.
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Writers and Their Creative Outlets

Let Your Creativity SoarAs writers, we’re creative. Our muses love words and help us get stories onto a page.

If your muse is like mine, it enjoys exploring other creative outlets. There’s something about doing a different type of creative activity that can enhance creative energy. Being creative in more than one area of our lives can enable us to use creative energy throughout our day.

I feel that my writing improves when I do something that requires the right side of my brain. Some creative ventures lead to new story ideas, others help with a work in progress.

I find it’s all about being in the moment of creating something that enables the muse to jump up and down with excitement and churn the creative pot.

Here are some other-than-writing creative outlets I have tried:

  • Pottery – I have to mention this first because it’s the one thing I can think back on and still laugh about. I was not at all graceful like Demi Moore’s character in “Ghost”. Not even close. No matter how much I focused or how much water I used, or how much I begged the clay to ‘work with me’, I had nothing to show after my 6-week class. The hand print in plaster from kindergarten remains my best work in that area!
  • Soduko puzzles – addicted to these for years and I love the challenge of them. I can be stumped on an Easy puzzle and breeze through a Challenging one at times. It’s all how the creative connections are made at any particular time.
  • Musical instruments – I used to play the piano and guitar. I’m grateful for the lessons, the years of playing, and the challenges that came along with matching notes on a page to activities the hands and fingers were doing with how it sounded. (My fave music to play was jazz and blues.)
  • Photography and drawing – B&W film photography and pencil drawing gave me a lot of time with my muse. As I focused on turning what I saw with my eyes into a picture on photo paper or drawing paper had me doing a lot of introspective thinking about writing — what I think I write isn’t always what ends up on the page.

What creative outlets do you enjoy to keep your creative energy moving and flowing?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Writing Outside The Box

“Think outside the box” has always been one of the phrases I love to hate. In my agency days, it was something that echoed up and down the corridors, usually tripping lightly off the tongue of some overpaid creative director-type who couldn’t come up with a more helpful way to articulate his “vision.” The writers and designers would cringe in unison and wonder exactly what the hell they were supposed to do. Most of the time, they weren’t even aware they were in a box, never mind understanding how to get out of it.

Still, getting “outside the box” does have some validity in the world of marketing if you think of the box as the “shoulds” of marketing.

The myth of “best practices”

I have some bad news: there is no silver bullet, no 100% guaranteed roadmap, no one-size-fits-all solution. I also have some good news: there is no silver bullet, no 100% guaranteed roadmap, no one-size-fits-all solution.

If anyone comes to you and tells you they have The Answer, run.

There is no “always” or “never” in writing. There are some basic common sense guidelines, but, other than that, I don’t give the “shoulds” and “musts” of writing much credence. What works for someone else might work for you, or it might not. And, as the masters will tell you, even the most widely touted rules are made (once you have the chops) to be broken.

“Best” practices can quickly close in around you like that proverbial box. At first it seems comfy and cozy – safe, tested, proven. But in the end it winds up limiting your options, shutting down your creativity, and rendering you blind to opportunities that lie on the other side of the walls.

The truth is that the “best” in “best practices” depends entirely on the context – on the box you’re playing in.

YOU make the box

Maybe nobody puts Baby in a corner, but we often put ourselves in a box.

We listen to People Who Know Better and believe everything they say, even when it doesn’t quite ring true for us. We willingly subscribe to their methods and madness, contorting ourselves so we can climb inside their box. Though we might feel cramped or claustrophobic, we tell ourselves that we’ll get used to it. Though we may feel like we’re operating in the dark, we tell ourselves that soon the lights will come on and everything will be clear.

We stay in the box, but we shouldn’t.

Boxes have walls, and as you grow those walls will start to close in. Your view of Blue Sky Possibilities will start to shrink.

