Friday, August 31, 2012

Writing Engages Neuroplasticity

Caterpillar explores a running shoe.

Following the routine of a writing practice assists us to shape thoughts, feelings and adjust behaviors in all aspects of our lives.  After a period of time and word enthusiasm, we learn about ourselves and how to excavate ways into our lives with words.  This takes advantage of the brain's ability to form new habits. 

Scientists used to believe that after childhood development, the brain remained fixed. Nothing replaced brain cells as they aged or became damaged by substances.  Now we know from PET and MRI technology, that the brain can add neurons as a result of our activities.  It can reshape itself throughout life.  As we increase an activity, the more connections the neurons discover. The wiring strengthens.

Yogis have experienced this neuroplasticity in their practices. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali explains how steady practice without interruption builds habits over long periods of time.  Even though the way to remove bad habits by replacing them with good ones sounds too easy, the discipline of writing works to enable neural links.

As writing practice increases over time, it becomes a new habit that competes with old ways of thinking, doing and problem solving.  It systematically energizes the ability to feel what's happening in mind, body and emotions. When writing probes into the psyche, it guides many areas of life.  Writing with our senses, we become involved with awareness and even taste food in a different way.  Touch, scents and hearing heighten along with sight and perception.  We learn what gives us a thrill and what it takes to remove angst and frustration as we write from mood to mood.

If we reach for a pen when frustrations or other emotions set in, we will return to that habit. Writing just 15 minutes a day will energize the brain into new wiring.

Creative Write:  Focus on a writing meditation today.  Begin with a frustration and write until it deepens your awareness or another idea emerges.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Observe the drawing above and use your imagination to create uncommon uses for pens, pencils, paper clips, safety pins, clothes pins and feathers.  

What five ways would you use a feather?  To tickle someone's fancy.  To row a boat to help a frog across the pond. To dip into magenta ink and write your passion into words. To amaze a bee.  To tuck under your pillow and dream of flying.

A paper clip fascinates in its design.  If uncurled, could it attract signals from somewhere in the Universe? What will it become if combined with a pencil or clothes pin?  Create a vehicle to transport you beyond the sea.

Creative Write: Take the opportunity to write a story about the drawing.  How will the objects behave in uncertain ways?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Write Your Truth

The problems of our time are political, ecological, economic—but the solutions are cultural. How do people speak their truth? How do we listen eloquently? If communication is the fundamental alternative to violence and injustice, what is the work of each voice among us?  - Kim Stafford
We face an election in November.  It will involve choices in the political, ecological and economic arena. The media promotes the negativity and push-pull of candidates on issues.  No one shares solutions or ideas without an attack.


If you had access to resources of power and possibility, what solutions would you pose to solve issues that face our country?

Choose one concern to investigate. Rather than take sides or shred current views, let your creativity and writing skills launch an alternative.

Write to present creative solutions and uncover ideas when you speak your truth. Pursue what Kim Stafford asks, "What is the work of each voice among us?"

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Today, give everything you have. What you keep you lose forever. 
- sign above the football locker room at the University of Oregon

Dr. Seuss wrote, "Today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way." Get the most from your potential in words and deeds. Push to the limit and go beyond in all actions.  

Give something away. Consider giving a possession, a place in line, a parking spot, or a positive thought. Give without expectation. Giving is a great way to realize your abundance. 

What will you write about to give to a weary world?  

Describe your finest asset in detail. Which possessions do you hold onto?  Write about the feeling of giving them away. 

Practice giving by sending smiles to all you meet.  

Today, write to discover what giving means.  Reach for your possibilities.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What's Essential

It's not the daily increase but daily decrease.  Hack away at the unessential."  - Bruce Lee

What words define your essential?  Practice by freewriting to the following words. Use concrete terms that have meaning for you. 

Show what sensitivity means. What does savvy sound like? Reveal an example of endurance. Then choose your own words to go with the letters. Write about life's essentials. Notice if it helps you "hack away at the unessential."










Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Man of the Moon

We have lost a true Hero.  RIP Neil Armstrong.

I viewed Neil's moon walk on a black and white television screen about half the size of a laptop computer.  Capturing photos with a Polaroid camera made the moon landing on July 20, 1969 feel surreal. Those ghost-like images still haunt 43 years later.

Neil Armstrong's first words resounded, "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." It gave hope during the troubling times of Vietnam. Everyone felt excited about the potential of  "manifest destiny."

