Bipolar writing personality disorder

July 31, 2009

Today, I’m manic. Before 9am (and I am not a “morning person” by any stretch of the imagination) I had spontaneously come up with the first 6-8 scenes in the (imaginary) movie which will be based upon my (still-to-be written) book.

After a hard, long, and exhausting day at work, I came home, and sketched out these scenes and a few others I’d come up with since the morning in a story-board style format. It took me over 2 hours.

This week has been good. I”m working on a contest entry, reviving a piece of “avant-garde” (I guess you would call it) literary criticism from waaaay back – it’s still one of my all-time favorite pieces I’ve ever written – one of those times where the words flowed like liquid chocolate, straight from the Muse.

And I”m thinking about working up a small piece that is almost already written (cut from a longer work) as a magazine article. For the moment, I’ve set aside my book – but that is deliberate, and it just needs some time to sit and “jell”.

But then…well, there was last week, and weeks before that one, where the writing was almost painful. Wailing. Feeling like I would never get done. Like it would never ever ever end. Thinking it would be tempting to give up entirely (although like the California pioneers crossing the Rocky Mountains, I realize I’ve come too far to quit now.)

And a coupla months ago, I avoided writing as much as I could. Oh, I had good intentions, mind you. I really did.  But I would always, every night, find something else to do. TV. Internet. Blogging. Visiting other’s blogs. Go to the bookstore. And go again the next day. Visit with friends. You name it. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

So tonight, because I have had such a wound-up writing-day, despite being so busy and exhausting at work – I realized that I think my Muse must be bipolar.  Now, I mean no disrepect by that comparision. I realize that is a serious illness. But I say that by way of analogy.

But that is the only way I can explain it. My writing is so very much “feast or famine.”  Cyclical. When I’m “on” – I’m really on.  When I’m not – I’m not – and it is easy to believe that I will never get out of that rut when I feel like I’m in it.

This is important for me to realize. That it goes in cycles. That I can have incredibly inspiring and productive days. And that when they seem to disappear entirely – it is extremely important for me to remember that I have been to those great days before – and that they will indeed return, even if they seem to have disappeared entirely for that moment. I just have to keep going. Keep moving, keep creating, reading, writing, or finding other ways to keep my mind and my hands active – sometimes even almost “treading water” literarily speaking. Writing simply for the sake of writing – and who cares what the results are?  Maybe that day, when it all seems so hard, my goal just needs to be “Write. Write anything. It doesn’t matter. And quality doesn’t count. All that matters is getting the words on paper. And keep going. No matter what.”


© writingreading, 2009

Inspiration from Michelangelo

July 20, 2009

Last night I watched an old movie, The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo and the painting of the Sistine Chapel.  There were a lot of lines there that really resonated with me, especially as it relates to my current book project – which frequently makes me feel overwhelmed and at times, immobilized. Also a lot of great lines just about art and creating, in general. Even though it is an old movie, it was pretty good, and it was one of those grand ol’ Technicolor classics, so it was pretty to look at, too. Here’s a few of the parts that meant something to me.

Michelangelo sketches a man in a bar – then “makes him a saint” just by adding a halo.

Michelangelo repeatedly says he is not a painter, but a sculptor. Sometimes the fear of painting the work before him, paralyzes him. When he gets a burst of determination, he declares: “Painting is not my trade, but I will make it my trade.”

Pope: “When will you make it end?”
Michelangelo: “When I’m finished.”
(This becomes a running line, throughout the film.) – And this is exactly the dilemma I am feeling right now with my book. “When will it end?” “When I get all the information in there that I need to.”

Exhausted and sick, Michelangelo declares: “Even if I had the strength to go on, I don’t have the will.” That’s a crisis of faith, of sorts, and something I can totally relate to.  I’m beginning to wonder if I have the will to see my own project to completion.

“You’ll always be an artist. You have no choice.”

“Don’t you want to finish?” “More than my life.”

The Pope in the film turns out to be a man of little faith. He is surprised at Michelangelo’s portrait of God, that God is not angry or wrathful. Michelangelo explains -“Not yet. Not at Creation.” The Pope says only a man of faith could create such a work of art. It is through his art that Michelangelo expresses his faith, and makes it more solid.

Both the Pope and Michelangelo egg each other on – virtually tormenting each other. By badgering each other, they encourage each other to fulfill their life’s mission and work. At one point when Michelangelo is ill, the Pope observes: “An artist is destroyed when he is kept from his work.” The Pope understands the cure for Michelangelo’s illness is to return to his art.

Even after Michaelangelo has been working on the chapel, probably for years – he still says he is not a painter, but a sculptor. When the Pope asks him to do more work, in addition to the ceiling – Michaelangelo rebels (but does it anyway), still complaining that he is not a painter. It was really interesting to see how this weighed on Michaelangelo, and to see how despite his distress over having to paint – and to paint something on such a grand and magnificent scale – he still managed to excel at his work, despite its burden and his own nagging self-doubts.

