Tuesday, July 26, 2011

if i can write just one

“If I can write just one decent short story, I’ll be satisfied.” –Donald Ray Pollack

If you have an opportunity, listen to this interview with author Donald Ray Pollack. It’s a hopeful yet grounded story of self-discovery, self-discipline and reinvention.

And on a personal note, I love the borrowed advice he shares for aspiring writers: type out short stories to learn their rhythms and textures.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I’m re-reading Writing Down the Bones to get myself pumped about the practice of writing. That word — practice — has been bothering me lately. I think my disgust is at least one part laziness and another naivety. What I mean by that is that when I see someone soar — in their element, doing their thing — I fail to acknowledge all they hours they put into it. I assume they take the stage and magic hits. So many artists, writers, athletes, performers, etc., when they tell their stories, recount how they’ve been doing whatever it is they do since they were born, or so it seems. Born to do what they do. Somehow I hear this and mistake their lifetime of practice for a mysterious gift. The truth is that it is some gift and a whole lot of practice, at least in most cases.

In Writing Down the Bones, the author suggests practice is like composting. As we add material to our pile, turn it over and apply heat, we develop a rich soil that will nourish the growth of new things. This was a helpful metaphor for me for a few reasons:

  • If the same idea comes again and again, it doesn’t mean I lack creativity; it’s a thought that needs turning and time.
  • Lots of different materials can be thrown into the pile — in fact, the more, the better. Even if it seems like trash.
  • “Understanding this process cultivates patience and produces less anxiety.” Author’s words.
  • My practice isn’t wasted. It is enriching the soil and making my writing fertile.

Along these lines, I’ve been feeling the need for more material for my pile -- or rather, the ability to recognize it. A full day in a downtown office can leave me feeling as sterile as the building I work in, my thoughts as monotonous as the offices filled with identical furniture, and as emptied as the streets here after 7pm (this is downtown Los Angeles, after all… some cafes here don’t even open on the weekends!). So I’m brainstorming ways to add to my pile. I made a short list to remind myself of where I find inspiration:

  • Being outside
  • Watching movies
  • Reading magazines, especially thoughtful ones
  • Museums
  • Being quiet
  • Poetry
  • The beach
  • Conversations with people, and especially meeting new people
  • Making collages, or other things, with my hands
  • Hearing about other people’s childhoods
  • New music; live music
  • bookstores and stationary shops
  • And (let's be honest) coffee helps!
Update: more inspiration:
  • playing with children
  • thoughtful interviews
  • NPR
  • looking at the stars

And now I turn to you, dear readers: How do you find material to nourish your craft or your life? Please share anything and everything! Let’s get some piles turning.

Another update: You can find the reading from the book here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

small beginnings

courtesy of Crossfit 626

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin... -Zechariah 4:10.

In April my housemates and I started attending a community crossfit gathering every Saturday morning. These workouts are intense. I've been doing yoga and running for a few years now, but these seem like child's play when you are faced with 100 burpees. Especially when you can only really properly do, like, two. Those first few sessions were killer. Who am I kidding, they still are.

And yet I see progress. My arms are stronger, my mind is stronger and my endurance for strength training is increasing. As you can see in the photo above, my form still isn't great, but I'm doing it.

This week I'm starting a creative writing class, one I signed up for with much anticipation. Now I feel insecure and a dull ache of dread whenever I think about my writing assignments and the ideas that have been percolating. It's because I know my beginning will be very small. Like doing two burpees in the face of the 100 required. But you have to start somewhere... This photo and scripture are my inspiration for my beginning.

Oh, and for sticking with those burpees.

(Photo courtesy of Crossfit626.)