This is a new series (different than the Creativity Series Part 2 that’s coming). You might be asking what’s up with all these serieses? I don’t know, they’re just fun to do. For this Series I asked some writers about the challenges they face in their daily lives while working a day job and writing. Thanks for taking part.
Today’s post is from Amanda Fanger. She grew up on a farm in Central South Dakota where she was homeschooled. She works for her hometown newspaper, reporting news and doing marketing, and tries to keep all the fictional stories in her head from spilling over into her workspace. On the side, she plays piano, reads, rides horseback and blogs about how she’s applying life lessons to her writing. Visit her at amandafanger.blogspot.com, Twitter, and Facebook.
Journalism. Fiction. Blogging.
I’ve been told that I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to write for a living, but I view these three as flaming torches – each torch representing a branch of my talent – that I must juggle while being careful to avoid burn.
For about as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer; my mindset has almost always been focused on becoming a published fiction author. It’s always been a passion burning deep within me.
The week before I graduated home-schooled high school I landed a writing job at my hometown newspaper. (I can only think God was responsible for getting me into the journalism field because of the specific series of events that happened within a precise timeframe.) It was a dream come true and a weight off the shoulders of a very apprehensive 18-year-old who had no idea what she was going to do with her life. I had prayed and God had answered with a telephone call from the newspaper’s editor.
She heard I liked to write. I heard she needed a reporter. She was borderline desperate for help and I was completely frantic for want of a direction in my life. The two of us struck a deal.
When I came to the newspaper, I had to totally rethink the way I wrote. Up to that point, I wrote fiction for my eyes only and with a deadline of someday. But journalism was a very different beast and I suddenly found myself writing for thousands of eyes with a deadline of Tuesday or else.
It was trial by fire, to be sure, especially because I hadn’t gone to journalism school and all I know of newspapering came from ‘on the job experience.’
During my first few years, I sometimes fumbled and the torch burned me, searing an endearing lesson into my hide. But all of the pain felt worth it when, in 2009, I was named Outstanding Young Journalist by my statewide newspaper association.
Finally, after five years into my career at the very newspaper that gave me my start, I realized I’d lost sight of what had drawn me into writing in the first place; fiction. My dream of becoming a fiction author was still as real to me as ever.
Finding my muse once more, I tried to pick up on my stories where I’d left off and failed. The stories had moved on and I was forced to start from scratch.
As frustrating as it was to realize that part of me had forgotten how to write fiction, I also discovered that I’d gotten better; there were lessons about writing that I’d picked up from the newspaper. I now wrote in a consistent voice; brought characters to life on the page; and my brain was exploded with new ideas for background and settings after being given the opportunity to hear so many real-life stories first-hand while reporting.
Excited by what I’d discovered and the possibilities I knew awaited, I threw myself into the frenzy of the work and started a blog, hoping to share my newfound knowledge with other writers. Looking at my increasing number of blog followers, I take comfort that at least these few readers have found worth in the words I write.
Although I report hometown news, write fiction and blog about it all, when people ask me what I do for a living, I say I’m a writer because I cannot imagine my life without this daily task.
There is simply a fire burning deep within me that won’t let me stop.
When I began this journey back in May, it started out as a selfish quest for an answer. I’d started writing my novel and kept running into the same roadblocks of fear: fear of failure, fear of wasting my time, fear of not being good enough, fear of being made fun of. So I went to some friends and some people I’ve never met and asked them the questions that resulted in this Series.
From you I learned that creativity takes courage.
I feel like Meister Eckhart is speaking to me when he asks, “Why is it that some people do not bear fruit? It is because they are busy clinging to their egotistical attachments and so afraid of letting go and letting be that they have no trust either in God or in themselves.”
This Creativity Series has shown me I need to trust, not only in myself and in the process, but also in God, that he his faithful and he will do it. Do what exactly? Move when I move, jump when I leap, walk when I take that first step, and be present when I write that first word.
I was very afraid to do this, but I went ahead and…
It is available for the Kindle, the iPhone and iPad, on your computer, or other devices like the Nook.
