FIRST LIGHT FOR THE NOVICE
IF you are tired of the long lonely slog.
Lao Tzu warned, if you do not change direction you may end up where you are going.
If you are exhausted by the innumerable hurdles required in order to move yourself from the position of a talented novice into the realm of an accomplished wordsmith, I’m not surprised. I too found the process daunting.
After I’d “wasted” nine months on a first manuscript. while reinforcing several bad habits, I became discouraged after attending a prestigious writer’s conference. Fortunately they did provide me some excellent feedback, but subsequently, I “lost” another three to four months retraining myself. Then I had to began again — searching for suitable mentors.
I see that the time wasn’t actually “wasted” because I learned how challenging the initial process can be for a novice. It inspired me to develop a method, models & processes that provide my students with a fast track.
One of the more ironic blessings of my own life was what I learned during months of cancer treatment eight years ago – that facing challenge or death can wake us up & help us see with new eyes. Crisis is a great clarifier. It provided the catalyst for my first published book: Firebird. As Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, No mud. No Lotus.
Writer’s Catapult offers a big-picture survey
of the contemporary literary landscape as well as the best compass: a faith in your own compass.
While it won’t create instant poetry, memoir or even coffee, it does provide a reliable fast track: an antidote for years of flailing. It acts as a jump-start. Your time and expertise will now be focused, as you part company with rank beginners.
Furthermore, to achieve competency in any field an awareness of its intellectual & emotional landscape is required. If that awareness is combined with instruction in appropriate skills & an easy-to-follow, method & rubrics are also provided, then Voila! Success. It sounds simple. While it’s easy to envision, it can be deceptively difficult to realize.
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
Enjoy this catapult for your writing practice whether you are a beginner, novice or have simply stalled and are now ambitious for more challenge. It is your job to grapple. Get used to it! And while we are at it, let’s also put the fun back in profundity.
If your goal is to put together a portfolio for graduate school or a writer’s conference or you dream of completing a first chapbook we can assist. Join us. Locate your own epiphanies & share them.
For writing offers more than the gratification of creating & recreating ourselves in isolation. It is a community, one that often appreciates three great action verbs. Create. Love. Play.
You deserve to catapult, so you can say with Alice Friman:
Now I know what it means to balance a writer’s life. Each footfall, each stopping point, a fulcrum around which the body teeters and sways: a high wire act demanding concentration — the chattering mind delivered up blank as cardboard with pin-hole, dependent, in the pit-dark, upon a thin thread of dazzle coming through.
Enough philosophy & cheer-leading.
Below are several practical processes that will assist you when you are feeling stuck, paralyzed or simply want to write with more complexity or nuance.
CATAPULT’S GET-GOING WRITING AIDES
- Try a five minute cluster outline for brainstorming dialogue, detail, images
- Do a seven minute free write.
- Use a highlighter to identify vital details of your cluster outline & free write.
- Incorporate the details into your first draft.
IF YOUR ROUGH DRAFT IS NOT YET WORKING
THE DEEP DIVE, DELVE OR WHAT’S MISSING PROCESS
- Breathe, meditate or try progressive relaxation. ( 2 minute OM)
- Reread your rough draft.
- Select a word in the draft that you are curious about.
- Become the actor. Generate 3 new images/adjectives/symbols
- Ask what is the helpful message here?
- Become a mediator for your poem; see its complexity.
- Listen to what it needs to say.
- Revise as you incorporate these 3 adjectives/images/symbols
Your draft may become temporarily wordy or prose-like but just keep honing it as you seek its poetic identity/message
MORE ON UNSTUCK
REVIEW YOUR PROCESS
Be Yourself, Breathe. Relax.
Try a cluster outline.
Then free write for seven minutes. Review the free write rules.
Organize parts (list anecdotes and examples on index cards.) Shuffle to reorder.
Show don’t tell. Employ mostly nouns and verbs. Avoid adjectives or adverbs.
See it, hear it, smell it, feel it, taste it, could it be a film? Use images & dialogue.
Be ruthless in editing excess or redundant words.
Develop your ear. Read aloud.
Read fine writers. See Resources tab.
Read your work aloud to yourself first. Then revise.
Use figurative language sparingly. Do not confuse your reader or yourself.
When in doubt use plain diction not ornate,
Stick with the Anglo-Saxon. Avoid more intellectual Latinate-based words.
Practice sentence variety. Then arrange in stanzas. Consider line breaks.
After free write, invest initial writing in conceiving hook, conclusion and title.
Locate an epigraph. Google quotation.com
Strive to be consistently clear, brief and bold.
Get feedback from supportive readers. Workshop it!