Month: April 2015

Writing as Spiritual Practice

. Writing and spirituality overlap in my life, and sometimes they feel like the same thing. Although I bought a lot of books on writing over the past few years to augment what I considered to be a dearth of writing know-how in creative non-fiction, lately I have been drawn to books on how writing can be used as spiritual practice. I have been able to create more writing time because I now consider writing as one of my daily spiritual practices. This has made a huge difference in my attitude toward my writing life. I have dropped all writing goals. I write simply because it feeds my soul, and when my soul is not hungry, I am happy. The thought of writing early in the morning makes me want to go to sleep early and wake up earlier than usual. When you see your writing as more than a hobby, profession, or craft – as a profound expression of yourself – you have no choice but to write with utter conviction and authenticity. The deepest …

Back on Track

  After beginning a new habit of early morning writing in the third quarter of 2014, the habit fizzled out early this year – after almost six months. A busy work schedule made it necessary to give up the writing habit. Ironically, it was my commitment to blog daily that kept me thinking often of that fulfilling habit. I didn’t force myself, but I knew in time I would get right back on track. And I am. I started slowly, first squeezing in five to ten minutes of writing before I began my day. Then gradually I found more and more time and now, I am back, writing in my journals ( I have several ), writing poetry, and prose poetry. On some days, when there’s more time, I also do some sketches with colored pencils and markers. It feels great to be back on track. Once again, writing ideas flow and I look forward to getting up each morning to do word play. Life is good. Photo credit: Morguefile

Age Makes You Wiser, But Is Time Running Out? On Writing and Aging

Originally posted on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog:
Guest blogger Nikki Stern on the challenges of writing past mid-life, adapted from a panel discussion at the recent Out of the Binders Women Writers Conference in Los Angeles: All my life I’ve been trying to communicate. The funny thing about wanting to say something is that no matter how articulate you become, how presumably skilled in getting across your point, you may never feel you’ve nailed it. I’d guess most writers are plagued with the impulse to make themselves understood. I know I’ve been that way since, well, forever. I wrote my first short story when I was six. By the time I was sixteen, I decided music was the medium and wrote all sorts of original songs, including music and lyrics for school productions. After graduate school and a short stint on Capitol Hill, I was slaving away as a “singer-songwriter” before falling back into the less glamorous but more lucrative career of public relations. Along the way and relatively late in life, I got married.…

A Prayer for Nepal

On this 4th Sunday of the Easter Season, we pause and remember our brothers and sisters in Nepal. Those who perished from the earthquake – May the Light  embrace them as they pass through the eternal threshold; And may their families find comfort in their time of sorrow. May those who were wounded be comforted in their pain and fear; May those rendered homeless find warmth and shelter from the cold nights; and may the good Samaritans who are helping in whatever way they can be blessed with strength and fortitude as they dig through the rubble. We pray that they find many survivors. Sympathies and condolences to the families of the mountaineers who perished because of massive avalanches on Mt. Everest. They who dared to climb and perished knew the dangers. Yet they persisted, hearkening to the call of the mountains. Where one  feels the pulse of nature merging with  one’s sinews. Where the wind sings songs one hears only in earth’s highest places; Where the majesty of nature abundantly nurtures the soul. May they find …

Eudora Welty: On Listening

“When I read, I hear what’s on the page. I don’t know whose voice it is, but some voice is reading to me, and when I write my own stories, I hear it, too. I have a visual mind, and I see everything I write, but I have to hear the words when they’re put down.” “Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has never been a line read that I didn’t hear. As my eyes followed the sentence, a voice was saying it silently to me. It isn’t my mother’s voice, or the voice of any person I can identify, certainly not my own. It is human, but inward, and it is inwardly that I listen to it. It is to me the voice of the story or the poem itself.” “The sound of what falls on the page begins the process of testing it for truth, for me. Whether I am right to trust so far I don’t know. By now I don’t know whether I could …

Friday Web Finds: The Writer’s Voice

What is the writer’s voice? “Like a singer’s, a writer’s voice is an elusive thing, the sum of everything that goes into his or her style of expression,” says Richard Nordquist in this  post, which tells us how to find and fashion our writing voice. A former assistant chef explores the writing voice in: Writer’s Voice: What it is and how to develop yours.  Writer’s Digest’s post, Voice in Writing: Developing a Unique Writing Voice,  provides ways on how we can find our writer’s voice, even though  “Finding a writing voice can be a struggle, whether you’re writing a novel, short story, flash fiction or a blog post.” But this post on the Atlantic says ‘Voice’ Isn’t the Point of Writing. Writers are cautioned: “The truth is, if you want to get paid as a writer, finding your own voice can be a distraction—even a hindrance.” Happy Friday!    

