Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Writing Workshop Lesson 7: In the Zone

Why write? Because we have to. Because the words buzz around in our heads like angry bees until we can set them free and get them onto a page. We are compelled to write. The world around us keeps tripping us up with new stories to tell. We have no choice. We have to write them down.

Writers have a “zone” just like athletes and musicians. Space and time disappear there. When you’re in the zone, you write for eight hours and it feels like one. You forget to eat and are surprised to hear the postman filling the mailbox. Doesn’t he usually come at 4 or 5? Wait, it’s what time? Writing in the zone means blocking out everything else. When the sentences are flowing, aaaaaaah. Word-gasm.

By now you probably know how to trick yourself into the zone. You get new legal pads and just the right pens with the super-fine points. Or you win just enough rounds of computer solitaire to bring you luck. You get through your “resistance to work” moves—all the cleaning and fussing and preening--until you absolutely have no excuses left for not working.

For me, two things are necessary for “zoning”: a blank wall in front of me and a certain kind of messy chaos around me. Look around my desk right now: the stapler and a bottle of Tylenol have fallen on the floor to my right, where they've been for several days now; a stack of old Life magazines is under the table near my feet (a real bargain from eBay about six months ago…really must get around to reading them); the phone is teetering off the edge of the table to the left; a pile of clippings about college life spills out of a basket; a totebag from the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio, lies crumpled near a little mountain of reporter’s notebooks filled with the scribblings from dozens of plays I’ve reviewed this year; oh, and there are the silver earrings I was looking for last weekend. There is a system here, but only I can decode it. I like a little craziness in my environment. But what I like best is that blank wall. On that I write my best stuff. Not literally, of course. I just stare at it until blood droplets form on my forehead. Then I start typing.

Writing is a skill, a craft, an art and a pain in the ass. I can teach the first two—it’s up to you (and a good editor, if you're lucky) to achieve the third. The fourth, well, you already know that by now. If you haven't yet written yourself into the zone, you will. It's like the elusive G-spot--once you hit it, you'll know how to find it again. Or at least you'll enjoying trying, knowing how good the pay-off feels.

Through these exercises I hope you’re flexing some new writing muscles. And I hope you’re reading some good stuff. I’m really enjoying all of your posts. I feel as though I have friends out there in writerland. You challenge and inspire me.

I was going to introduce the basics of the craft of interviewing today, but I think I’ll hold off on that until week after next (next week: Fall Break!). Instead, let’s try this writing prompt that I picked up during a summer visit to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. I took a class called “From Memory to Art” with Professor Jim Heynen. Each day he’d give us an assignment. We’d work on it overnight and then workshop whatever we wrote in class the following day. Professor Heynen is a friendly, twinkly-eyed poet from Minnesota. From his collection called Standing Naked, these are the first and last stanzas of a poem called “Valentine” that he wrote about his wife:

Among maple leaves in winter, you’re the one that doesn’t fall.
Among owls, you are the one awake at noon.
Among birds, you are the cardinal on the chimney.
Among fish, you are the one who ignores the bait.

Among sheep, you’re the one who won’t follow,
among pheasants, the one who won’t flush.
But among bears, you’re the one dancing
Around the fires in the forest of my heart.

Nice, huh? With these simple metaphors, he really tells you a lot about the woman he loves. This is an “anaphora,” a poem in which almost every line begins with the same word. Typically, that word is a preposition: among, between, because, above, etc.

Your assignment this week: Write a short anaphora about someone you love or someone you hate. Do that same-word-first thing. Don’t make the lines rhyme. Just make it good to read. Post it in comments here.

Now, back to work. A blank wall is calling.


Anonymous tokitikki said...

Thank you for that workshop, Prof. I was at a loss for what I was feeling tonight. Just kind of 'meh', you know those days? This anaphora made me feel a lot better. Not all days can be perfect, but I know what I feel. And I got a chance to say it.

Anaphora – To Adrian

Because of your smile
Because of the way you hold me
Because of how we feel just after we wake up

Because you’re selective
Because you’re intuitive about my feelings
Because you’re determined to make the most of yourself and your life

Because you’ll understand
Because you’ll always stand by me
Because you’ll know what I mean even when I don’t

Because you know me
Because you mean the world to me
Because you appreciate what we have together

Because I love you
Because I can’t imagine life any other way
Because I feel more alive every day with you than I ever have before

3:49 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Let's Go Cruisin'

Into the town of laughter, you are a 67 Corvette
Into the town of sorrow, you are a 74 Pinto
Into the town of compassion, you are a 70 Cuda
Into the town of indifference, you are a 76 Pacer

Into the town of hate, you are a 72 Gremlin
Into the town of caring, you are a 69 Charger
Into the town of meanness, you are 71 Vega
Into the town of love, you are a 99 Lamborghini

6:51 AM  
Blogger Lia said...

When I look at you, you're there for me.
When I cry, you hold me tight.
When I think about being alone, I'm not.
When you're there, everything will be fine.

When you hold my hand, I look into your eyes.
When you look into mine, I am safe.
When I feel that nobody cares, there is you.
When you go, I am lonely, but never alone.

When you need me, I hope that I'll always be there.
When you cry, I will hear - that I know.
When you're there for me, I will be there for you.
When we're together, we're one.

