Writing (un)Inspired

Recently, an article from The New York Times‘ The Opinion Pages came my way (thanks, Dad!), entitled: “On Getting Stuck (and Unstuck),” by Darrell Brown. In this piece, Brown focuses on the problem of attempting to write even after you’ve hit the dreaded wall of Writer’s Block.

Brown writes:

The Songwriter Hall of Fame member and recording artist, J.D. Souther, recently reminded me of what the great poet and teacher, William Stafford would tell his students: “When you get stuck, lower your standards.” The ego of perfectionism will cut you off from the very cup you long to drink from.

Brown goes on to discuss with other songwriters what they do when they come up against an inspiration dry spell, and many of them offer some truly helpful and wonderfully honest advice.

I like a lot about this article — I like Brown’s tone, his brevity, and his focus on songwriting. I appreciate this focus because, when we talk about writing, oftentimes we’re blind to what others are writing and working on, and we can forget just how many options, styles, and avenues are out there for us to explore and try our writerly hand at.

But I think what I like best about this article is its base assumption: When you hit Writer’s Block, you keep writing — even if it hurts, even if you’re drunk, even if you hate what’s coming from you, even if you’re horny, even if you’re about to piss yourself (well, alright, definitely take a bathroom break then, but mostly–>) you keep working. At no point does Brown say, You Need Inspiration To Write. Certainly, taking a break from a project and returning to it the next day or week can be useful in refreshing oneself, but that’s nowhere near the same thing as saying that writing or writers necessitate(s) inspiration. As Brown and the songwriters he talks with suggest: Always keep writing. Always keep working.

[As]…songwriter Hall of Fame member and recording artist, Mac Davis…[says]: “It’s better I go away with something instead of going away with nothing.”

After all, Writing is Writing, and, while inspiration is thrilling and wonderful, inspiration will never be Writing.

When I hit Writer’s Block on a project, one of my favorite things to do is to take a dance break. This not only gets me into a different room, but it also helps me engage with myself in a way that is totally different from writing. Dancing’s also a great break in cases of Writer’s Block because it reminds me that it’s okay to look goofy; it’s okay to write things that aren’t perfect the first time (or ever). It’s okay to just do for the sake of getting something done, rather than struggling for ages over nothing for the sake of polish and impossible perfection.

Another trick I use is to simply begin reading or writing on a different project entirely. Oftentimes my articles and stories are connected in some way, whether by topic, theme, or prospective audience. So working on another piece (or reading up for another piece), can often help me inadvertently solve problems in other projects, even in those that have been playing hide-and-seek with me for a long time.

What do you do to help yourself write away Writer’s Block?

The Versatile Blogger Award – Huzzah!

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I am proud and excited to have been awarded the Versatile Blogger Award by Creative Writing For Me.

There are a fair number of awards flying around out there, but the VBA is definitely one of my favorites and I’m so pleased that a blogger as fine as CWM thought my writing worthy of this award. Thanks, CWM!

For me, being awarded things like the VBA isn’t just exciting for my blog’s sake, but because it encourages me to really think about blogging more critically and to go looking for those other bloggers out there who approach blogging as a serious (however funny it may be) form of communication as well. So, if you’re skimming, definitely skip to my list of nominees! They’re the important part of this post 🙂

For those of you who don’t know what the Versatile Blogger Award is, you should definitely check out the blog dedicated to explaining just that:

“When you consider nominating a fellow blogger for the Versatile Blogger Award, consider the quality of the writing, the uniqueness of the subjects covered, the level of love displayed in the words on the virtual page. Or, of course, the quality of the photographs and the level of love displayed in the taking of them.

Honor those bloggers who bring something special to your life whether every day or only now and then.”

And for anyone who’s interested in getting even more On Writing info, you should check out my nominator’s blog, which is packed full of terrific advice and information for writers.

The rules for the VBA:

  • Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
  • Write a post and link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers.
  • Inform them of their nomination via comment on their blog.
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

DISCLAIMER: The blogs I have nominated here all interest me and have posted writings and ideas that have either greatly intrigued me, struck me as incredibly odd, or simply improved my day. By nominating them, however, I’m not saying that I agree with all of their views, opinions, or articles.

*Drum Roll*

My Nominees:

1. Andron Ocean

I post short fiction, commentary, and articles  that explore the future of humanity from a variety of angles. I like to study the interactions of science, technology, societal trends, and individual and cultural actions and beliefs. These things, I believe, weave together to form the fabric and patterns of history.

