Coming to Consciousness

Writing helps me come to consciousness.Colombia_brown_wake_225874_l

This morning, writing in my journal about a problem, I was again reminded of how writing helps me become conscious. 

Specifically, I've been working on being present and conscious with food.  You know, chewing instead of gulping meals down.  Setting my fork down and pausing in the middle of a meal.  That kind of thing.  I was doing great on this quest, even through all the craziness of a week and a half in Nashville.  But suddenly, upon returning home, I'm not doing so great any more.  I find myself gulping and inhaling.  And worse, I can't even remember what was so appealing about being present with food in the first place.  In other words, the goal has lost its value for me.

So this morning, in my journal, I spent time trying to figure out why.  And I realized that it has to do with emotion.  Processing the events of my week in Nashville, the sudden shock of being back at home–emotion.  And, apparently, for me, being the Cancer that I am, emotion trumps all, even worthy goals.  So now I have a clue as to what's going on and I can deal with it.

Once again, writing has made me conscious.

Here are some of the ways that happens:

  • It helps me figure out what I'm thinking
  • It helps bring me present (which is no doubt a precursor to the above)
  • It illuminates aspects of my subconscious I couldn't see

I'm referring, here, specifically to journaling.  But I think it applies equally to writing fiction, or a screenplay or a creative non-fiction piece.  Because I know when I write a novel, I'm writing to explore the themes and issues that I'm presenting. 

The ability of writing to bring me to consciousness is also why I've never had to see a therapist.  I figure things out on paper, instead of on the psycho couch.  (And then I get to spend therapist money on an awesome coach instead.)  It is why I am constantly puzzled about how people who don't write survive.  It is why my idea of hell is being stuck somewhere without pen and paper.

But sometimes we have the best of intentions of processing on the page, but nothing happens.  So, herewith are the most common tools I use.  (And remember, these tools work equally well for journaling or any other kind of writing.)

Tools

Free Writing–Yes, the old standby is still one of the best ways to drop a line directly to your subconscious.  Set a timer, decide on a prompt and write without letting the pen stop moving across the page.  When you are done, go through and underline the best bits, and use one of them as a prompt for the next session.

Writing Exercises–I love that author Richard Goodman insists that writing exercises are primary, not secondary writing.  Writing exercises can get you far.  From the humble exercise can come a story, an article, an essay, a novel, or even simply an illuminating journal entry.  Exercises can be found all over the internet, in books, on this site, anywhere.  

Morning Pages–Julia Cameron's three pages a day in the morning are very useful for bringing things to light.  Sometimes illumination will happen in a single day, sometimes it may take a week or a month for you to see the patterns.  But MPs are are a great way to understand yourself and your writing.

What, pray tell, are your favorite tools for coming to consciousness through writing?

When Is A Food Journal Not For Your Diet?

Journal_80101_l  Well, after a brief break for Christmas and sloth, it is time, finally, to resume my series on journal writing with a final flourish. It is a flourish because what I'm going to discuss is my current favorite type of journal writing, though I reserve the right to have a different favorite next month, because, well, that is what happens with journal writing.  And maybe even regular writing, too, if there is such a thing as regular writing.

So here goes.  My current favorite type of journal writing is the Chronology.  This is my name for actually writing about the things that happen in your life, the people you run into, the day to day events that make up your existence. 

The desire to write a chronology of our days is why may of us are drawn to journal writing.  It is the urge to make meaning of our lives, or perhaps the desire to leave something for posterity.  The chronology records history in the making if we're lucky–witness the diaries of pioneer women that have been such wonderful records of that era. 

The chronology is also fertile ground for practicing the writer's craft.  In noting the details of your best friend's outfit and how she never seems to wear things that match yet she always looks great, that you start to understand how to create characters that come alive on the page.  In writing a description of the coffee shop you visited the day before, the seeds of description and setting are created.  And so on, through all the aspects of observing a day to day life.

