Wreck This Journal: Just Write!

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Writers may have a whole story mapped out, right down the ending, but they’ll stare at a blinking cursor for an hour trying to figure out the first word.  Or halfway through, the fear of not being good enough threatens to shut down the whole project.   I know the feeling all too well as I’m always striving to do the best I can and it’s hard to shake the doubt bubble that floats right over my head. While the doubt never completely goes away, I have learned there are ways to work past it.

Part of bypassing the all-present doubt bubble has to do with letting go of fear.  Almost every writer I know battles with the fear of writing a less than perfect piece.  For some, this fixation on perfection prevents the completion of a final draft.  I’ll be the first to admit, I often get stuck reading over a draft multiple times before I get around to writing anything new.  Instead of paying attention to what resides in my imagination, I’m focusing on restructuring sentences and questioning my comma usage.  Its a vicious cycle that leads to a number of partial drafts and very few final drafts.

An exercise in Wreck This Journal helped put this all in perspective as it reminded me that making a creative mess is where freedom and progress begin.  The page gives instructions to make a mess and clean it up, so that’s what I did!  My trusty crayons and markers gave me everything I needed as I made one page an absolute mess of scribbles and wayward coloring and the other page a of model neatness with straight lines and smooth coloring strokes.  I used the same colors so it would look like I took the left hand side and ironed it until it looked like the right hand side.  The neatnik in me rejoiced!

The concept of this page is so simple, but it reaches so much deeper to a writer trapped by a doubt bubble.  As I sat coloring, I thought about how I have to be fearless when it comes to the first draft, (maybe even the second or third!).  Its okay to make mess with horrible grammar and spelling.  It’s to be expected that characters won’t turn out right the first time.  Every story needs to play out a few different ways before it finds the right groove.  I have to keep reminding myself that whatever I’m writing is going to be a disaster and that’s okay!  The iron is never far away, but it’s important to keep it out of reach for a little while.  If I spend all my time fussing over creating the perfect manuscript the first time around, the doubt bubble will win.  I owe it to my work and to my muse to let go of the fear.

Every mess can be straightened up . . . eventually.  All it takes is a little patience and a bold attitude to make that mess in the first place.  Resist the urge to be perfect and just write!

c.b. 2012

Wreck This Journal: Go Wild!

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In my first Wreck This Journal post, (Letting Go), I promised to explain the rip in the binding.  In the original image of my journal, there is a rather large tear at the bottom of the spine.  Never in my life had I allowed something so destructive to befall a book and I should have been horrified. However, a wild bout of activity has a funny way of changing a long held opinion.

At one point in the journal, there is a page that literally gives instructions to attach the journal to a string and swing it wildly.  The book lover in me cringed, but the curious explorer within was already looking for the yarn I knew was hiding in the closet.   I nestled the yarn along the spine and tied it into a good knot. The last thing I wanted was for the yarn to come undone and send the journal flying towards the two other people in the room.

With the yarn secure and a tight grasp on the ends, I started to swing the journal over my head, around in circles, and with flailing zigzags all around my body.  The journal hit the walls and the closet doors several times, all while flapping open and closed.  As for me, I giggled with primal joy.

Upon inspection, I found the yarn had torn an inch long gash up the binding!  The destruction was severe, but to my utter and complete surprise it felt great.  I decided it gave the book some real character and provided the first real evidence that it was living up to its title.  I documented this adventure with some markers and a silver metallic pen so as to never forget my journal’s wild flight. Like so many other journal activities, this one changed my perspective in a profound way.

The idea of breaking so many rules (without hurting anyone) reminded me of how much freedom there is when it comes to creativity and imagination.  I can do anything.  I can create anything.  I can. I can. I can!  These are powerful words and they kept repeating in my head as I whipped the journal round and round.

This experience made me go back and think about how much freedom I allow myself when I write.  Sometimes we get so caught up in wondering what everyone else will think or whether a publisher will be interested, we forget the true essence of what it means to write.  A writer can create any character, any story . . . anything.  For a long time, I jumped into my novel nitpicking every “right” way to write a story.  Then, I realized I didn’t set out to write my book because I could figure out a novel formula.  I had a story to tell and I had to give myself the freedom to tell it in my own voice and in my own way.