2. The Bewildered 20-Something Writer

I write about my experience of finding employment as a writer with a Master’s degree, and all the trials and tribulations that come with being out in the real world after six straight years of actively avoiding the real world via higher education. I will also be writing about my attempts to overcome some of the worst writers block I’ve had in my career as I try to finish my first novel. And maybe if you’re lucky I’ll post some pictures of my dog. Because there are too many damn cats on the Internet.

3. Yallah, bye

In 2012 I bought a one-way ticket to Casablanca, Morocco, sold my car, picked up an Arabic dictionary and enrolled in an archaeological field school in the Middle East.

This is my story, and those to come.

4. Think Tutoring 101

…we aim to spread the latest in educational news and trends, the tricks of the tutoring trade, and advice to young scholars looking to take that next step forward.

5. Our View from Iowa

Jim:

I retired from teaching physics after a long career in IL and IA. But, teaching is still in my blood. … I invite you to join me there for a few posts that might be be different from the posts here.

I enjoy astronomy and science of all  kinds. Many of my blog posts will be on those topics. We have a nice wooded backyard with walking paths nearby. I will write about what we see there.  I hope you join me for those.

Melanie:

My former role as an investment manager left no room for fiction, or even much for description. Letters were tightly formed and straight-forward, with little to no emotion included.

These days my writing covers many arenas, including some nature observations, quilting descriptions and tutorials,  personal essays, and  some  political commentary.

6. The Faces of Glasgow

Out of the many faces of Glasgow, mine is one in a crowd of about 500,000.

But my story is one of individual importance, along with the other 499,999 or so people who make this concrete jungle the vibrant, enticing and diverse city it is.

This blog will focus on one face and person in that  approximately 500,000  every week, detailing aspects about their own life and experiences within Glasgow. These aspects will also act as the topic for that week’s blog post. Alongside this will be a triptych photograph, detailing their face, an object that describes them, and the rest of their body.

7. “Feminist Bitches”

My name is Mae and I’m a 19-year-old feminist and musician living in Boston. I go to Berklee College of Music, but I’m dropping out in the Spring to travel the world instead. The world is a fucked up place, and I’m doing all I can try try to make it just a little less fucked up.

8. Jenni Lukac’s Translation & Editing Blog

My work as a translator takes me on many fascinating mental voyages. So far this year, I have worked on texts related to everything from life in ancient Judea, education, EU policy, human rights, press coverage of ETA terrorism, children’s advertising, and young people’s media consumption habits to luxury travel, fine wines, haute couture, and exclusive perfumes. I’ve created this blog to share the marvelous day-to-day experience of being a wordsmith  with others. I hope you enjoy it.

9. Guinea Pigs & Me

I’m Bella Brown, and I decided to start a blog, writing about my 4 (at the time) guinea pigs. I now have 5, and recently I invited a close friend of mine, Sihaya, to help me.

10. MoWriting: My Shameful Love Affair with Words

I like to write about everything and everyone but myself.

Is that wrong?

My name is Maureen Paraventi. I’ve written novels, plays, screenplays (George Clooney, are you listening??), and nonfiction articles.

I also love music. I sing with and write songs for McLaughlin’s Alley (www.mclaughlinsalley.com). I play a little flute and am learning to play the bass.

Other things to know about me: I have no sense of direction and I change my hair color often. I don’t believe the two are related. I kind of hope not.

11. A Closer Look at Crows

“A Closer Look at Crows” is a place where Jordyn and Ali can delve deeper into their research about this bird. Through this blog, the symbols, meanings, and stereotypes of crows will be better explored and questioned.

12. Ben Garrido’s Author Page: Literary Adventures in South Korea

Ben Garrido is the author of the novels The Blackguard and The Book of Joshua, in addition to the upcoming novel The Potency. In addition, he writes award winning journalism for the Reno News and Review, Chico News and Review and others, and lectures on second language acquisition at Mokwon University in South Korea. He writes on subjects including language, fiction, adventure and logic.  Raised in Reno, Nevada, he now divides his time between South Korea and the United States.

13. Retracing Jack Kerouac

Retracing Jack Kerouac is a project 20 years in the making. Having read On The Road for the first time all those years ago, the fascination with Kerouac’s work and his life story never left me. The intervening years were spent reading most of Kerouac’s books and doing  research into his life as well as other writers and characters associated with the Beat Generation.

As On The Road is to no small part about seeing and experiencing the USA, the prospect of taking a trip visiting some of the places described in the book as well as other places important to Kerouac’s life, was always somehow in the planning stages, however vague they were for a long time.

The possibility of finally making this trip presented itself in 2010 and so I didn’t hesitate to go on the road in October that year. The journey took me to places such as San Francisco, Denver, Boston, his hometown Lowell,MA and New York City.

