The Danger of a Good Book

You know it the moment you read the first page— or even the first sentence. You have started reading a good book, and you must be very careful.

You have a life to live. You have responsibilities.

Sure, it’s the weekend, but your List of Things to Do really must get done.

Okay…you may read for an hour.

A good book is always over too soon. So you force yourself to read slowly. You bookmark your favorite pages. You highlight each beautiful phrase that rings true. You shake your head in wonder as you turn to the next page.

The author spent time researching, writing, and crafting each word. You want to savor each word. You should not rush to the end— even if you want to know what happens next.

When the end arrives, you sit in silence…breathing slowly…trying to steady your heart.

The Sound of Writing

Many years ago, when I had fully transitioned out of theatre and into the corporate world, I would listen to my old rehearsal tapes on my commute to work. I loved the sound of learning a piece of music: the music director counting off the beat, breaking down a phrase into sections of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass—discussing the interpretation of the music, bad notes, fixed notes, laughter, and then putting it all back together.

Bit by bit, putting it together.

-Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George

(Oh yes, Mr. Sondheim, we will talk about you someday soon, my friend…)

These days, I am drawn to the sound of authors discussing their writing and creative process.

Do they write early in the morning or late into the night?

Where do they find their ideas?

What do they find most challenging about writing?

Seth Meyers recently interviewed Paul Beatty regarding his book The Sellout. There is some interesting conversation here about Beatty’s writing philosophy, including the question- Are you a Completionist or a Perfectionist? Hm…

 

 

 

The Spark of Childhood Memories

As a snowstorm worked its way across the country this weekend, I was taken back to my favorite memories from childhood. We only got a dusting here in Atlanta, but early Saturday morning, I could hear kids in the neighborhood laughing and screaming as they played outside.

For me, a snow day began with the strategic layering of clothing: long underwear, jeans, turtleneck, sweatshirt, and then ski pants and a puffy jacket. Each foot wore two pairs of socks, a plastic baggie, and boots lined with fleece. Of course I wore mittens, a hat, and a scarf too.

My brother and I would step outside to play, moving at the warp speed of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

With our backs in the snow, we’d sweep our arms and legs to make angels. We’d roll onto our stomachs and crunch the snow in our mittened hands, testing it for density and stick. The best snow would stick together for the perfect snowball, which could be rolled across the yard to make the ultimate snowman.

We’d build forts out of the huge mounds of snow lining the freshly-shoveled driveway. I liked to carve shelves and buckets out of the pile. Then, we’d pack snowballs, stockpiling them in our forts for a snowball fight with friends.

Those were the best days. Playing hard. Sweating in my snowsuit even though it was minus-something degrees out.

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It is fun to tap into those childhood memories. Even though they were many years ago, time-traveling through them is a vivid experience.

And maybe that is why, Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, recommends childhood memories as an inspiration point for writing.

“Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”

She goes on to describe how to branch out from there. Beyond, “just sit and write,” as some authors advise, Lamott provides tangible exercises for writing. She also shares anecdotes from her life. Reading Bird by Bird is like taking a writing semester with Lamott as the professor (Oh, to dream!).

There is a reason why Bird by Bird is one of the most recommended books for writers. If you’ve already read it, it may be time to read it again. And if you’ve lost your will to sit and write, start with the spark of a childhood memory.

Nourish Your Creative Soul

Whenever I need to connect with a creative community, I listen to Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m currently catching up on season two, which was released in July 2016.

Magic Lessons is the ultimate creative conversation!

For each session, Gilbert talks with an artist who is trying to solve a challenge— often involving how to take their creativity to the next level.

Gilbert helps the artist set goals, and she gives them assignments. She also discusses the artist’s challenges with an expert in the field.

Whether she’s interviewing a writer, dancer, comedian, photographer, or songwriter, it is interesting to hear the common themes of creativity…and humanity too.

Listening to Magic Lessons reminds me of my younger days— running lines with friends for an audition, rehearsing dance steps in the hallway, practicing a song until it was just right, crazy backstage costume changes, and all-night talks about hopes and dreams.

…and if you only have 20 minutes, watch Gilbert’s Ted Talk Your Elusive Creative Genius. It is pure, inspirational brilliance.

Next up for me: I finally picked up her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I know I’ll be taking notes and highlighting my favorite passages. More on that later…

Here’s to nourishing our creative souls. Cheers!

Ann Patchett

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My friend K— is always a reliable source for book recommendations, and about seven years ago, she suggested that I read Bel Canto. I checked the paperback out of the library. It was my first Ann Patchett book. Not only was I instantly captured by her writing, but I remember the setting and the plot were different from anything I had ever read.

Whenever I find a new author (new to me anyways), I research their list of publications and start to work my way through each book. After Bel Canto, I read The Patron Saint of Liars and then State of Wonder. State of Wonder haunts me and stays with me still.

Patchett writes about the human experience and connections in traditional and non-traditional settings. I think I find her books so powerful because she creates such vivid characters with real struggles, mistakes, and pain.

I continued to read my way through her work, and then I tried to figure out how she does it— how she creates those stories that hold my heart and sit in my chest as I turn to the last page. Continue reading

Secrets

There is a superstition surrounding “The Scottish Play.” It is believed that Shakespeare used real witches’ spells when he was writing the tragedy, and the play is cursed. Stories of violence and death surround its productions throughout history. If anyone speaks the play’s real title in the theatre, or quotes any of the lines, the curse will be unleashed.

If you don’t know which play I’m talking about, please look it up elsewhere. I will not take any chances here! I never say the play’s name aloud no matter where I am. 🙂

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Shakespeare isn’t the only artist to have secrets in his work. A painter might have a symbol he blends into all his paintings. An actor often has a secret on stage that he doesn’t reveal to the audience until the end of the play (if at all). When an author builds characters, there are often histories and subplots she never shares with her readers.

All these layers contribute to interesting, complex creations. On this day of mischief, I am wondering…do you have any secrets in your artwork?

 

Book Therapy

Do you ever feel like you need a break from the world- a break from reality?

Today I found relief in the comfort of a book. I sat on the couch, sipping my coffee, slowly detaching myself from reality and stepping into the story.

I realize this is a luxury, and it was exactly what I needed today. It is not often I can sit for hours and read. Most days I feel fortunate to read a few pages before bed…but this morning, I sat. I turned the pages of a real book with real pages.

The sun shone outside, and I stayed inside and read more. Breakfast and lunch time passed by, and I was only hungry to understand what would happen next.

I continued to read. I read until the story was so real that I cried for the characters’ struggles. I read until I reached the end.

I exhaled, grateful for the incredible gift of a good book…and a new perspective.