Tag Archives: creativity

Thinking is writing

I think it was Michaelbrent Collings who once said that he doesn’t get writers block because so many things count as writing, such as going to see a movie or taking a walk in the park. Anything that “primes the pump”, so to speak, is writing.

I think there’s something to that. Most of the time we writers feel guilty if we’re not writing. But, truth be told, some of my best ideas or breakthroughs come when I’m somewhere else: in the shower, driving to work, walking the dog. Anytime I have time to just think can be productive time if I think about what I’m writing. And sometimes letting my mind wander is even better.

Recently I was thinking about the main characters is my current project, trying to decide the best way for them to meet. My mind began wandering, and suddenly I was envisioning a scene in which one character walks in on another character during a touching and revealing moment. I suddenly had new insight on one of my characters–and it may not even make it into the novel! I still have no idea where that idea came from. It was completely unrelated to any previous thoughts I’ve had about my characters, and yet it felt so right that I knew it was a piece of the puzzle.

It can be a good idea to step away from the keyboard from time to time and just think. Generate new ideas, no matter how crazy. Spend time interacting with the world. Think about how your characters would interact in normal, everyday situations, like ordering at McDonalds or picking up their dry-cleaning. Let your mind wander.

Our brains are marvelous and unpredictable, able to make intuitive and creative leaps beyond anything even the most powerful computers can achieve. It would take WETA’s entire rendering farm days to weeks to fully render the imagery our brains generate just imagining a half-hour dream about going back to high school wearing our pajamas.

If we’re lucky those epiphanies come while we’re at the keyboard. But as often as not the most startling ideas come out of nowhere when our brains are engaged on something entirely unrelated. We need to leave ourselves time to think in order to tap that creative power.

So get out there and put your mental Author’s Think Tank to work!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Big ideas and unique contributions

Lin-Manuel Miranda is currently sitting on top of the world. The Broadway musical he wrote and stars in (“Hamilton”) is a massive hit. He was recently announced as in talks to star in Disney’s remake of “Mary Poppins”. He even wrote some incidental music for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the score for Disney’s upcoming “Moana”. The man I had barely heard about a few weeks ago is a household name.

Last year he did an interview with PBS NewsHour in which he discusses one of his driving “Big Ideas:”

“What the thing that is not in the world that should be in the world?”

See below for more:

As mentioned, his first musical, “The Heights”, grew out of his desire to star in musical theater, even though there are very few Latino roles (he is from Puerto Rico). So he wrote a musical full of them.  He sees the artists role to find their unique contribution to their art:

“What the thing that only I can contribute? … If I don’t get this idea out of my head and onto paper it dies with me.”

So there it is. What’s the story you feel needs to be told? What’s the idea that, if you don’t write it, no one else will? What is the unique thing you bring to the table, whether it’s writing, or drawing, or singing, or even some combination of talents that is distinctly you?

Find it, and you’ll have found magic.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Deep Writing Dreams

Natalie Goldberg, in her Writing Down the Bones, noted that some of her students had been doing what she calls “practice writing” — some of them for as long as three years. So one night, she asked them “Where do you want to go with writing? You have this strong creative voice; you’ve been able to separate out the creator and the editor. What do you want to do with it?” She told them that “There comes a time to shape and direct the force we have learned.”

Then she re‑couched her words: “What are your deep dreams? Write for five minutes.”

I haven’t read every short chapter in her book, but I always leave a marker where I’ve left off. I DO like many of her ideas. I opened to my marker this morning on p. 59 on which I’d highlighted, some time ago, “What are your deep dreams? Write . . .”

In other words, I wasn’t about to write for “only” five minutes.