© writingreading, 2009

Yes, I’m a Writer

July 19, 2009

I still have a hard time calling myself a “writer” – like I just don’t believe it until I’ve got a solid, hard-bound book sitting on my shelf that’s been recommended by Oprah and the New York Times Book Review. Or something.

But here’s something that makes me a little more confident in calling myself a “writer.” Look closely.


If I’ve written/typed so much that several keys on my keyboard are completely blank – missing their letters – and at least 5 others are getting ready to disappear (on left side – not in photo) – then, yeah, I think I’m entitled. I really can’t deny it. The proof is right there, literally at my fingertips!

© writingreading, 2009

Write like nobody’s reading

July 14, 2009

A friend of mine claims the phrase “dance like nobody’s watching” as her birthright. She is also a writer, and as writers, I think the phrase could equally apply: “Write like nobody’s reading.”

Both of these phrases are about joy, the pursuit of a passion for the sake of the passion. The dancer being watched is awkward and inhibited, worried that she might look like a fool or be judged harshly. Ditto for the writer who writes with a reader perched on her shoulder. The reader is also known as the critic. The watcher and the critic turn out to be literal killjoys.

Write – first, foremost, and always – for yourself. At least on the first draft. And if you are writing for publication, find a secret place where you can go and write just for yourself for a while. If you are writing about zebras in Africa for publication, that’s all well and good – but set aside some time and a place to write strictly and purely for yourself. Maybe what it would be like to be the zebra. Or maybe you just want to sit down and write about the funny antics that your 3-year-old niece did today.

Write. Just keep writing. And be sure to spend some time writing for yourself.

© writingreading, 2009

Little Things can be Big Things

July 12, 2009

I was at a friend’s house this weekend, and she had something that said, “Pay attention to the little things – because someday you may find out they turn out to be big things.”

I was reminded of this again, the next day. I ran into an old, very dear friend, whom I had not seen or heard from for a very very long time. It was so joyous to see her, and spend just a few moments catching up. A few years back, this friend told me, simply but in the forceful way that friends can have with one another when they are saying something important: “Go for it.” I had just told her about how my entire life’s dream was to write a book. And not just any book, but a non-fiction history book, about which I had been doing research for years. It truly was my passion. “Go for it” she said. “Go ahead. Call the publisher. Ask them what to do.” I thought, no, I don’t even have it written. I need to do more before I call. “Go for it” she insisted. “Call them.” So at her urging, I did. The phone call led to me submitting a formal proposal, which they liked. Now, for the past few years, I have been doing the writing. Although it is taking a long time, I believe that I can get this published, and with a reputable publisher, at that. Now, I can’t say that I recommend this particular approach, for everyone. In fact, it is probably not a good idea or publishing etiquette, to call a publisher so far in advance of having a complete manuscript. But my point here, is – those three simple words from her – “Go for it” – truly changed my life. They set me on a path that I could not have imagined becoming real. And they gave me confidence and faith in my abilities and the story I had to tell. I have often told my friend how very grateful I am for her encouragement, and her support, and her insistence that I take that first step in this journey. I compare it to a tiny pebble that starts an avalanche. A very small thing, that has a huge impact. I have always been very grateful for her friendship – but that for me will always be a defining moment.

So – fast forward to today, several years later. Me and my friend had since drifted apart – not deliberately, and with no hard feelings – just mutually busy lives. So I run in to her today, and we spend a little time catching up. She tells me about her teenage daughter, who was about 11 when the previous story took place. At that time, years ago, my friend mentioned that her daughter was working on a “novel”. I was impressed because her daughter was in about fifth or sixth grade – and that she literally had been working on this consistently for more than just a day or so. She had been doing some sustained writing. In fact, she had been doing more writing on her book than I had on mine! So of course I was impressed! I think she had maybe 6 or 10 or maybe even 12 pages. In any case – a lot, esp. for someone that young. Well, today, my friend told me, “Remember when you read ______’s novel? That meant so much to her. She started writing then and hasn’t stopped since.” Wow. I started to cry, it meant so much to hear that. Now, of course, obviously, this young woman’s parents are to be given all the credit for encouraging her to pursue her writing skills – but to be told this by the young lady’s mother, nearly four or five years after the fact – and to have it be one of the first things she tells me as we are filling each other in on our lives – was so humbling and such an honor. “It just goes to show you,” my friend said, “you just never know how you’re going to impact someone’s life.” Wow. What an honor.

It’s true that sometimes what seems like a little thing can turn out to be a very big thing, indeed.

Would love to hear from some of my readers of any of their own experiences with how something that seems like a little thing, turns out to be big thing.

© writingreading, 2009