Maya Angelou – May Your Wings Fit You Well

I imagine that everyone will have a say on the passing of Maya Angelou.  A quote from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a line from Phenomenal Woman or And Still I Rise or some other favorite poem.  That includes me, just my thread to add to the story quilt of memories about this amazing woman.

On my list of life regrets, will always be that I never took her class at Wake Forest. Even though I was in graduate school for my MBA, it seemed like a thing I should do – wander over to the lecture hall and sit in, and listen to this legendary writer who shaped American literature and gave a unique voice to the African-American story.  In my first year, by the time I found out that THE Maya Angelou was a professor on campus, she wasn’t teaching. Then in my second, well… you always think there will be time, right? As another option, I imagined just walking over to her house (Winston-Salem is only so big, how hard could it be to find) and having a glass of tea while listening to her rumbling voice tell stories and sing poems.

I was fortunate enough, however, to see her speak once or twice. Something she said in one of her talks makes me smile whenever I have to speak in public. She said, “when you get nervous, just sing.”  And then she sang this little song about there always being a rainbow in the cloud.  Well, if there’s anything worse for me than speaking in public, it’s singing. But this makes me laugh to myself whenever I stand in front of a crowd and I smile and relax, so I guess her suggestions works just the same.

I’ve shed a few tears today, for I feel like I lost a friend.  But whenever I get a little nervous, I hum a little melody-less tune and hear her voice, reminding me to sing.

Dr. Maya Angleou – we pray that your wings are gonna fit you well.  Rest in peace.

May 28, 2014

 

 

When Your Muse Takes a Break

You’re going along, tapping away on your keyboard or scribbling in your notebook, the story, the words, the ideas are coming to you at a good, creative pace.  And then all the sudden – your characters sit languidly on the couch, they drive down the street just staring out the window, or they take a nap. Now what?

When it seems that my beautiful writing muse has taken a lunch break, I need something to call her back, or at least a substitute until she returns.  I’ve found a few useful techniques to get the story going again.

Read what you’ve already written.  Maybe you are in a “no edit” mode, but this doesn’t violate that rule.  Reading over what you already have might show a hole in your plot or raise your own question of “why’d they do that?” or “how did they get there?”  Filling in the answers will get your brain cells firing for a while and then may push you to the next point in your writing.

Read something else – a book, the newspaper, the comics.  I have no scientific evidence of such, but I believe reading other materials gets your brain cells working, too, and often an idea, possibly not related at all to what you just read, will fly your way from left field.  But sometimes it is related.  Perhaps reading about the Ravens game on Sunday, you will decide to send your character out to throw a football with his son. Or his girlfriend. Or kick the relationship to the curb.  Or grab a crabcake for lunch on his way to Edgar Alan Poe’s house.

Consider writing prompts.  Elementary school teachers use them, so they must be good.  Prompts are generic suggestions of situations for your character or plot to spur your creativity.  There’s books, there’s online sites full of them. I’ve posted some on my Pinterest page.  For each story, for each writer, the prompt will veer the story into its own path.  For instance, a prompt may say “a stranger offers your character something to eat or drink.” In one story, the character may be a young girl who shrinks and wanders down a rabbit hole; in another, a man may be meeting the love of his life at a bar; yet another, the main character may awaken days later to find a tiger in his bathroom.  Or perhaps, your character will be the stranger.

Refer to writing prompts to get your creativity going again.

Refer to writing prompts to get your creativity going again.

Describe your surroundings.  Whether in a coffee shop or sitting in your office, describe what you see.  What kind of chair are you sitting on? Who else is in the room or area with you? What do you smell, hear?  Describe someone who has just walked by.  Where are they going, what are they leaving?  You’d be surprised what characters might walk into your next story.  Indeed, this is how I found “Michael” in my novel, Life in Spades.  He walked in and sat next to me in a train station.

Take a break, too. When the muse is gone, don’t futilely beat your head against the keyboard.  Hit “save” and walk away.  Check Twitter, see what your friends are doing on Facebook, go for a walk, call your mother, fix yourself a drink. Do something totally not related to the story. I’ve been happily surprised when the “perfect” line or turn of plot comes to me while swimming laps or wandering through the grocery store picking up dinner.  Sometimes your muse wants to sneak up on you and it can’t do that when you’re sitting there looking for her.

Will everything you right using these techniques be part of your next great novel? Not necessarily. But neither is whatever you were going to right while trying to break through your writer’s block. Perhaps, though, it will intrigue your muse enough to wander back and peek over your shoulder.  And if all that doesn’t work? Eat chocolate.

 

Share any other techniques to get your ideas going in the Comments below.

Enjoy World Poetry Day

Today is the UN’s World Poetry Day, a day set aside for the purpose of promoting and enjoying the world’s diversity of poets and their language.

I took African-American Literature in college and after one class, I took as many as the school offered. One of those classes was on poetry, particularly of the Harlem Renaissance.  I was and am forever fascinated with the way words are beautifully and lyrically put together.

I remember almost laughing out loud sitting in class one day, when I came upon these lines.

Ef you don’t git up, you scamp,

Dey’ll be trouble in dis camp.

These are in the beginning stanza of the poem, In the Morning, by Paul Lawrence Dunbar.  Written in dialect, it was hard to understand at first, but then I read it as you have to with such poems – out loud. And I heard, not my voice, but my father’s. My father had learned the poem as a child and recited the poem almost every morning to wake me and my brother up.

Although I can’t find a date that the poem was written, Dunbar died in 1906, so it couldn’t have been much more than thirty or forty years old when my dad learned it. I’m terrible at remembering things, but it’s one of the few poems recorded in my brain. And it’s one that my own children call to each other as they drag each other out of the bed. I love this connection of generations through words and poetry.