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.

 

 

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.

NaNoWriMo or NaNoReMo?



With National Novel Writing Month 2013 approaching in three weeks, you may be debating whether or not to participate.

A year ago I faced that same decision. I had a finished novel out for consideration and no new project underway. No enticing characters haunting my subconscious; no nascent story squirming under my skin, no pile of post-its recording quirky details; no overheard conversations lingering like earworms.

So I signed up for NaNoWriMo.

On November 29, 2012, I crossed the 54,000-word mark as I penned the last scene of my new novel. I had to crown myself a winner because there was no way for the folks at NaNoWriMo to track my efforts: a novel handwritten in a series of writer’s notebooks. Strangely, that official recognition meant little to me. After all, I had a writing group, a family, and an exasperated husband, all urging me to finish what I’d started.

Now it’s time to decide again. What’s the best way for me to spend my writing time? Should I sign up for NaNoWriMo and get a new project underway? Or should I return to my 2012 novel and devote the month to serious and disciplined revision? In other words, should November 2013 be National Novel Writing Month? Or National Novel Revising Month?

Here’s a synopsis of my ongoing conversation with self:

Reasons to spend the month revising:

• You’ll lose the soul of your 2012 novel if you abandon it now to start something new. All those threads swimming in your head, waiting to be tied—what of those?

•  You know how to create a revision protocol. You know what to do next. You need a timeline, a scene list, a verb list, and a couple of mentor texts that you study for clues.

•  You’ll be starting the month with SOMETHING rather than NOTHING. Move that second novel along! Finish it and see what you’ve learned! Discipline that mess!

Reasons to spend the month writing:

• You’ll share in the cosmic energy generated by tens of thousands of other working novelists.

• You can take advantage of the fact that Thanksgiving comes late this year. You could pass 50,000 words before it’s time to peel potatoes.

• You’ll make something new, bring an as-yet-to-be created story into being. Get out the glitter glue! Let that mess flourish! As Grant Faulkner said last November in a NaNoWriMo pep talk, “We set the audacious goal of writing a novel, not scrubbing surfaces clean.”

What do you think? How will you spend the month of November?

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How Do You Slice the Pie?

(Photo source: trapezoidal.wordpress.com)

I finished up my day job on January 31, and since then I’ve been figuring out what it means to live a writer’s life. I’ve discovered there’s more to this than sitting in front of my computer or scribbling in a notebook. A life of the mind must be nurtured by many food groups.

Here’s a partial list of those groups:

  • I write,

AND

  • I belong to a writing collective,
  • we share work in progress and provide feedback to one another,
  • we take turns posting entries to this blog ,
  • I lead workshops for adults and children,
  • I facilitate a book discussion group,
  • I participate in readings/I attend readings,
  • I submit work,
  • I meet with students who are working on manuscripts,
  • I copyedit manuscripts for publication,
  • I take workshops and attend conferences,
  • I read—books, newspapers, magazines,
  • I attend a revision workshop focused on the novel,
  • I’m trying to decide how much of my own web site I can create, and
  • over it all hovers the question of whether or not to tweet!?

While I acknowledge the importance of these activities, I’m constantly working to find the right balance. If not vigilant, I can spend 95 percent of my writing life doing everything but writing. I can subsist on a diet of reading alone, for example, or I can happily gorge myself making suggestions on other people’s manuscripts.

From time to time I must pull back from these literary indulgences and chant a line of poetry I first heard back in 1981: “The real writer is one/who really writes.” (From Marge Piercy, “For the young who want to”)

How do you distribute the time allotted to your writing life? How do you keep yourself focused on writing?

 

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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.

Word Snacks for the New Year

After the seasonal food-and-time-off debauch, I’m grateful for the turning of the year, though it’s slow going these past few days.  To ease back into regular work,  my practice is to turn to poems of the new year.  This morning it’s these lines:

“     … Gentle and just pleasure
It is, being human, to have won from space
This unchill, habitable interior
Which mirrors quietly the light
Of the snow, and the new year.”

“New Year’s Poem” by Margaret Avison.

