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

The Worth of the Writing Life

Glendalough, Ireland 1

The frame for the Canterbury Tales, one of the early works of literature in the English language, was a pilgrimage.  As the characters make their way along the road, having set aside their everyday lives for a time, the travelers share the stories that make up the collection of tales. It was a natural and effective way to structure that important work, and the connection it suggests between pilgrimage and literature seems particularly apt.

Learning to shape a love of the written word into an artistic offering is a journey in itself. When we commit to being writers, we set off on a pilgrimage. We set aside the urgent and relentless concerns of everyday life, for at least some part of the day or week, and focus on something that calls to our higher selves. We learn to see the world differently, becoming more careful observers in the context of the work we do. We form relationships with like-minded souls, fellow travelers on the same road, whom we might be unlikely to meet in any other way.

We have a destination in mind—publishing the book that elevates us from writers to authors, hopefully with the backing of a respected press and to the acclaim of critics and readers. A truly crazy dream is for sales figures that make for financial success as well. But what if that doesn’t happen?

Whether the path is through self-publishing or finding a publisher, the market is a wild and woolly place. The currency has more to do with gaining attention than writing well. Some wonderful writers have excellent careers, and that is something to celebrate. Yet it’s entirely possible to be a publishing success without committing to excellent work. I would like to believe that all good work will find its audience, but I’m not convinced.

With the outcome so uncertain, what would be the point of the writing life? For me, the reward has been the journey with my writing friends. The camaraderie in the shared devotion to our art has elevated my life and made life as a writer meaningful.

I don’t know who I would be if I had not claimed the desire to become a writer, learned to write well, and connected with others whose souls are fed through writing. How my work is received is out of my hands. When I can let go of the outcome and appreciate how devotion to the work makes me more fully alive, I find it easier to hold the destination loosely. I appreciate the satisfaction that comes from doing the work. And I remember that being part of a community that truly values the written word is itself a privilege.

 

 

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Snowfall

Holly and Wood Pile in SnowThirteen Ways of Looking at a Snowfall

 

 

1

Through air tinted white,

a frozen mist descending, descending.

2

After the fact,

at what happened while you slept.

3

A sideways howl, driven by the wind.

4

Flat on your back, as a snow angel.

5

A relief from all that was scheduled

when the roads were passable.

6

A wall closing in.

7

A postcard to send.

8

Wet on your cheeks,

a sign of warmth.

9

A highlight on a dark tree branch,

marking the lines.

10

From beneath bright lashes

weighted with flakes.

11

One thick, soft flake.

Then another.

12

The chores of bundling and unbundling children,

warming the pipes, shoveling the walk.

13

Undelineated white

of ground and sky.

 

Susan Christerson Brown

 

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Going Soft

A few days ago, in a class offered by Karen Lodes at The Yoga Meditation and Therapy Center, I encountered a new way of thinking about the body and how it is affected by tension.

Our bodies exhibit the properties of both liquids and solids. We can be fluid and flowing, like a liquid, or rigid and unyielding, like a solid. We’re healthier when we’re soft and relaxed; we develop problems when we can’t let go of tension. And of course, the state of our body reflects our state of mind.

Frozen Falls on Limestone

 

A mixture of corn starch and water offers a vivid demonstration of a substance that can behave either as a liquid or a solid, depending on the force exerted on it. Pound your fist onto the surface of the mixture and you’ll meet a solid wall that can’t be penetrated. Press your hand gently into the mixture and you’ll easily penetrate it. This video is fun, and shows how it works:

 Walking on Water: Corn Starch and Water Demonstration

As I think about approaching my work in the new year, I have this demonstration in mind. In order for a new idea to penetrate my psyche, I need to be soft. For the work to flow through me, I need to relax enough to make that possible. If I’m worried about what the next project should be, or when I can finish it, or whether I’m up to the challenge, my thoughts are going to be calcified and the work isn’t going to flow. Force creates resistance.

