Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mark My Words!

What do we mean when we say “mark my words?” We usually mean our words have communicated a truth about something that has yet to come to pass. We tend to be smug in our assertions about the future based on what we see or experience now. For example, let’s say the neighbor’s kid just hit you with a water balloon. In a huff you say: “That kid is going to be nothing but trouble when he grows up. You mark my words!” You are the all powerful seer and people should mark your words because they will be true someday. As much power as our words have, we are not all powerful, especially when it comes to other peoples’ lives or even the lives of the characters we create.

Of course, your words could have an effect if you actually said them to the kid. It gets messy when we use our words to try to change others, though. The opposite of what we want can happen and they may resent or blame us. The only person you can really change is yourself. And even then don’t be so smug as to mark your words for yourself. You’re an organic being, always in flux. Don’t tell yourself you’ll only be one way. If you think about it, you’re never exactly the way you were the day before. That’s great news! We can’t really be poured into some mold of our own or someone else’s creation and be permanently fixed forever in a certain form.

Remember, that I mentioned not marking your words about the characters you create? If you are going to tell a good story, your characters need to be allowed to take on a life of their own. Your character outline is not something you want to write in stone. As you write, your characters will surprise you. Let them. They may lead you to a better story or give you clues as to where you might want to take the plot next.

Be open to the creative process and to life. Things don’t work well boxed in and rarely do things go exactly how you thought they would. So relax, enjoy, and see what happens next.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Creating from the Dream World

“I tell my writing students that works of art do not come from the mind; they come from the place where you dream.”
~Robert Olen Butler

Last week I wrote about how we can use our dreams to create our stories both in life and on the page. This week I’m going to let someone else talk via his online lectures. Robert Olen Butler is Pulitzer-winning novelist and professor of creative writing at Florida State University. His book “From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction” inspired me to go deeper into the trance state when writing fiction. I don’t follow his process completely, but he has given me confidence to write from the subconscious. I’m more comfortable there. I’ve never been one to create detailed outlines. Of course we need to use whatever works best for us, but I think what he has to say about the creative process is helpful.

Have you ever tried to live your life by a detailed plan and then have your life be completely derailed from this plan? I know when I get too caught up in the details of my plan that I’m not present enough to deal with the derailment. I’ve found it’s better to be in touch with your intuition and go with the flow. Sure, have goals and plans, we all need direction, but don’t adhere to them to the point of trying to force life to happen the way you want. You may miss out on something better. Same goes for writing. Have a loose plan if you need one, but be open to what floats up out of the subconscious. That’s where the real magic takes place. It’s the source of the spells you want to cast with your words.

So enough chatter from me, go visit Robert’s “Inside Creative Writing” web page and listen to his sessions on his process. They are long and there are 17 of them, but give it a try. I have yet to go through them all. It is interesting and so is the book. At the very least, go into that writing trance and see what comes up from the depths.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Reality of Dreams

When we close our eyes at night other realities emerge from within us. Some say it’s our subconscious playing out what happened during the day and trying to make sense of it. Some say it is other worlds that we visit when we sleep. I think it’s probably both and sometimes neither. Our dreaming is fluid. Trying to order it and box it into perfect categories will only warp the meanings we receive. Take heed of your dreams, but use a poet’s eye when you try to understand what they are about. Look and see how they can help you make sense of yourself and your life.

Dreams also bring us many interesting ideas for writing, especially in creative writing. I had a dream the other night in which I was doing some rather mundane things and then a story idea came to me. When I woke up I remembered it. It’s a pretty good idea. I might use it. I wasn’t trying to get an idea from my dreams, but it is possible to purposely use your dreams for such things.

Now you may say you don’t remember your dreams. That can be remedied. Before you go to sleep tell yourself you will remember your dreams. Soon you will. Also when you do dream, write it down. Don’t wait until morning because you will most likely forget it. The very act of doing these things trains you to be aware of your dream life.

Once you’ve established yourself as a conscious dreamer* you can use your dreams for more detailed work. You can ask yourself a question before you go to sleep. Try asking about a project you are having trouble with. Maybe you want to know where next to take it. See what comes up and remember to look at your dreams with poet’s eyes because the subconscious uses metaphor, symbols, and images. But sometimes a door is just a door. Learn to know the difference and don’t over analyze.

Dreams are just another aspect of your reality. They can provide you with insights and help with problems. You can learn a lot about yourself and with this self-knowledge you can create the reality of your dreams.

*I’m not talking about lucid dreaming. I’m talking about being aware of your dreaming not being awake in the dream. You want to let the subconscious do the work which is impossible once you are conscious in a dream.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Are You Speaking in First Draft Mode?

Every day we talk to many people, but how often do we think about the words we choose? In writing we dash off that first draft, more attention going to the ideas we want to express than to the words we use to do it. Then in the rewrite we think carefully about what words work best to get our idea across that threshold between minds. But when talking to people, it seems we’re often in first draft mode. This seems especially so when we communicate with those we are in relationship with, because we know that they will get our meaning, or will they?

What if we say, “I don’t want to watch that stupid show.” That may be true, but what if our loved one does like it? Now they think, that we think, that they are stupid. Of course, we don’t think that. We could question their taste in this particular circumstance, but we think they are intelligent human beings. We didn’t mean anything by it. I once told an old boyfriend that, “I feel we’re growing apart.” This threw him. He became very upset. There was truth in those words and their power set things in motion. Maybe there was no easy way to bring it up, but at the time I didn’t necessarily want to break up, but that’s what happened within a few months. With those words I set things in motion within my psyche and his. My reality shifted.

Remember what your parents used to say: “Think before you speak,” and “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.” It seems they understood that words carry a lot of power. Why do we understand this in writing, but then run our mouth on automatic in our speech?

It’s too easy to just open your mouth and speak, but writing makes you slow down. Slowing down and thinking helps. You contemplate the myriad of ways to say things until you settle on the most effective way for your purposes. (If you’re not doing this in your writing and you think that the first thing that you put down on paper is perfect, I’d ask you to take a second look at what’s on the paper. Rarely is it perfect the first time, even for the most experienced writer.)

The next time someone asks you something, or you feel the need to voice your opinion, take a moment before you answer. Stop and think about the best way to express yourself. What you say can change things, so make sure you mean what you say.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Write for the Ear

W.B. Yeats said, “Write for the ear.” I’m an ear person so this is something I feel is important for my own understanding. But I also think we can get a lot more from our words if we keep this in mind.

The sounds of words are especially important in poetry. Not all poets think so though. Some poets write strictly for the page, but I say there is more power when your words are written to be heard. According to the Vedics you get the idea of something via the sound of the word, that the sound is the “the shelter of the meaning”. Greater understanding can be gotten through hearing the spoken word. In hearing it you get the speakers tone and inflection as well as any layers of meaning embedded in the sounds. It’s also true that when the sound of language flows your reader won’t stumble over your words. It keeps them in the flow where they can best get what you are saying.

Physically giving voice to something not only gives it more power via the meaning in the sounds it also extends its reach to a wider audience. Words as sounds vibrating through air cast a wider spell. They also cast a more potent spell by creating a physical experience which gives more dimensions to the event of hearing a piece of writing.

What about affirmations? Does speaking the reality we want work better than just keeping it in our heads? When we vibrate those words through our bodies we can viscerally feel the words which makes what we envision feel more alive. Try it and see what works best for you.

So keep the ear in mind when writing. Sound adds more power. And remember the power of sound when speaking your truth and creating your reality. Words are potent and that potency can be multiplied by turning words in your head into vibrations that resonate through your body and in the air.