Ever take Cues from Your Subconscious?


Hakone Open Air Museum

The Subconscious and You

My best writing comes to me when I’m not planning it.

The other times, I’m working at the craft, practicing my scales so that when the music happens I’m there to witness and record it as best as I can. Sometimes I don’t do well at the first attempt and my subconscious keeps throwing it at me till I get it right. A lot of my writing is built around similar themes– don’t quite know what they are yet, only that when the raw inner voice comes out and plays, my stories seem preoccupied with similar things.

It is as if I’m the chimpanzee being taught a puzzle in a lab. The humans at the other end are trying to stretch my capabilities, and measuring them, while at it.

This is easy to make peace with when I’m writing flash fiction. I’m reasonably confident these days of churning out five to six a week. Two or three of those might even be good.

Trouble appears when I write a longer piece– it is as if I’m a novice singer, running out of breath when belting out an aria. Some of them begin well, then falter, and take a dozen drafts to catch the high notes I want to hit, or rumble into those base notes I don’t want to lose.

Between passes at that story, days or weeks or months might pass, and there I am again, and the story might just hold together without crashing — like a house of multicolored cards held up in air just so. You see the masters doing it all the time, juggling so many cards in air and making such brilliant villas, mansions, palaces. It’s magic. I’m happy when I can hold together the bare bones of a hut, just so long as it stays in air, without bleeding color or losing balance.

The novel. The novel is a different beast– with it I feel like a dog in front of a mirror. I don’t know what I see, only that I see it. And I’m yet to see a dog juggle.

So many mixed metaphors in this post– but it reflects exactly how I feel these days trying to enter into my novel to begin on the third draft. This palace might crumble before it stands up– but at least I’m learning the art of juggling the bricks to keep the damn building floating in air. And it looks like I’m not alone– other writers compare writing to juggling as well:

“I always imagine it like a whole load of plates spinning, and you’ve got the plan, the research and the plot, and you’ve got to kind of keep them spinning and constantly moving between one and the other.”

The complete article about writing and the subconscious, here.

Who knows, maybe I’m meant only to write at shorter lengths. Not that that is easier to do (well).

I have to discover whether I’m meant for longer stories. The real bitch of it? The only road to discovery lies in writing at greater length.

What about you? What role does the subconscious play in your life, as a writer, reader, artist, gardener, mason, engineer, or whatever it is that you do? Do you ever take cues from your subconscious?

 

Do you walk in Beauty?


Do you walk in Beauty?

Blooming in Beauty

Life is fleeting. Before I know it a day, a week, a month, a year: whoosh, gone.

In theory, I understand that if I’m mindful, let each moment live itself, and my self live that moment, time would expand. Because what is time after all– it’s a concept, it’s a function of motion, it’s the ticking clock in our bodies.

When I read Byron in school, can’t say I liked him much– I found his writing pansy, unreal, and puked in my mouth a little at passages like these from She walks in Beauty:

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

What crap, I used to think, idealizing and infantalizing a woman, making of her something less than flesh-and-blood. A part of me still agrees. But as days slip through my finger like the finest sand, I wonder if some of it isn’t what I want to be: soft, calm, spend my days in goodness (as much as possible- the cynic in me says!) with a mind at peace, and a heart filled with innocent love.

Softness, calmness, peace, innocence, love (compassion) all come with mindful practice, with awareness of each moment, with forgiving oneself for each moment of violence and cynicism (in thought, and in action.) Man, woman, child– the most important thing is that tranquil space inside the mind, the silence and slow-soft rhythm of breath, a rhythm that flows and beats through all of us, human, animal, plant, rock, river, planet.

For the past year or so, been trying (unsuccessfully) to remain aware of that rhythm at all times. The body is most in harmony with it when writing fiction, when in sympathy, empathy and identification with someone ‘other’, a being of my imagination, so the ‘I’ floats away, and becomes a gentle drumbeat.

That’s what has drawn my body and soul into writing fiction, this practice that feels almost like meditation. Compared to this, the ‘thrill’ of acceptance or publication is short-lived, mundane. On some days, reading a good line by another author makes everything else seem trivial.

What about you? Does fiction take you outside of you? Does it bring you harmony and rhythm? Do you walk in Beauty?

Do You Believe in What ifs?


Its been a month since I posted here. Like I said on Amlokiblogs some time back, I’m in a different world these days, which is spinning parallel to yours.  Fiction takes up most of my mind-space, so I have very little left over for life, online and off. But I do revert to my blog every once in a while, because I miss you guys, or as in this case, because I want to send a shout-out to a dear friend.