It is 99 cents and any profits will go to the charity I work for: worldschildren.org. It might be silly to charge a dollar for a book you can read for free, but you can at least feel really good about the purchase and know you’re making a difference in a poor child’s life. I haven’t told the charity I’m doing this. I want it to be a surprise. Hopefully a big surprise. If you feel so called I’d really appreciate it.
Adele Konyndyk’s post tomorrow will bring to a close the Bereshit Bara Creativity Series, but the Creativity Series will continue with Part 2 and I’ll have more information on that next week.
I begin. Fingers moving over the keyboard, because this is my time. I do not have a lot of time. I have to sit down with what is available. I do not have time to walk, and stew, smoke (I don’t) or drink, ponder or worry. I will ponder and worry between words, between phrases sometimes, after I write, always, but first I have to start.
The inspiration? Ideas, experiences, things I haven’t yet made sense of yet but know there is something there. I know there is something there because I haven’t made sense of it. Or because I have, but I’m starting to doubt it. “You live in the midst of mystery,” says Richard Rodriguez, “and you say you don’t know what to write?” Amy Tan says you start from a place of moral ambiguity. Sometimes it takes me a while to weed through the ambiguity of things to the moral ambiguity; that’s the good stuff. That’s where it has to end up.
It is about a mountain. It is about climbing the mountain. I have to describe this. I’m generalizing, not telling the story. It is about feet. I should describe the boots, the socks, the thin socks inside vapor barrier socks inside heavy wool socks inside neoprene lined plastic hiking boots. But I started with the mountain. This part will have to go, yield to the boots. There is time there for a quick worry, a quick ponder. The mountain must still be there. Where will it fit? Around the boots, even if it is so much bigger. It is not the focus. It is only the scene. Now the boots are the scene. The essay is about vulnerability. Vulnerability is the focus. Bigger than, smaller than the mountain, the boots. How do I write that?
The first word has to come from whatever is in my mind. It will not be the first word at the end. But it will set the scene, set the stage, start to move my mind, open up the passages through which course thoughts and ideas, like water, like blood…and occasionally grace. This is what I’m waiting for. Grace. It will only come from moving my fingers, moving my mind and letting my fingers follow, going back and correcting, letting them go forward again. There is something in this lubrication of thought that smoothes the way for grace, on occasion, just sometimes. If it comes, it will come silently– not a flash, not a bang—just a rush of thought like water, sometimes a word, always a feeling of abundance, of beauty. It might be just a glimpse, a mountain through a cloud, and it might linger, like a sunrise.
Elizabeth Gilbert recalls that the ancient Greeks and Romans believed creatives had a genius; they were not geniuses in their own right, but they had an external source of inspiration to be credited (or blamed) with their creations. She suggests the humanist move to consider a person a genius is at the root of creative angst. I like that. The real inspiration comes only sometimes, only if I sit down and start to work. It is not me, but it may come through me. Sometimes it does not. Then I close my eyes, and say: please. I have to also remember when it comes to close my eyes and say: thank you.
The mountain becomes boots, a tent. Then the words move on—the same piece– a woman I met in a hospital… Maunday Thursday Services. It is vulnerability, nakedness. It is boots. Foot washing. Exposure. Cold. Frozen water. Liquid water. Faith. Light.
I worry that what I write will not be good, and sometimes I don’t want to start. I make excuses for the day, and sometimes the next day. I worry that I wont get it right. I worry that I’m deluding myself, thinking I can do this, which can turn to fear, and even terror like…like…like a flash flood in a slot canyon (where did that come from?). It can slump to depression. It has done all of these things. The only way out is to sit down and keep writing, keep waiting.
The only way for grace to come is to sit down and write. It might not come today, tomorrow, or this month. My job is to sit down. To begin. To remember to say thank you, as well as please, no matter what happens. To question what I see and remember, to think of the scene, to think of the story, to think of what is important, and to try to write it as best I can. This is not sexy, or interesting to say, but it is everything. Maybe it is this that is grace itself.
Shannon Huffman Polson is a writer living with her family in Seattle and getting outdoors as much as she can, which is far too little. Her first book, North of Hope, a memoir including mountains, fear and grace, is due out Spring of 2013 from Zondervan. Visit her at aborderlife.com.
