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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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archaeology

So, I began writing at a very young age……

……..a practice that I’m continuing to do even now, many years later. In a previous blog, I mentioned that, upon seeing Star Wars: A New Hope at age 7, I had become so enamored of that universe that I wanted to become a part of it. So I wrote myself into it.

This is commonly known as ‘fan-fiction’, a term I didn’t learn until many years later, but even then, I didn’t equate my scribbles with what others were doing. The stories I wrote myself into were for my eyes only, ranging from favorite books to TV shows as well as movies. It was how I learned to develop characters and plot and world building.

Upon discovering creative writing classes, I enrolled as fast as I could, wanting to better my voice and skills. Sometimes, these classes provided exactly what I sought; sometimes, they didn’t. It’s also how I feel about writing groups – the few that I’d attended seemed to provide a great deal of support for many of the people I met there, but I often felt dissatisfied and not given a safe platform to discuss my work.

This is not to say that classes and groups aren’t beneficial – they are, you just have to keep searching until you find one that not only suits your writing needs, but offers a supportive and secure environment. And you may even come to the conclusion that writing groups are not for you, which is fine, especially if writing is for your eyes only. If you want to take your writing a step further and need objective criticism and feedback, a group of fellow writers is a good place to start, thus the importance of finding the right group.

While I’m blessed to live in a highly creative community, the writing groups I’ve attended did not suit my needs. I found myself wanting to be at home and writing rather than participate in any of the exercises provided (1). My creative impulse demanded my attention, pushing me to dive back into my story and immerse myself in its world and characters.

I’m feeling that itch now, as I write this post, to pick up my pen and follow the tale as it winds itself towards its conclusion. To disappear completely within that world, like I did when I was young and exploring the galaxy aboard the Enterprise or learning the ways of the Force with Yoda and Ben Kenobi.

For me, writing is a bit like deep sea diving and archaeology mixed together. Just as you would submerge yourself into the water, I do the same by submerging myself into the psyche of various characters and their world. As one would unearth clues to an ancient civilization’s past as an archaeologist, so do I when finding more details and questions as I write.

As a kid, upon wanting to be a part of the Star Wars universe, I spent hours writing in a white heat. As an adult, it is my job and responsibility to tap into that white heat and bring that focus back to my writing. Each project is like learning how to write all over again, because each one has its own challenges and demands.

More and more, I’m remembering that young me, the one who was so enchanted with the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa. That energy and passion is what I need to bring to every story I sit down to write.

That itch to write is reminding me to do that every day.

*****

(1) This is my experience with groups and is not going to be reflective of yours.

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So, John Lennon once said……

………that every child is an artist until he is told he isn’t. It doesn’t have to be an actual person saying this to an actual child (or an adult) for them to feel ‘not good enough’ at being creative. A first attempt can be pretty intimidating, especially if this is a new experience for you or you’re trying something different. Comparing yourself to another’s artwork can be pretty tempting to do, but it’s counter-productive and wreaks havoc on your self-esteem.
By all means, look at another artist’s paintings or another writer’s work, but use their final product as a tool to guide you. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa from 1503 to 1506 and even then, it’s suspected he worked on it as late as 1517. Look at the back of any Stephen King novel and you’ll see two sets of dates – the start date and the finish date. It takes King anywhere from three to five years to write each novel and he works on more than one at the same time.
I’ve always regarded being creative as something akin to archaeology. You have a plot laid out, the tools to uncover it, and an idea of what it looks like. As with a chisel and hammer, you take pen and paper (or canvas and brush) and start to dig. You don’t find the whole thing right away – maybe a piece here, a fragment there. You follow a line that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere and then find that it splits off into a different direction. Eventually, you have an almost complete skeleton to speculate and ponder over.
Are you finished? Hardly. The best thing to do with a roughed out draft or sketch is to set it aside for a few days. Then the real work begins. Details start to emerge that you didn’t see before. The piece which appeared to be apropos of nothing has now found its proper place. The fragment that didn’t seem to relate to anything is suddenly a crucial plot point.
This is where opening up to your creative self can be a little terrifying. It’s about letting go of the inner critic, ignoring that little voice that says you can’t do it, and taking that huge step forward. Because what you’re trying to unearth isn’t a work of art or the next Great American Novel. What you’re doing is sifting through the doubts and worries and ‘I can’ts’ to find that young artist and say, “I am an artist and I can.”

*****
Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

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