Day 4: Unicorns…why not?

When we talk about writing, we often talk about work.  I can hardly think about my novel without ordering myself to “get to work.”  We even use the word “work” to refer to the novel or the poem itself: as in, “Here is a sample of my best work.”  We “work” the prose (and sometimes over-work it), share our “work,” “work” on our stories and, when we are feeling uninspired, we “work” through it.  There are also a handful of writing tidbits that utilize the work metaphor.  Here’s a handful:

      • Writing is 1% inspiration and 99% work (or some variation on this theme)
      • Your job as a writer is to show up
      • Writing is work
      • Since writing is work, you should dress for the occasion

This sign sits by a jungle gym more elaborate than any jungle gym I've ever seen (and so elaborate I couldn't get a decent picture)

Sometimes, however, I wonder if we think of writing too much as “work” and forget about other words…like “play” and “joy” and “wonder”  These words aren’t associated with  words like “I have to” (as in “I have to go to work”) or “I don’t want to” (as in “I don’t want to go to work”).

And so, friends, on this Monday, instead of work, let’s think about enchantment.  My computer’s dictionary reminds that “enchantment” is “to fill (someone) with delight” and isn’t that a better way to approach our writing?  To let the project both “fill us” and “delight” us.  I think of enchantment, and I think of child-like wonder and awe.  I think of magic.  I think of being put under a spell or a charm.  I think of being charmed.  While I often resist going to work, I always want to be enchanted.

When I was nine or ten, I wrote a story about a girl who met a unicorn. She fell asleep against the moss of a tree and slept without dreaming. In the margins, my teacher had written, “why not have her dream of more unicorns?”  I still remember the scene I wrote: unicorns playing in the clouds.  Tumbling about in the stars.  And–dare I say it?–baby unicorns were also involved.

If I wrote that scene today, I would be embarrassed by it. I might have lead the same young girl into the forest, and she might have imagined meeting a unicorn, but no way would I have actually written a unicorn in.  Furthermore, if I had read my teacher’s comments, I would have thought, ‘this is so contrived.’ I would have thought, ‘dreams are messier than that.’  I would have thought, ‘of course there wouldn’t be unicorns.’  And then I wouldn’t have had the joy in writing that scene (which i still remember 20 years later–why is that?)

And so, here’s a suggestion for today, an exercise in play aimed at reminding ourselves of past enchantments. The general idea was taken from a Ted Talk given by Young-ha Kim (that I posted about on the 20th of February):

A sideways view of swings

Take a simple theme. Here are a handful to choose from:

  • Your favorite childhood memory
  • Your favorite childhood toy
  • Saturday mornings
  • Your favorite game
  • Playground politics

Set a timer for 30-45 minutes and then, “write like crazy.” This part is important. As Young-ha Kim insists, we need write fast and furious to keep the devil from filling us with doubt.  “Art,” Kim insists, “is about going a little nuts.”

When I think about work, I think about that thing I have to do when I’m not at home writing. And so when I am at home writing, why not let writing be something better than work. Why not let ourselves go a little crazy? Why not let it bring us joy? Why not tap into our sense of wonder and awe? Why not write about unicorns?

March Arrives in T Minus 9 Days and Counting

The month of February is coming to a close, and that means that March is right around the corner.  I am looking forward to warmer days, a spring break visit to California, and this year’s Writer’s March.  I thought that now would be a good time to send out an anticipatory post.  Time to start crafting those writing goals.

For those unfamiliar with A Writer’s March, the idea is simple:  set a writing goal and work every day during the month of March to achieve it. The goal can can be whatever you like–two short stories you’d like to submit to literary magazines, 30 newly drafted poems, 100 revised pages of a novel, seven stellar songs….  The idea here is to think about what you’d like to have completed by the end of the month.  Your goal should challenge , but it should also be do-able.  Even the goal of writing for 20 minutes a day is admirable if that is all you can find.  For me, the importance here is not to exhaust yourself or beat yourself up, but to hold yourself accountable.  You make the promise and then you keep it.  Its as simple as that.  Oh yeah, and I’ll post some things here on the blog–bits of writing advice, prompts, jokes, stories of my own.  You can read the posts, share your own tales and woes, and we’ll go from there.

Why do this?

Today, as I ate tomato soup and leftover naan, I encountered Young-ha Kim’s TED Talk titled “Be an artist, right now!”  Translated from Korean, the main point of Kim’s talk is that we are all born artists and need to embrace art in our life, even when–especially when–it doesn’t seem practical. As he points out, as young children, we draw with crayons on walls, dance and sing in public, play house (aka perform mini-dramas).  We build sandcastles next to waves, not caring that the ocean will soon break the whole thing down.  Why?  Because it is fun.  Because it brings us joy.

“Unfortunately,” Kim points out, “the little artists within us are choked to death before we get to fight against the oppressors of art.  They get trapped in.  That’s our tragedy.” Without art, he explains, our artistic desires reveals itself in dark forms: karaoke bars, crowded clubs, and jealousy.  “We get jealous because we have little artists pent up inside us.”

While Kim’s talk is aimed towards an audience of “non”-artists, I found his message to be inspiring even for those who have more fully dedicated themselves (and their pocket-books) to the craft. I also enjoy his ideal version of the world: a place where someone might be a golfer by day and a writer by night, or a cabby and an actor, a banker and a painter.  For what is art for?

It saves our souls and makes us happy.  It helps us express ourselves and be happy without the help of alcohol or drugs.  So in response to such a pragmatic question [i.e. “What for?’], we need to be bold.  “Well, just for the fun of it.  Sorry for having fun without you.”

This will be a fun month.  Together, we’ll get a lot of words written.  We’ll create.  We’ll let the little artists out for some fresh air.  The weather is going to get warmer, after all.  Why not join in?  (No, really.  Click HERE to join the March…)

Additionally, if anyone is interested in blogging with me this month, please let me know (!