Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mindless writing 101: permission to play, have fun and be an artist.

My mind got very pissed off the other day. It was finally settling into its favorite lavender-scented bubble bath when it heard an awful thing. So awful that it got out of the tub and started jumping up and down and yelling in outrage. Until I agreed to sit down and write this article.

I was at an art show where my boyfriend and I fell in love with a particular artist’s work. When I saw the way the artist had mastered the use of acrylics in the way I wanted to, I approached the guy standing in the booth and asked if I could take classes.

“No,” he said. “The artist is very busy and very shy. But she’ll tell you that, as an artist, you have to just give yourself permission to play, try different things out and see what works.”

“Yeah, I understand. I’m a writer and it’s the same thing in writing or any art form really,” I said.

“Well no. I come from a big family of writers and I know that when it comes to writing, it’s all about character development.”

That’s when my mind got out of the tub and when my boyfriend gave me a look that said, “I can just imagine what’s going on in your head right about now.”

After taking oodles of writing, art and creativity classes, workshops and trainings over the last 20 years, I’ve come to realize that somehow writing has been involved in a terrible PR campaign that has created a scary, unapproachable and painful image of this sweet art form. Talk to any writer and you’ll inevitably hear about the difficulties of writing. I used to be one of them. Now, I’m determined to put a stop to it.

The following myths around writing are a disservice to writers, potential writers and the art of writing. Hearing these things over and over again from respected authors, directors of MFA programs and emerging writers creates a reality where writing is difficult and people are scared of trying it. It’s time to deconstruct the old PR campaign, because everyone has something to say and it can actually be really fun to write.

Old myth: The writing process is difficult, full of struggle and painful.
New reality: The writing process can be easy, fun, joyful and blissful if we let it.

Whether you’re painting, writing or creating any type of art, the creative process has two distinct parts to it: a flow that comes from quieting the mind and letting the art travel through us, and the craft in which we apply particular techniques to create a polished, finished product. There are zillions of classes on the craft of writing, where we learn about character development and scene creation and narrative arc—all important things that tame the writing and make it go deeper. But if we apply too much focus on the craft, the real organic beauty of our words can easily get squashed. And the process can become difficult, even joyless. Reveling in the mindless, organic part of the process and honoring it as an important part of creativity makes writing joyful and fun.

Old myth: Writing is cerebral.
New reality: The best writing comes from the body and senses and our childlike ability to play.
In the writing workshop I developed, I use practical techniques that disengage the mind, and instead, engage the entire body and senses where our words live. We also practice playing, which is an important part of all creativity, including writing. I recently trialed the workshop with a group that included a couple of writers whose writing I’m familiar with. And some of the words that came out during the workshop were the best I’d ever seen from them. Fresh and different and passionate. By disengaging the mind, you let the writing take you to places you never even thought of going. The writing writes you.

Old myth: The writer often faces a blank page, which causes writer’s block.
New reality: There is no blank page.

I’m not sure if this is an American invention or not but when I visited Cuba this year, I spoke with various writers who insisted there is no such thing as a blank page. “The page is never blank. Even if it appears so. The writer is always full of experiences and ideas. They are already on the page of a different form—in our minds,” one writer told me. Applying organic methods throughout the writing process can create an easy flow from our minds right onto the page.

Old myth: Writers are introverts, and the art of writing is a solitary act.
New reality: Writers need a creative community they can be part of, draw support from and get creatively inspired.
The expectation that writers need to be alone with their thoughts makes the process of writing more difficult. Staying inside of one’s head for too long can be unhealthy, cause depression and put a halt to creativity for lots of writers. While there are many art centers where artists can rent studio spaces, there are very few places like this for writers. Yet, writers too need collaborative centers where they can share office space, have a community of support and get out of their heads. Because the creative process is never a solitary act, and ideas only get better around other creatives. [I’m in the process of developing a creativity incubator for artists and writers. Anyone interested in joining me in this project?]

Writing has been separated from other art forms for far too long by the myths that claim it to be a solitary, cerebral and painful experience. Everyday, I work towards creating this new reality for myself and other writers: a joyful, collaborative world that lets us tap into our deepest writing in the gentlest of ways. To create this new world, I believe that the organic, mindless part of the writing process needs more attention. It needs to be part of every writing program. So we can let our minds go on vacation and soak in the tub as long as they want. While we have some real fun—letting our best words flow onto the page.

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