It’s funny how one word can have so many connotations and mean a thousand different things to different people. Like the word blogging, or writing, or creativity, or baseball.
When I think of baseball I automatically think about the feeling of a hitting a double in the gap, the surge of a near-perfect swing.
Others might think about that boring sport on TV or the pain of a bruise on their ribs.
The cool thing about the internet is that it opens up so many possibilities. It’s like the pitches are the size of watermelons and the outfielders look away to watch the butterflies float across the grass.
Then why does it feel like I’m always striking out?
Why do I think the Internet is something to conquer, something to serve my needs for affirmation and validation?
I’m running a race I can’t win. What I think about when I think about writing and blogging is failure.
I am thankful for this ability to write and create stuff and put it all out here. And I’m grateful for all the people I know and don’t know who read and comment and think and share. That all takes time and effort.
I just keep reminding myself about all I’m grateful for (like you) and I lose the desire to pursue the world (and the internet) like a foolish conquistador. That’s when writing and blogging come back into perspective for me. It’s not that it’s not about me (to use a Christianese cliché), but that it’s all about something so much bigger than me, so much more pressing, so much more worthwhile.
I thank God for that.
I’ve turned off comments today. Send me a note at rossgale4 at gmail dot com or send this post to a friend.
As a grad student in Counseling Psychology, I sat cross-legged on shag carpet with my supervising professor who was reviewing notes while she ate a candy bar. I don’t remember whether it was Butterfinger or Baby Ruth, but it must have been good. “Man,” she said, rolling her eyes. “That was orgasmic!”
Weird, was all I thought at the time.
The exclamation, or expulsion as it were, was an odd expression for a professor—hippie-cool at best, inappropriate at worst. Something about the juxtaposition of the adjective orgasmic against that run-of-the-mill, 7-Eleven noun candy bar has stuck with me ever since.
Last fall, the aspens held their yellow as I arrived for a Colorado retreat led by The Allure of Hope author Jan Meyers. (Meyers did not eat a candy bar that I recall.) She did, however, talk about orgasm. More specifically, she discussed extasis, or the state of being outside of oneself. Orgasm is just one example. Experiences of beauty or pleasure transport the soul, as if away from the body, in a rapture of delight.
A medical journal from 1866, defines ecstasy this way: “In this condition, the mind, absorbed in a dominant idea, becomes insensible to surrounding objects.”
Centuries earlier, John Locke said in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, “Whether that which we call Extasie, be not dreaming with the Eyes open, I leave to be examined.” In aspen-drenched Colorado, Meyers reminded me that God loves ecstasy—pleasure, beauty, passion, play.
Years ago, I received an invitation to play. Here’s how it happened.
A dancer friend, her face like a kid’s in a candy store, showed me a statue. It was an elegant, silvery metal carving of a beautiful woman. My friend claimed God gave her this icon representing His pleasure in her dancing. No fair, I immediately thought, before I caught myself and morphed my first reaction into something more spiritual like, I, too, would be blessed by a token of your favor, Lord.
After that, I was on the hunt. I scavenged malls and galleries with the hunger of a new writer desperate for encouragement. Is that it? I asked God. Is that my icon?
One day, rounding the corner of a downtown city block and checking my watch, I was distracted by some Mexican pottery, garish as a child’s scribble, glaring from a shop window. I hurried past. Then I stopped. I shook my head. Seriously, Lord?
I knew I’d found it. My divinely appointed icon was a grinning ceramic monkey holding aloft a little blue pot in his yellow hands. Okay, I get it. I play. You fill my cup.
Play. Pleasure. Ecstasy.
I crave the extasis I experience in the creative act. I play like a child—all skips and scrapes—and I am propelled from the commonplace. I am beckoned, transported, outside of myself into mystery.
Anne Lamott was perhaps more apropos than she realized when she said, “[I]t is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence.”
“Yes,” my professor would say, licking her fingers. “It’s better than candy.”
Britt Tisdale has written for publications including Leadership, Group, Ignite Your Faith, Rock & Sling, and a forthcoming southern writers anthology. She graduated from Seattle Pacific with a MFA (Fiction) last week, and continues her work as a mental health counselor/creativity consultant in downtown Orlando, Fla. Britt is a bit too ecstatic to connect with anyone interested in her first novel Arden Alive, but she’ll try to calm down. You can find her at www.alivestudios.net.
