Details details

I love the change in the seasons. I’ve never been much of a fan of summer, so while others are mourning the summer’s demise I am looking forward to the fall. I love autumn and always have although it’s not nearly as marvelous here in Seattle as it was when I lived in New York–we got crisper air and therefore nicer leaves. It was more of a transition, although here it will cool down a bit and the rains will start coming back. This is still a win.

As a writer and a Zen girl, I try to be observant. One of the ways I hone my abilities to notice and stay in the present is through various forms of art. I love to draw. If you get very quiet and just observe a thing and draw what you see you’ll notice things you might never have noticed before. In order to draw something well you need to really look at it. The skill in your fingers will come with practice, but it all starts with the eye. Once you start drawing on a regular basis you’ll start studying things with a casual glance. Beware, as you may start to get distracted by the lovely curvature of your next teacup or the patterns on the light sconce in the hallway. You are starting to see, and it is good.

I also write haiku. In order to write about a brief moment you must first see that moment in all its detail. The more detail you have, the more choices you have as a writer when crafting your haiku. Writing is also a way to take a tour of your own brain. Writing exercises require you to use details you have stored up in your memory. I particularly like writing exercises that use random words because they allow me to create something that I might not have imagined otherwise. I wander around noticing things, and it is this reality that infuses the poem or story even if that poem or story is about outer space. All writing is grounded in some sort of truth, no matter how fantastical it might be. If it isn’t, it generally fails because people do not believe it. You may not believe in hobbits, but everyone knows someone who would rather sit and eat cakes than go on an adventure. We know someone like Bilbo Baggins, and therefore we accept a lot that doesn’t make sense within our own experience.

As the season changes I’m going to be noticing how those changes manifest in Seattle. I want to fully experience whatever the fall has in store for me, and I can’t wait for the rain to start.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
257. How does the change in seasons manifest where you are? Are you noticing as much as you could? Try drawing something or writing about it and see if you notice more than you normally would.

Do you haiku?

I’ve been writing a lot of haiku this year, because a friend of mine accepted a challenge to write a daily haiku. I decided to take on the challenge too, and I believe it’s made me a stronger writer. I look forward to doing my haiku, and I’m hooked–I expect to recommit to another year when this one is over.

Haiku is a wonderful form because you can only capture a moment. It forces you to choose your words carefully. You only have so much space, so many syllables, but you can convey so much. I read the work of many fine haiku poets every day over at the Carpe Diem Haiku Blog, and I am inspired by how many of their haiku tell whole stories within the short format.

I sometimes write a haiku based on things I’ve seen during the day, and this forces me to be mindful of my surroundings. I also write a haiku each day based on the prompts over at Carpe Diem. I believe it’s helpful to do writing exercises. You demonstrate to yourself that you are capable of writing something even without the inspiration fairy sitting on your shoulder. When you do writing exercises you can prove to yourself that you can always lure her over if she hasn’t chosen to land on her own. This is a valuable skill for any creative type.

The writing prompts have also been a good exercise in the old writing maxim “show don’t tell.” Many of our prompts have been words like “joy”, “justice”, and “sacrifice”. It’s tempting to write a poem about how someone is feeling joyful, but it’s much stronger to depict the emotion. It’s usually better to show your reader something and let them draw their own conclusions. No one wants to be told how to feel. My daily haiku practice is a reminder of this, and a chance to sharpen my skills.

I’m glad I took this on. It keeps me writing daily, even when my world is busy and life is demanding too much attention. I’ve also discovered a vibrant community of online haiku poets, and my life is richer for their company and what they write. Haiku anyone?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
255. Write a haiku. You can check out the info over at Carpe Diem or check out my blog Haiku Plate Special for examples. You can stick to the old format–five syllables first line, seven syllables the second line, five syllables the third line–or go with a more modern format and use fewer syllables if it seems to work better (the older format works better with the original Japanese). If you need a prompt, write a haiku about cake. How was it? Ready for some more?

Make a mess

I’m a writer and a poet, and I used to give a lot of poetry readings with other friends of mine who are also poets. Invariably, someone would come up and say they liked my poetry (I’m sure the ones who didn’t just didn’t bother to come up.) I remember one woman in particular who approached me and my friend Laurie. She’d seen us read before, and she told us she thought all of our poetry was brilliant. She said she wished she could be like that. She said something about how nothing we wrote was bad.

That was where we had to stop her. It’s nice when people like your poetry, of course. We told her we appreciated her kind words, but we had lots of bad poetry–we just didn’t read it in front of an audience. We’d written plenty of it. Laurie and I have often done writing exercises together, and we always read what we’ve come up with out loud to each other right away. Some of it is wretched. Painfully bad. Simply horrifying. You have to read that stuff out loud sometimes simply to exorcise it from your brain. You have to write that stuff because making a mess is part of the process of creativity–you can’t create magic on the page without experimenting and being willing to throw ideas and words out there and see what works. You have to get down in the muck with the words and wrestle a poem out of them–sometimes you’re lucky and one just leaps at you, but more often you have to play with things until the poem is just right.

It’s also important to get feedback. I write and post at least one haiku a day on my haiku blog, and I don’t have time to let anyone see it first. I know what I’m trying to say but somehow things don’t always come out as I intend, and recently my readers let me know that they were interpreting one of my haiku to say something I don’t believe in. I was grateful for that, and explained what I had meant. I often show writing to trusted friends to get their impressions before sending things off for publication. It helps me to avoid such errors. Writer friends also point out when I’m being lazy or simply just in love with the latest dreck I’ve foisted upon the page. Kind critique has saved many of my readers from work that wasn’t ready to be shared. Blogging doesn’t often allow that luxury, but it’s good practice when time allows.

Play with your words, experiment with your art, make a mess, and then let your creations out into the world and start making something else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
244. Write something in a different style than usual or using words given to you by a friend. Experiment with new art materials–go outside your comfort zone and get messy–when you’re satisfied with what you’ve done, start over and make another mess. How did that feel?