Taking time, making space to Write for 5

Harbour House Echinacea Salt Spring Island

photo by gayle mavor

When I first heard that maybe you might want to cultivate some sort of practice for getting ready to write, I balked at that idea. Perhaps because I come from journalism training, one of the best parts of that experience for me was writing to deadline and the best part about that is that it was almost always just a day or two away from deadline so there was no time to get precious about this writing thang. Sit your ass down. Get that story done!

Creative writing however is a different process. I think it may have been Besty Warland, way back in January 2012 who taught a one-day class when our cohort was first beginning in The Writer’s Studio who described the benefits of preparing to write. To be honest, I can’t actually recall the details of what she said, and it’s not important. It’s more that I remembered something about it and when she said it the concept made a lot of sense.

She wasn’t advocating that you put on your lucky red underwear, get your rabbit’s foot in your pocket, walk around the apartment Zen monk style three times clockwise and one time counter clockwise. That’s not what she was talking about. It was mainly about creating the space, physically and psychologically, where you would be receptive to the idea that now it was time to write and you could mindfully focus on that time, and that things weren’t distracting your focus during that time.

It was a time that you took for yourself for this specific purpose on a consistent basis so that you were setting a marker not just for yourself but for others as well.  You must act like a writer because if you were writing, consistently, you were one. Publishing is a different animal.  I expect this making space and taking time is even more important if your life abounds with children and a partner.

I don’t have too many rituals. I don’t need them. I like flowers, a small vase of flowers to gaze at absentmindedly really appeals to me. Some order in my immediate vicinity is preferable.  I have more trouble getting down to focusing on anything if my apartment reaches a level of messiness that is disturbing to me. Let me just say that the bar for that is mighty low.  If I can’t make coffee in my Bodem because yesterday’s grains and coffee are still in there and yesterday’s dishes are all over my two foot space of counter (which they often are) then those realities start nudging their way to the front of my mind and bug me. Although, I’m proud to say, I’ve gotten better at letting that go. Yay.

I’m telling you this because it’s already Thursday when it was just Monday, like 24 hours ago, wasn’t it? That means there are only two more days until the next Write for 5.

Yesterday I popped the book I chose for Elaine Guillemin, from last week’s Write for 5 into the mail. I’d rather not say which one because if she looks at this blog, I want it to be a surprise, but maybe she’ll let us know when she gets it.

I’m going to keep going with Write for 5 for a while, so if you are at all inclined to participate, it’s a very short chunk out of your weekend some time between Saturday at 8 am for morning types and 9pm on Sunday.

I feel, based on doing it for just two weeks, that even that tiny bit of writing generated from the exercise sparks interest in getting back to my more substantial writing, in a way I didn’t believe it would but has.

Get your writing space tuned up for the weekend and join in.

Writing for 5: Week two writing prompt. Join in!

photo by Renaud Camus, Creative Commons, click image for details

Thank you so much for dropping by,

Welcome to Write for 5 week two. This is how it works. I post an image and we write for five minutes and then post our results in the comments up to 9pm on Sunday.

I decided to stick with just one image this week (above), not three like last week.

Take as long as you like to look at the bed above with that beautiful light on the pillows. When you’re ready to write, start your timer.

We have up until 9pm on Sunday, Mar. 5, to post what we’ve come up with but go ahead and post whenever you feel like it.

Our writing can take any form: poetry, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, experimental or erasure poetry, dialogue or whatever you like. Go for it.

If you have any questions, I’m going to be away from the computer most of the day but I’ll get back to you on Sunday morning. Let me know if you have any technical issues with posting.

I am so looking forward to reading what you come up with so don’t be shy.

And as I said yesterday, someone will get a book sent to them from me with a personal note for participating.

Thanks for playing. I hope you enjoy it!

To fuel creativity, write from a place of curiosity

photo by gayle mavor, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

I went to this wonderful animated feature last night called Window Horses by Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming. The creativity of imagination through storytelling and drawing, poetry and music flowed across the screen in unique and refreshing ways. Perhaps, because of the degree of collaboration that went into the film, the end result was that much richer. It sounded as if the film had been percolating for a long time.

Ann Marie Fleming had drawn the character, Stick Girl, about 20 years ago and at the preview at VanCity Theatre on Mar. 2, her connections from Emily Carr (Veda Hille), a meeting from the past, a poem, all lay in wait, mingling and transitioning in a quiet process of the subconscious to come together for a wonderful project.  

And doesn’t that just describe creativity in general?