I was literally shocked to see this particular exercise pop up as the next thing to do. For the last several weeks, I’d been collecting my thoughts on where I want all my UNfinished writings to go. In fact, to facilitate my dreams of writing, I’d already given notice to one writer’s blog, that I would stop writing my weekly blog for them by June 1, because here were (some of) my Deep Dreams:

Before the end of the year, I will finish the first full draft of my historical novel, which I have done many, many hours of research on, written one full screen‑play, and a 36-verse (rhymed & heavily accented “Celtic”in iambic pentameter) poem about my MC’s full story, to be printed with intermittent verses dividing chapters within the novel. All I need to do is re‑read extant copies of historical documents, past writers’ critiques, my poem, invent a new “order” of events to fit the story as it now should appear, and BEGIN WRITING. That’s a lot to do between now and Dec. 31, 2016.

After that? Write my three non‑fiction books (shorter and much easier): My journey through 30 years of ever‑changing cancer treatments; My Spiral Life, where my students, for 50‑plus years, taught me how to be a Teacher; THE Trip, illuminating how I managed to survive, and return to Utah from a trip in 1967 which took me to California, Hawaii, then by cruiser to several ports in Oregon, California (again), Mexico, through the Gulf, into the Caribbean Islands, onward to Portugal, France, eventually England. Which was where I bought my mo‑ped and traveled England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Spain before flying to Copenhagen, then on to NY, and eventually Utah, for my one‑and‑a‑half years of Grad School.

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on trying to sell small pieces (already completed, and sitting in my files): a little poetry, humorous essays, and scholarly articles.

When that’s done . . . I may have to write down my next Deep Dreams.



Have You Ever Thought About Writing a Memoir?

I have. In fact, I have three non‑fiction book ideas I’m thinking about right now, and they really could be written as memoirs. Or would it be better to write them as novels, give my MC (that would be moi) a different name and take great “Poetic License”?

My three books ideas are

  1.  About my nearly 30‑year fight with three‑time bouts of cancer.
  2. My trip in 1967 driving to California (shortly before the ’67 riots), flying to Hawaii, taking a 29‑day cruise past our west coast, through the Panama Canal, through the Caribbean islands, across the Atlantic, to Portugal, France, and England — where I bought a mo‑ped to drive through England, Scotland, then France, Spain and Italy.
  3. My evolution from student to career teacher in junior high schools (just enough to know not to do that again!), multiple high schools and most of Utah’s colleges and/or Universities.

I happened to look at an old article in Writer’s Digest online, from Jan. 23, 2012 called “10 Ways to Tell If Your Story Should be a Memoir or a Novel” by Adair Lara. It seemed like a pretty good guide to help you (ME!) decide.

I’ll give you her 10 categories, but I urge you to read the original, (if you can’t find it, let me know — I’ll send it to you from my archive (BenschWensch@yahoo.com) — if this is something of serious consideration for you.

Write It as a Novel:

  1. If I need to make up some things.
  2. If I would like my family to stay on speaking terms.
  3. If I think I may not remember some things as clearly as I’d like.
  4. If I need to include events that did not happen to me, personally.
  5. If my “inspiration” for this story is just a spark of real life, but probably not a complete story arc.

Write It as a Memoir:

  1. If readers will strongly identify with my story, and I want to share the truth of it.
  2. If I don’t want to work around inconvenient, stranger‑than‑fiction facts to maintain a “shapely plot.”
  3. If I find fiction’s “unlimited choices” overwhelming.
  4. If I want to write in a quirky, appealing voice.
  5. If I’m writing this to explore questions I have about the events.

What examining these 10 items told me about my stories:

Cancer story: straight memoir, throughout; even though I intend to have the “quirky” voice

The Trip: oh, boy: sounds like novel . . . only it really could be memoir

Evolution to teacher: memoir, if I can make it as “real” as the old Up the Down Staircase.

Guess I’ll just have to start with the Cancer story: I’ve got good back‑up for information with my current surgeon and former radiologist, and the others are more likely to be mongrel breeds between novel and memoir. And that’s OK. Just looking at the ten categories above did help me think my stories through. And, hopefully, they’ll help your thinking as well.

What Is Creative Non Fiction?

