Dare to write the darkness. Also: ain’t no such thang as writer’s block.

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

–Erica Jong

Once upon a time, I got stuck and needed rescuing, and the above quote pulled me up out of the sucking quagmire.

*squelches*

Now, my darlingest readers, in order to help you understand just what happened, I must take you back in time to a place fraught with danger and derring-do, abysses and adventures. ‘Twas a place both frightening and fabulous, and feckless wanderers found themselves fettered in both frying pans and fires.

Yes. Yes, you guess correctly, my ingenious inklings.

It was The Climax of a First Draft.

The climax of Elevator People, Draft 1, to be exact, and I had a sad. The whirlwind of writing-insanity was drawing to a close. I’d overcome the heady challenge of Beginning, Middle, and Near-End. I yearned for the Twitter cameraderie of wordsprints and communal writing procrastination. I’d dropped like a stone from my keyboard-pounding mountain peak and found myself wallowing in the Valley of Deep Post-Climactic Sorrow.

That happens sometimes. I get past the story’s climax and lose interest. I’ve written the denouement so many times in my head, it’s a chore to type it all out where other people can actually read it. I mourn the time when the story was fresh and exciting and the blank page, while intimidating, sparkles with the beauty of unmarred potential. I get sad and go off rummaging around for sparkly new things.

But the only thing that lifts me aloft again is writing itself.

So, finally, I shed my mourning veil and stripped off my black mourning bands. I delved into Elevator People once again, and with the most enthusiasm I’d felt for the story since Chapter 5. I was typing merrily along when suddenly! Out of Nowhere! There Came a Great Ginormous Wall of Writer’s Block! Zounds and Oy Vey!

I struck and was stuck. For, dismayingly enough, that Great Ginormous Wall was composed of Dark Stuff I Didn’t Wanna Write.

Lest you misunderstand me, dear inklings, let me assure you that I don’t usually balk at writing the Dark Stuff. When I was 15 and completing my first novel, I killed off about 40% of humanity at the beginning of the story. A teenage psychopath attacked the protagonists halfway through, and the climax involved the main character’s boyfriend getting shot and bleeding out with his head in her lap. (Muy tragic, n’est-ce pas?) That’s fairly gritty for a 15-year-old, conservative Christian kid. “Dark” can be relative, that much is certain.

Writing darkness in light

Writing darkness in light

So. I’m not afraid of the Dark. But on that blockety-blocked writing afternoon, I got to a point in the story where I knew the Dark Stuff was coming. I looked at my computer screen, watched the cursor blink at me a few times, and said aloud, “I don’t want to write this.” I closed the file and walked away.

(Figuratively speaking. In reality, I probably just popped over to Facebook and switched my brain off.)

A day or so passed, and I didn’t go back to my story. Why? I simply didn’t want to. That’s all there was to it.

But then a new day dawned, and it brought Twitter, and with Twitter the quote I’m going to make you read again, because I’m feeling all vignettey right now:

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

–Erica Jong

Sometimes, synchronicity just reaches out from whatever dimension it lives in and slaps you right upside the noggin.

“Okay, fine,” thought I. Story 1, Courtney 0. Whoopee, that’s what I get for not doing my job. So instead of staring up at the Great Ginormous Wall of Dark Stuff I Don’t Wanna Write and slumping into dejected discouragement, I girded up my loins (yikes!), pulled out my trusty sledgehammer, and pounded my way through that wall until rubble surrounded me and a thick haze of dust lay upon the air.

I followed the talent to the dark place where it led, and I wrote the Dark Stuff because that was where the story needed to go.

I have come to believe this as truth: There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

Let me repeat:

There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

There is I’m Not Focused Block.
There is I Don’t Care Enough Block.
There is I’m Not Giving Myself Permission Block.
There is I Am Plain Too Lazy Block (this one gets me, too).*

And there is I Don’t Wanna Write The Dark Stuff Block.

