The Reason You Aren’t Writing #2

In a recent post, I talked about the #1 reason I hear people give for not writing. In this post, we’re looking at another common reason for not writing: not being able to stay with the writing and go deep with an idea, character, or scene. Some people call the ability to do this FLOW.

It’s not uncommon for people to carve out the time, then sit down at their desk or go to a coffee shop with the best of intentions, only to find themselves unable to locate the next nugget they can use to move their story forward.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that being in flow means “…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

We’ve all experienced flow, and it feels amazing, right? And because we’ve felt it at times makes it even more frustrating when we can’t get there again. The truth is, we won’t float off into flow state every single time we sit down to write. Or at least, we ought not count on it.

There’s a trick to help with this, and most – if not all – of us know about it, yet we rarely do it.

Freewriting.

The next time you’re sitting, staring at a blank page or screen, uncertain about where to begin, do this freewriting exercise, and use the prompt at the end of this post.

With this in mind, let’s have a go at it.

If you’ve forgotten the rules of freewriting, here they are.

  • Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • Write non-stop. Don’t let the pencil or pen leave the page until the timer goes off (and yes… you have to do this the old-fashioned way with pencil/pen and paper and not at the keyboard. Don’t ask me to explain because I can’t, but when we write by hand, something different happens in our brains).
  • Give yourself permission to not know. If you get stuck, simply write something like “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.” Eventually, something new and unexpected will replace it. (It’s only 10 minutes. Try it!) Again… magic.
  • Don’t worry about perfection. Just let it all out. Spelling and punctuation be damned!
  • Envision a garden hose. Think about the first time you turn on the hose in the Spring. It’s full of dirt, webs, and bugs that have made the hose their home. Turning on the water flushes out all the “stuff,” and eventually, clear, clean water flows. That’s what free writing does for your writer’s brain. Flushes, cleans, and primes the creative pump. Think of this as a mini version of flow.
  • Dry, rinse, and repeat as needed throughout the day, week, month, year… the rest of your writing life.

Before you get to work on the short story, novel, script, memoir, or whatever gem you’ve got going, do some freewriting. Even if you aren’t stuck, freewriting is a great warm-up for your regular writing practice. Think of it as priming the creative pump to enable flow. Words you didn’t know were knocking around in your brain will flow right out your hand and onto the page. Really. It’s magic.

Here’s your prompt: As soon as she turned the corner and saw it, she remembered why she had come.

After you’ve completed the writing exercise… head over to the Writing Through the Body™ Writers Group on Facebook and let us know how it went. You don’t have to share what you wrote (unless you want to, of course!), but let us know what the process was like. Tell us what poured out onto the page that allowed you to create something new or add to your in-progress work. (AFTER you’ve written it, of course…) 🙂

I can’t wait to hear how it went!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

How understanding the crown chakra will improve your writing

Believe it or not, your characters’ spiritual lives have a big impact on their stories, whether that’s part of the plotline or not. Just as with we humans, our characters have spiritual beliefs – or not – that inform their motivations and decisions in life. In religion, this is called the eschatology of a belief system: what we think happens to us when we die, whether or not we believe in karma, how we view humanity’s purpose in this life, or whether we believe in past lives.

Even if we don’t embrace any of these beliefs, the fact that we don’t also influences our day-to-day motivations and decisions.

It’s easy to by-pass this part of our characters’ development, but it’s essential, I think. Whether your character is a mystic or an atheist, a Buddhist or a Baptist, their belief system – or lack thereof – has everything to do with their movement through life and their story world.

After you’ve gotten clear about a character’s inner world, as we do when using the Third Eye Chakra, go one step further and think about the character’s connection (or not) to a higher power. This higher power can be anything – even their own sense of inner wisdom. Or their meditation practice. Or their love of literature. Their daily hike. Or their daily cocktail. It doesn’t have to be overtly religious or spiritual.

Understanding our characters to this degree can help us portray their complexities in deeply moving and complex ways. And this is the very quality our stories need to have if we want them to stay with readers long after they’ve put our work down.