Last night I went to a League of Utah Writers’ meeting. The invited speaker, Meg Kinghorn who teaches at the U of U in the Lifelong Learning Annex, talked about “Creative Non‑Fiction.” I’d heard the term many times in the last few years and thought I knew what it was, but wasn’t all that sure. Meg managed to assure me that “Creative Non‑Fiction” can be exactly what I thought it was: a story, essay, whatever, told from a particular viewpoint and explored to find a (maybe) hidden or “special” message of great meaning to the writer.

I told the group about the time I found myself in Rome looking in great awe at the statue of The Pieta: Mary, holding her crucified son across her lap. I’d read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy many years before. In it, he’d described Michaelangelo’s dissatisfaction with the placement of his magnificent statue, presented to the Pope, but set up in an out‑of‑the‑way alcove. According to Stone, the artist sneaked back into the area at night and boldly carved his full name across one of the straps holding Mary’s robe together. He did NOT want his work to be ascribed to some other . . . think Da Vinci!

And there it was: his name, boldly proclaimed across Mary, shoulder to lap.

Tears came to my eyes. For many minutes. And do, again, as I tell the story, or write it down.

I don’t know if that was when or why Michaelangelo did that part of the carving or not. How can we know, centuries later? But I DO know Stone was particularly noted for his meticulous research. His Men To Match My Mountains was once used in a court of law to prove particular property rights. So I chose to believe him.

Meg Kinghorn said to write Creative Non‑Fiction, we need to “behold” something. Look at it. Really see it. Wonder why it has some power over us. What that means. How it can be shared and made viable so a reader may also “behold” and connect with that item. Think of the old broach handed down from your grandmother. Or your mother’s fancy gloves she wore on the last day of her life. Now, write about it, including all the many emotions it dredges up. Let your reader in to your snapshot of what and why that item meant so much to you. Let it remind him or her of something precious in his/her life.

That is Creative Non‑fiction.


ADVICE FROM AN “OLD” PRO: Charles Dickens

I’ve read that Charles Dickens ‑‑‑ yes, that Charles Dickens ‑‑‑ wanted to do three things to his readers:

  1. Make ’em laugh
  2. Make ’em cry
  3. Make ’em wait

What the Dickens ? ? ? All at once, or one at a time?

If Bleak House sounds a little too morose to contemplate reading, or you’re just “tired” of the constant Christmas Carol retreads every December, maybe you ought to look at some of his other works. See how he made ’em laugh, or cry, or wait.

Dickens’ overblown characterizations are often the source of his humour. For instance, the “evil” character Fagan and his often inept handling of all his “boys,” followed by his ultimate defeat, brings readers and audience members plenty of things to laugh at or with.

The writing of Dickens’ day was often what we would call “overly sentimental”. And yet, can you watch any production of A Christmas Carol, with Tiny Tim lifted on the shoulder of his father, shouting triumphantly “God bless us, every one!” without a lump in your throat, or a tear in your eye? Or, in writing about his own childhood experiences, recalling having to work early and work hard at demeaning jobs as a child, Dickens can choke you up every time.

Finally, one of the ways Dickens made readers “wait” was to write serial installments which appeared in papers or magazines. He did the same with Oliver Twist, while “dedicated readers” eagerly anticipated the next monthly installment, even crowding the docks where the installments would be shipped in. And within the stories themselves, where there is mystery, there is also the edict that you, the reader, must “wait” to find out what happens. He was also famous for his ability to withhold crucial information ‑‑‑ which character is really your hero’s friend (or is he the enemy?). Just when you’ve figured out the truth, another “fact” comes to light and changes your mind completely. Great technique for mystery writing, among other things. “The less you tell the reader, the more they will love it.”

Much of Oliver Twist and even The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and others, were so published as continuing sagas. Later, he and his wife embarked on a five‑month lecture tour of the United States, which he followed by penning American Notes for General Circulation, a sarcastic travelogue which criticized American culture and materialism. His lectures were so widely attended that ticket scalpers gathered outside his events (What would he think of us now?), and his biographer, J. B. Priestly, wrote that during the tour, Dickens “had the greatest welcome that probably any visitor to America has ever had.”