On a Clear Day You Can Create Your Writing Commandments

  It’s a beautiful summer day here in the Philippines. The intense heat had been tamed by thunderstorms a couple of days ago that caught many people unaware. Unprepared as they were for the sudden downpour, many went home soaking wet. The sky is azure, almost cloudless. I have been working on knowing the names of the color variants, in an attempt to improve my skill at writing good descriptions. My favorite color had always been blue green – that’s the name I learned when I was in grade school. Today I learned it’s called teal blue. My computer table faces a wall with three windows and I can see the Heleconia plant – all in full bloom. An occasional sparrow flies by, pecking on its dried leaves, flying away with more materials to build its nest. Summer is when the birds seem to be busiest. If I’m lucky I see a sunbird poking its long beak into the Heleconia blossoms. Flocks of Pied Fantail emerge at various times of the day, squawking and sometimes I witness …

How to Make Sure Your Blog is Ready for Google’s Big Change

How to make your WordPress.com blog mobile-friendly Today, Google will make a major update to its mobile search algorithm – one that will affect bloggers significantly. More than 60% of online traffic now comes from mobile phones and gadgets.  Google’s new algorithm is designed to favor mobile-friendly websites. This means that if your blog is not mobile friendly, your blog will not appear in mobile search results.  “Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.” To check whether your blog is mobile-friendly or not, go to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test site, then enter your blog’s URL. In a matter of seconds, your blog will be analyzed.     If your blog is not mobile friendly and if you are using a WordPress.com theme, here’s what you need to do to make your blog mobile-friendly: 1. Go to your dashboard 2. Hover over “Appearance” and you’ll see “Mobile” at the end of the list …

Be Thankful

  Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire. If you did, what would there be to look forward to? Be thankful when you don’t know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn. Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow. Be thankful for your limitations, because they give you opportunities for improvement. Be thankful for each new challenge, because it will build your strength and character. Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons. Be thankful when you’re tired and weary, because it means you’ve made a difference. It’s easy to be thankful for the good things. A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks. Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings. ~Author Unknown     Photo credit: Jordan McQueen via Unsplash

Writers on Writing

“No time spent writing is ever wasted. If you only spend twenty minutes, and find only a sentence or two flowing, you will have still done something important. You will have written today.” – Anonymous “To write takes dreaming and remembering and thinking and imagining — and very often what feels like wasting time. It takes silence and solitude. It takes being okay with making a huge mess and not knowing what you’re doing. Then it takes rewriting and struggling to find your story and the truth of the story, and then the meaning of the story. It takes being comfortable with your own doubts and fears and questions. And there’s just no fast and easy way around it.” – Barbara Abercrombie “The essential question is, ‘Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?’ Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words your characters will speak, ideas — inspiration.” – Doris Lessing “Do not overwrite. Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, …

Friday Web Finds

    This week, I learned a new Poetic Form: the Pantoum.  It’s a poem composed of four-line stanzas. The difference is that the second and fourth lines of each stanza are used as the first and third stanza of the next stanza. Sounds confusing? Here’s a sample: I listened and heard the trees Singing with the birds The sun shone brightly, dancing merrily As nature’s music played. Singing with the birds I felt my heart skip As nature’s music played; Life seemed so grand I felt my heart skip As nature welcomed me warmly Life seemed so grand, I couldn’t ask for anything more.   The Paris Review features an interview with Henry Miller, on The Art of Fiction. And if you’re still trying to begin a writing habit, you may want to read From Commitment to Writing Habit .     Photo credit: Joanna Kosinska via Unsplash

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Allow the Dream Eye to Inspire Your Writing (11)

Every night, as you sleep, the dream eye sets about to destroy your world – the world of logic, literal meaning, lock step order and cause and effect. It dismantles daylight visions, razes buildings, ravishers the landscape in preparation for paving what Freud called “the royal road to the unconscious.” -Rebecca McClanahan   McClanahan believes that for dreams to help writers, they must be used in the raw. Writers should not attempt to interpret dreams: “When we stop trying to figure out our dreams, to apply our conscious minds to the pictures the unconscious is painting, we may begin to feel the power of their images.” She explains further, “And we may find that those images emerge in our writing.” The author says writers can keep pen and paper within easy reach when they go to bed and record everything they remember about their dreams: feelings, shapes, physical details, and dialogue. McClanahan also suggests using the present tense when recording the dream because present tense verbs act as guides that lead you through the dream, When …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Regain the Child’s Eye (10)