Today’s shoutout goes to Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Amazon bestselling Ninja Cap’n, who’s busy with the A to Z Challenge these days.

He’s here today to talk about What if’s, and his new book: Dragon of the Stars. Take it away, Alex!

Dragon of the Stars by Alex J Cavanaugh

Dragon of the Stars by Alex J Cavanaugh

As writers, we’re always on the lookout for our next story idea. We become master observers of people and situations. We’ll jot down notes and start storylines that may or may not go anywhere.

Sometimes we have a spark, but it just doesn’t seem to take. Or maybe it doesn’t go in a direction that’s exciting. We’re bummed and tempted to shelve the idea.

Maybe what we need is to explore that idea from a new angle. Flip it around and turn it into something different. That might be just thing to ignite interest again.

What are some ways we can shift the pieces of the puzzle around?

  • Reverse the roles. Take the main characters are reverse their position in the storyline.
  • Change the time period.  Shift the story forward or backward.
  • Change the setting. Urban instead of rural, small city instead of big, desert instead of mountains, etc.
  • Try a different country.  Would it be more exciting set in a different culture?
  • How about a different or additional genre? A mystery in space? A historical paranormal?
  • Go for the worst case scenario. Part of the story isn’t very exciting? Ramp it up – what is the worst thing that could happen?
  • Brainstorm with other writers. Sometimes sharing the idea with those we trust will lead to a revelation.
  • Brainstorm on our own. Throw everything out there, including the kitchen sink. No rules, no restrictions–just go nuts!

Any of those changes can make all the difference in the world. My latest book, Dragon of the Stars, came from a song and a little ‘What If?’ Ayreon’s Dragon on the Sea was about Queen Elizabeth I sending Sir Francis Drake to fight the Spanish Armada. The dragon in the song refers to Drake, but I wondered–what if the dragon was the ship? What if it was a spaceship instead? What if the Queen sent a Nobleman to find that ship? From that point, the story unfolded quickly, with the ending coming from a rather twisted ‘What if?’.

So, if a story needs a little something, try ‘What if?’

—-

Alex J. Cavanaugh works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. He is also the guitarist in a Christian band. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. His latest book, Dragon of the Stars, came out April 7, 2015. Purchase it on AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboChaptersAmazon UKGoodreadsiTunesAmazon PrintOverdrive.  Find Alex here, and on Twitter.

Who else has had a story unfold with a little help from ‘What if?’ What have you been doing this March and April? Taking part in the A to Z Challenge? Have you bought Dragon of the Stars yet?

Do you Own Your Memories? #writing


Damyanti:

Writing about family. Always a dangerous topic. Someone, I don’t remember who, said that writers should write like orphans, like they have no family– that the family they belong to isn’t theirs.

I’ve written about my family, once or twice, and the reaction of those who read it has been, “But that’s not what happened! She’s twisted it up! How dare she?”

What they don’t realize is writing is its own truth– each story has its truth, and it has no relationship to facts, and what are facts, after all. Things happen, and depending on who saw them happen, you have different perspectives.

History is littered with perspectives, mostly those of the winners. I write sometimes from the loser’s perspective, from the point of view of ‘wrong’ (what’s right or wrong, anyway? who decides what’s right?).

I read this post today, and I’m reblogging it because it gives a perspective different from mine — You own everything that happened to you.

To me, I own nothing, from the clothes on my back to the stories I write– one day all of this would be ashes and dust, and not even a memory of me would remain.

What do you think? Do You own your memories? Do you write about your family? Would you be hurt if your family members wrote about you?

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Do You look Back?

Originally posted on Adventures in Juggling:

Working this week on me being the sole proprietor of my thoughts, my memories, my words, my opinions with my therapist has been hard. A lifetime of being told these are not mine, not real, not true, not worthy of being shared takes it toll. It’s one of the reason why I stopped writing decades ago, much to the disappointment of a high school writing teacher who just recently reconnected via Facebook upon discovering that after high school I stopped writing altogether. I did stop, until I started blogging more than ten years ago. First in secret. Then with a faceless audience who seemed to like the words and thoughts I put out there. Then it grew and grew as did the audience some who know me very well and some who like to imagine that they know me even better than I know me and now, well sometimes it’s…

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What can you #write in Ten #Sentences ? #heywriters


I’ve been botching up taking an open online creative writing course from Iowa Writer’s workshop. It is in its last week, and after doing the first two classes, I mostly missed out on all the others. I traveled, worked on stuff at home, basically did anything but write.

