Being A Writer Who Is Writing

joydiary08.page10and11.2018In my second year of art school, I had a painting teacher who taught attitude along with technique.  He talked about how we needed to love making art more than love being an artist.

At first I didn’t understand the difference.

Something happened, though, after I graduated.  His words stuck with me, and the longer I made art, the more I experienced how my love of making carried me through the hard spots.  If I had loved being an artist more than making art, I would have quit.

When I began writing, I carried this experience and understanding with me.  Problem was, it didn’t transfer completely.  I still had to learn to love writing the same way I had learned to love drawing, by doing it.

At first I mainly loved Being A Writer, reveling in how I felt when I said to myself, “I am a Writer.”  The feeling was not so enjoyable when actually writing.  I loved the concept, but sometimes the doing was capital-H Hard.  I became frustrated and depressed at how slow it was, and editing was oh-my-ugly.

What saved me was the fact I loved reading books, and every amazing read made me want to really, truly be a writer who was writing.

I found ways to keep writing.  I read creativity books and let them inspire me.  I listened to writers talk about their work and process.  I freely bribed myself.  When none of those worked, I used guilt.  Guilt always worked, sooner or later.

Slowly, what I had experienced with making art happened with writing.  The more I did it, the more I loved doing it.  The more I wrote, the more I trusted I could write, even the hard bits.

On Monday this week, I took myself to my favourite café and spent the whole day writing.

During the afternoon, a woman came in and sat two chairs over from me.  She pulled out a stack of paper like mine, a pen, and Halloween candy.  Got her coffee and settled, I thought, to write.

I was wrong.

She rearranged her papers.  Clicked her pen a bunch.  Looked out the window.  Looked around the café.  Kicked her chair leg for a while.  Chatted and laughed with people who walked past her.  Looked over at me like she wanted to start a conversation.

In the meantime, I was writing and becoming increasingly irritated by this person.  She was distracting me from what I wanted to be doing, which was writing.

I noticed I was judging her, big time.  She had her tools in front of her, yet she was doing everything except writing.  I decided she was one of those who loved the idea of being a writer but didn’t love doing the writing.  A pretender, while I was the real thing.

Wow.  Me being snarky.  Very.

I felt bad, judging myself for judging her.  I should know better.  I’ve been where she is, done exactly what she’s doing.  Maybe she needed a change of scenery after writing all morning at home.  Maybe she needed distraction as part of her process.  Maybe she gained ideas from talking with random strangers.

I kept writing while this flashed through my mind and feelings.

I wondered why I was irritated by her activity.  She was doing me no harm.  I was distracting myself by allowing my focus to wander over to her.

I knew I was in a hard place in my draft.  I was struggling, feeling overwhelmed, not sure I could bring this all together.  Doubting myself as a writer.

I understood.  I wanted distraction.  More than that, she looked like she was enjoying herself, and I wasn’t.  She looked relaxed.  I wasn’t.

I was feeling jealous, too.

I kept writing.

There is the important thing—I kept writing.  I let myself be distracted enough to move out of the writing, realized what was happening inside me and how I was feeling.  Realized I was working my way through a hard spot in my writing, it was getting to me, and I needed to release pressure by putting my frustration on someone or something else.

I understood.  I forgave myself.

I silently appreciated the woman near to me who was enjoying the feeling of being a writer.  I knew how good that felt, and I let myself enjoy her enjoyment.

And I kept writing.

Why I’m Not Doing Nanowrimo This Year

Cat Fink 'What Gives Me Joy Nov 9 2016 (books)'November first.  The clouds are dark grey outside my studio window.  It’s been raining, snowing, and sleeting since midnight.  The temperature sits at zero Celsius.  Perfect weather for being inside, papers scattered across my work table, music playing counterpoint to the drip of water off the roof, writing this blog post.

It’s a perfect day for beginning Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), except this year I am not.

This is a deliberate choice.

I love doing Nanowrimo.  I love writing furiously, aiming for at least 2,000 words each day.  Love the focused creating.  Love the feeling of a single driving purpose in a life normally split half a dozen directions.  Love the community spirit, the support and mutual cheer leading.  Love the feeling of entering the word count that pushes me over the 50,000 word goal.  Oh yeah.

