Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Creating in the Middle

Well, now that the turkey is finally -- yay! -- gone and the pumpkin pie has morphed its sneaky way onto my hips, I've officially entered the holiday zone of decorating, cookie baking, shopping, gift wrapping, house guests, and all the other Christmas activities. I love this season, but every year it becomes a Herculean juggling act to squeeze everything into each hectic, twenty-four hour period counting down until Dec 25th. It's always tempting to use the holidays as an excuse not to write, but invariably, year after year, I end up with December 30 or January 1 deadlines.

Eric Maisel, in his terrific book, COACHING THE ARTIST WITHIN, describes what he calls creating in the middle and has given me permission to share a bit. The ellipses indicate places where I've skipped part of the text for brevity, which has never been my strong point, but, since hope springs eternal, I continue to try. :D

"People do not create in a vacuum. In fact, in human affairs there is no such thing as a vacuum. People are born into this or that religion. They learn a certain language and are formed by that language. A war comes and changes everything; a drought comes and changes everything; menopause comes and changes everything. They must work, they must eat, they must deal with paying taxes and the images on their television screen and the values in their town. This is no vacuum! ..

.."James Jones, having made his fortune from books like From Here to Eternity, thought to help some poor writers he knew by giving them enough money so they could quit their day jobs and write. He gave them the money; they didn't write. Money was never the issue. Everything was the issue. You must be able to create in the middle of things, or else you will not create. You must learn to take whatever practical and psychological actions are necessary to combat the anticreating forces that surround you and live within you. . .

. . .Some determined artists weather even the most severe crises. But for most of us even ordinary, everyday crises stop us in our tracks. Most of these crises are internal, emotional, and existential, crises of faith and self-doubt, crises of self-recrimination and self-incrimination, crises of and meaninglessness. Sometimes it may seem as if nothing much is going on. You come home from work, have a little dinner, then turn on the television instead of turning toward the novel you hope to write. What exactly are you in the middle of there? Don't you have a "perfectly free" few hours in which to write? Absolutely not. To believe that just because you have no particular errands to run or duties to perform means that you are somehow not trapped in your own personality and your own culture is not to understand what being in the middle of things means. . .

. . .You must learn how to create when wars are raging and when your hormones are raging. You must learn how to create even if you hate your country's policies or your own painting style. You must learn how to create even if you are embroiled in a bad marriage or living alone and lonely. You must learn how to create even if you work eight hours a day at a silly job or, sometimes worse, find yourself at home all day with time on your hands.

If you wait for a better time to create, better than this very moment, if you wait until you feel settled, divinely inspired, perfectly centered, unburdened of your usual worries, or free of your own skin, forget about it. You will still be waiting tomorrow and the next day, wondering why you never manage to begin, wondering how you did such an excellent job of disappointing yourself. "

I'm keeping Maisel's book next to my computer for the next few weeks for reinforcement. Meanwhile, what tricks do y'all use to create in the middle of things?

Also, although this is totally off topic, Rob Gregory-Browne, a thriller writer friend who blogs, recently "tagged" me to do the following writing exercise and post it on my blog. (Which would be here.) And now I'm tagging our other bloggers.

1. Take the first five novels from your bookshelf. (Or, as I did, just choose at random.) Write down:
2. Book 1 -- first sentence.
3. Book 2 -- last sentence on page 50.
4. Book 3 -- second sentence on page 100.
5. Book 4 -- next to the last sentence on page 150.
6. Book 5 -- final sentence of the book.
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph.
8. Feel free to "cheat" to make it a better paragraph.
9. Name your sources.
10.Post to your blog. (If you have one. Or just share it here.)

Here's mine: The little girl huddled, shivering, in the back corner of the closet. Reportedly she ordered the girl's blood to be drained into a bathtub and bathed in it. "Good to know, I managed." "It's harder to cut really deeply than you think." I wonder if they truly realize how lucky they are.

Chill of Fear by Kay Hooper
Serial Killers, the Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky
Sacred by Dennis Lehane
Mind Prey by John Sandford
Sounds in the Dark by Michael C. Keith


PatriciaKay.com said...