I can.  I can.  I can.

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Previous Wreck This Journal posts:

Letting Go

Keep Reaching

Ignite the Spark

Be Unpredictable 

Embrace Imperfection

Mess

Insomniac

Time Flies

Inner Critic

Freedom

c.b. 2011

Wreck This Journal: Freedom

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When I was in elementary school, I was scolded quite a bit because I wouldn’t follow directions during lessons on handwriting.  It’s not that I was a defiant child, but rather a left-handed one that didn’t understand why I had to turn my paper to the right or why they made me curl my hand all the way around to write from the right.  It was more logical to just tilt everything to the left!  I eventually won the battle, but I learned very early on that being lefty meant being different.  I suppose that’s why I embraced my oddities and nerd status long before before adulthood.

Even though lefties aren’t singled out nearly as much as they were twenty years ago, I remain very aware that I live in a right-handed world.  I still have to hold a manual can-opener at a weird angle and adjust the blade on a pair of scissors to make them work.  Even Wreck This Journal is geared for right-handers, with a page that states “Write or draw with your left hand.” It made no sense for me to do that as its nothing new, so I altered the directions to include both hands.

I decided to do a little drawing and writing in order to observe how switching sides would effect me in more than one realm.  The results were quite surprising and very enlightening at the same time.

For the left, drawing has always been something that doesn’t come easily to me unless I treat it like a doodle and let go of my perfectionist tendencies.  I ended up with a cute coffee cup doodle and neatly written label.  Next, I picked out some fun colors and gave some life to my doodle.  Overall, it was easy and I expected it to be.  I could pay attention to TV while I colored and I didn’t have to think too much about what my hand was doing. My only struggle was deciding whether I liked my doodle.

The right side was a completely different story.  The moment I picked up the pen, I felt weird and disoriented.  My brain was hollering at me, “What are you doing?  That’s the wrong hand!”  I tilted the journal to the right and started drawing a mirror image of the coffee cup.  My immediate attitude going into the drawing was very different in that there was no sense of wanting or needing to be perfect.  I knew it was going to turn out bad, so there was no pressure whatsoever.  I didn’t even have to tell myself it was a doodle instead of a drawing.  The sense of freedom was incredible.

The label, however, was much more difficult as my brain had a hard time processing how to make each letter. I literally had to think about it and that took all of my focus.  The TV suddenly became an irritation rather than a source of entertainment.  I had to turn it off in order concentrate on making an “e.”  Seriously!

Then, I took my crayons and started coloring with my right hand, which is something I’ve never done.  Every nerve in my body told me to switch back to the left and I had to fight it every step of the way.  Coloring is usually a very relaxing practice for me that requires very little thought, but not this time.  Staying in the lines required some hardcore critical thought and it took an insane amount of time to complete the whole page.

Despite the struggle, I’m glad I stuck with it as the process gave me an interesting insight. Creativity thrives on seeing things from multiple dimensions and perspectives.  It’s about discovery and trying something new without hesitation.  My right hand may have made a mess, but it also showed me how to tap into a brand new sense of freedom.

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Previous Wreck This Journal Posts:

Letting Go

Keep Reaching

Ignite the Spark

Be Unpredictable

Embrace Imperfection

Mess

Insomniac

Time Flies

Inner Critic

c.b. 2011

Ivan Klima: The Best Writer You’ve Never Read

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A few years ago I discovered a remarkable writer while visiting Prague and have yet to find his equal.  Ivan Klima is a renowned writer in the Czech Republic, but relatively unknown in the U.S. as he is often overshadowed by another Czech writer, Milan Kundera.  While Kundera is brilliant in his own right, I find him a bit too cynical.  Klima tends to be a little more optimistic in his exploration of humanity and his prose flows with an unparalleled elegance.  He manages to transform the lives of ordinary people into powerful emotional experiences that often challenge readers to consider a different perspective.  To this day, I cannot fathom why Ivan Klima is not more widely read.