Evil for the French novelist François Mauriac was necessary to tell stories of hope and love and redemption. Stories of childhood and innocence also required to be stories of evil and violence. But it is not the easy, cookie-cutter projection of evil prevalent among characters today (ie. bad guys in movies).
Evil is a mystery. How does the Christian storyteller understand this mystery? Mauriac wrestles with this question in his 1952 Nobel Prize in Literature speech:
For a Christian, evil remains the most anguishing of mysteries. The man who amidst the crimes of history perseveres in his faith will stumble over the permanent scandal: the apparent uselessness of the Redemption.
The well-reasoned explanations of the theologians regarding the presence of evil have never convinced me, reasonable as they may be, and precisely because they are reasonable. The answer that eludes us presupposes an order not of reason but of charity.
It is an answer that is fully found in the affirmation of St. John: God is Love.
Nothing is impossible to the living love, not even drawing everything to itself; and that, too, is written.
I sometimes wonder why I write or paint at all. This bewilderment grows not because the craft is long and hard—-although it is surely that—-but because once having written an essay or etched the image I am dissatisfied. Even when the words or paintings garner praise from people whose opinions I most value, I remain unconvinced. While the craftsman in me can always find grist to revise, the dissatisfaction with my art has deeper and less certain roots. C.S. Lewis once said, “What does not satisfy when we find it, was not the thing we were desiring.”
In recent years I have become a gardener of flowers. To the surprise of family and colleagues whose memory of my earlier years included disparagement if not ridicule of those who spent precious time tending roses, I now expend abundant energy creating a multi-colored perennial garden. To my surprise, since becoming a gardener my winters are filled with a visceral yearning to feel spring’s warm sum against my cheek and spy the first lime shoot pushing through the black soil. I endure Colorado’s blustery early spring days while working the gardens bare cold earth, despite near frost-bitten hands and a reliably sore back. I tend my flowers with the same reckless frenzy my grandchildren inflict upon the wrappings of their birthday presents.
I confess that some of this anticipation and subsequent dissatisfaction is inherent in all I do—like say when I add or subtract flowers or revise a manuscript or return to a canvas. It is art embedded in a false hope, a myth that some penultimate hoop can be negotiated, that I might actually obtain, as Curley in City Slickers suggests, “The One Thing.” But somehow, my longings seem, or at least I imagine them to be, larger than hoop jumping. Rather, with an embarrassing ardor that despite the winters slush and cold not only persists but grows, I am motivated by summer’s lushness and color. It is within the memory of last August’s late afternoon sun dappled across the delphinium’s purple blooms that births a deeper longing, a longing I know but cannot name, a longing pointing beyond my garden.
I view my writing and painting studio like a garden. I often come to the blank page with a fiery desire to transform the words of my mouth into a meditation of the heart. I become mesmerized by my words, oblivious to time or surroundings. Indeed, as the movie Miss Potter suggests, “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story.” But my art contains both flowers and weeds.
When others read my manuscripts they do not see or smell or hear my memories. Often I get a response with some variation of, “Your writing needs more “sense” prose.” That is, the words describing the smells and sounds and tastes of my characters or scenes in addition to visual and aural clues would, so the wisdom implies, make these people and places more “vivid” or “real.” What I think my well-meaning advisors mean by suggesting such a cure is the addition of sensory details incites the reader’s memory, allows the recall of their previous experience with a particular taste or smell, a lived experience that now becomes fused to words creating a new, revised image making the story more real or at least, more memorable.
I still remember the startled Saint Matthew sitting among the dandies counting his money while Caravaggio’s Christ figure pointed that beckoning finger and dazzling expanse of painted light. Christ’s finger and light exploded off the painting calling both an astonished Matthew and me. It was a finger pointing to a world bigger than the canvas or the Contarelli Chapel or anything else I knew. But, that memory remains yoked to two other sensations: the smell in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi—a drafty dank odor found in the air of all Cathedrals over 300 years old—and the magical almond chocolate flavor of my first Roman Gelato, an ambrosia consumed just prior to standing before The Calling of St. Matthew. Years later I cannot enter an old church or taste chocolate gelato without the smell or taste conjuring Matthew’s look of astonishment or of my own.