There is a good reason why I am not already in the depths of all this writing awesomeness.  It’s something else I love–more writing awesomeness.  It’s my book draft.

I am working through the final three chapters of Lisa Cron’s Story Genius.  I have my momentum and I want to keep it.  My book draft needs me.

If I shift to Nanowrimo, my creative focus completely shifts as well.  I know the energy required to complete 50,000 plus words in a month, and it would leave none for my book.  Nanowrimo is a demanding love.

I did Nanowrimo last year.  I wrote a parallel draft for my book.  I explored all the directions I didn’t take in the main draft.

It was worth spending a month discovering the words beyond the path already laid.  I found writing that belonged in the main draft, filling in gaps I hadn’t noticed.  I explored side paths I knew diverted the story so had ignored in the main draft.  I reveled in back story that helped me understand motivations and situations.

Pausing my main draft and doing Nanowrimo last year was totally worth it.  I gave myself month-long permission to experience places outside of the story.  My main draft is richer as a result of the parallel draft.

Saying yes to Nanowrimo this year would take me away from where I am right now, and where I need to go next in my book draft.  I need slower, more considered writing at the moment.

A ‘yes’ this year is an excuse to not work out the hard stuff on my book.  It’s very appealing, and  I know better.  I’ve done enough excuses this year.

I do have to say, this ‘no’ feels sad.  I feel like I’m missing the party.

At the same time, I feel how right my choice is.  I love where I am in my draft process.  I love what I have discovered and learned as I’ve worked my way.  I am so very curious about what else is going to show up, as though I am reading the already published book and wondering what happens next in the story.

I feel rich in my writing life; I have more than one thing to love.

Bon voyage, all you Nanowrimo crew!  May you have fair winds, full sails, and an ocean of ideas and words to play in.  May you have life rafts aplenty should you need them, and a welcoming harbour when your writing reaches home at the end of the month.  Save me a berth for next year.

___________________

In this post:

Nanowrimo aka National Novel Writing Month.  https://nanowrimo.org/  I feel like Dr. Seuss and Willy Wonka had a hand or ten in inventing this.

Book Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016.  http://wiredforstory.com/story-genius-1/

 

Failure and Success

Archangel (Raguel) - Cat Fink (blog)
‘Archangel (Raguel)’

I have a pattern of not celebrating my successes.  Mostly I ignore them, occasionally I allow myself to briefly enjoy them.  Never do I allow myself full appreciation of what I have successfully completed, be it writing or drawing or anything else in my life.  Always, I immediately move on to the next thing.

I’ve been wondering why I do this.  Two days ago, I discovered a big reason.

In school, I was one of those brainy kids.  The A’s on my report card came easily to me.  Because of this, my teachers gave me extra enriched work, mostly math and science.

I loved, and continue to love, learning new things for the sheer enjoyment of it, but this was not something I chose for myself.  I loved school, but this extra work felt like work, and I wanted to be with my friends playing and having fun.  I rarely completed the assignments.  The teachers eventually gave up, which was a relief for me.

In my child-mind, this experience created a belief that stuck in my subconscious.

I believed I was a failure.

I did not do the enriched work and become someone who changed the world through discovering amazing scientific things.  I did not meet expectations.  I did not fulfill my potential.  It did not matter that the expectations and ideas regarding my potential belonged to someone else.  As a child, I knew I was smart and I trusted my teachers, so I took this on as something reasonable.

When I look at my life now, I love where and who I am.  I love love love drawing and writing.  I love the learning I do, moving toward life with an open, creative heart.  I love the family and friends I have around me.  My life is good and I know I created this, which means yes I am successful at what I do.

I do not owe my school teachers or the world, or even myself, anything.  I owe neither success nor failure.

I walked the path I needed to walk, so I could be exactly where I needed to be.  As a child, love and joy were the most important choices I made for myself every day.  I didn’t consciously realize what I was choosing, and I couldn’t articulate it.  I didn’t realize love and joy could be choices, yet there I was choosing time with my friends as the most important thing.