Your comfort zone vs. where the magic happens

If you stay too long inside the box, you start to get comfortable and complacent. You begin to distrust the world outside your box. You don’t want to try anything new; you just want to stick with the tried and true things that are already inside your box and within your comfort zone. After all, they are “best” practices – if you keep at them long enough, they are bound to work eventually, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Even if they do work, staying inside the box will likely cause you to miss out on more exciting, more effective, more “you” ways of becoming the writer only you can be. Your comfort zone might not seem so comfortable once you give yourself the chance to climb out of that box, wiggle your bare toes in the grass, inhale the fresh air, and stretch your limbs.

Stepping outside your box means giving yourself the chance to explore all the possibilities, indulge your creative urges, and discover new insights into your own writing process.

Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Leaving the faux security of the box can be scary at first, but the exhilaration you’ll feel once you realize that you don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules far outweighs any perceived risk. Fear will become excitement. You’ll feel like Julie Andrews spinning giddily through meadows of writing bliss.

Really.

Are you stuck in a box that doesn’t quite fit you? What could you do to step outside that box – outside your comfort zone and into the place where magic happens? 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/or introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post was adapted from a piece I originally wrote for my Suddenly Marketing blog. Who knew that the same get-out-of-the-box rule would apply to both marketing and writing?
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Big Magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Not many books I’ve read about writing and staying inspired have confronted the fear factor, so I was eager to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. At long last, the library copy became available, and I have the book in my hands.

What I like about what I’ve read so far is that Gilbert expands creativity beyond the page and talks about “creative living . . . a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

One of the things I love about being a writer is license to be curious, because while I may escape to my studio every day to face the same blank page, I’m also tasked with learning new information, meeting new people, asking questions, being curious.

Gilbert acknowledges that courage is necessary for creativity. Some days, sitting at my desk is scary and I wish with all my heart that I’d become a lawyer. Meanwhile, I have friends who are lawyers who ask me, “How do you do it?” meaning get up and go to work without someone else providing the expectations, the office and the paycheck.

Most of the time I reply, “How do you do it?” meaning pull on a suit, commute to an office, and follow instructions.

Sometimes I wish I had an office job. (pixabay)

Sometimes I wish I had an office job. (pixabay)

Sometimes I wish I had an office job just for the camaraderie, coffee breaks and photocopier. I imagine life would be easier if I had someone else telling me what to do and handing me a weekly paycheck. But these are just details, and they’re not mine.

I’ve chosen the blank page, which some days feels like standing in front of a firing squad, and some days feels like floating weightless through outer space. Most days, it’s a mixture of the two. As Gilbert says, “It seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins – as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.”

Having established that “Bravery, means doing something scary,” Gilbert discusses the magic of inspiration and recounts the remarkable story of abandoning a novel on which she’d been working long enough to develop significant and specific portions of the characterization, plot and setting, only to discover that Ann Pachett was just starting a book with similar characterization, plot and setting.

There's no limit on creativity. (pixabay)

There’s no limit on creativity. (pixabay)

What I like about this story is not so much Gilbert’s explanation of inspiration floating around until someone catches it, but her refutation that 1) creativity demands suffering, and 2) the amount of inspiration and creativity in the universe is limited. Both these ideas are commonplace – and untrue.

Where I write joyfully when I overcome fear. www.deborahleeluskin.com

Where I write joyfully when I overcome fear.
http://www.deborahleeluskin.com

It is entirely possible to be creative and joyful! In fact, being creative brings joy to the maker and the receiver(s) of creation, whether it be the cooking of a good meal or the writing of a good story. We live in an expanding universe – there’s no limit on creativity. Gilbert writes, “The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.”

Reading that sentence was Big Magic for me, so I closed the book and returned gleefully to my desk.

 

Into the Wilderness, is an award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Into the Wilderness, is Luskin’s award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly at Living in Place.

Writing and Creativity

My husband and I have been reading and talking about creativity a lot this year. We are both exploring our creativity, sometimes in very different ways, but sometimes in very similar ways.

We are both thinking and talking about creative ways to motivate people to change their beliefs and behaviors. I do this as a life coach; he does it as Chief Medical Officer of an organization.

