Part Wild
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Part Wild

A Writer's Guide to Harnessing the Creative Power of Resistance

Deb Norton

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eBook - ePub

Part Wild

A Writer's Guide to Harnessing the Creative Power of Resistance

Deb Norton

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About This Book

"A must-read for any aspiring or seasoned writer." — Huffington Post We all have the call to create. The question is…why don't we answer it? We all come pre-loaded with a creative spark that drives us to innovate, explore, express, and make our unique contribution to the world. Often, though, that drive doesn't get us very far down the road before it runs right smack into resistance—the mysterious force that thwarts creativity.But resistance needn't be the enemy of writing—or any other creative endeavor. Deb Norton's Part Wild provides fun and practical ways to turn resistance into a creative asset.Whether it presents as doubt, perfectionism, or Deb's favorite: a chorus of withering inner critics, the power of resistance can be leveraged to launch the creative process with real momentum. Once we harness resistance, we can let our creative impulses off the leash.Norton has turned a decade of sold-out writing retreats and private coaching into a process for powering up your creative ideas. In Part Wild, she shares dozens of illuminating and effective practices and quick-start prompts that are guaranteed to get us out of our heads and onto the page. Just as The Artist's Way gave millions of readers permission to explore their creative side, Part Wild shows writers of all levels of experience and skill how to harness the electrifying power of resistance and get writing.

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Year
2016
ISBN
9781501129162

I

Resistance Training

Building Strength and Flexibility

Why do writing exercises, you might ask? Why write anything that isn’t going to be something? You should exercise your writing for the same reason you exercise your body. Walking, cycling, weight lifting, and yoga all employ the same natural force to make you strong and flexible: resistance. You can’t build muscle without something to push against. The same goes for writing.

1


Inspiration—Fickle Muse

Don’t Hold Your Breath / Provision Your Process

Until I was six years old, I loved being in water. In the desert town where I grew up, 110 degrees was the temperature on a typical summer day. Liza, the dentist’s kid, had a pool, and so her house was mobbed, sunup to sundown, from when school got out in June well into October. We played Marco Polo, pretended to be mermaids, did midair contortions off the diving board, and stayed in the water until our fingers were white and wrinkled. When we got out, we’d eat sliced oranges. This was my idea of the good life.
Then my mother enrolled me in the Pollywog swimming class at the local rec center, where I was surprised to learn that I didn’t know how to swim.
Every week, I suited up in my orange terry-cloth one-piece and my mom’s too-big rubber swim cap with the flowers and the chin strap and marched across the nubby concrete looking like something out of Cirque du Soleil.
“Tread for five!” The college-aged instructor blew her whistle. She and all the other kids bobbed like corks while I sputtered and thrashed for the side of the pool. I just couldn’t keep my head above the water. It was like trying to keep a piece of rebar afloat.
“Relaaaax.” The instructor pried my fingers off the pool gutter. “Relax and feel the water pushing you to the surface.” I stopped thrashing, sank, and took in water; so much for relaxing. I clawed for her shoulders and clung to them. Finally she just wore me around like a cape as she taught the other kids.
To graduate from Pollywogs, we had to swim across the short and shallow side of the pool. I splashed along like a waterwheel off its axle. When I reached the other side, purple and panting, a man with a clipboard stared at me over his glasses, puzzled. “Did you hold your breath the whole way?”
I knew I was supposed to breathe and blow bubbles, but if I lifted my head enough to get air, my bottom half sank and took the rest of me down with it. I nodded my head in shame. He marked his clipboard.
After that, I hated the water.
Why couldn’t I float? Why couldn’t I do this normal human thing? Friends tried to teach me but then watched, fascinated, as I went under. I was told I couldn’t float because I was too tense, that I didn’t have enough body fat, that my breathing was too shallow, my bones too dense, my muscles too stringy. I was told, and I sort of believed, that the water could sense my fear.
When I was pushing thirty, my ex-fiancé and I decided we’d like to be absolutely certain we weren’t right for each other, so he took me on a vacation to the Caribbean. I was very, very nervous about snorkeling, but Greg was a champion swimmer and promised not to let me drown. In a worst-case scenario, I reasoned, I could do the cape thing and he could wear me from reef to reef.
All geared up in our snorkels, masks, and fins, we clump-slapped into the warm—wow, waaaaarm—water and I put my face under and I could see for miles and I pushed off and waited for the struggle and the sinking, but instead I was gliding like a water bug, flying over a bustling, colorful landscape. It was the breathing! It had always been the breathing. With the snorkel piping air down to me, I didn’t have to lift my head and could lie flat as a leaf on the surface. I felt at home in the water, like it had always been my element. So this was floating.
There was a fleeting moment of panic when a small swell rolled over me and filled the snorkel with water, but I kept my wits and cleared the water with a big exhalation as I’d been instructed to do. Greg saw this and gave me an underwater thumbs-up. I smiled back at him around my mouthpiece.
At nearly thirty years old, I finally figured out the secret to floating, and it wasn’t my attitude or my build or my worthiness. The secret was so simple I could hardly believe it. The secret was a snorkel.

