Strike the Match


Where are my men and women

Where is my sex and spice

Where is my sundering sound?

-Cleaning the Fridge, Waiting on Hold, c Me 2014

I do not feel inspired. I do not feel fertile with ideas. I do not feel creative and energetic. Is this burn out?

I’ve always managed to pull some energy, some enthusiasm, some can-do from the depths of my being. But right now I don’t feel it. I miss it like I miss the throb of desire when it won’t come.

There is no good word to describe this feeling. It is dry, it is weary, it is petty, it is grey. It is not unhappy, but neither is it enthused. Highs and lows aren’t so high and low. In some ways that’s good, but when one day is too much like another I can’t do anything. I want to feel that quickening.

I have files and folders of words I have done nothing with. But it’s been decided for me – this is the time. I need to strike my own match. I have to do something specifically for me.

And even now, that worries me – I feel I am too self centered. But in reality, I tend to neglect myself. My jobs, my approach to writing – these have all been service to others. And this fulfills something deep in me. I want to be useful, helpful, productive. I want to demystify writing and enchant the world people see. I want them to freely approach literature, grammar, idiom. I love this.

But my god, do I feel empty. It’s very difficult to turn this generosity towards myself and my writing. It’s very, very difficult to come up with workable ideas at all, let alone bring myself to draft them. I’m hibernating, and I’m sick of it. But I must do something – there is no “right time” for anything.

“Start now when it’s hardest. Start now when you feel so weighed down with emotions better left to glittery and not so glittery vampires and when you feel like you could sleep forever. Now is the time you need to wake up. Get up, get up! Don’t miss this moment. Create magics great and small, mundane and mystical.”

Copyright 2015 Deborah Castellano

Spring is slapping through the rot – I have to try – I have to do the thing I can’t.

-Cleaning the Fridge, Waiting on Hold, c Me 2014

3 helpful #tips on how to #write when you don’t want to

Sometimes you don’t want to write when you know have to.  This is cruel and unusual punishment and should be stopped – we should only write when we are spiritually ready and emotionally prepared, well-fed, freshly bathed, and in comfy pants (or no pants, as you like it).  But until the rest of the world is as enlightened as I am, we have to make do.

So, how do you do the thing when you don’t want to do the thing?

Set small attainable goals.

You cannot do all the things all at once, I don’t care how much you’ve published how awesome you are, or how motivated you feel.  If you make your to do list for a project far too long and complicated, you may find you’ve done nothing, or the dreaded “not enough”.

Think in small change when you are uninspired.  What has to be done today to move the project along? (NOT complete it, but move it along)  Isolate the top 3-5 things and let those be all you do that day.  Stop when you’re done and look at what you’ve accomplished.  If you want to go back for more, ok.  But seriously, let yourself feel accomplished and productive for a few minutes.  Enjoy it!

Get up, take breaks, and then go back to work.

As much as you are able to, be active when writing.  Writing does indeed involve sitting there and *writing*.  However, it is really important to learn when your body needs to move, because this can help free thoughts.  I find it helpful to set an egg timer and make myself get up and make a circuit of the house every 15-30 mins.  This may be too frequent for some of you, but I’ve learned over the years I need to be up and about more than most.

Writing is always happening, even when you are mentally working on a piece.  Writing is not sitting and staring at the cursor, beating yourself up.  That’s just beating yourself up, not doing anything useful.

Make sure you are answering just the prompt/idea in front of you.  

If you’re working with creative writing, sometimes tangents are magical.  You start writing one thing, then it becomes something else.  But if you’re working on a less imaginative project, or using an exercise to practice, you need discipline.

What is the prompt asking you to do?  If the prompt has a question, rephrase it as a statement.  Answer it as if you’re talking to someone.  Write that down.  Make an outline of how you’re going to tackle this piece – even for very creative genres like poetry!  The most fanciful writing still needs structure and discipline to be its best.  Work with what you have right in front of you first, then worry about making it sparkle.


Longhand #drafting: Pros and cons for #poets

As we prepare to slide into the next litLAB meeting, I’d like to put something in your heads: longhand drafting.  Longhand is often regarded as the king of composition, but I’m a poet that pretty much grew up with computers – I’m at home both ways.

My personal take on longhand drafting

To get this ball rolling, let me describe my poetic drafting process.  I generally begin with a word, phrase, or cadence knocking around my head.  I’ll perversely delay writing it down at first and just consider it for a while.

