Summer safety: don’t let your creative project drown

Now that we just celebrated the solstice, summer is officially in session. Woohoo! Who doesn’t love the fun, high-energy playfulness of summer? You’d think that energy might be great for your creative projects, and you’d be right — that is, if you weren’t so busy doing so many other things.

The challenge of summer is that while energy is high and life feels vibrant, the energy can make us scattered and the disruption of our schedules that come in the form of school breaks, holiday weekends, and recreational travel can actually undermine our projects. We get so swamped with all the fun, that frequently our writing is left unattended and our projects drown.

Glug, glug, glug…

But the thing is, you need that fun! You need to be restored and rejuvenated, to play and let go. So the answer isn’t to just buckle down and ignore the beckoning of the beach, or the lure of the lake, or the seduction of … well, whatever siren is singing to you. Go ahead, get wet and enjoy the float and splash!

But before you do, put a life jacket on your creativity.

This PFD (personal flotation device) comes in the form a schedule. Wait….Don’t run away. I swear you’re going to love this idea. Because you’re going to schedule all the FUN STUFF first to give you a clear picture of how much fun you’re going to be having!

I like to have my summer at a glance, and so instead of monthly calendar, I grabbed a giant piece of butcher block paper and drew out June, July and August. Then I wrote in my concert plans, camping trips, sailing excursions, creativity conferences, and community festivals. I added in poetry slams, literary readings, concerts, and picnics. Oh, good gracious, I started to really look forward to this amazing summer!

Then I also had a clear view of how much time I had left to get to my writing and to accomplish my creative goals. It was suddenly clear how I had to buckle down during the time that had not been allotted to play and really focus on what I wanted to get completed.

The great thing about summer is that its energy — fire element — is actually conducive to this sort of focus; that is, if we aren’t too distracted by the need to balance that fierce fiery energy with the cooling, playful qualities of water element.

The BIG PICTURE SCHEDULE makes it easier for me to see how much fun I’ve already got planned and to say “no” when I get invitations that are going to keep me from my goals.

For those of you who have been following this blog and attending my webinars, you’ll recognize this scheduling as an Earth element approach, which grounds and contains both the Water and the Fire. Because we’ve just come out of spring — the season governed by Air element — we’ve carried its inspiration with us. Now it’s just our job to tend to those spring creative seedlings and make sure they get the attention they need.

Wishing you a happy and creative summer!

IMG_2181
A beautiful beach day on vacation in Lantana, Florida

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Myself: On Becoming a Real Writer — Women Who Submit

by Marya Summers In the summer of 2003, poets from around the world converged in Chicago for the National Poetry Slam. One densely packed nightclub was electric with anticipation for the group poem showcase, a highlight of the annual event. You could have supplied power to a small town with the energy my own body […]

How do we face rejection? How do we claim our right to be and express ourselves in a sometimes hostile world? The answer is in a spiritual paradox. via Writing Myself: On Becoming a Real Writer — Women Who Submit

A solution to the yo-yo, whack-a-mole writing life

You’re a smart and practical person. You see the problem: You’re not writing enough. Or not publishing enough.

The solution is simple, right? Write more. Publish more. It’s not rocket surgery. It’s self-evident: like the solution to being 20 pounds overweight. Lose 20 pounds. Duh.

At first, the need for a solution is a constant-yet-quiet thought in the back of your mind. Then it gets louder and more urgent, and that makes you feel a little panicky. Eventually you’re checking out — watching TV, eating, distracting yourself with other things — to try to keep that panicky feeling at bay. Eventually, you creatively shut down in generalized anxiety and creative desperation.  Until one day, you’ve had enough. You’re like, “This shit has gotta stop. Today is the day I take action!”

And then you’re off. Like gang busters. Hitting it daily: the writing, that is, as if you are power-lifting at the gym. Except you’re at the writer’s bench, pressing words. Showing up. Showing off. Yeah, you’re a rock star. You’re a little high on your awesomeness. It’s like a crash diet, except you’re getting leaner and meaner on the page. Some days you’re feeling like a writing super model.

