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Strength in numbers: The power of a writing community

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It is now five years later and there are more than 15,000 people from all over the world signed up for the annual 1000 Words of Summer project, with even more than that likely participating. Every year more wonderful authors contribute their thoughts on creativity, productivity, and inspiration.

Jami Attenberg

If you have ever needed a large dose of motivation to kickstart a project, you probably know that the most positive way to keep going is with the support of other people. In particular, members of your tribe. The people who know how difficult the writing journey can be and are able to offer heartfelt affirming words of encouragement and ideas.

When I find my energy for writing starting to become limp, I turn to the members of my writing group for support and inspiration. So when I happen upon other writing resources I tend to gravitate to them.

Last year, I read an essay on the #1000 words of summer annual project led by Jami Attenberg but filed the idea somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind thinking it probably would be worth a try. Not ready for taking this project on last June, I did however, sign up to receive her newsletter, Craft Talk.

As the date for beginning the #1000 words of summer 2022 writing event drew closer, I started paying more attention to the explainer that was sent out and some of the testimonials. As the June 4th kick off date drew closer, I thought more and more about this and decided to sign up to participate.

Belonging to this burgeoning writing community came with no cost other than the need for a commitment to write every day for two weeks.

Certainly sounded doable so I signed in to join the slack and prepared to become a part of this large writing community. Inspiring words have also been shared from amazing luminaries, Roxanne Gay, Sara Novic, and Min Jin Lee with more to come each day. Their personal experiences with the writer’s life have also helped nudge my motivation and I have written more than the minimum for the past four days.

Writers share thoughts about their writing, or lack thereof, roadblocks, and energy levels on the slack platform. It is both validating and affirming to learn that my experience is not unique. Simply part of the writing process.

(https://1000wordsofsummer.substack.com)

And it feels serendipitous to have discovered a large group of writers from around the globe who want to share resources, encouragement and motivational tips and techniques. What a wonderful place to be!

happy writing!

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Braving the publication journey

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I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.

Anne Lamott

Have you ever finally gotten up enough nerve to send out pieces of your creative writing to literary magazines only to receive a declined notice in Submittable so fast it gives you whiplash?

Or maybe you have a secret list of favoured publications that you dream will one day accept a piece of your best work. So you finally get enough nerve to take the plunge, hit submit but then wait for weeks and weeks. When you are just about to give up, you decide to send a query about the status of your submission. And receive a warp speed response that is a combination apology/rejection note.

Perhaps you have worked hard to complete your edits, have carefully reviewed the submission guidelines, and crossed your fingers (arms and legs) as you hit submit. Then a few days later you take a peak in your Submittable account and discover your work is “In progress”. And you have read somewhere that the longer it takes to be reviewed the better the odds are that you are going to have your work accepted. So having your prized piece of work linger in that state must mean something is going to happen. Right?

You just know that this is it. This has to be your moment.

And then, it happens, the rejection that reads like a form letter. Or worse yet, a hastily written personal email that actually has a typo in it!

So you decide then and there, that you are writing only for yourself, to learn the craft, to honour and express what resides deep in your heart and soul. You will learn to become content to leave the publication racket for those who have more gumption than you have. You know you should have gratitude that you were published some time ago so resign yourself to this uneasy state of acceptance.

And you carry on, writing often but at the same time growing uncertain about what you will do with all of the work that now languishes in draft Word folders.

As time passes by, you forget the sting of rejection and the emotional roller coaster that accompanies the submission process. You have read that all writers go through this and that it should be considered part and parcel of becoming a published writer. A real writer would face the risk of rejection head on, leaning into the idea that this is growth oriented and actually a positive.

So you submit three pieces of flash fiction to a magazine that you respect but you aren’t convinced will result in publication success. But it is part of learning so you treat this as an educational opportunity. You have read that collecting rejections can be an important aspect of the writing process.

Some time passes and then, suddenly in your list of new emails, you receive a notice of acceptance. Unbelievable! Your work will be published in a print literary magazine and you may agree to read your work at the launch. A launch, what!

So you go through a new process, working with an editor to prepare and ready your work to shine in the best possible light in a print publication. Along with the work of so many amazing writers.

And then the day comes, you open the mail and find two complimentary copies of the literary magazine, spring, Volume 13 which contains two of your flash fiction stories. You sit down to flip through the magazine, admiring the beauty of the cover art and the layout, breathing in that new print smell. You close your eyes in order to fully capture this moment. Then you quickly scan through the table of contents and find your name. Twice.

