Author Archives: Kate Arms-Roberts
It is official. My new site is now live.
What you will find there is an expansion of what I have been doing here.
- An ongoing blog about InterPlay, writing, play, story-telling, and finding meaning in the world – continuing what I began here
- Information about classes I am leading. These include InterPlay-related classes, writing groups, and acting classes
- Information about the Creativity Coaching I am offering
- Information about writing and editing services I am offering
Please join me over at www.katearmsroberts.com
If you subscribe to get the blog by email from the new site, there is an audio-recording of an InterPlay warm-up as a thank you for moving with me to my new space. It is a 15-minute introduction to InterPlay, and I hope you will subscribe and listen to it.
Please come on over to www.katearmsroberts.com and check it out.
Writers work in all sorts of odd places.
The actual putting of pen to paper or finger to keyboard happens in obvious places like homes, offices, libraries, airplanes, and coffee shops, but also in cars, waiting rooms, and grocery store queues, on park benches, beside pools, on outdoor trails, and beside campfires.
In addition, the part of writing that involves cogitating, planning, incubating, dreaming, and inventing can happen anywhere and often does.
Writers are encouraged to keep notebooks, or at least paper and pencil, nearby at all times to capture the thinking that happens in odd times and places.
Many writers, and I know this well because I fall prey to it too often, believe the planning needs to happen before the writing. Often, they go better hand in hand; many writers sort out their ideas through writing – it is because they need to write in order to understand that many became writers in the first place.
But, wherever it happens, the key to the incubating phase of writing is letting the subconscious work and simply keeping the conscious mind around to capture the thoughts.
As an example, this morning I had a routine dental appointment. My conscious mind needed nothing more than to keep my mouth open the right amount for the dentist to do his work. As I lay back in the chair, looking through the yellow plastic glasses I had been given to protect my eyes from the light shining into my mouth, feeling the dentist scraping and poking around, my mind wandered to the revision needs of The Red Oak.
I am composing a response to being tagged in a blog chain, The Next Big Thing, which involves a series of questions about an author’s current work in progress, and the answers to those questions collided with a conversation I had last weekend with M-E Girard and Tobin Elliott during the Writers’ Community of Durham Region Training for Writing Circle Facilitators (which is being led by the amazing team of Ruth Walker and Sue Reynolds and I highly recommend future offerings of it for folks in the Toronto/Durham region who want to lead writing circles).
M-E, Tobin, and I were talking about the way YA fantasies featuring a protagonist discovering that s/he is a paranormal being act as a metaphor for coming to terms with any number of ways that a teenager can be atypical.
Sitting in the dentist’s chair, my visual world bathed in yellow light, my brain hopped along a series of mental stepping stones: metaphor, source of inspiration for the novel, one sentence synopsis, coming out as atypical. When my thoughts landed on the far shore, I realized I had new possibilities for three major elements of the novel that have been blocking me on this revision. I need to write into them to see how they really fit, but for the first time in ages, I have a direction to go with these three issues.
So, there you have it – Writing in The Dentist’s Chair.
If you open your mind to your creative impulses, you can’t predict when or where they’ll show up.
I am moving my blog from this WordPress site because I am growing. My online presence needs to reflect that, and I want to expand in ways that make more sense if I move the blog to a self-hosted domain.
It is not technically challenging to move the content of the blog from a wordpress.com blog to self-hosted blog using wordpress.org. There are many great tutorials out there to walk you through the process. I used this one.
The challenges I have faced are these:
- Choosing a theme. There are so many themes to choose from, even if you only limit yourself to free one.
- Customizing a theme. One of the challenges with the theme I chose for my new blog is my name is too long for the Blog Title space on the template, so I had to modify the size of some of the elements, which required hacking around in the theme editor. I am not a serious programmer, but I have been playing around with code since the late 70s, so this has been fun, but has taken time from my writing.
- I am adding new pages and additional content to the site to reflect the changes in my work.
- Every link in every post that linked to a different post in my blog must be changed to refer to the same post in the new location. This is not necessary, but it will keep the experience of browsing my blog cleaner. Without taking this step, links from old posts to other posts on my blog would take visitors to the wordpress.com site and away from the new site.
I am going through all of my old posts and checking links. This is a time-consuming process. I want to be writing new posts, not editing old ones. But, I know that this is a one time project. Once I have done this, the new site will be ready to become my primary home online.
I will still be making changes to the blog, of course, as circumstances warrant. But, I will never again have to transfer this blog to my own domain.
I have put off this move for over a year. The result is that I have a lot more links to fix and the transfer is taking longer than it would have done when I originally planned to do it.
I could give myself grief for this, but I choose not to. I am merely reminding myself that, as is so often the case, delay created more work.
The only good thing to come out of the delay is that my theme, which I love, was not available a year ago. But, even a year ago, plenty of good themes were available.