He’s also exploring his creativity as an amateur nature photographer—he just returned from a trip to Costa Rica and Panama where he took some amazing pictures and experimented with different techniques.

unfinished watercolorunfinished drawing with watercolorI’ve been exploring my creativity through writing, of course. I’ve also been exploring my creativity through improvisational theater and through drawing and playing, just a little bit, with watercolors.

This morning my son and I drove to school and he started singing The 12 Days of Christmas. We figured out days 1-11, although I don’t think “11 Bagpipers Piping” is exactly right, but we couldn’t remember what day 12 was.

“Let’s just make it up,” my son said.

Since we were driving, I said, “How about 12 cars a-zooming?”

“No, that’s not right. Let’s do ’12 chocolate candies.’” (If you make chocolate sound like a 2-syllable word, it works.)

So, on the 12th day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, 12 chocolate candies. What could be better than that?

The more creative I am in my daily life, the more creativity I bring to the page.

This has not been an easy lesson for me to learn. I grew up, as many of you did, with Depression-era parents who valued hard work and getting ahead. Play was not valued once childhood was gone. I’ve worked hard all my life.

Now that I’m playing more, I’m not getting less done. I think I’m actually getting more done. I produce more, even though I spend less time “working hard,” and more time “playing hard.”

As I’ve really experienced this in my life over the past year, it’s been easier to let go of my beliefs about hard work as the only way to get ahead. I’ve also researched play, as I’ve mentioned before, which added weight to my new belief that play is the way to get things done.

So, if you are a writer (and I know you are!) think about how you used to like to play when you were a kid. Probably you liked to play with words (my siblings and I used to put on plays for each other and my parents) but there are many other ways to play, from hiking to hopscotch, from playing the violin to playing Blackjack. Pick one or two and go with it for a while, just to see what happens.

I think you’ll be surprised how much play can add to your writing life, not to mention life in general.

Let me know what happens in the comments.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, runner, improviser, and, last but not least, a mom. Each role requires creativity–the more creativity I bring to each part of my life, the more fun I have!

Friday Fun – SO … Where D’You Get Your Story Ideas?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We recently asked you what questions you’d like answered in our Friday Fun post. Today, we’re answering the following reader question:

FriFunQuestion3a

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Ahhh … the always-asked question about where story ideas come from. This is a query with no right answer. The genesis of each story is unique and sometimes completely inexplicable.

I can, however, point you to two of my past blog posts: 4 Steps to Capture the Muse – Documenting Ideas and Your Writer’s Mind.

I’ll also offer up this video featuring the inimitable Neil Gaiman providing one of the most informative and entertaining responses I’ve ever heard to this question:

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I think it’s more a question of how do you get the ideas to STOP flowing in? I could spend so much time every day writing down ideas for stories, articles, blog posts, etc., that it’s more of a challenge to know which ideas to grab and make note of than worry about where to look for ideas.

When struggling to find inspiration to write, take a minute to pause and think about what it is you’re truly finding a challenge. Is it really that you have NO inspiration to write? NO idea what to write about? NO motivation to create?

I find the best way to find inspiration is to show up and start writing – without thinking. Just start writing. Words my be gobbly-gook and make no sense. Maybe it’s simply writing “What do I write about What do I write about What do I write about” over and over until suddenly you find yourself writing about something.

Give it a shot. You have nothing to lose.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: I’m with Lisa, for me it’s about filtering the ideas that are floating through my head. I try to keep a running list of things that have caught my attention and stay with me for more than 30 seconds. If I overhear a snippet of conversation and it’s still with me 2 days later I write it down.  I saw the movie Spotlight on Monday night and I’m still reflecting on the movie and the broader story. Who knows where that will lead. =

I also play the “What if?” game. What if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady had to share a jail cell when they are in their 70’s? What do they talk about? Do they talk? Why are they in a jail cell in the first place?

Sometimes an issue is important to me (i.e. the maiming and killing of people with albinism in Tanzania) and I rage at the computer until I get my ideas out and then see what can be done to turn it into a salable piece.

