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Denise D. Young

Stories of Magic & Moonlight

Merry Yule: 2016 Year in Review

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Photo by Marcin Jagiellicz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

In the Pagan tradition I walk, Yule, or the winter solstice, is all about rebirth. It’s a turning point, much as New Year’s Eve marks a turning. We say goodbye to the old and open our arms to the rebirth of the sun.

The longest night of the year holds within it a spark of sun, a promise that as the Wheel of the Year turns, the days will grow longer, the earth will eventually reawaken, ice and snow will yield to crocuses and daffodils, and the summer god will reign once more.

So I think it is fitting that my last check-in post for 2016 falls on Yule, as I mark the turning of the wheel and the promise of warm, sunny days to come.

I’ve started penning haikus in the past few months. I love the challenge of fitting a poem, a thought, an image into so few words. Haiku is language stripped down bare, and as such, it offers a far more intimate experience with language than a novel does. We’re counting each syllable; each word must drip with meaning and imagery. It’s simple, and in a culture where we’re constantly inundated with stuff and information, I’m starting to crave the simplicity haikus offer.

Before my year-end review, I’d like to share a haiku I’ve written in honor of the winter solstice:

Long night yields to dawn.

You rise from winter’s belly,

promise of fire.

Haiku shared and holiday well-wishes bestowed, I turn now to my year in review.

It was a year of ups and downs. I said goodbye to my beloved beagle, Angel, who brought her gentle, loving energy to my life for ten years. And, in the last few weeks, I welcomed a new creature into my life, a bundle of energy named Leo. I became a published fiction writer with the publication of my two novelettes, The Beltane Kiss and The Faerie Key. I taught a course on media writing. Hubby and I continued to settle in to our new home. We painted. We tore out the ugly, overgrown, half-dead bushes in the front of the townhouse and planted new, including some lavender.

On the writing front, here are my accomplishments:

  • Penned a novelette, The Faerie Key, revised it and its companion piece, The Beltane Kiss, had those professionally edited, revised them some more, and published them on Amazon.
  • My novel A Prince in Patience Point won second place in the Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest.
  • Expanded a short story formerly called Midwinter Bride into a novella titled Goblins and Grimoires. Finished a first draft of that novella (or second draft, depending on how you look at it).
  • Penned another novelette, White Wolf, Red Cloak, and started expanding it to novella length, now titled Fates Entangled.
  • Wrote a short story, Silver’s Stray, and started expanding it to novelette length.
  • Wrote two short stories, Spirits of Embers and The Forest’s Own.
  • Started writing poetry again, both free verse and haikus.
  • There were also numerous starts to stories, ranging from a redcap running amok in a library to a story about the magic of mistletoe to a trio of sisters who find themselves the guardians of three sacred artifacts.

For a year where I weathered a prolonged creative dry spell, I’d say a fair amount still got done in 2016.

And so, with this post, I wish you a very merry rest of the year, however you celebrate or spend it, and a happy New Year. Thank you to all of you who visit my blog, who leave thoughtful comments, who’ve offered support in any way, whether it’s a bit of advice on Twitter or Facebook, or buying one of my books, or simply a word of encouragement during a dry spell. It really means a lot to me, and I feel very blessed.

What about you? What accomplishment are you most proud of this year? Do you already have plans in place for 2017? If so, please share!

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When well-intentioned writing advice goes bad…

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I framed this quote, a reminder to follow and trust my own heart.

While studying creative writing in undergraduate and grad school, I participated in countless writing workshops. I’ve been a member of critique groups and read countless writing books. But there’s one thing I’ve only recently come to realize: Sometimes people’s writing advice is bad.

Well, let me clarify. It’s not necessarily bad advice. It’s just bad advice for you.

I’m not talking about craft. “Don’t head-hop” is a good rule to follow, and you break it at your own peril. Three-act structure seems to be ingrained in reader’s minds, and we often subconsciously know when it isn’t followed. A book that starts too slowly and leads readers to put it down, for example, might have a first act that’s too long. No, the basic rules of writing hold, and everything I learned in undergraduate and grad school taught me and reinforced those rules.

But then I emerged, M.F.A. in hand, into the wide world of writing, and all of a sudden, I didn’t have my professors to guide me. So I turned to writing books and that experience, by and large, has been a productive one, a continuation of my education as a writer.

