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Art happens now, so write anew today as you are today: How to write creatively (2020 edition)

Below are guidelines I’ve formed from my own writing experiences. They are attitudes and processes that seem to help when I remind myself of them as I write. I can’t promise that these will make sense to every prospective writer—original thinkers and artists must, by definition, form themselves—but these ideas below are offered to help you get started on your own self-creation. I will share these with my creative writing students in the coming weeks.

Freewrite. Put down what comes to mind. Transcribe your inner voice. Interrupt yourself—that’s OK. Let out what’s in. Everything you write is something you produced, so

Accept it all. It took me years to stop seeing my youthful work as bad. All moments are equal; none are privileged. Keep it all as it comes to you—trust that there’s a reason each idea comes to you when it does, even if you don’t know that reason. Write in private so you can later decide what writings to make public.

Follow your feelings in freewriting, in choosing words, projects, etc. For years, I thought that I should write novels but doing that never felt like it had authentic energy for me. What I should be doing—what kind of writing is the most-fitting for me to do—will not feel like work.

Keep the faith. Being creative means making something you’ve never made before, and you don’t know if you can do that!  You won’t know where you’re headed and you won’t fully understand what you’ve done.

If you want to make something that’s like something that already exists, OK—just follow the pattern. Buy a book on how to do that. But pattern-following is not what I want to teach you.

We’re trying to make texts that are new. If something is new, it can’t be compared to any existing standard or judgment criteria. We’re giving ideas to the world—we writers are helping others to see the world, life, reality, experiences in new ways. That is priceless.

You will change your sensibility, your mind, over time. That’s OK. Write anew today, as the person you are today. Some aspects of your writings made earlier will be similar to what you write now. Some aspects will be different.

The real value of, and the real message of, any text is what’s between the lines— what’s implied, what’s hinted at. If you write honestly and openly, you will say things you didn’t expect to say. You will learn from you—your best teacher!

If you are writing as yourself, you will  also sometimes write things you’ve read and heard elsewhere—that’s OK. Our minds learn from the world. Consider these things to be allusions or cliches, and move on with your writing (readers will be able to relate to you through these things). But if you are trying to write like someone else, you’re not being original—you’re denying yourself. You’re insulting who you are now. Instead, accept everything your mind gives you. (This may also make you a better person, more willing to accept other people as they are. If we were all perfect, we’d be boring. Being perfect isn’t interesting. Be willing to show yourself as imperfect—be interesting.)

All writing is about someone’s conscious experience, yours or others’. The physical world is the physical world—it’s not up to us. How we think about/conceive of parts of the physical world, that IS up to us. Any object, in an emergency, can be a weapon. All ideas are partial and arbitrary.

Love what you have created. It represents you—it’s your chance to influence the world. But your writings are separate from you. You are undefined, your mind is infinite and open.

Every moment is new. Creativity happens here and now—not in the past where Famous Artists created, and not in the future when you’re older or wiser or richer or smarter, etc. Art happens now.

You don’t have to make things that look like other things that already exist. You make your things, and all they have to do is exist! Others may not like or understand your art. That’s OK. Make things that you enjoy making. Since nobody knows where they’re headed, you might as well enjoy the process of getting there! Do what feels right—what engages your mind and afterwords feels satisfying.

There’s no perfect poem, story, nonfiction, or any other text. What gets praised and popular is all too often art that is pandering.

Final concept: Everything on the list above is a limited-at-best description of certain ideas, moods, and experiences I’ve had. I can’t communicate to you what it’s like for you to make art. You have to teach yourself. Learn by trying and seeing what feels best and what you like.

(P.S. Here’s an earlier such list.)

I’ve taken it into my own work, my own written world, world of my writings

OK, back at 9:02 after … reading NYTimes.com review (by Jennifer Senior(?)) of new Megan Kelly book. Well, I’m back. I didn’t feel great last night—overtired, a little anxious—so I went to sleep at 8. No SNL—though Dave Chapelle hosted and I read review this morn and M showed me last night as we were going to bed about 2 a clip of Kate McKinnon as Hillary playing some of Len Cohen’s “Hallelujah”—poignant.

And I noticed in my Nov. 2010 journal yesterday, in which I spent just a short time reading, some comments about some National Geographic show about people who claim to be Jesus. And I’ve long thought that my references to, descriptions of pop culture, especially TV shows, were kinda merely for the record. But last night I had a thought that maybe my writing about these things transmutes them—it’s no long just a piece of culture out there in the world. I’ve taken it into my own work, my own written world, world of my writings.