That time with my friends shaped me.  We read, traded books, made up stories, and played pretend.  We drew and made things with whatever was at hand.  We were creators who played, loved, and enjoyed what we created.

As I grew up, every choice I made, everything I was, everything I created led me here.

I appreciate what my school teachers did.  Unknowingly, they pushed me into making my own choices, helped me find and experience the things that were right for me.

I know and feel how the words and images I create, the love and joy I share, the life I live changes the world around me.  That is success.

I did not waste my potential.  I have been fulfilling it all along.

Between Writing and Trying to Write

laid-to-rest-east-detail-small
Laid to Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits, East (detail)

It’s fun to write.  It’s not fun trying to write.

Earlier today I tried to write a blog post.  Progress was slow, painful, and frustrating.  Finally, I gave up.

This is not like me to give up.

Writing is not a smooth process for me, despite the enjoyment it gives.  Most days I procrastinate, but eventually push my way into writing.  I begin slowly, fishing around for those slippery starting words.  I jump all over my ideas as I write my draft, and have to rearrange sentences and paragraphs until I find an easy flow.  This is my process, and I always get there to the finished piece.

Today I feel like my creativity is offline.  My thoughts are jumpy and disconnected.  Every idea is brief, lacking a depth to play in, nothing to dig into and develop.  I know I am not the first nor the last writer to experience this, but knowing it doesn’t make the experience less frustrating.

What I do know from long experience as an artist–my creativity remains intact despite today’s evidence to the contrary.

Here’s what I am going to do once this short writing-disaster post is done.  I am going to read.  My own words aren’t cooperating, but at least I can revel in another writer’s world.

Pushing The Edge Of My Creativity

notetomyself.enteringhope.blog
“Note to Myself: entering hope”

Picture me standing knee deep in turquoise ocean waves.  Bare toes, all ten, digging into the sand to keep balance.  Leaning my body forward, a telescope to my eye, searching the horizon line.

I want to know what is out there, what’s beyond the range of my vision.

Writing a book has turned me into an explorer, and what I’m exploring is the edge of my creativity.  How far can I push this seeming edge?  How far can I expand my capabilities as writer and artist?

I’d always thought a project of several years’ length was beyond me.  I’d get bored and dump it.

I was wrong.  My curiosity for what is next in my book remains as bright as when I began.  Not only am I curious about the book, I am curious about my creativity.  It keeps changing, reaching and expanding.  Every time a new idea shows up, it is something beyond what I have already done.

Helen Frankenthaler, an artist whose work inspires me, talked about not wanting to do something she already knew she could do.  I feel the same way.

I don’t mean wildly leaping into complete unknown.  I mean standing on what I know, reaching toward what I don’t know, combining the two, known and unknown, and experimenting.

My book project is becoming an experiment.  As I complete the work in Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, my vision of the book is shifting.  I see something that sits between all text and all image.  Not a graphic novel, and not a standard word-only book.  I am marrying my capabilities as artist and writer, and challenging myself to go further than what I already know.

As yet, I have little idea where this expanding vision of my book and my capabilities is taking me.  My telescope shows me only the open space at the edge that is labelled “here there be dragons.”

I am curious about dragons.  I hear they can fly, and some can be ridden.  I hear they guard treasure and need to be coaxed to share.  I hear they are made of fire.  I hear they were invented by someone like me.

I want to write a dragon of a book.  A book made of fire and treasure.  A book that takes flight and I need to hang on and fly with it, the ride of my life.  Guessing I may need asbestos pants in order to stick my seat.  I’ll find some.

In the meantime, every day I learn something new about the edges of my book and my creativity.  Today it is realizing my interest in my book remains firm, and this makes me happy.  Today it is discovering my creativity is capable of handling both short and long term projects, and this makes me happy too.

Today I push out the far edge, and place my new knowledge there.  Step forward and stand on the new edge of my creativity, lean forward and balance.  Put the telescope to my eye, and see where my vision takes me next.  There is an amazing dragon of a book out there, and it’s mine.