The discipline to show up at the page is necessary. But so is the discipline of breathing, of relaxing, of letting go.

 

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October Inspiration

October itself is a source of inspiration lately—

The vivid blue skies, the flaring foliage, the bright world, transformed.

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October is urgent, and dazzling.

 

The pool of gold below the maple reflects a season nearly gone.

I want to hold these amber days.

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October insists that I pay attention,

appreciate what is beautiful,

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take pictures, take notes,

remember what will pass away

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and write while I can.

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Notes from the Ky Women Writers Conference

The 2014 Kentucky Women Writers Conference was full of inspiration and insight, and more ideas than anyone can absorb. I don’t have snapshots to share, but here are some snapquotes to give you a glimpse of what the conference was like. For anyone else who was there, it would be great to hear about what stood out to you.

2014 Ky Women Writers Conference

Jill McCorkle made the intriguing comment that “I’ve come to believe that the [short] story has more in common with a poem than a novel.” She also said that in beginning a new project she almost always starts with the voice of her main character.

Rebecca Makkai spoke about endings, saying “A good ending adds to the story; it tells you something you didn’t already know.” She noted that film has taught us that leaving the audience with sound at the end is often more effective than leaving us with an image. With this in mind, consider how the final lines sound. Pacing is part of that. It often works to slow things down at the end.

Margaret Wrinkle led a workshop on the spiritual work of writing, and the spiritual encounter with material that matters—what she referred to as the stories that are bigger than we are. This is what comes first, before the crafting of work. We journey to that deep place where we find the story and bring it back. “Creativity is a spiritual practice,” she reminded us. “The key to the creative process is surrender.”

Hannah Pittard told how reading Alice Munro’s “Runaway” changed her approach to critiquing work during writing workshops. “First find the most beautiful thing,” is her new philosophy. All kinds of surprising things can work in service to what resonates.

Kim Edwards noted that when Munro’s first person narrators question themselves, they become more accessible.

In Liza Dawson’s agent talk, among her many recommendations was to spend time on publishers’ websites and learn how books are sold. Look at how those books you like are described. You have a dual identity as a writer and as a business person.

But most vivid is a piece of advice from Margaret Wrinkle. Take a piece of paper and write down the mental impediments to doing your writing: the self-doubt, the fear, the questions about the validity and worth of your work. Then burn that list and put the ashes into moving water, letting them be carried away. Repeat as needed. Even the mental image of this exercise is freeing.

 

 

Keeping the Faith and Doing the Work

Sometimes writing is just work. It requires stamina as much as creativity—especially in revision, with a draft full of problems to address, holes to fill, questions to resolve. The only way forward is to put one foot in front of the other, page after page, through the manuscript.

In the phase I’m currently working through, I measure progress with a growing stack of pages face down and finished. After that, some larger issues about the structure of the work need to be addressed. I don’t have answers for the concerns that await, which is hardly comfortable. But I try not to think too far ahead right now, just do the work in front of me.

2014-04-22 KaBooM Writing Table

I try not to look too far to either side as well, because there lurks the nasty question of what else I could be doing with my time. This work I do doesn’t appear to be making the world any better. It’s in service to something others cannot see, at least for now. And there are times when I have a hard time seeing it myself. I consider myself blessed to have friends who help me keep the faith, who know the life-giving value of good writing and the worth of pursuing and sharing it.

It’s an act of trust as much as an act of will to write. The words, the lines, the chapters require genuine toil to be well-formed. In the effort required to bring them to light there is the hope that they serve a worthwhile project, but not a guarantee. Does my vision of the completed project merit this effort? I hope so; I think so; but it remains to be seen. I continue not because I’m sure of the outcome, but because for me participating in this process is necessary to be fully alive.

It’s the process I trust. The impulse to write, to create, is life-affirming. The drive comes from some place I cannot understand, but the wisdom and vitality in that pressing energy is something I must answer to. And because the creative process has led me to places of astonishing beauty, I know that following it yields more than anything I alone might do.