I write in the early morning. I set fresh coffee on the desk, murmur Psalm 19 as my morning prayer, and with an old-fashioned ink pen and yellow pad copy two or three paragraphs from the work of a favorite writer’s prose. I did not always follow this plan. During the discipline of graduate school, I would arise early and after the first coffee sip plunge into writing. But then the words stopped. I desired to write but while the hoops remained, I no longer had hops.
A wise friend suggested I would know what to write when I allowed my memories to speak. But I don’t think that advice is quite right. After Joshua led the Israelites across the river Jordan and into the Promised Land, God instructed him to place twelve stones from the river as a monument. When asked why, the prophet said the stones would remind their children that this was the place where God allowed Israel to cross on dry ground. My memory does serve as a fertile source of desire and a rich experience repository, a resource needing careful stewardship. But memory like the stones is not the end and cannot satisfy. I meditate upon my memories, murmur the Psalmist’s poetry, and read the graceful words of writers upon whose shoulders I stand—my own stones—because when I remember rightly they point to why I write. I desire to write, to put that word on the page, because I long to tell of a Beauty I have not experienced but a beauty my experience has seen and tasted and heard.
David Clark is a physician, writer, and visual artist. After publishing forty professional articles as a University professor of medicine/surgery, he now maintains a printmaking studio, writes short stories and creative non-fiction, and teaches English part time at Fort Lewis College. In addition to recently earning a M.F.A. from Seattle Pacific University, Clark writes a regular column—The Occasional Reader, edits a medical journal, and blogs at Art, Words, and a Journey of Wonder. He and his wife Terry live in southwest Colorado. Contact: www.davidclarkart.com
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In the beginning, I created only when the skies rained inspiration—when ideas pelted my brain and irrigated my imagination from above. When inspiration descended and I failed to capture the runoff, it was lost forever.
It was my friend, Kansas City-based artist Danny Joe Gibson (@DJGKCMOUSA on Twitter), who taught me a more practical approach to creativity. At age 33, he has already created well over 2,500 works of art, and posted over 30,000 original photos on Flickr.com. If he only created when inspiration rained down readily, he would need to be Methuselah’s age to create as many pieces as he has.
I can tell you with absolute certainty that Danny does not live in the creative equivalent of the Pacific Northwest, where it rains ideas daily. Instead of waiting for the rain, he does the creative equivalent of a rain dance: He wakes up every morning at 5 am and begins creating in time with the rhythms of his imagination. Sometimes the ideas trickle down. Other days, he finds floods.
But his rain dance is a daily discipline—an act of work that begets wonder.
Somewhere along the way, I decided to follow Danny’s example. I began waking up at 5 am to perform my own writerly rain dances. I knew I loved creating enough that I was not satisfied to do it solely when rainclouds loomed on the horizon. I learned from experience that, if I sat down to create, my work often gave way to wonder, too.
I also learned that if I did not make time for creativity, life would not freely give it to me. Danny and I both have day jobs in the Joe Versus the Volcano sense. At the end of each day, our brains are sizzling in our brainpans like the fried eggs in the frying pans in the anti-drug commercials that dominated network television in the ‘80s. “This is your brain. This is your brain after your day job. This is your brain after your day job with a side of bacon-flavored regret. Any questions?” Fried brains rarely offer much in the way of ideas. But at 5 am, fueled by ambition and coffee, my brain’s yolk intact, I find my footing most days.
I no longer have any interest in waiting for the weather to prompt me to create. Muses come and go as they please. I would say they are fair-weather friends but, for the longest time, my muses primarily appeared precisely when life’s weather turned foul. In my teens and early twenties, I only wrote poetry and songs whenever I was heartbroken over some poor girl who never asked to be the subject of a tragic work of epic scope. In retrospect, I’m a little surprised none of them threw handfuls of Prozac at me.