[From journal of Sun., 13 Nov. 2016, Journal 239, page 189]

Idea of a horizontal biography

In general, I’m probably a lot happier most days than I was in my 20s. I didn’t know where I belonged, in what job. I had money troubles and M had bad-health years—I don’t miss my 20s, to be honest. (I read some poet’s ode to his 20s last night in Pinsky book.) And I wonder how I’ll see my physics-teaching ambition—perhaps I was merely misguided, but I don’t think so. Perhaps I threw a lot of manic sort of energy at my physics teaching partly because I did want there to be a better approach than merely “Here’s a demo, here’s the theory and equation, now solve for velocity.” I recall those years as a bit of thrashing around. On other hand, that’s a years-later view.

I wonder what’s really in journals from those years (just before the daily journaling began) I mean, holy sh!t, I had a lot going on—being a new teacher,

(there I hear a truck. I’ve assumed it’s C___, but I heard on local news recently that Chrysler assembly was going offline for a couple weeks, I thought)

getting new preps each of first three years, doing yearbook, etc. But I did survive, you know—thank goodness. And anyway, that is the past—I’m here now—I’m here-now. I’m alive right now. I’m here now.

I’m getting dull there. It is odd how hard it can be to come up with sentences about now—why should that be? It’s easy enough to  describe objects that are sitting (verb choice?) that are—existing? Hell, they’re doing nothing at all. Objects don’t get verbs (until someone uses them or they get electrical motive-vation, capacity to move.)

It’s 6:11. I do want to get to my breakfast earlier. So, 6:15. Not reading this morning helped me be on time. I was gonna get to school and grade a little but also there could be slick roads this morning, Channel 17’s Joey Marino said.

I do like idea of a horizontal biography—the width each day, the breadth of my world and my thinking and my doing each day—rather than the linear-and-time-compressing, time-skipping history/biographical story. That’s not what it’s like to be alive!

[From journal of Weds., 15 Jan. 2020, Journal 316, page 44-6]

I was gonna say something else about Western mindset

I was gonna say something else about Western mindset having expectations—not being happy with the present situation. Maybe Westerners’ love-marriages suffer from expectations (abstractions) that arranged marriages don’t have.

Watched a PBS thing about animal rebelsa boxer crab who carries anemones, who kidnaps them in his claws, and sloths have moths to poop in their fur and feed algae that grows in cracks in fur.

And yeah—it’s an overcast day. I hear bird song and some droning (churring?) like frogs. It’s distant. I hear it coming through window behind me.

[From journal of Thurs. 3 May 2018, Journal 275, page 155-6]

Praise hampered me

I guess it started with [my brother] N__ saying my blog seemed smart but hard to read—like I was explaining the idea before stating it, or something like that, he said. I agreed. … N__ said—his basic point throughout discussion, as I understood it, was that I am smart (he used that word several times, even said he was complimenting me ) but I don’t live up to my potential. Basically, that I should be using my brains to make money. He said he admires Achievers. And M said at first that I’m an overachiever—and we debated what that means.

But my point was—and let’s blurt it out—hearing I’m smart doesn’t help me. One, it feels ostracizing (and when I said to N__ that he’s as smart as I am, he seemed genuinely to have not considered that before ), and I said when I see students who are smart, are great in philosophy discussions but they don’t do their work, I think of N__.

I’d sorta been aware of that thought before but maybe last night was first time I realized the extent of it—that I don’t know why those kids, why N__, both, don’t just suck it up and do the B.S. work because that opens more doors. I understood N__ last night and me as mirror opposites—similar, but reversed—that I sought praise, adult approval, that I never questioned the bullsh!t ’til much later in my life. It’s one of these whole-life (or large-part-of-life) narratives that in high school and college and beyond, I sought approval. Yet, praise hampered me (at Daily Illini, at R.T.H.S.) because it started to make me want to get more—a praise-aholic, a praise addict, not in a full-on addiction, but in the sense that I can fall under its spell. Even this fall, once I started blog and got a few readers, I started thinking about (stressing over) doing writing to please others.

N__ saw the b.s. of school but he couldn’t—well, he didn’t force himself to do the work. Yes, high school is b.s., I said, but it always will be—I’m in loco parentis, can’t let kids potty without asking me, as I at first thought I could do. And kids are hormonal, inexperienced sorts. And kids wouldn’t even appreciate adult skill and talent. They wouldn’t appreciate having a Nobel Prize-winning teacher. Every year you gotta prove yourself over to the new youngsters—which is, in a way, refreshing—they don’t care for titles much or accomplishment.

[From journal of Thurs., 24 Nov. 2011, Journal 149, pages 23-25]

Hot damn, I’m just tired

Hot damn, I’m just tired—nearly slap-happy today. Not enough sleep all week, I guess—not sure why. And, yeesh, let’s just get through today. I didn’t look through/grade the Rhet & Comp thesis & notes-organized worksheets. I did look into the fence—I looked over the fence [at the jail-construction site at Oregon, Ill.]—chain-link with red banner over it, the contractor’s name on banner. Not sure what name was, but it was also on the door of old liquor store next door.