Next, I’ll write it down, and build a poem around it.  I don’t count it as drafting until I have what “looks like” a poem ready to go.  Then I will do one of two things: I will keep drafting longhand, noting the draft number, or stick it in Googledocs.

Either way, this takes days or weeks, and forces me to work on discrete drafts, learning the strongest parts of the poem, eliminating the weaker ones (or recycling them for later work).

At this point, the real work is well under way.  Once it is in googledocs, it will go through at least 3-4 drafts until I’m happy.  I enjoy this because it’s simply easier to swap phrases and stanzas around, or even pop the damn thing into a table if I’m doing something with rhyme or form.  I can visually seperate the lines on a screen in ways I can’t really get from paper.  But paper does provide that sensory connection I crave.

Once it’s typed, I try to keep it in digital form, for good or ill, that’s how they will “interact” with the world the most.   I only know I’m done when, like Our Oscar, I spend all morning taking out a comma, and all afternoon putting it back in.

Ok, now you chime in on drafting!

So enough of me, how about you all?  How important is longhand drafting in your writing process?  Does anyone still do it?  Are there any benefits you get from this method that you can’t get from hopping right on the computer?

See y’all this weekend 😉

Editing #Shakespeare!

I had an idea to tuck this away in a list of prompts for litLAB, but as it developed, it was too fun not to try myself! I’ve reproduced it below as I had originally written it, for a small audience of fellow writers.

IMPROVE ON SHAKESPEARE! Oh yes, you heard me right. First, go watch this Rowan Atkinson/Hugh Laurie sketch here, to get a sense of what Our Will went through. Then read the text of Hamlet’s soliloquy here.

Feel free to look up any Cliff’s Notes or No-Fear Shakespeare you like to get your feet wet! Remember context, too. This speech was not delivered in a vacuum. If you’ve never seen Hamlet (do!), visit the wiki and familiarize yourself with what’s going on in the play to lead to this speech.

When you have a bead on the speech, edit it. Put it in modern terms, keep it in Elizabethan language – it doesn’t matter. What I want to see are vastly different ways of putting the same ideas out there.

Remember that Will was a man of his time – “Shakespeare” the institution is a modern invention. He was a businessman, a working writer, selling seats – so think like he did. Add flavor and color – this is not a sacred proclamation from on high!

Shakespeare protip: yes, yes, I know iambic pentameter sounds scary to the uninitiated, and ZOMG it makes teh Shakespurze totes complicated.  But don’t forget punctuation.  That still helps you know where to breathe, and what kind of sentence you’re in.  So as I’m doing this, I’ve copied the text to a clean doc, and I’m separating it out by the sentence.  This will also be helpful in rendering it into contemporary speech, as I aim to do.  You can even put it in a table if that helps you stay more organized!  Technology will work in your favor here.

writing advice motivation coaching goals

X-post from my other blog: Why I hate #motivation

Originally posted on TheThinking 30something: Thoughts from the ever-expanding kids’ table.  In which I am a crankypants.

In the course of my writing life, people have asked me over and over about motivation.  “How do I get motivated?” or “Can you motivate me?” Few things strike as much fear into my heart.  It’s not that I don’t have any concern for people.  I genuinely want to nurture other writers.  But I hate “motivating” people.

Does this make me a horrible person?

When someone asks me how to “get” motivated, I immediately pull back.  To me, this sounds like an invitation to play a guessing game with their psychology, to start pulling wires in their heads until I make them do the thing they want to do.  This takes an unimaginable amount of energy and patience on my part.  Some days I just don’t have it.

writing advice motivation coaching goals

When I hear this plea from a growing writer, I worry about two things.  First, I don’t want to give the appearance of hoarding the Special Magical Mystical Writing Knowledge That I Surely Possess ™.  Second, I don’t want to give the appearance I don’t care about other writers.  But at the end of the day, I believe in tough love.  To write, you have to write.  It’s as simple and impossible as that.

The necessity of pulling back

When you overwater a plant, it becomes wilted and soft.  The stem grows mold and the plant can die if the gardener doesn’t hold back a little.  Sometimes I think one has to hold back to the sake of the writer.  I don’t want them to wilt.  I want to see people confident and self-actualized just as much as I want to preserve my own energies.

