Directing my energy toward creativity

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been pouring myself into creative outlets lately. It’s not as though I have a ton of spare time, but if a day goes by that I don’t engage in some kind of creative activity, I feel lost. For me, creative practice is part of my sadhana (spiritual practice) because it’s a way that I can look inward and not only be honest about what I see but also do something with it. I don’t tend to stay in one lane creatively, either. Some days I need to write a poem. Some days I need to sing a song or make art of other kinds.

One of the cool things I learned from roller derby was how much fun it is to start something you have no idea how to do, and then really see it through. It felt amazing to put on skates and learn to hit and play and really become strong in the unique way that derby makes people strong. Likewise, it feels awesome to pick up the ukulele and learn a new chord or compose a little song with one of my favorite meditation mantras. The process of learning is deeply satisfying in itself, but the reward of having learned something and getting to engage in the act of creation using what you’ve learned … it’s just stellar.

This is why I’ve been enjoying audio recording so much lately. I’ve been spending a good bit of time on  my Soundcloud experiments. A long time ago I recorded some poems for sharing, but more recently, I’ve been experimenting with music using Garage Band, my ukulele, and my voice. Admittedly, I’m not starting 100% from scratch on the music thing. I did have piano lessons, voice lessons, and a few years of choir to learn the basics, but I was not a strong student of music theory, so I’m kinda winging it on the composition front.

If you’re into meditation songs or ukulele punk, you’re invited to follow me on Soundcloud. For a taste of what I’m all about, here’s a meditation song I finished today.

Read More

Battle of the Narrators

Choosing your narrative perspective is like choosing the angle for a self portrait.

mirrors

photo by autumn_bliss

1st person is direct, but it’s a little self-absorbed. I get tired of writing and seeing the word “I” so often.

2nd person is quirky, but it’s a bit of a cop out, a way to pretend you’re not just writing about yourself without actually writing about anything other than yourself.

Of course, there’s always good old fashioned 3rd person, but that makes me feel weird. If I’m writing about myself, using 3rd person feels like fictionalizing, like lying even, whereas in 2nd person, the reader knows I’m not actually describing their personal experience but sharing my own experience in a way I want them to relate to.

It probably comes down to readability and style. Which way is more enjoyable for the reader? Which way is more effective? Which way works better for the rhythm and flow of the piece?

Here is one paragraph written three ways:

1st Person:

I like to read about philosophies and religions that point us toward making peace with ourselves. I like Buddhism, but I don’t like to sit still for meditation. I don’t like to go to church or listen to preachers. I want a teacher, but I wouldn’t listen. I’m all I’ve got, then. But I do like the idea of oneness. I appreciate the fantasy of melting into a larger identity, not just for the delight of finally getting out of my skin but for the escape from being a person who must get dressed every day, and go to work, and pay bills, and be nice to people. Briefly, I can imagine that if I melt into the larger whole, I would be something much larger, much more magnificent than my little self with my little job and my chipped nail polish.

2nd Person:

You like to read about philosophies and religions that try to point us toward being at peace with ourselves. You like Buddhism, but you don’t like to sit still for meditation. You don’t like to go to church or listen to preachers. You want a teacher, but you wouldn’t listen. You’re all you’ve got, then. But you do like the idea of oneness. You appreciate the fantasy of melting into a larger identity, not just for the delight of finally getting out of your skin but for the escape from being a person who must get dressed every day, and go to work, and pay bills, and be nice to people. Briefly, you can imagine that if you melt into the larger whole, you would be something much larger, much more magnificent than your little self with your little job and your chipped nail polish.

3rd Person:

She likes to read about philosophies and religions that try to point us toward being at peace with ourselves. She likes Buddhism, but she doesn’t like to sit still for meditation. She doesn’t like to go to church or listen to preachers. She wants  a teacher, but she wouldn’t listen. She is all she’s  got, then. But she does like the idea of oneness. She appreciates the fantasy of melting into a larger identity, not just for the delight of finally getting out of her skin but for the escape from being a person who must get dressed every day, and go to work, and pay bills, and be nice to people. She imagines that if she melts into the larger whole, she would be something much larger, much more magnificent than her little self with her little job and her chipped nail polish.

1st person is self-absorbed. 2nd person can be too conversational. 3rd person feels fictional.

So, which one works better? Or is the real solution that I should grow up and stop writing about myself?

Read More

Voice: How do you sound on the page?

Do you have a voice or style of your own? What does that even mean?

Voice is an abstract topic that writers sometimes find hard to discuss. At a mini session at Goucher a year or so ago, we spent a long time on the question “What is voice?” and never seemed to get to any kind of answer. Since then, I’ve come to understand voice in a rather literal way, like the voice of a comedian.

When I was a kid, I thought my big brother was the funniest person alive. I would laugh hysterically at everything he said, but I didn’t get why no one laughed when I repeated it. First lesson of humor: It’s got to be the genuine article. Ripping off another person’s joke is always transparent and rarely funny. It took me a while to learn that.

One night at dinner, the whole family was at the table, and the conversation had fallen quiet for no particular reason. Then, like a flash, my brother John snatched up a dinner roll, placed it on the table and slammed his fist into it. It was really strange and weirdly hilarious. My parents probably should’ve been annoyed with him, but everyone was laughing instead. I think that moment was when I started to understand humor. The moment had been unexpected, maybe even random, a little risky, and timed just right. I sincerely studied my brother’s behavior from then on to try and develop not just a sense of humor (because I naturally knew punching the dinner roll was awesomely funny) but to develop a style of humor … a voice, if you will. I wanted to be able to punch the dinner roll and make everyone laugh, but I wanted to do it my way.

I have probably never gotten as funny as John can be, but then again, my style is very different from his. The way I studied his humor is the same way I developed my writing style. As human beings, we all naturally recognize things that draw us in. We have our favorite writers, singers, and performers of all stripes, and we study them to develop our own style. Here’s a breakdown of some of the people who have influenced my writing style:

Writers
Emily Dickinson — simplicity and subtlety
Joan Didion — starkness, observation, sharp and clear

Peers
John — Pointing out the absurd in everything, perfect timing

Musicians
Tori Amos — flow, magic, weaving
Ani Difranco — directness, gritty metaphors, earthy
Modest Mouse — elevating ordinary language through extraordinary use

Comedians
Whoopi Goldberg — bold
Ellen DeGeneres — warm
Kathleen Madigan — charmingly awkward

In my wildest dreams, all the ways I described the voices I like also apply to my writing. I’m still working on it. But what I have been doing for as long as I can remember is trying to absorb and incorporate the traits I like best. Read those authors, listen to those performers and engage with those people whose style and voice you love. Just like the way you pick up weird phrases from you friends, you’ll start incorporating key elements from these other sources. One of the best ways I’ve found to produce really unique writing is to put a favorite album on my iPod and really soak in my favorite songs while writing. I start reproducing the rhythm and flow of the songs while I write.

What other ways do you develop your writing voice and incorporate new elements? Tell me in the comments!

Read More