Month: August 2014

Fear and Writing in New Mexico

I had a longer post for today. About facing your fears.   I think it had a lot to do with my MFA program where there were many things I was surprised about, but the main one that we were a group of people who came together to write, yet people were afraid to try new things. I thought it was the perfect time, three years to explore the craft, to learn and try new things, to explore everything about writing. But no, there was a prescribed way of writing that people subscribed too and the more I fought to explore, the more alienated I became. I was called into meetings with professors, called a ‘maverick’ and trouble maker out of one side of his mouth, while out of the other a professor said that’s what will make me the one who makes it as a writer. But in the meantime, he wanted nothing to do with me, boat rocker that I was, because he couldn’t understand my evolution. Some of my fellow students (mainly the fiction writers, not the poets, thankfully.) saw this and decided to avoid me as well, writing notes on my stories not that the story was weird, but that I was.   They exiled me from the fiction ‘clique.’

And that was a good thing.

Because I think to grow in your art you have to not be afraid of it. To grow in life you have to not be afraid of it.

It’s so easily, especially in writing, to become isolated and afraid. To sit there and look out a window and say you’re writing the world so don’t need to be part of it. It’s so tempting to not engage in anything new because ‘this works for me.’

And there’s nothing wrong with finding your style, with sticking with your style. I have a style I write.  But there’s something I don’t buy about staying static.  About being a writer who isn’t curious.

Because, see, to grow- both in art and life- I think you need to see what you’re afraid of and then face it. You need to push past where you’re comfortable. You need to not create thinking about the negative people will say, but letting things happen. Show your characters, and yourself in all their glory.  And always seek out something new.  Always explore.

That’s my writerly suggestion for the week. Do something in life you’re scared of, even if that’s a social situation or talking to a stranger. Maybe it’s an exercise class (those on Facebook got a blurb about a Pilates class I took at a trapeze school this week, oh the pain in that one).

Write something that makes you shake as you type.

Then come and tell me how it went.

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On Taking Your Time

I believe in a meditative writing practice. By meditative I mean slowing things down. We live in a fast paced world, but the world has always been fast, just in different ways. If there is time to be taken, others will take it from you. When I was teaching my med students they articulated this very clearly. They were arguing over the length of an assignment, and finally one said, “Professor Chase, if we don’t fight for our time, who will?”

Writers need to fight for their time in every sense of the word. If it isn’t family its work or the weather or mental state or any number of things out there that struggle to take you away from your passion. At the same time, if as a writer you haven’t learned to listen and see the world, it is tougher to write of it. It’s easy enough to hear things, we’re bombarded with voices telling us what do buy, who to be, etc, but what about truly listening to what’s out there, not all that surface noise?

An assignment I’ve given in the past is to choose a day off, grab a notebook and pen, and take the entire route of a local bus. Take notes on anything that seems of interest to you. Watch what’s going on around you. Listen in on conversations and truly hear what people talk about.   Ditch the iPod and cell phone, but don’t be afraid to engage with others who sit next to you. Writers aren’t magical gods outside of humanity, just observing and playing God with language–we’re part of it. We hold up mirrors to the world and, even scarier, to ourselves. If we can’t see who we are, how are we expected to see others?

Don’t be afraid of not writing full sentences, either, when taking your notes. Simple notes such as “cat sitting on fence above ‘beware of dog sign'” or “man with chainsaw” are enough to jog your memory later. You know you and what information needs to go down.

So here’s my challenge: take the bus. Just for one day. Let it loop around. Tell me what notes you take and conversations you had, if any. Slow down and enjoy being a writer.

Your Literary Canon

I studied Religion in undergrad. In fact, I had enough classes that I could have probably done a triple major instead of the double one I ended up with. I was only missing some of the overview courses. I was able to take classes like “Perspectives on Evil and Suffering in Worldwide Religions” and “The Millennium: Apocalypse or Utopia?” Great classes for a future in horror writing for sure.

One of the unexpectedly interesting sections of one, I think it was the History of Early Christianity or one about the development of Judaism and Christianity, involved how the Bible was made canon. There were many more books out there than the final 66 that made it in. I learned of the Book of Mary, among others, that were not deemed as canonical.

Back then, I was an ignorant young college student. I think part of the purpose of college nowadays is just to grow the hell up a bit, have your eyes opened. Then, later in life, you can reflect on what you did and actually realize the purpose.   Because I didn’t realize how the creation of canons of literature happens all the time. It was in every class I’ve taken, and later ones I have taught. Sometimes the book hits and it sticks with you. I remember the greatest compliment I got as a professor was when a student in one of my graphic novel memoir classes came up to me after class and said, “Professor, I love this book so much, I’m not going to return it after class is over.” That book was Epileptic, by the way. It’s amazing. It’s part of my personal canon.

Because I think we develop our own personal canons as we go by life. As people, as well as writers. The books that influence you and your work. The books that you live by and can’t live without. The books that you return to year after year, day after day, and look to for guidance, or companionship, or comfort, or faith, or to feel that special feeling you feel each time you read it, to time travel back to that specific moment when you read that first line and realized your life was about to change.

 Some of the books in my personal canon include the before mentioned Eplipetic by David B, along with 100 Demons by Lynda Barry, Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Momo by Michael Ende, and the DragonSinger series by Anne McCaffrey. There are many more that helped to create my literary soul, but these are a good start.

I don’t have a specific book by Stephen King I turn to, like those above, but he is also in my canon- more as a figure than a specific page to turn to. I wrote a different blog post about my feelings toward Stephen King, and they can be found here: On Stephen King and Accepting Yourself As a Writer

Tell me, what books are in your canon?  Where do they take you, what part of you do they serve?

Literary Chess

I like the meditative nature of writing. It’s me and the page. I allow waves of thoughts to wash up on the shore of my mind and am like a beach comber, sifting through, seeing what I can piece together, seeing what there are piles of and is important to my mind, seeing what the sea takes back in.

I like talking about writing, and talk about it off and on with an old MFA bud of mine, Adam. We talk craft and trends and sometimes, how it’s good to wander and take your time with a piece. I was reminded, in our last conversation, about how people used to play long distance chess. You’d wait for that phone call or letter saying where to move a chess piece and then would spend time thinking about your counter move, trying to figure out what they were getting at.

We live in a day of instant gratification. I can play chess online and have a game finished one sitting (who am I kidding, a few minutes, it’s been a long time since I’ve been good at chess). So the question was how to have this tradition of waiting on another to make a move, before you make one? To have stillness and yet anticipation?

So we landed on literary chess. I made a post on Facebook asking for themes. I got a number good ones, too. I then put them all on slips of paper and had my roommate pick one. He turned his head away and pulled out. . .BACON.

So what is literary chess?   It’s a twitter game between two people.   One person starts with a theme and using the limits of twitter writes out a line of a poem, story, etc. Then it’s the other person’s turn to continue.   This goes on until each person has written 12 lines. The story/poem must be complete by the end.

Adam’s a poet, so we decided to do a poem based on the theme. Will my enjambments manage to jam him up? Will his wordsmithery trounce my fictioned heart into submission?   Will we find cohesion? Because this is literary chess folks, were battling each other and the form but for cohesion and a shot at art.

We can be followed at #literarychess on twitter, and our own twitters. I also totally encourage others to challenge each other. Or, if you’d like to challenge Adam or I, please feel free to make it known!

The game is afoot.