But sometimes, you just gotta suck it up, gird your loins, put on your Big Girl Panties, and DEAL WITH IT.

Don’t shy away.
Hold your head high, grit your teeth, buckle down, and rubber-cement your buttocks to the chair.
ART HARD, GORGEOUS.
Art hard through the Dark Stuff.
Write the thing.

Not every story will need to go to that Dark Place. But some of them will. (I’d venture to say most of them will. Truth, even beautiful truth, is a scary, vulnerable place.) And when your story goes there, writer, don’t hide. Acknowledge your fear, but don’t be skittish. Don’t quit. Do as I say, not as I do: don’t let it make you quit for even a day! It’s too easy to let one day turn into two, then four, then twenty. That Great Ginormous Wall of Stuck (read: FEAR) gets higher the longer you let it stand.

Every time you give in to fear, that Great Ginormous Wall gets thicker.

Write the Dark Stuff.
Let it flow.
Let it be what it needs to be.

Your story will benefit–and you’ll be stronger for it.

*There are other forms of so-called “writer’s block,” but they are another story and shall be told another time.

Remarkablogger and El Edwards Told Me To Write This

Universe? Is that you?

I talk a lot about synchronicity. That’s when a bunch of unrelated stuff happens, but it’s all pointing toward the same thing, and it happens and points over and over again until you turn your stubborn head and open your eyes to it and say, “Okay, I get it!”

And then you do something about it.

The Synchronized Universe Hits You in the Head (Ouch)

I guess this is what people used to call “serendipity.” But I prefer synchronicity, because I like the idea that a bunch of coolness in the universe gets synchronized in order to get a person’s attention. I think synchronicity affects every single one of us every single day — we just don’t pay enough attention to realize it.

I also believe that synchronicity is a conscious force that rejoices in our every breath and wants to permeate our every moment with beauty, truth, and goodness.

(At this time, I’d like to insert yet another plug for Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, the book that taught me to pay attention to synchronicity.)

I walk through life as half asleep as the next person, I guess…but sometimes, synchronicity slaps me upside the noggin and says, “Yo! Human! Get your heart and mind out of this befuddled daze you’re in and look! I’ve got all sorts of cramazingness waiting for you — all you have to do is reach out and embrace it!”

You get hit in the noggin often enough with love like that, you’ll eventually start looking for it.

I’ve been looking for it. And this week, I found it. Without further ado or adon’t, here’s what synchronicity plopped into my lap this week.

Remarkablogger

In comments on his post WARNING: Perfectionism will Kill You, Michael Martine and I had the following exchange:

Michael: Do what feels right to you but be aware of the edges of your comfort zone, your self-censoring and your perfectionism. …Being a little scared to hit Publish because you were raw or personal or opinionated is a good thing. : )

Courtney (that’s me): You really do hit the nail on its proverbial little head, don’t you? ; ) It’s true, I do censor myself too much. I’m still overcoming lifetime of training that says, “Don’t say that; you’ll offend someone. Don’t say that; you’ll hurt someone’s feelings.” Not that I want to hurt anyone’s feelings — but I do want to write truth, no matter how gritty it gets.
Oh crap. There’s another new blog post to write. *sigh* ; )

Impassionate

Every morning, I listen to El Edward’s Impassionate, audio posts designed to start your day with a little kick of joy and optimism. A few days ago, El talked about going big or going home. She encouraged her listeners to get out of our ruts and get out of our comfort zones. If there’s something we feel passionate about — or something we could become passionate about, if we’d only allow ourselves — then it’s time to stop dithering and worrying. It’s time to get out and do.

Go big.

Dream or Nightmare?

Sometime along in there, between impassioned audio posts and admonishing blog comments, I woke up one morning from a very disturbing dream. I’ll spare you the rather awful details, but here’s the gist of it:

I dreamed that I was marooned on an island with a large group of people. Most were strangers; some were acquaintances. But while I was on this island, the whole group — strangers and non-strangers alike — regularly attacked me. I endured the torment for weeks before I managed to escape. “Escape” consisted of submerging myself in a pond beneath a dock by day, then creeping around at night to find food.

