The Purgery

A Writer's Blog & Resource Repository

Category: Inspiration

The Things We Do

Creativity is on the upswing. Writing output has increased. First draft completion for River of the Arms of God seems within reach.

Curious to know how I’ve arrived at this place? 

If you wake up every morning feeling like the weight of your ego is crushing your creative spirit, I have a few ideas about how to free it.

1. Join a Creative Coworking Community.

Too much quiet and alone time gets depressing, even for the crustiest of loners. Start a coworking group to establish a work routine, tap into synergies, set and share goals, and — most importantly — work in good company. Feed off of one another’s ideas, share what works/doesn’t work, and apply these gleanings to your own creative outputs. How do you find a creative coworking group? Inquire through your established connections: the workplace, church, school, extracurricular clubs, local community boards. If you can’t find one, you can make one! Meetup.com is a great way to go about creating creative community. Or use Facebook to create your own special group to share resources and arrange for ad hoc work sessions at cafés around town. Our little Get It Done (Coworking Writer’s Group) meets every Thursday at the same time. Then we work all day. Some of us also meet at a café on Wednesday afternoons to share our written works. Ever heard of the Inklings or The Bloomsbury Group? Those guys really understood the value of creative community.

2. Disappear Into Nature.

Sleeping under the stars, wilderness hiking, and getting to know strangers on the open trail frees your mind in unpredictable ways. Before the outdoor adventure, you’re stagnant. After the adventure, you’re inflow. If time and cost are an issue, take a few hours to disappear into nature even if it’s your own back yard, a city green space, or the nearest quiet room with a house plant (cacti, crotons, and bromeliads are nice). Try parking yourself next to a campfire or a natural water source for a few hours. Let your hair fly free in the wind. Bury your feet in pebbles or river muck. My most recent outside adventure required a lot of planning and saving, but the end result was invigorating. I journaled the journey so that I wouldn’t forget a thing, and I blogged the experience. Friends, the risk is worth the sunburn. And a busted boot. Read The Machu Picchu Diary here.

The busted boot. Nothing a little shoe string and super glue couldn’t fix. Does REI do refunds?

3. Unplug for 30 Minutes. Do it.

If you leave your screens at home, you’ll very quickly find yourself attuned to everything that’s happening around you. Sudden breezes. Birds chirping. House beams settling. Pins dropping. As a home-based writer, I go outside with a notebook and pen to unplug. I find a bench, a patch of grass, a  stoop, or a table in a café when I’m feeling spendy. Then I scribble out scenes. I make “to do” lists. I brainstorm. I doodle and sketch. Unplugging on a regular basis is easier said than done, but it really is just as simple as working out, walking the dog, or traveling from Point A to Point B sans phone or earbuds. Going for a nice drive? Nope. That doesn’t count. You have to do it without machine aides. If you are a writer/artist/creative, take a few days  or even just an afternoon to disappear. Enroll at a retreat. Check into a hotel room. Go to a park. Hide in the closet with a flashlight. I’ll be doing any or all of these things on any given day in November (see #5).

4. Experiment Outside of Your Comfort Zone.

Human beings are social creatures, and we’re programmed to seek fellowship in other humans for survival. We fear that if the pack doesn’t like us, the pack might ditch us when we are vulnerable. If the pack finds us threatening, we might be the pack’s breakfast tomorrow morning. And if making oneself agreeable to friends and family isn’t hard enough, it’s equally difficult for one to bare her soul or life’s work to strangers and critics. I’m talking about open mic nights. I’m talking about exhibitions: experiencing your own work on display, seeing yourself on a screen, or hearing your own voiced poetry reverberate through an open space or over a loud speaker. I’m talking about exposing yourself to criticism. Or love. It’s a terrifying growth experience, but it doesn’t hurt so bad. The sooner we experience the fleeting pain of a sucker punch, the less likely we are to fear it in the future. (Tip: Beware. The night is dark and full of terrors. It helps to have some supportive allies when you branch out into new territory. See #1.)

“I wanted you to see what real courage is… It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

— Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

5. Push Yourself Harder.

When it comes to challenges, people either love them or hate them. Someone close to me once said, “Writing should just flow from you after moments of divine inspiration.” Sure, I buy that. But if I were to wait around for inspiring moments, I’d never finish the ROTAOG manuscript by my self-imposed deadline.  Hence the need for challenges.  Competitions or contests, blog publication schedules, coworking group meetings, exhibition/reading commitments, and adhering to personal work plans are all fine examples of how we might challenge ourselves. As for me, I’ve signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which will require me to write 1,667 words per day (at minimum) every day throughout the month of November. If I stick to the goal, by the end of the month I should have in my hands a 50,000 word draft, which is about the length of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  A lofty goal? Heck yes it is. If I fail? No biggy. I’ll still be further along in the process than I would be otherwise. Watch a video about how I’m prepping for NaNoWriMo here. 

These scraps of paper are the framework for my NaNoWriMo novel outline. Impressive? More like obsessive.