We see something. It reminds us of something else. We meet someone whose work is leading us to follow a different path in our own or to raise an awareness about a way of being that isn’t working. We bring two things together, dismiss one of them, a third comes into consciousness. Creativity is taking a journey in  real time and then leaving us with gifts of conversation, mind pictures that stay with us being dredged up to fill in a scene we never imagined would stay with us. The way the light falls on the wall in a moment that has never left us or a memory of a person from the look on their face when they said goodbye. The sounds of a kitchen while lying in bed one floor above. What was going on with us emotionally at that time and how that emotion, like a thin veil, a transparency, was a contributor to interpretation. It’s endless.

Maybe that’s why I like writing to an image. It’s the smallest way we have to examine what is not possible to know about the depth and breadth of what’s really there in the muck of our minds and our hearts in any given moment. 

Writing to an image for a short time isn’t really about writing at all, actually. That’s the least important thing about it for me. It’s about introspection and the surprise of what’s there.

Having said that, I am going to post a photo tomorrow at 8 am (PST) and I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and give it a shot. Write for 5 Don’t focus on the writing.  It’s about the amazing things that will come to you, when you stare at an image.

What do you focus on first? What next thought does that bring you to? Even if it doesn’t happen immediately, stay calm. It will. You will begin to make connections from whatever image you look at. Your mind can’t help itself.  What’s the most pleasing thing to you about the image? What questions immediately come to mind?  Do you think of people? Who might inhabit the space? What about this person in the image, if there is a person? Do they remind you of anyone?  How would you feel in that space? Would you like being there? Would you be there alone or who else would be with you? 

A demand for curiosity.

I really want you to see what comes up for you if you’re brave enough to give it a try on Saturday. Let’s have some fun.  And, this time, I’ll give a prize like last week except this time I’ll just choose someone who participates because something about their response touches me. I’ll choose it for you from books I already own and I’ll mail it to you with a note.

Have a happy Friday.

Write for 5 links past to present

gayle mavor photo taken in Thailand, 2013

I recall her from elementary school and my childhood birthday parties. Pin the tail on the donkey. Pennies in the cake. Musical chairs affairs. She has beautiful eyes. Brown sparkly ones. And a bubbly personality.  At our parties, there’d be my twin brother at one end of the table. Me at the other. King and queen. Two cakes. Our mum really did make our birthdays special when we were young.

I have this photo in an album to prove that it happened once as if I’m looking at other people, as if it’s got nothing to do with me. I wonder if other people feel that way when they look at photos of themselves from so many years ago.

I hope she doesn’t freak when she sees this photo. She’s the one in the blue dress. Dark hair. Right-hand side. A silly red birthday hat on her head.

Thanks to Facebook, she’s now words on my computer screen that pop up every day. I guess in a way she’s more in my life now than she was then. Thank you Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

I was really pleased that she participated in the first Write for 5 writing exercise where we write to an image for a timed five minutes. You can look at what image she chose, and introduce yourself to Mrs. Handicott in her submission in the comments off that blog post..

From what I’ve gleaned on social media, Jo-Anne is a more devoted coffee lover than most on the West Coast. I’d actually think she might make a pretty good guest on Comedians in Cars getting Coffee. I mean, there are regular people who could be as funny as most comedians off stage based on what I’ve seen on that show.

She’s also an avid reader, of course, and during the day while she dons her grownup attire and works as an HR Advisor for the Alzheimer’s Society of BC, you’ve got to know that when she’s in a meeting and she gets that faraway look in her eyes, it’s because she’s actually plotting her next flash fiction or poem.

Visit her blog, Going for Coffee and introduce yourself, preferably coffee in hand. Thanks so much Jo-Anne for taking part.

Only three more days until Saturday when the next Write for 5 begins at 8:00 am PST. I’m searching for just the right image and tomorrow, here, I’m going to muse about the magic of how it’s even possible to go from image to words on a page and how that spark happens for me. I’d be curious to know how it happens for you. Get mindful and pay attention to that process if you’re curious.

At a book launch yesterday in Vancouver, I ran into a friend and her husband. She was in the only writing group I’ve ever been in back in the mid-1990s. The past as present. It’s all around.

Smart girls love multitasking, and writing prompts

One of the women that submitted a short Write for 5 piece last weekend was someone I went to high school with. Her name is Marjorie Sayer. I remember her as being super smart, possibly the smartest person who went through New Westminster Secondary School at the time, (or maybe to date), very enthusiastic, and a lover of the sax which she played in the high school concert and jazz bands.

I haven’t been in touch with her very much since that time which is why I’m even more honoured that she would take the time to join in.

I love how she explains on her blog that math and physics are wonderful preparations for creative writing.

One of the interesting things I could glean from her website is that she’s written a book for Grades 4 and up called The Girl Mechanic of WanZhou. Here’s a link to a book review off a blog called Making it Sweet.