You do that smiling and crying thing at the same time. And a single thought occurs to you – this risk/reward publication thing in the field of writing – it is really worth the journey!

happy writing!

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Priming the Creativity Pump

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Creativity researchers have identified an effective strategy, known as priming, which is a way to jump-start our creative thoughts and feelings.

Trish Osler

Your mind is truly a fascinating space. The relationship between neuroscience and creativity seems both intriguing and worthy of further exploration. Indeed, becoming more mindful of the role that my brain plays in the creation of art could allow me to create distance from that harsh critical voice that chastises me for not writing well or even worse, anything at all.

Often I find myself wondering why it is that some days words flow like a steady stream from my fingertips to the computer keyboard and on others, they remain stalled in mid pose. And why is it that random things like washing the dishes or pulling weeds can precipitate ideas that are startling in their intensity and vibrance.

How is it possible that the mundane aspects of daily living can precipitate the creation of a piece of artwork?

Really, have you ever wondered why some art projects flow like snow melt in the spring and at other times the whole thing just becomes mired in mud.

Fortunately, neuroscientists have a term for this process. Priming. Just like priming a pump, seemingly innocuous events and activities can push your creative stalls into the right place by the introduction of new stimuli. Simple sensory activities like creating an image journal, or listening to music, and mindfulness meditation have been found to function as primers that increase the connections that the brain makes.

And strangely enough, the content and focus of your priming activities do not need to have any relationship to whatever creative problem you might be struggling with. In fact, research has found that allowing your mind to wander afar is more beneficial than intensifying your focus on what you are stuck on.

So being more unfocused allows your mind to do what it needs to do, to wander and play with new ideas, images and sensory snippets in order to move through any blockages to your creative path. If we can stop our tendency to self-shame or blame when we our creative drive veers off course, it seems important to learn which priming activities may help us move forward.

So the next time I feel stuck or unable to write, I am going to try and discover how this aspect of research from the field of neuroscience might “prime” my next creative block and free my brain to move forward in its own unique way.

happy writing!

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So why do you write?

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Writing is about getting to know more about the world – both the external world around you and the internal world inside you. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Robert Lee Brewer

Ever had one of those awkward moments where someone asks you what you have been doing lately and in a moment of excitement you mention that you are writing. Which launches the next question, oh what exactly are you writing? And for many writers who are in mid project, it can be dicey to try and explain succinctly what you are currently working on.

This tough question is often followed by a query about whether or not you are published and if you are, where your work can be found. Small literary journals either online or those still in print, don’t usually lend themselves to brand name recognition. For non-writers at least.

So unless you are discussing aspects of the writing world with a member of your tribe, most well intentioned people politely shift the conversation to something else. Quickly.

Perhaps this type of scenario might cause you to falter for a moment and ponder the question – why am I writing?

Because we all write for different reasons. We might write in order to be published. We might write because we have a need for recognition. We might write to touch the hearts and souls of people. We might be someone who writes for a living. We might write because we have an inner need to express ourselves using this creative vehicle.

But whatever the reason(s) our writing practice is often deeply personal. So to share this path you are on with someone who is not travelling on this journey with you, can leave you in a space where you feel misunderstood or dismissed simply because you know in your heart of hearts that you are a writer.

Writing is about taking risks. It is about having courage to learn to express what resides deep within. It is about having faith in your powers of observation and about being willing to fail when the words don’t line up quite right. Writing is about riding the wave of creative inspiration without knowing where you will end up. It is about a deep and enduring human desire to tell stories.

I am learning as I continue to write stories that this is how I make sense of my life, the world, and the people within it. I recognize that while many of the reasons why I write are fluid over time there is something deeply necessary about expressing myself this way. So for me writing is about growth and discovery and above all else, it is about having hope. Hope that my world will make sense and has meaning.

So why do you write?

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Finding focus…again and again

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Creatives often lose focus when they tackle a particular creative project or intellectual problem. They start with great enthusiasm , certain in their bones that they know what it is all about. Then, even after just a few days, it becomes less clear to them what they’re doing.

Eric Maisel

During a writing class this past weekend, the instructor spent some time discussing how to leave a project you are working on to attend to the myriad aspects of daily life that require we do something other than write. But the challenge is, how do you get back to that magical place where your writing energy was high? That place where the why of what you are doing creatively seems crystal clear and words are rushing out of you. Up until something we are pressed to do elsewhere interrupts that flow.

