Mojo Monday: Get Inspired…Do Something

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


Last Thursday evening, I gave my first-ever Writerhead presentation at PechaKucha at River Tree Arts in Kennebunkport, Maine. It was fantabulous! (I’ll be talking about Writerhead again in a few weeks at the Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA. Come on out!)

One of the things I (re-)realized during the presentation was that DOING something creative gets me into writerhead. There I was, getting into writerhead while giving a presentation about writerhead.

So for you today? Two creative opportunities for you to DO something…and the promise that DOING something will help shift you into writerhead.

KICK-ASS CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY #1 / The “Immersion” Writing Contest at Brevity.com

Details from Brevity.com.

“To celebrate Robin Hemley’s new book, A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel, we are launching a quick contest. You have one month, until May 11th, to immerse yourself, in something. If it is water, be sure that you can swim. If it is honey, watch out for bears.

“Here are the details:

“For centuries writers have used participatory experience as a lens through which to better see the world at large and as a means of exploring the self. Immersion writing encompasses Immersion Memoir (in which the writer uses participatory experience to write about the Self), Immersion Journalism (in which the writer uses the Self to write about the world), and Travel Writing (a bit of both: the writer in the world and the world in the writer). Types of immersion writing within these broad categories include: the Reenactment, the Experiment, the Quest, the Investigation, and the Infiltration.”

For complete details, visit Brevity. (Quickie Info: 500 words due by May 11, 2012! Get busy! Immerse yourself!)

Bonus: You could win a showercap!

* * * *

KICK-ASS CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY #2 / “The Great Outdoors Photo Competition”

Yep, photos, not writing for this contest. Of the great, grand, gorgeous outdoors.

Photos of a cutthroat trout, bison, the sky, a lily, your cousin leaping over a creek, elk in rut, green leaves, etc.

For complete details, visit The Great Outdoors Photo Competition. (Quickie Info: Photos due by May 10, 2012.)

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Image: arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Mojo Monday: Get Up and Dance to “Jaan Pehechan Ho”

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


If I could express how much I love this in words, I would. But really? Just better to get up and dance. Welcome to a stellar performance of “Jaan Pehechan Ho” (a Hindi phrase roughly translated as “We should get to know each other”).

I love this!

 

This is from GUMNAAN, a 1965 Indian horror thriller film. Wikipedia describes the plot as, “Seven people mysteriously win a free vacation. On the way to their destination, the plane has engine trouble and they are left abandoned in a remote seaside location. They find shelter in a large mansion inhabited by a comical butler Mehmood. One by one, they are murdered and the remaining vacationers try to figure out why they were chosen for the trip and what they have in common. Loosely based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.”

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring John Colman Wood

Shhhh. I know it’s exciting to have John Colman Wood—author of The Names of Things—at Writerhead today, but you’re still expected to be quiet while we listen in on his writerhead. Don’t worry…there will be plenty of time for questions and rousing applause at the end.

So sit back. Pour yourself a cup of coffee. And enjoy.

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Let me start with a disclaimer: anything I say about writerhead is bound to be nonsense. But I’m an academic, and the risk of uttering nonsense never stopped me. It’s a serious point, however, about nonsense.

First, writing about writing isn’t writing. Not really. It’s something else, like loving the idea of loving isn’t loving, or that imagining happiness isn’t happiness. Second, writing about writing requires a self consciousness that is, I believe, antithetical to the state of mind that occurs when one is lost in the act, which is what I think you mean by the term writerhead.

In other words, trying to adopt a writer’s state of mind is one way to make it go away. So I suppose “getting lost” comes closer to writer’s mind than anything else I can think of. More on that below.

In any case, it rarely happens to me. And when it does, it never lasts longer than a few seconds, a minute at most. When it happens, I am always caught up in something, so focused, so unselfconscious that I’m not thinking at all, just doing. Of course, as soon as that happens, and the right words are falling from the tree, I almost immediately think “Ah, this is great! Now I’m writing” and then puff, the moment vanishes, killed by a thought.