Eventually, the dream switched to a later time at which I was accusing some of my attackers — the acquaintances. Through tears, I demanded to know why they had treated me so horribly. I never got an answer.

Unstressed Syllables and Twitter

You’d think that by this time, I would’ve been getting the message. But no, synchronicity had two more nudges for me…and they came in the form of my own unexpected self-expression.

In this week’s edition of What I Learned About Writing This Week on Unstressed Syllables, I wrote on Allen Ginsberg. He said something really stunning about following our inner moonlight. In WILAWriTWe, I respond by taking myself to task for not having the guts to speak truth in its bluntest, basest form.

Later, “out of nowhere” (ha ha), I tweeted this:

Sometimes, the loudest rejection you can hear is another’s silence. Ignore it! Listen instead to the supportive voices who rejoice with you!

Egad and zounds, Watson-by-George, I think she’s got it.

Let’s Recap

Remarkablogger Michael told me to stop self-censoring and start saying what I really need to say — but be respectful of the consequences.

El’s Impassionate reminded me to stop dithering around in my comfort zone, get out, and go big.

Less than a week after I published my first novel, my dream revealed that I’m feeling vulnerable to strangers and acquaintances. (Me, feel vulnerable after publishing a book? Shocker.)

Allen Ginsberg admonished me to revel in being different, in being a little crazy, in being a little dark.

My tweet knocked me on the noggin, saying, “Hello? Helloooo! Anybody home?”

“Okay, I get it!”

The creative, benevolent, loving force that rules my life is sending synchronicity my way.

I am determined to open my arms and receive it.

I will speak the truth.

I will speak the fears, the loneliness, the rejection. I will speak the joys, the all-encompassing wonder, the acceptance. I will not hide these things from others. I will not secret them away for fear of the consequences.

I will not hide my heart.

And that is why I wrote this blog post. : )

P.S. A shout-out to Judy Dunn of Catseyewriter for inspiring the title. ; )

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

Left Brain, Right Brain, Or Ambidextrous Brain?

When I’m talking about writing or about creativity in general, I can’t go for very long without mentioning Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Creative Sees Shot, Analytical Lines Up Snails

At some point, yes, I will do a series of posts on my experiences with that book and how it is still changing how I see the world, almost three years after I worked through it. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with snippets.

Here’s another one:

In her book, Cameron says some fascinating, invigorating things about a concept called “synchronicity”:

We call it anything but what it is — the hand of God, or good, activated by our own hand when we act in behalf of our truest dreams, when we commit to our own soul. …[T]hose dark and romantic notions…call to our deepest selves. When we answer that call, when we commit to it, we set in motion the principle that C. G. Jung dubbed synchronicity, loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events.

…Don’t be surprised if you try to discount it. It can be a very threatening concept…the possibility of an intelligent and responsive universe, acting and reacting in our interests.

Cameron also writes,

Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. You asked for it. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do?

These thoughts, my darlings, could be the basis for an entire year of blog posts! And yet, I’m going to focus in on a few relatively small details. (And yet, monstrous waves do begin as tiniest ripples in the sea…) Maybe the comments section would be a great place — for now! — for discussion on the subject of God-or-no-God, a responsive universe, and answered prayers as the (subconsciously unwanted?) results of “ask, and you’ll get.” In the meantime, I’m going to talk about synchronicity relating to the concept of left-brained and right-brained.

Left Brain and Right Brain

My whole life, left brain vs. right brain has been a topic of conversation in my family. And it really has been Left Brain vs. Right Brain: My left-brained mother has lamented for years the disorganization and heads-in-the-cloudness of her right-brained husband and right-brained daughter.

