Art: The Demanding Mistress

There’s no way around it: Art is a demanding mistress. 

She’ll wake you in the middle of the night. She’ll have you falling asleep at the crack of dawn only to get you out of bed a few hours later. When Art visits, there’s nothing else you can do.

This is a lie I used to believe.

Now I know that Art, and her twin Inspiration, visit quietly. This is different than silent. There is no sneak attack of words these days, no looking over my shoulder for when an idea will slap me upside the head. I know now that she sounds like the trees rustling in the wind or the distant rumble of thunder in a summer storm. She sounds like my husband breathing in the middle of the night. She sounds like the sound of a laugh that comes from the gut, eyes wide shut in glee. 

And if I’m honest with myself, when an idea comes to me, I feel the weight of the roots internally.  Ideas do not come on a whim, they breathe and grow and learn our grooves. The succulent ones take over and make themselves known. The titillating ones — the ones meant to distract — they grow with abandon but have nothing holding them down. It’s why they tickle. There’s no substance there and they feel like a feather across your insides.

But here’s the thing: I know that if I’m not careful, I can miss Art in how she comes to me. My first clue is an erratic sleep schedule — up earlier than I should to hit the daily grind (and not to read and write) and falling asleep in the pitch black hours of night, mostly because I’ve been glued to Netflix.

I become a zombie. Get up, scroll through Facebook, get dressed, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch Netflix, fall asleep. Art keeps me alive. She fills my lungs with poetry and beauty. I never lose sight of my purpose.

When Art goes silent, I know Fear has taken her place. 

It can happen for a number of reasons: my schedules goes haywire; I’m faced with a crisis; I receive a criticism; I question my story.

Regardless of why he shoed up, there’s always one thing true: when Fear takes root he demands our attention. It’s easy to talk yourself out of creating in this moment. 

You’re too tired and want to sleep.
You want to stay up and read this book.
You need to clean the kitchen instead.

Or, you don’t even need to talk yourself out of creating. Usually, when Fear has come to stay, I am so easily distracted by social media. I wake up early to write and then scroll through Facebook until I have to leave for work. I sit down to finally write a blog post but then get caught reading every one else’s words instead of creating my own. 

Art keeps our vision straight toward the horizon. This provides movement. Fear keeps our vision peripheral. This keeps us stuck. 

If you feel stuck, if the frustration is getting higher and higher and you feel a little suffocated, ask yourself —

what is it I’m afraid of here?

Get quiet. Go still. Stay in this position until you hear the answer and resist the judgment and shame that may surface.

Every artist faces fear at some point in the career. For me, I have to face him down daily. But looking him in the eye brings the power back to you. Looking him in the eye and demanding an answer shifts the momentum and allows space for Art to breathe again. 

Remember: art is not a demanding mistress. She waits for the signal. 

So if you’re struggling because you’re not a writer….
Or if you feel the tightness in your chest because there’s just never enough time….
Or if the thoughts are pinging about you having nothing to say….

You have a story that needs to be told….and only you can tell it. 
Fear keeps our breath short and lacking….breathe deep and remember you have all the space you need.
Fear likes to grow in urgency and need….if you go still in order to find words you will not be forgotten.

Don’t let fear win.

You are a storyteller. There is time for you to breathe. And you absolutely have something to say.

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Grab My Book! 

This book is for the creative who knows you have a story to tell but you have no idea where to start.

Let me help you: you don't have to wait for the gatekeepers anymore. 

The time for your book is now. There is no excuse. You know this — you feel it in your bones. That's what this book is for — that's why I wrote it.

Ready to begin?

Find it here on Amazon.

Posted on May 11, 2017 and filed under Building Your Craft.

Finding Your Muse: The Secrets of Trees

My mother has always been a bit of a mystic.

I remember summers spent in the Idaho mountains, reading a book by kerosene lamp in a one-room cabin in the foothills of the Sawtooth Mountains. During the day, while my great grandfather would be herding cattle on more treacherous cliffs and rivers, my mother would stay behind with my sisters and me. I was content with the mountainous view and book in my hand, but I also knew she wouldn't abate until I followed her outside so I would often agree, albeit with a curled lip and frustrated whispers.