How can you, an author, twist and braid these three strands ‑‑‑ humor, pathos and the impatient waiting ‑‑‑ together in today’s lexicon? Seen through a 21st Century lens, these three attributes still have the power to move an audience, whether in a theatre or a book. And that’s a good lesson to learn.

“I never metaphor I didn’t like” *

D. H. Lawrence once described a row of distant houses on a ridge at night: “The homes stood . . . black against the sky, like wild beasts glaring curiously with yellow eyes down into the darkness.” WOW! But what if he’d just said, “The lighted houses were black against the sky.” Now the idea has lost all its color, all its energy.

Read Pearl Buck’s words about the surprise when an opened bag revealed a handful of precious jewels: ” . . . such a mass of jewels as we had never dreamed could be together, jewels red as the inner flesh of watermelons, golden as wheat, green as young leaves in spring, clear as water trickling out of the earth.”

Now we’re talking “figurative” language, which lends beauty, interest, intensity to our writings. Two such devices, shown above, are similes and metaphors

A simile compares things which may be unlike, but uses a “comparing” word such as like or as. “Her hair was like silk.” “He was thin as a stick.”

“Books are like imprisoned souls till someone takes them down from a shelf and frees them.” ~ Samuel Butler

“Justice is like a train that’s nearly always late.” ~ Yevgeny Vetrushenko

“Books are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ’em, then we go out of ’em and leave ’em behind, as evidence of our earlier stage of development.” ~ Dorothy L. Sayers

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” ~ William Shakespeare (King Lear)

A metaphor compares things which are unlike without the “comparing” words, like or as. This is an implied, rather than a stated, direct comparison. Metaphor will often say one thing IS another: The road was a ribbon of moonlight.

I happened upon a strange (and funny) little book one day in a bookstore and had to have it. The title: “I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like” by Dr. Mardy Grothe. In this tome, you will find wonderful examples of both similes and metaphors (and many more, like analogies, puns, etc.). To quote a few gems, he garnered from a variety of sources:

“A committee is a cul‑de‑sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.” ~ Barnett Cocks (Why am I thinking about politics? Elections? Senators and Reps?)

“A skyscraper is a boast in glass and steel.” ~ Mason Cooley (Funny, I’m still thinking politics . . . but I won’t say WHO.

“America is an enormous frosted cupcake in the middle of millions of starving people.” ~ Gloria Steinem

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” ~ St. Augustine

Several years ago, I wrote a blog for the ABC Writers Guild about borrowing from friends. And friends borrowing from friends. The short of it is, I borrowed an idea from Carol Lynch Williams and Ann Dee’s blog “Throwing Up Words” (FOLLOW it, if you don’t already!). Ann Dee had borrowed and adapted a writing exercise from THE PRACTICE of POETRY by Linnea Johnson, to come up with this fun list for you/us to recreate as completed metaphors and/or similes.

So from Linnea, down the line, to me, to you — have fun finishing these metaphors/similes:

  1. Blue paint spilled on the road like . . .
  2. Cancelled checks in the abandoned subway car seemed . . .
  3. A spider under the rug is like . . .
  4. Graffiti on the abandoned building like . . .
  5. Nothing was the same, now that it was . . .
  6. The dice rolled out of the cup toward Veronica like . . .
  7. A child in . . . is like a . . .
  8. . . . is like muscles stretched taut over bone.
  9. The fog plumed through gun shot holes in the car windows like . . .
  10. She held her life in her hands as if it were . . .
  11. Lacey poured coffee down her throat as if it were . . .
  12. If I should wake before I die, . . .
  13. The security guard walks the lobby as if . . .
  14. The library books left in the rain . . .
  15. Music in the hallway like . . .

I’d love to see your best three is the comments below. And don’t forget to add color and verve to your writing by utilizing apt similes and metaphors.

*”I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like” by Dr. Mardy Grothe

Keepin’ Stuff, and Keepin’ Goin’

I keep a lot of “stuff”. Some of it, I even keep on my computer: old writers magazines I didn’t make time to read when they hit my INBOX. Further, I admitted (all too recently) how many partial books I have written (and “kept” thinking “some day . . . ). And admitted how much I want to work on my longest, most researched, toughest book, an historical tale from Celtic Times in today’s England.