“Man’s maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche “I have fierce, perfect muscles that you can see far away. I used to have a perfect mouth till I lied.” “My parents got divorced and my dad got me.” “What’s quieter than the rain Wednesday morning? Silence is the quietest thing that people break.” “Sometimes I feel kinda only.” All of the above were written by children who used to be Rebecca McClanahan’s students. McClanahan points out that, like children,  writers should have a different spin on creativity –  artistic expression should both be playful and highly concentrated. Writers should also be patient: “Like a child who manipulates a doll or a piece of string for the pure sensory pleasure of it, the imaginative writer takes pleasure in the purely descriptive moment, without hurrying the task.” Children, McClanahan observed, were fully engaged in the task at hand. Also, as the children wrote, they frequently changed their viewing perspective: “A child rarely looks at this world straight on. …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Move to Inspire the Muse (9)

When we think of paying attention, we usually think of sitting still, of clearing our eyes and ears of distractions and concentrating on the object or scene before us. But sometimes the best way to be still – to still your mind and focus on your subjects – is to get moving. -Rebecca McClanahan McClanahan points to the practice of Claude Monet, whose studio was a boat floating down a river. Monet painted the objects that floated by, which was a challenge because the objects were moving. She explains: “Monet’s artistic vision, coupled with high emotional energy and a seemingly unquenchable passion for light, led him to create works that seemed to describe the most fleeting and fluid moments in nature.” McCalahan asks writers to consider incorporating some form of movement or activity into their writing life: “Concentrating on your body may free your mind to discover its own path.”  Now I understand why the words seem to flow more effortlessly after I do Qi Gong, Tai Chi or Yoga before journaling. McClanahan suggests:  “Before you write, take a …

My Monastic Writing Experience in Orvieto, Italy

Originally posted on Renee Johnson Writes:
Writers attend workshops and retreats for various reasons.  Some wish to hone their skills of description or dialogue, others are seeking inspiration or direction, and then there are those of us who have something to explore within ourselves—something too difficult to sort through with our morning coffee while retaining a smiling face and carefree demeanor. When I accepted Justen Ahren’s invitation to join his Monastic Writing group studying in Italy, we both knew I was part of the latter category.  My inward journey would be much more difficult than the procession of planes, trains, and taxi cabs I would need to arrive at the base of the cliff which had long protected the residents of Orvieto. “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” –Nelson Mandela A week in a medieval Italian hillside village of artisans, wine makers, divine architecture, Cathedrals, Italian food, all to be enjoyed during the spaces between writing class and reflection.  Delightful! Boarding the funicular—a tram of…

Paths Along the Journey

Life presents us with many paths along our journey. Sometimes the pathways are lovely and make us feel good. Some paths are rugged and look hard to traverse; while others are just – well, ok. When we are presented with a new path, life asks us to make decisions. Do we proceed along the path we are currently treading or do we stop and take the new one being presented to us? It is always easier to go down the familiar road, but the fact that we are being presented with a new path means that we are up to the challenge of exploring a new journey, a new way of Being. The next time a new pathway appears before you, know that you are being presented with the prospect of a new journey – and that you have everything you need to face the challenges presented by the new path. Everything you need is within you. Photo courtesy of Morguefile

Eric Maisel on Honoring Your Writing Space

“Honor is a funny word, a loaded word, a difficult word. It is not a word to toss around lightly. But I’m willing to bet that you place it at the very top of your list of words with personal meaning. I bet you love it, believe in it, and aspire to it. Live that way, then! Honor the fact that you believe in honor and construct your writing life around it.” “Honoring your writing space means that if you are embroiled in tasks, dramas, crises, and errands, you ring a bell at your appointed time and let all of that go. You enter your writing space clear-headed and unencumbered. If you are tired from your day job, you splash water on your face; if you are exhausted from your mate’s chatting, you take an aspirin and a quick nap; if you have a hundred things to do before you get to write, you put that long list aside and remind yourself what honor means.” “You honor your writing space by recovering, if you are an addict. …

Friday Web Finds

In a previous post, I wrote about Rebecca McClanahan’s suggestion to spend some time in quiet meditation as a way to grow one’s inner eye. This article from the Huffington Post will not only show you how to meditate, it will also teach you how to use Writing as Meditation. And  it would probably be a life-changing experience to  write meditatively in one of these libraries,  among the most beautiful in the world! Parker Palmer is back with a meditative piece on writing. Of the Three Eternal (So Far) Truths about Living and Writing, I find the first and last easier to practice. The second… The school year in the Philippines is over, and while mulling over school matters early this week, I remembered a photo essay I chanced upon many years ago. Going to school may be easy for many, but not all children take the bus. In this post, you’ll see images of Kids Risking Their Lives to Reach School. I’ve been taking Listening Walks as often as I can. In case you want to read  Walking, …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Keep Your Vision Alive (8)