But some of those books have poisoned the well for me, and there’s a simple reason. Sometimes people think that what works for one writer will work for another, and they present their process as an absolute, a formula anyone can follow that leads to success.

And I’ve attempted those methods, those processes, and failed, and slammed into the brick wall we call writer’s block.

That’s when my husband, a non-writer (an IT guy, if you must know), suggested that I take a break from writing books. “They’re causing you to stop writing. You already know how to write. You just need to do it.”

Yeah, he was probably right.

When I first started on my writing journey, I was (and still am) super-curious about other writers’ processes. One writer writes 500 words a day, religiously. Another feels 1,000 words is the sweet spot, and still another says 2,000 words is the minimum quota for professional writers. One writer proofreads but never revises. Another says she writes ten drafts. Still another writes the first draft, puts it in a drawer, and starts over.

And what I’ve learned is that my own process is a constantly evolving creature, changing as I grow as a writer and matching no one else’s. I know the rules of writing. I can urge and cajole a story into three-act structure. I can see when a character arc isn’t working or isn’t strong enough. I can see when a story starts to drag. And I can understand the feedback beta readers give me. “The opening is too slow.” “He doesn’t have much of a character arc.” “There’s too much backstory.” “Up the romance factor.” I know how to fix a story to fix the problems their keen eyes have noticed.

I know how to write. But when I read books about process and try to stuff my writing routine into someone else’s process, well, ugh. Things just grind to a halt.

So from now on, I will follow the process that works for me. Two of my stories, a novella and a novel, have won awards. I’ve published two novelettes and written a number of manuscripts. I can do this—because, well, I’ve done it before.

I just need to close the freaking door, shut everyone else out, and work with all the knowledge that’s in my own mind, the feedback from trusted beta readers and CPs, and listen to the stories whispering in my ear.

For me, that’s all I need at the moment. And in the future, I will be wary of trying to stuff my round-peg process into the square-hole I found on someone else’s blog, or in an author interview, or in a craft book. There are rules to the craft of writing. But ultimately, when it comes to process, we need to learn our own. Creativity comes to all of us in different shapes and forms. We need to follow our intuition and go our own way.

After all, if we want our stories to be fresh and unique, we must be ourselves, whomever we may be.

ROW80 Check-In:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Missed a couple days, but progress is being made. I started revising a novelette and expanding it to novella length. Previously titled White Wolf, Red Cloak, I’ve retitled it Fates Entangled, upped the paranormal/magical factor by adding in a touch of witchcraft, and am expanding it to about 20K from the original 15K. And I’m upping the heat factor as well.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. Reading The Art of Bliss by Tess Whitehurst.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Nope.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Decorated for Yule/Christmas. Baked chocolate-banana bread. Stocked up on some more scrapbooking supplies. Bought a frame so we can have a large print of one of our wedding portraits made and hang it in our bedroom.

A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, is now on Facebook. Join us!

Ever-curious about fellow writers’ creative processes, I’d love to hear yours. Have you ever gotten advice on process that’s led you astray? What is your process like?

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The Whisper of Stories

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Photo by Lynn Kelley in WANA Commons

I am a true night owl, and that’s when my stories come whispering in my ear. I wrote last time about cultivating stillness in a world consumed by motion—we’re always going somewhere. But I believe strongly in stillness because that’s where both self-awareness and creativity come from.

Last night, I sat with my notebook and I waited. And, much to my surprise, a story I haven’t picked up in a while came wandering by. It’s a light paranormal romance, something very different from the often quest-based stories I usually write. But I couldn’t get the romantic arc quite right; something was off. Last time I worked on it, I expanded the story by about 10K to give the characters’ romance room to grow. But I realized it was missing something, some big sacrifice that allows the characters to come together. They didn’t really give up anything; things just sort of worked out in time. And last night I figured out a way to solve that problem, one that rose organically from what’s already on the page.

Stories whisper. Sometimes it feels like a hundred characters chatting away, a din of voices. And other times, in the hour after midnight or the hour after dawn, a character sits down, pours himself a cup of tea, and begins to tell you his story.

And that’s when the magic happens.