Conclusion

We are all busy people. Some of us are more so than others. If we love and value our creative selves, then we must make it a priority to nurture our creative selves. Creativity is a lot like love or hate. The more we act on it, the easier it is for us to keep acting on it. It’s muscle memory. Repeating any or all of these activities once or twice a week will help strengthen that muscle. They seem to be working for me. We’ll talk about it again, though, at November’s end. There is a lot left to do between now and then.

*NaNoWriMo shield image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

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A New Path for The Purgery

Have you ever heard the phrase: the world is only as good as we make it? If we spend a year or more of our lives curating facts and snippets of worldly experience to create art (or something like art), the least we can do is give some of it back. To take it a step further, I believe it is our responsibility as creators to give it back.

I am taking The Purgery in a new direction. I still plan to deliver lessons learned and research findings about the history of Brazoria County and the Texas Gulf Coast, but my new aim is to present this information in a way that helps others make a positive world impact through storytelling.

Why should we tell better stories?

If you have ever changed someone’s mind or advised someone on an important decision, odds are you used a persuasive story or an anecdote to do it. This is how attorneys win over juries, analysts sway policy makers, business start-ups attract investors, and campaigners influence voters. Really, the list goes on.

Human beings have communicated life lessons and cultivated empathy through storytelling for thousands of years. Effective storytelling is the transmission of truth through an interpretation of facts. It is not a gift that some people are born with and others are not. Anyone can do it, and we all have much to gain if we would only aspire to do it better.

In this age of alternative facts and skeptical media consumers, information’s credibility is only as powerful as the story that carries it. Strength of story can make or break a worldview.

How do we tell better stories?

The simple answer has four parts:

  1. Share your story with others. (It does not matter if it is fiction or non-fiction.)
  2. Request feedback.
  3. Use feedback to improve the effectiveness of your message.
  4. Repeat.

The more complex answer is something I hope to explore over time through articles I write and publish in The Purgery.

My Promise

This past year I have learned from countless individuals who I believe are authorities in their professional fields or areas of interest. I aim to impart their wisdom to you through The Purgery. Once or twice a month, I will update this blog with fun and/or useful articles on the following topics:

  • Writing & Process (Research, How To’s, Author Interviews, etc.)
  • Hard knock life experiences on the Texas frontier
  • Personal insights on what life is like living as a foreigner (which is exactly what the early 19th century people of European and African descent in Texas were: strangers in a strange land)

If there is any topic you think I can help shed some light on that aligns with one of these themes, please contact me. Let’s work together!

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On Writing About Small Town Texas: Another Primordial Land

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison

Writing a novel has been one of my life goals for as long as I can remember, and the time has finally come for me to write the book I have always wanted to read. The inclination to write a historical novel only happened upon me recently, while reading an Ultimate History Project article that focused on the lives of people who lived on a sugar plantation in my hometown in the 19th century.

That my hometown should feature so prominently in my novel is a bit of a shocker, especially since I have not lived closer than a thousand miles to that place in over a decade. I wasted some of the best years of my youth dreaming in angst about living an adult life in a far, far away city. Nowadays, I can say with full confidence that I have succeeded to make that dream my reality. Knowing what I know now – that outside my front door thrived a colorful culture and history that flavors small town Texas with exoticism imperceptible to 17-year-olds – I have a greater appreciation for the place I ruefully cite as my “domicile of record” on official documents.

Do not get me wrong. The world outside of small town Texas does not disappoint. I am somewhat of an authority on this, as I have spent the past ten years traversing the farthest reaches of the earth and living as an expat. Just for kicks, here are a few things one cannot do in rural Texas:

  • Take a two day train ride across the frozen Siberian steppe
  • Climb the Pyramid of the Sun in pre-Columbian Teotihuacan
  • Bathe like an Ottoman queen at a Turkish bath

Needless to say, I have no regrets. Each one of these bullets is worthy of a book in and of itself (and I am pretty sure those books must exist). But Friends, what the outside world fails to provide to the homesick small town Texan is a comfortable sense of home, like-minded fellowship, and good old predictability. The fact that my hometown endears to remain the kind of place that fosters such a privileged existence is the very reason I have chosen to showcase it front and center in my historical narrative.

People who choose to make small town Texas their home do not need convincing that these rustic places are special. Everyone living there knows how they nurture magical childhoods. Everyone living there knows how they quiet the apprehensions of the aging. It comforts me to know that the gulf coast marshes will not dry out any time soon, and that mossy live oaks and pecan trees will line the Brazos River for another hundred years.

Personal sentiments aside, there is one not-so-secret secret about the area surrounding my hometown that makes it an irresistible setting for my novel: the place just so happens to have a little bit of a past. Blood and sweat, insane aristocrats, firebrands, land grabbers, enslaved peoples, convict laborers, filibusters, pirates, ritual anthropophagy, culture wars, genocide… the list goes on. The place and its history positively drip with intrigue.

In researching and writing this novel, I hope to come to terms with the land and people who failed to “civilize” it despite their best intentions. Like so many others, I long for Texas because I belong to Texas and not the other way around. T.R. Fehrenbach once wrote of the 19th century Texan mindset: [they are] born in blood in another primordial land. This, for better or worse, I believe is the essence of my own feeling.

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