Wednesday, March 31, 2010

5 Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing


I figure if I write a post like this I might inspire myself as much as anyone. So here goes. 5 ways to jumpstart your (and my) writing:

1. Explore new genres and forms. For a while now I've felt a little stunted in my writing. Especially poetry. So I'm trying new forms like sestinas, sonnets and pantoums (to come, I promise).

I also feel like I've reached a plateau in my non-fiction efforts. Currently, I'm revising a larger work, and my first order of business has been to study fiction.

In fact, I just bought James Scott Bell's book Plot & Structure: Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish. Happily (or sadly, if you hate deletion), Bell's fiction advice is leading me to restructure my format, drop several thousand words, and think like a novelist.

I'm also looking forward to Jeff Gerke's upcoming book Plot vs Character: A Divided Novelist's Guide to Writing Great Fiction.

2. Meet cool writers. There's nothing like meeting new writing friends to remind me that I'm not alone in feeling the occasional setback and need to grow.

This week I re-met Merrie Destefano, the author of How to Draw Zombies: Discover the secrets to drawing, painting, and illustrating the undead

We had a crazy fun time, along with her friend Rachel Marks. Hearing their stories of pushing-through the hard times, I felt inspired to push through my own down writing moments too.

3. Read a great writing book. I'm WAY excited that the next book club selection at HighCallingBlogs is going to be The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. Maybe you can join us too (and that will give me more cool writers to get inspired by).

4. Stop reading for a week. I know this is a radical suggestion. But the week I stopped reading I found two fire poems hidden inside me, that I'd been struggling to find for a long time.

5. Get physical. In Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina notes that physical activity significantly increases cognitive activity.

As far as I know, writing is a cognitive activity. :) On the anecdotal side of things, I can say that when I was running at night (sigh, I haven't done that in a while), I was absolutely bursting with writing ideas.

What are your favorite writing jumpstart techniques? If you want to post them, I'd be happy to link to you. Or we can just go out for a midnight run together.

Pigeon on the Can photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Beautiful Empire State

New York City, Night from Empire State

How long have I lived here and never bothered with you? Empire State, building of movies, dreamers... marker of the night sky. I see you when I fly home from the West, when I remember to look.

And you watch out over my city, ever tall against the wind.

On this night, with Alissa Wilkinson, Caleb Seeling, Jeffrey Overstreet, Ron Kelsey, Christina (is that right? did I get that right? you, the sweet actress who welcomed me with your smile and your spirit?) I finally ride to the top. (We try to go to the IAM space and that doesn't work out; you are Plan B.)

It's so cold I don't want to be this high in the sky, but oh the lights, the rivers of lights, blues and yellows, whites. Is that Long Island I see? And now New Jersey.

Tell me again why I never bothered with you?

Leaving Empire State 1

Leaving Empire State

Empire State Inside

Empire State Building photos, by L.L. Barkat.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Remembering Fire

In a Chelsea Gallery

A few months back, when I met Bradley thirty years late, he gently suggested I might want to write about the fires. I wasn't very happy with my first tries (and critiqued one of them here). This is a new attempt, and maybe begins to get at the things I want to get at...


Who found faded yellow,
brown box, jimmied
tin lid with spoon's end
taken from our new
kitchen; the old one
spit out this blackened
package of sugar chocolate
crying for milk, pink bunny
laughing though his ear
had been eaten by flames—
who started it I wonder, who
burned down linoleum-cracked
floor, table where sister choked
on peas like we are choking our
blond baby niece
with mealy brown powder
on a tongue crying
for milk, mama,

Self-Portrait at Chelsea Gallery, photo by L.L. Barkat.

HighCallingBlogs's Life on the Street
Laura’s I Am the Gate
Nancy’s Our Street
Melissa’s she, stirring
Eric’s Hidden Joy
Jim’s Parables
Susan’s No Fairy Tale
Glynn’s Hope, Blinking and Rues de Martyrs
nAncy’s a road
Dave’s On Quincy Street
Kathleen’s Dear Frankie
Maureen’s Reunions: Father
Marilee’s Laurel Hedge
LL's 56 Irving Place, Gramercy Park
Cindy’s Crossing at Kicker Road
Simple Country Girl’s Street Address: End of Dirt Road and Farm Door Beckons
Liz’s Highway 60
Prairie Chick’s One Country Mile
Linda’s The Farm on Buffalo Ridge
Claire’s Blikkie
Monica’s When He Lived on Horsefly Road
Susanne’s 716 El Rancho Drive
Emily's Stonybrook
Kelly's March on St. June
Missy K's West Washington

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Loving Monday: How We Fall Apart

Building in Chelsea

What keeps a business, a family strong?

Beckett's chapter on 'family strength' focuses on balancing family and work, but I wondered if it might nicely dovetail with another book I've been reading How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In.

While Beckett talked about the need to balance family and work, in some ways adding even more responsibilities to a person's mental plate, I considered whether there might be a subtle alternative.

