You already know this, folk, but I'ma say it again.
Love me some Arthur Rickydoc Flowers!
Arthur and another fave writer, George Saunders, are up at Syracuse guiding new generations of wordsmiths. Arthur, a word wizard in a category all by himself and one of the few practicing Hoodoofolk in Higher Education, also blogs about being in and out of the woodshed, revising his novel, Rest for the Weary, while teaching in Syracuse's MFA program, caring for loved ones, and traveling all over God's Green Earth, including sojourns to Kenya, Ghana, and India to nurture new writers there. Talk about gettin' yo' lesson... He recently posted this bit of bliss on the importance of remaining focused and positive during all the cycles of your creative work:
"...focus flowers focus, step by step and inch by inch, spent last two days focused and got maybe a page out of it but im satisfied, i will take anything, i will take a paragraph if i worked hard for it and thats what i got thats what i got"
=Arthur Flowers, Rootwork the Rootsblog, a Cyberhoodoo Webspace
"i will take a paragraph if i worked hard for it..." Indeed!
I'ma take this as good gospel and spread it all around. The writers I know can get religion 'bout a paragraph. These days, we getting religious about a line. Every word must conjure, true, but if you ain't been writing since 1499, then you better believe, every word counts, even the 'tow down sucky ones.
I, for one, have been silent in this space for so long, I forgot my own password, but Black Pot Mojo is back and percolatin' a bit. And why?
Got my Firstborn womanchile in college, thank you! and didn't lose but a lil bit of my mind, a tiny chunk, during the process. Shoutouts to all the mama and daddy artists out there, doin' the same.
Also taught my first workshop session of the new cycle at the Center last night. Seven folk round a table, looking slightly vulnerable, but excited. Always an interesting group of writers, some with stories they have been waiting for years to tell. Mostly trying to grapple with what I'm grappling with now on this crazy new story that keeps bumrushin' my dreams - writing a dang beginning, middle, and end, in that order, please. ;-)
And process. Creative process. They are trying to figure out how best to carve up their day a bit so they can nurture that story spark. You know, create a writing life, in which actual writing gets down. How do you nurture the spark inside you when the world blowin' up all 'round yo' head?
Well now, you write.
I used to hate it when the veterans I spoke with would say this. They'd throw out some do's and don'ts but most of it amounted to the same command, "Read," and that other ominous one, "Write." Then I would turn away, all downtrodden and dejected, with another ton of books to add to my list, and even more unanswered questions.
What I was waiting for was the Key. Somehow, I thought, if I could just get my hands on that Key, I could jettison myself from novice writer with two credits to her misspelled name, to the latest and greatest Anointed One. I wasn't much like my mainstream comrades. I didn't dream of Oprah or the New Yorker. I dreamed of Callaloo. Rather than flatout subscribing, I'd pieced together a collection of volumes from library sales and independent online booksellers around the nation, and every lone volume was like discovering a nugget of gold in a grand river of words. You couldn't go wrong with an issue, any Callaloo issue, and I wanted to someday have my work published there, right there, folks.
Well, it took me some time before I even had the courage to submit, and when I did have that honor, when it did come, I can honestly say, I would not have had it any other way. I didn't find the Key, but I found something else, something more valuable.
I know some folk still think somebody is going to give them the Big Secret Key to Publishing, like published authors carry it around in their back pockets as they float through life. As if they can simply raise a well manicured hand and place you promptly in the Pantheon.
When they come smiling at me with that subconscious Key mess, I have to tell them, kindly as possibly, that there ain't no Key.
Just sit your butt down and write.
Or wash some dishes. Then write.
Twist your locks, oil your scalp, and write.
Raise a child, make a friend, change a career, write.
And when you finish, read a book, read another book, live your life, and write.
Then read this and this, re-read this and ask yourself that, consider how... then write some more.
Folk roll up in workshops like they comin' in out the rain. I know, 'cuz I did. They been in the desert so long, they thirsty, wondering in the wilderness, waiting on somebody to deliver them to the Promised Land of Publication, preferably with an awesome agent and a hefty advance. Good folk can and may help you along the way, but at the end of the day, can't nobody write for you but you. (Okay, we are not going to talk about ghostwriting here.)
Workshops are designed to temporarily get you out of the wilderness for a while, to pull you out of that lonely, vaccuum that is your own critical (or in some cases, not critical enough) self, and offer you a whole new set of eyes and ears, to experience your work. You write and read and share, exchange resources, experiment with techniques, and hopefully gain new insights and inspiration from each other that will help you get closer to crafting the work you most want to see in the world.
You may not agree with everything said, you may not be able to try your hand at every new strategy offered, but you take what works well for you. You take what you need. And when you don't need the workshop no more, then you sit yourself down somewhere and write.
Howard Waldrop told us at Clarion West '99 that "writing is hard."
He ain't never lied, but I think when it is hardest, that is when you have to hang in there and focus as Arthur says, "step by step, inch by inch," celebrating every hard won paragraph, even if that's all you got.
Staying in the game and knowing what you've got, that's the real key.
uplift, engage, and enlighten