The chronology is what fills our journals with rich detail and interesting tidbits.  And yet, this kind of writing is what is often sorely lacking in my own diary.  Why?  Because when writing a journal on a regular basis, I tend to get lazy.  (Um, this seems to be a theme for me this week.) It is far easier to indulge in a whiny emotional outburst or write quick morning pages that are really more about the day's to-do list than to really write about the what happened the day before: how the sun looked on the river as you crossed the bridge, or the way your son's face lit up when he took a bite of chocolate.  

I realized how the quality of my journaling had deteriorated when I read My Life in France, by Julia Child this summer, after seeing the movie, Julie and Julia.  If you saw the movie, there were several scenes where Paul, Julia's husband, is seen sitting at a desk writing letters to his twin brother back home.  Those letters were apparently so filled with detail and wonderful tidbits that they were used heavily by Julia and her nephew in writing her memoir (which is, by the way, delightful, and well worth reading).  Upon reading this I was struck by what a rich vein of gold letter writing results in, and then I realized that journal writing could be the same thing.  My journal writing could be a rich vein of gold, if only I weren't so indulgent about all those whiny outbursts.  Or obsessed with to-do lists.

So I resolved to actually write something of worth in my diary and began to sit every morning and write an account of the day before.  Yet this chronology meandered and lacked cohesion.  (I know, I know, its a journal, it is not supposed to be perfect.  But, as with all writing, I need to feel comfortable inside the form before it takes off for me.)  And then I read a charming article in O magazine.  I'm sorry I can't point you to the exact month because I tore it out and gave it to my daughter, but it was sometime this past fall.  The article was written by a woman who had recently had a baby.  During her pregnancy, she wrote down every single item she had eaten and with whom, the idea being that her baby was the sum total of all of this food and company.

And from this I got my brilliant idea–keeping a Food Journal.  No, not the kind that nutritionists and diet experts tell you to keep, though that can easily be incorporated.  This kind of food journal notes not only what you ate, but where you ate it, who you ate it with and what they were wearing, what song was on the radio as you drove down the freeway with a McDonald's breakfast sandwich in hand, whatever.  And then that leads to a paragraph about how, you guessed it, the sun shone on the river as you crossed the bridge over it and so forth and so on and before you know it you've written a chronology of your entire morning, full of lush detail and interesting anecdotes and now you're onto lunch, which is a whole other story in itself, because your numbskull co-worker told that stupid joke and then your boss yelled at all of you while she had a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

So what the Food Journal really does is give you an excuse.  It gives you an excuse to write about everything that happened in your day, and in giving you a structure, it makes it so much easier than to meander about in your brain and try to remember what you did.  Food is life, as we know, and it turns out that writing about food makes remembering life easier.

This kind of journaling takes a long time.  Writing about your entire day could easily take your entire morning.  So you might want to limit yourself to one aspect of it.  Or not.  What I find is that this kind of writing, the loving attention to the detail of reality, leads me back into the writing that I truly love doing–writing novels.  And then the hell part is that I get so engrossed in writing novels that I don't have time to keep a food journal or really any kind of diary.

But that is okay, because my journal will be there waiting for me, as it always is, when I feel the need to write morning pages to get myself back on track again.  Or to do some writing exercises because I've lost my way and feel blocked.  Or because something happened to me of such import that I feel the urge to write about it.  That's the great thing about journals–they are always there for you.

Here are the links to the other posts in this series:

Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

Practical Considerations for Journal Writing

All the Wonderful Forms of Journal Writing

Journaling, Part Four: Morning Pages

Journaling, Part Five: Whiny Emotional Outbursts

Photo used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

Journaling, Part Four: Morning Pages

 
Yesterday, in Part Three* of my series on journaling, I wrote about four types of journal writing that I findGlasses_sheet_paper_260712_l useful.  There are an infinite number of techniques you can use for effective journaling, and I may well write about others in the future.  But for now, I've chosen to discuss the ones I use most often and find most beneficial.

Morning Pages.  First off, we have Morning Pages, developed and popularized by Julia Cameron in her seminal book, The Artist's Way.  You've probably read about or heard of Morning Pages, or MPs, as I like to call them, one way or another.  Morning Pages are simple–you get up, head to your journal, and write three pages, no more, no less.