Questions swarmed concerning the staging of the moon walk. Did they film the event in a warehouse?  I wish to avoid the media's disruption of reality. Neil Armstrong did leave prints on the moon and our hearts.  His spirit of discovery returns there now.

In their tribute, Neil Armstrong's family wrote, "For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

Creative Write:  Where were you when Neil Armstrong left his prints on the moon?  If this occurred before your time or while too young to understand its significance, which space events have affected you?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Exercising Intuition

The artist of life
         opens shutters
  listens for the shadow bounce
       to taste
           a flight of letters.        

We absorb life in three ways: visually, auditorially and kinesthetically.  The intuition gains access through all that passes near and through the senses. Everyone has a natural focus on one area that stimulates before the others.

I tend to hear and smell first. My eyes take over in response to those messages. Photography stores my visual cues for later. I search for musicality and discover the silences.

This shift of awareness into the other areas adds texture to writing.  It assists receptivity and exercises the ability to nudge intuition.

It's a thrill to mix and match and taste the air.

Creative Write: Expand the potential of your authentic voice by spending time exercising the areas you do not normally access first.  For a week write one day from sight, one from sound, another from body sensations.  Incorporate all at the end of the week.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Discover a Memory House

Simonides of Ceos. a 6th century Greek poet-philosopher, spoke at a banquet to celebrate Scopas' victory in a chariot race.  His oration focused on the Gods, Castor and Pollux instead of the victor.  Scopas, in irritation, told Simonides he would only pay half the poet's fee. He should ask his two Gods to pay the rest.

At this point, two men called Simonides out of the room.  When he left,  the palace collapsed and killed everyone. In amazement and relief, he thanked the Gods for "paying half his fee" and saving his life.

During the search for survivors, they asked Simonides to identify guests because of his exceptional memory. He did this by recalling their positions seated at the banquet table.  Later, Simonides expanded upon this ability to remember by designing what he called a "memory theatre."

He created loci (plural of the Latin locus meaning place) in each room of his building. When he walked through the rooms mentally, he associated an item with each room.  By forming an image between what he wanted to recall and a feature of the locus, he created a linkage.  In retrieval, loci determined the desired memory.

The ability to map items and memories provides a way to discover ideas for poetry. When considering what to write about,  travel back through houses experienced.  Begin with a freewrite and make sensory connections to the memory home.

Here's a start:

 I  turn my key in the lock and hear the creak of the front door's opening. The door's strength reminds me of my father's hands who could break an apple in one twist.  I scurry up the stairs, feeling the nap of the maroon carpeting between my toes.  A scent of candle wax mingles with crackers to turn my head and bring memories of my mother's formal dinners. The Grandfather clock's chimes follow me up to the second floor.  My bedroom meets me with fresh ironing smells the sun brings through the curtains and horse sweat from my riding boots. My jacaranda tree blooms in lavender and teases me through the window.

Create a map to connect rooms from the freewrite. Go back in and make additional notations to add  thoughts and feelings.  Additional freewrites will spur the writing in a variety of directions.

Creative Write:  Choose a home you have lived in for memory retrieval.  Make a chart of each room and select objects.  Then wander through each room and create a line of text that hitchhikes off the items. See where your memory takes you in sights, sound and scents.  After the initial freewrite, go in and make additional connections.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Writing Vacation into History

Have you wondered what it would feel like to travel across the country in a conestoga wagon? Imagine a trip with Lewis and Clark in Sacajawea's persona. Consider a sailing adventure in the days of the Flying Cloud, the fastest clipper ship of her time.

A balloon ride around the world would intrigue a writer. If you took notes as a co-pilot for Amelia Earhart you might have changed her life.
Musing about historical vacations inspires possibilities in writing.

Take a vacation from what you usually write.

Choose a type of airplane, hot air balloon or a wagon train. You might prefer a sailboat adventure or a windjammer cruise.

Set the stage for your journey by selecting a time in history and place to embark. Choose a famous person to accompany you. Then launch into details and write your excursion.

How will you change history with your adventure?

Buen viaje!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Life Skills

Create a Life Skills map that leads you to discover the potential of life. If you added ideas to the above format, show what each line means to you.

What does fearless look like?

How can you become a good friend?

Does laughter circulate through your day?

Do you take good care of your mind, body and spirit?  In what ways?

How do you spell happiness?

What about LOVE?

