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Writerly Roundup – April 2020

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.

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Our world values (little t) truth more than (big T) Truth. Writers have always persisted, nonetheless, for higher knowledge and a more communal meaning of life. During this time, swamped by facts and numbers and a deep desire to quantify, many writers are having a difficult time comprehending truth in the world while remaining creative. These voices help us navigate these emotions, and remind us of the importance of continuing our mission for Truth.

Coming Out With the Truth, Stacey Waite, Assay

When our writing is published, our readers often wonder: how much of that was true? Did that really happen to you? Waite pushes against this narrow definition of truth that we cling to for comfort. 

​But what kind of truth is this? Accuracy, facts, names, categories? We know truth is more complicated than that, something harder to grasp, something always just out of reach, just out of the grip of our understanding as we write. But perhaps it’s too risky to do what I am about to do. Perhaps I shouldn’t mess with the truth at this fragile moment. Perhaps I’ll regret this all-too-honest essay about the truth and poetry.

When we read the news, we take in numbers. We don’t know what they mean exactly. Our brain can’t quite comprehend their density. Waite reminds us that this kind of truth is not the only path to understanding. 

I think a lot of writers (even fiction writers) have a sense of guilt about the imagination, and it is partly this sense of guilt that I want to, even if temporarily, let go of. In a culture where creative imagination is undercut at every turn (in our education standards in schools, in our uninventive romantic comedies), it is sometimes difficult to argue for or make others understand the imagination’s truth—the kind of truth that is just beyond articulation. This truth is not only intuitive and queer in nature; it’s also not something writers know beforehand. We often just begin with a sound, a phrase, an idea, a story—and some kind of truth emerges out of it. Anyone who has ever sat down to write a poem or story ABOUT something will know, the factual truth of that something—what happened, when, how, who was there—actually gets in the way of truth itself, an obstacle to the kind of questioning, doubt, and inquiry that leads to truth in the first place.

When we begin a new story or poem or essay, we often embrace the unknown. We’re not sure where the idea will take us, but we know it feels right. The ‘unknown’ has never been a ‘safe’ place, and given the events of the world today, it can feel even more dangerous. Waite offers solace: 

What if to be honest is nearly impossible because it would require knowing what the truth is before I speak, or before I write. And it would require truth to be sayable, to be simple enough to be boiled down into the language that, in the end, we know fails us. In the end, of course, James Baldwin is right: The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. And after all, isn’t the truth really about transformation—about what we can make of what’s in front of us, about re-making a world in order to see it clearly, about changing the world from the seeming stability of one truth to something more uncertain, something more true.

Let creativity and imagination feel like Truth, and give it the time it deserves, when you can. Many of us are struggling to pick up the pen or open a new document. There is no shame in hesitation. Creativity looks different for different times.

 

Writing Through Wordlessness in a Time of Isolation, Tishani Doshi, Literary Hub

Decades ago, Doshi bought property in a remote coastal village in India. Here, she reflects on solitude, what we can learn from it, and how we can glean creativity amid fear and loneliness. 

Real fear and imagined fear began to feel not so far apart. How then to assert freedom through all these fears? Friends from the city would visit and the first question would always be—is it safe, why don’t you have a security guard, do you have the number of a local cop?

As many of us can relate to right now, there was a question of safety in Doshi’s home. Can we spin this fear into creativity? Doshi continues:  

Solitude exaggerates everything—beauty, danger, terror, calm. Solitude is in effect, a search for intimacy, a search for ourselves. I think of Virginia Woolf and the legacy of Shakespeare’s Sister, a place of equality. My husband and I writing in our rooms, linked by one corridor. The knowledge that another person works at a desk with the door closed, trying to create this mad thing called a book, and another person not far away is doing exactly the same thing. It is in fact, a kind of unity, of being alone together, and the best representation I’ve found of this is when we go out on the beach with our dogs, which is something Grace and Lucia do too. These dogs occupy the margin between the domestic and the wild, they aren’t pets but they are fiercely territorial and mostly loyal. When we tear out on the beach with them there’s so much joy, they raise their heads to the sky and howl, and we howl with them too. How it is a sound that joins us to each other and returns us to the world.

We hear the phrase 'alone together' almost every day. But what does it mean for us writers, who are usually alone in our creative pursuits? Perhaps it means that now, more than ever, our howls can be stronger, rising in tune to meet and lift each other up.

 

The Longer View, Nina Gaby (@Nina_H_Gaby), Brevity's Blog

Creativity doesn’t have to be pretty, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Gaby reminds us that sometimes it also doesn’t have to be happy. Here, Gaby writes about a time her and her daughter visited a ‘destruction room’ where they were allowed to scream and be angry without judgement. The experience was cathartic, and allowed her to be less afraid of rage as a pathway to creativity. 

I slam shut the laptop and let the tears flow. Because, isn’t that part of the writing process? If it isn’t, I don’t want to know, because there’s cortisol in those tears. Tears of reckoning.

Stuck at home with our families, faced with expectations from a different world, it’s easier than ever to feel ashamed about how we spend our (however fleeting) free moments. Gaby reminds us that these moments don’t need to be assigned to judgement. That even standing in front of the refrigerator, or raging against the current conditions, can be an epic moment of Truth-seeking.

 

Use Meditation, Prayer, and Intention to Unleash Your CreativityNina Amir (@NinaAmir), Writer's Digest

Your mind is a busy place. According to the National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are repetitive thoughts.

That means you think the same thoughts pretty much day in and day out. I bet that when you sit down to type, your negative thoughts come into play—thoughts like, “I don’t know what to write,” “I don’t have any good ideas,” and “No one will want to read what I write.”

That’s not helpful if you are looking for new ideas or want to tap into your creativity.

Finding time to be creative is not always the larger issue. Sometimes, when we sit down in a creative space, our mind goes blank, perhaps filling with worry and other stresses from the day. Amir reminds us that we don’t have to be physically 'writing' to be writing. Sometimes, a break from our repetitive and intrusive thoughts can be the creative inspiration we need. Amir offers kind words and meditative tools to help see through the fog.

Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!


Bridget Lillethorup is an English graduate student and teaching assistant at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is currently working on a collection of essays about saints and femininity. Her work is forthcoming in The Rupture and Atticus Review.


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