ROW80 check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Lots of brainstorming, and continuing to work my way through Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance by Julia Cameron.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. Started reading The Art of Bliss by Tess Whitehurst, which is all about applying the Bagua of Feng Shui to your life and your home.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Nope. I’m hoping after the holiday craziness settles to pick this one back up. But between holiday prep, hubby being crazy busy with the end of the semester, and a new puppy, I’m not finding much room for yoga.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Can I count Tess Whitehurst’s The Art of Bliss here, too?

What about you? When do your stories and characters whisper to you? How do you make space to listen? Do you journal, or just sit down at the keyboard and type away? Or do your characters shout?

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The Season of Stillness

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Photo by Martin Holek | Dreamstime Photos

The sky is a sea of gray clouds, sun fighting to peek through. The sun sets early, streaks of orange and pink a reminder of summer fire. The trees are bare, roots stretching deep into the earth.

My husband and I leave a jazz concert, our bodies and minds and hearts alive with the thrill of brass and percussion and a bit of string, and step into the cold winter air. I snap a picture of the sun setting against the backdrop of the campus that is the heart of this college town.

Part of me is always thinking about goals. How many words can I write in a year? How many words should I write in a year? How many projects can I finish?

And yet winter reminds me that sometimes we must cultivate inner stillness. Sometimes we must be quiet and listen. As writers, as storytellers, as artists, our primary function might be that stillness, that ability to listen.

I listen to the world around me. In pausing to drink in the sunset, in sitting in a beautiful performance hall to listen to jazz, in sitting quietly in the evenings and sipping my tea while I wait for characters to whisper, I am, in fact, listening to the earth and those of us who populate it, whether human or animal or tree or flower. And I am listening to something mystical, something spiritual, that ether out of which stories are born.

Cultivating stillness is difficult in a society that makes little room for it. We must always be doing something; we must always be achieving. We must always be counting and quantifying; we must always be striving and reaching and grasping.

Are goals and deadlines good things? Of course. They keep us accountable. They have their own seasons. Spring is the season of sowing, of goal-setting. Summer is the season of tending, of patient toil. And autumn, the season of the harvest, when all we have planted and tended comes to fruition. It is the season in which we celebrate a job well done—and yes, that is something we need to celebrate.

As artists, we have these seasons. But we must also, like the earth, have moments of quietude in which we listen. From the quiet new stories are born. New characters begin to murmur. We listen, and we record.

Ultimately as writers we must learn to cultivate stillness, to reach down deep, tap a deep root like the mighty oak, sway in the wind and wait for birds to roost. We remain still and steady and strong and rooted. And we listen.

ROW80 check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. I’ve been working my way through Julia Cameron’s Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. I did miss a couple days, but for the most part something is getting done every day, even if it’s just a few words here and there or a bit of brainstorming. I also started playing with some other ideas that might not lead to anything, such two more stories in the Faerie Forest series. One is a retelling of Snow White featuring faeries and magic apples (not just the poisoned kind), and the other involves a redcap (nasty type of faerie) running loose in a library.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. This week I added a page to my Book of Shadows!
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Nothing.
  • butterfly-quoteAt least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Lots of activity here. I took a quote that had been tacked above my desk, typed it up in Word, added some scrapbooking embellishments, and placed it in a frame I bought at a Renaissance Faire years ago (see photo). I made homemade sugar scrub bars, which didn’t turn out well, but it was a first attempt at making soap. I’ll have to try a different recipe. I also did a lot of decluttering, especially in my office, which we’re turning into a home library. Soon I’ll be able to say, “If you need me, I’ll be in the library.”

What about you? Do you think stillness is an important part of the creative life? Do you feel we make enough time for stillness in our lives? How do you find time to listen to the world around you–and the stories that murmur in your ear?

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Story Planning

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Photo by Alvaro German Vilela | Dreamstime Stock Photos

For the time being, I have given up pantsing. It’s only been successful for me with a handful of short stories (around the 5K mark). With longer books, I end up with first drafts that either go unfinished and languish in a drawer somewhere, or first drafts that are a pile of mush, plot-wise, and require massive rewrites.

Earlier this year, as I worked on Goblins and Grimoires, I was thrilled with my word counts. But I had no plan, and the result was a manuscript that needs a complete rewrite. I think the mess that was that novella was a tipping point. I didn’t realize it, but I needed a different way.

