Writing Tip: Spirituality and Creativity

What is the relationship between spirituality and creativity? The discipline and focused attention cultivated through meditation help us do one thing at a time, totally and absolutely, which greatly enhances our writing.

‘Contemplative practice, daily nature walks, and still, silent listening can be among the best natural meditations. They help clarify our minds and uplift the heart, dissolving our ordinary preoccupations and mental states that dissipate the fertile spirit within. Such daily disciplines are also excellent tonics for our agitated, febrile brains and weary bodies. When we ease into the realm of non-doing–what Chinese Buddhists called wu wei–there is more room for our mysterious, unfabricated inner self to naturally emerge.’ – Lama Surya Das

It’s tough being a writer. Very tough. As Thomas Mann says, A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Dinty Moore, in his book The Mindful Writer, Noble Truths of the Writing Life, says his lifelong pursuit of writing and creativity has helped to open him to the path of Buddhism:

‘Find inspiration and insight on writing as a spiritual practice through astute quotes, thoughtful advice, and productive exercises on both mindfulness and craft.  This isn’t your typical “how to write” book. Author Dinty W. Moore, a well-respected writing coach and teacher, thoughtfully illuminates the creative process: where writing and creativity originate, how mindfulness plays into work, how to cultivate good writing habits and grow as a person, and what it means to live a life dedicated to writing.’ – The Mindful Writer

Here’s to Mindfulness and Meditation to help us on our way through our roller coaster lives as creative writers.

Writing Tip: Use the Senses

Sounds, sights, and smells are all part of  creating an atmosphere.

‘The creation of the physical world is as crucial to your story as action and dialogue. If your readers can be made to see the glove without fingers or the crumpled yellow tissue, the scene becomes vivid. Readers become present. Touch, sound, taste and smell make readers feel as if their own fingers are pressing the sticky windowsill.

‘If you don’t create evocative settings, your characters seem to have their conversations in vacuums or in some beige nowhere-in-particular. Some writers love description too much. They go on and on as if they were setting places at the table for an elaborate dinner that will begin later on. Beautiful language or detailed scenery does not generate momentum. Long descriptions can dissipate tension or seem self-indulgent. Don’t paint pictures. Paint action.’ – Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction

Bringing in sensory detail is a way to enrich a story with texture to create the fullness of experience, to make the reader be there.

using all five senses quote on green board

What about you? Do you use the senses, apart from sight, to create atmosphere?

Writing Tip: Start Writing

When I used to teach classes to beginning writers, it was good.  It forced me to think back to the beginning to when I first put pen to paper.  The thing is, every time we sit down and face the blank page, it’s the same.  Every time we start a new piece of writing, we doubt that we can do it again.  A new journey with no map – like setting off towards the horizon alone in a boat and the only thing another person can do to help is to wave from the shore.

So when I used to teach a creative writing class, I had to tell them the story all over again and remember that this is the first time my students are hearing it.  I had to start at the very beginning.

First up, there’s the pen on the page.  You need this intimate relationship between the pen and the paper to get the flow of words happening.  A fountain pen is best because the ink flows quickly.  We think faster than we can write.  It needs to be a “fat” pen to avoid RSI.

Consider, too, your notebook.  It is important.  The pen and paper are your basic tools, your equipment, and they need to be with you at all times.  Choose a notebook that allows you plenty of space to write big and loose.  A plain cheap thick spiral notepad is good.

After that comes the typing up on the computer and printing out a hard copy.  It’s a right and left brain thing.  You engage the right side of the brain, the creative side when you put pen to paper, then bring in the left side, the analytic side, when you edit the print out as you settle back comfortably with a drink (a cup of tea, even) and read what you’ve written.

Patrick White said that writing is really like shitting; and then, reading the letters of Pushkin a little later, he found Pushkin said exactly the same thing.  Writing is something you have to get out of you.

typing writing on a pink background

Whether writing a story or writing a blog, start writing, no matter what.