I found this particularly interesting because when I worked at UBC Computer Science 10 + years ago now, the Department was, and still is, focused on increasing the participation of girls and women in learning and teaching about computer science, and they have done a great job of that in on-the-ground representation of female undergrads, grad students, instructors and professors.

They even have a program there called GirlSmarts. I came up with that original name which they’ve changed to GIRLSmarts4Tech. The curriculum was originally created by Professor Anne Condon and managed by Michele Ng under the inspiration of Maria Klawe, current President of Harvey Mudd College.  (I hope I’m accurate in this representation of how GIRLSmarts originated).

I thought to myself, Marjorie would be such an excellent fit for them as some sort of guest speaker. I haven’t told her that and I haven’t reached out to Michele to perhaps investigate the possibility of the pairing in some way.

Many people will be like, meh, writing prompt, been there, done that. There are a million things competing for time. I get that.

But if you feel like it, you can join in this coming weekend March 4th at 8:00 am to March 5th at 9:00 pm to challenge yourself with Write for 5.

Happy Tuesday, the day of the week that gets kind of left out. Personally, I’ve always really liked Tuesdays, and smart girls.

Communications in the 21st Century: You can never have too many skills

jugglingIf you work in Communications then I don’t know if you’re feeling the way I am but it seems as if the number of skills required to do the job well has exploded in the past decade as a result of social media.

In the past you might have needed to be able to think about, and execute, some marketing strategy and communicate in words through writing on the page and through oral presentations. You’d put together endless PowerPoints and work with other people, usually graphic artists, to make sure annual reports or marketing materials came together. You’d focus on branding exercises (maybe hire a consultant for that) and tag lines and work with interface designers (or whatever they call themselves now) to sort out web development stuff.

You might have interacted with the media to try and get some publicity at a time when the term “earned media” didn’t even exist to distinguish “earned media” from the interest you now generate from your social media feeds. It’s helpful to know Photoshop and Adobe InDesign to manipulate images and layout newsletters or marketing materials if you’re on a tight budget and definitely you should know some form of blogging software such as WordPress. For e-mail marketing you should know something like Mailchimp or ConstantContact and let’s not forget every app required to organize yourself and set up meetings and communicate with all those other people you need to communicate with and oh, do you know how to put together an e-book and sell it on Amazon? Don’t,  just you don’t, forget to put that bounce back message on your e-mail when you leave, thoroughly exhausted, on vacation.

It’s as if working in Communications means you better be constantly acquiring skills, which is a good thing that I’m all on board with. Everyone should be doing that as a routine part of self evolution, but honestly, there is a limit to what one person can bring to a job.

I believe that I actually do have many skills and at a high level and I still feel like I don’t have enough. If you work for a larger organization then I’m hoping you’d work with a dedicated social media strategist. But if you don’t, you’re pretty much the whole shebang. And the thing about social media (like most things) is that a little knowledge is actually a very dangerous thing because the less you know about it, the more you don’t realize how little you know about it, and therefore you’re actually clueless about just how complicated it can be to be really good at it.

Now you have to be able to write for so many different mediums. You need to review and edit and source appropriate graphics that enhance, or at least complement, your copy. You need to work with other creative people. You need to coach key people on media messaging. You better have some clue about Hootsuite and take video on your phone and oh, can you edit that on IMovie by tomorrow? You need to write strategy and set up a budget for Facebook and Twitter ads and figure out what audiences to target for sponsored ads and review Google Analytics and understand what the heck to do with the information you’re seeing on there in relation to what’s turning on your audience and whether you’re even reaching the audience you want to reach and can you create a report for that?

You need to ensure a consistent Instagram account aligning images with brand but first you need to decide what social media apps you should even be using based on your internal resources and whether you can even keep on top of those.  You need to be on top of all the most used latest technology and apps in order to keep on top of knowing exactly what you don’t know and wondering where you’ll ever find the time to learn about THAT.

Do we have a Crisis communications plan? Is there a phone tree for that? Could you whip that up by setting up a meeting and have that done in two weeks?

It would be helpful if you knew how to write to pictures so you could write script for video and coach those people who are going to be in the video who have never been in front of a video camera in their lives but they were the best you could come up with because they know what they know and needs to be communicated and Take 356. And cut!!!

Did you order the tent for that special event outside? and oh, if it rains, what then? and are you getting the harried, harried picture?

Honestly, at some point as a Communications’ person, am I going to have to be your personal chef, your hair stylist and your spiritual advisor as well?  Do I really need to be Oprah, Tony Robbins, Ekhart Tolle  Deepak Chopra, Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki wrapped into one?

