Posted by: mew | May 10, 2010

time to sing

“I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung.”


Strawberry Abstract #4, mixed media (strawberry juice on wooden cutting board, digitally manipulated image.)*


It turns out we were to do a week-in-review post for the Creativity Workshop.  I went to Atlanta for the weekend, and managed two whole days away from the computer, so I missed that part, and my review will thus be a little bit late.

Here ’tis:

I completed and very much enjoyed the icebreaker exercise, a virtual scavenger-hunt to introduce us to our fellow participants in the workshop.  I’m still amused and amazed by Merrilee’s clever construct to get us all to meet and greet.

The first guest post was hilarious and well-done — which naturally made me anxious about my own guest post.  This week I’ll need to rewrite the first draft, and then do a final polish and edit.  No need to have that anxiety simmering in the back of my mind when I tackle these short stories.

At the end of the first week, I was raring to go.  I’d set my goals, and felt so revved up and inspired by the process of doing so that I wrote 3,000 words on the first story — before realizing that this idea really is too big for a short story.  For the workshop, I will narrow these time-travel stories down to three (or five) scenes, arrayed in a classic arc, and pretend they will ultimately stand alone.  That’s because I just don’t see myself churning out 15,000 words this week.

Not that I’d complain if that happened, mind you.  It’s just unlikely.

Ultimately, I’d like to turn each of these stories into a novella, and on Friday last week I stumbled across the website of the publisher I’d envisioned them “fitting.”  That publisher has decided to go with a new line of shorter novellas, 15- to 20,000 words, for a new e-book line, and they’re looking for more creative and unusual story lines.  This information was very motivating, and when combined with the bright fire of enthusiasm stoked by the goal setting, it’s easy to see why I wrote those first 3,000 words lickety-split.

Over the weekend, while I was out of town, my beloved Clairefontaine notebook went with me, and I wrote another thousand words on Sunday morning in order to officially meet my goal of a thousand per day for the duration of the course.  This time around, I started the story pretty much in the midst of the action, so that I might be able to wrap it up 5,999 words later.

Because I’ve been working on short non-fiction essays (my other blog) and my novel-in-progress for so long, I’d forgotten how when you begin a brand-new fiction piece, that first sentence is so uncooperative, how the flow of words can be so stingy and sludgy, and how for hours afterward you worry that you’ve written utter crap.  But I’d also forgotten that once that first bit is done, the second thousand words comes so much more easily, skipping merrily off the tip of the pen.  You can almost see your artist child gleefully giggling.

On day two when you show up at the desk, there she is, wearing her pink gingham dress with the cherries embroidered on it — instead of that old, mopey, grey smock she wears for the regular drudgery of longer-term projects.

Okay, so obviously my artist child thrives on beginnings.  Those first few days of a new project are like a mint-chocolate ice-cream cone with sprinkles on it to my inner 10-year-old.  It occurs to me that having at least a few short projects in the wings might be a way to keep her energy up and her eyes sparkling over the course of a longer project.

Certainly, I expect to soon have accumulated plenty of ideas for potential projects for her amusement.  This week we’re to begin the habit of idea generation, and I must admit to being daunted by the first assignment.  I never have consciously generated ideas before, and in fact the analogy I most employ to explain my process of having idea is that of compost, as in I put in all the stimuli and experiences of my daily life, with as much precision and attention to detail as I can manage, and after a few months or years of organic breakdown and sifting, I turn the pile and find my fork sinking into rich, dark, crumbly compost.

You know, black gold, the kind that’s better than Texas T any day.

An example of some notes from the current purse-based notebook.

I don’t know where the ideas come from, and I do not feel in control of the process.  That’s why I keep a notebook in my car, and one in my purse, and one in almost every room of the house, and stuff note cards and a pen in my jogging pants pocket when I go for a walk.  There’s no telling where the muse will whisper her secrets.

(Oh, and by the way, I bought my new purse-based notebook, as requested for the workshop.  It just took me a while to find the right ones, which turned out to be a pair of rosy pink and hot pink Moleskins, each the size of a playing card.  Yes, I currently carry a very small purse, and yes, every few years I decide I like pink again.  I’m on the far end of the pendulum swing toward pro-pink right now.  By the time this pair of notebooks, which each surprisingly manages to pack in 56 teeny pages, is filled, I’ll probably think pink is the devil’s own hue again.  Because I’m nothing if not inconsistent.)

After having had such a wonderful first experience with Merrilee’s goal-setting method, I am determined to try this week’s idea generation method, even if I fail utterly.  I’ll see you back here in about six days, to let you know how it went.

And now I’m off to write the next thousand words of this week’s story.