What is the source of your character’s higher power, and how does it inform her/his way of moving in the world?

Kate Spade – stories behind the stories

I know this is a little “late,” but there’s something about Kate Spade’s suicide… I just needed some time.

I really felt it on June 6 when I learned about her passing at her own hand. I have no deep connection to her. I don’t own one of her bags, and I really didn’t know anything about her or her company until I listened to the interview with her and her husband, Andy, on the podcast How I Built This a while back.

As a gritty, motivated entrepreneur, I listen to the podcast religiously. I find it inspirational, and so many of the stories I’ve heard there have inspired me to keep going and to believe that I, too, can build something notable, meaningful.

Kate and Andy Spade’s interview stayed with me. There was something about how they were together, and something about her, in particular, stuck. She had style. There was a sense of calm in her voice and an assured knowledge she possessed as a businesswoman.

The conversation with them created an image in my mind of their life, of her, of them together, and so when I read about her suicide, I was surprised. And saddened.

The precision, the class, the style of her products – of her presence… she brought a certain upscale sparkle to the world. She reminded us that aesthetics matter, that they aren’t frivolous, but necessities of life. Because when we surround ourselves with beautiful things – not for the sake of materialism, but because beauty touches us – our lives are enhanced, and our souls and spirits respond for the good.

Her passing – and the soon-after passing of Anthony Bourdain – made me think of the snapshots we have of each other’s lives. The way we see snippets that we think inform us of the whole of a person, when, in fact, what we know is really only a sliver of their world, much the way photographs work.

The still moment caught by an onlooker, the smiles, the seemingly joyous moments in life that may have been real in that isolated moment, are oftentimes a miniscule glimpse of the real story that lies beneath.

Like so many others, Kate Spade led two distinct lives. The one for the “camera” and the full one… the one embroidered in the variegated emotional colors of humanity striving to do its best, while feeling alone, deserted, desolate.

My fascination with the human condition and with human stories compels me to care about Kate Spade. About her husband, and now, especially, about her daughter. I want to know who Kate Spade was, what she was like, and I want to know about her struggles. I want to know her family. I want to know the woman behind the name change that came not long before she left this plane of existence.

Not in a voyeuristic or intrusive sort of way, but because I crave to hear, understand, and embrace the human condition and all its dark, messy – even dirty – corners… those places where the truth hides… the truths we hide from others and from ourselves.

And it makes me acutely aware that I need to check in on the people I care about regularly and ask them how they are… not in a passing sort of way but in a real way… no, how are you, really? Are you suffering? Can I help? Are you happy? About what? I want the details…

No doubt Kate Spade had people in her life who were concerned about her, and even though they may have reached out – even though we can reach out daily to the people we love – it’s no guarantee that we can stop them from doing what they’re going to do.

But we can form a bond with them based on real human connection. A bond that reverberates between worlds, between realms, and can maybe, possibly, serve as a healing balm in times of loss.

How understanding the third eye chakra will improve your writing

Getting inside our characters’ heads can feel second-nature to us writers, and oftentimes, we gravitate to stream-of-consciousness or interior monologues. This can work – as William Faulkner showed us with The Sound and the Fury (although the novel’s success was delayed… and I found it unreadable, but I digress). However, we need to ask ourselves what we want to accomplish with this kind of invasion to our characters’ minds.

Showing our readers all the troubled, angry, tired, sad, fragile, and destructive thoughts in our characters’ minds is most definitely a way to connect them with and help them empathize with characters. And the way we do that can mean success or failure.

After we’ve gotten clear with our characters’ voices – as discussed with the Throat Chakra – we can explore their Third Eye Chakra, which is the seat of intuition. What do they know, without a doubt? (We typically think of this as a “gut-level” response to life; however, it starts here, in the Third Eye Chakra, a somewhat ethereal part of us that defies “rational” human thought.)

