KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Language and Silence

For the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about writing in the context of these words from John O’Donohue in his beautiful book, Anam Cara.

Behind Celtic poetry and prayer is the sense that the words have emerged from a deep, reverential silence….

Fundamentally, there is the great silence that meets language; all words come out of silence. Words that have a depth, resonance, healing, and challenge to them are words loaded with ascetic silence. Language that does not recognize its kinship with reality is banal, denotative, and purely discursive. The language of poetry issues from and returns to silence.

Writers are often asked how they make space and time for their writing. Those outer, observable rituals and routines are important for getting the work done, but they correspond to an inner state of mind necessary to do creative work. Making time to write is important, but so is achieving the silence that yields work that is true and resonant. Even when our work is collaborative, it is much like what O’Donohue describes as a genuine conversation, when people explore the unknown together, patient with “the silence from which words emerge.”

Deep inner listening allows us to bring something new to light. We have to dip below the surface of everyday discourse to reach the place where our best work comes from. Authentic characters, evocative images, and insightful observations don’t come off the top of our heads. They rise up from deep within.

Good work comes from a place deeper than anything we can decide to accomplish. Our work, discipline, and effort help give us access to that place, but what we seek lies beyond our means of extracting it. It is a gift, for which we wait in silence.

What helps you to listen?

Tips for Revising

Sometimes it takes me an entire week to solve the Sunday New York Times crossword. Not long ago I put the finishing touches on my solution to the puzzle. Smack in the middle I penciled a circle around one particular intersection of across and down. I had expended all mental effort possible over whether the answer to “Yanks and others” could really be “ALers,” which made the cross clue “Strand” solve as “enisle.” I stashed my pencil and checked my grid against the solution. This week, they matched.

It felt a little bit like the protocol I follow when revising a piece of writing: give it a try; come back to it after taking a break; use a pencil with a good eraser—it makes editing easier.

Revision, one of the most important steps of any writer’s process, means following different strategies at different stages. For your writing to achieve its best, you’ll probably have to engage in a revision process that’s more complex than the simple steps I mention above.

One of the best conversations that took place at the Carnegie Center February Writer’s Retreat led by KaBooM resulted in shared wisdom about revision strategies that work. The ideas generated are summarized below.

  • Writing can be being something like weaving threads into cloth. Sometimes the cloth has to be cut up and refashioned into a different cloth; sometimes the cloth has to be tailored so it becomes a well-fitting garment.
  • Distance yourself from the material—then look back at it for a leap, a lurch, or a life pulsing. Circle that leap and write it on a fresh sheet of paper. Start making a mind map by drawing lines out from the circle (like spokes around a wheel). Put words on the lines as associations come to you.
  • Ask yourself about the purpose of a scene. Is it present only to advance the plot or is it also doing something else? Check for sensory detail—have you covered each of the senses? You may need to help the reader see what you see. Add noise and taste and smell. Be sure the sensory world is present in your writing.
  • Remember that perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to remove. It is sometimes necessary to kill your darlings.
  • Underline adverbs and adjectives and replace them with strong verbs when possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to try another starting point.
  • Look at models of writing that you respect. (Cf. Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer.)
  • Join a group—find readers who are critical but supportive, who can give you ideas on how to make something right.
  • Read your work outloud. Use the mirror test. Look in a full-length mirror and read your work to yourself.
  • Go do something physical for a time. Walk, do the dishes, or solve a crossword puzzle.

