Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Murdering Your Internal Censor

In high school I took a creative writing class. I thought it would be an easy class, because I'd been writing for as long as I can remember, and I had always earned high marks for writing...until then. I wrote story after story, but no matter what, my compositions came back scrawled with red marks. No matter how much time I spent pouring out my ideas, getting inside my characters’ heads, I was never given a grade high than a C-minus. This was a giant blow to me. Devastating. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I didn’t have the courage to ask my teacher. She was frightening.I began to doubt my ability as a writer. I did try to drop the class, but it was too late in the year.

So...I dug deeper with every writing assignment. I wrote about the truths in my life—divorce and death. My grades sunk lower. Meanwhile, the girl next to me was writing about puppies and intact families eating apple pie at picnics. The only red mark on her compositions was a symmetrical A at the top of her paper. I worked harder.

I wrote a story about a girl who met her mother years after her mother had abandoned her as a toddler. I wrote the story with ferocity and energy I had never had before. A few days later the teacher handed back the story. She had x’ed out every page. At the top of the page was an F. I was furious. At the end of class, I stopped in front of my teacher’s desk and made confetti pieces out of my story and watched them flutter on her desk. She glared at me.

“What is wrong with you?” she said.

I gulped tears. I was too afraid of her to speak.

As she brushed the confetti into the trash can, she said, “You’ll never be a writer. You don’t know how to write.” She shouted at me the insecurities I had had every time I faced a blank page. This stooped over old woman gave life and power to my internal editor.

Too late to drop the class, I had to stick it out. I began writing about the things I thought would please her. I wrote about kittens and rainbows and children who never got messy. I thought it was awful, but my grades came up. But I still felt miserable. I wasn't writing the truth, what mattered to me. Outside the class, I didn’t do any writing. For a long time afterward, I believed I would never be a writer. Whenever a story idea came to me, I shooed it away saying, “Why bother?”

Fortunately, the following year, I took creative writing in college. At first I was tentative. But my professor was encouraging. He prodded me to dig deep. And soon my passion for writing returned.

Everyone has an internal censor. For some it may be loud and intrusive. For the luckier ones, it may only be a squeak. Our internal censor tells us things like: “You’ll never be a writer.” “You’re not good enough.” “No one would want to read that.” We don’t have to listen to it. We don’t have to write what we think would please others. We can’t allow our internal censor to keep us from writing our truths. Take control of it, squelch it, murder it if you have to.

Give your internal censor a voice. A body. Is your censor a male, female, or a creature? Describe its appearance. How does it smell? Use all your senses. Write everything your internal censor says. Spend about ten minutes freewriting. When the time is up, take a deep breath, walk around, or make soup. When you feel you’re ready, create a murder scene on paper. You are going to take control of your censor. Vanquish it. How you murder it is up to you. Respond to all the things your censor has told you. Tell your censor you are a writer. How you write this doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you’ve vanquished your censor.

Your internal censor may return like the monster that never seems to die in horror movies. Try variations of this exercise. Eventually, you won’t hear that monster any more.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Writing Through Pain

Last week in my writing group, we discussed writing through pain. Since my dad's recent Alzheimer's diagnosis, it was appropos. Each day means facing a some type of loss, sometimes regrets. So far his symptoms are moderate. My 78-year-old dad still goes rollerskating and ice skating, and he still hikes. He is never without a camera. A few days ago when he came to visit, I let him take pictures of me. I didn't worry about not wearing makeup, my hair not being perfect, looking too fat. Someday, he won't remember who I am, who his daughters are, our children. He has always been a great storyteller. I'm trying to remember everything. I'm writing it. I'm blessed to have a terrific writing friend who asks questions, who noodges me to dig deeper. It's painful sometimes, and I want to rush over the details. She's there to prod me, and she's there helping me to face the pain, the losses.

I hope that you are able to find someone you can trust to share your writing, to help you write through the pain.

If you've avoided writing about your pain and losses, I suggest you do it right now. Freewrite about what hurts, what you're afraid of, what are your regrets. Dig deep and push through the pain. You may not be able to do it in one sitting. Begin with a 15 minute freewrite. Set it aside. Take a walk. Let it rest for a day or two. Then go back and circle all generalities, places that need to be developed. If you're as fortunate as I am, share it with a trusted friend who will offer you honest feedback. If you'd like to share it with me, I'm a willing reader.

