Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zen


“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.” 

To be "zen" in your writing practice means to be in the moment. To be grateful and spontaneous, yet disciplined. It requires nothing and everything. It means that just showing up is half the battle. Imperfection is ok.

 It means that some days, no matter how hard you try, things get in your way, and that's life. Just find a path around them. There is always a path. There is always another way. 

Just ask Ray.

The Zen of Ray
When you put the words Zen and writing together, the first thing many people think of is Ray Bradbury's famed 1990s essay collection, Zen and the Art of Writing.

There's a good reason for that. Bradbury's enthusiasm is contagious, and his love of writing shines as he dispenses enough pearls of wisdom to string necklaces for a small country. 

Here's a sampling:

“That's the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.” 
― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing

“What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?” 
― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

“We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not pratice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever that is, would melt out of shape in those few days.

But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.” 
― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

“Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand.
And, above all, poetry is compacted metaphor or simile. Such metaphors, like Japanese paper flowers, may expand outward into gigantic shapes. Ideas lie everywhere through the poetry books, yet how rarely have I heard short story teachers recommending them for browsing.

What poetry? Any poetry that makes your hair stand up along your arms. Don’t force yourself too hard. Take it easy. Over the years you may catch up to, move even with, and pass T. S. Eliot on your way to other pastures. You say you don’t understand Dylan Thomas? Yes, but your ganglion does, and your secret wits, and all your unborn children. Read him, as you can read a horse with your eyes, set free and charging over an endless green meadow on a windy day.” 
― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing

“No to write, for many of us, is to die.” 
― Ray BradburyZen in the Art of Writing

Update: Just came across an article titled Zen and the Art of Writing in the June 2016 issue of Writer's Digest.

“Write. Don't think. Relax.” 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Yoga


Among all the forms of exercise, yoga is one of the best for releasing creativity.


When you practice yoga, you not only restore balance within your own body, but you may also be tapping into shakti, a primordial cosmic energy. As the personification of divine female power, shakti is believed to be responsible for creation and change. In yoga, shakti is associated with the sun salutations (surya namastar) and focuses on flow, transitions, mantras, and mindfulness. Sun salutations include standing, forward/back bends, and upward/downward facing dog, all of which stretch your spine, where primal kundalini energy is believed to reside, dormant, until it is awakened. 

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.                                      

But you needn't restrict yourself to sun salutations or kundalini if you are looking to expand your creative powers. Any type of yoga will do that. Focusing on breathing, relaxing, letting go, and allowing your mind to be free does wonders for your imagination.

There are so many yogic poses and practices. The thing is, what works for one person might not work for others, so if you've tried it and it didn't stick, try another class at a different studio or school, or a new DVD or streaming session (I like Gaiam). Some yoga classes are silent, others include the chanting of mantras but no music, some have loud, invigorating music (Corepower). Some are strict, some are relaxed, some are hot, and some mix it all up.

There are countless ways to awaken and fine tune the creative powers in your body, and to connect with the cosmic energy that surrounds us. If we are open to this energy, it can change our lives, and bring purpose to our every breath. 

So grab a mat and tap into the force. Your body will thank you!

"Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame."-B.K.S. Iyengar

Some yoga/creativity links:
yoga poses for creativity
more yoga for creativity
yoga for creativity
yoga unlocks creativity
yoga benefits creativity
yoga nidra for creativity
for skeptics
"Yoga is invigoration in relaxation. Freedom in routine. Confidence through self control. Energy within and energy without."
-Ymber Delecto
"Yoga exists in the world because everything is linked."
"Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted -- in body, mind, and heart -- and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are cleared, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow -- or we begin to flow more in our lives."
-Cybele Tomlinson

"The word yoga comes from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. It means union, integration, or wholeness. It is an approach to health that promotes the harmonious collaboration of the human being's three components: body, mind, and spirit."