So I was deleting literally HUNDREDS of “saves” from some of my 1586 folders (that is an accurate, not an exaggerated, number). And I spotted an old Writer’s Digest article called “6 Simple Ways to Reboot Your Writing Routine,” by Brian A. Klems. Since my “writing routine” consists most of thinking about, but not necessarily DOING the writing, I thought maybe I’d better READ THE ARTICLE, this time, from January 10, 2012. And, yes, sometimes the “old” ideas are the really “good” ideas.

Since this was an old January 2012 piece, I thought it very fitting that I try to learn something from it now, at the end of January 2016. Here’s the short list:

  1. Your New Year artist statement: You do have one don’t you?
  2. Your Current regimen. Still working?
  3. Your hardware, software: Time for an upgrade?
  4. Writing extracurriculars: Are you missing out?
  5. Your support network: Is it in place?
  6. Day planners and deadlines: Have you mapped out a path to success?


  1. What do I write? Any fancy, new idea that pushes its way into my head. Why do I write it? Because sitting down to write something new is exhilarating! At this point, everything always looks POSSIBLE. OK, Brenda, but dig deeper. How much does this really matter to me? Why should I bother?


(If you wrote an artist statement LAST YEAR) drag it out, dust it off and find out whether any of it still applies. Make sure this statement for the new 2016 year fits you, fits your desires, fits your aims.

  1. Current regimen ‑‑‑ I HAVE one ? ? ? I usually set goals for the next day as I write my 750words on my journaling site. I know my most productive hours are in the morning. That said, those hours often collide with my “new” husband’s hours (haven’t quite reached our 4th anniversary, and this while we are in our 60’s and 70’s ‑ can you say “set in his/her ways”?), and I drop things from my agenda which are REALLY the things I want to get done. I need to start VERY early in the a.m. and get the MOST IMPORTANT THINGS done FIRST ‑‑‑ before our hours clash. SO:

6‑7 am: Get up, eat


I’m currently blogging for 3 different sites: A ‑ short, once a week; B ‑ full length, once a week; C ‑ two per week, but will need to increase as we get closer to May and June

Blogs can be written later and on specified days.

10:30‑noon: Household chores

And I MUST set my phone to buzz me when it’s time to move on ‑‑‑ for me, that’s a deadline and I’m pretty good at meeting (or even beating) deadlines!

  1. Hardware, software & upgrades: It’s good having a live‑in computer genius with magic hands around. Why, just tonight he reinstalled a program which may now prevent the SEVEN SHUT DOWNS I’ve been plagued with today! Hooray! for husbands ! ! !
  2.  Writing Extracurriculars: We’re both “retired” from Navy (him) and Teaching (moi). We’re just well enough off, normally, to be able to go to many writing workshops, conferences, as well as many theatrical venues: as a former drama director/debate coach, that’s Life’s Blood to me. We’ve already paid for two major workshops, and have our season’s tickets for this years plays and musical events which keep my blood flowing (AND ideas coming ! ! !).
  3. Support Network: I’ve been in one 40‑year‑old critique group for many years. I couldn’t go to their weekly sessions while I was teaching, but am now able to attend pretty regularly. My husband and I also started a small critique group (2 couples, with occasional visitors). Both families have been a bit bogged down since before the end of 2015 with holidays, illnesses, family “emergencies,” etc. We’re working at getting back on track. I’ve also found a neighbor and an “old” friend of many years who would be glad to act as Alpha or Beta readers. My Distractors/Discouragers? I have no one who discourages me from writing . . . other than myself. With this new plan (above, and last item below), I’m hopeful that will not be a problem now. Distractors? That’s something else again. The needs of extended family are occasionally almost over‑powering. I MUST learn to find good, gentle, kind ways to keep that from being a regular problem.
  4. Day Planners/Deadlines: I loved the quote the Writer’s Digest author of these main ideas gave: He’d had a college professor who would tell her graduate students, “A good paper is a done paper.” I’ve already set deadlines for myself from now until June 20, 2016. When I get close to that deadline, I’ll extend it through the next several months, and move from my historical novel (which takes precedence now) to one of the THREE non‑fiction tomes I’d like to pen. Or, actually, “compute.”



