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

SURPRISE!

Public Art in Holden

On a recent trip to the beach, I hadn’t expected to run across a local artist’s painting decorating a utility box. The combination of playfully-rendered produce and a strong beach palette made this little piece of public art a pleasant surprise.

I’ve been thinking about surprise this summer as I tread the much-loved path of the unsurprising: Sunday morning trips to Farmers’ Market, homemade applesauce cooling in the fridge, a vase of balloon flower, gooseneck and bee balm on the kitchen table, the memory of firework chrysanthemums splayed across the night sky.

The word “surprise” was mentioned often during the Carnegie Center’s 2015 Books-in-Progress conference by presenters as well as a panel of agents and publishers. This was not surprise of the “I never saw that coming” variety. That kind of unexpected turn of events can rupture the contract between writer and reader.

This was about surprise on a micro-level. This is about the writer who takes the time to search for new images, new objects, fresh dialog, original names for characters, new occupations and activities for those characters, new situations.

For example, presenter A.J. Verdelle, a master of revision, frequently mentioned the need to search for vigorous verbs. Think about the work done by a verb like “wobbles” or “muddles.” These choices conjure action without the need for embellishing adverbs. They surprise us with their unanticipated precision. As Verdelle says, “If you can’t get jazzed up by verbs, you probably aren’t going to make it in this business.”

Another opportunity for surprise can occur when the writer creates a simile from the fictional materials on the page instead of resorting to a cliché pulled from a catalog of similes, tried and true.

According to Verdelle, list-making is also an exercise that can lead a writer toward creating surprise. List-making delays the brain from selecting an easy or obvious choice and trains it to the habit of generating options. I’ve previously written about the value of list-making as a revision strategy. Verdelle suggests picking an object, then listing all the things you could do with it until you come up with something surprising.

She reminded conference-goers of the monstrous surprise of the stewing bunny in the movie Fatal Attraction. She speculates that the scene might have been inspired when the script writers said, “Okay, we gave the kid a pet bunny. What else could we do with that detail? Let’s make a list.”

Creativity is often described as divergent thinking, the ability to generate options. Surprise helps the writer produce something fresh for the reader, leading us to praise a written work as being creative.

How do you ensure that you surprise the reader?

Photo Credit: “These Peppers Are Still Hot Stuff” by Mary Paulsen. Photo by Jan Isenhour

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Still sneaking up on the muse ….

"sneaking suspicion" -- cat at the wall

(Photo from: http://bit.ly/CatSq1)

This Monday morning when the muse again felt so many miles away all my inspiration might as well have taken off to Mars, I finally quit banging my head and — miracle — mercy dropped in.   An entire stream of thought, from nowhere I could have seen coming.

Well.

On reflection, this development shouldn’t be surprising.  Yet an old truth, newly rediscovered, certainly feels like revelation.  Writers have long known that the muse, like happiness, tends to flee direct pursuit.  There is a part of my conscious brain that knows this.  And yet.  And yet…still and again, I need to discover this truth anew.

As I read in a post by Misty Massey years ago, the best course of action is to remember that the best bait for inspiration is to “… lure it out into the open by pretending you don’t care. Before you know it, it’s curling up at your feet.”

At one level that doesn’t make much sense, does it?  Pretending you don’t care about your creative product can feel dangerous.  And sometimes, you may be so emotionally invested in the work that you cannot see anything but frustration at what you perceive as failures.

Every now and again, though, I can get just exhausted enough to learn something new—by finally letting go of the struggle.

(Photo from: http://bit.ly/Senv6b)

 

Turns out, all ll I needed this morning was to tell myself I had no time for the project that’s recently been frustrating me,  to sort of turn my back on it, and—sneaky, padded cat feet— it crept up behind me, purring to make its presence known, in a way I’d have killed for days ago.  Between its teeth was a tasty morsel; oh, sure, stolen from something else.  But I’ve got no scruples when it comes to such treasures.  I’ll take them however they arrive.   I simply need to remember that the arrival is more likely to happen when I can turn my back on my anxious, demanding mind and instead settle quietly,  entering a gentle waiting-that-is-not-quite-doing-nothing; entering an expectant interlude, a sympathetic distraction.

