David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the month “November, 2014”

Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 7 of 8)

DEVELOPING (AND STICKING WITH) THE WRITING HABIT, PART 1

 

Once upon a time there lived a king who desired to conquer a rival kingdom. This kingdom, he knew, possessed the purest gold, the finest silver, and the most redolent spices. Its promises called to him on the westerly breezes, and its beauty sang to him on still mornings. But between his kingdom and the land of his desires lay a fast-flowing and turbulent river, as deep as it was wide and as black as it was vast. Shrouded in fog, the shores of the rival kingdom never presented themselves clearly, but instead magnified the mystery of the king’s yearning. He hungered for the other kingdom, but knew not how to cross the river to possess it. That is, until one restless night he had a dream.

The next morning he awoke and summoned his advisors. “We must build a bridge across the river, and once the bridge is complete, we will move our army across it and take possession of the other kingdom with all of its gold, silver and spices.”

“How will we build the bridge, sire?” one of his advisors asked.

“With the strongest of materials and with the skill of a thousand craftsman,” the king replied. The advisors buzzed with excitement.

“Where shall we get these materials?” quizzed another advisor.

“From our quarries and mines and forests,” said the king. The advisors whooped with delight.

“Where shall we hire the craftsmen?” a third advisor queried.

“Why, from across the kingdom, of course,” the king answered, and the advisors chattered happily about their leader’s dream.

The men talked and planned and discussed throughout the day and far into the evening, making little progress but enjoying the conversation nonetheless. At midnight they dismissed and agreed to meet again the next day.

The following morning the advisors met with the king, and they talked and planned and discussed throughout the day and far into the evening what it would be like to finally reach the other kingdom and take possession of it. They drew up plans, discarded them, drew up more plans, threw those out as well. Once again, at midnight, the men dismissed and agreed to meet the next day.

On the third morning the king and his trusted advisors told stories of ancient conquests, drank mightily, laughed heartily, put forth a plan or two, tossed them out, and finished up at midnight with bleary eyes, large smiles and incipient headaches. The merry group, singing glorious songs about dreams and history, dismissed and again agreed to meet the next day to start planning the campaign in earnest.

This planning, talking, dreaming, wishing, and reminiscing carried on in this manner day after day, week upon week, month after month, and well into years. In that time the king’s dream never faltered, his desires never wavered, and his goals never changed; the king and his men remained content to enjoy the present and discuss the future, secure in the thought that, one day, the king’s dream would somehow be accomplished.

Early one morning, while the king and his advisors discussed strategies for that day’s planning session, a cry of alarm reached the castle. A massive army from the rival kingdom had sailed across the river during the night, conquering the town surrounding the castle and taking into its possession all of its inhabitants, livestock, gold, and silver. The great army was, at that very moment, assaulting the outer walls of the castle. Before the royal guard could muster into position, the adversary broke through and lay siege to the castle, capturing the king.

While the king lay chained to the bottom of a vessel moving swiftly downriver to the other side, he caught a glimpse of the shore through the fog and saw for the first time the object of his desire. His heart leapt as he realized all he’d ever heard about this rival kingdom was true—there it stood in all of its magnificence, more beautiful than even he had ever imagined.

It could have been his.

As the boat penetrated the fog and the landscape unfolded before his eyes, his captors blindfolded him and, upon making shore, they carried him off and tossed him into a dismal oubliette, where he lived out the rest of his days with his thoughts, memories and regrets as his only companions.

Humans, by nature, are supremely capable of achieving greatness if we put our minds to it. We can also become profoundly lazy, easily distracted and stubbornly complacent. If we’re not diligent and organized in our planning and in our work, our dreams and visions can slip through our fingers like a greased water balloon. Like the king and his grand dream, if we don’t grab hold of our life’s vision, we can lose sight of what we’ve set out to accomplish, and before we realize it, years have elapsed and the opportunities may have already passed us by. Or worse, regret may take us captive, shutting the door on possibility and blowing out the candle of hope.

(Up next: Developing (and Sticking with) the Writing Habit, Part 2)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 6 of 8)

THE MYTH OF WRITERS BLOCK

 

Speaking of brick walls, what about writer’s block? Personally, I don’t believe there’s any such thing. I’ve heard horror stories about writers cut off from the flow of their creative juices. Karin Mack, Ph.D., author of Overcoming Writing Blocks, describes writer’s block this way: “You’re paralyzed. You feel panicky, terrified, your mind is blank. You put a fresh page in the typewriter . . . and then you freeze. Nothing happens. Zero. Zilch.” Come on. Did your fingers freeze up? Did you get bitten by an Amazon arachnid, shutting down your central nervous system?

There’s a simple way to break this supposed writer’s affliction, and that’s to simply write! Jot down anything that comes to mind—anything! Write about your goals, your hopes, your aspirations. Write about your dreams, your past, your hurts. Write about your fears. Make up a character. Make up a character that starts to talk to you. In complete sentences. Out loud. Play with the words. Write a simple poem, write a complex poem, write an epic. There’s no such thing as writer’s block as long as your fingers are moving and words are spewing across the page. Even if it’s the same word over and over again.

When I lived in Los Angeles back in 1986 and 1987, I took a continuing education class through UCLA Extension. The teacher, whose name I’ve long forgotten, taught us a simple but extremely effective way to warm up before a writing session, or to unblock a constipated muse. Called the Ten-minute Timed Torrent, you merely write for ten minutes whatever pours out of your mind through your fingers and onto the computer screen or paper. Just set a timer and time yourself. This is a brainstorming technique which loosens the grip of fear from your creativity and gets it moving. It allows the creative artist to come out and play while your internal editor twiddles his thumbs in the background, waiting for his turn.

We writers actually suffer from MPD, containing within us at least three separate personalities critical to our writing success: the artist, the critic and the business person. The key is to get all three of these guys working together for your good, and working when they’re supposed to.

The first personality, the artist, is the free-spirited child within each of us, the side of us created in God’s image, the personality that creates. This is the aspect of our personality we most like to hang out with, the poet, the dude sitting cross-legged on the beach and staring at the sunset with a journal and pen lying next to him. Left alone, what the artist can achieve is boundless, inspirational and life-giving. To unleash the artist and participate in his creative ability is why we write.

The second personality is the critic, the editor, the old schoolmarm who growls, “A preposition shall never be used to end a sentence with.” This is the personality that gets on your case while your fingers are hammering the keyboard and the words are zooming across the screen. “Oh no! That verb does not agree with that subject. And couldn’t you think up a better transition than that? C’mon! This is horrible! What happened to your point of view? Tsk, tsk, such lazy writing.” The editor must be taught to keep his mouth shut until the artist has finished spitting out the story, then he can be allowed to go hog wild with his red pen. The editor’s catch phrase is, “Writing is not writing, it’s rewriting” (Thanks, Dennis Beck).

The third personality is the business person, the salesman. This is the one who takes the artist’s creation, polished by the critic, and peddles it to agents, publishers, editors, and swarms of art festival and craft fair enthusiasts.

There’s a saying that writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration (and, according to Lucky Stevens, 50% procrastination). Writing is a lot of work. Most of the time, if we’re actually paid for it, our writing may only be worth pennies per hour, hardly a wage worth bragging about. But most writers I know would gladly give their writing away if they were promised publication. There’s a sense of accomplishment in seeing your name in print, standing proudly above an article, poem, or short story in a book, magazine, or newspaper. All it takes is doing it.

(Next up: Developing and Sticking With the Writing Habit, Part 1)

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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