-Stella Weller

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xanadu


1. An idyllic, exotic, or luxurious place. (Merriam Webster) 2. A particularly bad Olivia Newton-John romantic musical fantasy film (1980). 3. An ancient Chinese capital during the Yuan dynasty, ruled by Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis). Visited by Marco Polo in 1275; world heritage site, only ruins exist today. Also known as Shangdu. 4. The inspiration for Samuel Coleridge's famous poem Kubla Khan. 5. A metaphor for a safe place for creative wanderlust and inspiration. (definition mine)
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree: 
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran 
Through caverns measureless to man 
Down to a sunless sea. 
So twice five miles of fertile ground 
With walls and towers were girdled round; 
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, 
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; 
And here were forests ancient as the hills, 
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. 
                         --Samuel Coleridge Taylour
                          Kubla Khan

I admit it, I dug the Olivia Newton-John film. Because, Magic.

Cut me some slack, though-I was nine. And really into roller skating, music, and romance, which is essentially the entire plot of the movie. 

But Xanadu has a long history of being a retreat from reality. In the West, it became best known as a subject--and muse--for Samuel Coleridge Taylor's poem Kubla Khan:

"...The poem was composed one night after he [Coleridge] experienced an opium-influenced dream after reading a work describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and Emperor of China Kublai Khan.[1] Upon waking, he set about writing lines of poetry that came to him from the dream...."
                                                                        -Kubla Khan Wikipedia

What is Xanadu for writers? A "stately pleasure dome?" "Fertile grounds?" "Gardens bright with sinuous rills (streams)?" "Forests ancient as the hills, enfolding sunny spots of green?" 

All of the above.

A place to let our imagination roam freely, meander, even, with no judgment, no restraint. A museum. The wilderness. A place of fantasy. A place that exists nowhere but in our minds. A place of refuge.

Where is your Xanadu? 

"There is at this place [Xanadu] a very fine marble palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment."
-Marco Polo

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Write


“I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. 
I write to create red in a world that often appears black and white. 
I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts."
-Terry Tempest Williams 

I write because I cannot not write. These words have been said many times before, and will be said many times again, but that does not make them untrue. But actually, that’s a lie. There are weeks of my life—and in the darkest moments, months—during which I do not write. During which I cannot write. I do not write, and I suffer. I suffer, and all would be better if I wrote, and yet I do not.

But when I write, I write because, next to reading, it is one of my favorite things in the world.

I write to make peace with the past. I write to exorcise my demons.

I write because it makes time blur. I write because it makes time freeze still. I write because it makes time disappear. I write because it returns me to times, places, and people that no longer exist. I write because it takes me to locations I can never visit in reality.
I write because it reveals a me that no longer exists. I write because it foreshadows a me that one day might be.

I write because words are beautiful: epiphany, ethereal, gossamer, luminescence, mellifluous, serendipity, sparkling, solitude, sonder, vellichor, not guilty.

Whatever you want. Yes. I love you.

I write because words are frightening: stalker, rapist, massacre, Ebola, regret, nyctophobia, dementia, sepulchral, surgery, tumor, inoperable, malignant, coma, terminal.

You should have locked the doors. Did you check the children? I’m sorry, we couldn’t save him. I hate you, I don’t love you. I’ve met someone else. I love you.

I write because words are powerful: Victory, eternity, courage, sacrifice, strength, equality, democracy, freedom, peace.

We shall overcome. You must be the change you wish to see in the world. In seeking happiness for others, you find it for yourself. How can I help? I’m always here for you. Thank you. I love you. 

I write because I fear that if I do not, the unwritten words might stab me from the inside, the shards of frozen imagination cutting their way out of my head, heart and soul.

I write because if I do not, I will forget, and not remember what I’ve lost. I can no longer recall many things about my grandmother, even though I knew her for 33 years. The exact tone of her voice, the glint in her eye, the lilt in her laugh. With every day, lost loved ones and places grow fainter, even as we gather new ones. If only I’d written everything down. 

This is the mantra always flowing in my head:

Write it down, write it down, write it down. 

I write because there is nothing sadder than not writing, except that there are many things sadder than that, and yet, it seems to be true, when I’m not writing, and there is nothing I can do to convince myself otherwise. 

Why do you write?