When I grow, you will take on different names.
When I was young, you were mom.
When I grow older, though, you'll be him -
And you'll stay him for the rest of my life.

You can come read my other one at Poetic Things.

Thanks for inspiring me to write today.

9:58 AM  
Blogger still life said...

Well, isn't that funny. I wrote one of these one time about the things I would've done the day before I had my accident (as I have found that it is the small things that I miss)... never knew what it was called however. I will share that now and then work on a new one as per the assignment.

the day before "after"

the day before "after"
i would have taken six showers

i would have tossed pennies into the air and picked them up one by one

i would have played hopscotch with colored chalk

i would have tried on each slide, mule, pump and boot, all 97 pairs

i would have held a pen and written a letter to my mother

i would have wrestled him in the sheets and lost on purpose

i would have eaten dinner with chopsticks

i would have counted the number of steps to the east side

i would have painted my toenails candy pink
lifted my feet up towards the sun
and wiggled my toes until they dried

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To my sister--

We should have laughed more.
We should have cried more
We should have talked more.
We should have traveled more.

I should be used to you not being here.
I should be able to stop thinking about you.
I should stop crying about you.
I should, but it seems wrong.

In one month you would have turned 34.
In one month, I will miss you more.
One month after you turned 30

you died.


There are no words for someone who has lost a sister.
There are no words to explain how it feels to miss you.
There are no words to comfort mom.
There are no words for the injustice of a short life lost.


We go on working too much.
We go on ignoring the pain.
We go on learning to drive and cry.
We go on without you.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

Incredibly, she knows me very well.
Incredibly long kisses and deep hugs,
Incredibly warm conversations last
Incredibly long hours. She still loves me
Incredibly, even though I can act
Incredibly stupid. I love her more.

8:35 PM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

LOVE these poems.

And to a previous poster: "orange" does NOT and never WILL rhyme with "door hinge."

Great stuff coming in on the previous exercises. If you haven't looked back at those comments, you all should. Such good writers!

As for AP style, it's the most widely accepted writing style outside of the MLA style that academics use these days. Magazines (except for the oddly styled ones like Vanity Fair and New Yorker) and most newspapers use AP style. It's easy to learn and editors like it.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Scarlett said...

Around the globe, there are lovers.
Around lovers, there is a glow.
Around that glow, there is love.
Around love, our names our written
Around a circle that will never end.

10:06 PM  
Blogger Scarlett said...

Our name ARE written.. sorry. :)

10:19 PM  
Anonymous efj said...


between glass and steel you steady my hands so I do not break
so I can still bend
between night and dawn you keep the ghosts away
between faith and reason you’re skeptical about my beliefs
between here and there is too far
between spine and gut you tell me I am strong
I do not believe you
between heart and mind you keep me
between glass lens and eye
you shine

11:31 PM  
Blogger Charlie Gordon said...

In the center of the solar system is the sun
In the center of the peach is the pit
In the center of the atom is the nucleus
In the center of the earth is liquid hot magma
In the center of my life is you

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Zuleme said...

Ode to Fergus

Among tigers, most tigerish
Among deers, most dearish
Among kittens. most kittenish
Among clowns, most clownish
Among lovers, most loverish
Among sweets, most sweetest
Among sleepers, sleepiest
Among dreamers, dreamiest
Among smalls, smallest
Among wilds, wildest

I swim calm peaceful in your tiger eyes, oh Fergus, most belovedish.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous zuleme said...

I really like Still Life's post and her blog is great stuff too.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Persephone said...

In my head, you are a calming voice, a silent stillness

In my throat, you are a gentle hum, an ardent groan.

In my arms, you are a big brown bear, a man-child loving to be held.

In my hands, you are a knotted strength, a coiled passion.

In my heart, you are my beloved, the husband of my soul.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous zuleme said...

I meant the second line to read
"Among dears, most dearest."

In the morning I take out a word, in the afernoon I put it back. ( from Hemingway)

9:18 AM  
Blogger still life said...

without my dancing around your needs, I have finally discovered a rhythm
without your whisperings in my ear, my hearing has greatly improved
without the waiting for you to leave me, I have found some get up and go

without you holding me under, I realize I know how to swim
without the droning of your voice, I have come upon one of my own
without the constant need to please you, I find that I am quite pleasured

all in all,
life has been rather nice without you in it

8:06 PM  
Blogger still life said...

zuleme, thank you so much for your kind words.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Yvette said...

I don't know why we're here,
I don't know why life's like it is,
I don't know why I wonder so,
I don't. But still...
I do know how your eyes dance,
I do know how you laugh, and smile,
I do know how you're amazed like me,
I do. Be still...

11:47 PM  
Anonymous alicia said...

my poetry is a little silly...

Before you grabbed my hand, my palms were sweaty (but you didn’t seem to mind)
Before I fell down the stairs, I thought looking foolish made me a fool
Before you told me you loved me, I was blowing my nose on your sleeve
Before I could warn you, I sneezed on your arms
Before you got under the covers with me, you had to hop around on a leg cramp
Before I farted in front of you, I often wanted to double over in gassy pain

Before, I never knew the most unromantic things really were romantic.

12:20 PM  
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