Beautiful young girl with a notebook siting down on lawn
Once your done playing whack-a-mole, you can enjoy writing in the grass — mole-free.

Then some time goes by and you notice you’re back in a slump. You’ve put all that weight back on in the form of unexpended words. You’re a literary slob … again. And you’re disgusted with yourself. Again. And you enter the serious funk of “WTF is wrong with me?!?!”

The problem is, the problem isn’t actually what you think.

Not writing and not publishing aren’t the problems. These are symptoms. But they sure look like problems, because we can point to them and go, “This is why I’m miserable.” It’s not as easy to identify the sources of our problems because they lurk in the subconscious while we are playing some elaborate game of creative whack-a-mole with the symptoms.

The emotional and psychological challenges that we face when they write are much like those people face when they diet. Issues of self-esteem, of acceptance and belonging, of motivation, of safety: these need to be addressed to get lasting results. Otherwise like dieters who never change their relationship to food, you’ll keep yo-yo-ing in your writing habits.

Sound familiar? Join me for a FREE webinar on how to get rid of that crazy yo-yo, whack-a-mole thing you’ve got going on in your writing life. If you can’t watch the webinar live, sign-up and you’ll be sent a link to replay to watch whenever it suits you. Attending live lets me address your personal yo-yo challenges and mole infestations. You can also email me your questions.

 

 

Sales and Selling out for Creative Entrepreneurs

Recently, I posted the replay of a webinar on dream writing on Facebook. I’d offered the hour-long workshop for free to drum-up business and help folks “discover” me and experience my teaching style. If that workshop resonated, I hoped I could sell them with my  soft-sell pitch at the end of the presentation in which I touched on the ongoing benefits of an 8-week workshop that I had coming up.  I had about 30 people sign-up for the dream writing workshop. Two of those converted into paying customers.

Later on I had people remember that I’d offered the workshop and ask for the link. So I posted it, noting that it was a free workshop with nothing to buy. A friend commented on the post:

What a refreshing change! It’s distressing to me how many people I know through yoga that try to sell me things on Facebook. How about some non-commercial interaction? Seriously it’s like a foreign concept to some.

I totally understand what he means.

So many of my friends are in business for themselves, and so many of us have been coached to stop devaluing our work, to stop giving it away for free. At one time, we were afraid of “selling out” or afraid of asking for money. We’ve learned to value what we do. We’ve learned to be more comfortable “making the ask.” As a result, some people have over-corrected, and, in the worst cases, interacting with them feels like trying to dodge a door-to-door solicitor — one who sees every interaction as an open door.

magical_sky_by_j9v7m-d50duja

The other thing I’ve experienced is signing on for people’s workshops where they’ve made a promise to present something of value — usually promised in the title — and then having to sit through a lengthy pitch for a tidbit of information at the end. It’s the equivalent of the time-share “free vacation” experience.

Even worse: Some people pitch or up-sell during something I’ve paid to attend.  I don’t mind being made aware of a product or service, but if I’ve paid to attend an event, I’m paying for a service, not to be sold to or cajoled out of more of my money. I resent it when this happens and I tend to shut down or form an automatic “no” because my trust has been violated. I don’t do business with someone I don’t trust.

I take my own reactions into consideration when I interact with others as Marya-the-creative-entrepreneur. For instance, at a yoga festival recently, after a warm conversation with a woman I just met, I offered her my business card so she could keep in touch. But as I extended the card, I suddenly felt as if I had cheapened our personal exchange with a business card.

“This is what I do,” I told her. “But I’m also a person. And I’d love to hear from you, you know…just as a person.”

The thing is, too, that I meant this. My relationships with people are more than my business interactions with them. People can feel it when you genuinely care about them and when you interact with them in a personal way that values them as fellow humans. That doesn’t mean you give yourself or your services away. But it does mean that you consider how things feel and that you “Do unto others…” as the saying goes.