T__ and E__ last hour seemed to journal and not partake in our talk about McDonald’s characters. [btw, the lots west of Judicial Center are scraped dirt and gravel on them now—no basements, I guess, but maybe public buildings don’t get basements. Carroll County has a really old county building—and I wonder what happened to that jail in Kansas or Oklahoma where the sheriff resigned rather than bring prisoners back into it. I’d forgotten about that.]

So, yeah, survive today—that’s all ya gotta do. I probably didn’t need to bust out my E.I.U. critique Monday in department meeting. Ah, well.

C__ said her mom, L__, graduated here in 2001. A__ and M__ are twins. I said to A__ today how dumb of me it was to assume she and T__ were sisters just because those two wore glasses and M__ doesn’t. But A___ said that when the three of them are together, others people often make the same assumption.

Watched a Colbert clip today where he showed clip of Trump at prayer breakfast, and Colbert said it’s clear Trump had never read the Bible before.

And what else? Well, class is nearly over—

[From school journal of Fri., 3 May 2019, 3rd hour, Journal 302, page 78-80]

I don’t know how to do this

Rochelle’s play—The Miser—good stuff. A lot better than [play at school where I student-taught]. Some collegiate-level performances from M__ and others.

Saw Mr. P__ [who will be my principal next year]—he said I’ll have two physics, two physical science, and journalism—I’m excited by the idea of teaching journ., but I’m just not sure what I’ll do with them in the day-to-day. But then, I don’t really feel I know how to teach physics, either. I have now seen one model (my supervising teacher’s—I don’t consider what [a physics professor whose class I took] did to be even a workable model), but I don’t really think there’s a lot of value in the lecture method. As [someone] said, I want to inspire, to make science fun—or at least, let’s say, interesting and exciting—for these kids.

But I don’t know how to do this. I need to do some thinking and researching on this.

Idea: As the astronomy book I just got prompted  me to thinking about science—why is it that the universe is a certain level of complication, but it’s not extremely difficult nor extremely easy? It takes a few years of study, but the basic laws about the universe are understood, enough for humans to manipulate their environment, use rockets and lasers and stuff. Why is the Earth this complicated but no more/no less?

And yet, life goes on much as it has for the last 10K years, with or without knowledge of the universe.

Likewise, a psychological question: ability to learn—why is it what it is? Learning takes work, effort, but it’s not too hard to do. What is the transference of ideas? Why is it possible at all—and yet, since it is, why does it still take some effort—why can’t we read this once and have the material committed to memory? Some people have nearly photographic memory, so it’s possible—why not more widespread?

Every year is a vital year for reproduction for animals like birds. If they don’t reproduce every year, their species would soon die out. There performance is now. And this fact hasn’t changed with human arrival—from a year 30,000 years ago, to 1100 A.D. to 1902 to this year, animals are always on the edge of survival, needing to eat now and mate this year (thinking of birds here, etc.).

I was unmindful this week and got out of touch with my body—heart beating from adrenaline, tired, eating when not hungry and eating too much at meal time and eating crap food at other times. Doing work today got me back in touch with my body.

[From journal of Sat., 7 April 2001, Journal 30, page 86-7]

If I had to work at it, then we weren’t great friends

If I had to work at it, then we weren’t great friends, and actually, we probably weren’t. I never hung out with __ on weekends like I hung with D.G., to whom it was easier to talk. … So, yeah, it’s funny to sit here and complain that this person or that person isn’t my friend. I have to remind myself that __ & __ (and others, but those two are people I sometimes think of going to talk to) don’t really want to see me. I mean, they might regard me as unwelcome a person, as burdensome on their consciousnesses, as some particular people have at times—not all the time—seemed to me.

(I’m almost afraid to put names there—don’t want to hurt people’s feelings if these got published one day. Well, if I’m still alive, I’ll edit it out …)

[From journal of Sat., 7 Dec. 2019, Journal 314, page 94]

Texts as models of behavior—ways to live, or not

An idea about thinking of these characters as people: then the Iliad (or any narrative) as a consequence, as a playing out of the consequence of that choice—I’d hate to write fiction in that way, by thinking of the characters as people—I mean, whatever—but I can use that as a critical approach. It’s actually not far from what Edmundson’s Teacher book says he liked bout his teacher—that they looked at texts and talked about the texts as models of behavior—ways to live, or not. And Agamemnon looks like a jerk—giving up his girl, wanting another, and yet maybe he felt he needed to prove his leadership. And Achilles wasn’t really his subordinate but his ally—and the Iliad as a lesson in why loose confederation is not a great way to organize an army for war! Have questions like this for kids to answer—because what I lacked in high school and college was life (living) experience. Now that I’ve lived more, I feel more qualified to judge others’ behavior (rather than read novels, I go to public places and people watch—that’s my reading and my writing combined).