“Follow the example of poets A. R. Ammons and Jorie Graham: take up painting or sketching as a way of keeping your vision new.” –Rebecca McClanahan McClanahan doesn’t explain how taking art lessons can improve one’s writing, but I have first-hand knowledge of how painting or sketching helps us write better. When you’re sketching or painting something or someone, you don’t think, you look at the details, and see beyond the details. You train your eyes and mind to be observant, to notice how the light “paints” on the subject. The result is an interpretation that is truly and uniquely yours. McClanahan suggests another exercise:”Or follow the example of writer Frye Gaillard, who claims to have a bad ‘visual memory.’ When he visits a place or interviews a subject, he takes detailed notes on what he sees, later expanding the notes into sensory descriptions.”  My attempts at painting “If description is the flowering, it is also the root and stem of effective writing,” wrote Rebecca McClanahan in her book, Word Painting, A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. I’m …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Engage the All-accepting Eye (7)

“Rather than considering our subject firsthand and describing what we observe, we label it. Because we’ve already established for instance, that slugs are disgusting, we go on to describe them as ‘slimy’ creatures that leave ‘gooey’ trails. Cliché upon cliché.” – Rebecca McClanahan When we write, we have to set aside preconceived ideas and observe our subjects with an all-accepting eye that neither sees good or bad, beauty or ugliness. Our words should describe what we observe. For a writer to write  descriptions that are “rough in texture” yet “smooth as the moon,” McClanahan emphasizes the need to “really look at your subject.” Good description comes after one uses both naked and inner eye, and the all-accepting eye. “Accept every part of the subject, removing those conventional labels – lovely, gross, sweet, inspiring, depressing – that you normally associate with the image,” writes McClanahan. Additionally, she cautions writers on jumping to conclusions. Instead, a writer must refuse to view a subject as he or she had been taught to view it: “Look long enough and …

How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions: Grow Your Third Eye (6)

“When we engage not only the naked eye but the growing eye as well, we begin to see  the extraordinary within the ordinary.” -Rebecca McClanahan The “growing eye” or “third eye” that is invaluable to all artists is that ability to look beyond the physical manifestations of things, people and events. The poet and mystic Gerard Manley Hopkins called this ability the “growing eye” because it expands when it learns to participate emotionally and spiritually with whatever it is we focus on. The example McClanahan gives us of a writer using her growing eye is  Annie Dillard who wrote the book Holy the Firm after living on an island in Puget Sound for two years. Dillard wrote: “I wake in a god. I wake in arms holding my quilt, holding me as best they can inside my quilt. “Someone is kissing me — already. I wake, I cry ” ‘Oh,’ I rise from the pillow. Why should I open my eyes? “I open my eyes. The god lifts from the water. His head fills the bay. He is Puget …

How We Spend Our Days: Katrina Kenison

In this post Katrina Kenison writes, “We live surrounded by story. To write is simply to pay attention, to allow the day its ebb and flow, to summon up its riches and find some way to give them form.” I hope you give yourself time to read this post – it’s a beautiful meditation on life, writing and beauty.

Easter and New Beginnings

“At the breaking of the Easter dawn May the Risen Savior bless your home With grace and peace from above, With joy and laughter, and with love; And when night is nigh, and day is done May He keep you safe from all harm.” -Celtic Easter Blessing Be willing to be a beginner every single morning. – Meister Eckhart We have it in our power to begin the world over again. -Thomas Paine It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had. -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

A Maundy Thursday Reflection for Writers

“We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance. We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in. We should write, above all, because we are writers, whether we call ourselves that or not.” ~ Julia Cameron       Photo courtesy of Morguefile 

Of Anniveraries, Super Typhoons and blogging

April Fool’s day is hardly noticed in the Philippines, more so today because many Filipinos are making the annual exodus from the cities, as they head to the provinces, resorts, or other countries. The school year is over and most offices will be closed beginning tomorrow as the third largest Catholic country in the world begins to commemorate the Easter Triduum, or the final three days of Lent before Easter. Those of us who are staying behind are typhoon watching – it’s the start of the summer season, but typhoon Mysak is headed our way, and the the United States’ Joint Typhoon Warning Center upgraded it to a super typhoon yesterday. I have written much about the typhoons and super typhoons that have wrecked havoc in our country since I began posting on this blog exactly two years ago. I have also shared lessons I learned about writing, chronicled my attempts at beginning a writing habit, and admitted my failures. As I look back on the past two years, I am amazed at how I …