If I’m being completely honest, I’m still trying to find my way out of a writing dry spell. But I do know that I don’t want to write unusable first drafts. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to at least make sense.

So I’ve gone back to studying story structure, especially Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. Armed with a couple of beat sheets—one based on Brooks’ thoughts on structure, another for romance writers and based on Blake Snyder’s work—I’m trying to move forward with a new story. (Note: Both beat sheets were created by the talented Jami Gold and are available at her website.)

I think part of it is that structure doesn’t come naturally to me. I come from a background in poetry, and poetic structure isn’t plot structure. I also have a background in magazine writing, and that’s more of a get-everything-on-the-page-and-cut-and-paste deal. But fiction? Fiction is its own beast, and I have to find a way to grapple with structure that doesn’t lead to massive page-one rewrites.

I’m starting small. A few years ago, I started a holiday-themed short story, Under the Mistletoe’s Spell. I only managed to write an opening scene, and figured the story was just for dabbling. But a few days ago I had a brainstorm—lightning and everything. What if the story wasn’t a contemporary paranormal, but a historical fantasy setting? Add in a Regency-inspired fantasy world and two characters with high stakes, and that could be one smoking holiday fantasy romance. And since the holiday season is upon us, what better time to pen a Yule-inspired tale?

Tonight I plan to gather my beat sheets and the rough synopsis I’ve written and start hammering away, working the story into a structure that hits all the right plot points at all the right moments. This is an experiment. If it works, this method will definitely help, especially with longer stories. And since this is a shorter work, it should be a good place to experiment with story structure.

I’d like to dedicate the next few weeks to finishing a first draft of this story. I keep hopping from story to story, idea to idea, with nothing really sticking. And that’s not really usual for me. Usually I settle in and finish a draft (even if it’s awful—and some have been awful. Not all, of course, but some).

So this is an experiment. Let’s see if it works. If it does, it could go a long way to helping me plot my stories before I begin them.

ROW80 check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Saturday: Read a chapter in Finding Water by Julia Cameron and did corresponding exercises. Sunday: Brief brainstorming session with hubby. Monday: Wrote 921 words in Under the Mistletoe’s Spell, along with a rough synopsis. Tuesday: Created two beat sheets for Under the Mistletoe’s Spell.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. I wrote a couple of brief Pagan songs, so progress on this front. And I’m starting to realize that much of my poetry has a strong spiritual basis, so any poetry I write is very much connected to this goal.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. No progress to report.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Nothing yet.

What about you? How do you handle story structure? Does it come naturally, or is it an area you’ve grappled with? Any hints, tips, or tricks?

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A Thanksgiving offering

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Daniaphoto | Dreamstime.com

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I feel like today’s post should offer some profound insight into the nature of gratitude. But I’m not sure that I can do that with a blog post. Still, I wanted to offer something as the Wheel of the Year turns, as late autumn is about to give way to early winter, as we enter a season in which we both celebrate our blessings and turn inward, for the season of reflection. I’ve started writing haikus, enjoying the deceptive simplicity of the form and also the challenge the limited word count and structure offer.

So, here it is. My Thanksgiving offering to you:

Red candle. Ah, spark,

there you are. Glow against glass

that mirrors night rain.

Hope you enjoyed. Happy Thanksgiving!

Writing check-in:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. Sunday: Wrote six haikus. Monday: Brainstormed for a new series, came up with names for three sisters in my new trilogy, the Daughters le Fay. Tuesday: Wrote 337 words in a series summary for the Daughters le Fay series; 1,746 words in a rough synopsis for Autumn Elemental, the first book in that series (a little less than halfway through the synopsis); and 258 words in a scene snippet for Spellfire’s Kiss.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. No progress on this so far this week.
  • Start a regular yoga practice.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Tried a new recipe, French onion chicken casserole. It was good, although a little too salty.

What about you? How are your writing goals coming along? What are you grateful for this holiday season?

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Turning inward in the search for the creative spark

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Photo by Adam Borkowski, Dreamstime.com

Perhaps it is that late autumn is a period for introspection, for turning inward, but I feel that I am starting to ask the right questions. Not, “Is who I am today who I was meant to be?” (which is what I would’ve asked a few years ago), but “Is who I am today who I want to be? Is this the type of life I will want, someday, to have led?”