Margaret Avison was a Canadian poet I had the good fortune to actually meet years ago.  She died in 2007 after leaving a valuable legacy to those to closely observe small moments.  Often, her poetry demands much of me as a reader so I take her words in small sips, remembering a comment made by Joseph Zezulka, an English professor at the University of Western Ontario and friend of Avison, who famously said: “Her poems were not snacks, they were full meals.”  Stuffed full of too many holidays, my writing self needs Avison, along with everything else, in tidbits at the moment.  But how necessary is the return  to words and work.

Not sure my digestion could handle a full word meal just yet,  I am also grateful to Lexington poet Sherry Chandler and one of her first blog posts of the year where she mentions “small stones” as a way to write our way into January.

There, she links to  The January Mindful Writing Challenge: A River of Stones,” a call to write a daily “small stone” during the month of January.

What are “small stones”?  The site says: “A small stone is a short piece of writing (prose or poetry) that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment. …The process of finding small stones is as important as the finished product – searching for them will encourage you to keep your eyes (and ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind) open.”  This sounds like a good way to enter back into the work after a time away.  In a testimonial, one of the people who adopted the discipline of small stones says:

“…Several times I’ve had the thought that I absolutely don’t have the time or mental space or energy to stop and notice something outside my driven daily preoccupations, to compose even this tiny ‘small stone’ of words. But I keep finding that it doesn’t eat up time or mental space; on the contrary, time stops and new space is created.”

Here’s to each of us finding ways to create new space in this our new year—the best way there is, through our words.  Even beginning with sips or snacks, we’ll soon be back to those satisfying, full meals.  And as we get our creative momentum back, those words  really will build slowly, helping us create the new year.  What an image it is:  to conjure up that whole river of words our regular work will become.

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.

The Power of the Pen

I love my computer. It simplifies the physical process of writing for me. Editing is easier. How did we ever compose without cut and paste? Spell check, for all of its faults(and they are many), catches errors that the eye might overlook. The computer makes writing faster so that when I type, I can keep up with the racing thoughts that sometimes accompany creative energy. I find it easier to get my thoughts out when I’m not distracted by the feel of the pen in my hand, the drag of the ink across paper, or the shape of the letters.  As arthritis gradually eats away at my knuckles, typing is also less painful than writing by hand. Yet, even though the benefits are many, I still feel the need for hand writing. Why do I bother with hand writing anything when it’s so much more convenient to tap out a quick email and hit send?

Have you ever wondered why legal documents require a hand written signature? The answer is obvious; our signature is unique. Nobody else can sign our name the exact same way we sign it. Even talented forgers make tiny errors that enable experts to detect the difference between a real signature and a forgery. The same thing can be said for all of our hand writing. Dr. Rosemary Sassoon, the creator of the Sassoon series of typefaces, said, “Handwriting is an imprint of the self on the page.” Our handwriting is imbued with our personality in a way that a typed page can never capture.  I can look at something scribbled on the back of an old picture and know if it was written by my mother, my father, or my grandmother. I have letters from my grandmother that show the passage of time by the way her script began to waver as she aged but even wavering, it is still undeniably my grandmother’s handwriting. My father often typed his letters; as a businessman, he had ready access to a typewriter. But he always signed them in pen and ink and I still get a warm feeling when I come across an old letter with his signature at the bottom. The hand written signature connects me to my father in a visceral way that the typed pages don’t. I can see my father’s hand swooping, forming the “d” for David and final swoop on the end that crossed the “t” in Harter with the tail of the “r.” It’s unmistakably my father’s hand.

Recently,  I received a short, hand written note from a woman I have never met. This woman had seen a piece of my art work that is hanging in the public library in Harrodsburg, Ky. She was inspired to write to me to tell me how much she loved my work and she offered me some hollyhock seeds for my garden, the hollyhock being the subject of my quilted work. I was so touched by the note that I immediately called to tell her. I told her that not only did I appreciate her compliment to my work, I appreciated that she had taken the time to write.  She laughed and said, “That’s what we old women do!” I told her that it was more than that. She gave me something to save; something to read again when I’m feeling particularly discouraged about my work. I hope that writing by hand is not a dying art. I hope it’s something that we all will continue to do, not just “we old women.”  I can’t picture a stack of emails being saved with quite the same reverence as a bundle of love letters tied with blue ribbon. I hope that the hollyhocks will bloom next summer in my garden and remind me of the kindness of a stranger and the power of the pen.

 

 

 

 

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?

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