Your first reaction to this idea may be similar to mine–horror at the idea that you're supposed to get up and write first thing.  I think this springs from the notion that writing is hard, and it takes thought, and if your brain is not yet awake you won't be able to think and thus write. 

But that is also the point–that you bypass the conscious, critical brain and just let the words flow onto the page. This is good for a number of reasons:

1.  Because it gets you used to just letting the words rip.  Getting into the flow of putting words on the page is excellent training for writers.  And, like any other profession, writers need to train.  The way the writing process works is this: first you glump all the words out onto the page in one glorious brain dump.  Then you rewrite.  And rewrite again.  And rewrite again.  And…well, you get the idea.  But if you are hesitant and shy with your words, you'll never get the wonder of rough draft onto the page and thus never have anything to work with.  So, you can consider Morning Pages to be part of your training.

2.  Because it familiarizes you with your subconscious.  And what a trip that is.  By writing Morning Pages, you will learn all kinds of things about yourself, perhaps that what you really want to do is study classical music or kayak around the world.  Or whatever.  Why is this important?  Because, here's the deal: the number one, most important thing for a writer is to be yourself on the page.  That's what voice is about, people.  But being yourself on the page is nearly impossible is you don't know yourself.  So write MPs.  You may astound yourself with your brilliance.  And even if you don't, you are engaging in a valuable activity, in and of itself.

3.  Because fascinating trends emerge when you aren't looking.  You know how John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans?" So too with MPs.  It may never have occurred to you that kayaking was something you wanted to do, until you find yourself writing about being on water–again.  You may never have thought you wanted to write poetry–until it begins to emerge in your MPs.  And so on and so forth. 

4.  Because MPs allow ideas to pop like crazy.  I've written outlines for whole novels while scribbling MPs and groggily reaching for my coffee cup.  I've had ideas for blog posts, characters, scenes in projects I'm working on, you name it.  Things emerge when you are half asleep and your conscious mind is not yet engaged.

So give them a try.  The rules for MPs are very similar to the rules for free writing.  Just write, don't worry about sentence structure, grammar, or whether you are making sense.  Just write, write, write.  Three pages, no more, no less.  Go for it.  And let me know how they work out for you.

Anybody have any experiences with Morning Pages they would like to share?

  1. *FYI, you can read Part One here, and Part Two here.  And please, please, please also go here and sign up for the free coaching sessions I'm offering.  I've added new times for the first week in January.

All The Wonderful Forms of Journal Writing

The day has gotten away from me. 

First there was the small matter of waking up just the tiniest bit hungover, thanks to an evening out with Mayanna at Bernie's Southern Bistro.  Everyone who lives in the city of Portland and many who don't have been to Bernie's, but I had never been until last night.  The food was grand, and so was the barfly company.  Fun night.  But not conducive to being at my sharpest this morning.

Then I had to run to the grocery store for ingredients to make gooey banana bread with chocolate chips and coconut in it for my writing group's Christmas party tonight.  Then I had to have lunch with my son at Cadillac Cafe.  Then I had to come home and actually make the banana bread. And now it is after four, getting dark enough to turn the outside Christmas lights on, and I've not written my promised blog post.

So, here's the deal: today I'm going to write briefly about the four kinds of journal writing I like to practice, as a sort of preview and then go into them more throughly in the next couple of posts.  Okay?  Okay.  Here we go:

  • Morning Pages.  Popularized by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way, morning pages are just that–3 pages of writing, done first thing in the morning. 
  • Whiny Emotional Outbursts.  Often occurring in morning pages, whiny emotional outbursts are why I don't have therapy bills–because it all goes on the page.
  • Day Planning.  Obsessing on paper about all the things I need to get done, and figuring out a plan to accomplish them.
  • Chronology.  My current favorite, the chronology is actually writing about what happened in my life the day before.  The kind of things that people used to write letters about, when we wrote letters.

So there you have it, a wee preview of what I'm going to be writing about again soon.  Maybe even tomorrow, but I'm not promising anything, as I do have another social event at which wine will be served tonight.

If you want to read the first two posts on journal writing, here they are:

Part One, Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

Part Two, Practical Considerations for Journal Writing

And, if you haven't yet signed up for the free coaching sessions, what are you waiting for?  Go here to learn more.