By creating only when I found myself mired in the same swamp of sadness that claimed Artax the horse in The Neverending Story, I limited my creative output to one decidedly drab emotional hue. But worst of all, creating only under the influence of the muse has the potential to reduce would-be agents of creativity to mere recipients of inspiration.
I recently watched a Swedish film titled As It Is In Heaven, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2005—and rightly so. Directed by Kay Pollock, the film focuses on a renowned orchestra conductor who is forced to pursue a life outside of the glow of the concert spotlight when his health begins to fail him.
Eventually, he finds himself leading a small church choir in the rural town that was his childhood home. He tells the members of his choir—and I am paraphrasing him here—that music is hanging in the air, waiting for people to harvest it, if only they will reach up and bring it down. What initially sounds like foolishness to the choir becomes reality as its members bring melodies worthy of Heaven down to Earth. They do not merely receive the music—they harvest it from the heavens themselves.
Unexpected rains fall from time to time, and I am grateful when they do. But many of the creations I cherish above all others were fueled not by flash floods of inspiration, but by a commitment to create. I walk a strange tightrope, teetering between labor and luck, when I create.
If I do not show up to create with intentionality, I am lucky to recognize the creative opportunities that do manage to surface serendipitously. That is, like a stuffy old codger who’s forgotten how to enjoy himself, I am inclined to open my umbrella when it rains instead of catching the droplets of water on my tongue like a child.
Each day, I watch the sky and perform my rain dances, and work until wonder guides me. But there are other ways to ensure a good rainfall: First, I write exclusively from my particular patch of sunlight. My wife and I have five felines, and there is skylight in our living room that cuts across the floor with the movement of the sun during the day. The cats follow it wherever it goes, as if that light is the Sun of God, and they are its dimwitted disciples.
Like my cats, I follow a patch of sun where writing is concerned. I let my brain guide me, not to ideas that seem like they will please someone else, but to ideas that set my brain alight with excitement. I only write about those things that bring me some amount of joy—that offer the promise of warmth when repeated revisions bring the threat of boredom. So I curl up in the sun, where the ideas are warm and alive, and I write.
I also know that if I do not salt the clouds as well—if I do not engage in the creative equivalent of cloud seeding—all is for naught. So I stack the creative deck. I put the odds in my favor that work will beget wonder—that my rain dance will actually lead to rain.
I load my brain with culture: the works of writers I admire, films of all flavors (including Swedish ones, of course), books, and music. I pour all of these things into my brain and, as I engage in the creative process, I find the clouds are saturated like colossal sponges—ready to yield buckets full of ideas. The old adage, “What goes up must come down,” is apropos here: If I store up cultural treasures in my mind, they percolate there, and the result is a steady trickle of associations, ideas, and possibilities.
In the end, then, the first keystroke in a piece of writing is not just a physical act—at least not for me. It’s like training for an athletic event, albeit an extremely sedentary one that makes my posture even worse than it already is. I rain dance in my desk-chair until the words begin to dance onscreen. Eventually—the rains fall.
Chad is a writer, blogger, artist, singer-songwriter, and publicist who resides in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife Rebekah, their daughter Evangeline, and five felines. He is represented by Seattle-based literary agent Jenée Arthur, who is currently shopping his manuscript, “The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope: Essays at Play in the Churchyard of the Mind,” to publishing houses. Visit him on the web atwww.chadthomasjohnston.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Saint_Upid.
At least once a week I have this overwhelming feeling of mortification and I seriously consider deleting my entire internet presence and going off the grid. It’s a mixture of embarrassment and horror that I would write and then share my work. I’ve been in the blogging game since ’03 (began with Myspace) so you’d think I’d be over this fear. I don’t know if the fear will ever fade.
I’m afraid I’ll be exposed as a fake and a fraud. That someone will call me out for what I really am, just a person thinking they know something about something when they don’t.
The fear is always present and is probably what holds me back with a lot of engagement not just online, but in person as well.
I have to remind myself who and what I am to get past this fear for the moment. I go through that list of identities (husband, son, writer, friend, brother, etc.) and remind myself most of all who I am in Christ.
This is just a reminder to remember who you are, how special and needed you are. Your story, your voice, your friendship, so very much needed.