I am starting to see that I lost myself in word-count tracking, asking, “How fast can I write?”

That, I have learned, is the wrong question—at least for me. For me, the real question is, “How deep can I go?” And, “How closely can I listen?” “How much can I open my heart to this story, this poem, this piece of work?” “How much of myself can I give?” “How much am I willing to lose?” “How much risk do I want to take?”

Turning inward is reconnecting me with my inner artist, the creative part of me that is linked to the creative energy of the universe. Turning inward is reminding me why I write. It is helping me to be open to myself and to the universe, or whatever you’d like to call the mysterious source of creative energy that guides our hands as we shape our creations.

In light of that, I am preceding slowly. At first, I hated that I was no longer writing 2K or 3K a day. I hated that I couldn’t see a story start to finish. My art went from being a list of “to-do’s” to this intangible thing that I couldn’t grapple with. After all, how do you wrangle a creature made of air and shadow and rainbows and mist? (And yes, somehow it seems to be made of all of these at once.)

I quit wrangling. I am a vessel, waiting for rainwater. The autumn wind has been fierce this weekend, and the heat has kicked on, and I am sitting with my laptop, drinking English Breakfast tea and allowing poems to murmur in my ear, and opening the door to the blustery night to find a strange new character standing there. She is setting out a saucer of cream and a loaf of soda bread as an offering to the faeries. Her life is about to change in ways not even I, the writer, can currently conceive. But this character has come to me, and if she wants me to, I am willing and ready to pen her story.

So where does that leave me on this week’s writing goals?

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc. I met this goal, I’d say, five days out of seven: penning four poems; typing out the opening page of a novelette, one that I hope will be part of my Faerie Forest series; and reading poetry by some of my favorite poets (among them, Mary Oliver, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Joy Harjo, and Langston Hughes). I also started reading Autumn Thorns by Yasmine Galenorn, another of my favorite writers, and I bought a short story¸ As Good As Gold, by Heidi Wessman Kneale, to jump-start my creative process with the short story/novelette I’m penning.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice. I wrote a spell/meditation for the February full moon. My goal is to add one spell/meditation/ritual for each full moon and every Sabbat to my Book of Shadows. Not right away. Just over time.
  • Start a regular yoga practice. Yeah, not so much. I was supposed to attend a yoga/gemstone workshop on Saturday, but it was canceled. I’ve been lazy on this one.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui. Made ranch chicken tacos in the slow-cooker. The recipe was super simple, turned out really well, and—best of all—we got two nights worth of meals out of it. I also put “new” bedding on our bed. I pulled out a quilt that my husband’s aunt made for us for our wedding seven years ago. It is a work of art, and one that suits us perfectly, blue with a wave pattern and a smattering of star-patterned fabric, but we were always too scared to actually use it. I decided that I wanted to honor her hard work by actually putting the quilt on our bed. I added a few throw pillows pilfered from another room in the house, and now the bedroom has some water energy (flow and movement) and a touch of fire (passion, creative spark) where before it was only earth energy, which provides stability and balance, but can feel stagnant without balance from the other elements. I also bought new ottomans and throw pillows for the living room to bring some color into that space, since it was looking a little bland. So I’ll say this goal was a success this week.

Part of me is, perhaps, a little sad and frustrated that I’m not meeting mad word-count goals and finishing stories left and right. I am trying to learn to go with the flow, to embrace the shifting nature of creativity, and to be thankful that my stories and poems, my life’s work, have chosen me as their storyteller. That, in and of itself, is a blessing.

So instead of lamenting a period of slow writing, I am trying to embrace it. I don’t know whether it will be the new normal, but I am trying to lean back, sip my tea, and simply listen for a while.

What about you? What goals did you work on this week? Do you view hometending as a creative process? How do you revise your goals during slow periods, if you experience them?

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What the Tarot had to say…

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Photo by Vangelis Liolios, Dreamstime.com

As a practicing Pagan, the Tarot is sacred to me. It’s a way to commune with the Goddess and God, to seek out their guidance, to find a light in the dark when I’m fumbling in the shadows of midnight.

Reading Tarot cards is a regular part of my spiritual practice, a guiding light in my life when the path is shrouded in darkness. So, recently, I turned to the cards for guidance in my writing career.

