Tag Archive | creative block

Onward and Upward with NaNoWriMo

Imagination Rain.epsIt’s Tuesday, November 15, 2016. November is half over, and so is NaNoWriMo. Once again it’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve vowed to write 50,000 words by November 30. So far, I’ve written just over 10,000, and the jazzy graph of my statistics on the NaNo website predicts that at the rate I’m going, I’ll finish on January 11, 2017. So should I give up? No way—there’s still time to salvage what’s left of this ghastly month.

“The time for hesitation’s through, no time to wallow in the mire.” So sang Jim Morrison, and though his “Light My Fire” lyrics were about lust, they apply equally well to creativity. And why not? Like the late lamented Leonard Cohen, the Lizard King was a poet before he morphed into a pop star.

jim-morrison

Jim Morrison

Like practically everyone I know, online and off, I’ve been wallowing in the mire of depression ever since last week’s election, and tiptoeing around the dismal swamp that our government and political system have become for months before that. I’ve frittered away countless hours online, tracking the latest polls, reading the left-leaning articles and opinion pieces in the Huffington Post, clicking the links that lead to still more articles that clutter up my brain with gloom and doom scenarios.

dwayne-the-rock-johnson-net-worth

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

This morning, amidst all the horrifying stories about Trump’s transition and the scary people he’s recruiting to ruin our country as we know it, I came upon some breaking news that’s actually cheerful: People magazine has named “Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as its Sexiest Man Alive. I’ve always liked “The Rock,” though huge muscle-bound men have never been my type. But probably the People editors thought we could use a little levity in these dark days, and despite his huge hulkiness, The Rock is reportedly a nice guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, unlike certain politicians I could name. (FYI, my favorite Sexiest Man choice in recent years has been Mathew McConnaghey. I even referenced his looks in describing one of the characters in my novel Eldercide.

matthew-mcconaughey

Matthew McConaughey

In hopes of breaking free of the shackles of gloom and doom, I’m resolving to cut down radically on my news consumption, whether online, on TV or in good old-fashioned newspapers. I’m cutting back on Facebook too, since most of my FB friends are still preoccupied with the political scene. Instead, I’ll do my best to play ostrich for a while, focus on the people and pets I love, and zero in on my writing.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I won’t be working on a novel. Instead, I’m focusing on a new nonfiction project, a book on creativity and blasting through the blocks that inhibit it. In recent months, I’ve given some workshops on the topic. I’ve enjoyed them immensely, and so have the participants. It’s a lot more fun than reading passages from my novels in hopes people will buy them, and paradoxically, I’ve sold more books when I’m not overtly flogging them.

nanowrimo-camp-2015-poster-get-lost-writeBack in a former lifetime, when I was a creative arts therapist, I gave workshops on creativity, dream work and women’s issues at colleges and growth centers, but it’s a skill set I haven’t used in many years. Facilitating the creativity of others, I realized I’ve got a lot to say about it—hence the book project I’m plunging into now. It will be part memoir, part self-help, part exploration into past and present findings about how the brain works, and much more. I’ll probably include stories from other writers about their own adventures with the creative process. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post. Please subscribe so you won’t miss anything. I’ll talk with you soon!

Summer was a bummer, but I’m back

It’s the first full day of autumn, an auspicious day for new beginnings, and for better or worse, I’m back on my blog, after a leave of absence that lasted virtually all summer. I’ve been mired in a deep depression that stole over me last May, robbing me of my motivation and self-confidence, convincing me that I no longer had anything worth writing about, much less anything people would care about enough to read. But with the coming of fall, I’ve resolved to write myself out of my doldrums.

Writing is an integral part of my identity, and the notion that my writing years might be behind me severely deepened my depression. I spent far too many beautiful summer days ensconced in my old Lazy Boy recliner, endlessly reading other authors’ novels. For the first time in ages, I bypassed the races at Saratoga.