She wanted us to learn how to climb mountains and listen to trees. Every time, she'd remind us why.

"Sometimes in life you'll feel like you're climbing and hiking a huge mountain and there's no ending in sight," she would say.

I'd roll my eyes and whine about the dry valley heat and how if I'd seen one sagebrush, I'd seen them all.

"But look," she'd respond, pointing ahead. I'd follow her gaze and widen my eyes at the way the mountain peeks jutted up right there next to us — so close it seemed as if we could touch them. The air, once dusty and dry and heated, would begin to slowly carry the sweetness of melted snow dripping from nearby creek beds. We'd walk, I'd complain, she'd point out beauty.

And sometimes, she'd stop and close her eyes and a smile would play on her lips. "What are the trees saying to you, Elora?"

I'd bite a fingernail and raise an eyebrow. "What are the trees....saying?"

She'd nod.

I'd shrug, embarrassed. I'd kick at the dirt underneath my boots. 

"Trees don't talk, mom." 

"The trees will tell you secrets of God." She'd open her eyes and wink at me before walking away, my trailing behind her. "But you have to listen."

.::.

I listen to trees now. It's been over ten years since I've walked the red dirt of the Sawtooth Mountains or stood in the midst of a wooded meadow in the crisp air of sunrise, but trees and mountains and wind — they're all secret messages in their own right, carrying with them the Muse I so desperately need in order to get the words up and out of this soul.

"How do I share this story?" I'll ask the cloudless sky as I feel the summer heat radiating off my limbs and hear my dog rummaging through the dead leaves falling from the oaks surrounding me.

"Just tell the truth." The whisper is faint, but evident.

Just tell the truth.

And with that truth, a secret is unlocked and in its place rests my Muse, contented smile on her face while she listens to the songs of the branches swaying in the wind and the crash of the ocean wave. 

.::.

I was holding Jubal one day, the sun bright in the crystal blue sky. We walked around our back yard, his eyes always landing on the tree across the alleyway, leaves blowing in the wind. He'd blink fast, transfixed, his breath slowing.

I kissed his cheek.

"Here's a secret you should probably know, little lion. The trees will tell you things if you listen closely." I study the way he watches the leaves dance across the sky and I smile. 

Things to Consider:

Think back to moments in your life where your Muse began to introduce herself to you. For me, it is the summers spent between desert and mountain — crisp sunlit air and dusty-mid day heat. What about you? 

Grab My Book! 

This book is for the creative who knows you have a story to tell but you have no idea where to start.
Let me help you: you don't have to wait for the gatekeepers anymore. 

The time for your book is now. There is no excuse. You know this — you feel it in your bones. That's what this book is for — that's why I wrote it. 

Ready to begin?

Find it here on Amazon.

Posted on May 9, 2017 and filed under Building Your Craft, Soul Care, The Memoirs.

Specificity with Voice

And then he breaks.
Shaking violently, shattering in my arms, a million gasping, choking pieces I’m trying so hard to hold together. And I promise myself then, in that moment, that I will hold him forever, just like this, until all the pain and torture and suffering is gone, until he’s given a chance to live the kind of life where no one can wound him this deeply ever again.
And we are quotation marks, inverted and upside down, clinging to one another at the end of this life sentence. Trapped by lives we did not choose.
It’s time, I think, to break free.
— Tahereh Mafi, Ignite Me

When I think of authors who blow me away with their artistic voice, Mafi is always at the top of my list. I found her through a friend and opened the first book in the Shatter Me series a few days before 2013. I had already written a blog post with my favorite books of the year, and three pages into the novel I shut the cover and placed it on the shelf to crack open in the new year.

I knew it would be a favorite even then, and I didn't have time to edit the blog post waiting in the queue.

.::.

Look at the quote above. There are a few things that set Mafi's writing voice apart from others in her genre. First, you have variation of sentence structure. Not every sentence can be easily untangled through diagramming. Often, writers can hit a groove in their writing and before they know it, almost every single sentence has the exact same structure. I fall into this camp with the overuse of the em-dash. When I'm in a hurry, I rely on it too much and my voice suffers from it. Mafi's words reveal intention in everything: even the length of sentences.