Working to serve that creative energy is not so different from the actions we take in other aspects of our lives. We are rarely able to see the whole picture. We do the best we can to meet the needs of the day, to choose well, to live generously, in hope that our actions are in service to something that matters. We set the priorities and live the values that give shape to our days, our lives. We hope our choices allow us to live as a full and worthy vessel, its form growing clearer as our lives unfold.

Courage is what we need, whether to work hard at our art or to live out our lives, when we can’t know for sure the result. May we encourage one another.

The December Calendar

Here we are at the beginning of December, with the pull of the holidays like a force of nature shaping how the days and weeks unfold. The traditions and expectations, the hopes and desires, the lists and tasks, are fully capable of taking over most of this month.

Tiffany's Christmas Tree

I’m trying to remember that I have a choice in how to navigate the season, and that I don’t have to shelve my writing for the duration. If I can find a way to stay connected to the work, at least a few hours every week, most everything else will go better. Yet every day presents a dozen demands pulling against that simple goal.

So I’m taking a look at the December calendar. I want to enjoy the traditions I’m preserving—this season of light is supposed to actually help us get through the darkest days. There are friends and family I want to see, halls to deck, gifts to shop for, and cooking to do. These things are pleasures, but remaining connected to the writing I need to do makes them easier to enjoy. I’m also looking at what it will take to finish the semester’s teaching, and the chores at home I need to accomplish. It’s hard to focus on anything else when those tasks remain to be finished.

In addition, I’m looking at the spaces on the calendar I want to set aside for writing—something like the temporal equivalent of a nature preserve. The spirit needs protection from over-scheduling just as nature does from over-development.

I know how easily the season’s activities can expand to fill all the available time these next few weeks. But with some boundaries in place I hope to keep the to-do list from encroaching—at least most of the time. Setting aside two hours for creative work means that wrapping gifts has to be done another time. If all goes well, I can plan for that and get both accomplished. Maybe the Christmas spirit and the creative spirit can co-exist.

Here’s hoping, anyway. I’d love to hear your strategy for finding balance in this beautiful, challenging season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Group “Artist Date”

It’s been years since our group worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together, but we return again and again to some of the practices we learned from it. The “artist date” is one—time set aside to do something out of the ordinary, purely for the delight of it. The idea is that a creative life needs to be nourished, and that new experiences of beauty and art can infuse us with a sense of vitality that stimulates our own creativity. Ideally, we would have an artist date every week; in reality, it rarely works that way. But when life feels drained of its color, an artist date is pretty good therapy.

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Usually an artist date is an individual experience, but sometimes it’s fun to have one as a group. And because it’s harder than it sounds to take a break from our obligations, a group artist date helps make it happen when it seems out of the question individually.

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These are pictures from an artist date we set up for ourselves last week. It was time for a break from the routine, and we were captivated by the idea of a paper-crafting day. Maybe it’s the connection with the tools of writing, but making books and other objects with beautiful paper is like a mini-vacation for all of us. We have helped children and grandchildren with countless creative projects, and our group has even worked with a Girl Scout troop to make handmade books, but on this day we assembled all kind of papers, notebooks, stamps, glue, ribbon, awls, patterns, and scissors to see what we could come up with for ourselves.

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As we settled into exploring the materials our conversation quieted. We spoke in fragments when we spoke at all, absorbed in what we were doing. Even writers—perhaps especially writers—find it necessary to take a break from words from time to time. It was satisfying to work with color and texture, and to see the variety of results when we were finished. But the process must have been more important than the outcomes, because I forgot to take photos of the completed projects.

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What’s your idea of a good artist date?

 

 

 

 

Wandering in the Woods

Gardner 003

I’ve been carrying around a copy of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction this summer. In addition to getting sand in the binding, waterlogging one corner, staining a few pages, and bending the cover, I’ve also read this wonderful book all the way through. Summer travel schedules meant our group has met infrequently these past couple of months, but during that time Gardner has made a terrific writing companion.  His insight and analysis provide helpful information. Even more, the depth of his thought about writing fiction affirms the value of this strange work we do.

