Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Take Aim

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."  
~ Michelangelo

Writing projects require a target, aim and follow through to the goal. When we're energized in a flow, we keep writing. Other times we stop inches from the finish line and feel the frustration of an incompletion. 

How do we learn the timing of when to push or relent?  Often distractions become vital to forward progress. Self-trickery may force us into solutions not considered if we're too focused on the task. 

All writers face times of struggle when the words move in slow motion. They defy us in a spurt, bubble or a trickle from the pen when we want Niagara Falls. We need to understand our process and give ourselves permission to aim lower at times. 

The lower aim might move us into a different direction of productivity. Often a barricade to an unreachable goal enables us to change aim and devise other creative means.  

To disagree with Michelangelo, the low accomplishment might keep us going in preparation for our shot to the moon.  W. Clement Stone wrote, "Aim for the moon, if you miss you may hit a star."

During a writing project, If you feel stuck, take a break and move into a boring area of life like laundry or refrigerator cleaning. Pay bills. Take a power nap. 

Playtime becomes necessary. Force the brain to escape. Walk in the garden and look for elephants in flowers. Soon, ideas will percolate and you'll find a way into the gush of words.

Creative Write: Write about aim. Ponder times you have set goals and discovered ways to reach them you never thought possible. 

How did you persevere beyond doubts?  

When you backed off and let your creative powers take over, what did you learn? 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gratitude for Wind


Where has the wind gone,
my sails are empty.
The horizon is far, the days speed by
and to no avail I try
to make sense of what is,
and find I can make no changes
in life's program.
For what must be has
already been decided for me.
                         - Lyle Adams

Lyle Grant Adams, June 16, 1927 - July 30, 2012. He was an inventor, a photographer, a writer, a Navy vet, a sheet metal worker, and so much more. Most of all, he was Dad to Katherine and Kris.

Although I never met Lyle, I know the spirit of adventure that fathers bring to one's life. Lyle added his vibrance through poetry and his example of daily living.  RIP, Lyle Grant Adams.

A Nature Journal

“Frog calls and the sound of intermittent splashings drew me to cross the brook on stepping stones that seemed to have been set out for my passage.  A short push through tall, thick growth brought me to an opening at the edge of a pool where the lowering sun cast an otherworldly light across dark water.  It glimmered in dragonfly wings and sporadic silver-beaded sprays tossed up by leaping frogs.  Sweet songs from unseen birds drifted on the still air.  Everything was new to me, every sight, sound, and smell a new experience. “  David Carroll from Self-Portrait with Turtles

Start a Nature Journal. Let the subtlety of your landscape soak in.  Choose several locations: a park bench, a rock ledge at the beach, a forest or any location where you can sit for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. 

Capture what the landscape sounds like. Touch and smell provide a visceral jolt to writing. Find out the names of plants, animals and natural forms you observe.  Free write and let the words direct you.  Enjoy the writing process.

Many questions will surface:  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What is my responsibility to nature?  

You will discover how nature teaches rhythms and reverence for change from the migrations of animals to the blossoms of spring.

Try these warm ups:

l. Listen for the sounds of the familiar in your garden: water running, a bird song, dog barks, and wind in trees.  What sounds do you identify with home?
2.  Imagine the scent of an orange grove in blossom or a peach tree in the sun.  What scents move around you?  What will the sound of rain add? Can you combine the senses in your writing?
3.  Gail Brandeis encourages writers to describe eating a blackberry recklessly. Bring a fruit or vegetable to eat during your journal keeping.  Can you add taste to your writing?
4.  Give flavor and texture to your writing with visual imagery that moves away from the ordinary. 
5.   Consider the mental senses: pain, fear, love, play, humor, psychic capacity, reason, time and intuition. Can you translate these with concrete descriptions?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wild Places

“If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”  
- Wallace Stegner

People need wild places. Whether or not we think we do, we do. Nature teaches us respect and pushes us out of a concentration on our egos.

Barbara Kingsolver reminds us, "To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about our economic status or our running day calendar. Wildness puts us in our place. It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd.”

Take a walk and observe nature as it swirls around you. Can you name the trees and flowers you pass?  Listen for birdsong and count the varieties of birds in flight.  Smell the aromas that mingle on the breeze. Crush a leaf and breathe its fragrance.  Dip your nose into a rose.

Where do you fit?  Consider your own sense of place from different perspectives.