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
-Flannery O’Connor

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” 
-Gloria Steinem

“That is why I write – to try to turn sadness into longing, solitude into remembrance.” 
– Paulo Coelho

I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die. 
-Isaac Asimov

Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself. 
-Octavia E. Butler

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Voracious

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” 

Are you a voracious reader?

I've mentioned the importance of reading before.

But I'm gonna say it again.

Because to be a great writer, the most critical thing you need to do, after writing, is to read. You should read like you are starving, and books are the last meals left on the earth. You should read a variety of books. Fiction, yes, and nonfiction, but also within these categories, a wide spectrum, from genre to literary and everything in between. It may be most useful to read the type of books you want to write, however, it is also good to read the books you don't want to write. Sparingly. I'm not suggesting you waste precious reading time on junk. But it will help you discover why it is that you dislike them. And if you learn that, it is so much easier to avoid doing the same thing in your own writing.

“Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” 
― William Faulkner

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“We live for books.” 
― Umberto Eco

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” 
― Carlos Ruiz ZafónThe Shadow of the Wind

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” 
― Anna QuindlenHow Reading Changed My Life

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.” 
― Saul Bellow

“We read to know we're not alone.” 
― William NicholsonShadowlands

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” 
― James Baldwin

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” 
― Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird

“You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” 
― Ray Bradbury

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” 
― Jane AustenPride and Prejudice

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Understand

 “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” 
-Albert Einstein

We write to decipher the mysteries of the universe. We write to understand our world. We write to understand others. We write so that others may understand us. 

But at our most basic level, we write to understand ourselves. 

In a world with 7.4 billion people, we often focus on our differences. Yet in many ways, we are all the same. So in understanding others, the world, and the universe, we are actually understanding ourselves.

Writers observe. They watch everything around them, and then either use it or squirrel it away for later. One of the most basic description exercises is doing just that: placing yourself in a busy cafe and writing down everything that you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste around you. It is part of the discovery. If you haven't done this before, do it now. Don't wait. Try it a few times, in other locations. Then do it in nature, or in a subway, or some other place that is completely different. Note the differences. Record them. Embrace them. Use them to deepen your writing practice. Become a person on whom "nothing is lost."

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” 
― C.G. Jung
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway

“Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost." - Henry JamesThe Art of Fiction

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for talent

Do you need talent to write?


Can you become a good writer through practice? 


Can you become a great writer? 


Are some people born with more talent than others? 


Are there lots of talented people out there? 


But that doesn't mean that you can't learn to write, or that you shouldn't bother, if it doesn't come easily. What it means is that you have to work harder. And, no, you might not be winning awards left and right, or publishing books before you can vote. But that's ok. Because you aren't writing for the awards, right? You are writing because it is as essential to you as breathing, you are writing because you have to. So in the end, it doesn't really matter if you have talent or not. You need to write anyway. But having talent makes everything so much easier.

Or does it?

So many creative people live tragic lives. Addictions, mental illness, suicides. Often, breathtaking talent comes at a price. The genius who writes a masterpiece at age 20 might have a dark side--a relentless depression that causes the same person to kill themselves--or someone else-- at 25. 

All of us are good at something. Some of us are better than others. It's just how it goes. But the most successful authors are not always the most talented. Often, what separates the talented, successful person from the talented unrecognized person is simply hard work & a refusal to give up. 

And that's something anyone can do.

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” 
― Stephen King

“Everyone has talent. What's rare is the courage to follow it to the dark places where it leads.” 
― Erica Jong

Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.” 

Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of the writer.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut
― Irving StoneThe Agony and the Ecstasy

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” 
― Émile Zola

“The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it. ” 
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” 
― Kevin Durant

“I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this.

[Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction, New York Times, April 19, 1992]” 
― Cormac McCarthy

“Writing is really just a matter of writing a lot, writing consistently and having faith that you'll continue to get better and better. Sometimes, people think that if they don't display great talent and have some success right away, they won't succeed. But writing is about struggling through and learning and finding out what it is about writing itself that you really love.” 
― Laura Kasischke

“At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is ... curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got that or not.

[Press conference, University of Virginia, May 20, 1957]” 
― William Faulkner