[From journal dated Thurs. 10 Ockt. 2013, 5:30 a.m., Journal 186, page 44-5]

We can’t be any more than friends: Random bits from Journal 13

At Copy-Editing Camp. PHILADELPHIA, Pa.–Temple University, New Residence Hall on Broad Street, Room 213A. Not a whole lot to say yet. I already wrote about the bad neighborhood and the security measures of this building. Felt a little dazed most of the afternoon. Made it into the city; I didn’t feel all that stressed, but I must’ve been because of the sweat was pouring out of my armpits. I think that took its toll, because I felt a little dazed, just out of it, the rest of the evening. We took three cars to dinner at Chili’s, and as I am the only one [of the students] who drove here, I drove my car with 3 people in it–Marilyn, Annette, and Robb, so it was tight in there. Then on the way back, My-Linh got lost and made me run red lights to follow her, so I didn’t much like that. But for my first bit of city driving, not bad. Marilyn, who’s from NYC–Queens–said she respected my ability to keep up with My-Linh–not an easy task. It really wasn’t too bad. I was concentrating on not losing My-Linh so much that I didn’t think about “Driving in the City.” Near Temple, it’s not good. Marilyn once pointed to a corner and said, “There’s a good place for a crime.” [Page 178, Sunday, 26 May 1996]

The ideas I had last weekend about motion and my friend S--cars and their coming into contact, which is not prevented by anything in nature. There is nothing, no laws in nature, that says these two cars can’t touch–no concrete barrier–yet we come at each other at 60 miles an hour and come within a foot or two–mere inches–and expect to never crash. Like I wrote last week, it wasn’t only drunk driving that killed S, it’s motion–change, the change made possible by time. The fact that we can change (position) in a moment allows for motion, and two objects in motion toward each other, intent on occupying the same physical location at the same time–this is deadly. [Page 105-6, Sat. 9 March 1996, at Petro]

The four of us roommates–we all have very specific relationships with each other. How DK said middle-aged businessmen are dispassionate, resigned to jobs they don’t care about. [Page 62, 6 Feb. 1996, night]

C did say tonight that she had never thought I would feel rejected. She thought my problem is that I never had a girl-friend before–not so. I’m just not sure where our intimacy is, what my motivation is to care about her. Last week, after Sunday, was cool because we were just casual friends. I was over her, but then Saturday, she called twice and came over and told me she loved me, etc. She did say she wasn’t sure why she did stuff like that. I wonder if she isn’t somehow attracted–but she later said that she just feels like telling people (including me) how she feels about them, whether that’s selfish or not. So I’m still learning about myself her, though this. … She’s always saying how well I know her–well, maybe, but I’ve never felt she knows me, even though she did say today that she felt from me that I would like to be friends in my heart but my head said no–true to a point. [Page 26, 22 January 1996]

In January, I told C that I had felt rejected when she said she didn’t want me to have any “ulterior motives” and then when she started up with another guy … She seemed to not understand that I would feel that way. Here’s my hypothesis: she wasn’t telling me I was a bad person, but that I wasn’t the perfect person for her—I didn’t fit her standard of the ideal man. But I felt bad–and, no, I didn’t feel that I was a bad person, but I wanted her—her company, her whatever it is that we say we want when we say we “want” somebody. The thing is that I valued her judgment–I had adopted her standards and value system as my own. OK, so maybe this isn’t what I felt–I felt her loss, the end of something, a death, an end. But the idea that I am trying to describe tonight is different—how you take on the other’s value system (in a Sartrean sense) and so when the other refuses us, we mistake her personal ideal, which is not an External Standard, with some permanent value system–that because I don’t match her personal idea, that I am truly a bad person in an objective sense. [Page 125, 14 March 1996, 10:20 p.m. Petro]

I don’t want long-distant relationship—I want a full relationship of touching, sharing, talking—being together. M is a neat person–one of the prettiest, hottest women I’ve ever known, smart, ambitious, funny, up-beat–it will a long time before I will meet anyone like her again. But we can’t be any more than friends–having not even kissed, I don’t think we will or can–that would introduce too much. I mean, we could kiss, but that would be hurried and shallow. Then again, not to attribute our weird vibe tonight to such cosmic unfairness as our short time together. She may have been cooler towards me tonight, somewhat less sympathetic, less excited, because of a basic dousing of whatever spark was there. I don’t know why–hell, if I did … [Page 157, Monday night, 15 April 1996]