Nooked

My husband gave me a Nook for Christmas.  Don’t get excited. Although it sounds like something naughty, the Nook is an electronic reader. Marketed by Barnes and Noble Booksellers, the Nook rivals Amazon’s Kindle, but the idea behind both products is the same…the user can hold an entire library in one hand.
The Nook is about 5″ by 8″, weighs a paltry 8oz., and holds 1500 books. I can now travel without the 60 lb. bag of reading material that I consider necessary for a trip of any length. My husband gave up arguing with me about the bag years ago although he almost convinced me by pointing out that I look more like the Hunchback of Notre Dame than the sophisticated traveler I aspire to be. Now I can tuck my Nook into my purse or carry-on bag and have hundreds of books available, including a dictionary and a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which came pre-loaded for some reason.
Besides the obvious advantage when traveling, the Nook proved invaluable this winter when ice and snow kept me trapped in my house for weeks. From the comfort of my chair pulled up next to the fire, I could browse an entire bookstore, read reviews, check out new releases and order any book that I wanted with the tap of a key. It was delivered to me in minutes with no driving involved and no haunting the mailbox.
Sound too good to be true? There are drawbacks, of course. The Nook doesn’t offer the feel of the traditional book, the scent of fresh ink, the quiet joy of turning the page. The Nook doesn’t curl up in your hand. However, let’s face it. Not all books are archival material. The thought of forests felled to print the latest thriller or romance novel is disturbing.
Another drawback is the price.  Although the books are cheaper, the reader itself is costly. At roughly 250 dollars, it’s a lot to spend for something that can be scratched or broken. Fall asleep in the bathtub, drop the Nook, and neither one of you will ever be the same.
Still, the Nook has a place in the literary world. It’s convenient, conducive to instant gratification, portable, and green! The trend in electronics has been a steady reduction in price as popularity rises, so the Nook will be less pricy in the future. Just don’t fall asleep while reading in the tub.
Comments (1) — Categorized under: Mary Alexander,Uncategorized

Never give up

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.
—Winston Churchhill

Last Friday, I found myself pondering: “I’ve had more inspiring writing weeks.” When forward movement seems difficult (here’s a guilty secret) sometimes I take a break (a long break) from my work to look elsewhere for inspiration, stories of other writers who have just kept plugging along in spite of discouragement.

I want to share a treasure I found last Friday: on  Stephen Parrish’s blog I read a briefly told tale of at least a dozen rewrites of a novel that just went to press (the blog was dated March 5th).  And instead of feeling even the least twinge of envy, I saw pretty clearly that I’ve never done a dozen rewrites of an entire novel.

The Winston Churchill quotation is from Stephan’s blog, and it’s my mantra for this week.

Writing from the Senses

During the recent writing retreat led by KaBooM we focused on entering our writing through the senses, and invited a visit from the muse by setting up sensory stations for participants to enjoy. We offered images and textures, and images that were textures in the form of Mary’s quilted paintings. Bells and rattles and rhythm instruments made a variety of intriguing sounds. Tastes including fresh fruit, dill pickles, chocolate, and lemon marmalade also held a wonderful aroma. Other scents, most in containers covered with plain brown paper, included:

  • A tin of brown shoe polish
  • Tide laundry detergent
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap
  • Joy dishwashing liquid
  • Campho-phenique
  • Desitin diaper rash cream
  • Lavender soap
  • Homer Formby’s Tung Oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Almond extract
  • Oregano
  • Coconut extract
  • Crest toothpaste
  • Colgate toothpaste
  • Cedar
  • Herb vinegar
  • Molasses

Are there associations that arise as you read these lists? Are memories stirred just by thinking about these sensations? It’s a reminder of how deeply imprinted sensory experience is.

One participant spoke of how powerfully a sensory cue brought back slices of life—enough to reshape his writing plan for the day. I too have found that certain scents do more than remind me of another time of life; they actually take me there once again and put me in touch with what I might otherwise have forgotten.

Those memories are multi-layered with all kinds of sensory information. The scent of cold cream can show us a bedroom from long ago, the sound of a school bell may evoke the scratch of a new sweater, a taste of home may place us amidst the voices of people long gone. Our deep remembering is brought to life by recalling the memories of the senses, memories carried in the body as well as the mind. Writing gains power when we put them on the page.

We encouraged everyone to explore and follow where their senses took them. It’s an experience that doesn’t end with the close of the retreat, and we invite you to take part as well.