I need to lie down. Is it nap time yet?

I’d like to know if other Communications people are feeling this way. I’m also wondering if the same sort of skills explosion requirement is happening in every other field.

It’s enough to make me a little depressed and hey, I should make an infographic because there’s nothing I like more (sarcasm) than the terminology that makes fairly straightforward things sound super complicated and infographic definitely fits into that category. So I signed up for a free app, and fooled around, and figured it out and here’s my first attempt.  Just in case you’re experiencing a little case of the blues racing toward a full out depressive episode, my infographic might be just what you need. Depression: Fiction vs. Fact

Debunking Fame as the only legitimacy

When I saw the callout for proposals for workshops for LitFestNewWest it was on a whim that I began to create it the very same day. It came together as if I’d been writing proposals forever. Once it was accepted, Esmeralda Cabral and I fine-tuned it and fleshed out how we might do it together prior to the actual event, and that took more time.

The initial idea was easy because the kernel for the idea was found in J.J. Lee’s book, The Measure of a Man. In 2014 I was in a workshop led by Wayde Compton, writer, author, Associate Director of The Writer’s Studio. At some point J.J. Lee’s book came up. The book was published in 2011 to acclaim and as a finalist on many nonfiction literary award lists. I was amazed that an entire book of multiple story lines could arise from the artifact of a simple suit jacket that had belonged to his father.

I couldn’t think of a single thing that I owned from my father’s life that I could imagine building an entire book around. One day I walked absentmindedly into my bedroom, stared up at the open closet’s top shelf and immediately spotted this caramel-coloured, leather camera case. I took it down, the roughness of the weathered leather felt good in my hands. Inside was my father’s 8mm Paillard – Bolex movie camera.

My father took home movies of my twin brother and I when we were babies and toddlers. I was shocked when I saw it. I had always said that I was the only photographer in the family. I’d forgotten about him, the camera, and the home movies, regular intervals of us gathered round, eager to see ourselves on the grainy screen in the living room and the laughing. Family as foreign tribe revisited.

At the time, I’d started to write a story that made reference to my father’s emotional absence from our lives and when I saw the camera, the shocking realization between my observation about his emotional absence, and yet his consistent focusing of his viewpoint onto us from behind that camera’s lenses opened up all sorts of questions about him for me. And all because of thinking about J.J. Lee’s approach to his book.

But just a minute. Who was I to give a workshop on memoir? I haven’t published a memoir! And I’m getting the distinct feeling that there is some unspoken code that one must not give writing workshops about subjects where they have not achieved publishing success. I thought about that and eventually, in a defiant manner, rejected it because it is my pet peeve that “fame” seems to have become the criteria for the legitimizing of the sharing of, well, just about everything – knowledge, bullshit, sexist, racist, homophobic blah, blah blahing. I know you get it!

I thought back to Mona Fertig’s project that arose from her late father’s life-long work as an artist who received little, if any, recognition.  In 2008, when I’d moved to Salt Spring, I interviewed Mona and wrote a feature on her as she was embarking on her Unheralded Artists trade book project, a focus that many others said she was crazy to embark upon. Still she did it with many books now published under her MotherTongue Publishing.

And I began to think that we all need to find a way to fight the idea that we are only qualified to share our knowledge if we become “famous”. Because that is not how most of the world learned throughout history. They learned from elders, though storytelling. From trial and error. Through persistence. Via sharing in small groups, from a teacher challenging them from the front of the classroom.

And it is that kind of quiet sharing, one person to another — a grandmother teaching her grandchildren to knit, a fisherman showing them how to tie lures inside a wobbly boat on a lake with an Aurora Borealis of greens and browns highlighted on the lake’s surface by the sun’s first rays in the early morning.

And it is this form of sharing that is the way of The SFU Writer’s Studio which was started by Betsy Warland. It’s a commitment to relate as equals, mentor-students, one not more important than the other, that makes the SFU Writer’s Studio community a bonded one, person to person and then via social media for those who choose to stay connected after they move on.

So, as a bit of a stretch, I consider putting on our workshop, Mining Personal Artefacts as the Foundation for Memoir Writing, to be a very small political act specifically because I haven’t published a memoir. And yet, I do have something to share with others (as Esmeralda does) who may be farther back on the path than I am when it comes to writing overall.

Maybe you could assess your strengths and decide whether you have some level of knowledge and or passion, regardless of whether you’ve received notoriety from it or not, that you could share. Consider it a circumvention. That’s surely the attitude that self-publishing arose from.

And in that sharing, you might just help someone else think differently about something that they’re wrestling with personally, and maybe that’s enough. At the very least, it’s a start. It’s what J.J. Lee’s book did for me.