_________________

In this post:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016.  http://wiredforstory.com/story-genius-1/

Helen Frankenthaler, Artist, 1928 – 2011.  http://www.frankenthalerfoundation.org/artworks/paintings

 

Success, Vulnerability, And The Pocket Demon

1.'Laid to Rest 80,000...Spirits (east)'--halfsize
‘Laid To Rest 80,000 Obstructing Spirits (east)’

I’m playing with Lucy Bellwood’s book 100 Demon Dialogues.  I keep going back to cartoon number 83.  In the cartoon, Lucy says, “I think I’ve figured it out: you’re more afraid of success than you are of failure.”  Her demon, who is trying to hide in a box, says, “I’m afraid of EVERYTHING.”

I am afraid of success.  When I succeed in my art or my writing, I am not sure what to do.  What should happen next I can never figure out.

Here is one example.  When someone offers me praise, I don’t seem to hear it.  The words don’t go all the way in.  I feel happy, briefly.  I smile, say thank you, glad you enjoy it.  Then I feel uncomfortable and need to escape.

It makes me sad to realize I am unable to wholly accept a kind comment.  It makes me feel there’s something wrong with me, that I can’t celebrate something I have created when it touches and connects with someone else.

Weird thing is, this is one of the main reasons I write and draw, to create that heart-to-heart connection.

It’s easy, in my studio, to open my heart and be vulnerable as I create.  My studio is a safe place, I am alone with my work, and I trust myself to go as deep as the work requires.  If I don’t get there the first attempt, or second or third, I keep going until I reach the feeling I want.  I’ve done this long enough, I trust what shows up and trust I am able.

Put me in the situation of accepting praise face to face, and I am in fear.  Someone connects with my writing or drawing, it evokes something for them, they appreciate the experience, and they want me to know my work succeeded in touching them.

My deepest success, and yet I am afraid to open my heart to this person and feel what they are offering me.  Instead I feel naked and vulnerable because someone has seen the feelings I place in my work.  How ironic when someone really sees my work and connects heart to heart, I want to run the other way.

My deepest success and my deepest fear.  I got this wrong.  I’m not afraid of success.  I’m afraid of being seen and connecting at my truest self.

I am an artist and a writer who creates heart to heart.  I know no other way to create.  I refuse to allow any kind of fear to stop me.

Next time someone praises my work, I need to remember who I am in my studio.  Trusting, open-hearted, and reaching for connection as many times as it takes.

__________________

In this post:

Lucy Bellwood, book 100 Demon Dialogues, Toonhound Studios, 2017.    https://lucybellwood.com/

My Pocket Demon

keepingmydemonsatbay
‘Keeping My Demons At Bay’

It’s all grey cloud and wind outside today.  I saw the first leaves fall from the aspens this morning.  More than fall.  They were pulled, snatched by the wind, tossed to the ground before they could ripen.

I’m not ready for bare branches.  I want those brilliant, glorious golds, reds, and oranges shining against the sky.  Then yes, Wind, take the leaves as your toys and let the trees rest.

I am happy to be inside my warm studio today.  Like the wind, I have a new toy to play with, a book of course.

Yesterday afternoon I read 100 Demon Dialogues by Lucy Bellwood.  I read slowly.  Not only read, but looked.  These are one-page drawings.  Lucy is a cartoonist.

I love this book.  I love Lucy’s take on the inner critic, and how she doesn’t push it away (which is my preferred method of interacting with the demon in my pocket).  Instead, through her cartoons, she and her demon have a conversation.

I know I sound surprised.  That’s because I used to do that and mostly ended up either angry or depressed.  The conversations were battles, and my pocket demon won.  However she didn’t win the war.  I continue drawing, continue writing, continue finding ways to create things I love and enjoy.

In her cartoons, Lucy doesn’t see this relationship with her inner demon as a battle.  Instead, they alternately talk, argue, discuss, yell, lay down ultimatums, and hug.  Yes, there are hugs and compassion, both for herself and her demon.

This is new to me.   My pocket demon is a part of me I have fought with throughout my life, not only in my creativity.  I have battled, ignored, silenced without listening, trampled, and left her behind as often as possible.  I’ve never thought to have compassion for my pocket demon, much less hug her.