The sorry state of my parched and weed-infested garden all too accurately mirrors my state of mind. Upstate New York’s been unusually dry this summer, with only half its normal rainfall over the past two months, and my imagination has been suffering a similar drought. In May and June, my posts grew less frequent, more downbeat. Afraid of becoming a Debbie Downer like the Saturday Night Live character, I made a deliberate decision to stop blogging, possibly forever.

I made a mistake. I missed the creative excitement that came with crafting a new post, the cameraderie of the online community, and I came to feel increasingly like a nebbishy nonentity. So I’m jumping back in, hoping it’s not too late.

Charles Burchfield

What brought on this dark night of the soul? Probably a combination of biochemical and psychosocial factors. I’ve written before about my bipolar diagnosis, but it’s been well controlled with medication, and over the past few years, my mood has been amazingly upbeat and sunny. Back in May, in the post titled “Depression – cloudy, cool and drizzly,” I said, “I’m a firm believer in the biochemical nature of manic depression, as some still prefer to call bipolar disorder, and I know medications work.” I had faith in my shrink’s ability to tweak my medications enough to banish my increasingly bleak moods, but I’ve undergone lots of tweaking in the months since then, and nothing seems to work.

What triggered my depression, I’ve come to believe, is an old-fashioned identity crisis. For years I’ve identified myself as a mystery writer, but the success I’ve dreamed of has eluded me. I’m proud of my two self-published novels, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders and Eldercide, but the sales have been less than stellar. I’d hoped that building an online identity through my blog would boost my readership, but I came to realize that impressive blog stats don’t necessarily mean lots of people will buy my books, and my track record isn’t likely to inspire an agent or editor to beat down my door any time soon.   

Even so, I enjoy online schmoozing far more than marketing my books in person. My depression descended soon after a signing at a local independent book store. It was my first straight solo signing ever, with no talk, panel discussion or party to drum up interest. True, I sold a few books, but each sale took painstaking effort in teasing out the themes that would appeal to each reader. For some it was the regional locale, for others an interest in bipolar disorder or end-of-life issues, for still others an interest in mysteries pure and simple. I’m basically an introvert, and the expenditure of energy left me drained and exhausted, with the realization that I’m just not cut out to be a demon marketer. Never was, never will be.

But am I still a mystery writer? At the very least, I’m a woman who has written four mystery novels and published two of them, and that’s something to be proud of, or so I try to convince myself. Will I write another? The verdict’s still out on that one. But one thing’s for sure – I’m still a writer, and I need to write. My life literally depends on it.

Can I write my way out of this depression? Stay tuned to find out. Never fear, I’ll cover other subjects as well, but I plan to post at least twice a week. And if you’ve read this far, please leave a comment – I know my readership has dwindled during this hiatus, but I need to know you’re out there.

Venting negative thoughts in writing – is it always therapeutic?

Edward Munch

Commenting on my “Slump-A-Dump” poem in the last post, Bob Sanchez praised my quasi-rap rhyming and characterized the piece as “healthy venting.” He got me thinking – how healthy is using your writing as a way of venting negative thoughts? Can it be counterproductive? I’m afraid that sometimes the answer is yes.

This morning I attempted a poem about the depression that’s been plaguing me since May. One passage reads:

I score my mood on scales of one through ten,

with one as suicidal, ten as manic, trying to uncover

conscious weather patterns I can manipulate at will

by choosing wholesome activities that bring me pleasure

or failing that, alleviate the pain. Writing works sometimes.

Writing didn’t work today. I woke up with my mood at three or four, but wallowing in negativity for the hour it took me took me to come up with a first draft left me feeling like a two. I wrote about the heat wave that’s forecast to roll in tomorrow,* and how that will give me a more valid excuse for misery than I’ve had during the recent stretch of gorgeous summer days. Did committing my thoughts to paper have a positive cathartic effect? On the contrary, I felt even worse.

M.E. Kemp commented that short stories are one option for barreling through a creative block. I began one a few days ago about a woman who decides to take to her bed for good. She converses with a shadowy archetype who encourages her in her resolution, and speculates about how high a dosage of her favorite sleeping pill, Lunesta, would prove fatal. Only the need to feed her cats prevents her from carrying out her plans – for the time being.