It was Kafka who famously said: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet” (from his translated Reflections on sin, pain, hope and the true way).

Here’s to finding ways, always, to welcome the world,  and then, to finding it rolling in ecstasy at our feet.

Enjoying Daffodils in the Lake District: Updated

Today at writing group I brought in a vase of daffodils from my yard and shared the classic “I wandered lonely as a cloud” William Wordsworth poem.  Many of us know the lines from school.  It is something to read them with fresh blossoms in front of you.  Like so many things that have become cliche because of frequent exposure, it’s worthwhile to re-experience them as close as possible to what an author’s intent might have been.

Another way to re-vision a familiar piece of writing is to have a young person re-imagine it.  In that spirit, I wanted to provide a link to this video of a “daffodil rap.”Beside the Lake and Beside the Tree, a Crowd of Daffodils.

From www.golakes.co.uk/wordsworthrap

According to the tourism webpage, the rap treatment was commissioned not to “dis” Wordsworth, but instead as a celebration.  It was created in the “bicentenary year of [the poem’s original] publication to help the next generation of Lake District visitors connect with his work” (for more details you can see the tourism page that supplies some background).

Here’s to the constant re-experiencing of great writing.

On Setting One’s Intention

Readers of our anthology When the Bough Breaks know that one of KaBooM’s shared habits at our weekly writer’s meetings is individual goal setting.  As honestly as possible, each of us takes a turn to look back and summarize what we’ve accomplished in the previous week.  Then we take a few moments to review the week ahead, reflecting on the writing tasks to which we’ve committed and the ones that remain as-yet-unrealized dreams.  Finally, we articulate—speaking out loud to each other—how much of that task or goal we think we can, or should, accomplish in the week ahead.

The wisdom of this attention to our intentions becomes immediately obvious when you consider that “everyone knows the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  Extend that aphorism and it becomes clear that no matter how bright one’s beginning, to accomplish the journey the traveller still make take each one of those thousand steps.    For some of us, each step requires a new commitment, and our KaBooM goal-setting time serves that purpose well.

This need to continually re-set my purpose is reinforced when I practice yoga with my wonderful teachers at the local Y.   There, we begin our classes with a mindful setting of our intention for that day’s practice on our mats by making our commitment physical.  We hold our hands in prayer position and place our thumbs on our foreheads, because that’s where intention starts.  We lower our hands to our hearts, because that’s where an intention begins to live, breathe, and have being.

From Sacred Source Yoga: http://sacredsourceyoga.wordpress.com/photo-gallery/ariele-meditating-in-nytimes/

Finally, our hands come back to our foreheads to “set” that intention.  When I set my goals at KaBooM meetings, I do my best to articulate goals that will live in my heart and prompt steadfast effort so that I have something of substance to report the next time we gather.

When I set my intentions for my writing work, I am taking seriously the dreams of my heart and the yearnings of my creative self.  At the root of the word “intend” is “tendre” which means, in part, to stretch.  There are times when the goals I set for myself feel too difficult, too great a stretch.  Yet by continually setting and re-setting my intention to make that stretch, the creative power available to me is a constant, wondrous surprise.

National Poetry Month—there’s one week left!

If I were a poet, celebrations of  National Poetry month would likely include the writing of some really great poetry.  Since I am not a poet, every year I use the celebration as an excuse to write some really bad poetry.  This may seem an odd way to celebrate the art of making, of poesis, but because these scribbles require attention, they produce increased respect for craft.  By treating the writing of poetry like inquisitive play, I’m given a gift: every happy failure committed to paper causes my appreciation for the really good stuff to go up like a bottle rocket.  So even the playful writing of bad poetry feels like one “right” response to the month’s intention.