She brings us in to this particular scene with the short and violent first sentence: and then he
breaks
. It pushes the reader to keep reading. If you're just taking a cursory glance at the amount of commas, the second (and much longer) sentence may seem like a run-on. However, if you're studying her structure, you'll notice the technique of making sure every single phrase can't be separated as its own sentence. She does this often. It's a rhythm that's unique to her writing.

Short sentence.
Long sentence with sweeping description and lots of commas. Shorter sentence with continuation and clarification of description. Short sentence.
Declaration.

Next, within that structure, she relies on higher syntax to build emotion.

The sentence And I promise myself then, in that moment, that I will hold him forever, just like this, until all the pain and torture and suffering is gone, until he's given a chance to live the kind of life where no one can wound him this deeply ever again includes the technique of polysyndeton — where you list multiple words back to back with a conjunction.

....all the pain and torture and suffering

This technique is highly useful in emotional scenes when you're needing to speed up or slow down the pace of the reader. If you look closely, you'll hear the rhythm of that sentence flow faster at the beginning because of the syntax of the previous sentence moving so quickly. When you get to the polysyndeton, something happens with our brains and we slow down — sometimes imperceptibly — but we breathe. We pause. We notice the scene. This is particularly useful in a scene such as this, because I don't know about you, but as I was reading I felt my breath begin to quicken. My heart rate increased. I was rush-rush-rush and then suddenly, a brief pause and I literally took a breath.

And did you notice her use of beginning the sentences with and? This is another technique: anaphora. When you use anaphora, you begin sentences with the same word. Often, you see this back to back. It builds rhythm. It builds consistency. It forces us to notice. Mafi flips the script just a bit with this passage and includes a sentence in the middle of her flow that doesn't begin with and, but in a passage of six sentences, half of them begin with this word. That's worthy of note, and it builds the anticipation of this particular couple and what they're facing.

Finally, her poetics and imagery. Earlier I mentioned that every word is intentional. This reminds me of poetry. The first sentence in this passage is and then he breaks. The last one? It's time, I think, to break free.
Sandwiched in between these two images of breaking — and breaking free, is the shift.

- I promise myself I will hold him forever
- live the kind of life where no one can wound him this deeply again
- we are quotation marks, inverted and upside down
- clinging to one another at the end of this life sentence (did you catch this play on words?) - trapped

It's in this development and clarification that the characters are able to see their next move. And I want to be clear: this isn't Mafi's voice transitioning over a character's. It's her poetic voice shining through syntax and structure and imagery that allows the characters to develop so beautifully. In this particular series, it's the character Juliette — one who's touch used to kill, but is learning the strength and power she possesses. Her characterization from beginning to end is beautiful and empowering.

So it's Mafi's style + structure + syntax + knowledge of development that reveals this voice that only she can accurately produce. Others can try to imitate her, but it won't work because they don't have the memories and stories and creativity that Mafi holds.

It's the same for you.

We all have style. A few years ago, my agent always addresed her emails to me with my poetic one, and while she represented me she spoke of my description and attention to detail as particular strengths. There are other poetic writers out there. Katja Millay. Laini Taylor. Rainbow Rowell. John Steinbeck. Flannery O'Connor.

None of these write (or wrote) like me. All of them had stories within them that only their voice could speak. Style and development and syntax are important for building voice, sure. It's what will set you apart. But what will make your words sing? Writing what you know you're meant to write. Writing the words that just won't leave you alone at night. Writing the story you are meant to tell.

Thoughts to consider: 

1. Do you know how your words work?

2. Do you know what sets you apart from the rest of the crowd?

3. Make a list of your own quirks and style within writing. Celebrate these things. 

Grab My Book! 

This book is for the creative who knows you have a story to tell but you have no idea where to start.
Let me help you: you don't have to wait for the gatekeepers anymore. 

The time for your book is now. There is no excuse. You know this — you feel it in your bones. That's what this book is for — that's why I wrote it. 

Ready to begin?

Find it here on Amazon.

Posted on May 2, 2017 and filed under Indie Publishing, Building Your Craft.