I’ve missed the deadline for the writing assignment in the last class, so I thought I would make a fool of myself by doing it here, in public. Here’s the assignment:

Write a scene of ten sentences and include in each sentence a numeral. If you’ve reached ten sentences and you’d like to keep going, you can make this a scene of twenty sentences, or thirty — the idea is just to write within this pattern. Example: On the day my town flooded, I was ten years old. It was four o’clock in the morning. In the darkness, right before I heard the water coming, two roosters crowed.

Boy soldiers in Syria

A Boy Soldier: Copyright Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via the Guardian

And here’s my attempt:

Shut your mouth or I’ll kill you, he’d said, on day one at the camp, the day they brought his brother in. After a month, when opening his schoolbag, I found three packets of white powder, larger than the packs salt came in, but much smaller than the packs of sugar.

I found these in your bag, I said to him two days later, when I felt able to look him square in his bloodshot eyes.

He snatched them from my hand, slammed them on the table, and banged it with his stringy hands: You listen to me, woman, he said, though his thirteen-year-old body wasn’t yet as tall as mine, You listen to me good. I’m tired of eating your kabsa and your kushary, and I’m tired of Abba’s begging for rations– give me one month, and I’ll sort this all out.

You listen to me, son, I said, making the tremble in my voice a scream of anger, not fear, as my mind whispered the ninety-nine names of Allah.

I ignored the bulge in his pockets, tried not to think of the steel they hid, the two spitfires that made his voice so loud, and the new masked bosses who had given them to him.

 

Now there he lies, six months later, one dead body minus its head, the two spitfires on his chest, folded in prayer.

Shut your mouth, I tell the Mullah at the funeral, He may be the One and Only, but He has taken a mother’s sons from her.

They’ll kill me soon, maybe in twelve hours when night falls, but I’ll use each of those hours, each minute, taking my boys’ names, and I won’t take their names in vain.

So that was some fiction on my blog, the first time in six months, I think.

Have you ever taken an online creative writing course from Iowa? Have ever written exercises with constraints in mind? Did the constraints of my assignment overwhelm the piece above? Would you like to do a similar 10-line writing exercise (fiction/ nonfiction) and post it on your blog?

Got questions for a noted #author and creative #writing teacher ?


Since I live and write out of Singapore, it features in a major way on this blog and in my writing. I’ve been posting writing advice and interviews from creative writing and publishing experts, and today, one of the luminaries of the current Singapore literary scene, Felix Cheong, has agreed to a chat here at Daily (w)rite. I get to ask him a bunch of questions about creative writing, his work, Singapore,  and how all these three mesh together. Feel free to add questions of your own after you’ve read his interview.

1. You write both poetry and prose. Do they feed into each other, and if so, how?

There’s a creative – and necessary – tension at work when I’m writing fiction. The story sometimes rushes ahead, the characters taking the narrative into this situation and that. But the language has to catch up – the attention to detail, the ability to crunch descriptions crisply and precisely. So the poet gets to work, forcing the story to slow down, take a breath, pay attention. But too much of this fiddling with language can stop the manuscript from moving forward. Which is why the poet has to be killed before the story can live.  But it can be a struggle – I’ve abandoned my first novel because after three chapters, the poet refuses to die a quiet death and I keep revising the language!

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

I enjoy the interaction with students, giving them triggers to find their own creativity. I enjoy hearing them read their on-the-spot written pieces, which sometimes surprise me with their spark and spunk. And most of all, I enjoy hanging around creative people!

3. What qualities would you look for in your ideal student?

Well, someone who is observant, who is alive to the world around him, who opens his senses and is open to inspiration in his day-to-day life. Someone who reads, loves reading and will possibly die without reading. Someone who has the imaginative capacity to dream and be able to put down in words that dream. Someone who has something to get off his chest, driven by that human need to tell stories. Someone who is willing to work hard, to see a work through to its eventual form.  

4. Could you tell us something about your favourite authors, and why do you like them?

At different junctures, I have different favourite authors. It’s as though they came at the right time to teach me what I needed to learn to become a writer. For instance, in my undergrad years, as I was struggling to find my poetic voice, it was TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Lee Tzu Pheng. Later, it was Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Milan Kundera etc. Too numerous to count!