Whether our characters trust their intuition or not is one thing, and the way we portray that intuition is another. We run interior monologues all the time. This is how we sort out life. We run through a multitude of scenarios, trying on all the “what-ifs” for each one.

What our characters think, HOW they think (stream of consciousness, more understandable broken thoughts, or pretend conversations), and what they do with those thoughts informs not just our readers about how to interpret their stories, but us, the writers of those stories, as well.

How do your characters’ thoughts align – or not – with their desires and motivations, and what does this tell you about their ability to make decisions?

Author Interview – Arwen Spicer

 

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
Lately, a lot my energies have gone into developing a concept I call workable utopias, the idea of imagining societies that function very well but are plausible, not perfect. My interest in this mode of science fiction grows directly out of Ursula K. Le Guin’s idea of the “ambiguous utopia,” the subtitle of her 1974 novel, The Dispossessed, about an anarchist society. An ambiguous utopian work explores a society that is “ideal” in many ways but it also acknowledges that negatives are inherent in any system. For me, workable utopias is much the same concept but, to my mind, more directly focused on how the human race and much of Earth-based life can survive—because we’re in a moment now, in the real world, where it’s far from certain we will. That’s my underlying compulsion.

As to how my books reflect it, my most recent release is a new edition of my first novel, Perdita, trimmed down and tightened up. Perdita recounts a planet’s struggle over how (or if) to use a dangerous space travel technology introduced into their midst. A long-term conflict between pro-tech and anti-tech factions explodes in ugly political and interpersonal strife as they attempt to solve this question. Utopian? Well, I conceived of Perdita a long time before the concept of workable utopias coalesced in my mind. That said, yes. Yes, it actually is on the utopian spectrum.

You see, though the Perditans grapple with social and ecological problems, every single problem—every one—is less bad than what we face every day on Earth. Food shortage? Yes, but no one starves. War? There’s guerrilla war, but no drones or nuclear weapons or civilians routinely killed by terrorist attacks. Ecological breakdown? That’s the central problem of Perdita, that they might wreck their biosphere with this new tech. But even if they do, Perdita is just one planet out of hundreds that sustain Earth-based life. Earth-based life, humanity: these aren’t in jeopardy at all.

That’s a good illustration of the utopian heart of my science fiction universe, the Continuation. It’s often not pretty. My second novel, The Hour before Morning, is dark as heck, concerning three people from a brutally colonized society about to be executed. But all these problems are passing. They exist within the underlying stability that comes from a distributed human race living across several nations on many planets, most with populations well within ecological carrying capacity. They have room to absorb the shocks. On Earth today, our margin for shock absorption is rapidly running out. I want to present a future in which resilience is unassailable. And I think all my Continuation works do that one way or another.

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
I’ve encountered twenty-five years of obstacles with Perdita! Reimagining work I began as a teenager, my own verbosity (the single thing I’ve revised most in the new edition), money.

Speaking of my Continuation works more broadly, however, the reality is that far-future cultural exploration is not much in demand now in traditional science fiction publishing. It’s not YA; it’s not near future; it’s not zany, it’s not based heavily on a specific present-day human culture… I could name a lot of agent and publisher desires that it’s not.

But it’s what I do. I think most writers write because our hearts compel us. And whether my mode of expression is currently popular or not, I absolutely believe the project of utopian writing, in general, is vital to our world’s ability to navigate an increasingly treacherous future. We cannot forget how to imagine hope. In that vein, I’m heartened to see an increasing number of calls for stories that imagine our vibrant survival of climate change. We need those ideas if we’re going to achieve anything like the reality.

 How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?
Here I have to move away from Perdita. Though it is my most recent release, it’s been a long time since I fundamentally wrote it. Of my more recent manuscripts, those currently under revision, the most personally impactful has been Mercy, a Continuation novel in which the mysterious abduction of various famous people becomes a forum for grappling with conscience and the consequences.

