The Purgery

A Writer's Blog & Resource Repository

Category: Novel Update

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 Reading from my Novel in Progress: River of the Arms of God

At long last I have decided upon a tentative title for my novel: River of the Arms of God. The book is still a work in progress, but I plan to complete the first draft by April 2018. Between now and then, I will continue to provide updates on my learning process as I go through the motions of writing, revising, and editing a novel.

The River of the Arms of God is an actual river, so named by early Spanish explorers “el Rio de los Brazos de Dios,” that cuts 840 miles south across the state of Texas and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. These days people call it the Brazos River. The bulk of my novel’s drama occurs upon the banks of the Brazos, and the story centers upon an enslaved servant,  a conflicted planter, a fallen southern belle, and an orphaned Karankawa boy who struggle for their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness among the harsh elements and societal constraints of an evolving Texas frontier.

I hope you enjoy this 9-minute reading of an except from my draft, originally played before a live audience at the American Women’s Literary Club (AWLC) in Peru’s event: A Kaleidoscope of Works and Words in Lima, Peru on August 21, 2017. I recommend turning on the closed captioning in YouTube so that you may read along. Click here to listen to audio recordings of all the other amazing women writers who read at the Kaleidoscope event.

Thank you for visiting!


Quick Resources:

For quick online info on the Brazos River’s history and lore, visit the Wikipedia page or the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online.

Nonfiction Print Resources:

Creighton, James A.  A Narrative History of Brazoria County.  Brazoria County Historical Commission, Waco, Texas: 1999.

Henson, Margaret Swett.  Historic Brazoria County: An Illustrated History.  Published for the Brazoria County Historical Museum.  Historical Publishing Network, San Antonio, Texas: 1998.

Holley, Mary Austin.  Texas. Observations, Historical, Geographical, and Descriptive In a Series of Letters.  Written during a Visit to Austin’s Colony, with a view to permanent settlement in that country, in the autumn of 1831.  Accessed March 2016.  HathiTrust Digital Library <https://www.hathitrust.org>.

Kelley, Sean M.  Los Brazos de Dios: A Plantation Society in the Texas Borderlands, 1821 – 1865.  LSU Press, Louisiana: 2010.

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