Practical Considerations for Journal Writing, Second in Series

Yesterday, in a post titled, Journaling, One Path to Writing Abundance, I began a series about, you Notebook_agenda_schedule_260757_l guessed it, journaling.  I wrote a bit about why I think journaling is valuable for a writing practice and how indispensable my journal is to me.

Today, before we go any further in this series, I want to talk about some journaling practicalities.

Don't let that word, "practicality," scare you, because this is actually the fun stuff, all about choosing the correct journal and pen with which to write.   You might, at this point, be balking just as much over the word, "correct," as you did over the word, "practicality." All of us creative types hate concepts like correct, and structure, and organization.

But in this case, I mean the correct journal for you.  The correct journal is the one that you fall in love with on the shelves of the store.  It is the one that makes you feel good every time you pick it up.  The journal it makes you happy to open.  The one that you love so much you will actually fill it with words.  

What works for me might not work for you at all.  What I love in a journal may be what you hate, or vice versa.  So take some time and try some different options out and see what you like best.  If you've tried journaling in the past and not taken to it, there's a chance that you weren't using the correct journal.  Honestly, it is that important.  Besides, whiling away the afternoon in an office supply store is almost as good as whiling away the afternoon at a bookstore.  Or, you could do both and pretend you are Christmas shopping.**

Here are my guidelines, the qualities that work for me:

  1. Lined paper.  I don't know, maybe I like structure more than I think.  The unlined pages are almost overwhelming to me.  Plus, they make me feel like I should be adding delicate sketches or artful doodles and I'm just not good at that.  So my journals are lined.
  2.  Spiral or soft binding.  I carry my journal with me everywhere and could as easily be perched by a stream (okay I made that up, because I'm not generally that outdoorsy) writing as near a table.  I need a journal I can balance on my knee and still write on easily.  Up until recently, I was an adamant defender of the cause that all journals should be spiral bound.  But then I became the last person on the planet to discover the Moleskine journal.  Its soft cover doubles back on itself easily and works fine to write on in various situations.  Another type of notebook that falls into this category is the good old composition book you can buy cheaply at any office supply store or stationery department.  They'll have lots of good spirals, too.  I still love me those spirals.
  3.  Size does matter.  I prefer the 5 by 8ish size, which is easy to stash in my purse or carry along.  Some of you may prefer a pocket size, which I find a bit confining, or the big desk size.  It is all about what works for you.
  4.  Um, I guess I don't have a fourth guideline.  Except to repeat what I said earlier: find what works best for you.  Experiment, play with the process.  Find a journal that makes you long to stop everything, open it up, and write!

Besides the journal itself, there is the matter of the pen, which is nearly as important.  Again, while some may prefer a bold tip, others may always go for the fine.  I went through a long phase of preferring a medium point but am not back to an obsession with the fine point.  Then there's color…while I have a long-standing preference for blue, it is harder to find than black.  Plus these days there are all those great sets of multi-colored pens you can buy.  When you find a pen you fall in love with, stock up on it immediately because, A. manufacturers stop making them for no reason I can tell, and B. pens are like socks and Legos, they disappear.

So that's it for journaling practicality.  Feel free to share what your favorite journal and pen are in the comments.  And stay tuned for the next installment (which, with luck, will be tomorrow) on journaling.

**Speaking of Christmas shopping, don't forget my free holiday gift to you this season–I'm giving away coaching sessions!  Totally and completely free, they are, with no strings of any kind attached.  Head on over here and check out the details.

Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

 Open_diary_blank_264120_l
I'm an inveterate journaler.  As a matter of fact, I'm certain the reason I'm a writer today is because of the fake red leather diary, complete with lock and key, that I got for Christmas when I was 8 or 9.  Unlatching it was so enticing–all those lined pages to be filled with words!  I've been journaling off and on ever since.