Ironically, this writerly state of mind seldom occurs when I am at a desk with pen, computer, or typewriter at hand. Rather, a word, an image, a sentence, a next paragraph, a turn of plot is more likely to fall from the sky when I’m out walking. Just walking. I am not very writerly when I am writing, and I do my best writing when I am not.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

When I am writing, my distractible mind looks something like this:

First I have to make coffee. It’s good for about ten or fifteen minutes of keyboard avoidance. The switch on the coffee maker is unreliable. The thing turns off in the middle of brewing. Since only half the water has filtered through, the coffee is twice as strong. That’s not bad if you like strong coffee, as I do, which is probably why I haven’t replaced the thing.

With a fresh cup of tar in hand, I turn to my desk and a story I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. I like a clean desk. I mostly work on a laptop, which sits, half-cocked, front and center. There’s a lamp to the left, a couple of sharp pencils and a legal pad to the right, the coffee within easy reach beyond. That’s it. The world is now well ordered.

The story is about a girl I sat beside about forty years ago in seventh-grade English. My family had just moved to a big city from a small town. Everything was new and frightening.

The teacher’s name was Mr. Defoe. He had a bald head and wore a white shirt, striped tie, black trousers, and black wingtip shoes.

There’s a knock at the door. This is typical. There’s always a knock at the door. A driver from Fed-Ex offers me an envelope in exchange for a signature. He smiles, comments on the weather, thanks me, and skips back to the van like he’s done me a great favor. I sit at the desk and calculate that I’ve just paid fifteen bucks for the privilege of being interrupted. The coffee’s cold.

The school was generations old: dark wood, flaking paint, blackboard pitted and gouged so the chalk broke in Mr. Defoe’s hand. The tall windows were greasy from city air.

I tinker with the last sentence. The windows started out “fogged with city breath” but I had something dirtier in mind, so I changed “fog” to “grease” and decided not to personify the city but just give it dirty air.

I need to pee. I take along my cup to fill in the kitchen.

While I stand in front of the toilet I think of a writer who spoke years ago at the university where I was a graduate student. He was South Asian, a famous guy, and we all wanted to meet him. At the party afterward, I remember watching him talk with one of the professors. The famous writer had a glass in his hand, and as he listened he kept sipping from the glass though there wasn’t any more whiskey in it, just ice. He chewed on chunks of ice, spoke occasionally, and otherwise nodded at whatever was being said. His lips curled into an attentive frown as he chewed. It seemed such a human thing to do, his chewing on ice, and it surprised me because he was such an admired figure, hardly human at all.

Why I think of him now after so many years I don’t know, except maybe my stance in front of the toilet reminded me of his in front of that professor.

Back at my desk I pick up where I left off.

The girl, in contrast to Mr. Defoe, was blonde and small and sunny. She wore a skirt and blouse and penny loafers with shiny pennies in their eyes.

Those two sentences take all of half a minute to type. I read them over. Then a gurgling noise from the bathroom draws my attention. You must think me lavacentric, if that’s a word. I’m not. It’s just that the bathroom is near the study, and I use it often because of all the coffee I drink. I jiggle the handle and return to my desk.

She had slightly crooked front teeth—a tiny, distinctive flaw that made everything else about her perfect. She smiled almost all the time but was self-conscious of her teeth, so she’d smile and then wrap her upper lip around them in a bashful way, like she was trying to hide her smile.

I read that over. The work so far today has taken half an hour. It’s all descriptive. Straight forward. Nothing fancy. I like the bit about her smile. It’s the best of what I’ve written today, and it came by accident. I didn’t set out to write it, wasn’t thinking of her smile when I started.

Now the kid two doors north has begun to practice his drums. He would, wouldn’t he? It’s two-thirty in the afternoon, which seems early. But there he is. He’s beating away without rhythm. It sounds like a lot of stuff that’s been piled on shelves in their garage is crashing to the concrete floor, only it keeps crashing.

It’s time to take the dog for a walk.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

I think writerhead is a matter of getting lost. You need to set off in one direction and then, sometime later, find yourself somewhere else. In that sense writing is like walking.