Here’s the replay of the DREAM WRITING WORKSHOP if you’re interested. And please, let me know what you write if you take the dream writing workshop and what you think about this post or the dream writing process.

Disorder is the rule of the day; Be a fool, Give your writing a roll in hay!

Be gone seriousness! We got the important business of play to do!

April 1st traditions of pranks, of reversal, of masquerades and of hilarity can stir some fun into your usually very, very serious work of writing. If you’re anything like I am, you have big goals, you set deadlines, you carve out time in your schedule for writing and defend it as if it were your queen and under attack by a foul mob (the mundane demands of “the real world.”)

But today, ah. Today is different.

Today, disorder is the rule; the queen gets let out of the castle — to play in the mud or roll in the hay. Let her even run around in circles clucking and flapping imaginary wings like the village idiot, if she wants.  The dirty peasants can sit on the throne for a while.

quote-William-Shakespeare-a-fool-thinks-himself-to-be-wise-88508What would a practical joke look like if it were a poem?

How could reversal — of roles, of words, of rhythms, or images — create a topsy-turvy view of the world that offers something unexpected and fun to your reader?

Or you might use the energy of today to introduce some levity into a very serious scene, poem or article you are writing.

It’s not all frivolousness, mind you — there’s depth to be had in play. Shakespeare’s fool was no joke. In the reversals, we find the truth of things. The neglected, often unconsidered, view that is necessary for deep wisdom. And laughter is potent medicine for societal and personal ills.

It’s opposition like this — of seriousness and levity, of dark and light, etc.  — where we find power, our mojo, as writers. And the correspondence of our holidays, of the mood of the day, helps heighten that power. Learning to work with these energies is something I do in my Wholly Creative writing workshops. (Enjoy a free MP3 download of my intro to Mojo-a-go-go Writers Workshop: Dancing with Elements. Click Here for Mojo ).

So, go have fun. Get dirty. And write on.

How to make the writing moves that matter…

Move like Millie.

Every day on Facebook Millie posts a picture, a snapshot of her life. Sometimes it’s her feet in the clouds. Sometimes it is the slinking colors of sunset across a desert sky. Or a flower that opened, fresh and amazed like a baby’s eyes, taking in Everything for the first time.

Because a thousand words are often not enough, she writes a poetic reflection to accompany the pic
ture. A meditation on the moment in the photo, which entered her heart through the senses. Her writing is a spiritual practice.  Her body, her body of work, dances however it’s moved. The dance enters her. She becomes the dance; the dance moves through her and moves on, and a new one enters. Sometimes the dance is stillness.

Millie comes each month with her yoga mat to the park, and we write together beneath the eucalyptus trees. Their scent inspires the ritual of pen moving on paper, our minds moving collectively with the pulse in Everything.

Millie Yoga matTogether with a tribe that contracts and expands like Everything does, we honor the Everything that yearns to be experienced, that throbs in us begging to dance with us, to be written, to be loved and let go.

I’d love to write and dance with you, too.

If you can’t join me on the first Saturday of the month at Recreation Park South in Long Beach like Millie does, you can always join me in my online workshops to write and express what yearns to be expressed through you. You’ll get new writing, better habits, deeper creativity and a whole new groove in your creative life.

Check out the website.

A Daily Writing Practice for Busy People

Writing “into the moment” rather than “about the moment” allows you to slow down and appreciate where you are. This practice can help writers be writers. And crazy-busy people be just plain ol’ busy and not so much crazy.

Think of it as a form of meditation. Except that, if you’re a writer, you’re also getting something accomplished and not just sitting there. To do this, you use the five senses to bring yourself fully into your experience. You will see how memory is fed and intuition is fired when you drink in everything deeply through the senses. In your dilated state, fully aware of the gross world, you are attuning your awareness so that it can become increasingly subtle. Writing about the sensory world “the world of the particulars” allows you to really immerse yourself. In meditation, they call this “mindfulness.”

But if you’re a busy person — one who is juggling so many things that it’s hard to slow down like that for big chunks of time — sometimes trying to honor a daily writing practice seems like one more thing to do. And it doesn’t feel urgent, so it gets put off. I know. I’ve been there.