Story Mosaic

Famous in India! That’s me holding my book, ‘The Crystal Ballroom’. My stories ‘Aravind’ and ‘Aravind Again’, included in Agathokakological Aussie Summer story mosaic, are self-contained chapters from ‘The Crystal Ballroom’. A great review of the story mosaic is in Indian national newspaper, News Mania. Well done to editors Sharon Rundle and Indranil Bengal Halder

Agathokakological Aussie Summer is an Australia – India collaborative online story mosaic. All free! Enjoy the stories at:

www.sharonrundle.com.au/aussiesummer/start or

https://aussiesummer.com.au

Just press a star to begin.

Back Cover Blurb: ‘Lost in Cooper Park’

I’ve been slaving away trying to write a good blurb for my soon to be released by Ginninderra Press new book, ‘Lost in Cooper Park’.

Writing a blurb is hard hard work. There are no shortcuts or easy answers. Anyway, after a chat with a close writing friend, this is what I’ve put together for the back cover.

The story begins when, after a fierce storm, Gypsy, a golden Labrador, goes missing in Sydney’s Cooper Park.

A bittersweet comedic account of mistakes, misconceptions and reconciliations in the lives of a disparate group of urban men and women.

There’s Crystal, who wants stability with her eight-year-old daughter and new partner.  

Crystal’s ex, searching for the meaning of existence.

Doctor Sarah wanting a new beginning in France.

Rosemary and Philip who want their daughter to walk again.

Crystal’s high school sweetheart who wants another chance.

And the Homeless Girl hiding in Cooper parklands.

And then there’s the cruelty, unpredictability and beauty of life.

Back cover blurb: ‘Lost in Cooper Park’ by Libby Sommer

Tell me what you think? Would you be interested in reading this book?

My Poem ‘Quarantine’

My poem ‘Quarantine’ was published in September 2020 Quadrant magazine.

Have a read. Hope you enjoy it.

As mentioned previously, I really enjoy writing in a super-short form. I’ve been told I have the ability to distil. So … prose poems and poetry have been added to my repertoire. I’m currently working on a new collection of poetry, prose poems and flash fiction titled ‘Love & A Search for Meaning’. What do you think of this working title for a collection? Any comments much appreciated.

Quarantine:

But there still are the other things –

water’s rhythmic tumble

over rocks,

the gentle hush of wind through leaves –

we celebrate

in solitude.

Copyright © 2020 Libby Sommer

Writing Tip: Show Don’t Tell

cartoon illustrating angry boy with red face

Show don’t tell is an old writing tip, but a good one.

What does it mean exactly?

It means don’t tell us about loneliness (or any of those complex words like dishonesty, secrecy, jealousy, obsession, regret, death, injustice, etc) show us what loneliness is. We will read what you’ve written and feel the bite of loneliness. Don’t tell us what to feel. Show us the situation, and that feeling will be triggered in us.

When you take your child to school on their first day you may find yourself teary and relieved at the same time. Put into words what you see: the child’s face, the wave at the gate, the other mothers saying their goodbyes, another child coming up to take your son by the hand. We will get what you’re trying to say without you telling us directly.

The how-to-write books tell us to use our senses when we write stories:  sight, sound, smell, touch. Writing from the senses is a good way to penetrate your story and make friends with it. Don’t tell us about something, drop deep, enter the story and take us with you.

What about you? Do you consciously bring the senses into your creative writing?

Writing Tip: How to Slow Things Down

So, here’s the thing:  choose something in particular to write about. For example, what it feels like having a tennis lesson after a twenty year break. Give us the specifics. Dig deep for the details, but at the same time be aware of the world around you. As you focus on what you’re writing, at the same time stay conscious of your surroundings:  the white painted cane Bentwood chairs in the café, the cool breeze from under the door on your sandaled feet, the hum of the traffic outside. Just add a sentence every now and then about the trees that overlooked the tennis courts while you were having a tennis lesson. When we focus on our writing it is good. Seeing the colour of the sky when you toss the ball gives breathing space to your story.

