Writing Calling

Writing, writing, writing, everyday something

7. More on the left brain

The left or logic brain is our brain of choice in western culture: society is very head centred, very concerned with rationale, argument, and working things out discursively.
Education systems at school teach and train largely towards that end. The world is perceived according to known categories, e.g. Weather is to do with predictable temperature and pressure patterns. A horse is a mammal with a mane and tail. An autumn forest is about a series of colours: green, yellow, gold, red and brown.

As Julia Cameron says: “It is part of our leftover survival brain… the part in charge of deciding if it was safe for us to leave the forest and go out into the meadow. As Censor it will scan the meadow for any dangerous beasties. It works on known principles. Anything unknown is perceived as wrong and possibly dangerous. Logic brain likes things to be neat little soldiers marching in a straight line. Any original thought can look pretty dangerous. The only things it likes are those it has seen often before; safe sentences, not exploratory squiggles. Left brain is responsible for our second, and third and fourth thoughts.”
It is the part of our mind that we listen to when we’re telling ourselves to be sensible.

Day 1: How are you feeling at the moment? What would you most LIKE to do in the next three hours? Think of all the sensible things you are most likely to do instead. If you were able/willing to spontaneously do what you feel like doing, how would it benefit you – perhaps in a right brained sort of way?

Day 2: As a child at school you were often expected to turn out a piece of creative writing during a language period or exam. Write down five topics that you might have been told to write on? What sort of topics did you most enjoy writing on.

Day 3: Because your language ability was evaluated on those writing tasks you probably tried to get them as perfect as possible. That frequent experience of childhood has probably inhibited you so that when you write nowadays you feel you must get it right first time. In actual fact it’s best to write freely the first time, not worry about rules, rather being led by your creative right brain more than by your ‘correct’ left brain. How do you think about that?

Day 4: Despite its tendency to be a bit bossy sometimes, the left brain actually IS very important – once you get to shaping and editing what you’ve written. Things like grammar, punctuation and the removal of double negatives, wordiness and repetition are then important for fine-tuning, so that your meaning comes across properly. Bring in your left brain now to help correct/improve this sentence, and those that follow for the next three days:
*His main reason for resigning is because he is 67 years of age.

Day 5: *The latest fire occurred Sunday night in a basement room used by the school band, causing an estimated R60 000 damage and destroyed 80 band uniforms.

Day 6: *We have no reason to doubt that he will not be able to perform the task.

Day 7: My family and I live in a road mixed with two types of houses, some that are well kept and nurtured by its owners and others that seem to only paint once every decade.

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Week 6. More on the right brain

Much is said these days, in creative circles, about right brain and left brain. Both come into play during a writing project, and it’s important to know how to allow now one now the other to be in control. It’s not that one is creative and the other not; rather that they are creative in different ways and must be trained to work in harmony, not interfere with each other.
Our right or artist brain is our ‘inner child’, instinctive, spontaneous and body-centred, far less inhibited than the left, rooted deep in the subconscious from which ideas bubble up.

It is associative and freewheeling, and links images together to make new meanings … like ‘Earth Maker’ or ‘the Shaper’ for God.

It appreciates metaphors – for example calls choppy, white-tipped waves ‘white horses’. It appreciates and thinks in patterns, shapes and shadings. It is willing to try new connections, to play with what seems like a good idea, to attempt new ways of filling in what is missing.

It thinks in personifications and metaphors … sees the sunset sky as an artist’s canvas with sweeping brush-strokes; imagines the wind as a giant blowing onto the earth, and thunder as moving-day upstairs in the heavens.