Stop trying to balance it all, and just trim the "all", on both the business and family side of things. Heck, not just business and family, but also spiritual and recreational. (Yes, Ann K., I did think of Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families)

In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins notes that companies who are doing well sometimes get "insulated by success" which causes them to "lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place." This can lead to an undisciplined pursuit of more— "more scale, more growth, more acclaim," characterized by "growing faster than they can achieve with excellence."

Collins sums it up, "Although complacency and resistance to change remain dangers to any successful enterprise, overreaching better captures how the mighty fall."

And this is why I didn't feel guilty on Sunday when I missed church because we missed the time change.

My husband slept in for a long time, my Eldest daughter was fooling around with Spanish guitar (something daddy's been teaching her in the evenings now), and my youngest worked on a book she's writing (which my eldest is secretly turning into a graphic novel). I made a cup of tea, moved around the kitchen cleaning slowly (Sundays always get me down when I come home to the morning mess after church).

It felt good to have trimmed the day, and I wondered why I had to wait for a mistake to make it happen.

Skyscraper in Chelsea photo, by L.L. Barkat.

HighCallingBlogs Tightrope
Glynn's Loving Monday: Writing a Vision
Monica's Loving Monday: Vision and Balance
Lyla's Loving Monday: Why Family Matters

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Streetwise Poetry

NYU Building Near Cooper Union

The streets of NYC fascinate me. Streets in general fascinate me. Okay, so this week's Random Acts of Poetry Prompt should be no surprise. :)

NYU Building Near Cooper Union, photo by L.L. Barkat.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Our Real Fake Life

Light Gallery

Virtual life isn't real.

One panelist asserted this idea pretty strongly, during the "Can Digital and Physical Co-Exist?" session at IAM's Encounter conference.

Why of course it isn't real. It's virtual.


A few months back, Ann Voskamp wrote a moving post about her agoraphobia. I gifted her a poem in response.

Then Ann went on a trip and, in the real, hard moments of canceled flights and a left-behind passport, she remembered the poem that had been posted in this virtual place.

Today she posted about her experience, and my breath caught when I saw these words...

And I answer her hauntingly beautiful poem with my life.

It makes me wonder what we mean by "real." For me, this is oh so very real. Thank you Ann, for your life, and the real way you touch me and countless others.

Light Gallery photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Loving Monday: You a Philanthropist?


What if you gave your art away?

This is the question Beckett essentially asks in the chapter "Giving Something Back", though he doesn't necessarily frame it from an art perspective. The subtle implication at the beginning of the chapter is that we need to wait before we can "give back." But by the end, when we see Moses holding a simple stick, we get the sense that the time to give is now. The thing to give is whatever we hold in our hands.

Child on the Dump

I think back to David Sacks. He has given (or sold very cheaply) much of his art to non-governmental organizations... before landing on the cover of an Oprah book-club pick.

At the IAM Encounter Conference, he shared his photography, and his history of giving art away. For Sacks, this opened up opportunities to travel, be creative with fewer restrictions, and ultimately to make money from his art (though that wasn't necessarily his initial goal in giving).

Say You're One of Them

Do we hold our dreams, our small personal wealths, too tightly? What if we gave some of our work, our creative essence away? Would we have enough left over to make a living? What are the risks?

I find a few answers in Sacks, and in Sarah Haliwell's poem too...

don't be worried
there are dreams all over the place
for the hauling up and stacking out
just let it go
the wind will do the hardest work
for you

Photos of NYC and IAM Conference, by L.L. Barkat. Excerpt of Sarah Haliwell's "with faith", used with permission.

Lyla's Loving Monday: Risky Business
Glynn's Loving Monday: The Compassionate Enterprise
HighCallingBlogs What I Hold in My Hands

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Loving Monday: Blueprints?

Snow Path

"God has a plan for your life."

Does he?

Let me digress. Once, a long time ago, I saw a piece of art that consisted of lightweight cloth and a wind source. I stood there watching it and thinking about Creation. I thought about the sky and how it was always the sky, as God planned. But it changed day by day. I thought about the trees and how they were always the trees, but the wind changed their shape in unpredictable fashion. Water is water, but its flow alters and splashes. The color of day makes a stream silver, then green or amber.

What does this mean for us as people? Are we basically people, free to change with times and seasons? Flexible, responsive, able to decide we don't want to stick with our story? Or are we, in simpler blueprint fashion, called and gifted for a particular path? Are we supposed to be following some kind of "plan for our lives"? Beckett's Loving Monday begins to suggest that, though I'm not sure how far Beckett himself would push the idea if questioned.

The idea of calling and gifting can give us direction in life. That seems good. Some people in history and the bible appear to fit into this model. But the idea of calling and gifting can also hold us back, "I don't feel called." Well, so? Maybe it is enough that you are a tree and today the wind is blowing East and you would delight to bend with it.

Sara Makes a Snow Path, photo by L.L. Barkat.

HighCallingBlogs Blueprint
Glynn's What is a Person Worth?
Lyla's Loving Monday: What Are We Doing Here?

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