WOO‑HOO ! ! ! I just saw something GREAT online. It was a guest blog for the online Writer’s Digest by a stunning red‑head named Babette Hughes. She called it “The Big Lie of Age and Writing” and opened with “Age is not a disability, it is a second chance at life. I’m 92 years old and Post Hill Press has just published my three‑novel Kate Brady series . . .”

WOO‑HOO, again ! ! ! I just survived my third bout with cancer (over a nearly 30‑year period), and, with radiation NOT an option for already radiated flesh, I opted to go the surgical route: a double mastectomy. My birthday was one week after surgery: I turned 76. So I figure, I STILL have time to get published . . . SOME day. But some DAY sooner, than I’d been working toward.

Wanna back track, and go back to your youth? I sure don’t! Somehow, I got through several “shy” years, when we moved back from Hawaii when I was ten: everybody already HAD a “best friend” by the time I got here. I’d known all along that I wanted to become a teacher, so I rushed through three years of college to get there. Meanwhile, I’ve endured three marriages, two divorces, three bouts with cancer, a total of 46 radiation treatments, and all the indignities which go with mammograms . . . especially when they’d call or write back time after time after time, to get me to come back for a re‑do. . . they weren’t “sure” about something they were seeing on the first shot.

All this, along with the regular worries of a teen emerging into adulthood, and, as Ms. Hughes said, “career worries, relationship worries, money worries, kid worries. A time with no idea of who we are or even what we want in life [at least I had THAT one nailed] . . . Age gives us the freedom from those hectic years with the wisdom and time to write.”

I think, at my age, I deserve to “let go ” of some of the angst I’ve always carried with me. And a brand‑new year is JUST the time and place to do it. Hughes claims that LIFE, “comes in a bundle ‑‑‑ the good, the bad, the disappointing and even the tragedies are all of a piece.” Our acceptance of “the whole bundle” ‑‑‑ with “moral nerve and a certain toughness” means that “we choose life.” And Life chooses US, right back. Accepting all that comes with Life, instead of choosing “the chair and the TV” (in other words, giving up) makes us emotionally, spiritually able to survive the hits, and “endows depth and richness to our writing.”

And look what Life‑choosers can still accomplish:

Doris Haddock (89) began walking between L.A. and Washington D.C. ‑ a 14‑month journey

Kimani Maruge enrolled in first grade at 84.

Grandma Moses (75) began painting and lived to be 100 ‑‑‑ still painting.

Tao Porchon (93) and her 23‑yr.‑old partner swept ballroom dancing competitions in New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico.

Mieko Nagoka (80) took up swimming, and at 100 became the first centenarian to complete a 1500‑meter freestyle swim

Hidekichi Miyazaki (103) holds the world record for the 100‑meter dash (29.83 seconds) in the 100‑104 age group. They HAVE a 100‑104 age group ? ? ?

These last two women are from a culture “Japan’s ‑‑‑ that, unlike America, reveres old age.”

That mastectomy I told you about? I decided to go “all the way” because I was still pretty healthy at 75 (for another week); then I turned 76. I wanted to get this DONE, OVER WITH, so I wouldn’t have to do it at 78 or 79, or 83 or 84. Because I’ll be too busy then.

I’m NOT going to make New Year’s Resolutions like all my old ones: lose weight, get more exercise, REALLY find a “working” diet, finish writing five of my books before next year. But I AM going to quit a few bad habits:

No more:

  • “I’m too old,”
  • “I’m not strong enough,”
  • “I’m too tired,”
  • “I’m not flexible enough,”
  • “I’d rather just watch TV,” etc., etc., etc.