When I was a smoker, even when I was crazy busy working full-time and going to graduate school full time, I used to take 5 minutes to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Suddenly everything just got put on hold for 5 whole minutes. It wasn’t a question of if I would do it. It happened like clockwork. Every hour or two, I’d take those 5 minutes and enjoy the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I don’t smoke anymore. But I often take these little breaks anyway.

It’s the perfect time to write about the sun and the wind in just a little writing “quickie.” One that feels like a stolen moment of down time.

Buddhist priest and writer Fiona Robyn calls these short snippets of writing into the moment  “Small Stones.” She says two things define this writing practice: 1) it’s short  and 2)  it preciselystones captures a fully-engaged moment. Writing Small Stones is not only a mindfulness practice, it’s a creative practice that can get you living up to your potential as a writer.

It’s practices like these that help us build a consistent and feel-good writing life that I address in my Wholly Creative writing workshops. If you want to know more about them, you can go here. I have found that writing is my spiritual practice, and it’s important that I do it regularly and often to stay centered and grounded, which translates to sane and happy. If leading and attending workshops is like going to church; small stones are like daily prayers of gratitude. I need both.

These excerpts from well-known poets are fully engaged and small enough to be a small stone. The last one is by Fiona Robyn herself.

William Carlos Williams, From “Paterson: Book I”

nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident–
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained–
secret–into the body of the light!

Wallace Stevens, From “Of Mere Being”

The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

Dan Oestreich, From “Going to Sleep”

the sound of the creek
just after the rain stopped
trees still drip-dripping
and the clouds starting to break
wide open into
(I remember now)
a kind of blue peace
the still
wide open
unknown

Fiona Robyn, From Small Stones

The sun sags in the sky. Half a lemon sits face down in a puddle, scenting the water with citrus. Everything tightens against the cold.

Take a break right now and write a Small Stone, and then share it in the comments section!

Even undiscovered talent should “Use Your ‘Oprah Effect’”

Diane Burroughs
Diane Burroughs looking sassy

I’m re-blogging some fantastic creative advice from Diane Burroughs, a writer and producer with credits that include Married With Children, Murphy Brown, Martin, The Drew Carey Show, Yes, Dear, and Still Standing. Diane says each of us should use our “Oprah-effect,” which is to say we should empower ourselves by seeing ourselves as a cover girl, spokesperson, and star of our lives.

Sound like classic self-centered narcissism?

Well, it’s not if you’re used to putting yourself and your needs last or if you are unaccustomed to seeing the best parts of your life, especially when you’ve experienced a set back or difficulty, and how you can serve and inspire others.

Like me, Diane found herself getting a new start in midlife. And that ain’t easy stuff. The difficulty of starting over can make us feel like we have little to offer. When I met Diane after we’d both attended an all woman improv show in Culver City in January, she had already begun using her own Oprah effect. She told me then about her new project, Left at 50, which capitalizes on her difficult experience of being dumped by her life partner when she hit the big FIVE-OH.

Hemarya-magazine-feb11r blog’s target audience may be other middle-aged women who have been dumped, but it has great advice for humans of all kinds who need inspiration and self-confidence. Just one of the great gifts Diane’s story offered me is that I’ve been telling myself is a big fat lie — that I’m single because I haven’t accomplished enough. I mean, Diane’s got some impressive writing credits and she’s single, so… Yeah, not gonna beat up on  myself like that anymore. Feeling like a loser definitely doesn’t do much to inspire creativity. That’s for sure.

I have to say, I took her “Use Your Oprah Effect” blog a bit literally; I got a sketch book and a pencil out and drew a magazine cover for “Marya Magazine.”

This is the most fun I’ve had taking advice that I can remember. Hey, why let my grade-school level drawing skills stop me!?