Before I go, I want to share with you two quotes my friend shared with the writing group.
From Wild Mind, Living the Writer's Life, by Natalie Goldberg. She says,
"Go for the jugular.
If something scary comes up, go for it.
That's where the energy is.
Otherwise, you'll spend all your time writing around
whatever makes you nervous.
It will probably be abstract, bland
writing because you're avoiding the truth."

Hemingway said, "Write hard and clear about what hurts.
Don't avoid it.
It has all the energy.
Don't worry, no one ever died of it.
You might cry or laugh, but not die."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What If? Why? How? What is it?

Like so much of his other works, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man evolved from asking, “What if?” For instance he wrote: “What if you landed on a far world the day after Christ had just left to go elsewhere? Or what if He were still there, waiting?” That’s how the story, “The Man” came about.

Another: “What if a man could order a marionette robot that was his exact clone? What would happen if he left it with his wife while he went out nights?” From that Bradbury wrote “Marionnetes, Inc.”

Leonardo da Vinci kept notebooks not only of sketches of inventions, but also lists of things he wanted to explore. Human anatomy. How certain things worked. Structures of things. And so on.

In the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey is shown what the world would be like if he hadn’t been born. The moral of the story was that one person touches so many other lives. We don’t have the privilege of seeing what the world would be like if we weren’t born. But if you’re up for it, write about it.

Children are naturally curious. They bombard us with questions daily. They ask “Why?” or “How?” or “What is it?” As adults, unless it’s work related, we don’t ask those questions so much. Often we were told that it’s annoying to be asked so many questions. We got lazy. Or we don’t care much. How many times have you heard a news story or watched a TV show, and you came across something you didn’t know? Did you gloss over it, or did you look it up? How many times have we been told or have told our children to “Look it up?”

The internet is a limitless resource. No longer do we have to tug encyclopedia volumes from the shelf or trek to the library. We can go to our favorite search engine and type in a subject. Within seconds, we have the information in front of us. (What if the Internet hadn’t been invented?)

Get into the habit of asking: “Why?” “How?” “What is it?” Make a point to do this daily or weekly. Before you do any research, freewrite about your subject. For instance, “What is gazpacho?” Freewrite all you know on the subject. (It doesn’t matter if you know nothing.) Write whatever comes to mind. If you veer off the subject, don’t resist. Allow the creative process to take over. Later, when you have time, look up the subject. Read as much as you want. Then try another freewrite. Note the results.

We should also get into the habit of asking “What if?” For instance, what if you had arrived at a certain place ten minutes later—or earlier? What if you had made a different choice?

Freewrite for fifteen minutes beginning with, “What if?” Don’t worry about finishing your ideas or where they might go. Some ideas might seem pretty wacky. Write them down anyway. Keep asking “What if?” If you get stuck, keep repeating “What if?” until something else pops into your head. It doesn’t have to make sense. When you’re finished, look over this freewrite. Are there any potential story ideas? If not, don’t worry. Tuck it away for awhile. Something might come to you later. You can also use this exercise if you’re stuck with a story or character. Freewrite the possibilities. All the ideas don’t have to be usable. Just write.

And as always...have fun!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Snow Days

Here in Central Pennsylvania it's been snowing all morning with the heaviest of snow yet to come. We're supposed to end up with about a foot of snow. All the schools in the area have dismissed early. AAAARRRRGH! The kids are home, and they're wound up. Snow seems to have that effect on least mine, anyway. Here it's noisy and chaotic, and I can't get any work done.

I love snow. It brings out the little kid in me. I love taking long walks as the snow falls. I don't mind shoveling. I'll fall on the ground and make snow angels. Build snowmen. Toss snowballs with the dog.

How do you feel about snow? Has it changed since you were a kid? What emotions, thoughts, do you have when you see falling snow? What happened the first time you saw snow? What are your memories of Snow Days? Have any of you never seen snow? Freewrite using the prompt "Snow Days" (or any variation of). Set your timer for fifteen minutes and go!

Feel free to post your freewrites and/or share your memories.

As always...have fun with it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dunging Out and Redding Up

Recently a writing friend and I had a discussion about organizing our writing spaces. She described the things she found while “dunging out” her desk area. What would she do with the Christmas cards and other mementos she found? She had to find a home for these things before she could redd up.

Being a Pennsylvania Dutch gal, I knew what redd up meant. We redd up the house before company came, redd up our rooms before our mothers performed their inspections. I had never heard of “dunging out.” My friend explained that “dunging out” was akin to cleaning out a cattle barn. It was the bulldozer phase of cleaning, getting rid of the things you had accumulated over the years. Redding up was the feather duster phase, the fluffing pillows and straightening bookshelves.