The journeys between those places were partly done by train (from SF to Denver and through the Midwest to Omaha). Of course Kerouac and specifically On The Road is mainly fabled for the long distance car journeys with Neal Cassady, but train (and bus) travel actually played an equally prominent role in his life and indeed On The Road, so I felt compelled (together with more practical concerns) to go down this route when planning the trip.

I came back with about 4000 photos, not all of them good, but many of them Kerouac themed. At the moment I am compiling a book featuring a selection of the photos that I feel are most important to his life’s story. The aim is not necessarily to show the actual places things happened, as in the intervening years the cities, places and houses have inevitably changed a great deal or disappeared altogether, but to capture a little bit of the spirit of what is left of those places wherever that was possible. Other photos show the transformation the places written about in his books have gone through.

The book will be published in early summer 2012 and will be called ‘Anywhere Road’.

The blog you are reading was started to prepare myself for the upcoming publication of the book and features my thoughts, photographs and other bits of information related to Jack Kerouac that will guide me through the process of finishing the book.

14. Worth A Look

Welcome to the nooks and crannies of the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia (DMV) area. I love art, food, books, and the occasional bar. Since moving to the area I have discovered some gems worth noting. Consider this my who’s who or rather what’s what of DMV. I love sharing all my finds and hopefully I can show you something worth a look. . .

15. Into the Urban

My name is Aäron Vanmaele, I’m 25 and I’m a Belgian student journalist. I’ve always loved writing so why not make my passion my profession. In my spare time I love going to concerts with friends and experiencing new things. I also love traveling but unfortunately I haven’t really had the time nor the money to travel a lot.

What?

This blog is a personal blog, so I will post articles about whatever I like, love or hate. That go from fashion topics to political items. Every week I will present a song of the week and a video of the week. Since music is one of my biggest passions I’m always searching for new, fresh tunes to enrich my life.

And…7 things about moi that you might find interesting:

1. I had my first book published (with an actual brick-and-mortar publisher) and peer reviewed at 24.

2. Excluding high school, I’ve always held multiple jobs at the same time.

3. I’ve only been a Baltimorean for a short while thus far, but I’m in love with this city–it’s absolutely an artist’s town.

4. One of my favorite foods is my husband’s avgolemono soup.

5. My husband and I love taking reading vacations together.

6. I am always, always inspired by Allen Ginsberg, Wendell Berry, Herman Melville, Sherman Alexie, and Joni Mitchell.

7. Stephen King is one of my most favorite writers (even if the end of The Stand drives me totally crazy).

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Top 10 Lit Mags to Send Your Very Best Poetry (and get happily rejected)

I know I’m definitely going to be checking these journals and magazines out! I always need more poetry in my life.

michaelalexanderchaney

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The following list represents the varsity squad of the indie-competitive, not affiliated with a university, hipster poetry scene. This top ten balances competitive and COOL, really cool, on its forefinger and makes it spin. If you can get into these, you’ve got your cool poet shades on, “hangin’ round the water fountain, playin’ the fool,” as sung by Randy Newman-esque Vince Guaraldi. Can you hear it? Can you dig it? < that is the sound of finger snapping >

Sixth Finch (0.66 % Duotrope-acceptance rate; 29 avg. days per acceptance) “We take pride in bringing your poems to a wide audience, and your work will become a part of our permanent archives, so please be sure to send us your best.” The poetry is a crisp autumn apple, a late-night walk through misting rain, a swift combat boot to the face. The gamut marches towards you in the opening lines…

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Figure in the Fog: Writing/Photo Prompt

This post is just a little something special for those writers out there coming off their NaNoWriMo high and who are jonesin’ for some extra inspiration action.

Writing/Photo Prompt:
“There’s a figure in the fog, just coming off the railroad tracks. It’s not someone you know, but it’s someone you’ve been expecting now for a long, long time.”

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Still need more? Check out these resources to jump-start your writerly inspiration for the day:

 

Kill Your Darlings: A Brief Review

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My usual readers will know that I only very rarely review films, but Kill Your Darlings wasn’t something I could pass up. As many of you know, Hollywood has recently had the hots for the Beats what with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s HOWL in 2010, Walter Salles’ On the Road in 2012, and now John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings

I’ve seen all three and, while I do think there are commendable and interesting elements of all, I have to say that Kill Your Darlings is easily the best of these. What’s been most interesting for me through the process of watching these films is seeing how each director/actor/writer has so differently interpreted the character of Allen Ginsberg: James Franco’s (2010) Ginsberg capitalized on Ginsberg’s poetic genius and youthful arrogance; Tom Sturridge’s (2012) Ginsberg focused on the craze and openness of young Ginsberg as he was just falling in love with the wild card of Neal Cassady; and Daniel Radcliffe’s (2013) Ginsberg centered on Ginsberg the Human Being. While all of these interpretations interest me, it’s Radcliffe’s that’s undoubtedly the most fascinating and, to my mind, the most honest.

