Don’t Call an Exorcist

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For the writer, my suggestion is to never call an exorcist if you feel that you have lost control of your story and someone else, who came uninvited, is writing your story for you. Don’t call Father Damien to make a late night house call. Just get a cup of tea or a scotch and sit down and take a deep breath. Then from somewhere inside, you might hear a voice that says, “Fear not, I am your muse”. Then relax.

We all have myths and concepts about what a muse really is. I won’t go into Greek mythology but for most writers, we say we know when the “muse” is upon us and we know equally well, when the muse has disappeared. I want to put a new lens on the subject of being possessed my the muse.

Short and sweet: We are not only crafting our story, we are a channel that allows the story to come through us. Whether you want to write the self-help book of the century or write a true crime about a real life serial killer and feel you need to get all your facts correct, in the end, you are simply the messenger. When you allow this to be the case and detach from your story [which translates as stopping holding your story in a vice grip], then magic is possible.

I interviewed a possible client with a story that he had defined his life by. He had been working on his story for ten years. I asked him how many drafts he had and the answer was: 152 drafts. I didn’t take him as a client since I knew in an instant that the process was far more important to him than the outcome. And I knew that his muse had gone on permanent vacation or was a sadomasochism .

Our muse is an energetic voice that as you write, steers your story in unexpected directions. The more you try to bring the story back on whatever track you think it needs to be on, the more you labor, you flush an entire draft down the toilet and stare at the page. The muse knows the destination of your characters, knows the plot line even before you do and you simply surrender into the arms of the muse and be a faithful scribe.

“Where did he come up with that stuff?” I have said more than once about one of my favorite writers, Stephen King. He has a serious long-term muse relationship. My passion for writing is not only about the beauty of words that when stuck together with another word forms and even more glorious experience on the page, but my deepest passion is for the mystery of not knowing and being taken on a ride every time I sit to create a scene, dialogue or inspiration. This is what makes a writer prolific, insatiable and powerful: Listening to the directions of the muse and faithfully following the breadcrumbs into the forest of story.

I am working with an author to co-write of all things a story about Reality TV. Not a genre I have ever written about before but I have experienced the shark tank of reality network TV, so I thought “what fun”. The author of the idea sent me an amazing outline. After talking at length one of the things I remember him saying was that “the storyline just poured out effortlessly”. So, armed with a fabulous outline of an idea I dove in thinking I knew the direction and had pretty good idea of how to write the characters. But I was wrong. This story grabbed me in the middle of the night and made me start writing in a very different direction. The main character wanted new clothes, firearms and loved super heroes. The villains had their two cents about how they wanted to be portrayed and now I am nine chapters in and have not one single clue how the story might morph. It is an exhilarating way to write.

Allow the voice of the muse to derail you, to take you down a blind alley, to have your trash one of your best scenes in order to replace it with something entirely different. This brave choice, for a writer, is a courageous act that takes confidence and patience. But in my book, it is what makes great writing.

Stephen King Muse

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Writer’s Block Demystified

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Writer’s block “is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which a writer loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.”

Now that I read this it sounds like some category found in the diagnostic manual for psychologists to refer to, like paranoia or phobias. Is writer’ block some condition that they just might be coming out with a new drug for? Surely not. But writer’s everywhere have a fear of the dreaded WB anyway.

I hear from countless writers that they struggle with writer’s block, wait for the moment it strikes like a migraine headache or simply live in fear that one day they will be in the final stretch of writing a novel or a story and be stricken down by the an inexplicable moment when there are simply no words. So I thought I would take a few minutes to debunk this mystery and myth.

I am not saying that this does not occur for many writers. But the writers it does not ever occur for are those who write from inspiration and passion. When a writer is not engaged with the subject or the story, then writer’s block may become an inevitability, just like boredom. Staring at the page with no words coming and then getting sweaty palmed is only a symptom that there is no creative edge happening, no inner fire pushing the words out onto the paper and that instead the mind is in analytical mode.

Writer’s who never experience writer’s block are those who are inside of their writing, channeling the words, the characters and the stories in ways they don’t even know where the words come from, with little concern for editing till the final draft. And the key being that the writing they are doing is not a brain job it is a heart song. Now that may feel foreign to those who write for a living and for other people as part of a paid job. There is little room for being personally inspired when you are critiquing a medical journal article or court reporting. But when you sit at the page simply because you are busting with energy to see what will happen, what scene will write itself, you anticipate which muse will take control and you allow expression to be the goal.  That is when writer’s block is not an issue.

Yet, for a writer to commit at this level, to allow intuition, passion and story to run the show and allow the mind to go on vacation for a little while, or at least till the final edit, miracles happen. Writer’s block is about only one thing: Not knowing what you are inspired and moved to write. When you locate that in your own intuition and act on it no matter whether you know the destination of your writing or not, you will write like the wind.

writers block

My Modern Day Parable

parable

parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters.

parable is a type of analogy.