Vanishing Point author Felix Cheong

Vanishing Point: Felix Cheong

5. Which of your works should a reader unfamiliar with your work start with?

For my poetry, start with Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems, which puts together the best-of in a slim volume. They are arranged thematically – from love poems to poems about my struggle with faith – and juxtapose my early poems with some of my later ones. For my fiction, check out Vanishing Point, inspired by real-life cases of missing people, and Singapore Siu Dai: The SG Conversation in a Cup, which satirises life in Singapore – from our obsession with Hello Kitty toys to the national pastime of queuing – in fun, bite-size stories.

6. Tell us something about your works in progress.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to Singapore Siu Dai 2: The SG Conversation Upsize!, which is due to be launched in November. For some reason, these short satirical pieces have come out in a torrent over the past six months, triggered, no doubt, by Singapore politics. The stories are edgier and bolder than the first book, often taking the mickey out of politicians and their policies. For instance, their peculiar fondness to dress themselves up in a defamation suit.

7. As a literary activist, what is your opinion of the current literary scene in Singapore?

The literary scene is really exciting now and I sometimes feel the pressure to catch up with them! More new writers are being published; they are energetic and they have something to say, though some of them could do with more finesse and internalisation of craftsmanship. What is lacking, though, is the growth of a discerning readership. Not enough people are buying Singaporean writers’ books.

8. For someone new to Singaporean literature, what books — prose or poetry– would you recommend?

You can’t go far wrong with a few “best-of” anthologies. Value for money for a buffet sampling of voices!

i. No Other City: the Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry (Ethos 2000): A swirling cauldron of emerging and established poets, stirred vigorously around the theme of Singapore’s urban landscape.

ii. Best of Singapore Erotica (Monsoon 2006): Even in squeaky-clean Singapore, there is nothing like the erotic to open the proverbial can of worms. Best read with your loved one already asleep.

iii. Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems (NAC 2009) Love it or photograph it, the Merlion has become iconic of the island state – and a conversation starter between poets about its significance in Singapore history and culture.

iv. Here and Beyond: 12 Stories (Ethos 2014): The latest anthology of made-in-Singapore short stories, edited by award-winning writer Cyril Wong. This will be in the ‘O’ level Literature text come 2016.

—-

Felix Cheong Singaporean poet

Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong is the author of nine books, including four volumes of poetry and a collection of short stories, Vanishing Point, which was long-listed for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Award. His latest book is a collection of satirical flash fiction, Singapore Siu Dai.

Conferred the Young Artist of the Year for Literature in 2000 by the National Arts Council, he was named by Readers Digest as the 29th Most Trusted Singaporean in 2010. Cheong has been invited to read at writer’s festivals all over the world: Edinburgh, West Cork, Austin, Sydney, Brisbane, Christchurch and Hong Kong. He holds a Masters in creative writing from the University of Queensland, and is currently an adjunct lecturer with Murdoch University, University of Newcastle, Temasek Polytechnic and LASALLE College of the Arts.

Have you read literature from Singapore or from Asia ? Are you familiar with Felix’s work? If you have questions for Felix on creative writing, Singapore, or creative writing in Singapore, leave them in the comments below!

Have you heard of the New York #Writers #Workshop ?


Here at Daily (w)rite, I run a series of interviews of publishing industry experts: I’ve had poets, authors, and creative writing professors. Today, I’m chatting with Tim Tomlinson, who teaches at the New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program, and is an author and poet in his own right.

My first encounter with him was through his book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, one of the first books that gave me the confidence to go on writing without an MFA, and not lose heart. I took a writing workshop with him some time back, and speaking from experience, if you have the opportunity to go for one of those, do not hesitate.

1. You’re one of the founders of the New York Writing Workshop. What was the impetus behind it?

Solidarity and frustration. The founders were all teaching for another organization whose demands began to clash with our values. We met, somewhat conspiratorially, and we decided that we could do it better on our own. The rest is a combination of history and farce.

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

Meeting new writers, hearing their material, and giving them ideas for presenting the material most effectively. I recently finished two long sessions in Baguio, Philippines. Lots of talent, many wonderful people, but with a need for craft, useful practice, and self-belief. In two days, we made great progress in all those areas, and that’s gratifying.

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

3. Tell us about your book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. How would you like a reader to approach it?

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing was meant as something of a substitute to MFA programs, or more accurately, a substitute for the expense of MFA programs.