Franco’s show of Ginsberg looked like the facade that any young man/poet would want the world to see: genius, coolness, and creativity. Sturridge’s was the most baffling interpretation of Ginsberg of the three–I can appreciate the type of exuberance he appeared to be aiming for, but all he made Ginsberg ultimately look like was a howling buffoon. Now, while Ginsberg was able to embrace the world and those in it with a brave joyfulness and was undoubtedly arrogant (as are most young artists), it is Radcliffe who seems to have best understood Ginsberg as a young man: sensitive, sometimes escapist, romantic, budding, exploratory, uncertain, brave, intelligent, and, above all, Multitudinous.

Ginsberg wasn’t just a self-involved Columbia student/graduate on his own for the first time. Ginsberg wasn’t just a crazed, hooting maniac. Allen Ginsberg was a human being and a young man whose mother suffered from the still-misunderstood disease of schizophrenia; whose father was already a well-respected poet; whose father was beginning to see other people; who had just begun college; who was just discovering poetry for himself; who was only beginning to adjust to life in NYC from suburban NJ; whose sexuality had yet to be explored; whose identity was still largely unbloomed; whose entire world had seemed to hinge upon a certain understanding and acceptance of a single, harsh reality until one fateful day when he fell in with those few rare individuals capable of challenging him with: Why?

This is the day and the time that Kill Your Darlings focuses upon, and this is the melee Radcliffe deftly brings to the screen.

But Kill Your Darlings isn’t a superior film thanks only to Radcliffe’s terrific performance as Allen Ginsberg (as a Ginsberg only just discovering his identity, sexuality, and poetry); it’s also superior to these other two Beat-inspired films because Kill Your Darlings actually has a plot. There’s a reason that Howl was a poem and that On the Road was a novel: these were the media the artists were reshaping and building themselves in! For this reason, their words are not really translatable to film. But Kill Your Darlings doesn’t try to recreate a book or poem on the screen. Instead, Krokidas centers more strictly upon biographical information, turning it artfully into a full and riveting story.

As I was stepping out of the Charles Theater in Baltimore, having just seen the new film for the first time, I overheard two young men talking about the movie and why they’d come to see it since one of the pair wasn’t a Beat fan. The non-fan explained that the plot had interested him and that the movie had been quite good despite his continued lack of appreciation for Beat literature. He then quoted Truman Capote who’d once charged the Beats (and Kerouac in particular) thus: ”This isn’t writing, it’s typing.”

To this, I must say that the man clearly didn’t grasp the true enormity of what the Beats (and, perhaps especially, Allen Ginsberg) were doing when they began their campaign for a new type of writing, for a new way of viewing the world: these were young men and women who were attempting to escape a WWII reality entrenched in fear, death, prejudice, and paranoia. The Beats were not Hippies. The Beat Movement came into being between the 1940s and the early 1960s. The Beats were some of the first to really begin writing boldly and explicitly about non-heterosexual love and relationships, about drug (ab)use, about alcohol abuse, and about trying to find/reinvent oneself between the glare and clamor of bombs, unemployment, prejudice, protests, and gunfire.

Truman Capote was absolutely a talented and ingenious writer (his invention of the creative nonfiction genre in In Cold Blood is a true masterpiece of American literature). But he was not the one I would elect for Bravest Author. In fact, I would argue that his boldness came nowhere near that of Allen Ginsberg, a poet who laid himself bare upon the page. Both Capote and Ginsberg set out to create something new — for Capote, it was a new genre: the nonfiction novel; for Ginsberg, it was an entire literary movement: the Beat Movement.

And it is this type of boldness that Radcliffe brings to the screen in Kill Your Darlings. Capote was gifted and gave us many literary gifts, but Ginsberg was a budding revolutionary who gave us a literary/poetic revolution. It is this struggle with bravery and the ability or inability to lay oneself bare that all the characters of Kill Your Darlings wrestle with, from Dane DeHaan’s Lucien Carr to Michael C. Hall’s David Kammerer to Ben Foster’s (very impressive) William Burroughs.

Kill Your Darlings is a beautifully made film that will, I have no doubt, whet a viewer’s appetite for more Beat biography and literature.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Beats, please consider checking out The Trickster in Ginsberg, a new nonfiction book examining Ginsberg’s “Howl” through his understanding and interest in the trickster archetype. Also check out my previous post, The Beat Books, which provides a list of and information on some of my favorite texts on the Beats.