Right brain is responsible for our ‘first thoughts’ on things – those that immediately attract us or make us afraid; those sudden ideas or suggestions that we quickly override by saying “On second thoughts…”

Day 1: In your mind see a giraffe, a mouse and a lion. Cut off their heads and necks and attach them to different bodies: e.g a lion head on a giraffe. Now make a rough drawing of each of these ‘new’ animals and in ten words describe the character and personality of each.
Day 2: When you say: “He was as cunning as a fox” you are using a figure of speech called a simile. Find or make up five interesting examples of similes.
Day 3: What would you do if you had no screw-driver but urgently needed to put in a screw? Or if the petrol attendant had forgotten to replace your oil cap and 20k later you suddenly saw oil splatters on the windscreen? Describe a time when you found yourself in such a predicament and had to get around the problem in some creative way.
Day 4: List five ‘childish’ or ‘child –like’ things you would love to feel free to do but are too shy to allow yourself to do now that you are ‘grown up’. If you can’t think of five such inhibitions list a few behaviours that would probably be quite good for you to do for fun.
Day 5: Make a list of five places you could go to to have a fun- break for an hour or two – places you are usually too busy to go to but that would fill your eyes with new images, or your ears with fresh sounds.
Day 6: List ten things you would like to have or to do, or changes you would like to make … that you put off because of more urgent jobs.
Day 7: Do something different – and then describe it in writing.
………………………….

Week 5 – Blocks to starting to write

There are three attitudes that a would-be writer needs to dispense with before he or she can settle into the lifestyle of a writer:
• Over humility about age or lack of social standing, experience or education
• Unwillingness to write with as much emotional connection as is needed to make a story come alive
• Refusal to set out unless their effort is guaranteed of success

To become a writer you need to let go of your inferiority complexes, share your feelings with the paper rather than make your story something completely other than your inner world, and say ‘Boo!’ to your fear of what you or others will think if the publishers don’t accept it. Writers have been known to paper their walls with rejection slips before they finally ‘make it’ into print. Perhaps one day you will reach the public with your writing, perhaps not. But if you love writing, get on and write because that is what you need to do; that is what will bring a special type of fulfilment. Original drafts are never perfect anyway; they always need lots of editing, so give up trying to get it right first time around.

Day 1: Thoughtfully examine the bulleted items at the beginning and write down honestly how you relate to them.
Day 2: Almost everyone has at least one significant memory involving their hair. Do a 15- minute timed writing on ‘Hair’ trying to allow yourself to express your emotions with meaningful verbs and accurate nouns.
Day 3: List and describe in some detail 10 things that you personally find ‘beautiful’.
Day 4: Describe and list 10 things, issues or people that are big challenges for you.
Day 5: On a separate piece of paper, write a letter to yourself about how you would like your life to be in ten year’s time. Pop it into an envelope addressed to you and put it away in some safe place to be retrieved in the distant future.
Day 6: Think of five synonyms for ‘thank you’. Write down 10 things from the past two weeks that you are grateful for, and describe your feelings about them.
Day 7: Review your week, its successes and failures and how you feel about life right now.

Week 4 – Stream-of-consciousness writing

Continue with your daily record, but move, this week, into an exploration of the harnessing of the right brain for your writing.

Day 1: By time you were 12-18 months old you had probably watched people using pens and pencils, and knew they were for making marks on paper. When you found yourself alone with these two things together you likely decided to experiment with the physical power of making your own marks on life. So now … grab a piece of paper – big if you can, otherwise your writing book – and a pen, pencil or crayon. Using your left hand to get you back into the vulnerable state of early youth, relive that pre-memory experience of making your mark, and just scribble. Let go. Enjoy yourself and see how much of the page you can cover. Then, in your writing book, record the feelings that bubbled up: the power of you and your pen over the paper. (You may, later, like to colour in some of the shapes!)

Day 2: After a few years you began to realise that squiggles on paper were a form of communication … there was a way of getting mind-power over the paper. When I was six my mother kept me back from starting school because I’d been ill, but I desperately wanted to write. My big sister of nine was learning cursive writing – ‘real writing’ we called it – and every day I insisted she mark my writing attempts – with a ring around whichever were ‘real’ letters.
*As an exercise, today, use your left hand to write down what you remember about learning to write.