A junior high and high school English teacher, Mama had a place for everything, and she wanted everything in its place. Daddy walked in at night from his fulltime job as an opera singer and left a trail of clothing through the livingroom. Mama had compartments in her purse for every doohickey and whatnot a woman might possibly need while out and about. I was chronically without tissues, nail files, chapstick, and pens. The inside of Mama’s secretary was a shining beacon of organizational light. I crammed things into my wardrobe, slammed the doors shut, and wedged furniture (and sometimes my own body) in front of them to prevent explosive decompression.

“Oh, you right-brained people!” was a common, exasperated exclamation in our household. Mama’s cause was likely utterly lost when the right-brained daughter went out into the world and found herself a right-brained husband.

But left- and right-brained issues pursued me even outside the home. In high school (which, in the German school I attended, meant grades 7 – 13), I excelled at languages (English, German, and French), the visual arts, and any lessons in Social Studies or Religion that dealt with human emotion and its expression. Biology and chemistry were fair-weather friends. Math and physics were my nemeses.

Things got a little better in college, where I could specialize and focus on my arts. One semester, however, I took both Creative Writing and Media Writing. Creative Writing was a right-brained heaven. The left-brainedness of Media Writing made me feel like I had dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder). In Technical Writing, I almost floundered.

I did witness a fascinating exchange once, though: A professor asked a fellow student, “Andy, are you right-brained or left-brained?” Not missing a beat, Andy replied, “I’m ambidextrous-brained.” Laughter ensued, and among some of my friends, the concept of ambidextrous-brainedness turned into a running joke that went on for years.

Lately, however, I’ve started thinking that it was no joke. And this is where the synchronicity kicks in.

Left to Right and Back

I excelled in languages and arts but felt tortured in math and physics. However, at the end of my high school career, we all had to take a comprehensive final exam (two years’ worth of class material) in four subjects. Mine were English, Art, Religion…and Chemistry — because by that point in my high school career, my Chem and Biology grades were above average. Why?

Growing up, I fought my mother about keeping my room, my purse, my life organized. However, I’ve always alphabetized my books, and even as a kid and a teenager, I could plan out advance details of an event like nobody’s business. What was this right-brained Creative doing organizing anything?

My right-brained father, who spent 27 years as a fulltime, professional opera singer, doesn’t drop his clothes all over the house anymore. And, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become far more observant of the nuances of my parents’ personalities (funny, how that works), and I’ve realized that there are a great many things that Daddy likes to have just so. Books. (Hmmm…) His knife collection. His haircuts. Certain philosophies. How does this right-brained man end up dealing with some areas of life from such a black-and-white perspective?

My left-brained mother is staying busy in her retirement. She has taken a few events-to-plan under her organizational wings. As I’ve mentioned before, she’s my primary beta reader, and her left-brain skills are invaluable for keeping me on track in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and plot structure… But she is also taking a painting class. Over the last few months, she has completed four paintings and is starting on her fifth. This isn’t abstract stuff, either. This is landscapes, scenery, and organic still-life. And every painting is better and more creative than the last. My left-brained mother — an artist?

Ambidextrous Brain

Synchronicity kicked in again last week during a conversation with my friend Brian. Brian is an architect, a job one might “assign” to an entirely left-brained person. But Brian surprised me by revealing that when he’s in the conceptual phase of a new building, he has to be “in” his right brain. And this state of mind isn’t just confined to his brain, either: When he’s working on the rough draft of a new building, his desk must be in a state of mess and chaos, otherwise he can’t work!

Things change, he said, when he moves on to the next drawing phase, getting the building out of the rough draft stage and solidifying the concept both in his mind and on paper. At this point, he says, he moves into the logical, more critically-thinking realm of accurate measurements, crisp lines, and clean structure. His surroundings change in accordance with his thinking: Now, the desk must be organized, or the distraction of the mess prevents him from thinking straight about his project.

As if these recent examples weren’t enough to get me thinking, I got another dose of inspiring and synchronous? synchronicitous? food-for-thought when Becca blogged about relating to her left-brained kid and her right-brained kid. (Go read that and come back here! It’s so very worth it!) Finally, after mulling over her article, I sat up and went, “Hmmmm…..”