Finding our way back to that creative focus can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a writer.

And for some unknown reason I have been labouring under the misconception that this particular problem was unique to me. Gazing at the number of notebooks with unfinished stories, abandoned ideas for books, first lines of poetry on my book shelf causes unbidden feelings of frustration, shame, annoyance to surface. And once those feelings emerge they threaten to overwhelm the thinking part of my brain that understands this is all part of the writing process.

In Eric Maisel’s latest book for creatives, titled, Redesign Your Mind, he notes that “the ways in which creative projects can dim, lose their lustre, and shift out of focus are legion”. So learning more about this aspect of the creative writing process seems paramount if one wants to become a writer who “finishes” their projects.

It seems that this is a typical problem that like most aspects of creative work if understood then it can be solved. I was glad to know that it is not just a “me” problem but one that impacts other writers and creative souls.

One of the suggestions that resonated for me was to develop a habit where prior to leaving your desk or computer or your notebook, that you write out where you think you want to go next, to frame questions that you want to consider or reflect on when you return to the page. Sort of a quasi developed pathway in point form about where you need to go next.

And what if you still can’t figure out where you were going with a piece of writing when you are finally able to get back to it? Then it seems best to simply write and keep writing. The magic seems to be in discovering what you are writing by actually doing it. Sometimes where you finish seems far removed from where you began. And really, what is wrong with that!

happy writing!

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Finding your voice

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A writer’s voice is the way your personality comes through on the page, via everything from word choice and sentence structure to tone and punctuation.

Katherine Schulten

Have you ever wondered how to find your writer’s voice? It doesn’t seem as simple as the voice you bring to the act of singing or speaking. As a beginning writer, there are times when I feel like I am stumbling around trying to find my voice. When I am stuck I find myself worrying about what writer’s voice really is which will send me searching for the answers in craft books or on the internet.

But the reality is, our writing voice lives deep inside of us. The act of creation calls to us to be exactly as we are. Even if we feel like we are trying on shoes that are the wrong size. When we do our creative work, once we allow ourselves to become immersed in it, we often discover that unconsciously we are bringing our writer’s voice to the page.

If we look closely, we can discern the word choices we make, the tone, and our writing style as a reflection of who we are. And over time, this recognition strengthens and becomes intuitive.

When we bring our writer’s voice to the page, we are writing with emotion, passion, and we bring along all of the positive and negative aspects of ourselves. Our dislikes, attitudes, beliefs, wishes and our fears will all show up in what we write. Worrying about what our voice sounds like or is saying will often inadvertently make our words flat, dull, and perhaps unintentionally disingenuous.

Strangely enough, the act of immersion in a piece of creative writing can take us out of our judgemental minds and the less we try to write in a type of “voice” the easier it is to tap into the voice that is your own. Creative work allows us to express what is in our hearts – the pieces we write speak for us in the world. And the more we practice speaking with our authentic voice, it becomes louder and resonates with clarity.

If there was ever a reason to ensure ego doesn’t show up on your page, this would be it. Everything you create with your whole self, with your passionate self, with your true self – is a self-portrait. An unbridled, unfettered word picture of who we really are. And that is the best aspect of the poems and stories we write.

Happy writing!

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September renewal

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A new school year means new beginnings, new adventures

Denise Witmer

I’m never sure why but the beginning of September with children returning back to school always feels like someone has hit the refresh button. In many ways, this is the time of year that I set goals and chart my path for the upcoming months. Certainly this year, things are not exactly the same as before the pandemic but in spite of everything I find that I have a swing in my step and feel invigorated.

Perhaps it’s the weather changes, warm during the day but cooler at night, the subtle changes in the colours of plants in the garden and the odd pop of golden foliage in the trees. The calendar shows that autumn is still weeks away but there is promise in the air. Of what I am not certain but it brings with it a welcome change in energy.

Rummage sales that have been cancelled for the past 18 months provide opportunity to delve back into an abandoned decluttering project. Sorting and packing up books for the annual Paperback books for Prisoners drive. Looking for a piece of art to donate to a local fundraiser suddenly suggests needed changes to the art hanging on my walls. Searching closets for warmer jackets and footwear, just in case Mother nature changes her mind in a hurry.

Time floats by as cleaning, clearing and editing parts of my home takes hold.