One way to think of poetry is it’s a making that captures in literary form what might otherwise run down the drain with the dishwater.  Moments.  Images.  A glance.  New ways of seeing something familiar.  Considering that a miniature form might suit my non-poetic soul, this year I turned again to Gail Sher in her lovely book  One Continuous Mistake: Four Nobel Truths for Writers and her suggestion to write a haiku a day.  She suggested six months.  Fearing such a commitment too deep for a dabbler, I tried six days, and even in that brief span found myself growing more aware and open to fresh perceptions.

Sher’s introduction “Guidelines for Beginning Writers of Haiku” is elegant, simple, inviting.  She sketches the three levels on which a haiku works, and suggests a writer capture the “instantaneous now.”  Ah, I thought.  This is welcome discipline in the midst of my “too-much-to-do-in-too-little-time” daily race.Today I noticed the rain puddling—intense colors in the gray light—and a swelling gratitude for reminders to breathe deeply, settle, aim for clarity.

Which poems have you tried writing, or carried with you, to celebrate the month?

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.

Letters From Home

The birth of my first child changed my life in such a myriad of ways, I did the only thing I could think to do as a writer: I wrote about him and the new me I was discovering.  I wrote to document and to understand, because the contradictions of my new life baffled me, both my deep love for the baby and the bewildering grief at leaving my old life behind.  I wrote in my journal, and I wrote letters to friends.  When they responded, I wrote extravagant thank you notes.

Now that child stands taller than I do, those early days sometimes seem like a place from long ago, a home I left behind.  But one friend kept every missive I sent her about my new baby, and recently gifted me back a box full of my letters to her.

I sift through those physical artifacts, and their tactile presence places me back in those early moments as a new mother, when to keep back the tide threatening to overwhelm I scrawled a line or two and stuffed it in an envelope.  The need to post the letter gave me a reason to get out of the house, to pack up the baby I was still learning, so I could send out my latest struggles, and even my celebrations—send them to someone far outside the daily cycle of tending, feeding, caring.

When is the last time you wrote or received a letter—a physical memento of emotions, desires, connections?

This year the National Day on Writing takes place on Wednesday, October 20.  The day is a national celebration of writing sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and officially recognized through a congressional resolution.  Locally, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning is sponsoring “Letters From Home: A Glimpse of the Bluegrass Through Handwritten Words,”  an event designed to encourage the public to write and send longhand letters to friends, family, and U.S. soldiers.

So tomorrow, I’ll be writing new letters from my home in the Bluegrass, at Good Foods Cafe from 11 to 1.  The Cafe is one of 14 locations around Lexington where you can celebrate National Day on Writing by composing a handwritten letter with other writers.  (You can find the full list by clicking the link to the Carnegie Center’s web site, above.)  The day’s events will culminate at the Carnegie Center for a community reading and celebration at 5:30 PM.  Participation in National Day on Writing activities is free and open to everyone.

Come write with other writers.  Make a new artifact or two.  Post your letter and send out your words, from the home you’re in at the moment, into the world.

Spring into a New Writers Notebook

I bought a new writers notebook over the weekend. As I planned my blog post, I realized that I had already written about reading an old notebook as I made way for the new (Nov. 30, 2009).

I observed that my summer/fall writers notebook was full of plans for When the Bough Breaks: production schedules, numbers of copies, notes for who would staff which book fairs at what times. It was all about the business of writing, necessary to be sure, if not exactly the date that invited me to the dance in the first place.

In looking through my winter notebook, I noticed a couple of things. For one, I filled it up faster. It took just four months to write my way to the back cover. However, quantity should never be confused with quality.

Instead, I focused on the nature of those contents. My winter notebook holds more starts, more responses to prompts offered in writing practice, rich notes from two conferences, a few short poems begun during a Saturday seminar, even a sketch of a murex shell that I picked up on the beach at Sanibel.

I complained a lot this winter. The cold was dispiriting; the snow and gray skies oppressed me, turned me inward. I kept repeating that this year, winter got me down. But my notebook bears witness of a fruitful time, a time of productivity, of nurturing seeds that may grow into something larger.

Once again, the evidence of my notebook corrects my misapprehensions and reminds me that I somehow kept pace with the world as it turned toward longer days.

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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.