If you are sitting in Meditation you calm the butterfly mind by paying attention to your thoughts, giving them space by acknowledging them before returning to the breath, in and out through the nostrils. In the act of slowing down your breathing, as best you can, you remain open so that you are receptive to awareness of sounds as they arise: sounds near, sounds far, sounds in front, behind, to the side, above or below.

With every breath you take, you feel the air, the sound of the ball as it hits the racket, the  players on the other courts.

We should always be living in the present, not by ignoring the world around us, but by paying close attention. It is not easy to stay alive to ‘what is’. When we slow things down in our writing, it is good practice.

What about you? Do you find a daily meditation practice assists your writing practice?

My Microlit ‘In the Mall’

My Microlit ‘In the Mall’ was selected as an entry in the Microflix Writers Awards available to be chosen by filmmakers for adaption to a short film for the 2019 Film Awards. On the theme of SOUND it is available to view on the Microflix SOUND extracts page on the website of Australian short story publisher, Spineless Wonders.

So what is Microlit? According to writer, teacher and editor, Karen Whitelaw: Imagery is important to all writing, but none more than microlit. … Writing is a visual art; paint pictures with words. Things don’t have to be explained, merely implied. This is the beauty of the form, that behind the words a whole world is peeping through. The micro-story has to say something.

Have a read of my story. Hope you enjoy it.

IN THE MALL

In a café inside a mall in Sydney a small curly-topped girl sobbed and sobbed. She sat on her father’s lap, stabbing her finger into a slice of banana bread. Her dad soothed, whispered, coaxed. What would you like, Tara? He cut into his poached egg. Toast? he cajoled. The girl sobbed more loudly, wailing, coughing, staring out into the mall. I want my mum. She cuddled a pink soft piglet. Our eyes scanned the glass display of croissants, pies and pastries. I loved every carb that did not pass my lips. I loved the sobbing child who heard no one else in that cafe but herself, whose lungs fought hard to reach a soaring, sorrowful pitch. What have you got? an elderly woman asked her. Still crying, the child held up her toy. Her father gave up on his poached eggs and carried her out, still wailing. We went and sat at the table with the stabbed-at bread her finger had made and swept the moist crumbs into a heap.

Copyright © 2019 Libby Sommer

 

Writing Tip: Becoming a Writer

yellow sunflower bookcover of Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande

I highly recommend ‘Becoming A Writer’ by Dorothea Brande given to me by a friend many years ago at the beginning of my writing journey.

‘A reissue of a classic work published in 1934 on writing and the creative process, Becoming a Writer recaptures the excitement of Dorothea Brande’s creative writing classroom of the 1920s. Decades before brain research “discovered” the role of the right and left brain in all human endeavor, Dorothea Brande was teaching students how to see again, how to hold their minds still, how to call forth the inner writer.’ – Amazon

‘Refreshingly slim, beautifully written and deliciously elegant, Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer remains evergreen decades after it was first written. Brande believed passionately that although people have varying amounts of talent, anyone can write. It’s just a question of finding the “writer’s magic”–a degree of which is in us all. She also insists that writing can be both taught and learned. So she is enraged by the pessimistic authors of so many writing books who rejoice in trying to put off the aspiring writer by constantly stressing how difficult it all is.

‘With close reference to the great writers of her day–Wolfe, Forster, Wharton and so on–Brande gives practical but inspirational advice about finding the right time of day to write and being very self disciplined about it–“You have decided to write at four o’clock, and at four o’clock you must write.” She’s strong on confidence building and there’s a lot about cheating your unconscious which will constantly try to stop you writing by coming up with excuses. Then there are exercises to help you get into the right frame of mind and to build up writing stamina. She also shows how to harness the unconscious, how to fall into the “artistic coma,” then how to re-emerge and be your own critic.

‘This is Dorothea Brande’s legacy to all those who have ever wanted to express their ideas in written form. A sound, practical, inspirational and charming approach to writing, it fulfills on finding “the writer’s magic.”‘ – John Gardner

Do you have a favourite book about the writing process that you’ve found to be especially useful on your writing journey?