Friday, March 3, 2017

Minding My Muse 04: Process or Product?

Author and teacher, Priscilla Long provides thought-provoking writing prompts in Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators. I used these prompts to pull myself out of a slump last September. I’m sharing my journal responses along with an invitation to write your own. 

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 25
“Do you find yourself thinking of results too early in the process? Does anxiety infect your work process? Do you spend time experimenting or do you find yourself in too much of a hurry?” Could you slow down? Could you fertilize your creative work by experimenting more?...”

September 13, 2016
I am always in a hurry. I rush. I want a finished book. My focus is on the finished product rather than the process. The book on my book shelf. I rarely think about slowing the process. Fellow writers comment on my speed. Two memoirs and three novels between 2002 when I first began writing and today. But three novels between 2008 when The Thirty-Ninth Victim was released and 2015 when Walking Home came out. Six years for three novels plus the unpublished memoir. Really it doesn’t seem so fast. Many writers put out a book a year. But they are experienced writers and many are producing commercial work, and many are full-time writers. And besides it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that I feel rushed and that I do not explore and play with ideas. I don’t hone my craft because I am too focused on the story, whether fiction or memoir. I love story. I read and watch movies for story. I do not necessarily want experimental or new. Still, if I slowed down, I could dig deeper and write better.

Another factor is age. I began writing fourteen years ago at the age of forty eight. My first book was published when I was fifty four. I suppose I feel as though I’m running out of time. But what’s the rush? And who says I even have to write anything more? I do. I want to write better. I have three average to mediocre novels and two rather sensational memoirs. I’d like to learn to create something better. Literary? Not really. Unique? Perhaps. And to do that I should slow down.

Priscilla Long, Minding the Muse, p. 25
“Might you take an hour to work on a piece you have in progress, with the rule that this hour is to dibble-dabble, to play, to speculate, to chew, to cogitate? For this hour, no results will be desired and none will be permitted.”

September 13, 2016
I guess I know how to “dibble-dabble” as well as I know how to play. What does dibble-dabble entail and how do I think about Mexico, remember Mexico, without a memoir in mind? Without results. It seems to not be in my nature. I do not know how to do anything at all without a goal, without results. Even relax. Maybe read. But even that became a practice, the need to write a review in hopes that others would review my books. Such a silly game.
M –      misery, mystery, markets, mansions, menace, music, me, men, Mrs., miserable, museums, mole, marriage, Maureen
E –       extranjera, exciting, exhausting, exhaust, ex-pats, extremes,
            escape, empty, education
X –      Xochimilco, x-rated, x-rays
I –        ignorance, independent, interesting, international, intriguing,
            ill, Ixtapa
C –      concrete, creative, crafts, colors, chilis, carne, chickens, companeros/as, colegio, Coyoacan
O –      oil, old, oddities, Oaxaca, offices

I don’t think an Abecedarian would be considered dibble-dabbling, but just playing with MEXICO was fun.

How do you handle the process or product equation in your own creative endeavors? How do you experiment or dibble-dabble? Please share your thoughts in the Comments box below.

Prior posts in this series:


Sheri Nugent said...

1. No. No no no. Your novels are not average and mediocre. Ok - it's not Great Expectations... I'll give you that. But for modern fiction, they are timely, relevant, compelling with characters that stay with the reader and insights into worlds that you uniquely have access to and share with us. So no. Sorry. Not mediocre. Not average. I am a voracious reader. I know of what I speak. :-)

2. My mandalas are an exercise in focusing on process not outcome. Every single time, halfway through the process of drawing one, I start judging it and thinking I've messed it up beyond repair. I must force myself to keep going and not tear it up. Reminding myself not to care what the result is - just enjoy the moment of drawing. And I too struggle to slow down. Doing this activity takes me out of the goal focus for a while. It's interesting, I think, to slowly rewire my brain that way.

3. I bought Priscilla's book - thanks for that recommendation. I'm enjoying reading your process as I reflect on my own.

arleen said...

Thank you for your kind words and your shared process, Sheri. And I'm sure Priscilla Long would be pleased to know you bought her book!