Day 3: ‘Stream-of-consciousness’ writing is a primary and important skill to develop. It means writing down what streams through your mind, without stopping to ponder or criticise it.
Imagine it like this: as you write the pen draws the words out of your hand, which draws them from your arm … your shoulder … your neck … your head. As long as you keep the pen moving your mind will continue to flow freely down onto the paper. But you must keep on writing. If you suddenly go blank don’t stop to sit and think, just keep the pen moving by writing “I don’t know what to write…” till another thought pops up. Stopping dries up the flow. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or following any special order.
*Take up your pen now and freely write what streams through your mind at the thought of ‘Teeth’ OR ‘speed’ OR ‘grandparents”.

Day 4: From now on give yourself 10 minutes for this sort of exercise. A time-constraint will help remove the counter-productive tendency to stop and think how to write ‘well’. Remember at school, in the last 10 minutes of an exam, how the time pressure knocked out all unnecessary wondering and wordiness? And you just wrote like your life depended on it. Well, write like that. (If you can use a timer you will not be distracted by having to keep looking at your watch. It’s tick-tick-tick will help keep you moving!)
*Do 10-minutes of timed writing on ‘bathing’ OR ‘earning power’.

Day 5: Do 10-minutes of timed writing on ‘contemporary music’ OR ‘make-up’.

Day 6: A helpful variation of this exercise is to take a topic like “I feel happy when….”, and write for five minutes, then switch to “I feel unhappy when….” OR “I like people who….” and “I dislike people who….” Writing in this way helps you get to the ‘under-belly’ of your thoughts and feelings.
*Choose one of those alternatives and write for ten minutes.

Day 7: Today consider where you have arrived in your attempts to write regularly. How are you feeling about it? Write down your thoughts and identify problems you have encountered. Write down ideas for how you can get through or around those problems

Week 3 – Exploring your core beliefs and opinions

 The most convincing writers are those who created out of their originality. They saw the world in a certain way and set out to describe what they saw with the sort of honesty that came from the roots of their personality, without ‘fixing’ things to stop people from judging them or thinking them crazy. That is not a bad goal to keep your eye on. It involves a journey – sometimes a bit scary and challenging – but a freeing one.

If you can discover what you are like and what you truly believe about most of the major matters of life, you will be able to write stories that are original and unique. But it may take some digging. Do set out on the journey … and do keep your book safe if you need privacy with this exploring.

Rita Mae Brown, the humorously appealing author of a book on writing says that every writer starts from the foundation of his or her physical life; and that each of us carries beliefs formed in childhood that are so much a part of us as to be defining. She then expresses her own views on life.

“I believe all literature started as gossip. I believe self-pity stinks. I believe that a hen never cackles until she’s finished her job. I believe we often disguise pain through ritual and it may be the only solace we have. … I believe in a lively disrespect for most forms of authority. I believe every change any word has ever undergone probably originated in ignorance. I believe life is a grand spectacle of foolishness and that every generation must find its weapons for the old battle of good versus evil, life versus death, the trivial versus the profound. … I believe in serenity not passivity. I believe that after exhausting all other alternatives, I’ll behave reasonably.” [1]

 This week try to keep up your short daily record – but start also to work more deeply on your views and feelings about life. Include your reasons so as to explore why you feel the way you do. Here are some suggestions. You don’t have to be as dramatic as Rita Mae Brown!

 Day 1: What is the greatest happiness you can think of? And the greatest disaster?

Day 2: Concerning the daily unfolding of your life, do you believe in free will or that your life is determined by some force outside of yourself? Give some reasons for your ideas.

Day 3: In our often very secular-thinking society, what do you think of God?

Day 4: What do you think and feel about men … women … children?

Day 5: What is your idea of and view on romantic love?

Day 6: What is your philosophy on marriage? And your expectations of it?

Day 7: What do you think of and feel about alternate sexual relationships?

 

[1]Brown, Rita Mae. 1988. Starting from Scratch. Bantam Books. New York

Week 2: Originality – your unique gift to the world

There are many writers who have very much wanted to write, but cannot think of just what to write, or if they think in terms of fiction cannot think of a plot, and probably do not realize that writing exercises are not just fiddling to no purpose but are there to sharpen skill and make openings in the mind into which ideas can flow.