The card I drew was The Hanged Man, one of the cards in the Major Arcana. It wasn’t surprising, given that I’ve been making really slow progress lately. This card depicts a man hanging from his foot from a tree, and it represents a period of stillness, but one in which we are still in order to learn the secrets to freeing ourselves.

As Biddy Tarot writes of The Hanged Man:

“This is a card that is all about suspension and waiting, and suggests that this may be just what you need to do in order to allow new possibilities to arise. Sometimes not acting will help to shed more light on what other options are available to you and will allow more attractive opportunities to emerge.”

I realized that what I’ve been doing is grappling with my writing, confronting it and demanding it move forward. I used to have a beagle, a beautiful, gentle soul named Angel. When she found a scent she wanted to study, there was no moving her. She would lock her legs and refuse to budge. Trying to move my writing forward has been like trying to urge a beagle onward. For whatever reason, it wants to stay where it is.

This card can represent a period of waiting and gestation in between chapters in life, and my intuition tells me that change is on the horizon. My writing career is going through a period of incubation that precedes a transformation. We will see where this leads.

In light of this, I’m revising my goals for the remainder of 2016 to be more fluid. Here they are:

  • Do something writing-related every day, seven days a week: journal, write a poem, take notes on a story, read a writing book, brainstorm, etc.
  • Reconnect with my spiritual practice.
  • Start a regular yoga practice.
  • At least twice a week, explore another creative outlet, anything from scrapbooking to cooking to home decorating or Feng Shui.

So far this week I’ve written two poems, written a meditation/spell for one of the full moons, and started a couple redecorating projects around the house.

What about you? Have you ever entered a period of stillness in your creative life? What did you learn?

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Thoughts on ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

big-magic-by-elizabeth-gilbertIn the midst of a writing dry spell, desperate to break out of a creative funk, I walked into Barnes & Noble, determined to find something, anything to rejuvenate my creative self.

I ended up in the self-help section, searching for Enneagram books. (Don’t ask me how I thought that would help. I have thoroughly explored my Enneagram type and squeezed as much guidance out of it as I probably can.) Instead, another book caught my eye: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. The cover was gorgeous, a sea of watercolor splashes and simple text, and I read the subtitle with a sigh of relief: “Creative Living Beyond Fear.” Ah. This was what I needed. I read the first page, liked what I saw, and promptly bought it.

I was not disappointed. Gilbert’s book reads like an eloquent permission slip. It teaches us to let go of the need for external validation that lives inside of all of us. Creativity, she says, is not about that at all. It’s only about making things for the sheer joy of making them. And you don’t need anybody’s permission for that. You can’t be too young or too old; you don’t need an M.F.A. from a prestigious university; you don’t need to be a bestselling author or world-renowned artist.

You just need to realize that nothing stands between you and the creative energy of the universe. Her book was, in short, exactly what I needed.

I devoured the book at a writing retreat, and it helped me understand what was blocking me. First of all, I was asking too much of my creativity. I was asking it to support me, to help me keep up in a society where everybody is curious how much everybody else makes and we tie our self-worth to the size of our bank accounts. I was creatively stifled because I wanted my creativity to do something for me that I had no business asking it for.  Ego got in the way; self-doubt got in the way. I had lost the sense of entering a story and a world with infinite curiosity. I only wanted to finish the story. I didn’t want to immerse myself in it.

As Gilbert writes,

“You can live a long life, making and doing cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate experience.”

I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my goal-driven, competitive ego with my spiritual, rebellious inner self, the one who doesn’t really give a frack what anyone thinks, she’s just going to create anyway, to replace the need for approval and recognition with the desire for creation and connection.

If you’re facing the same dilemma, I recommend Big Magic. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it can help you figure out where to look for them—or that, maybe, you don’t need answers anyway. You just need to create.

Writing update: Not a whole lot. Trying to figure out Michael’s character arc in Spellfire’s Kiss. That story is whispering in my ear, and I’m trying to listen, like pressing my ear to a seashell. At the retreat I wrote a few thousand words in Silver’s Stray, which started out as a 6,000-word short story but is quickly growing into a longer work. I’m also exploring poetry again, after years away.

What about you? Have your read Big Magic? What were your thoughts on it? How are your projects coming along?

 

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