*If you’d like to see more abstract art made from strawberry juice, a sharp knife, and an Artist Child kicking up her heels in the kitchen, you can check out “don’t forget to play with your food,” a recent post on my other blog.



  1. Man, I wish I had your discipline. I try to remember to write ideas down in my journal, but since I’m in my head all day long I forget to capture those thoughts on paper. Every time I see it done successfully, as you have done, I get inspired again.

    • You know, I don’t even think of it as discipline. It’s more like a way to keep all the stuffing from leaking out of my head. My memory has gotten awfully porous over the last ten years….

      If it inspired you, I’m glad!

  2. Oh! Meredith, I hope I didn’t give the impression that you have to force yourself to get ideas the way I do. Please, no! I would never try to steamroll someone else’s creation process like that.

    Any way you want to come up with the ideas from the three prompt pictures is fine by me.

    I love the picture of the notebook – mine are like that, only a LOT messier 🙂 I scrawl.

    And hooray for e-books and novellas! I’ve found a couple of places that are publishing novellas now. It’s a revival of a wonderful short form. Good luck with them!

    • Merrilee, actually, I did not feel pressured at all. Certainly not steamrolled. 😉 And believe it or not, I have such a strong rebellious voice that if I really didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t.

      Besides, you said it was for folks who had trouble coming up with ideas or who wanted to try new methods for coming up with more or better ideas. And that last one is me!

      I also admit to being curious as to how well it would work, because your breakdown of the goal-setting with tight parameters really helped me so much already. There is nothing to lose. 🙂

  3. I can’t even imagine doing time travel stories, but let me think about that a while.

    I love your notebook — my thoughts and handwriting are far too unruly to look so enticing, neat, and, well, readable. Uh oh — you may be inspiring me here!

    • LOL, Natasha. I’ll let you think about it until far in the future if you want. 😉

      I’ve been told my regular handwriting looks like a typewriter — although believe me, it is getting looser and more relaxed with age. Yay!

  4. First off, I love your Strawberry Abstract #4. So creative.

    My writing idea process is very much like yours, so this idea of writing down ideas from a prompt is a hard one for me. I’ve printed out the three photos Merrilee gave us so I can look at them individually and try to capture my thoughts in words.

    I’ve carried a notebook in my purse for a long time, jotting down plot points and bits of dialogue, but those are for whatever I’m working on at the moment.

    And your notes are not only intriguing, your printing is so neat! Mine looks more like hieroglyphics.

    May the Muse be with you this week.

    • Thank you, Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed the abstract. It was such fun to make.

      The good thing about hieroglyphics? You never know what symbolic meaning you may find hidden in there. 😉

      And may the Muse be also with you!

  5. Wow, you’ve been so productive that you make me feel guilty. I love your pink notebooks – pink is THE best color there is, you know. 😉 I loved seeing inside of it. It’s so interesting to read how other writers jot down notes – and since I’m not used to doing it myself, maybe it will even get me kick started in that direction.

    • Nah, Chibi, guilt is *out* for the duration of the course. I’m pretty sure it runs counter to free, wild creativity!

      I’m glad you liked seeing inside the wee notebook. You may not need many notes at your age, honestly. I did not carry a notebook when I was in college, because my brain was a wonder then. Ah… sadly, I did not appreciate its capacity and used it for such frivolous things, like song lyrics and calorie counting and egoic self-torture, just to name a few. 😉

  6. Oh Mer, I can’t wait to see where this workshop takes you. I am so excited. I love the notebooks too–I would be inspired to write in those all day too 🙂

    • Alisha, thank you for those encouraging words. Aren’t those little notebooks adorable? I got the pair of them for less than $6, too, which I considered a steal. 🙂

  7. Aw, I want pretty Moleskine notebooks. I think I’m learning that my muse doesn’t like lines. When I was brainstorming for the idea generation exercise yesterday I had to pull out a blank A4 page so my muse would talk to me.

    P.S. That’s so cool you’ve got a place to submit your stories. They sound really interesting!

    • How interesting about your muse’s aversion to lines, Kerryn! My muse likes graph paper, weirdly enough. I’ve never been able to figure it out, but I don’t argue. The unlined notebook above is perfect, though, so that I can put in quick sketches if need be. 🙂

      We’ll see if I get them to submission standard anytime soon. Today I am struggling a bit with the short story format. Sigh.

  8. I think it’s almost worth taking the workshop to have the excuse to buy a new notebook! I need to use up my current, ugly, purse notebook so I can buy a cute one like yours. My problem is that I write stuff in it, then forget to check it when I’m looking for ideas. Sad. And mint chip ice cream? My favorite flavor!

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