When, as a young adult I decided I wanted to be a writer, it was to my journal that I turned.  There, I scribbled notes for stories I didn't have time to write, accounts of the events and activities of my life, and entries about the joys and frustrations of being a mother.  Gradually, the time I spent writing lengthened out, and the journal expanded to personal essays and short stories.  Eventually, I returned to school to get my MFA, and now I make my living as a writer.   I'm fairly sure none of this would have happened without my trusty journal always at my side. 

So as you might guess, I'm a big fan of using journaling as part of a regular writing routine.  I've been thinking a lot about journaling the past few days, maybe because on these cold late-autumn days, curling up by a fire and writing away in my Moleskine feels like just the right thing to do.  I've also been thinking about it because journaling is an important aspect of the practice of creating, one of the seven practices of the prolific and prosperous writer. I'm writing about these practices for the Writing Abundance E-book I'm working on, and I also talk about them in my live workshops (the next one of which I'll be presenting in Nashville in January.  Go here for more info.)  So I decided I'd share some of my thoughts on journaling here.  And then I realized that I had way more material than would fit in one blog post.  So stay tuned for an ongoing series, which I'll post over the next few days.  (Um, that is, with a little bit of luck.  It is Christmas, after all, and I've barely begun my shopping.)

Let me start by listing  a few reasons why I think journaling is good for your writing:

  • Flow.  First and foremost, because committing to writing in a journal regularly keeps your flow going.  It teaches you to let loose and just write about your day, your dreams, or anything at all.
  • Momentum.  Writing in a journal regularly gives you a sense of momentum, and the realization that yes, you can do this thing called writing.
  • Ease.  Journaling teaches you to be facile with words.  The knowledge that you can put one word after another boosts your confidence.  And this skill is transferable to other projects.

I use my journal in many different ways and you'll literally always find me with it open by my side.  I use it for:

  • Lists
  • Notes on Projects
  • First Drafts
  • To-Do Lists
  • As a life chronology
  • Notes
  • Ideas
  • Things I've Overheard

As you can see, my journal is pretty much a mish-mash of collected words and uses, which is why its so valuable to me.  It contains my life in one location.  But nearly every day I also find time to write some sort of journal entry in it, and it is this practice that I find so valuable and what I want to talk about further.

In tomorrow's post I'll talk about the various kinds of journal entries I've identified: Morning Pages, The Whiney Emotional Outburst, Day Planning, and my favorite, all the variations on the Chronology.  See you then.

Free Coaching Sessions!

Oh, and don't forget that I'm offering free coaching sessions for writers.  Yes, free!  Honest!  Why not start 2010 right and get clear on your most important writing goals and what might be holding you back from them?  Step right up and claim your writing life.  Hop on over here and read all about it.  And email me for an appointment!

A Writer’s Inspiration

Thus beginneth.

I woke up this morning with this post in my head and even though it was only 5:30, I jumped out of bed, Coffee_cups_mugs_241315_l grabbed a cup of coffee and started in.

Yesterday a character began talking to me.  I've had this character in my head for a year, making notes about her along the way, but I didn't have her voice.  Until she suddenly started talking to me.  I grabbed my Moleskine and started writing as fast as I could.

All of a sudden my brain is engaged and inspired.

Which is a good thing, because lately I've been wafting.  Drifting about the house when my work with clients is done.  Thinking deep, non-writing related thoughts.  Knitting.  Reading.  Sighing heavily.  Vacationing.  Wafting about some more.

It is amazing how easy it is to fill hour upon hour with wafting activities.

Meanwhile my office is still in the same awful, disorganized mess.  I've got projects I want to start, ideas for blog posts written down, inspirational business CDs to listen to.  And let us not forget a garden to put to bed for the winter, and a mountain of papers from my mother's house to sort through.

But instead I've wafted.

The good news is that this time I've been easy on myself because I had a pretty good idea why I was wafting.  After all, I recently finished a novel I've been working on for four years.  Like, finished finished it.  As in done to the absolute best of my ability.

During the time I worked on that novel, new ideas often came to me but I didn't feel I could devote myself to them, so they went in my journal, or my idea file.  I figured when I was done with my novel I would get started on them.

But instead, I wafted.

