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/

How understanding the throat chakra will improve your writing

All writing is hard, and dialogue may be one of the hardest aspects of writing. Oftentimes, we start by putting two people in a space with a conflict to create a scene. We start writing, and we get them talking to see where the conversation takes them and the story. While just letting them talk can work and eventually lead us to the core of the scene, it can also sometimes eat up valuable time.

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations can help us with crafting characters and giving them voice. Now I’m going to contradict myself, because to be honest, the process of writing is one, big, messy contradiction. What is true for one scene, story, or book, might not be for another. This is the pain and perfection of the creative process. There are no formulaic answers.

Much of the day-to-day dialogue we hear in real life doesn’t belong on the page. Dialogue should be more layered than that. It should accomplish more than just making a scene. It should advance the story, further character development, and more.

The Throat Chakra is the culmination of our expression – our will – that we’ve gathered while identifying our identities in the Root Chakra, our relationships with others in the Sacral Chakra, our ability to be agents of our own lives in the Solar Plexus Chakra, and our level of love and compassion in the Heart Chakra – which is a bridge between the lower and upper chakras.

Before you attempt to get your characters talking, give some thought to all the information you’ve amassed about them by studying them through the lens of the lower four chakras. Think about their desires and motivations. Think about their self-image and self-confidence or lack thereof. Think about their fears and vulnerabilities.

Rather than force them to say what you want, let them be their own free agents. Let them show their not-so-desirable sides – even your protagonist (and even if the protagonist is you). Show them in all their frail humanity. They will thank you for it, and your readers will thank you for it.

Which one of your characters has been giving you the most trouble? Write this character’s monologue, telling you what you’re not letting them say, and see what you discover. (Let her/him be in control, for a change.)

How understanding the heart chakra will improve your writing

When we get clear about each of our characters’ sense of awareness about themselves, their awareness of each other and how they interact and take action, as we discussed with the Solar Plexus Chakra, we can then move forward with writing authentic, round, dynamic supporting characters for our protagonist – even, and maybe especially – their antagonist(s).

We humans sometimes have a tendency to want to get revenge in our writing against people who have harmed us. But hard as it may be to write about our stories’ antagonists with love and compassion – especially when we’re writing memoir-based stories – it’s essential if we want to connect with readers and help them see the complexities of life and relationships in a new light. (And remember, this isn’t about writing to excuse bad behavior. It’s about exploring the complexities of the human condition.)

As the wonderful Ann Lamott says, “You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason. But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story. Bad things happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not all behave perfectly all the time.”

Because like it or not, even our real-life antagonists are facets of us. Throughout life, we come up against people who serve as mirrors of us. Think of it as spiritual checks and balances. And this is the level of understanding and insight we want to impart on the page.

Do you have an antagonist you want to paint as evil and are having a hard time finding her/his humanity?

Go back to this character’s backstory, as we discussed in the post on the Root Chakra, and see what you can find in their history.

Stories about strangers – writing to create connection with people, even if you never know them

I recently wrote about how strangers can enhance our writing, and I want to elaborate more on that here, based on scenarios I witnessed outside my apartment window over the course of a few weeks.

Here in Portland, we’re experiencing an epidemic in homelessness, and as a downtown dweller, I see the effects of this problem firsthand. Camps are frequently set up, then dismantled, in the two-block circumference surrounding my apartment.

Several weeks ago, a couple set up their tent right across the street from my four large windows that overlook a fairly main thoroughfare downtown. The city’s MAX train run right by, and during the day, there’s a pretty steady stream of cars. At night, the motorized traffic ebbs and I become more aware of foot traffic.

A few weeks back, I saw a couple pitch their bright blue tent, which took up about a 5′ x 7′ area, and they put out a small welcome mat. They left no footprint other than this. One morning, when I opened my blinds to start my day, I saw the man standing outside the tent wearing his usual dark grey, wool coat over a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. A knitted tan beanie covered his head. The woman stepped out in a pair of colorful yoga pants and a hoodie, and she began to run a lint roller over his shoulders and down his back. The man picked up the walking stick that lay across their welcome mat every night – the walking stick that I imagined he had carefully crafted from a limb; it was perfectly carved and polished and it added another dignified dimension to his already dignified appearance – and he set off down the street.

