Friday, October 24, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life

by Robert Benson
Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2014

Robert Benson, who writes and speaks about the practice of faith and spirituality and the art and craft of writing, has been writing for over forty years and has authored nearly twenty books. As such, he has something valuable to say about the art and craft of writing and has shared his accumulated wisdom in “Dancing on the Head of a Pen.”

Benson freely admits that he is only sharing what works for him in his writing journey and has a humility and honesty that is refreshing in a world where people are often shouting “Look at me and the wonderful things that I have done!” No doubt individual writers will take or leave different parts of his method and advice, but there is something in these pages that will benefit every writer. 

Here are just a couple words of wisdom I valued from this book. There are many more – pick up a copy and read it for yourself!

“I write what I think of as a series of letters, letters to people I know and people I love, people with whom I must use my real voice and people with whom I cannot be phony.”

“I learned not to chase the words but to listen to them.”

“Whether working on a book at the moment or not, a writer should always be writing.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gearing up for National Novel Writing Month

In the interest of full disclosure, I have only done National Novel Writing Month once - back in 2008, and even then, it took me until January to finish the book. Still, I wouldn't have done it at all without that impetus and for that I am thankful. Those efforts turned into Through the Open Window, a novel about a woman who attempts National Novel Writing Month for the first time and gets much more than she bargained for.

In the intervening years, I've written one other novel and part of a third, but November has always found me involved in other activities, and NaNoWriMo has passed by with just a wistful glance.

This year, I do have a novel (novella?) that is perking. The germ of an idea came to me about a month ago, and I've been tossing it over. Is it worth it to invest time and energy in another story? While I am incredibly thankful for the small group of people who have read and enjoyed one of my stories, my writing career can certainly not be considered successful by any standard. And yet, that small urge is there, whispering inside of me.

In doing the writing retreat a couple weeks ago, I discovered that my life is such now that I can write a little most days in between taking care of my responsibilities. I can carry a notebook with me or leave it on the kitchen counter and scribble a few sentences here and there. I can make progress, even if it is small progress.

And so, I've started working on character sketches - figuring out who the people in this story are. As I craft them, they are telling me where they come from, where they have been wounded, and who they want to be. It is the mystery of inspiration and I know it is a gift. I plan to start writing soon, probably just in time for NaNoWriMo, although I suffer from no illusions that I'll finish the book in a month. It will be done when it is done, but the starting, well, that's something. I don't have that unbridled enthusiasm I had six years ago. My writing dreams have pretty much died and been buried at this point. And yet, I write, because I am a writer. That's what I do.

I wish all of you attempting NaNoWriMo for the 1st or the 10th time all the best! May your writing days and nights be fruitful.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Loyola Writing Retreat Day #5 - Writing to Savor

Day 5 of the Loyola Writing Retreat was about Writing to Savor.

As I write this, I am grasping a few moments of precious solitude in the cafe area of my local grocery store, indulging in a Coke Zero and a pumpkin muffin. I haven't done this in such a long time, it is a moment to savor all by itself.

But my moment of choice is actually from early this morning. The sun was coming up over the horizon and was hitting a tree in the backyard in just the right way so that the leaves were illuminated, the early morning dew glistening on each one.

Meanwhile, there was a flock of birds, tweeting furiously, that chose that moment to descend upon the yard in search of breakfast. Some landed in the trees, while others picked the ground in eager anticipation of whatever tasty morsel they might find there.

I watched for a minute, before the duties and chaos of the day called me away, but it was a grace-filled moment of beauty and peace.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Loyola Press Writing Retreat Day #4: Writing to Dream - If Earth Were More Like Heaven

Today's task on the Loyola Press Writing Retreat was Writing to Dream

The assignment I took on was to imagine an Earth more like heaven. It came with fill in the blank prompts.

When Earth becomes like heaven, people will value people more than things.

When Earth becomes like heaven, I will stop struggling with envy and insecurity and instead rejoice in other people's accomplishments and be content with my own small successes.

When Earth becomes like heaven, my neighborhood streets will be peaceful. Nobody will live in fear. Everyone will have food, clothing, meaningful employment, and a place to live.

When Earth becomes like heaven, there will be no conflict.

When Earth becomes like heaven, decisions in community will be made . . .  I gave this a lot of thought but I truly have no idea. If I had the answer to this, I'm pretty sure I could win the Nobel Peace Prize!

When Earth becomes like heaven, we'll have much more peace and much less pain, hunger, and suffering.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Loyola Press Writing Retreat - Day #3 Writing to Discover - A Room of One's Own

Today's assignment for the Loyola Press Writing Retreat focused on Writing to Discover. I had to describe my perfect room. This was a fun exercise! It's less about writing and more about imagining. We could use images as well. I actually had to think about this a bit. For me, a room of one's own is the room inside my head. I can always retreat there. I work in spurts, whenever and wherever I have time. Even for this retreat - we are supposed to spend a half-hour of uninterrupted peaceful time a day. That would be lovely, but I've been leaving my notebook out, working on it whenever I could during the day. That being said, alone time in a library is pure bliss!

In my room, I would have:

1) A huge arched window letting in lots of natural light, looking out over a wildflower garden with a pond in the distance.

2) bookshelves flanking a comfortable window seat.

3) A comfy couch with a homemade quilt - perfect for taking a nap.

4) A large farmhouse table to do artwork or writing on, with some accompanying chairs.

5) Art supplies and writing materials.