Creative Write:  Write about your place in nature.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Write Into the Wild

Wilderness is not an extravagance or a luxury, it is a place of original memory where we can witness and reflect on how the world is held together by natural laws. 
--Terry Tempest Williams

Nature writers discover themselves during the exploration of their relationships to the natural world. Nature writing requires awareness and observation of interconnections. Often founded in science, the focus always returns to the writer's personal observations. 

The challenge of the writer involves bringing the reader into that world. Nature writing evokes all the senses and delves into the possibilities regardless of the tragedies in the world. This writing puts hope, faith and possibility into concrete words and imagery. 

For writers the unknown territory always looms. The idea or the story lurk somewhere in the desert, on the prairie, high on a mountain, or in the backyard of the mind.

How do we move into those areas of wildness and live at the edges of the mysterious? 

Where do we extend the boundaries of the self? 

Creativity and the resulting writing require the permission to be lost. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit explains, "One does not get lost but loses oneself, with the implication that it is a conscious choice, chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography." She continues, "That thing the nature of which is totally unknown is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost."

Awareness achieves results.

Annie Dillard advises - keep your "shutter" open.

Creative Write: Ask nature a question and write about it. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Car Plays

Car Plays debuted at the La Jolla Playhouse parking lot last spring. We moved from one car to another for ten minute plays. Sitting in the back seat, we observed an intimate experience between a cab driver and drunk high schooler. In another car, a father and son discussed his enlistment in the Marines while we watched.

Vehicle three provided a magical realism involving two women who discussed the death of one and her transformation into a seal. In the fourth vehicle we experienced a women who picked up a transvestite prostitute.  The last car play involved a woman in despair over her son's overdose.

Each story evolved through dialogue in an intimate setting.

Creative Write: Write a car play with two characters.  Choose a subject.  Dive into the middle of the action with the two characters interacting in the front seat.  Add comments as an observer.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Lunatic, The Lover and the Poet

"The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact."  
          - William Shakespeare

What is the world of the imagination for you?    Where does it nurture and take you?

In a lunatic's mind a dance occurs among demons, daring and dread. The lover's heart and soul fill with sensory wonder. Sounds, sights, scents and tastes become heightened.  The poem imagines beyond his or her reality and uses it to write about the world.

Writers require this multiple personality to achieve a jounce of words into sentences that propel into paragraphs and pages.

Pulls of extremes, spells of things, passion, courage and persistence define a writer's life.  To live life on one's own terms requires intensity and perseverance. Once patience settles in, we write on and on.

Creative Write:  Consider stories that have shaped your life.  How can you explore them from the perspective of a lunatic, lover and poet?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Comedy Today

"There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama , a comedy, and a tragedy.” - Mark Twain 

Life's too short to write its drama and tragedy. Write your life as a comedy. During the day, change events to evoke laughter and silliness. 

Go for the fun.  Write words that spell lightness, playfulness and joy. Smile until your cheeks ache. 

Write about the mysteries that delight. Feel chuckles tickle your knuckles.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Performance and Stress

Olympic athletes have to produce in the moment. All the years of physical training and mental discipline it takes to get to that highest level can evaporate when most needed. Sian Beilock, psychologist and author of Choke, studies why individuals fail to perform at their best when the stakes are the highest.

She reveals everyone has experienced what it means to "choke" whether in the middle of a speech or while parallel parking. During her research, she discovered that thinking too much may get in the way of performance.  Skilled athletes use streamlined brain circuitry that bypasses the prefrontal cortex, the seat of awareness. 

"When outside stresses shift attention, the prefrontal cortex stops working the way it should," she says. "We focus on aspects of what we are doing that should be out of consciousness." 

In the midst of performance, to think too much about it causes a loss of instinct. It becomes paralysis by analysis.

Beilock recommends using distraction with meaningless details. For golfers, it means counting the dimples in the ball. It includes speeding up movements so the brain doesn't have time to over think.

Creative Write:  Write about a choke moment in an area of performance.  Do you recall what brought you back to focus?  Have you ever faced this in writing?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Birds Never Worry

"Birds will give you a window, if you allow them.  They will show you secrets from another world, fresh vision, that though avian, can accompany you home and alter your life.  They will do this for you, even if you don't know them by name - though  much knowing is a thougthtful gesture.  They will do this for you if you watch them."  
Lyanda  Lynn Haupt, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds

Observe colors in feathers.
A starling sports a rainbow hue.