Later that day, while I was riding the streetcar, I saw him on the corner looking for cans in the garbage, and later that day, I saw him return to their tent with a bag of groceries. I watched them share a granola bar and a bottle of water.

At this point in my observations (and I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a voyeur, of sorts), I couldn’t deny their humanity, the grace with which they lived each day (from the snippets I witnessed), and their pride in their home… and a story started to blossom in my mind.

I needed names for these two, maybe partly because that’s what the writer in me does… but maybe more as a way to give them some humanity – a need I had, not as the privileged bestower of something they already possessed. He looked like a Mark to me, and she, like a Maria. If you’re a writer, you might be able to understand what was happening here for me… my writer’s mind was forming a story – not out of exploitation, but out of seeking to feel a connection through a story. It’s second nature.

I considered, several times, leaving them a note – or telling them in person if they were home when I was outside – ‘thank you’ for being such good neighbors. They were quiet, respectful, clean, and tidy.

Over the course of these several weeks, I saw people stop by to socialize with them and move on. A new man showed up and pitched his tent next to theirs. His footprint was larger and more disheveled, and a few days later, the police came and arrested the man. They took him and a little plastic packet of something away – but not before going back to his site and collecting his shoes for him. Mark talked to the police, and from what I gathered, they were allowed to stay. I watched him tidy up his neighbor’s site and neatly cover it with blankets.

Within a couple of week’s time, another couple made the sidewalk across the street from me their home, right next door to Mark and Maria. They had more and they were loud. I could hear their voices through my opened windows, and I could see Mark talking with them, but his soft-spoken voice never made it across the street. By now, the weather had warmed, and he had shed his wool coat for a tan corduroy blazer and continued to walk the streets with his walking stick and have people over in the evenings – many of them much younger males. With his staff, long-ish white beard, and dignified presence, I imagined him to be the wise sage in the community.

I imagined him to be an artistic soul… a wood carver or a painter. And I imagined Maria to be a dancer. I imagined them living a creative life together for years until a series of events changed the course of their lives and put them on the streets. I imagined the effort it took to maintain the sense of dignity I saw in them, their quiet and poised presence. I wondered whether either of them had kids and if so, where they were. Maybe these two had been imperfect parents to the point of estrangement… I don’t know.

But if this were the case – if they had made such a mess of their lives that they found themselves alone (but together), sleeping in a tent on the cement in downtown Portland – they seemed to have a powerful aura of pride and self-respect about them. Maybe this quality they exuded was redemptive, and maybe the redemption came after year upon year of bad choices and missteps, or maybe they were victims of the system…

Eventually, the people who set up camp next to them brought chaos and clutter, and someone called the police, who came and made them all pack up and move. I watched Mark talk with the police, then set out to remove his and Maria’s belongings from the tent and pack them in a few knapsacks. I watched him dismantle their bright blue tent and roll up their welcome mat, and I watched them walk away down the sidewalk to find another spot they could call home.

A few days after they left, I was on my way to a meeting on foot, and I passed Mark on the sidewalk.I saw him coming toward me, and the impression I had of him through the window was doubled, tripled, quadrupled as he passed me. His weathered but kind face, his tired but kind eyes, an obvious sense of peace emanated from him.

I almost said something to him. I almost stopped him. But I didn’t. At that moment, I was at a loss as to what I’d say. I doubted my own ability to say anything to this man from my privileged position that wouldn’t come across as condescending or trite. (I think part of my one-sided connection to Mark and Maria was that I have had – many times in my life – the there-but-by-the-grace-of-God-go-I thought. I have felt close more times than make me comfortable…)

I let him walk on past and I have not seen him since. I still wonder what their real story is, and I kick myself for not stopping him to say something. I, as a person who values people’s stories so much, froze from fear. I failed to reach out and connect. I wish I knew their story, and I wonder what they would think of the one I created. Would they feel honored, insulted? Would they think it funny and naive that I even tried?

I still can’t explain my draw to these two, and I will likely always remember them as Mark and Maria, the homeless artist and dancer who live one day at a time and have found a way to experience grace and humility amidst daily uncertainty about their survival.

Maybe I’ll always think of them this way because to think otherwise might just break my heart.