At New York Writers Workshop we encountered hordes of recovering MFAs—aspiring writers damaged to varying degrees by destructive MFA programs. Writers who’d become convinced their work was garbage unless it matched whatever criteria were being pushed in whatever program (if, indeed, any criteria were being pushed). The Gordon Lish survivors were the most crippled: they couldn’t get beyond sentence one (which, according to Captain Fiction, must be perfect before one can proceed to sentence two). So we wanted to offer an alternative to spending $50,000 on nothing, or worse than nothing. For $16.95, the conceit had it, one could avail oneself of some, many, or close to all of the lessons of the MFA program.

But, and this is a big but, the book can’t provide community, or readers, or encouragement. MFA programs can (although none of these is guaranteed). The book also encompasses a range of disciplines: fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, poetry. Some programs prohibit movement between disciplines; our book encourages movement.

4. Can creative writing be taught? Why/ why not?

It most certainly can, and as we say in the book, one should run away from any program or instructor who says that it can’t. Talent can’t be taught, luck can’t be taught, discipline can’t be taught. But talent can be recognized and nurtured. And when it is, discipline follows – it’s more fun to sit down to the grind and discover that good work, or better work, is forthcoming. And when disciplined practice becomes part of the routine, luck often follows—one creates one’s luck. You teach the craft, you suggest the discipline, good things follow.

5. What advice would you give someone who is applying for MFA Writing programs?

Ask tough questions, of the program, and of yourself. Who will be teaching? What is her approach? (Does she believe creative writing can be taught?) What’s the rate of acceptance? How many nonsense requirements will intrude upon my writing time? Can I afford this? How deep will I fall into a financial hole? Can I achieve the same goals through less costly means?

6. If you had three pointers to give an aspiring writer, what would they be?

Read a lot, write more, and spend time far away from books (or universities). The work of too many young writers is informed by university experience solely, or predominantly. That creates the kind of provincialism you see in American fiction and poetry today.

7. You have taught creative writing in the West, as well as in Asia. What would you say are the key similarities and differences in the two experiences?

Very broadly speaking, Asian writers have more humility, which is a good thing for the development of craft, but maybe not the best thing for career advancement. Aspiring writers in Asia, too (again, broadly speaking) have far greater awareness of global realities than most aspiring writers in the U.S. American writers are freer in their diction, less formal.

8. Which is the last novel you read that you would recommend and why? Which authors would you name as influences on your own writing?

I liked Xiaolu Guo’s Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth: A Novel. Her fragments are fairly large (in comparison to the fragmented fictions of Maggie Nelson, for instance, or Evan Lavender-Smith), but they’re still discrete units of narrative that enable Guo to focus on smaller moments, which build like blocks to a full coming-of-age story.

As for influences, in fiction no one has been more important than Henry Miller, particularly his Tropic of Cancer, for language and spirit. John Cheever for structure, Denis Johnson for lyricism, Robert Stone for rhythm, James Salter for vision, Lydia Davis for options, Junot Diaz for freedom, Mary Gaitskill for awareness, Edmund White for honesty, Chekhov for neutrality. The diction of cowboy movies. Sam Shepard. And the diction of gangster movies. Martin Scorsese, and David Mamet. So many. In poetry, I don’t know if I’ve been influenced. Rather, there are sounds and visions to which I aspire. Charles Wright, Li Po, Merlie Alunan, Mary Oliver. And subject matters that enable my own. Kim Addonizio, Jason Shinder, Philip Levine.

9. You help run a literary journal Ducts.org. Tell us more about it.

I’ve edited the fiction section for the past six or seven years (we also run essay, memoir, poetry, art, and humor). I’ve tried to make the representation global, and non-New-York-centric. I’ve run stories from Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, England, India, as well as from many places in the U.S. Our readership has grown, the quality of submissions has elevated, and publication has become more and more competitive. We have two best-of anthologies: How Not to Greet Famous People, and The Man Who Ate His Book.

Tim Tomlinson New York Writers Workshop

Tim Tomlinson

Tim Tomlinson is co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. Stories and poems appear or are forthcoming in The Blue Lyra Review, Caribbean Vistas, Coachella Review, Writing Tomorrow, and the anthologies Long Island Noir (Akashic Books), and Fast Food Fiction (Anvil Publishing). He is the fiction editor for Ducts. He teaches at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program.

Do you have questions for Tim Tomlinson? Have you taken an MFA or considering applying for one? Would you like to talk about your experience?