Snowy egrets grace the sky in clouds of white

Watch and listen today.

Hear their rustle in trees.

Castanets of crows, hummingbird
clicks, and sparrow songs abound.

Write about flight. Don't you wish you could fly?

Relax and move into a world above gravity. Feather your cares to wings.

Birds never worry.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Free Your Mind

Free your mind of distractions and explore without judgment today.  Relent to creative urges and stay flexible.

Imaginate:     Write a line of something that seems impossible.

Play:              Describe a playful activity.

Revitalize:      See an old problem in a unbelievable way.

Eye rolls:       Examine a familiar object with a new perspective.

No gravity:    What would you do today if gravity didn't hold you down?

Take the responses to your lines and re-arrange them.  Read them aloud.  Then put them aside and write for ten minutes.  

How will you begin as a purple tummybird?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ask a Mentor

We gain personal wisdom through the accumulation of choices made, results viewed and lessons learned. Often we learn more from mis-takes than the takes. Interior journeys require a way in without the fear of failure. Failure just reveals our need to try another way the next time. 

Writing stimulates a meditational flow that delves into the psyche to mine understanding.  Self-reliance and confidence develop in layers.

At times we feel the presence of an individual who represented wisdom or shared insight at the right time. Fingers pushing a pen or tapping keys bring memories of how that person's life percolated through us.  We delve into ourselves when we write of their emotions, concerns and desires.

Creative Write: Engage in dialogue with an influential person who provided mentorship. Write issues and how the person might respond. Don't become concerned if it makes immediate sense or not. Probe your concerns and let the questions flow.

After writing, take a break for a period of gestation. Minutes, hours, or days later, work with the dialogue. What does it suggest? Hows does it bring information from that time of your life to that is relevant for you today?

What territory for additional exploration do discoveries suggest?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Collage of Life

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your wild and precious life?
                         - Mary Oliver from A Summer Day

My morning runs provide an opportunity to sink into moments of movement. I check in with my mind and body as nature's energy circles.  This opportunity to bound and bond nurtures my creativity and balance. As momentum unfurls, breezes tickle my arms and soothe my face.  Waves of air cool the morning's heat rising from the sidewalk.

Today the sky seems tall. Clouds twirl in their spindles too high for planes to reach. Dew awakens petals of daisies and geraniums that fill the morning with yellow, magenta and pink. A scent of cinnamon rolls chases me for a block.

Pelicans shift into Vs, feathers fluffed as they exchange places and alter the formation. I pursue beneath them, wishing to jump and rise into their stream.

My mind floods with ideas that re-arrange and multiply into the day's collage. Landscapes of the sea tease questions.  How simple the movement; one shoe hits, then the other. Breaths ease into a rhythm. Inspired by birdsong, my tune collection loops.

Mary Oliver's words prickle my mind for later connection.

Creative Write: Write about how you bring your collage of life into focus.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Life Patterns for Reconstruction

Gaining access to that interior life is a kind of . . . archaeology: on the basis of some informtion and a little bit of guesswork, you journey to a site to see what remains where left behind and you reconstruct the world."   - Toni Morrison

What matters the most in your life?  

Answers to that question change as you grow older and mature with experience in thinking about choices.  During a lifetime, we return to aspects of life that matter the most.  Writing about and through these experiences provides insight for future choices.

Think of an incident that shaped the way you view your life?  Was a hidden gift there, or a lesson you've carried forward? 

Did you make a choice in the moment that benefitted your future?  Could you have gone a different direction and altered where you reside in life today?

Recall an incident where you felt a real or perceived disadvantage of life.  In reflection, would you change the results?

Consider a choice you did not make or one that was made for you because of procrastination or indecision. How would you rewrite it from a third person perspective?

Remember a choice you did not make or one that was made for you because of procrastination or indecision. How would you rewrite it from a third person perspective?

Do you have unfinished business in an area of life?

What's your life's greatest decision?

Creative Write:  Freewrite to one or all of the above concerns.  See what the writing uncovers in the archaeology of your interior life.  Then, as Morrison suggests, "reconstruct the world."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

About Time

Time is free, but it's priceless.  You can't own it, but you can use it.  You can't keep it, but you can spend it.  Once you've lost it you can never get it back. 
- Harvey Mackay

Time involves a sequence of events moving forward. Irreversible, it flows from past through present to future. We measure it in segments and seasons. A variety of instruments reveal it: clocks, wrist watches, computer monitors, cell phones. 