Are there projects of yours where delay has created more work? Share in the comments and we can use them as reminders to just get on with the things that need to get done.
Just a heads up. I am in the throes of transferring this blog to my own domain and away from wordpress.com. I hope that you, my readers, will follow me there. I promise that I will have a little something for you if you do. But none of it is quite ready yet. Until it is, I won’t be posting here very much. I had hoped to have the transfer done this week, but it is taking longer than I planned and I’m not sure I’m going to make it.
In the meantime, I am getting ready for my new drop-in InterPlay classes starting on Friday. If you live near Oshawa, Ontario, please come by and check us out.
And, if you know anybody who is looking to have some more fun in life or reconnect with lost creativity, I am taking on clients in my new Creative Living Coaching Programs. Details will be on the web soon, but in the meantime, direct any inquiries to email@example.com.
I hope 2013 is treating you well so far and I look forward to fabulous creating as we go through the year.
The Buddhist tradition recognizes five great fears: fear of death, fear of illness, fear of dementia, fear of loss of livelihood, and fear of speaking in public. In The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music, W. A. Mathieu interprets this fear as fear of our own deep selves, fear that at some level our basic selves are unacceptable. We are afraid that by revealing our true selves, we will see clearly that we are worthy of hatred or isolation. That a major religious tradition recognizes this fear as a “great fear” tells me that this is universal human condition. To suffer from the fear of speaking up is to be human. To speak up any way is courageous.
Where does this fear come from?
I think this fear comes from our deep childhood.
Is there a person alive who has not been told by a trusted caregiver, probably a parent, that what we were doing was wrong? And who has not received such a message in a way that we interpreted as telling us we were unacceptable in some way?
Much as some churches would like to convince us otherwise, it is exceedingly difficult to “hate the sin and love the sinner” in a way the sinner recognizes. All of us bear scars from some moment where we believed who we were was unacceptable to some one whose opinion we prized above all things.
What happens then?
There are two standard responses to this moment.
Some people decide the other person was wrong and their life becomes about proving it. This first group become active doers, thrusting out into the world, often developing a chip on their shoulder and having difficulty seeing the value in other people’s positions.
Others turn inward, seeking to fix themselves, and hide until they are perfect. This second group is less visible in the world because their journey is inward. And this is the group that finds themselves in danger of being paralyzed by fear. Add to this natural psychological development a few cultural heroes who were killed for acting on their deep beliefs and you have a recipe for a mythic fear of speaking out.
How to Proceed?
For those who are held back by their own fear, they must find ways to deprive that fear of its hold over them. But how?
The platitude of “feel the fear and do it anyway” has a lot of truth to it, but isn’t always easy to follow. We must be compassionate with ourselves, understand the fear, teach ourselves that it is fear not a prophecy, and proceed.
For some people, fear must be leaped through. Some people cannot push gently against a fear and wear it down, but can blast right through it with the right support. Others, must dance with their fears, become friends with them, and dissolve them. Some people need different approaches to different fears.
In The Joy Diet, Martha Beck advocates a daily practice of doing something that scares you and that you know is heading towards your goal. For me, the key word in that idea is practice. Moving fearward benefits from practice. As you practice moving fearward, you learn to be comfortable with the feeling of fear; the part of you that observes your life and sees your patterns starts to recognize that fear is not a promise. Just because you fear things will fall apart doesn’t mean they will. And, if they do, you can pick yourself up and try something different. But, without a habit of moving into and through those fears, we never develop the understanding that only comes through experience.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Retraining yourself to move into fear instead of away is a difficult process, but one with huge benefits. Taking the time to practice while holding yourself compassionately if you struggle is a huge gift to your future self.
You might need a support structure, a spouse who nudges you, a mastermind or accountability group, a writers group, networking group, buddy you check in with by phone or email once a day or once a week. You know the way you sabotage your own growth. Can you think of a way to reduce the power of that sabotage by leaning on somebody else?
Is there a fearward step that you could take today? What support would you need to move in that direction?
What can I say? The end of 2012 was not good for my novel writing. It was good for all sorts of other things, including a short story submitted to a big competition and good non-fiction writing, but not for my novel.
I want to finish The Red Oak (there, I said it – it has a working title) in time to start something new for NaNoWriMo 2013. Given that I need a couple of months of planning and pre-writing to go into NaNoWriMo ready to generate a complete first draft of an MG or YA book, that means wrapping up the next draft of The Red Oak by the end of February. I have a lot of things I want to add to the next draft, complete sections, scenes, characters, etc. Things I need to write from scratch. Big changes, not small changes.
I want to get back to writing 1,000-1,500 words a day of completely new material.