As I wrote about Gladys’s sweat-stained sheets and wondered how long it would take for her cats’ hungry nudges and love nips to morph into full-blown attack mode – would she have to die first? – I realized I didn’t want to go down the path my imagination was taking me. I couldn’t envision an epiphany for Gladys, something for her to live for, nor did I want to accompany her on a slow and painful death. After three pages, the story peters out, possibly for good.

On the other hand, healthy venting fueled the fire that inspired both my mystery novels. Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is about transcending the stigma of mental illness, and Eldercide explores the ethical dilemmas that arise as our allotted life spans grow ever longer. For me, writing has to spring from conviction, something I feel passionately about that I’ve absolutely got to get down on paper. I’m waiting impatiently for that subject to manifest itself.

 *The heat wave is here, threatening to break all kinds of records in upstate New York, and sure enough, the external excuse for misery helps me feel a little better about myself. I wrote this post a few days ago but felt it was too downbeat to publish unless I could come up with a more positive ending. But what the heck – I need to get something up here regardless. Maybe you can come up with some more upbeat comments to help cheer me up.

 

Slump-A-Dump: Rapping my way through a creative block

Writing as everyday spiritual practice was the topic of one of my recent blog posts, but writing mindfully and staying in the present moment is a lot more difficult than it might seem. Since I’ve been feeling creatively blocked lately, I decided to follow my own advice, switch genres and write a poem about my current state of mind.

Simple enough, right? Hardly. My inner critic kicked in big-time. I found myself playing with rhyme and rhythm as a rapper might, but my “umpire” kept telling me I was making a mess of things. No sooner had I come up with the first few lines than I began wondering if the poem would be appropriate for posting on my blog. I could envision myself reading it at the next open mic at the Social Justice Center in Albany, but how would it come across online? Would the constipation imagery turn people off?

Is the word “turd” too vulgar for my readers?

I decided I could care less. I’ll let you be the judge, and I’ll try not to worry what you think (although as always, I welcome your comments). I recommend the following exercise: write a poem, and make it as crass, corny and vulgar as you can. Have fun, and don’t worry about quality. Who knows what makes for good poetry anyway? 

So is this poem an example of everyday spiritual practice? Writing it, I found myself immersed in the moment, and I feel more centered and energized now than before I began, so I believe it qualifies.

Slump-A-Dump Poem

Humpty-dump-dump, I’m sure in a slump.

Got that internal ump telling me I’m no damn good,

saying to give writing up – hell, well, maybe I should,

but that leaves a huge hole where there used to be soul.

***

Hey, I sound like a rapper, with my heart in the crapper,

chasing rhythms and rhymes, trying to get through this time

of gloom and despair – came on me from nowhere,

snaking up through thin air, twining me in its grasp,

this rhetorical asp has its coils round my throat.

Now my umpire gloats as I strangle on words

hard and dry as old turds that refuse to come out.

The frustration’s so painful, I choke back a shout.

***

I blogged about writing as spiritual practice –

sure, that’s what my act is, but the matter of fact is

I feel like a fake, and that critic keeps raking me

over the coals, telling me I’m too old

to go on any longer. Sure, if I were lots younger,

I might join the dance, have a chance to advance

in this crazy charade of a writing career,

refuse to accept that the end’s far too near –

no, that just isn’t so – I’ve got decades to go.

(Yeah, right, if I’m lucky, and relentlessly plucky.)

***

So I sit on my rump in this bitch of a slump,

fingers clawed over keys, hoping for a fresh breeze

blown my way by some muse who might choose

to fill up my sails, lift me out of these doldrums,

stop me going insane from this sludge in my brain.

***

Maybe writing this doggerel will lift all the fog, or I’ll

stay in this slough of despond – but no, I don’t want

to give in to being mopey and dopey. Nope,

I must persevere. Tell that muse, “Hey, I’m here!”

Tell the ump she’s a chump, and soar out of this slump.