Hello, Reader. I’ve been trying to write this post since yesterday morning at 5:30. So we’re dispensing with ‘wordless wednesday’ this week so that I can feel I’ve accomplished at least one small thing!
First, let’s just get this out of the way: Poor Edith.
Also, thanks for all your insightful and encouraging comments on keeping one’s chin up. My inner optimist is back in the saddle!
And now. Have you seen the Muse lately? I hope she’s at your house, because she sure isn’t at mine. I confess, despite working my way through the 21- day antidote, there’s not too much exciting stuff happening at my desk so far this year. I’ve yet to hit my stride.
[I pause here to say, I think I forgot to mention that *in no way* am I trying to complete the 21-day antidote in 21 days. So much for doing the exercises “exactly as stated.” I’m just working away at them as often as I’m able to until I’ve finished all 21 prompts.]
Anyway, yes, tough going here at my desk lately, and so I’ve been thinking about neutral practices. I learned about neutral practices from Genine Lentine. My understanding of neutral practices is that they are things we can do, bits of work we can undertake, that can advance our writing but that we’re not highly invested in on an emotional level.
For me, things like drafting, submitting, working on fellowship applications, creating mini-manuscripts — these are emotionally charged tasks: I care about the outcome; I want to do it just right; I feel like something important is at stake. These tasks are not neutral practices. Lately, even my fairly-neutral practice of morning reading and writing has not felt very neutral. When I’m at loose ends, when the writing is like slogging through a marsh, when I don’t feel settled enough or don’t really have enough time to enter the space of really writing, here are some things I do that advance my writing but don’t feel hard or emotionally weighted:
1. read and make wordbanks (These are lists of words that I pull from other people’s work, then try to use in my own. Longtime readers will remember that I learned this trick from Sandy Longhorn.)
2. read and make poem-maps (these are maps of poems I use as exercises; more here)
3. just read
4. page through my active revision folder and note edits
5. page through my writing notebook to capture ideas and scraps of language
6. make an Obsession Packet
What, you may ask, is an Obsession Packet? An obsession packet is a bunch of material on a topic that one is currently obsessed with all put into one place for further use.
Who knows where obsessions come from? But lately I’ve been obsessed with survival (and not-survival) stories, particularly those of South Pole explorers, and also one not-so-run-of-the-mill shipwreck. I’ve been reading, taking notes, makin’ copies, jotting down bits of language, questions, page numbers, ideas for further reading, etc.
I’ve always done this (read voraciously, take notes, jot down ideas), but what I haven’t always done is then put all that material into a usable format for later. Then all that time and potential inspiration are lost. Over the last several months, I’ve been trying to capture the material so that I can return to it later.
I have no idea whether these Obsession Packets will ever lead to anything, such as a particular poem or series of poems. But my artist’s hunch is that they’re worthwhile in one way or another. The key, of course, is to return to them later.
So, back to neutral practices: For me, it’s been really helpful to have the concept of ‘neutral practices’ in my writer’s tool kit. Other neutral practices that Genine has mentioned are: (1) collecting scraps (words, images, photos – whatever) of things that somehow grab your attention, and later going through those scraps to see what might emerge; (2) “writing” via redaction: beginning with a source text and taking words away as a means of creating a new text.
Do you have any neutral practices that you rely on when the going’s tough? If yes, I invite you to share them in comments. Thanks for reading.