It would be easy to give myself today, the New Year’s Day holiday, off. My husband has the day off work. My kids are home. I am sick. But, I need to reestablish habits that I let go of during the fall. And that means no excuses.
And so, to prove to myself that I am serious about this goal, I wrote. 1,000 words.
I believe that the choice of the New Year as a starting point is arbitrary. Different cultures have marked time in different cycles and counted the beginning of each year around the sun from different points. January 1 is only meaningful because we made it so. But, given that we live in a world that turns the year on this day, I see no reason not piggyback personal rituals on it. I don’t believe in traditional New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe that a culturally signified date can be a marker to pin a personal shift to, as long as you hold it lightly and hold yourself with compassion if you should falter – because we all falter.
Have you done something today because it is a practice you want to develop in 2013?
Are you someone who likes to feel in control?
But, the truth is, control is temporary, partial, fleeting.
The world is bigger, wilder, and more spontaneous than anything we can box, package, categorize, or structure.
Every time we face a new situation, something different from what we had planned, or an unexpected turn of events, we must respond fresh, with flexibility and creativity, or we risk disconnecting from the world as it really is.
The greater the desire for control, the more valuable formally seeking out training in being flexible is. And there is no greater training for being flexible than training in improvisation.
The Magic of “Yes, and…”
The number one rule of improv is that you must accept whatever comes your way. Whatever material is presented in a scene or a dance or song must be taken as true for the duration of that piece. When someone makes an offer, puts something out there, the first response is “yes”. For beginning players in a scene, it helps to actually say “yes” as the first spoken response.
The next step is to add new material, the “and” portion. This can be a restriction, an obstacle, or a new direction, but it must be an addition. The power of “and” is that accepting what an other person presents in a scene is that the story can develop; in life, it makes the other person feel validated and heard, which enables them to be more receptive to what you put on the table.
In practice, this can be hugely powerful.
I have young kids who negotiate with me all the time. Often, they are missing a piece of information that makes my position more reasonable than they initially presume. If I use any form of but when I counter them, I get into trouble. They don’t feel like I listen or respect them and they dig their heels in to point out that they are human beings with opinions of their own, which they will defend beyond the point of reason if doing so will preserve their self-esteem. If I can remember to respond to their objection with “yes, and…” before adding the new piece of information, I can often get them join me in trying to solve the initial problem instead of fighting to have me respect them.
Simply accepting what is given is a powerful practice.
See what happens if you find yourself wanting to say “but” in a situation and find the generosity to say “yes, and” instead. What do you notice?
Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
Courage, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
We all feel fear.
Fear can be a powerful guide, but we need to interpret it properly.
Sometimes fear is a sign we have identified something dangerous and we need to proceed cautiously.
Sometimes fear arises simply because we are stretching into the unknown. What lies beyond our knowing is frightening simply because it is mysterious. There is the possibility of danger.
Reaching out of our comfort zone is uncomfortable.
I am building a new business. This is pushing me out of my comfort zone in almost every action that I take. I must face the fears that arise and work into and despite them.
To keep moving forward, I will need courage.
“Courage implies firmness of mind and will in the face of danger or extreme difficulty”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary distinguishing courage from related words.
Knowing that I am pushing into the unknown, I know that I am inviting fear. I can expect fear and resistance. To succeed, I will need to remain connected to the goal and firm in my commitments to keep moving forward. I must dance with my fears, become friends with them. I must work through or around my resistances.
My fears around my work must be my guide. If I am not feeling fear, I will know that I am allowing myself to stay in my comfort zone.
My business mentor says that fear is a sign that you are going in the right direction. I believe that is an over-generalization, but given how many ways I want to stretch myself in 2013, my fears will often arise when I am moving towards my goals.
I will need Courage.
Are you pushing yourself into new areas? How do you handle the fear that comes with moving into the unknown?
I am not an unpublished writer, but my non-blog work is not published often. And I am okay with that at the moment. I am seeing improvement in my writing and an increase in confidence in myself as a self-confessed writer. Given that I took a decades-long break from writing fiction, I did not expect to start back up again and be able to make a living writing. I do, hope, eventually to sell my novel and to have more short stories published, but I am not tracking my development as a writer based on the amount of my work that other people have paid me to publish. Not yet.
But, I am watching my development. Not too closely, because I find that stifling.
For the past three years, I have been tracking my progress in relation to what I learn at the Ontario Writers Conference. Conferences that mix panels on the craft and business of writing with networking time and readings allow me to gauge where I am on the continuum from novice writer to award-winning novelist or fan favourite. I believe that the messages that stick with me after an event like that reveal more about me and my stage in the process than they do about the individual speakers. I hear the messages that I am ready for and the rest washes over me.