Thinking thoughts of gratitude and excitement for our upcoming writer’s group. Have missed my kindred creative spirit friends being able to meet face to face. Socially distanced but can’t wait. Dusting off the calendar to write down dates for writing and photography courses, so far all offered online but crossing fingers that we won’t have to spend our winter months hunkered down using Zoom again. Yoga class in person? Maybe, maybe not.

Regardless, fall brings a different bounty of vegetables and fruits to the table. Soup making, canning to preserve that wonderful summer taste feel like wondrous activities rather than chores to be endured.

And writing. Writing every morning for the past two weeks. Both on the computer and by hand with the shiny new pen found at the least crowded back to school store I could find. Projects placed on hold over the summer months seem to spring to life bringing along with them a sense of hope. And a welcomed feeling of renewal and optimism that perhaps this back to school season will bring better things.

Who knows? Fingers crossed!

Stay healthy and safe!!

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Finding Rays of Light

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No matter how challenging things may be, there’s always at least one thing that’s going well.

Kathleen Adams

It’s challenging to remain positive in the face of the never ending emotional roller coaster we are riding these days. I have retreated to my journalling practice and have been reflecting on the negative tone that has emerged in some of my entries.

Reading what I have been writing over the past several weeks, I can see that it is all too easy to focus on what has been worrisome or not going well rather than on what is good or important in life.

Lifting oneself out of a downward spiral once it starts requires energy and effort. Especially when all that surrounds us are anxiety producing events and conversations. Anger. Agitation. Fear. Fuelled by news feeds and social media, negative emotions abound and seem to multiply much quicker than positive ones.

But by spending time writing and focusing on even just one aspect that is going well in our lives, that we feel passionate about, inspires hope. Seeking out others who share the rays of light that they have discovered creates positive energy.

Time to shift focus and work hard to pay attention to where the light shines brighter than the darkness.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Imagine a world where…

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Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Imagine a world where:

There would be global understanding and actions on all measures required to address Covid to end this pandemic;

Countries share in commitments needed for the sustainability for vaccines and health care resources regardless of where you live on this planet;

Health care workers are shown the respect they deserve by people doing all they can to prevent illness rather than small groups banging pots and pans;

When people speak of individual freedoms, it just means being able to live in a world free of this virus;

Angry rhetoric gets replaced by care and concern for all peoples as a shared priority around the globe;

Political pandering is replaced by collaboration and co-operation to educate, encourage, and support and challenge the spread of misinformation;

Economic supports actually benefit real people so they can stay home when ill and struggling small business owners rather than bloat balance sheets of large corporations;

Efforts to continue professional sports are equally afforded to all artists so they may continue to bring their healing works to the world;

Hope becomes the driving force behind everyone’s desire to achieve a new normal where we could prevent this virus from disrupting and devastating lives again and again.

If only we could do more than just imagine a world where….

Stay healthy and safe!

Looking around you

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One looks, looks long, and the world comes in

Joseph Campbell

Sometimes it seems we are passing through life without seeing what is around us. Having lived in a bubble for the past year or so, I have been acutely aware of things that I have missed seeing and that I have only been able to dream of. As our world becomes safer to journey out into, I have given thought about the things I thought I would welcome back into my life. And, those things that I now realize that I can live without.

Seeing family, friends are high on my priority list. Going shopping for material things I once thought I needed but really did not has fallen off that list. I am acutely aware now that it is easy to fill up a life with empty things. Travelling to see places that I have had on my wish list has narrowed but with new focus I can see possibilities where I never did before in my own country.

But I am becoming aware that the simplest pleasures in my life are when I can breath more deeply, enjoy moments with others, and take time to look around me and see what is really there. I don’t miss the days of rushing from place to place, or from appointment to appointment.

Now I find that when I am going out for walks, taking my camera with me, I take time to notice things in my immediate surroundings that I haven’t truly seen before. Strangely this is something I didn’t realize was missing from my life until our whole world was forced to stop. Being able to slow down and see what is around me, grounds my creativity and helps with forward movement.

Taking new perspectives on familiar things is energizing. Spending moments to take in all that surrounds us seems to help focus our artist’s lens. Creativity is driven by seeing more. We all have this ability, perhaps now is the time in life to pay more attention to this and nurture it. Maybe this will be one of those silver linings that sticks as we slowly find the path to our new normal.

Stay healthy and safe!