We learn time is of the essence. It waits for no one. We're admonished not to waste time.  Staying on time becomes a challenge. Wisdom arrives when we learn about life's timing. 

Writers expel ideas in the moment. We can speed or slow sentences and paragraphs to create mood and provide intensity to capture the reader. Decades can exist in pages. In a chapter, time shrinks, expands or gets pruned as irrelevant. Poems and stories jump forward, backwards, even sideways. Characters might move in parallel time exploring worlds beyond the present.

Other views of time: 

Time is what we want most, but...what we use worst.  ~Willaim Penn

Time is the longest distance between two places.  ~Tennessee Williams

For centuries, man believed that the sun revolves around the earth.  Centuries later, he still thinks that time moves clockwise.  ~Robert Brault

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.  ~Henry David Thoreau

The Present is a Point just passed.  ~David Russell

Methinks I see the wanton hours flee,
And as they pass, turn back and laugh at me.
                          ~George Villiers

Much may be done in those little shreds and patches of time which every day produces, and which most men throw away.  ~Charles Caleb Colton

Creative Write: How would you write about time? Let the above concerns spark your notions. Write to make the reader lose track of time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's About the Write Habit

“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits ... You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent . … Sometimes I work for months and have to throw everything away, but I don’t think any of that was time wasted ... And the fact is if you don’t sit every day, the day it would come well, you won’t be sitting there.” 
                                           -- Flannery O'Connor

Young seagulls learn how to use their flight feathers by instinct and encouragement from parent birds. As writers, we need to develop our talents accompanied by good writing habits so it takes more skill on our part.

A write habit involves an appointment with the keyboard or writing tablet. It goes beyond the good intentions of: "today I will write." Regardless of demands on your time, set aside a time of day and time allotment. Sit there and work on a current project, begin a new one, or freewrite.

Over time you will discover the habit strengthens your desire to get to the writing.

As I've written in the "Wordling" article referenced to the right, reinforce yourself in positive ways. If you quit when you can't think of anything to write, you will always fall into that behavior. Write one more sentence and keep going even if it feels like gibberish. Only stop writing when you think you could write forever and do not want to end the feeling. This works with any human behavior to develop discipline to continue. You will want to return to that buoyant feeling of flow.

Become aware of your tendencies to procrastinate your writing. Write about them and develop tricks to ensure that you will write at your defined time. Surprise yourself and write when you don't feel like it.

Write a letter to a friend or your writing demon that prevents you from the page. Name the creature! It also might help to vary your environment. Take a notepad for a walk around the block and write as you go. No matter where you wander, the words will follow along.

No more excuses, just write!

Creative Write:
 I procrastinate in writing because________. Here's one idea that will break that tendency____________.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pounce for Words

I tried to catch a photograph of the brown pelicans as they sailed over my head during a morning run.  My camera did not adjust in time.  Woosh, they soared beyond my camera's eye. Waves surged and bubbled along the rocks but I only captured blurs. 

I ran and listened to drums of surf and breathed the spindrift. The wind brought scents of muffins. When timing seems off,  I move into other senses.

Once in a while I will feel this way when deciding to focus on a piece of writing.  If I chase my subject I might miss the details that surround it. A pull back and patience always help.  I discover a new approach or another subject to consider.

This experience occurred as I noticed a cat posed like a pointer dog.  I could not tell just what it saw.  Nothing moved or wriggled ahead of it.  I felt its intrigue and my eagerness slowed to match its patience.  Five minutes passed as I approached and rustled the camera out of my fanny pack. I could feel a pounce would occur any second.

Then. . . click and miss.  I looked at the photograph on the screen and by chance my camera had taken a second shot.  Usually these turn out of my hands and feet.  This second shot captured the pounce.  The camera had rewarded my patience.

Creative Write: Take time to become patient with your words today.  You may have to wait  through your freewrite until some idea takes you in a different direction.  Let that happen.  Then pounce on words!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Word Choices

"Always be a poet, even in prose.” ~ Charles Baudelaire

Mark Twain said, "If you can catch an adjective, kill it."   Stephen King feels, "Adverbs pave the road to Hell."  I agree.  Avoid stacking adjectives before nouns in your sentences. Let verbs do the work without the use of adverbs as tails. 

A noun and action verb, use of sensory imagery and metaphor will propel your message.  It takes time to select words that communicate to the reader.