To write down what you, personally, do and feel each day is a rich way of entering the world of writing because it is not only writing-style practice but also the building up of a record of your life. Instead of trying to think of a plot about someone else, you can gather up and explore hundreds of already existing thoughts and happenings – which can, one day, be used as raw materials for fiction or non-fiction stories or articles.

Originality in writing is a highly prized quality, and no exercise is so capable of awakening it as remembering and exploring just how you experienced and thought about significant things that have happened to you – and how you think about them now.

“There is just one contribution each of us can make: we can give into the common pool of human experience some comprehension of the world as it looks, uniquely, to us. No one else was born of your parents, at just that time of just that country’s history; no one underwent just your experiences, reached just your conclusions, or faces the world with the exact set of ideas that you have. If you can come to such friendly terms with yourself that you are able and willing to say precisely what you think … and if you can tell a story as it appears to only you of all people on earth, you will inevitably have a piece of work that is original.” [1]

In this new week, try to continue with a short daily record of your life. But let’s add more. (If you keep your book private you will feel more comfortable about writing honestly.)

 Day 1: What country did you grow up in? Describe the history of the country at that time: political trends, social norms, educational standards, safety and security, etc.

Day 2: Describe your home – and who lived or worked in it when you were small. Tell about where you slept, washed and ate your meals.

Day 3: Write a few paragraphs about your parents – what they looked like, the relationship between them, the work they did, what they were gifted with – and perhaps poor at.

Day 4: What transport did your family use? Train, bus, taxi, car? Describe some incident involving travelling and transport.

Day 5: Tell about extended family and friends who took part in your life. What did you do together?

Day 6: Describe your primary school experience – your school, significant teachers, and school friends.

Day 7: Describe a childhood situation or event that shaped your life and values.

 


[1] Brande, Dorothea. 1934.  Becoming a Writer. Harcourt, Brace and Company. New York.

Week 1: An every-day discipline

On the cover of your book write a big number ‘1’ – meaning that this is the first of many books you will fill with your writing. [Or name your computer document: Week 1 – An every-day discipline.]

On the first page write the date. In full. As in Tuesday, 18 March 2014. If you don’t date your work properly you really will be sorry later! It’s great to also record whereabouts you are, or any particular happening. E.g. ‘Bainskloof Cottage’ or ‘Uncle John died today’. (It’s always helpful to fully date your writing, whether it’s a dairy, a letter, a bit of creative writing, an article, or notes of a talk. You will forget very easily.)

The next thing to drum into your head is that Writers WRITE! Writers write, write, write everyday something.

In a writing book such as this new one of yours you can record the events of your life, personal breakthroughs, insights, story ideas, affirmations from others, historic events, quotable quotes that grab your attention, new words you discover … the sky’s the limit. So long as you keep writing, every day something, your appetite and perseverance will grow as you go.

Start off with what you have –  your life and feelings as they are at the moment. Those are concrete things.

Following are seven ideas. Do your best to write every day, or at least try to accomplish five in a week. Each day re-read the above preamble, then follow the suggestions (in order),  always including the date! (If you find these exercises too elementary then go on reading my material until you reach the level that suits you. The exercises attempt to get you writing regularly but also to develop your style. If you are busy on a project already apply the style prompts to that.)

 Day 1:  In at least 12 lines record the main events of the day. Use the 5W&H questions as a guide: What? Where? When? Who? Why? And How?

Day 2: First write as many synonyms (words of similar meaning) as possible for the verbs ‘write’ and ‘work’. After re-reading the preamble record your day, using the 5W&H questions, and also paying attention to the verbs you use for the action. Make them as specific to your meaning as possible. E.g. ‘I ambled along the avenue’ says much more than ‘I walked down the road’.

Day 3: To start with write down synonyms for ‘walk’. Then, when you record your day (using 5W&H and strong verbs) try to write more description of the ‘who’ and ‘where’ of your story.

Day 4: Write down synonyms for ‘happy’ and ‘sad’. And in your record of the day describe what you most enjoyed and what you found difficult or challenging. 

Day 5: Write down some words to describe wind, sunshine, rain, e.g. raging wind, gentle sunshine, torrential rain. Then, as  part of your record describe what the weather was like today and how you related to it practically and in your feelings.