Now it’s going to be:

  • “Wow! I can still do that!
  • “Hey! I’ve never tried that before ‑‑‑ let’s go!”
  • “Sure, RIGHT after we take a nap!” (got to keep it practical ! ! !)
  • “Sounds like a GREAT book ‑‑‑ may I borrow it when you’re through?”
  • “I’ve never written a steam‑punk story before . . . I’ll give it a shot.”
  • “I’m going to send my poem to that contest.”

What can you give up for the New Year?

What will you try that you haven’t done before?


A Story to Explain Metaphor

Last week I offered some of Natalie Goldberg’s ideas from her book, “Writing Down the Bones,” on her “rules” for practice writing and a list of ten ideas you could use for starters when you practice morning pages a la Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” or you’re writing for the 750words.com, which I have recommended multiple times, or you just want a few moments to get things out of your head and onto a page, real or virtual.

This week, re‑reading into yet another chapter, I laughed to remember a story I’d forgotten, and felt I’d like to share it here, from a segment entitled “Man Eats Car.” Besides, it’s SUCH a good explanation of metaphor!

“There was an article in the newspaper several years ago — I did not read it, it was told to me — about a yogi in India who ate a car. Not all at once, but slowly over a year’s time. Now, I like a story like that. How much weight did he gain? How old was he? Did he have a full set of teeth? Even the carburetor, the steering wheel, the radio? What make was the car? Did he drink the oil?

“I told this story to a group of third‑graders in Owatonna, Minnesota. They were sitting on the blue carpet in front of me. The students looked confused and asked the most obvious question, ‘Why did he eat a car?,’ and then they commented, ‘Ugh!’ But there was one bristling, brown‑eyed student, who will be my friend forever, who just looked at me and burst into tremendous laughter, and I began laughing too. It was fantastic! A man had eaten a car! Right from the beginning there is no logic in it. It is absurd.

“In a sense, this is how we should write. Not asking ‘Why?,’ not delicately picking among candies (or spark plugs), but voraciously, letting our minds eat up everything and spewing it out on paper with great energy. We shouldn’t think, ‘This is a good subject for writing.’ ‘This we shouldn’t talk about.’ Writing is everything, unconditional. There is no separation between writing, life, and the mind. If you think big enough to let people eat cars, you will be able to see that ants are elephants and men are women. You will be able to see the transparency of all forms so that all separations disappear.

“This is what metaphor is. It is not saying that an ant is LIKE an elephant. Perhaps; both are alive. No. Metaphor is saying the ant IS an elephant. Now, logically speaking, I know there is a difference. If you put elephants and ants before me, I believe that every time I will correctly identify the elephant and the ant. So metaphor must come from a very different place than that of the logical, intelligent mind. It comes from a place that is very courageous, willing to step out of our preconceived ways of seeing things and open so large that it can see the oneness in an ant and in an elephant.

“But don’t worry about metaphors. Don’t think, ‘I have to write metaphors to sound literary.’ First of all, don’t be literary. Metaphors cannot be forced. If all of you does not believe that the elephant and the ant are one at the moment you write it, it will sound false. If all of you does believe it, there are some who might consider you crazy; but it’s better to be crazy than false. But how do you make your mind believe it and write metaphor?

“Don’t ‘make’ your mind do anything. Simply step out of the way and record your thoughts as they roll through you. Writing practice softens the heart and mind, helps to keep us flexible so that rigid distinctions between apples and milk, tigers and celery, disappear. We can step through moons right into bears. You will take leaps naturally if you follow your thoughts, because the mind spontaneously takes great leaps. You know. Have you ever been able to just stay with one thought for very long? Another one arises.

“Your mind is leaping, your writing will leap, but it won’t be artificial. It will reflect the nature of first thoughts, the way we see the world when we are free from prejudice and can see the underlying principles. We are all connected. Metaphor knows this and therefore is religious. There is no separation between ants and elephants. All boundaries disappear, as though we were looking through rain or squinting our eyes at city lights.”

So. Now, go write something.

Write Anything.

Write EVERYthing.