I expected a bit of wafting.  Generally when I finish a project I'm excited and I think, at last, I can read that book, take that hike, start that knitting project–all the things I've put off as I finish up.  But then when I'm actually done, suddenly nothing appeals to me and I wonder what I was so excited about.  But that usually only lasts a day or two.

This time, though, I've been mega-wafting on a grand scale.  So my new theory is that the amount of wafting one does after completing a project is directly proportional to how long the project took to finish.

And I'm happy to report that the wafting seems to be over, or at least diminishing.  Creativity takes its own time, its own shape, its own form, and while we can nudge it along the way, sometimes the best thing to do is just allow it to happen.

And waft.

The Writer’s Notebook: Loving Moleskines

I know.  I'm fifty gazillion years behind everyone else on this.  It
is a perverse streak I have that I don't quite understand.  For
instance, if everyone and their uncle is reading and talking about a
current bestseller, I won't buy it.  (One exception is the Stieg Larsson books.)
I'm not proud of this because it reeks of snobbery…or something else
I can't define but which doesn't reflect well on my moral character. 
(Another example–I'm only just now on the third volume of the Harry
Potter series.)

But back to the moleskines.  I've gone whole hog for them.  I resisted them for so long because they were a thing.  And they had a mystique.  I can't do mystiques. All those famous authors and artists used them–Picasso! Hemingway! Van Gogh! Bruce Chatwin! 

Also I resisted them because I thought they wouldn't work for me. 
With some rare exceptions, I've always preferred spiral notebooks, the
easier to turn the cover back on itself and balance the book on a
knee.  Perfect bound notebooks often break and split and are sometimes
awkward to handle. But guess what? They turn back on themselves beautifully and the standard size is perfect for carrying around.  The paper is thin, but not too thin.  They have a ribbon to mark your place, a generous back pocket to stick stuff in, and an elastic band to wrap around the whole thing. Sigh deeply.  Have I mentioned I'm in love?

And plus, there's more–there's something about the overall feel of the moleskine, more than the sum of its parts, that lends authority to everything I write in it.  My first moleskine has rejuvenated my journaling habit.  My journal is my constant companion, but sometimes it just feels….dull.  Not anymore.  Not with the moleskine.  Just opening it makes me happy.

What kind of notebook do you use? What do you write in it?

Techniques for Writing Flow

The Big, Scary Beast and the Ancient, Frail Feline are both asleep (in separate rooms, I might add) and so I have a moment to ponder techniques to keep access to the muse alive and well.  This is on my mind because at the recent Loft orientation, my fellow mentor and old friend Betsy Woods gave me the details on a new-to-me technique.

It is called a Weather Journal, and its a bit like writing morning pages, only more so.  With Morning Pages, you write down a stream of consciousness account of anything and everything, just to get it out on the page.  A Weather Journal is more crafted, more reactive, more of the moment.  With the Weather Journal, you start from where you are at the moment you sit down, and you write about that place, every blessed bit of it, starting with the things you are experiencing through your senses.

This invariably leads to more writing, perhaps an account of something that happened to you the day before, or an inquiry into an emotional upset.  The Weather Journal is very Zen in that it starts in the present moment and assumes that the entire universe exists in that moment.  And, well, every writer knows that its all in the details.   Keeping a Weather Journal is an excellent way to begin noting the details.  I've noticed this magical effect of the Weather Journal, which is that when you start by noting the details of the present moment, it is much easier to put on the page details of the scene that happened to you the day before when you were at the coffee shop and the barista with the red hair gave you a Frappucino with whipped cream on it instead of your usual grande latte.

While I'm at it, I'm going to run down a list of my Top Techniques for Writing Flow.  So here goes:

1.  Weather Journal–see above.  And let me know if you come up with a better name for it, would you please?

2.  Morning Pages–I did these faithfully for years.  They are the brainchild of Julia Cameron, who advocates their use in her book, The Artist's Way.  To do Morning Pages, often called MPs by devotees, you get up, grab your coffee or tea, and sit down with paper and pen in hand.  And then you write three pages, no more, no less, and get your ya-yas out so you can get on with the real business of life.  MPs are also a great way to track the desires of your true self.  So, if over the course of a month you realize you've written, I want to move to Africa and be a missionary, 5 times, it might be time to start checking airfare to Rwanda.  My problem with MPs is that they tend to devolve into a laundry list of things to do, and thus they end up feeding an obsessive thinking trait I'm trying to end.