Define your passion and what you believe in.

Once you've created your life skills map, write the details.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Comedy of Criticism

Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.  
- Bill Cosby

Many writers have felt the rampage of a teacher's red pen across a story. I have heard a variety of complaints from writing students. Fear still follows them from the incidents.

My mind wanders back to one teacher who will remain nameless. She scribbled over, around and poked through the blue lines on my paper. Ink spewed in red to drown my tender words. 

In one margin she wrote that she could not read my writing. I had to hold the paper upside down and turn it sideways to read hers. A frog had better penmanship. She did not defeat me. With a fist, I pumped the paper into the sky, light slanting through the holes she'd made.  My pen mightier than her sword, I laughed and wrote her into a story. The stories kept spilling from my pen inspite of her tirade across my pages.

Years later, during a writing conference, I stayed at the home of a psychologist. She felt concern after listening to my thoughts about a critiquing session. I had mouthed a few metaphors of ravage and rampage that troubled her. She questioned my misplaced emotions and what she called my "inappropiate use of humor." 

I explained my survival skills to manage negativity and others' insecurities. By the end of the evening I had persuaded her that my use of humor defused most situations.
Humor and lighthearted reactions always help writers deal with criticism that has other issues interwoven. No one responds without emotions or with true objectivity. Some opinions arrive from fragile places.

Do you feel challenged by criticism?  Try these suggestions to avoid taking critiques too personally. Inject comedy into others' judgment of your work.
1. Pay close attention to the emotion behind the words used in the critique. What is the point of view?  Does the person criticizing have his or her own issue intermingled? If the criticism is oral, take notes. 

2. Don’t react. Avoid becoming defensive. Just listen. Relax and breathe before reading editing comments from friends, an editor or teacher. Stay in a place of receptivity to the criticism. If misunderstandings of meaning occur, you can clarify them with a variety of word choices. Stay openhearted and not apologetic. 
3. Delay your response after a reaction. Take a break before responding in email.  Wait a day. If a deadline doesn't loom, wait three days. Often no action works better than an action resulting from anger. Write those words to yourself and put them away. How would your favorite comedian approach the situation?
4. Consider any errors you made. Accept responsibility for your work without making excuses. Conjure your self-belief from the inside out. Do what needs to be done and get on with it. 
5. Make Failure a Friend. Re-frame the notions of failure and criticism. It's just another's opinion. Remind yourself of your successes. Write to make yourself laugh. Then, rework the writing. 
During a writing career, everyone has had someone who offered criticism that struck to the core. Remind yourself of this creature and write him or her into a story. The healthiest sense of self develops as a result of easing over the wounds from the inside not letting scars form.  

A writer needs to nurture sensitivity not develop a hard shell. Stay flexible and free from self-doubt by writing about it. Tickle your funny bone. Communicate with comedy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Writing the Weeds

Gardeners have no appreciation for the dandelion. Its root tenacity makes it difficult to remove from lawns or flower beds. The dandelion thrives as an opportunist. It sneaks into tight spaces or wedges against concrete to show how nature dislikes a vacuum.

Dandelion evolved from the French word, dent de lion that refers to the tooth-shaped leaves. Some Italians call it pisacan (dog pisses) referring to their prevalence near sidewalks. Northern Italians like the word, soffione (blowing). In this stage the flower turns wispy and creates seeds overnight. French fondly call it pissenlit, (piss in bed), apparently referring to its diuretic qualities.

Each seed has a parachute to twirl into position and add color to boring landscapes.

Today, notice what some people call  "weeds." Observe how they sneak into and consume cracks in the man-made world.  They show us how to deal with unfriendly circumstances.

Most of life's daily challenges create tiny fissures of irritation where we need flowers to bloom.  Frustrations include: stepping in chewing gum, losing and misplacing items, feeling gravity's tug on grocery bags, and spilling liquids - to name a few.  Rarely do major life occurrences propel us to agony the way these incidentals take over our moments with ferocity.

How can we turn these aspects of our lives into productive use?  Humor solves most of these infringements upon our delicate balance in life.  We need to work on becoming indefatigable as weeds.  Then move on to shine up our funny bones to view the process! 

Identifying with wildflowers will brighten our days.

Creative write: Become an indefatigable weed and write past obstacles. Research the name of a flower. How will you weave it into a story or poem?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Awareness Triads




Create triads similar to those listed above. After you have created your own sets, draw arrows and play with words for fifteen to twenty minutes. Then take your lists for a walk around the block, to the beach or another natural setting.