JoAnn, thanks for telling us about this book. And what a fun exercise! Can't wait to try it.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!


merlinsmuse said...

Hi, JoAnn. I came here from your Yahoo group to read your entry. Nicely said.

Another group somewhere did the same exercise about taking the first five books off your shelf etc. I'm going to have to go and see if I can find my post or just do the exercise again. I never even thought about putting it on my blog. Duh!

Have a great day,

Alfie said...


Exactly the post I needed right now. Thanks. I've got to find this book.


JoAnn Ross said...

Alfie, you can order it at his website at
http://www.ericmaisel.com. I was going to put the link in the post, but it was the middle of the night when I published it, I was getting tired and was afraid it'd show up with all sorts of html codes.

I'm not much for writing books, and even less enthralled with most books about "process" but this one is absolutely fabulous and has really helped me write through the clutter that's pretty much my life these days. There are exercises in each chapter, but nothing tedious like so many writing books, no charts and graphs. Just breathing meditation, affirmations, that sort of thing.

He also has a free newsletter and will begin a new onine coaching class next March. I'm thinking of signing up since I'm much more easily distracted these days.

Allison Brennan said...

I'll play the game. (Procrastination)

He should never have taken that shortcut. Leaving the shop, Caroline pulled her coat close around her, but the thin poplin couldn't protect her from the coldness of Claire's last words. He sorted through things in his briefcase and then started his presentation. He pulled his arms and legs up and in as far as he could, every muscle in his body bulging and straining. "Every day," he promised, pressing his lips to hers.

TIMELINE by Michael Crichton
THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly
SOLOMON VS LORD by Paul Levine

JoAnn Ross said...

Allison --Our bookshelves appear to be quite similar.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I wanna play. I've grabbed five from my TBR pile. (Seems appropriate, no? lol.)

It doesn’t matter who wins. “You couldn’t plan your way out of a toilet stall! It’s as simple and elemental as that.” The whole bird-thief thing aside, he seemed nice, not scary like that big, bald guy. For a moment, he thought he heard a woman’s voice...the wisdom of the ages...whispering up from the chasms of the earth.

1. AMERICAN IDLE, Alesia Holliday
2. HE LOVES LUCY, Susan Donovan
3. BLAZE, JoAnn Ross
4. MAYBE BABY, Lani Diane Rich

Okay, the only problem I had is that I wanted to read all of them while I was grabbing the lines. lol.

JoAnn Ross said...

Faye -- I'm honored that one of my books made your TBR list. Thanks for buying BLAZE; I hope you enjoy Tess and Gage's story!

Allison Brennan said...

I noticed that too JoAnn! Though I haven't read Michael Keith. I might have to check him out . . . is he new or what?

JoAnn Ross said...

Actually, although the book sounds like a thriller, Keith's Sounds in the Dark is a textbook about late night radio. It's research for IMPULSE.

If you haven't read everything Lehane's written, you must. The man is a mystery god and I'm so sad that Patrick and Angela has stopped talking to him, but after what he's put them through over the series of their books, I'm not at all surprise. Diane Moggy, head of Mira, was once asked who, of all the writers out there she wished she could've signed and named Lehane. Which probably gives people a good idea of what she's looking for for the imprint these days.

Allison Brennan said...

LOL, SOUNDS does sound like a thriller. My research books are predominately forensics and guns. Maybe I should think of a different plot . . . I need more time to read. My mom has a bunch of Lehane's books and I haven't had time to read them. I'm still two books behind in the Stephanie Plum series, and I'm frantically trying to finish my copyedits (due Friday) so I can finish the last Robb book before the next comes out . . . that woman is a genius when it comes to characterization. I swear, each of her Dallas/Roarke books is better than the last, and I don't know how she does it.

One of my favorite authors is Keith Ablow. He's too dark for my mom, but the guy is a forensic psychiatrist and his protagonist is one, too. He gets deep into his villains and I learn more from reading his fiction books about the dark side of human nature than I have from any textbook.

PatriciaKay.com said...

JoAnn, thank you so much for the great quote from the Maisel book. I need to cut it out and post it on my computer somewhere.