Playing With Dolls


So this is all going on*– my index finger hurts because I bent back the nail; the world is coated with yellow-green oak pollen; the dog is lying here in the living room with both ears up on high alert; my son is out with his friend; and I am sitting in a chair, Trying To Write, with Suffragette City winding around and around in my brain:

Oh don’t lean on me man
Cause you can’t afford the ticket
I’m back on Suffragette City
Oh don’t lean on me man
Cause you ain’t got time to check it
You know my Suffragette City
Is outta sight… she’s alright

Before dinner I went through some old magazines and pulled out pictures to use in collage and I thought again how my hobbies are childish. Cutting up magazines, making jewelry from beads and wire, gluing twine onto a balloon– these seem like the preoccupations of a ten-year-old girl. Is there something childish about wanting to make things with my own hands? Or is it the things themselves– collages, bead necklaces and bracelets, coasters, pillows, mish-mash quilted throws– just a few things I’ve made over the last while– do they lack some adult and serious quality.

I don’t know. Continue reading

Why Writers Need Beginner’s Mind


This is not the VIC Lady.

The other evening I went to the supermarket with a friend. She just had a few things to pick up, so we went to the self-scan checkout. She clicked on the screen to begin, then clicked something else quickly, and then I noticed the VIC Lady (not her real name) was no longer shouting “WELCOME VEE EYE SEE CUSTOMER” like she usually does.

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What Are You Waiting For?

Woman waiting by doors

photo by Brian Donovan via flickr licensed by CC 2.0

Some writers and other creative types tend to procrastinate a lot. Yeah, don’t look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not the only one who does it.

My friend Julie recently challenged me to come up with two lists: one with unproductive procrastination activities, and the other with productive procrastination activities. We decided ‘productive’ in this context means that when you are done with the activity, whatever it is, you don’t feel bad about yourself. Well, you still feel a little bit bad because you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, but not as bad as if you did one of the unproductive procrastination activities. Continue reading

The War of Art – A Review

“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

photo by   via Flickr cc

photo by See-ming Lee via flickr cc

I’ve read a lot of books about creativity, making art, and becoming a better writer. In many of these books, there are one or two great ideas, and then some ideas that I find are not useful, or not original, or both.

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All You Need is a First Line

Sometimes the hardest thing about a poem/essay/story/novel is writing the beginning. Putting the words down on the page is like standing up in front of a room full of people and saying, “Listen up!” It’s a big moment. What if they don’t listen? What if they do, and they don’t like what they heard? What if your work is boring? Really, there’s no end to the ways you can screw up. Continue reading

The Creative Life

The creative life is forgiving: You can betray it all you want, again and again, and no matter how many times you do, it will always take you back.

– Lev Grossman, How Not to Write Your First Novel

When I read Lev Grossman’s piece on how he graduated from college and tried (and failed) to write his first novel, I had a rueful moment of recognition– his plan to be a solitary genius and to ‘live the creative life’ in a farmhouse in rural Maine seemed like something I could have done, if I’d had the bravery to do it. I did not go as far as he did, but only because I was primarily a poet, and even I knew nobody makes any money publishing poetry.* As Grossman laid out the premise– traveling away from everything he knew, believing he needed near-complete solitude to write, not wanting to be a sell-out– it was clear that he was going to fail, and fail badly. After six months he packed up and left for the real world. But we know that eventually Grossman did manage to write critically-acclaimed best-selling books. So what is the point? The point is you don’t have to be lonely genius to write a book– in fact, that it’s better to be around other people, and working in an office doesn’t preclude writing books.

He ends the piece with the quote that I put at the beginning of this piece, which hit me squarely in the big bag of excuses I drag around for not doing my creative work– I’m too old, too boring, too bad at writing, etc. He’s right– It’s never too late. The Muse will take you back again and again.

*Billy Collins is the exception that proves the rule.