I wrote most of this novel in 2015-16 as a therapeutic tool for grieving the abrupt and traumatic end of an important friendship. Now, personal therapy does not necessarily make the best novels, and I make no claims about its quality. But help my life it certainly did. It gave me an outlet for a torrent of thoughts and pain. Looking back over it from the perspective of 2018, I can see very clearly how far my grieving process has progressed. And I remain very glad I have that record of my feelings.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
I have self-published Perdita and The Hour before Morning. The process is infinitely simpler than it used to be and, thankfully, more socially acceptable. That’s the good part. The bad part is twofold. It’s expensive to do it well, including professional editing, a good cover design, etc. It’s also difficult—and more expensive—to get away from having the sales and distribution of your work controlled by large corporate players. I have yet to solve this, but my preferred course of action thus far is to buy my own inventory and sell it face to face. Readers can also buy directly from my website http://www.arwenspicer.com/ through PayPal, skip Amazon, maximize my earnings per book, and get an autographed copy with my sincere thanks for supporting indie authors. I have recently discontinued my books on Kindle as part of an effort to minimize ties with Amazon, but I will release new ebook versions in the future.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?
I’ve been in several writers groups over the years and love them! At present, I regularly participate in write-ins through 9 Bridges here in Portland, which has been a great way to get to know other local writers, from acclaimed to just starting out. These folks routinely share their insights about both the business and craft of writing. Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about the business.

I miss being in a more craft-oriented writers group, however. I have learned the craft from other writers. One example of a permanent change in my style: my friend Nye Joell Hardy, sadly taken from us far too young by leukemia, taught me long ago about the one line paragraph: that rare punchy line that just deserves to be by itself. That’s become a standard tool in my toolbox. I cannot imagine writing without sharing work with and learning from other writers.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
In the past couple of years, the weekly 9 Bridges write-ins have kept me going, even when life, work, and parenthood strip away other writing time. That means I get a minimum of a couple of hours of writing a week. When time allows, especially in summers when I’m not teaching, I like to write in the morning before breakfast when the house is quiet and kids are asleep. I write in bed. It’s lovely.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
(Long chuckle…) Let’s only count ones that I’m actively working on or are complete manuscripts. My novel Mercy is complete but happens to be book 4 in a series of which Perdita is book 1, so it won’t see the light of day until I’ve written books 2 and 3. I’m preparing another Continuation novel, The Swallow in Flight, to go out on submission soon. It’s my most properly utopian novel to date, a work about two very different cultures trying to coexist with a natural disaster flings them together. I am also on the first draft of a fun new Continuation novel, The Soldier and the Warden, which is a male/male love story set against a backdrop ecological hardships leading to war. After a few years of revising drafts, I’m loving the free play and fresh energy of a brand new story.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
The concept of “spirituality” has never spoken to me personally. I can use the word but it doesn’t resonate. So I guess I’d say, no, I don’t view my writing as spiritual. But I do view it as essential. And lately, I’m happy to say, it’s giving me joy again after quite some time in the doldrums. It’s a natural drive that will always be part of me.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
A friend of mine who’s a doctor once described the chaotic days of his residency as like having much of his mind switched off. His love of history, reading, hiking, traveling, all had to be shut down so that he could eat, sleep, and go to work. That’s what my life has been like in stretches where I’ve been too busy to write. I can get through the day, but a piece of me is absent. I am not my full self. I am not living my life. I strive these days to maintain at least a small place for writing every week. I cannot imagine my life without ever writing again. It would be like being locked away and never seeing the sky.

Why do you write?
I write to express the giant piece of myself that lives in the worlds inside my head. I write to tell stories that need to be told. (This is especially true in fan fiction, which I don’t write much these days but profoundly love and respect.) I write to put forward non-dominant ways of thinking about our world, our future, and human relationships. I write to make my readers happy. I write because it’s fun.


Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and educator born in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and offers workshops and services on the concept of workable utopias, a methodology for artists, activists, and visionaries to imagine radically hopeful futures.

Learn more about Arwen and her work:
arwenspicer.com
https://www.facebook.com/ArwenSpicerScienceFiction/