Here is a partial list of Klima’s works along with summaries and some of my favorite quotes:

 No Saints or Angels

A jaded older woman falls for a younger man who renews her faith in love and herself.  At the same time, her teenage daughter lost in the vast fields of growing up learns that love must extend beyond herself.  These two stories intertwine amidst the communist regime of Czechoslovakia wherein Klima creates the bold metaphor that a mundane existence can be just stifling as an oppressive government.

Favorite Quote:

  • What happens to people who spend their lives afraid to voice their opinions?  They stop thinking, most likely.

My Golden Trades

A collection of short stories where each story centers around a different job.  Everyday life is explored through various characters including a book smuggler, an archeologist and a land surveyor.  Each trade offers a not only a unique perspective on the human condition, but also explores city and country life in Czechoslovakia.  While wholly fiction, Klima infuses his own experiences into each story as he worked most of the featured jobs himself at one time or another.  This creates a unique social record of Czech life that is often forgotten or ignored in the Western world.  Furthermore, Klima again brings to light the danger of oppression and the damage it does to the human spirit.  Each trade represents the important of freedom and self-expression no matter the outlet.

Favorite Quotes:

  • People miss opportunities every day.  One can only try not to miss them through laziness or fear.
  • When compassion and the commandment that life should be lived in dignity have been lost, there are no stories, only cries of horror.

My Merry Mornings

Another collection of stories, but they are a slight departure in that they are more cynical and rough around the edges.  Usually, Klima exudes undying hope for humanity to break free no matter the trap, but in this collection it seems as though pessimism is nipping at his heels.  The darker, more poverty stricken aspect of society is explored through a narrator that is never clearly defined.  There is much debate over whether it is one character or several.  There is a story for each morning of the week that showcases life as it exists on the docks, the marketplace, and in other dark corners Prague.  The grittier approach gives Klima the perfect avenue to offer a poignant reminder that life is a short journey that ends much too quickly. 

The Ultimate Intimacy

Often considered one of Klima’s best works, The Ultimate Intimacy follows the story of a pastor who preaches about the importance of love, yet can’t truthfully say he knows the fullest extent of love.  Daniel Vedra’s marriage is one of convenience held together by the need for comfort and the shared responsibility of children.  Part of him does love his wife, but its out of respect more than anything else. While he would never admit it, he craves something deeper.

Daniel is a master of commitment when it comes to faith, the church, and his family.  His world is firmly entrenched in a predictable routine until a new woman begins attending his services.  She is married as well, but is lonely and frightened of her husband. Yet, she will not leave because she is bound to him by her commitment. She is drawn to the pastor because of his genuine belief in love and he to her because she stirs something in him he didn’t know existed: the ability to be intimate with someone on an emotional level. When the two meet, fate pulls them into a realm neither expected. Thus begins an affair that tears at the fabric of faith, loyalty, and truth.

Both characters evolve in surprising and heartbreaking ways. A woman discovers she capable of more love than she ever thought. She finds she has the strength to hold on, even when the rope is very short. She starts to believe in something bigger than herself, and even starts to have faith that her life is worth living. The pastor, so ardent in his faith, finds he has been hiding something from himself for far too long. His doubtless faith in God in which he built his entire life around is really just a security blanket he clung to as a means to experience unconditional love. In fact, he has always doubted the questions that couldn’t be answered by anything but faith. While he gains the exhilarating and intimate feeling of true love, he loses an entire life of faith.

Klima brilliantly leaves it up to the reader to decide if the trade-off was worth it.   He challenges readers to define what love means in every context even when rules are broken or norms defied.

Favorite Quotes:

  • Money, like power, deflects one from the essence of life.  People who think about money tend to forget about the soul.
  • . . . the moment you stop making up your own mind you risk being taken advantage of.
  • The only thing we have to bind another to us is love and understanding.  All other bonds can be broken or feel like shackles.
  • Most people gaze neither into the past nor the future, they explore neither truth nor lies, they gaze at the television.
  • Something is happening to people: they are turning outwards instead of inwards.
  • Whenever the conscious mind is absent, anything can gain a foothold, and mostly it is something bad, not something good.


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While Klima is not easily found in most mainstream bookstores,  his work sometimes shows up in used bookstores and is often readily available on amazon.com. If you can find him, Ivan Klima’s work is well worth the read.

c.b. 2011