A Modern Day Parable

By Maya Christobel

I was at the usual bus stop staring at my watch and impatient to get to work. “Crap, I won’t have time to get a coffee”, I thought. Then she caught my attention. Her unruly and disheveled hair flew behind her in the wind as she bolted past me. Her green eyes were wild with expectation and her gate was long and certain. She was on a mission. She pulled me out of my worry and I set my briefcase on the bench. I could not help but follow her as she weaved in and out of unfamiliar streets as her long sky blue robe swayed behind her, threatening to get snagged on a lamp-post or caught in a passing bicycle spoke. Her arms pumped fiercely as if she were in a race.

 

When she passed a dog tied tightly to a bicycle rack on the corner of Park Street she stopped momentarily and slipped off the chain collar, then scooped up the brown-eyed beagle into her arms and continuing on as if she had expected him. I could not keep up with her and began to fall behind as she continued to rush somewhere I imagined to be very important.

Suddenly, a boy with his skateboard and then a large blackbird and some strange old man sitting near the park joined her and now there were many people following her. She turned down an alley where a homeless man living in a cardboard box watched her come near. She stopped, her face a breath from his startled eyes as she smiled a smile that nearly knocked him to his feet. Then she took his hand and pulled him up and without a word he joined the growing crowd of children and old people and animals that become a wave of energy pulsing through the streets. The growing mob of unlikely people started climbing up to the top of the small clearing overlooking the city.

By the time I could catch up I was breathless. There she was perched out on an outcropping of cinder blocks that rimmed a small off-road parking area, the city carpet below her. She was deathly still, standing quietly overlooking the smog and hazy hidden buildings below. Everyone became quiet, waiting for her to speak, to say something important, to tell them what to do, to levitate, to combust, to break down weeping. Suddenly she turned as if surprised by the throng and with a deep and haunting laugh said,

‘What fun life is. Thank you for joining me”.

 

A short story can pack a punch. There is not need for long chapters, details or perfect prose. A parable is rich with imagery, with feeling and with a great outcome: It leaves us pondering life. This is what a good story should do if it doesn’t make us weep or laugh or want to punch the door out first.

Jesus was said to be one of the best storytellers around and through his parables, whether you are Christian or not, lessons on living have seeped into the culture of everyone’s life in one-way or another. He told parables which always had an “Aha” to be learned. He told parables about the ten virgins, the Good Samaritan, the lost sheep and the Prodigal Son. We’ve all heard about the mustard seed and a grain of sand or hiding your light under a bushel. In the end these short, visual, descriptive lessons on life can be a great way to start writing your story.

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Perhaps,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “What great luck!” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Perhaps,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Perhaps,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Perhaps,” said the farmer…

From a Zen Koan

Most writers are crippled and start sweating at the white, empty page staring back at them like a challenge. Most of the time there is a book to be written, all 300 uncertain pages. When a book is looking over your shoulder it is typical to simply say…”oh I will write ten pages today” and then start sweating all over again. Oh the pressure we put ourselves under.

I have been writing what I call “morning pages” for ten or more years. Just a free-flowing stream of consciousness that starts without any intention and always ends up somewhere I never intended to go: A poem, a confession, a rant. Lots of times I rant. But, more often than not, it is a story in the making. A little seed of an idea that I can come back to. It is in this uncharted territory of unexpected words where a story is born.

When I was living up in Crested Butte, Colorado in my “let’s open an art gallery and sell contemporary art to people who want cowboys and buffalos”, I was watching the news about a couple stranded in a snowstorm and living in their car for several days. I was seized by the need to make that into a great movie. I researched the couple, outlined the story idea, and then sat down to start writing a heartwarming screenplay about love, loss and redemption (since that’s what all movies are about in the end). By page 12 the story demanded to go in another direction and no matter how hard I tried to pull the story back into formation it wandered outside the lines of my own psyche and turned itself into a 120 page paranormal thriller with Jeremy Irons and Jodi Foster. I was captive to the story…it would not let me go and in the end the screenplay won several screenwriting awards. But it was not even close to what I had set out to write.

What did I do wrong? What did I do right? How did my idea morph into something so totally a product of my relentless imagination? Or was it that the story itself is energy that exists outside of my idea of time and space and was just waiting to be born?  I have learned that this is truer than you might think.

The story was able to take me somewhere unexpected simply because I was not attached to the outcome and I just showed up each day, punched on the computer, got my cup of tea, put on my headphones to listen to movie soundtracks while I wrote and in the end allowed the muse to take the characters where they needed to go.

Working this way is exciting and is a bit like tracking an animal in the woods. Most of the time you think you are following a deer and in the end you find out that it is Bigfoot.

So start with a seed. With a sentence from how you feel about a photo, use a line of a poem and take off…see where it leads you. You just might have a whole lot of fun!

 

leap and don't look down
leap and don’t look down