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Everyone argues over whether or not writer’s block is real, or an excuse to put off tough work. But we can all agree our state of mind heavily affects our writing. To create consistently requires maintaining a state of mind conducive to creativity.

When I set out to write full time, I learned this lesson the hard way. I could see the place I wanted to go, but I couldn’t find the path. That worried me. Convinced I needed a gatekeeper to approve of my work, I set the goal of selling at least one short story to a professionally paying magazine. Even though short stories are my least favorite form of the medium (both to read and write), and even though my ultimate goal was to publish novels.

Rejections poured in. I saw my chances of success evaporating. Publishing is a tough industry, and it’s important for every new writer to be aware of that. But I forgot the journey is at least as important as our ultimate destination. During my struggle against my greatest ‘block’ of all time, I learned many important lessons that have helped me keep the beast at bay for good.

You are in control
If you look at the way traditional publishing is structured, breaking in seems a daunting task. You need to get an agent in order to get the attention of an editor or publisher. And finding the right agent can be like finding a needle in a haystack. You cast your work onto the desks of strangers hoping one of them will see your potential. And as the rejections pile up you wonder how anyone ever succeeds beyond random chance. Success feels beyond your control.

But it isn’t. That’s the fabulous thing about the world we live in now. You can choose when and how your work reaches a wider audience. You can publish a book yourself. You can start a blog and post snippets until you find your audience. Or you can set your current project aside and start a new one that might just wow all those agents who rejected you.

The point is, you get to shape your journey, and maintaining that control empowers you to maintain a creative state of mind.

Remember why you’re writing in the first place
If the answer is ‘to make money,’ you might be barking up the wrong tree. Of course every writer would like to pay the rent with their work, and it’s a worthwhile goal. But if the only reason you’re putting words on a page is to bring in the green stuff, you may have a problem. Readers like characters and stories to which they can form an emotional attachment. If you have no passion for your projects, it’s difficult to create and cultivate those intense bonds. If your words seem flat on the page to you, how can you expect a reader to invest in your story?

Writing is a lot of work, and sometimes you have to wade through the difficult scenes to get to the good stuff. But you should always be able to find joy at some point in the process. There’s no scene that can’t be salvaged, no passage that can’t be rewritten to breathe life into the prose, so long as you love what you’re doing.

Be Spontaneous
Writing every day takes discipline. If you want writing to be your job, you have to treat it like work. This can be particularly difficult if you work another job to pay the bills. The more something feels like work, the easier it becomes to generate excuses for putting it off. No matter how passionate you are about your projects, too much work can bog you down and burn you out. When writing feels too much like a chore, treat yourself to a reminder of why you love to write in the first place. Indulge in a recent plot bunny to get the fire burning again. Choose a writing prompt and write whatever comes to mind. Or let yourself flip ahead to a scene you’ve been anticipating for a long time to reignite your love of the project. Making writing fun again is a good way to shake off the funk.

Re-read your favorite pieces
If you need a break from writing (and we all do sometimes), try some reading instead. I like to re-read the books that inspired me to write in the first place. Another way to reconnect to your joy of writing is to dig out your favorite scenes and reread them. It doesn’t matter how old they are, or how bad they are, as long as you still enjoy them. I like to laugh about how bad some of my old favorites really are, though the events and characters still bring a smile to my face.

Talk to other writers
We don’t write in a vacuum. Or at least, we don’t need to. Every writer struggles, though not every writer talks about it. It can be easy to assume that we’re alone when we get lost. That we’ve done something wrong, something every other writer instinctively knew how to avoid. When we talk to each other, we realize that we all stumble. Best of all, talking to other writers allows us to support each other through the tough times. Let your writerly friends offer feedback for your work, act as a sounding board for ideas or even just help you write something fun and silly to get back in the mood.

The journey to the distant island of success is a long one, so don’t forget to enjoy it.

