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

Is there anything so real as words?

“Magazines all too frequently lead to books, and should be regarded by the prudent as the heavy petting of literature.”~Fran Lebowitz

I often think of this quotation from Fran Lebowitz after I’ve started reading something when I should be doing something else.  “Just a little,” I tell myself.  I’ve glanced at the clock.  Then, I swear, it only felt like a moment.  I’ve only just gotten up a good head of steam on the story.  The clock must be lying!  But there they are again, the rest of my life’s obligations rudely insisting on interrupting a really good read.   For us tough cases, of course it’s not just magazines that lead to books.  Books lead to books.  All the time.

Just the other day, I picked up my first Christmas present to arrive in the mail.  A dear friend sent me Betsy Warland’s Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing. I opened it just about the time a responsible adult, a prudent person, would probably start thinking about making dinner.  “The act of reading is the act of belief,” says Warland.  And she had me.  Within the next few pages, she prompts: “As an exercise, you may find it useful to pull a number of books off the shelf and read only the first page of each.”    What a good idea.  Lots of writing teachers suggest exactly this.  What harm could a first page or two do, just before opening the frozen broccoli?

But because for me reading is like candy—who can stop at just one page?— before long I’ve read the first 50 pages of The Picture of Dorian Gray.   My children come into the kitchen.   The stove is cold.  All they can smell is my afternoon coffee. “Isn’t it time for dinner?” they ask.

It’s Oscar Wilde’s fault.  Not mine.  I hang the blame on the characters Lord Henry Wotton and Dorian himself, and more than that, on (page 36), “Words!  Mere words!  How terrible they were!  How clear, and vivid and cruel!  One could not escape from them.  And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed … to have music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of a lute.  Mere words!  Was there anything so real as words!”

But because kids can’t eat words, they finally convinced me to put the book down.  Dinner got made and eaten.

And today.  Well, today is a new day.  I can try reading the “only the first page” of a couple of books again today.  Before breakfast.

Try again. Fail better.

Once school is out, at our house the summer break means everything changes: the habitual imperatives lifted, all the rhythms of our days are renegotiated.

I’m recognizing both the opportunity this change in daily obligations presents to us, and am also feeling the weight of possibility.  Several weeks ago I spoke to a writer-friend who finished the first draft of a novel and shed some work obligations so that she could concentrate on revision and re-writing.  Yet even though this was her intention, she declared, her immediate response to an open schedule was to get less writing done!  Once she eliminated the usual time constraints that used to press her to squeeze in a little writing here and there, the wide open field of newly available time quickly got filled with neglected household tasks and other activities she’d pushed aside in her previous desire to just get some pages done every single day.

This complaint is not new to me: many writer-friends have observed themselves in similar predicaments—what seemed like a good change to “free up time” instead disrupted former habits, and meant that they were getting to the page less than they used to be when they were busier.

Grateful for this reminder, I’ve gone back to my own beginnings, and picked up two supports that helped me first establish a writing time.

First, I’ve started yet another “process journal,” a place where I’m recording which habits or practices help me get to the page and those that prevent my attending to my own work. Simply observing and recording my successes and failures helps me bring attention and intention to daily writing during a summer that lacks the usual structure in my schedule.

Second, I’ve picked up, yet again, a wonderful book by Gail Sher called One Continuous Mistake. The title comes from her chapter of the same name where she reports: “The effort to stay centered in one’s self, minute after minute, is what Dogen Zenji meant when he said that Zen practice is one continuous mistake” (page 54).  Thus, the Zen practitioner never attains complete attention, but also never allows her failure to discourage her. Instead, she keeps returning to her effort.  That continuous return is a kind of success which all the failures do not wipe out.

So I begin my summer with a sound bite running through my head—this very truth, as Sher reports Samuel Beckett using in his writing instruction: “Try again. Fail better.”

Clearing the way for discovery

As I write uncharacteristic weather is demanding energy and attention and this morning while I shoveled drive and walks yet again, my mind turned mildly allegorical.  Born in Canada and sojourning in a half dozen different climatic zones, I’ve developed a discipline towards snow removal that, on reflection, serves me well when I apply it to my writing work.

As soon as conditions permit, I clear what’s on the ground: this causes my children, raised in Kentucky, no end of bafflement.  “Why bother?” they demand (hoping to dissuade me from insisting on their involvement in my odd behavior).  Because they asked, I delight in pointing out the advantages of my method.

Doing the work immediately means I get a sense of conditions “in the field.”  I know how the wind feels, I see up close what kind of snow this is.  Once I’m out, I notice details I’d never have seen from the window or on a quick scurry from warm house to car—the weather ceases to be just the stuff I have to slog through, and begins to present unique joys (this morning’s dusting, for example, had those large crystals that reflected jeweled light).

In addition, keeping up with the task means it’s rarely overwhelming: I live in Central Kentucky where the snowfall is never heavy.  Though my back and knees could never handle a deep snow, regular moderate effort serves me well here.

In fact, there are unexpected surprise benefits for my having simply done the work.  Yesterday, though the temperature never officially rose above freezing, the simple act of clearing what was on the ground meant that the day’s light reflected off the surrounding banks of snow and heated up the exposed drive and walks, so that by the day’s end everything was completely clear, down to the pavement.   Oh, sure, it snowed again last night, but this morning there was no accumulated, hard-packed neglect that threatens underneath this morning’s small collection.  In past snows, I’ve seen neighbors hacking away at dangerous ice once things begin to melt; our regular effort means our small plot harbors no hazards that demand such hard labor.

The analogy breaks down, of course, at many levels.  But I’m reminded that regular attention to the writing prevents despair and the feeling of defeat, and leaves the way clear for inspired discoveries to shine unencumbered.

Unclenching my fists

By this third full week of January it’s just about time for my annual re-setting of those freshly minted New Year’s resolutions full of good writing intentions —  the ones, that is, that don’t seem to be gaining quite the purchase in the soil of my daily routine I’d wanted them to.

In fact I’m reminded again of why I swore off old-style resolutions years ago.  Gritting teeth and screwing courage may see me through a tough temporary patch but they aren’t long-term strategies that endure.  Just try holding a clenched fist for two minutes; okay, try one.  It’s exhausting.  And there’s not much you can get done with a clenched fist.  One of my favorite quotes is from Aldolfo Perez Esquival, recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize:  “We cannot sow seeds with clenched fists.  To sow we must open our hands.”  While he was talking about social justice and not writing, I am struck by his image of a fist clenched so tightly that the hand is useless for productive labor.  As a habitual  fist-clencher, this image has power for me.

So instead of trying to force myself into writing habits that I’ve heard work for other people, my goal this week is to ask myself questions that help open to discovery: what does work, today, in my particular circumstance?  How can I move from “fitting my writing in” to giving it a place of honor in my day?  And what seeds can I sow to nourish my developing discipline?

Comments (1) — Categorized under: Gail Koehler,Setting Goals

Writerly Resolutions for the New Year

This week between Christmas and New Year’s is a potent time for figuring out what we’ve learned from the past year and preparing to move forward into the new one. Plans, ideas, challenges–what do we focus on for our creative goals, and how do we set priorities for seeing them through? 

Writers need to be both artists and worker bees. We need vision and inspiration, and we also need good tools and work habits. For help with both, here are a couple of excellent websites:

Lisa Sonora Beam writes about Goal Setting for Creatives, with pictures of her own gorgeous planning journal for inspiration.

On Zen Habits, Leo Babauta has a terrific post about cultivating new habits. He also introduces his new site dedicated to helping with keeping those resolutions for the new year, called 6changes.

May you have a happy, inspired, and productive New Year!

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