So how do I help people get off their metaphorical couches?  How do I help them to overcome their training that “writing is impossible” and you have to “write it right the first time”?

RX for writing motivation

Motivation is not something you can find, and it is certainly not something someone gives you.  There is no magic button or pill.  Motivation is a series of choices we must all make.  As writers, we are not automatically afforded the respect and dignity given to more popular professions.  We must nurture ourselves, empower ourselves, and claim our own work as work.  We must learn to motivate ourselves.

Give yourself the gift of the draft

Produce.  Produce.  Produce.  You are not a writer until you are writing.  There is no pizzazz in this, there is no glamour.  You are translating thought and impression into the code of language, and making that code understandable to others.  This is work.  This is labor.  Own it.

When you actually work on something , you become intimately familiar with the process.  You learn the needs of the format or genre you’re working with, and you learn your own habits and foibles.  The experience of working draft by draft is more valuable than a hundred writing books.  There is no substitute for drafting.

You can’t spit out the Mona Lisa

Distance yourself emotionally from your draft and learn to edit.  Your first draft will always be flawed.  Your second, third, and even fourth will have issues.  Sometimes projects have fatal flaws, and sometimes they need heavy-duty restructuring.  This is not an indictment on your as a writer.

You are under no obligation to write a perfect poem, essay, or paper the first time.  Waiting until you deem something “perfect” to move on is going to prevent you from writing anything.  Excellence is a good goal, but perfectionism is a very bad habit.

Identify your  High Order Concerns

Take this session by session, and have definable goals for each one.  In tutoring, we have to prioritize on the fly, and we usually only have 30 minutes with a student.   A successful tutoring session triages a paper: both individuals ascertain what the biggest flaw in the work is and address that first.  If there’s time left in the session, they work on small fry. This empowers the student to work on their own errors, not just accept criticism, however well deserved – it puts them in the drivers’ seat.

Do the same for yourself.  What do you want to accomplish this afternoon?  Today?  This week?  Limit these goals severely.  If you can’t place it in the top three slots of your to-do list, it’s not a High Order Concern.  Not every part of the writing process is priority one at every single step.  Pull back, consider, identify, and act.

Parting Thoughts

There will be days, even weeks, where you can’t get “anything done”.  That is ok.  You are allowed to have a life outside of writing.  But you must develop the reflex to return over and over to your worktable.  Over time, the choices you make become habit.

If you choose to put off a project until you find the perfect word, detail, mood, whatever – you are ultimately choosing to not bring this project to completion.  You will develop and reinforce fear, anxiety, and perfectionism.  You have developed the habit of de-motivating yourself.  Can you live with the outcome of these choices?

However, if you develop the habits of production, editing, and prioritizing – you have chosen to motivate yourself.  On a day to day basis, you will have your hands dirty with the work of writing.  You may feel temporary disappointments and setbacks, but overall you will remain motivated to continue.

I’m a Bad #Poet

Power of WordsOh, man….I must confess.  I am a bad poet.  I blast through poems and if they don’t touch something in me, I often don’t give it a second shot.  I feast, I gorge, I gobble.  I am an impatient reader of poems, and that includes my own.  If I can’t find a resonance, if I can’t find a pulse, I discard it.

While I do put some work into the look of a poem I’m writing, I am far more concerned with the senses.  Does it sound how I need it to sound?  Am I drawing on a personal lexicon, and am I letting readers into that world?  Am I too much in my mind?  Am I overusing lines, words, and images?  This matters much more to me than form – as long as it vaguely resembles That Which We Call Poem, I’m satisfied.

I also like discussing poems, and love to dive into a close reading.  But I can’t be bothered with meter – my eyes glaze over.  I generally don’t care about line breaks, enjambment, typography, and so on.  It’s not a priority.

If I can’t feel a poem, if I can’t register anything on any of my senses, it just doesn’t impress me.  I move through a poem like a dream – I’m on my own logic, I have my own imperatives, unclear to everyone and myself.  I read them like a hedge witch – watching the borders carefully, looking for ancient signs and symbols.  I cannot handle the pat, the worldly, the dry poems that impress others.

I will treasure a poem even if it doesn’t “make sense”.  I will treasure a poem if my personal meaning for it doesn’t match the author’s intent.  I will treasure a poem if it sounds like a magical incantation and reminds me that there is red blood flowing under the callus of daily life.

I am a bad poet.  And I love it.