It is pointless, while walking, to intend to get lost. The intention itself keeps track of where you are. I’ve tried to get lost. I write about place and space, and several times I’ve thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to get lost and see what that’s like, to find my way back. Can’t be done. I’ve been lost, of course, just not by intention. I think it’s just as pointless and for the same reasons to try to get lost while writing.

You can, however, let it happen. You can allow intention to lapse, just as you can wander into an unfamiliar forest and walk and walk, thinking about other things and, after a while, find yourself lost. It happens to people two or three times a year in the forests near where I live. They go in, lose track of where they are, and they’re lost.

I think it’s important to get lost while writing. At the risk of sounding Taoist, you can’t find your way unless at first you’re lost. The kind of writing I do is always a matter of finding my way. I seldom know where I am. And it is relatively easy to get lost while writing (without really trying) because, let’s face it, there’s so little at stake. We can always decide that what we’ve written while finding our way is nonsense, and then we can toss it in the trash.

BIO: John Colman Wood teaches at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His research with Gabra nomads of Northeast Africa has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. His fiction has appeared in Anthropology and Humanism. He has twice won the Ethnographic Fiction Prize of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. He is the author of When Men Are Women: Manhood among Gabra Nomads of East Africa (University of Wisconsin Press, 1999). Before becoming an anthropologist, Wood was a journalist.

To learn more, visit John’s blog Im/placed: Identities in space and place or his publisher’s site at Ashland Creek Press.

 

Mojo Monday: Mark Grist’s “Girls Who Read”

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


Have you watched spoken word poet Mark Grist perform?

Whhhaaaattt? No?

Oy! Here’s your chance. This is Grist on why he likes girls who read. I love this! (And once you’ve watched, hunker down with a topic about which you’re passionate. Riff on it. Writerhead! Writerhead! Writerhead!)

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring the Fantabulous Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Titles led me to Elizabeth Stuckey-French. She’s got some of the best: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Mermaids on the Moon, and The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. Her prose and storytelling style got me addicted. I’m so excited to be able to share her writerhead today.

Now, listen up! And no fidgeting. As Elizabeth says, she lives in writerhead. We do not want to interrupt her.

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

I live in writerhead. It never goes away. I’m always experiencing my life and simultaneously evaluating things that happen to me and around me as possible material. Sometimes it’s annoying—like when I’m having fun with my family and I just want to be in the moment already. As James Thurber put it, “Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’” But other times it can be useful when one bad thing happens after another. Then, no matter how bad things get, and how sad I might be, part of me is standing back thinking, pay attention to how this feels so you can use it later! Now you know what it feels like to have someone you love die. Grist for the mill!

Writerhead gets most intense for me when I’m revising something. My fictional world can start to feel more urgent than the rest of my life. This happened to me the first time when I started graduate school at Purdue and had enrolled in my initial graduate fiction-writing workshop. This was also the first time I’d ever been required to revise a piece of fiction—previously I just banged out a first draft, an only draft, and stuck it in a drawer. My husband was teaching high school at the time and, since we didn’t own a computer, I tagged along with him to Benton Central High School one blizzardy day to use one of the Apple IIs in their library. I started to revise my story, and before I knew it, hours had passed. I had to tear myself away when it was time to go home that afternoon. I’d never been transported like that before, and that’s when I knew that I had found my calling.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Because I’m constantly in writerhead, I’m constantly being interrupted. Tending to my kids has taught me that the creative process is not fragile. Well, interruptions bother me some, but in a perverse way, being bothered about being interrupted makes me happy, because if I’m bothered I must be writing something I care about, which makes me happier than anything. And I’ve learned that what I’m working on will be there waiting, like a loyal friend, till I can get back to it. I do go on a writing retreat for two weeks every summer when I can wallow in writerhead to my heart’s content. I dream of those two weeks during the rest of the year. My husband always tells the story of how, when I was finishing my first novel on Sept. 11, 2001, while he was glued to the television watching the towers fall over and over again, I tuned out the news and sat at the kitchen table banging away at my revision. It was the best antidote I could find for the helplessness I was feeling.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Writerhead feels like playing on a Ouija board with my characters. We’ve got our fingers on the pointer, which takes us to another world, the world of the story.