I first attended the Ontario Writers Conference in 2010. That year, Robert J. Sawyer gave the keynote speech, a lecture based on Robert A. Heinlein’s Rules for Writers, a lecture very close in content to an article you can find on his website. I had just started editing my first NaNoWriMo story and was feeling very discouraged, but I was committed to continuing to write fiction. Although three of Heinlein’s rules have to do with selling one’s work, I could only hear the first two: you must write and finish what you start. The main thought I left with that day was “Keep writing. Make time to write and don’t give up.”
The next year, I was still struggling with revisions of the same novel. I had been studying the art of plotting and had learned many things, but they weren’t showing up in my work. I heard Wayson Choi speak about writing the story that we have to tell, our story, the one that comes out of our pain, and I realized that my novel wasn’t working because I wasn’t allowing myself to write deeply enough into the pain of my own that had driven me to write the story. The work I did the following year was heavily driven by my desire to start writing from a deeper place, to write fearward and bleed onto the page more. And the work got better.
Last year, the talk the message that stuck with me the most was the need to submit my work to the marketplace, to start accumulating rejection letters. I no longer remember which speaker it was who reminded us of the image from On Writing of Stephen King with a nail on which he put reject letter after rejection letter, replacing it with a spike when the nail could no longer hold all the rejections. And so, inspired by that reminder, I have submitted my work more this year than in any other year. It has been tough leaving the current novel, which still contains elements of that first NaNoWriMo piece, for periods to write shorter pieces, but I felt the need to start getting some of my fiction out in the world. And I am starting to collect rejections. But, I am also starting to understand why I am collecting rejections, which means that my understanding of craft has deepened.
Next year, I don’t think I will be going to the Ontario Writers Conference. I went to the World Fantasy Convention for the first time this year, and I found the conversations about what writers are doing or trying to do in the specific genre that I am writing in speak to me more personally than the more generally directed discussions at the Ontario Writers Conference. This understanding tells me that my development is continuing. Getting to World Fantasy Convention is much harder logistically and financially than getting to the Ontario Writers Conference. I really want to go, but I can’t justify it if I don’t keep getting better. So, I have told myself I can’t even think about going to London for the 2013 convention if I don’t have my novel out with beta readers. I’m not sure I’ll manage it for this year, but the thought of celebrating with a trip to a convention is inspiring.
Each conference or convention I go to, I come away with the next step of my development laid out for me. I have heard the teaching that I am ready to learn. And by tracking the lessons, I can see how much deeper I am into the craft of writing fiction.
Do you have a way to measure your progress toward your intangible goals? Please share in the comments. I really would love to know.
In the last few days of the year, I am reflecting on my journey through 2012.
At the beginning of the year, I chose “Ease” as my guiding word for the year. I also decided to “hang on and pretend it’s a plan” rather than making specific plans. Too much was in flux for me to commit to any specific goals.
How did I do?
Well, I hung on and improvised. And things moved forward.
And, I searched for ease where I could find it. Which wasn’t easy in the midst of all my life fluctuations. But, by having brought attention to the issue of ease in my life, I was able to choose ease in some very stressful situations. Not always, but often enough to feel like things were shifting. And, given that the hardest part of adult learning is often catching yourself doing something the old way with enough time to choose a different action, I would say that progress has been made.
I think of 2012 as a transitional year.
We moved. The new house is, as expected, proving to be a lot of work and fabulous at the same time. After spending the spring and summer focused on safety issues, learning how to maintain a pool, and making the backyard fun for the kids, we moved our work inside for the fall and winter. We are in the midst of the winter of wallpaper removal and room reallocation. By spring, the kids will all have new rooms and we will have moved on to the walls and floors of the bathrooms and laundry rooms. After that, there will be the master bedroom to redo completely and the rest of the interior of the house should get a new coat of paint. By 2014, we hope to have put our stamp on every room in the house. And despite the required work, I love the place.
The kids all changed schools. The two who find school fun and easily manageable moved from a private Montessori school to the local public school, and the two who were home-schooling also moved into the public school system. It would not be an exaggeration to say I spent the entire summer worrying about how things would go. And, it hasn’t been perfect, but some time in November, I realized it was working and I could start thinking about how to build my life on the assumption that public school would continue to be the organizing structure of our family life.
It has been a wild ride. We have new neighbours, new school friends, new commitments, and a new schedule. And it mostly works now. Still have some tweaking to do, but life with growing kids means there is always something in flux.
All I really planned to do this year was move and try school for the kids. I did those things.
In addition, I joined the board of a local community theatre, directed a play, blogged every day for a month in March, pushed my writing to a new level, and reminded myself to breathe deeply several times a day.
To wrap up this year, I intend to reflect on how my writing has progressed and what I want to grow into next year and how next year might shape up, including my guiding word for 2013, Courage.
How are you winding up the year? Are you taking time to review the past year and plan for the next, or are you just moving forward, taking life as it comes?