Day 6: Write your ever more-thought-about daily record, then describe your feelings about what has happened in the week. And how you feel about your writing. Be honest.

Day 7: Read through all you’ve written in the past week. Then think about this, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “I could inform the dullest author how he might write an interesting book: let him relate the events of his own life with honesty, not disguising the feelings that accompanied them.”

Becoming acquainted

What sort of writing do you do? How often? Under ‘occupation’ on a form do you ever say ‘I am a writer’? Or is it mostly a longing? Inspiration that easily evaporates? Maybe you started and all went well … for a while.  Perhaps you long to write but don’t know WHAT to write, or where to begin. Perhaps you just get distracted all the time and have become discouraged. Or, perhaps you are on the way!

Readiness to write a book is based on what has been going on in a writer’s life, “how much writing in smaller forms the writer has been doing.”[1]

When I read that on 12 December 2013 a light came on for me, and there lay the first inspiration for Writing Calling, plus the motivation and discipline required to finish a book that I had, off and on, long been busy with.

In 2003 I had successfully published a biography, and after that people asked me from time to time: “Are you writing another book yet?” And I’d say, “Well, I am working on one about family celebration.”

And I did work every now and then. But I lacked drive.

So, in the intervening ten years, what else had I been doing? Just keeping a daily diary, just writing weekly letters to my children, just teaching other people writing craft – for which I prepared manuals – and sporadically doing research. But because I wasn’t getting on with writing a proper book I felt quiet inside me about it, apologetic, a bit second-class.

But was it really only ‘just’?  Actually, I was ‘writing in smaller forms’. And did those ten years accomplish something? Yes! They did. I see it so clearly now. I got to know myself much better – and built up a jolly fine record of my life and thought, and I steadily moved into a regular and relaxed writing style. For a writer such things are definitely not ‘just’.

Writing is not only about producing a book, it is about building a writing home for yourself, brick by brick, from which you can send out your gifts to the world. Now I no longer feel quiet about my writing. I want to shout and sing! I want to say to people: “Be happy, in the mean time, to ‘write in smaller forms’… and see where that takes you.”

And try to do it every day.

** Why not, right now, record your writing dream on a small piece of paper, and keep it as a book mark, or stuck up beside your bed or in your workplace where you will see it often.

 Getting Organised

To build a ‘writing home’ for yourself you need a proper book to write in and a pen you’re comfortable with.

A book is better than a tear-off pad because it’s less easy to show disrespect for your words by impatiently tearing out imperfect pages.

What sort of book? Well, whereabouts will you sit when you do most of your writing? What sort of book will you feel most comfortable with in that place? Tastes differ.

What size book do you prefer? And paper texture? And pen? Do you like lines or no lines … or a bit of both? Deep lines or Irish lines? How thick should the book be? And with a spine or ring-bound to fold back? I like Irish line ring backs, and when necessary reinforce the back cover to keep the book firm. I also stick in magazine pictures here and there to give the pages visual interest.

Don’t be ‘precious’ about your book. You must feel free to cross out, to be uninhibited – to mess up a bit without distress. This is a work place not a museum.

[“But,” you say to me, “I only write on the computer now.” Well, okay. The problem with computer writing is that there is the constant left-brained temptation to edit and re-edit what you write and that is a real enemy to writing creatively. Do seriously consider getting a well-chosen book and pen for the exercises in this blog, but if you really feel you can’t go that route, then, whenever you write, turn off the screen and just type freely for the first draft – because that way you will manage better to access the real you – and then (once you have finished the exercise) turn on the screen again, take your writing through a spell check, reread and change a few things. AND REMEMBER … keep all your documents together in ONE FILE with a suitable title – like I suggest you should have all your writing together in ONE BOOK.]

** Write down your practical ideals for a book and pen … then go and get them!

And now you are ready for this blog on daily writing….

See Week 1 – An very-day discipline


[1] Darmani, Lawrence. Book Writing. Unit 19 of Interlit Imprint, Cook Communications Ministries International, Colorado Springs