Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Begin

Someone commented a couple of weeks ago, wondering how I center, myself to begin creating. This commenter said that they wasted their first 10-15 minutes just trying to figure out how to begin. I'd like to answer this commenter, now, because I think we all struggle with this from time to time.

Dear Anonymous Commenter,

I understand what you're saying. My process tends to be a bit erratic. I don't sit down every day at the same time and write. I know writers and other creatives that have that kind of a process, but it doesn't work for me. I will tell you about "how" I go about writing and I'll give you some suggestions that may help you. Take from this what speaks to you and leave what doesn't. All of us face this issue, at times, and we all have our little quirky ways of trying to deal with it. Do what feels right for you.

First, my process for creating anything starts with an idea - as all things do. I know writers that sit down at the page or artists that stand in front of the paper and don't know what's going to come out. That's okay, if that's you, but it's not me. So, I start with an idea and I come up with things to write about all the time. I keep a list of them in the back of my sketchbook so, if on a particular day I know I should write, I just select one that speaks to me at that time and go.

How do I center to begin? Well, first of all, my enviornment is very important for me. We all have our preferences. I need to be able to be in a place where I can have laser-like focus, then back off and give myself a "brain break." I like to write in a local bar, for this reason. I can sit in a booth and have my reference materials scattered around me while I focus and sip coffee, or I can go to the bar and have a friendly conversation. Then, back to the task at hand.

If I'm unable to be at the bar I prefer, I write sitting in my bed. Now I know that all the sleep experts say not to do anything in bed but sleep, but that' s never worked for me. My bed is soft, it's comfy, my back is supported and I can have something on Netflix in the background for noise.

Now, for timing. I find myself to be almost completely 100% unable to create in the daytime. No matter the project, when the sun is up, I just can't bring myself to focus on it. I like creating at night. I like that all things become possible in the dark and the shadows, that things become more intimate in the dark. I feel like I can hear my inner creative voice better when the glaring light of day is done. This normally means that I don't get to sleep until 2 - 4 am, but it's the schedule that I work best on.

As far as the actual doing goes, like I said, I have an idea in my head so I've already got some idea where I'm going to go. What I hear when you say that you "don't know where to begin" is that you're afraid you're going to begin "wrong." And let me tell you something - that's what editing is for. That's what proofreading is for. Please let go of that fear of being wrong. Just jump in. Writing begins with just one sentence. A piece of artwork begins with just one sketched line. There's nothing in the RULES OF WRITING (which we're all afraid of breaking) that says those first little attempts have to appear in the finished product.

When I was 15, I took an amazing weekend writing retreat with the absolutely incredible Pat Schneider. (I recommend every single one of her books, so get them all! They're one of the best resources out there.) Pat introduced me to timed writing, encouraged all of us to just get our hand moving, to break through the fear of doing it "wrong" and just be ourselves on the page. She encouraged us just to show up, to tell our truth and to let that be. At first, it was scary. I looked around the room at all the other people who were so much older than me. They were just scribbling away. Finally, I just took a deep breath and wrote, "I don't know how to do this. I'm afraid that all the other people in here are Shakespeare and I'm just some stupid kid babbling on the page." I was honest. I stayed with my first thoughts (the ones before the fear, the most honest ones) and wrote them down. Eventually, the fear fell away because I realized that even Shakespeare didn't get it write the first time. Iambic pentameter doesn't flow from our mouths or thoughts naturally. Even the greats have to work at their craft. Also check out the books by Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron. Very great ladies!

 Sometimes, when I have something deeply personal and intense that I want to write about, I picture a friend in my mind. At the top of the page, I write "Dear (Whoever I'm Writing To)." Sometimes it helps me to pretend that I'm telling this story to a close friend because if you can sit and tell your close friends a story and have them saying, "Really? What happened then?" it means that you're a writer. That's all writing is. It's telling a story.

Imagine that you've got a good friend or someone you love sitting in front of you. You want to tell them this story, you want to give them a message. Don't worry about "passive or active voice." Don't worry about punctuation, about spelling or grammar. Just get your thoughts on the page. Just be honest and make sure they person that you're picturing is someone that loves you, that cares about you and that fundamentally approves of everything you do. If you don't have someone like that in your life, pick someone famous or from history that you think could understand you.

When I'm writing, sometimes I write to Changing Woman, White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman, The Magdalene or Tori Amos. If I'm writing about something especially strange, in my head, I will talk to The Blogess. All these women, I think they would understand me. I think that we could be friends, if ever given the chance. Of course, some of these women may not even exist, but it doesn't matter to me. It works. Then, during the editing process, I go back and erase, "Dear Whomever." It allows my voice to flow out of me, to be sincere and it allows me writing to sound like I am actually speaking to you, my reader.

In short, don't let the fear of not doing something "correctly," get the better of you. Begin. Just begin. Jump into it, flounder around, do it poorly. It's okay. You can always go back, later, and erase a sentence or change a word or rework a line. At the beginning, nothing is set in stone. The most important thing is to get your thoughts out of your head and down onto the paper or into the file or whatever. If you don't, they will never ever be shared with the world and your unique perspective piece of human history will be lost forever. And what a terrible thing to lose.

My dear, no matter who you are and no matter where you are. Be brave! Be strong and allow yourself to mess up or be vulnerable. I believe in you and I hope this post helped.

Until next time my loves, please remember that we are all visionaries. We just have to figure out where we excel,

Love to All,


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