That’s brutal.

My pocket demon does not ever stop trying to get me to hear her.  I know, in her own weird way, she is attempting to help me and keep me safe from what she perceives as dangers.

Maybe I am doing as the wind, tossing something away before it ripens.

Maybe I need to do as Lucy does, and listen.  Listening costs me nothing and I don’t have to agree with what I hear.

I know my pocket demon mirrors my emotions, usually fear.  As Julia Cameron told me throughout her book The Artist’s Way, emotions are information.  I am a master at hiding things from myself, especially emotions.  Maybe I should listen, hear what my pocket demon has to say, and find out what is going on in the background that I am not seeing.

Honestly, not sure I want to.

Which tells me something is coming to the surface that I need to know.

Here’s an idea.  Use Lucy’s book to talk with my pocket demon.  Flip through the pages, find a cartoon that connects with my heart.  Oops, all of them, but let’s do this one at a time.

Choose that one cartoon, and start writing.  Have a conversation with my pocket demon, and let fly.  No one else needs to read this.  Toss the writing afterwards, if I want to, or maybe keep it because it’s the seed for a future blog post.

I can do this.

Pocket demon, sweetie, we are about to get cozy.

Thank you, Lucy, for sharing and showing me something I needed to see.

________________________

In this post:

Lucy Bellwood, book 100 Demon Dialogues, Toonhound Studios, 2017.  https://lucybellwood.com/

Julia Cameron’s books are rich with ideas on working with pocket demons aka the inner critic.  I frequently use Supplies: A Troubleshooting Guide For Creative Difficulties, Penguin Books, 2003.  https://juliacameronlive.com/

Kim Piper Werker’s book Make It Mighty Ugly, Sasquatch Books, 2014, is another resource loaded with ideas.  My copy of Kim’s book is dog eared, underlined, highlighted, and stuck full of post it notes.  https://www.kimwerker.com/

When all else fails, chocolate, good music, a comfy chair, and my latest fiction read.

My Get-Up-And-Go Got Up And Went

'Building a Sky to Shelter Me'--Cat FinkMy Mom worked at home.  Three children, a husband on shift work, and a big house to care for.  I remember her sitting at the kitchen table in the late afternoon, resting before beginning dinner preparations.  Especially when my brother was a toddler roaring around the house, she looked worn through, and her day was still hours away from being finished.

She’d look at me and say, “My get-up-and-go got up and went.”

That’s exactly how I feel when I wake this morning.  I had an excellent sleep, yet I feel worn out.  I lie here, wondering what this is.

I don’t want to get up.  I don’t want to start the day, even though my days are my own.  I don’t feel like writing or drawing, unusual for me.

Wrapped and warm in my blankets, I let my mind wander, and then I understand.

I am emotionally exhausted.

I’ve been riding a roller coaster of grief and love, and it has worn me out.  Worn me to the point of affecting my creativity.

My current creative projects are long ones, writing a book (years), and filling a sketchbook with drawings (months).  Normally I love long projects.  I enjoy the feelings of where I have been and where I am going, seeing how an idea expands, shifts, and finally fulfills itself and me.

Today, long is more than I can handle.

An idea pops in.  How about shotgun creativity?  Get the idea, aim, fire, done.  Except, generally, firing a shotgun requires dealing with the resulting mess.  Clean up is necessary.  I live in a rural area.  I know this.

How about creativity that is like laughter?  Sudden.  Surprising.  A joyful explosion of fun and play.  Nothing afterwards but feeling good.

Yes, this is my kind of creativity.  Unexpected creativity that is joy.

I get out of bed and start my day.  Eventually I am here at my studio table with my Mickey Mouse pencils and stack of loose leaf paper, writing.

Interesting that my get-up-and-go is back, and I know why.

I started exactly where I was, recognized and allowed my feelings to be what they were.  I let my thoughts and imagination, and then my words, run where they would, no limits, no expectations.  Whatever showed up was fine with me.  With all this space to play, ideas showed up—shotgun creativity, and creativity like laughter.

I gave myself permission to be.