Continue to observe the world around you and add to your triads. Find a place to sit, take a breath, read your list and write for fifteen minutes.Permit observations and distractions to take you beyond the obvious into new thought patterns.

You will discover a prose piece or a poem!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Creative Strategies

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 
- Leonardo da Vinci

Choreographer Twyla Tharp starts a project by collecting items that inspire her. What she calls her magpie impulses might include a toy, photograph, quotations, passages from books read, or a CD. The items placed in a cardboard file box spark her creativity.  

First she places a message with a stated goal. She's written: Keep it simple. Something Perfect or Tell a story.

Everything is raw material,” she says. “Everything is relevant.  Everything is usable.  Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.”  

Tharp used to worry that writing would drain her of ideas. She discovered that the more she created the more she wanted to create.
Creative Write:  What strategies spur your creativity? 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Don't Worry. Write!

Harvard researcher Julia Boehm found that the psychological traits of optimism, positive emotions and a sense of meaning offer measurable protection against heart attacks and strokes. These characteristics slow the progression of cardiovascular disease as well.

Boehm and fellow researcher Laura Kubzansky conducted the first systematic review of happiness and heart health at the Harvard School of Public Health. In over 200 studies of forms of well-being and cardiovascular health, the most optimistic individuals had a 50 percent less chance of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers.

"The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive," says Boehm. She continues to study what individuals do right rather than the traditional psychological focus to trying to fix what's wrong.

Creative Write:  Write about your relationship to stress and ways you adapt with positive reactions.  If you have challenges with negative responses, take time to write about approaches to try the next time you feel upset or frustrated with a situation.

Don't worry, write what's right about life.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What's Next?

There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.  
- Benjamin Zander 

"In every experience there is possibility," says Benjamin Zander conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and co-author of the Art of Possibility. He claims that possible means what you can achieve. It goes beyond positive thinking and hope.

Positive thinkers do not want to deal with the negative. Hope comes from not being able to deal with the present. Possibiities provide options and choices.

"Possibility is a domain. It is about one choice to be in the present and . . ." Zander claims.

Zander feels human beings need a dimension beyond their immediate needs for health and well-being.  He believes when something happens to us we should not judge it and say it's good or bad.  We should learn to say, "It's too early to judge. What's next?"

If we tell stories that enhance life and lives of the people around us we enrich possibilities. A man interviewed about the tsunami that hit Japan stood in the midst of devastation of his home. He had lost everything. At his feet a green plant pushed up through the rubble. Smiling for the camera he claimed the shoot of green grew to get to the sun through the broken pieces.

That reveals possibility.

"I think of intelligent optimism as a discipline, to stay in the state of mind of possibility," Zander says.

Everyone's mind needs sustenance. Thoughts of possibility provide it. We live in the unexpected; a creative realm and place of imagination. A focus on the present and what's next maintains balance.

Creative Write:  Write with a What's Next? attitude. Delve into possibilities in each moment.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Write like rain or waves

"Here is a man who is turning the emptiness of space into a sheet of paper, the waves of the ocean into an inkwell and Mount Sumeru into a brush."   - Hoyen of Gosozen, 12th century

"The shot will go most smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise." Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery.

A Zen view of  how to write advises that our "artless art" must flow out of the subconscious. Technical knowledge does not provide enough. Practice and relenting to the process make it happen. If we move out of our own way, writing spurts and splashes in the stream of rain or water.

Like a muscle, the more we write, the more we gain strength and momentum.  Fortunately, with age our writing muscles become stronger regardless of the aging process on other body parts.  

Paying attention to our "every day mind" and moments in movement,  we happen upon ways to express emotions and thoughts.  Awareness makes us alert to all possibilities.  What just zoomed by?  How does that connect to the aroma of coffee in the morning?  What does sleep feel like when tired?  How does satisfaction taste?  What if. . . and then what?

How can the write art become purposeless?  Aimless?  If we attempt to intellectualize it, we've lost the moment. We need to write.  It's that simple. 

Lao Tzu's water metaphor fits the writer's life.  Go with the flow. Trickle or rush around obstacles. Gush! Exert and deluge. Yielding will overwhelm all.

Writers need the surprise that delights when swimming in words.  Let it happen. . . just write.