Most of us have a junk drawer or a closet where we deposit things. They’ve become the catch-all of things we don’t know what to do with at the moment, but we want them out of sight. Or maybe we have the best of intentions. We put them there because someday, we’ll empty the drawer (or closet) and figure out what to do with the stack of birthday cards or the pencils that don’t have lead.

Open your closet or junk drawer. You might want to start with your writing space. Take a good look inside. Empty it on the floor beside you. What did you find? Maybe there’s a movie ticket from five years ago. A birthday card from your dog. A pair of shoes with a broken heel. A pair of Nikes still in its box and unlaced. What was I thinking when I bought that Spandex mini skirt?

Make a list of the things you found. Include the mundane things like rubber bands and lint as well as the items that spark a memory or emotional reaction. As time allows, freewrite about the things on your list. Begin with the objects that evoke a reaction. But don’t ignore the lint or rubber bands. Write about those, too. Write your observations. Then push past the obvious. Go deeper and beyond what’s on the surface. Please feel free to post your freewrite.

And as always...have fun!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Thanks for stopping by. Today's post isn't about writing. I heard about this site from another blogger, so I thought I'd check it out. It's sort of an experiment. I usually don't do stuff like this, but I'm asking you to check out this site. It's called They pay you to fill out simple offers, take surveys, signup to receive trial products, etc. It's provided some nice extra spending cash for me, but it is also a lot of fun... it's pretty unique how they have it set up. There's a lot of interaction with the admin & other members and there's also little games & treasure hunts that you can do to earn more money. They also pay you 20% of whatever your referrals make and 5% of what your 2nd-level referrals make. Yup, that's why I'm telling you guys! Honestly, though... it's a cool site. Check it out.

Please pass this information along to anyone who might be interested. If you join, please let me know how you do. Many thanks...

Tomorrow I'll post a new writing exercise. Until then...

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Making Lists

In the last chapter I discussed how most of us think linearly, how we tend to make lists. To-do lists. Grocery lists. Homework. For a moment I’m going to contradict the nonlinear processes of freewriting and clustering and focus on making lists. This is another approach to writing exercises. Use whatever technique works for you.

Just before our high school graduation, one of my friends made a list of things she wanted to accomplish in her lifetime. She included things like “go to Paris,” “ride a hot air balloon,” and “fall in love.” I’ve lost touch with her, so I don’t know how many of these she has accomplished so far—if any. Maybe you’ve written a similar list. If you know where it is, dust if off. If not, that’s all right. You’re going to write a new one.

For this writing exercise, start out with a list. Then freewrite or cluster or (use whatever method is most comfortable for you) about each item on the list. It might be easier to make a list for one topic but on another, it is easier to freewrite. Do whatever works for you. Begin a new page for each topic. Prescribe yourself a reasonable limit. For instance: set a timer for ten minutes; write until you’ve filled half a page; or write until you’ve listed twenty items. Choose one or more topics. Remember to start a new page for each.
· Things I want to accomplish in my lifetime
· I am a …
· My hobbies are …
· Things I’ve done that few others have done
· Things I would like to do
· Things I would never do
· I believe
· I love
· I hate
· I want

Feel free to come up with your own lists. Set your timer. Push yourself. Go deep. As always, have fun with it!

If you do come up with new items for to list, please share them by adding a comment. And let me know how you're doing!

“Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found.”
~ James Russell Lowell

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Another Prompt: Embarrassing Moments

Yesterday I visited Vicki M Taylor's blog, and she wrote about her most embarrassing moment. It was something she had never written about until now. She relayed so beautifully the agony and embarrassment she experienced. It was truly deep writing, writing from the gut. Ironically, whenever I hear "what's your most embarrassing moment," my moment is similar to hers.
So...I had to post the prompt here.
Here it is:
Freewrite about your most embarrassing moment. No stopping to edit spelling or grammar. Do not censor yourself. Keep your pen moving until you are finished. Set your timer for 10 or 15 minutes...ready...set...go!

Friday, March 2, 2007

This Week's Writing Prompts

Freewrite, cluster, or use whatever method works for you, and use each one in a separate writing session. Set your timer for 15 minutes...

* Fat
* The smell of snow
* Angels
* Write about something you stole (or was stolen from you).
* Write about guilty pleasures.
* Beads
* Write about things that are too loud.

As always...have fun!