BIO: Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of two novels, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady and Mermaids on the Moon, as well as a collection of short stories, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. She is a co-author, along with Janet Burroway and Ned Stuckey-French, of Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft. Her short stories have appeared in The Normal School, Narrative Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Five Points, and The O’Henry Prize Stories 2005. She was awarded a James Michener Fellowship and has won grants from the Howard Foundation, the Indiana Arts Foundation, and the Florida Arts Foundation. She teaches fiction writing at Florida State University.

If you’d like to know more about Elizabeth, pop on over to her web site or say hello on Facebook.

 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt: There’s Nothing To Write About??!!

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


Earlier this week a writer said to me, “But there’s nothing to write about.”

NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT!!!!!!

Holy crap-a-majoli! Nothing to write about? Nothing to write about?

(short pause, while I sit down and breathe)

FOR PENELOPE’S SAKE, NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT???

To help this writer and any others who have come to this desperate state, here’s a writing prompt to prove that no matter who or where you are, THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT!

Now…get to work.

STEP 1: Go outside and hunker down on a corner. (Yes, I know “corner” will mean something different to each of you. If you’re in a cabin in the woods, go to a bend in a path or a river or a creek. If you’re in Mumbai, go to a nearby intersection. You know what I mean…)

STEP 2: Wait for something to happen. (drums fingers on knee)

STEP 3: While you wait, see what takes your attention. (Who’s pulling their gutchies out of their crack? Who’s smooching on the corner? What is that smell?! Have you ever, ever seen that shade of green before? How would you describe that old woman’s limp? And so on…)

STEP 4: When something happens (AND IT WILL!), go somewhere and write. Get it all down. The whole hot sticky spilling-over-the-sides mess of it.

STEP 5: When you’re done, post a few lines of your piece in the Comments section below. I want to see what’s happening around the world.

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P.S. I know, I know, a few weeks ago I made a big promise. I sent out a “Save the Date” for today. Ugh! My apologies for postponing. But stay tuned. It’s a’coming.

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Image: sakhorn38 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mojo Monday: The Big Secret in Life (Writing)

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


Oprah puts it like this: “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”

Here’s my take: “The big secret in writing is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you work your arse off.”

And it’s true. You can.

Sure, in the “working” period there’s little recognition, few pats on the back, zero minutes of fame, moments of self-doubt, zero minutes in the limelight, etc.

And yes, the working period can (and most likely will) go on for a long time. Weeks, months, years, decades.

And all of that can feel like crap once in a while.

But (and here’s the hard part), too bad.

If you want it (you know, the big IT), you must do the work.

So go…work your arse off this week. Let nothing deter you.

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Image: ntwowe / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Expat Sat: Speeding Around the World (Really, Really Fast)

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


Inspired by the world? Travel? Hopping out of your comfort zone? Getting to know folks around the globe?

Me, too.

Check this out.

Mojo Monday: Joan of Arc Said…

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


 I am not afraid…

I was born to do this.

~ Joan of Arc

 

 

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Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: NaNoWriMo Writers Tell All

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Hey, beautiful NaNoWriMo writers, I’m wildly, insanely curious about how writing 50,000 words in 30 days is affecting your writerhead!

[Need a quick definition of writerhead? Writerhead = the purest moments of creation. Those beautiful (sometimes excruciating) “Sh, sh, sh, ssssssshhhhhh, I’ve got to get this down” moments when words are bubbling, popping, zinging, and swinging. The ones when the “real” world disappears behind a gauzy cloud (insert sucking sound here…) and the imaginative world takes on firmer lines and brighter hues. A.k.a. “the flow” or “the zone.”]

So…

Is your writerhead the same as it is during “regular, ole, non-NaNoWriMo writing stints”?

How is it different?

What does it feel like? Smell like? Sound like? Rev like?

To what can you compare your writerhead right now…today…23 days into your adventure?

What do you say to your writerhead to get her moving in the morning?

How do you shut down your writerhead for a little R&R?

What do you know about your writerhead that you didn’t know before?

At this point, does your writerhead look more like this:

or this…

Share, share!

 

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Image: think4photop / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net