Megan Cutler is an avid writer of science fiction and fantasy in all its forms. Her characters keep her up late and wake her up early, but she loves them anyway. She published her first book, Island of Lost Forevers, in May of 2014 and is scheduled to release the final book in the trilogy in April this year. For more about her work, including free fiction every Friday, check out megancutler.net

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“First Thought, Best Thought.” — Allen Ginsberg

“You are a genius all of the time.” — Jack Kerouac

“Language is a virus.” — William Burroughs

A friend asked me for some links to stuff to do with the beats to help her with a creative writing lesson plan. I got a little carried away, so thought I’d share them here too.
Classroom resources / exercises we’ve used in the past include:
Jack Kerouac’s ‘Belief and Technique for Modern Prose’: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/kerouac-technique.html
And his ‘Essentials for Spontaneous Prose’: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/kerouac-spontaneous.html
Though in both cases you checked and edited slightly for language used. So definitely do that again before using them.
THE ABOVE TWO PIECES ARE ALL YOU NEED to teach students about the beats and get them hooked in a creative writing workshop.
That said, here’s some more links and background information on the beats.
The three who count are Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. All have colourful language, sexual content etc and I’d especially steer clear of Burroughs’ work, for younger students, due to its graphic violence and crude humour.
The main thing to convey to students is their approach to writing, and that a group of friends basically encouraged each other into pretending that they were great writers, by believing in and supporting each other, until they became great writers.
Wikipedia has ‘good enough’ bios and overviews:
And info about their most famous works:
On the Road is the most beloved of older and more rebellious students for obvious reasons.
Jack Kerouac
The official site for Jack Kerouac (managed by his estate): http://www.jackkerouac.com has some useful links to audio etc.
Kerouac.net: http://kerouac.net

Jack Kerouac – Writing Lesson: https://youtu.be/J7IeCEvT_CM

Allen Ginsberg
 
Allen Ginsberg.org: http://allenginsberg.org
Howl: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/howl-parts-i-ii (most famous poem, brilliant but graphic)
Small selection of Ginsberg poems: http://www.poemhunter.com/allen-ginsberg/
Howl (great film about his life and obscenity trial): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1049402/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2
The film ends with this genuine footage of the real Allen Ginsberg performing ‘Father Death Blues’ towards the end of his life: https://youtu.be/Ew6ef3nE-E4 (This breaks my heart every time I see it, I’ve been known to cry just watching it, and this is the exact version of the song that I want playing at my funeral)
 
Burroughs
 
Whilst I’d steer clear of teaching Burroughs’ work to young students it’s worth teaching them about 1) cut-up techniques and 2) the third mind (two heads are better than one)
Burroughs popularised the cut-up technique: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut-up_technique (he took it from painter Brion Gysin and applied it to writing instead)
There’s lots of different methods and stuff written about this, but best not get hung up on the details.
For example:
Burroughs also wrote a book with Brion Gysin, including cut-ups, called The Third Mind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Mind
One of the core concepts from the book though is that when you put two artists together (or two minds) their collaboration becomes greater than the sum of its parts (as though created by a third mind)
THIS is very inspiring to groups of students for obvious reasons.
Other Stuff

Naropa University has The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Jack’s honour: http://www.naropa.edu/academics/jks/about.php

And Saving the Best for Last
Naropa’s audio archives are AMAZING and include recordings of class lessons taught by Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, including ones devoted to Jack Kerouac: https://archive.org/details/naropa?&sort=-downloads&page=2
 
There’s a LOT of audio there. A small selection was released as ‘First Thought, Best Thought’ on CD. But it’s a great place to point students to if they want to be taught creative writing by William Burroughs and poetry by Allen Ginsberg!

2015 in review

Posted: January 1, 2016 in graffiti living

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Becoming a WriterBecoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve loved this book for the last 15 years. First published in the 1930s — it’s so outdated that she talks about how you need a portable typewriter — this is hands-down the best book I’ve ever read on how to write and the only one you’ll ever need. Writers write, right?

View all my reviews

Yeats, The Tarot, And The Golden DawnYeats, The Tarot, And The Golden Dawn by Kathleen Raine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

YES! YES! YES! Poetry is magick, not the other way round. Kathleen Raine’s wonderful overview of the occult influences of Yeats and his involvement with the Golden Dawn is easily the most obscure thing on my bucket list of things to read before I die and has sat on my reading list for many years. To my complete amazement, it’s now free to read online at JSTOR: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27541704

View all my reviews