Creative Write:  Take a day without a goal.  Write to float, swim or splash about in words without a destination.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Write Routine

"Improve your spare moments and they will become the brightest gems in your life." 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Take time to evaluate your write routine.  Check on your writing fitness.

Do you follow the ritual of a daily workout to exercise your writing muscles?  

Which aspects of the process make you look forward to writing?

When you do not want to write, do you create diversions to make the routine fun? 

All writers have times they do not feel like writing. A difference exists between periodical feelings of not wanting to write and a dislike of the writing. Often a change in your current writing habit will provide new sparks when you feel cranky. Discover ways to muscle beyond temporary limitations.

Let free forms of writing stir the passion inside.

Freewriting energizes the fingers and brain.  Permit yourself to do it without the heavy lifting of judgment. Play music to inspire the flow.  Laugh as you tap the keys or push the pen.  Keep your writing fluid, fun and fanciful. 

Five to Ten Minute Drills:

Write your favorite quotations or poems across the top of the page and move into them with responses. Add sounds, scents and tastes. Go for ten minute sprints.           

Let your personality become reflected in writing. Try five minute push ups for each area: Rant. Rave. Applaud life. Write silliness beyond the seriousness. Be grateful.

Write chants you knew as a child for five minutes.

Take a ten minute break to breathe and stretch.  If you have a yoga practice, do a series of sun salutations.

For ten minutes, write about ways to jump into escape: Retreat. Rewind. Reflect.  

Ignite your writing with fantasy for five sit ups.

Get active in movement with nouns and verbs. Do it for a fun ten minute run.

If you just do not feel like writing, draw and doodle. Create lines, circles and fill them in with colors.  You may find words nudging to come out?  Add them.

Walk around the block and carry a notepad.  Stop every ten steps. Look up and around.  Write and move on to the next ten steps.

Write two lines that rhyme.  Let the words go where they want.  Dit a dot.   Flip a plot.  Let words fly. 

Distract yourself by singing and writing. Let your writing fears dance with creativity.

A Write Routine: Use the above ideas to develop your own write routine. Exercise daily.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Getting Ducks in a Row

Even though I love to write, my octopus mind does take over at times. When it whirs on a variety of levels at once, I multi-task with all tentacles in play.  I can spend hours free writing but often it takes creative diversion and determination to dig out the gems I wish to shine.

Then I read an article in The Atlantic entitled “First Person Plural” by Paul Bloom that provided an Aha moment.

In their pursuit of what happiness means, psychologists have discovered it has a lot to do with the definition of “I.”  Many believe each of us exists in a community of competing selves where the happiness of one often causes the misery of another. Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, feels that within each brain several selves continually pop in and out of existence.  He says, “They have different desires, and they fight for control – plotting against, deceiving and plotting against one another.”

Yes, I’ve held conversations with another Penny at times.  I’ve even argued.  Okay Okay. I will. I will.  No. No. No.  Stop it. Stop it right now! Oh, Come on. Come on. Also, I’ve used more emphatic words not appropriate here, but you get the idea.

Bloom goes on to say if these selves worked as a team, they could create the perfect life. Because they clash, compulsions and addictions arise.

His concerns remind me of the self-talk that goes into my writing life. One of my selves just wants to go outside and play, not sit at the computer and face a deadline or follow as an idea ravels out. Another follows a disciplined daily routine. Yet another wants to read and eat words. I have used trickery many times.  Now I realize I have tamed my selves . . . or not, according to Bloom.

A division of labor could become a solution. Maybe if some of my selves write poetry, some grade papers, others focus on new projects, then I’d have more freedom?  If they have fun and discover happiness in their own separate pursuits, I could have polite and rational conversations with them.

The first step in any addiction requires naming it. I'll call the selves: Huey, Dewey and Louie, for Duck's sake. They need to get into a row.  I'll give them separate clipboards.  They can work on an illusive poem, finish the essay or leap up and grade student work.  Tom Sawyer politics work.

I can see their heads bobbing, feathers awriggle and eyes flashing with creativity. Although the site of pens clutched in web feet feels like a stretch. I could design an opposable thumb or two for the ends of wings. Then I will sneak away as I hear them chattering between writing notions.  They will find security and happiness with their own projects and feel no competition or alienation. 

Now, wind in my hair as I run by the ocean, my octopus mind twirls without the interruption of the duck conversations. They stay and write at home.

Creative Write: How do you make your writing selves obey?