Diane’s post not only got me to picture myself as a badass chick toting a duffel bag, wielding a mic and hiking her skirt just for funsies, it got me thinking about all I’d accomplished in just one month :  I’d flown back to Florida and hosted the memorial poetry slam I’d put together for a friend who had died and in the same month, on a whim, I’d put together a Dream Writing Workshop: Discover Inner Wisdom and Creative Gold  webinar.

Marya Summers on the mic at Dada
Marya Summers as a real life badass

With all the visualizing Diane had me doing, I realized I was envisioning the magazine’s cover teaser blurbs as I identified the experiences I’d had and learned from. (They are currently still being planned out and in rough form.) Ultimately, these can provide me with ideas for articles and poems.

Another thing Diane’s post did for me: it made me keenly aware of the importance of surrounding myself with creative, insightful people like Diane who are committed to being their best selves. Their muse seems to make my own a little more attentive, and I get deeper, juicier work.

CHECK OUT DIANE BURROUGH’S BLOG POST HERE and get inspired yourself!

“The “Oprah Effect”. That is actually a term. Because if Oprah endorses something, people buy it. Remember when Oprah started her magazine and she was…

Source: Use Your “Oprah Effect”

Writing inspiration that sticks!

We writers will take inspiration in whatever form we can get it: Broken hearts, strangers on a bus, some gum stuck to our shoes. The big stuff like a break-up has an urgency in the intensity of emotion that needs to be expressed. It’s hard to miss, and we are propelled to the page to get it down.

The other, little stuff? It’s easy to miss. But sometimes there’s a flash of recognition that something important exists in what on the surface seems trivial or mundane. Then we can get a great poem or essay about brushing our teeth or watching an employee refill the drink dispensers (Listen to Ballad of Orange and Grape read by Muriel Rukeyeser on the subject. It is one of my favorites!)

But often we are so busy, we don’t see the significance in the little things. Our awareness is turned outward and we see only the literal meaning and the practical application of the experiences we have.

But, that’s okay. Because while we sleep, our brain takes our experiences, finds the significance, and translates them into metaphors in our dreams. That’s why dreams can be so bizarre and  so haunting. The metaphors are powerful stuff that can bypass the objections of the rational and habitual mind. The political and philosophical message of “Ballad of Orange and Grape,” for instance, cannot be argued against because its argument is presented as a metaphoric narrative.

A story can’t be wrong. It just is. It’s the same with dreams. We get powerful motivating statements in our dreams expressed to us in narrative form.

I frequently have recurring or similar dreams — either the same theme or the same images or same feeling-state — until I am able to understand the message of my dream and integrate it into my waking life.

For me, this is pretty easy. All those years in school studying literature so that I could be a better writer not only led to a job as an English professor, they also made me fluent in metaphors. I can recognize and understand them easily.

But when I started to use my dreams as writing prompts, using the plots and images to inspire journal writing while I downed a couple mugfuls of black coffee, I began to wake up inside the dream. In some ways, this is tantamount to lucid dreaming while awake. It has the dreamy quality of twilight sleep but I’m aware and can make choices, such deciding to pursue the analogous connections that unlock the metaphors.

My most recent example was a dream I had about B, a woman who was presumed to be eaten by alligators. When I woke and began to write, alligators seemed weird. They seemed to be the metaphor, so I kept writing. B had faced “alligators” before as in “up to your ass in alligators” when she had been a student teacher. So I wrote that into my narrative and the story’s image opened in a new way. I understood B in a new and deeper way, too. (Important because I’ve known her my whole life and I love her though we have a remote, strained relationship.)

And that gum you stepped in? Well, on a literal level it’s nothing but a hassle. But don’t be surprised if, after you’ve scraped off the gunk and gone on with your day, at night your dreams find deeper meaning than just the fruity, pink, disgusting hassle.

I’m happy to share my process with you. I am leading a FREE Dream Writing Workshop (an hour long, give or take). Once you register, you can attend it live (Saturday, February 27 at 11 am PST) or watch it in replay when you have time. Or both.

I’ll give you tips to remember your dreams, discuss the best way to write “into” them (rather than about them), and we’ll do some writing together so that you leave the workshop with some new work.