One of the things I find satisfying about the book is its understanding of the creative process. Gardner appreciates, as well as anyone can, the powerful role of the unconscious and its symbolic language in shaping the strongest and most resonant writing. In a discussion of description he writes:

To the layman it may seem that description serves simply to tell us where things are happening, giving us perhaps some idea of what the characters are like by identifying them with their surroundings, or providing us with props that may later tip over or burn down or explode. Good description does far more: It is one of the writer’s means of reaching down into his unconscious mind, finding clues to what questions his fiction must ask, and, with luck, hints about the answers. Good description is symbolic not because the writer plants symbols in it but because, by working in the proper way, he forces symbols still largely mysterious to him up into his conscious mind where, little by little as his fiction progresses, he can work with them and finally understand them. To put this another way, the organized and intelligent fictional dream that will eventually fill the reader’s mind begins as a largely mysterious dream in the writer’s mind. Through the process of writing and endless revising, the writer makes available the order the reader sees.

Gardner reminds us that we have more resources than we can know when we start to write. It helps to remember that when we’re wandering in the woods, trying to find the path of the story. Giving ourselves to this work is an act of faith in a process that has no map. There’s nothing comfortable about that. But in spite of how it feels, not knowing where we’re going doesn’t mean we’ve lost our way. We know more than we think we do, but only as we work does it come to light. Maybe that’s the best reason of all for writing.

 

 

Creative Starter

This is a jar of sourdough starter. It has a complex, yeasty aroma that lets you know something is going on in there—not particularly appetizing in itself, but interesting and not unpleasant. In baking it gives a depth of flavor you can’t get any other way.

Jar of Sourdough Starter

The starter is wonderful to use when I want to make bread, but keeping it available requires some tending. It’s a living thing, and the only way to have it on hand is to feed it regularly. Food in this case is flour and water. I stir it in and let the brew ferment for a while. The action starts in the depths, heaving lumpy air pockets toward the surface until a fine layer of bubbles breaks through. Once things settle down it’s ready to store and use.

As long as I pay attention to the starter once a week or so it remains alive and healthy, responsive when fed. It adds both flavor and leavening to the dough I make. But if I let it go too long between feedings it weakens and turns lifeless—not much good for bread or anything else.

Sometimes it feels like a lot of work to keep a starter going, but if I want to have the option of making sourdough it’s a lot easier to feed than to start from scratch. Beginning again requires more ingredients, time, and tending. It also involves letting the batter absorb airborne yeast, which I didn’t know existed until I learned to cultivate this magic ingredient. Fascinating that this fermenting concoction can take part of what it needs right out of the air.

When conditions are right, creativity works the same way.

We all know the effort of starting from scratch when life requires creative work of any kind. To keep my writing life going, I’ve had to make new starter countless times. But this summer my hope is to regularly feed an ongoing project and have some loaves coming out of the oven in a few weeks.

Working at it most every day is one of the ways I intend to do that. Staying with a project keeps it alive. But the other kind of replenishment that keeps the work going I feel less sure about.

Julia Cameron insists that creativity is nourished by Artist Dates—outings that break from the routine, pursued simply for delight. It keeps the work alive by keeping the artist alive.

The theory is great, but here at the beginning I can’t help but suspect the Artist Date approach could be yet another way to avoid getting the work done. At the same time, I want to keep the yeast alive. What I really want to do is earn that creative food.

I know from experience that following through on Artist Dates is harder than it sounds. Granting myself that kind of permission, not to mention coming up with good ideas for outings, can be a stretch. But perhaps I’ll give it a try. After all, it takes both flour and water to feed sourdough starter.

How do you feed your creative starter? And if it’s been too long, how do you go about mixing a new batch?

 

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