Practice #1: Don’t Hold Your Breath

I adored swimming until I “learned to swim.” This is a perfect corollary for the experience of all the writers who’ve told me, “Writing used to be effortless and fun, but now it’s a struggle. It’s heartbreak. It’s fraught. It’s torture.” That charged intensity that once made you want to spend every minute writing isn’t necessarily permanent. It’s the tugboat that pulled you out to sea, effortless and dreamy, but at some point, you need to continue of your own volition. When the mild insanity of infatuation dissipates, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over. Well, okay, with Greg and me it did, but couples who stay together must find new ways to kindle their connection. It’s the same with creative inspiration.
When I first started writing, I thought that if I was truly inspired, I should be able to just dive into my chair and float along on a warm, welcoming current of words. I’d sit there, pen poised, a willing vessel, waiting for the muse to love me up and send something through.
After a lot of frustrated waiting, I thought, What the heck is inspiration, anyway? I realized I had no idea. I thought back to how our voice teacher in acting school used to chant, “Iiiiin-spire . . . Eeeexpire . . .” to cue our breaths in and out. According to etymonline.com, “inspire” originally meant “to breathe in,” or, more literally, “to inhale spirit.” All right, I thought, if I’d waited to grow gills, I’d never have gotten to see a coral reef. If I want to swim in deep inspirational waters, I’ll need the creative equivalent of a snorkel and fins.
I’m not saying that your process can’t revolve around a Muse or a Source or a Higher Power, but the problem with outsourcing inspiration is that it can prevent the formation of method. You can keep yourself afloat and propel your pen into new and unexpected waters. You absolutely can. You just need to provision your process with the proper gear and develop your method.
Everyone’s process is unique, so the gear and the method will vary widely. Where I need a snorkel, you might do better with a pool noodle. Then again, you might need a full-on boat with an outboard motor. The first step is to get intimate with your process and notice what it needs.

Prompt: The Process of Noticing Your Process


One of your most powerful creative tools is Noticing with a capital N. Before you can provision yourself for a creative outing, you must first understand the physics of your creative element and the assumptions you have about it. Here are a few ways to start tracking these things, but know that the process of noticing your process should be ongoing.
Step One: Start a list entitled “Iiiiiin-spire” and jot down anything you can think of that “oxygenates” your creativity and makes you want to write or make art. For instance: loud symphonic music; a walk in nature; prayer (or meditation); reading my favorite poet; uncouth, foolish dancing. List for six minutes. Keep the list handy, and any time you notice something else that floats your creative boat, add it to the list.
Step Two: Start a list entitled “Eeeeeex-pire” and fill it with creative sinkers. This list is for anything that deflates your creative spirit. For instance: fatigue or hunger; the incessant barking of the dog next door; a sore back; money worries; a lack of ideas. List for six minutes. Continue to list sinkers as you notice them.
Step Three: Start a list entitled “Everything I Know about Inspiration” and fill it with any beliefs, superstitions, or ideas—helpful or unhelpful—you have about where creativity comes from. For instance: I have to be inspired to write; only real geniuses get inspired; if the writing feels “tight” it won’t be any good; if I am pleasing to the muse, she will favor me with brilliance. List for six minutes.
Step Four: Examine these beliefs and decide 1) whether they’re true, and 2) whether they support your creativity. Any time you discover another unexamined assumption about inspiration, add it to the list.

Practice #2: Provision Your Process

As soon as I stopped looking for inspiration, I was able to see what was right in front of me—my own process. For instance, I used to think that drowsiness was a sign of weakness until I remembered it was actually a sign of tiredness, and I didn’t write well when I was tired. I dragged a small sofa into my writing room and placed it right next to my desk so I could tumble out of my chair onto a comfy surface to give my brain a break. I would wake from these power naps fresh and ready for action, and often I’d have a little dream or a half-conscious waking thought to propel me back to my writing with something new.
My write-and-nap method was validated when I toured George Bernard Shaw’s home and saw that his teeny writing cabin featured a slim sleeping platform directly behind his chair so that he could tip right over for a lie-down.
It’s also noteworthy that the cabin sat on a device that allowed him to turn the whole structure and follow or escape the direct sunlight throughout the day. Here’s a writer who studied his process, figured out what best supported it, and built it to spec.
By this I mean that your process is your own, unique and incomparable. What worked for Shaw or Shakespeare or Sidney Sheldon may not work for you. I used to devour author interviews and writers’ memoirs searching for the magic bullet. I especially wanted to lift from the authors I truly admired: what were the habits, traits, and tendencies that allowed them to be so prolific, or so profound?
They said things like, “I sit down to write and don’t get up until I reach my page goal, no matter what.”
“I get up every forty-five minutes and do a non-writing activity, no matter what.”
“Writing must be treated like a job.”
“Writing must feel like play.”
“A writing space separate from the house is essential.”
“I can’t write anywhere but at the kitchen counter.”
“There must be a window with a view.”
“If there’s a window, I can’t write.”
“There has to be music.”
“I must have total silence.”
I wanted to take their secrets as gospel, but unfortunately successful authors have conflicting secrets, because every author is different.
Here’s a short list of provisions I came up with after a careful study of my own process needs:
* A warm beverage in an insulated cup—If my tea stays hot, it’s easier to stay in my chair.
* Prompts—They’re the fins of my writing process, propelling me along until I see something I can get curious about.
* A timer—It’s like having a personal coach that I have to obey.
* Chewing gum—It deflects most resistance-driven snack attacks.
* Back stretches and twists—They keep me from being pushed out of my chair by pain.
* A space heater, a blanket, and warm socks—Being cold is just upsetting.
* A window that opens onto a view—This keeps me from feeling imprisoned.
* A snoring dog nearby—It’s like a meditation, a mantra, and sanctification all rolled into one.
* A writer-friendly café—This gets me away from the dusting and dishes that nag.
* Headphones—At the café, listening to music without lyrics provides insulation from nearby conversations and the buzz of blenders without interrupting the flow of words. At home, headphones signal to my husband not to speak to me.
* A separate drop-down desk for bill paying, budgeting, and to-do ticking—This keeps practical worries out of my line of sight when I write. Just close the lid on that nonsense.
* Lip balm—I try never to write without it, which means buying quite a few and having them all around. It also means I have to check my pockets extra carefully ...

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