I think somebody is trying to tell me something.

I Need Chaos! I Need Order! GAH!

It’s funny and frustrating how one can adopt a philosophy whole-heartedly…but then it takes years and oodles of effort and buckets of sweat and tears for that philosophy to permeate the soul and then crystallize in one’s life. I first read Thoreau in college, and that’s when I first realized (on a conscious level) that I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live with intention. Like Thoreau, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” But now, more than a decade later, I feel I’m only beginning to understand what that philosophy really means!

For me, part of this deep, deliberate living has been to get to know myself as a Creative and, more specifically, as a writer. It’s kind of like marriage: the longer you live together, the more you find out about each other, even though you thought you knew each other pretty well when you said, “I do.” The longer I live with my creative self, the more I’m finding out about myself. Some of it’s scary, some of it’s annoying, and some of it makes me ask, “Why did I ever get into this with you?!”

Some of what I’m learning has to do with my writerly habits. I’ve found out that:

…I write best in the early afternoon and late, late at night. (There’s something marvelous and darkly romantic about being the only one awake in my world at night. There’s an intimacy with my characters that I don’t get at any other time.)

…I can write happily and productively in the same spot for weeks, and then I suddenly have to switch writing spots, or I get bored with my story! (This might mean moving my laptop from the couch to the table. It might also mean I can’t write in the apartment at all anymore and must seek out an eclectic coffee shop.)

…for over a year, I couldn’t write at my desk because there were two many tax documents on the shelf above it. (The documents are gone now, but I haven’t recovered enough to go back to the desk yet.)

There’s more, but maybe you get the idea.

Now, to top it all off, I’ve got this synchronicity about left- and right-brained going on, and I’m realizing the following:

1. I’m not as right-brained as I thought I was. Obviously, I have access to my left brain; otherwise, the alphabetizing, the chemistry grades, the event-planning, and the general orderliness of my present-day home would not have happened. I am a right-brained Creative, yes — but that does not have to limit me. I can use my logical, analytical side to make myself a better writer…and a more balanced human.

2. I think I’m ambidextrous-brained, and I think both of my parents are, too. Daddy and I lean to the right; Mama leans to the left. But all three of us can access both sides at need. Maybe this is genetic…but maybe every human has this ability. I tend to think the latter, because I know we’re all capable of logical thought to some degree or another…and I believe quite strongly that we’re all creative in some way. A lot of us just don’t know it or know how to explore it.

3. I need to pay closer attention to the hows of my Writing Life. I need to be more deliberate about it — which will enable me to live deep in my creativity and suck the marrow out of it. Which side of my brain do I access during which parts of the writing process?

Left side for prewriting? Outlines, character description, plot arcs, planning chapters scene-by-scene… That definitely sounds like logical, analytical thinking!

Right side for writing the rough draft? Letting the story flow, listening to characters’ voices, deviating from the outline when the adventure calls for off-the-beaten-path… Writing the first draft requires me to follow my heart and let my characters get into trouble that no logical person would countenance.

Do I go back to the left side for the editing process? Return to the right side for flourishes and poetry in the final draft? And, as I consider Brian and the way he has to change his surroundings, I wonder if I unconsciously change mine, too. When I’m in the mess of a rough draft, do I feel more inspired amidst chaos? Do random ideas pop into my head more frequently when there are books and papers and sparklies scattered across my workspace? But do I go into one of my famous cleaning frenzies as soon as I start editing?

Time and conscious observation will tell.

What about you? Do you consider yourself wholly left- or right-brained?

Or are you ambi-brained-ous? Which way do you lean, and what are your activities when you’re accessing the other side?

Oooh, how about this one, for the bloggers: When you blog, which side are you in? Does blogging require access to a different side of the brain than other forms of writing?

(And don’t forget, you can discuss the God, prayers, responsive universe, synchronicity stuff in the comments, too.) 🙂