My fictional WIP features a heroine with multiple chemical sensitivities. This came out of issues my husband and daughter have with VOCs (volatile organic compounds). There are gems to mined in every aspect of your life, just pick up the pen or sit at the keyboard and start typing. In my experience people who have trouble coming up with topics to write about are letting their self-editor get the upper hand. Lock him or her in a box somewhere and just start brain dumping.

For more inspiration, I highly recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’m interested in ordinary, daily life, so I find ideas everywhere; for me the trick is to capture them, which is why I carry pen and paper with me at all times.

Like Lee, I ask, “What if?” Case in point: I was stuck in construction traffic near my house when the state highway was relocated. While waiting for my turn to bumpety-bump over the dirt lane, I wondered what Vermont was like before the interstates were built and what happened during construction. I did a lot of research, including interviews. The result: my novel, Elegy for a Girl.

Ideas for radio commentaries and my weekly blog come at me thick and fast, alongside the rush of daily life. And ideas, scenes, characters, voices all bubble up on my daily walk.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I don’t have much to add to the answer listed by my colleagues above, except to say that if I don’t write ideas down, I end up thinking I didn’t have any ideas that day. If I make a point to write my ideas down, (or record them as voice memos in my phone,) I’m always surprised by how many ideas I have.

For my life coaching blog, I write about things that come up in my daily life or in the lives of my clients. For other writing, I often write about things that happened years ago that have stayed with me. Recently, a writer friend asked me why this incident I was trying to write about was so important to me. I realized it was much more than one incident and I suddenly could see a thread running through a number of situations that happened to me and others in my life–they were all connected in my mind.

 

 

Weekend Edition – What would Bowie do?

charlie brown david bowie

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My daughter knew him as the Goblin King, but to countless fans around the world and across generations, he was so much more. Since Monday morning’s announcement of his passing, the Internet has been abuzz with lamentations for, tributes to, and a veritable flood of shared memories about David Bowie – the man who fell to earth.

I have spent more time than may be appropriate consuming these digital sound bytes in great gulps, trying to come to terms with the loss of a beloved artist and the feelings that loss has stirred in me. It is disorienting to feel such a genuine sense of sorrow over the death of someone I never met. Bowie was, after all and despite appearances, just another human being. But great artists change us. We are moved by their work and fooled, because we have access to their public personas, into believing in an illusion of intimacy. We weave their personalities and their art into the fabric of our lives, tying their threads to ours with inextricable knots.

For the alienated and the disenfranchised, the prosecuted and the lonely, Bowie was a kind of savior – a beautifully vulnerable yet rebellious demigod of originality and self-expression. Over the course of this past week, I have read dozens of heartfelt stories from grieving fans who relate how Bowie and his music made them feel less alone and inspired them to embrace their weirdness, despite the world telling them they were freaks.

I don’t have a story like that. I can’t lay claim to a moment of teenage epiphany while listening to Space Oddity or Ziggy Stardust. I never wrestled with issues of gender, and my tussles with sexuality were your garden variety coming-of-age affairs. And yet, Bowie was still an important and persistent presence in my life. His music was a linchpin of my personal soundtrack, and his larger-than-life persona was a staple of the room-sized collages that adorned my bedroom door, bulletin board, and eventually the cinderblock walls of my college dorm.

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Great artists – writers, musicians, actors, painters – touch our hearts with their work. They become a proxy for our feelings, saying the things we are afraid to say, don’t know how to say, or aren’t even aware we need to say. This ability to capture and convey human emotions in a story, a song, a performance, or a painting is the closest thing to magic we humans have discovered. The transference of experience and emotion is a powerful tool for discovery and connection. Perhaps the most powerful tool.

But, if we go beyond our experience of great art – if we get a little meta (because that’s where my musings about David Bowie have brought me) – we find that there is something very moving about  the creative act itself.

Bowie was fascinating. He was an enigma, a rebel, an otherworldly force of nature. But, that wasn’t what drew me into his orbit and kept me there for all these decades. Yes, I loved his music and appreciated the message of the lyrics he wrote, but there was something else that went deeper than that. I’m only just now beginning to realize that the something else was the spirit in which he made his art – his creative drive and integrity, his insatiable curiosity, his courage and his commitment, and – not any less important – his sense of play and mischief.

