mining resistance

Question 8 for the DIY MFA Street Team–Resistance is your compass:

This week’s prompt is all about resistance. Share an example of a time when resistance has pointed you toward a writing project that was juicy and high-stakes… and maybe even a little bit scary. Did you face that fear and overcome your resistance? What was the result of pursuing (or not pursuing) that project?

I never finished a review article of an academic piece of writing because the topic was on animal rights, and I could not stomach the research on animal butchery. I have always regretted my cowardice–and that’s how I view my inability to keep writing, as cowardice.

In an interview about her novel, Beloved, Toni Morrison claims that artists are the priests of history–they are the ones who perform cleansing rituals. Beloved writes the unspeakeable-ness of slavery. When words cannot be found, that’s precisely when writers must practice.

Another subject I avoid is my mom’s dementia. So much of her dementia involves her loss of language. And the way I work with that resistance is to shift my perspective: She has lost language, and she works language in a very new kind of poetry.

I don’t have a lot of helpful experience here, but I know that uncovering resistance is the first step. I usually don’t know I’m resisting something until someone else points out my resistance. I learned I was resisting writing about my mom’s dementia during one of my writing classes, when I asked students for ideas for blog postings.


myths about creativity

On to question of the week #7 for the DIY Street Team. Here it is, from Gabriela Pareira:

Which creative myth resonates most with you?

In chapter 6 of DIY MFA, I debunk five myths about creativity. These myths are:

• Creativity is an exclusive club, and you can’t be part of it.
• Creativity is innate–you either have it or you don’t.
• Creativity is driven by chaos, so there’s no way to control it.
• Creativity is all about getting that one “Big Idea.”
• Creativity is focusing on an idea until it’s perfect.

Gabriela asks us to choose a myth that we cleave to and then discuss how we’ve challenged that myth.

I think I’m most susceptible to the first three. But I have another: a real artist, a true creator is slightly insane. Or a lot insane. The art, the creative urges take over, and we lose ourselves. (This idea hangs out with creativity myth number three above.)

Well, duh. That’s part of the allure. The creative process allows us to be more than who we are–and just who we are. We tap into some kind of cosmic yumminess. But for some reason, I have too many models that indicate powerful art necessitates losing one’s mind. Or committing suicide.

There’s another prong to this forked-up vision of art: a great artist needs drugs or alcohol to practice art fully. I know this is not true. I write much better sober. But there’s something demoniacally Delphic about all this linking of creativity and madness, creativity and addiction.

Maybe the best piece I know about this topic–at least from the side of addiction–is James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.” If you haven’t read this piece, please. Do.

I have challenged the creativity myth about needing to be on alcohol or drugs in order to create brilliantly by being in recovery and practicing this craft. I like writing sober. A lot. I have not yet learned how to challenge the creativity myth about art and losing one’s mind. Any thoughts?

If you want to read more of Gabriela’s ideas, remember that the DIY MFA Book will be out soon!

testing best practices

Question 6 for the DIY MFA Street Team is the following: “What’s one ‘Best Practice’ that didn’t work for you?”

First of all, I love the advice that Gabriela Pereira offers, which is to follow what works for you. Gabriela recounts trying Stephen King’s advice in his memoir to write 2,000 words a day and realizing her writing practice did not thrive. As Gabriela wrote in her email about this prompt, “Over the years, the one hard-and-fast rule I’ve learned is that there are no rules when it comes to writing. There’s no such thing as a ‘best practice’ except for the one that works best for you.”

And I’ll add to Gabriela’s note that even when we find a best practice, it may not always work. Here’s my example: In Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell describes his practice called “350s.” Here’s how they work–wake up, and before you do anything, anything at all–before coffee, before getting out of bed, before petting the cat–write 350 words. That’s it. Write 350 words before you do anything in your day.

I love this practice, and it’s worked for me before. I like that I’m still in the between-world of sleeping and waking, and I often access parts of my imagination not always easy to find. I like that my internal editor-critic is still pretty much asleep. I like how righteous I feel the rest of the day–even though 350 words may not seem like much, they’re still words, finished, written. First thing. And, I like that I can return to those words later and expand, riff off of them, use them.

Today, 350s don’t work for me. I’ve got a seventeen-year-old cat with chronic kidney disease, and he’s a talker. The first thing I do in the morning is to ensure he has fresh, clean water and food. Then I get my coffee. Then I journal. Then I give Cuddles his subcutaneous fluids. By the time I’ve walked to his dishes, my conscious mind has already grabbed hold, and I’ve lost the magic of the 350s.

And here’s my other note: Practice tweakage! It may be that a classic, first-thing-in-the-morning 350 doesn’t work for me now. But I could still practice the method at different times during the day. 350s are great for those of us with over-full schedules.

Gabriela’s advice to test, practice, revise any writing practice is advice I can always apply.

Remember that the DIY MFA book comes out in June!

What is your writing kryptonite?

On the DIY MFA Facebook page, a poster accompanies this question of the week. The quote is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Our strength grows out of our weakness.” I heard this same sentiment articulate another way: “Our weaknesses are our strengths taken to an extreme.”

So what’s my writing kryptonite? Perfectionism. Heavy revising. Too much research. Trying to get it absolutely right. Trying to do too much.

OK, that was a litany of insecurities. That was not identifying my writing kryptonite. So let me do that: perfectionism.

The DIY MFA Street Team was formed to help promote the new DIY MFA book, to be launched soon. Here’s the website: DIY MFA Book by Gabriela Pareira.

What is your writing super power?

I love this question. I love even more the quiz designed by DIY MFA, so do yourself a favor and have some fun — take the quiz!

My result is the Disruptor: You’re drawn to larger-than-life characters who rebel against the status quo. Your stories champion people who will do whatever it takes to change their societies, overcome all odds, and defeat tyranny. Whether your character makes a small but significant personal choice or starts an all-out revolution, at the core your stories are about sharing your ideals with the world.

I love having this super power, but I’m not sure how it applies to my current work. My characters are ordinary, I hope. But I hope I show how their ordinariness is also larger than life. That’s what I love about the ordinary–it contains huge beauty.