 

 

 

Be the star of your very own solar system

While the stars were out last night, I was dreaming crazy dreams. I mean C-R-A-Z-Y.

When the sun rose, and I awoke, I began writing.

Magic was afoot, and it was evident because something was out of balance. Someone had imposed his or her will on the land, and the result was a frenzy of wings. Every sort of bird took to the sea and sky and found space among the four-legged animals that crowded the land. It felt scary, an omen of some kind…

…a villainess and her entourage want your home, which has no doors only elaborate passages between rooms, but more — she seems to want YOU. There is some power you hold that you are unaware of. She tries to control you by taking away what you love — Ashley and Oliver, your daughter and your cat. You know who you are when you are with them — because you serve each other and give each other reasons to live, to go out, to go on, and to come home. These are the attachments that fortify you. When they disappear, you are as concerned for them as you are for yourself. You ask about the chaos of animals outside. She says, “A creativity spell.”dream

You know what you must do, but do not know how.

You begin to cast a spell you can barely recall that you saw once in a book. You spell R-E-G-I-N-A out, tracing each letter with a finger in the air. Then shave the first letter off, E-G-I-N-A. Then G-I-N-A. Each letter is supposed to represent something, hold some power. “S” you remember stands for “Sin” but there is no “S” in “Regina” and you think maybe you’ve remembered the spell wrong, but you go on. Because now that you are powerless, faith is all you have. Faith, and this magically enhanced land, and this doorless house, and though you are uncertain of your power, you know it’s valuable because other people have come for it. You need to learn about your own abilities, understand your own resources. You have to become your own teacher.

Writing down snippets of imagery and story from my dreams has helped me glean their messages. I do more than merely recording the events, which is often boring and time-consuming because I dream so much. But as I write into, rather than about, the dream images and feelings while I am still waking up, I awaken to the depth of the messages.

From this dream, I realized I’d been resisting financial success and material gain because it made me feel vulnerable on many levels — spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I also realized I don’t entirely trust creativity or understand my own power. Still, I rule (Regina means queen) and can create change with words and writing … even in thin air.

WOW! Huge messages that I would have missed if I simply woke up and said, “Dude, I had some crazy-ass dreams last night.”

Some mornings I wake up and write into the dream just to record characters, images or plot.

Like this recent entry:

No one was certain but they speculated she’d been eaten by alligators, having spent so much time among them. She was once queen of the forest, connoisseur of the bramble and buzz, cheerleader for the chaos of nature. She appreciated its logic. She knew the alligators and did not fear them. She watched them float at the surface, creep from the black Florida muck, and slide into the darkly steeped rivers. Every river was alligator soup, teaming with decay, which was nourishment, more that she’d ever received on either side of the desk in a classroom. She thought, “It won’t pay much, but at least I’ll make a difference.” But teaching was full of its own kinds of gators — bureaucratic administrators and entitled parents would drag a teacher under and let a child’s education rot there with her. So to save the only one she could, she retreated to the bureaucracy of the forest. And then she quit the forest to farm the land. So when the young boy went missing near the banks of the Loxahatchee where she’d also gone to hike that day, folks pretty much assumed instinct overcame the logic, and she’d tried to wrestle a gator to save the boy. Or at least that’s how people were telling it from the cracked vinyl seats of Curley’s over their coffees and pancakes. 

Every time I write a dream down, it becomes real. Solid. Like a planet, the story orbits me during the day. Often, I am aware of several of them orbiting at the same time. Each dream is its own world, and I am its sun. I may not be the center of the universe, but I am the star of my very own solar system.

Not everyone dreams as vividly and frequently as I do, obviously. Some may recall their dreams only infrequently. Still, even these occasional recollections can provide some fantastic source material for writers, artists and other creative thinkers. The trick is tapping in…

#whatsyourstory #whollycreative

Sign-up for my free online Dream Writing workshop: Discover Inner Wisdom & Creative Gold. Wake up and dream on! Attend the live webinar Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 11 am PST. Or watch in replay.