Even more than the overt messages of his songs or the outlandish flair of his stage personas, my artist’s heart responded to the way he threw himself into his creations, the way he believed unwaveringly in the importance and value of what he was doing, the way he never gave up.

And, his road wasn’t easy.

Earlier this week, I watched a documentary about his very early years and learned just how hard Bowie had to work to develop into the artist he became. His earliest albums were wildly erratic explorations of strange territories, many of them very dark. He tried so many different styles, experimenting his way to becoming David Bowie. And with each step he pushed against personal, professional, and cultural boundaries in order to create the art he wanted to create because he believed it mattered.

That’s what makes my throat tighten and brings a tear to my eye – his faith in himself as an artist and his belief that the art – his art – mattered. How many people have that? How many people give themselves permission to create at all, never mind giving themselves carte blanche to create without constraint – to put it all out there, to be outrageous and beautiful, to ask the hard questions, to dive into the darkness, and yet – at the end of the day – to still be amazed that people take any of it seriously?

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I never needed Bowie to be my champion as an isolated or abandoned youth. I didn’t need him to tell me it was okay to be different. What I needed, though I didn’t know it, was someone to show me what it looks like to have faith in your art.

I’ve been mourning Bowie’s death because we lost a one-of-a-kind artist, but there’s more to it than that. As fans, ours is not the deep heartbreak of Bowie’s friends and family; but our grief is no less real. We may not have known the man – David Jones – personally, but he was a part of our lives nonetheless. When he died, a little piece of me died, too. My connection to my past became a little more tenuous. The reality of my own death became a little more concrete. As a friend of mine said on Monday, “It was only today that I realized he was mortal.”

And so, we come to the heart of the matter.

As human beings, we routinely forget that we are mortal. We grant ourselves a kind of immortality born of denial. We have time, we think. We have tomorrow. But then we lose someone like David Bowie, an artist who touched our lives deeply and who seemed to exist outside of the limitations of mortality, and we are reminded how little time we actually have, how fragile we really are.

As artists, this realization is terrifying; but it’s also a wake-up call. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that my mourning for Bowie is tangled up with gut-twisting feelings of regret and remorse for the time I’ve lost. The dark side of my admiration of his commitment to his art is the cruel comparison to my own creative shortcomings – all the times I’ve failed to follow his example, instead choosing the safe and comfortable path.

There will never be another Bowie, but each of us can learn from him. Bowie taught us many things about how to create art and how to live a creative life. Now, it’s up to us. You don’t have to be a rock star. You don’t have to be outrageous or famous. You just have to be the artist you already are. You have to embrace your own creative spark and spirit and find the courage to share that with the world.

Times columnist Caitlin Moran may have put it best,

When in doubt, listen to David Bowie. In 1968, Bowie was a gay, ginger, bonk-eyed, snaggle-toothed freak walking around south London in a dress, being shouted at by thugs. Four years later, he was still exactly that – but everyone else wanted to be like him, too. If David Bowie can make being David Bowie cool, you can make being you cool. PLUS, unlike David Bowie, you get to listen to David Bowie for inspiration. So, you’re already one up on him, really. YOU’RE ALREADY ONE AHEAD OF DAVID BOWIE.

Fans, critics, and even the people who were closest to him are calling Blackstar Bowie’s parting gift, but I think Bowie’s true parting gift is so much bigger. Teaching by example, he gave us an inspiring blueprint for how to believe in and commit to our own art. He didn’t hold back, and he never stopped creating. He remained eternally curious and enthusiastic. He experimented, collaborated, and played. And, perhaps most importantly, he embodied a steadfast belief in the intrinsic value of art and of the creative process.

What would Bowie do? No matter what, Bowie would make art. Thank you, Mr. Jones, for setting the example. Thank you.

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Jamie Lee Wallace David Bowie fan, evolving writer, and creative human being. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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