3.  Free Writing--Sit down with your journal, set a timer for 20 minutes, choose a prompt and write until the timer goes off.  No lifting the pen from the page, no stopping, even if you are writing I hate free writing over and over again.  There is no shortage of books chock-full of prompts for free writing.  Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones,is probably the most famous advocate of this type of journaling.  The problem with free writing is that it is easy to get lost in it and end up with a bunch of useless writing that goes nowhere.  One way to get around this is to take prompts from your own current writing project.  This can be a great technique for solving thorny plot or character issues.

4. Lists--The lazy writer's way to keep a journal.  Not surprisingly, I love this one.  Say you find yourself on vacation in the Yucatan in Mexico and everything is exotic and different.  But you're on vacation and you end up spending most of it on the beach, drinking Pina Coladas from the beach-side bar.  Who has time to write in their journal in such a situation?  Especially when there are silly floor shows to attend every night?  And more Pina Coladas? Should you find yourself in such a jam, remember the benefits of writing a list.  It can be words or phrases, or whatever you want it to be, related or unrelated.  The key is to just get down descriptive words that you can later go back to and write from.  (And can I just say that I'm glad I visited Chichen Itza, back in the day, not so long ago, when you could still climb to the top of the ruins, even if I did only get halfway up before my fear or heights kicked in.)

That's it.  That's all I got on techniques for writing flow, and I think you'll find all of them useful in different situations.  If anybody has any other good ones, leave a comment so we can all steal it and use it!

A New World, Where Nothing is Impossible

I'm home from Nashville.  I actually got home Monday night, but I went right from being picked up at the airport to see my Mom, and came home exhausted.  Its a long drag across the country.  I know, I know, people fly much longer distances all the time now, but I don't care, it is still a long flight to me.  Despite being exhausted, I awoke at 5 AM, which seems to be my new default time at the moment.  Its actually fun to be up so early, and boy oh boy, does it give me a lot of time to write. 

Yesterday it was great to be awake at 5 AM, because it was a GREAT DAY.  I set up two TV trays in the family room, which is lacking in tables, and placed my laptop on one, and my journal and pen and the remotes (for some odd reason it takes two to operate our TV) on the other.  And then I sat in front of the television all morning–that is, when I wasn't running to the bathroom to grab kleenex because I was crying so much.

Obama and Michelle pulled up at the White House, Michelle with gift in hand, I started crying.  The limousine taking them to the ceremony pulled onto the crowd-lined streets, I was crying.  Hilary was introduced, I cried again.  And so on throughout the day.   It was really an amazing day.

A note about that present Michelle gave Laura Bush: rumor (or NBC) has it that the gift was a journal and pen for Mrs. Bush to begin her memoirs.  Here's what really interests me: it is said that ole Laura did not keep a journal for the entire eight years Georgie was in office.

She did not keep a journal.

Can you even imagine such a thing? Of course you can't because you are a writer and writers process everything through writing.  But so do people who are living through extraordinary times or events, and Laura qualifies there.  I can't understand how she would not have felt even a slight impulse to write something, anything, down.

While we're discussing the inauguration from a writerly point of view, how about that poet?  People on Twitter were making snide comments but honestly? I think the average American (myself included, alas) is just not that familiar with what is good poetry and what is not.   That being said, I liked her.  Her name is Elizabeth Alexander and I thought her poem hit just the right note–balancing the every day concerns that make up the lives of the citizens she addressed with the momentous aspect of the occasion.  Some of the lines I liked:

We encounter each other in words

What if the mightiest word is love?

Love that casts a widening pool of light

Praise-Song for the Day will be published in book form by Graywolf Press and sell for $8.  Oh, and they are printing 100,000 copies of it.  Not too shabby for a poet.

Finally, I leave you with the words of one of the NBC commentators (alas, I didn't catch which one, I don't watch TV often enough to recognize the voices):

"Nothing, now, nothing, is impossible."

Amen.