Example:  She sat in a very uncomfortable chair.  The reader has no idea what that feels like.  Show how the chair's cushions sag. If you must use an adjective, it needs to enrich the noun with information. Let it startle the noun, not overload it  Make it an unfriendly chair.  Show how the chair added to her feelings of distress as it engulfed her.

When you use words: love, beautiful, reverence, and wonder you rob the reader of an opportunity to experience your ideas.  Bring the reader into your world with details and sensory imagery.  Rather than write about a beautiful sunset describe the colors and use a metaphor. Show reverence for nature by showing how your fingers wander in the garden.  Write about the hummingbirds that hatch from the nest.

Help the reader experience wonder without using the word by revealing it.

Take a look at your current work.  Read it aloud to make certain each word carries the vitality of your message. After you complete a draft, go in and highlight adjectives and adverbs. Don't let them rob sentences of their power.

Details conquer all.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Threes of Life

Choices. Chances. Changes.  If you make a choice to take a chance your life may change.

Write about  a choice you made.  The chance you took.  What changes occurred?

Now, come up with three As and three Bs and three Ds.

The awe. The amazement. The aura that resulted.

The battle fought. The baggage dumped. The best feeling.

The dare. The dream evaluated. The development.

Continue with threes down the alphabet to stimulate stories or poems.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Weave a Nature Essay

A woven essay combines three styles of writing on a common theme. A pause separates each style with enough blank space to give the reader time to absorb the writing.

For example, a focus on nature might begin with two friends discussing an environmental issue. After a pause the writing moves to an interview with a naturalist or comments on a quotation from a nature writer.

After another pause a poem reveals an emotional aspect of nature. Following more white space, the essay concludes with a personal reflection on the subject. The reader gains information about the subject with each strand of the weave.

Show your passion for an environmental issue.

Select three different styles of writing. Choose: journal entries, a poem, fable, personal narrative, dialogue, or anecdotes.

Approach the subject by using three writings in sequence with paragraph breaks.  

End with power and comments that will stay with the reader.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Travel Fun

You have fifteen minutes to pack only one bag. You can travel anywhere.

Which items will you pack?   Will you take a car, train, boat, or airplane?  

If you'd like a magical way to travel, write about it.

Let the notions of fun and fantasy lead you.

Escape. Give it your most creative write!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


"The habit of writing poetry is how I tell time." - Kim Stafford

Kim Stafford writes, "Speakers are my teachers - stranger, neighbor, kin.  As a writer, I listen to the people around me as they offer testimony in simple, important words.  I hear blessings, stories, beliefs, advice, wishes, recipes for happiness and declarations of the good.  This is my poetry."

Stafford listens to the ways people express themselves and learns to evaluate his own voice when confused, in need of consolation and while joyful.

Eavesdrop today and record five to ten lines of overheard conversation.  Do you agree or disagree with the statements? Let the lines lead you into a poem or story.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Your Emotional Power

Reflect on emotions that hold the greatest power in your life. When do you most easily lose yourself in a mood?

Observe the effects of your emotions and your reactions.

Give space to feelings and thoughts.

Move through an unpleasant mood.  Write the mood across the top of the page and then mine its depths. Scribbling with a pen across a notepad works the best to jostle your synapses. Keep writing until you feel a different emotion take over.

Take back your emotional power. Use writing to return to balance.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Question of You

Contemplate the dimensions of life beyond our galaxy.  With the immensity of this vision in mind, reflect on your human form and circumstance. 

During your life, in what ways have you discovered the pulse of humanness and nature? Is it a scientific or spiritual search for you?  Do you feel a combination of both?

Move from thinking of the immensity to daily life and choices you have made.  What do you need to do to complete your life's work?

Delve into the question of You. Freewrite to follow the notions.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


On a leafless branch
A crow's settling
autumn nightfall
               - Basho

Basho's Haiku investigates the value of a singular moment. In Japanese, the word sabi describes an alloy of beauty and sadness. Sabishi expresses loneliness and solitude. 
An essence of impermanence pervades his observation.

Creative Write: Nurturing the vitality of the moment and its evanescence, write a paragraph about a solitary experience. 

What does alone feel like?  Notice if sensations of impermanence percolate.  

Define words like loneliness, freedom, or solitude without using them in your essay. 

Develop metaphor and sensory imagery.

Invite the reader into your moment of solitude.