Last year’s A to Z Challenge became a year long focus that changed how I approach art, poetry, and writing fiction. I like to combine the A to Z Challenge with the daily poetry prompts from NaPoWriMo and Poem-a-Day, so last year I picked the simple topic of “Abstract Nouns.” Abstract nouns are nouns that denote an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object. In other words, they are things that cannot be measured or perceived with the five main senses. They represent intangible ideas.
Studying abstract nouns led to reading lots of philosophy. Trying to capture photographs of abstract nouns led to a deep dive into abstract art and creating many new photography techniques. And the challenge led to some interesting poems about how we each have a different definition, sometimes contradictory definitions of the same abstract noun.
After the April Challenges were over, I continued my study with a new daily challenge of abstract nouns, and by the end of the summer, I had discovered a new passion: Contradictory Abstract Nouns. Inspired by a piece of writing advice, “Find the despair in hope, and the hope in despair,” I started trying to capture images of these contradictory abstractions, and this led to a continuing study of what I call the Big Five: Truth/ Deceit; Beauty/ Ugliness; Love/ Apathy; Happiness/ Despair; Wisdom/ Naivete. I even used the Big Five as inspiration for the main characters in my NaNoWriMo novel.
For this year’s A to Z Challenge I will be looking at contradictory abstract nouns that both start with the same letter. This will make for less obvious combinations, and more creative contrasts. Since A to Z subtracts Sundays, I’m going to leave this year’s Sundays open to collage my images and thoughts from the week.
Here is a calendar of the ideas I have so far. Like last year, X needs some leeway. These are tentative and may change by April first.
For my theme this year, I chose abstract nouns which are words for things that aren’t perceived by the senses, and can’t be physically measured. They are ideas, qualities, or states rather than concrete objects. I chose this theme because I combine the A to Z Challenge with National Poetry Writing Month and abstract nouns are the breath of life for poetry. Two–love and beauty–have kept poets busy through the ages.
I really enjoyed this theme. It kept me inspired every day. My attempts to express these concepts as abstract photographs led me to try new techniques:
using clear fishing line in my filters to create floating shapes
more detailed wire work
a light curtain as background
using the camera’s built in effects in the mirrorworld
opening the blinds to let the outside into the mirrorwold
light-painting with a flashlight for still and moving bokeh at the same time
and create fun new bokeh filters. My favorites:
I also enjoyed diving into the definitions of these abstract nouns and discovering how many of them had circular definitions: What is comfort? Solace. What is solace? Comfort. I found I would like to explore many of them further.
The A to Z Community
I want to thank everyone who came by to read my posts. I appreciated all the likes and comments. There were a lot of really fun themes this year and posts that I enjoyed reading. I especially enjoyed:
It’s fun to look at what everyone’s thinking about and exploring. If you are looking over the month of my work as a whole, I would love to know: Which of my images was your favorite? Which of my poems was your favorite?
May Photo Challenge
I enjoyed my daily exploration of abstract nouns so much, I want to keep doing it. There’s so much more to explore and think about with each of the abstract nouns I looked at in April, I could repeat that calendar over and over, but there are also so many more abstract nouns to explore. I created a new calendar for this month, including homographs for Sundays like last month. Though I won’t be posting every day, I will be taking pictures and writing poems each day focused on these abstract nouns. I may return to April’s nouns in June.
Starting today, my focus returns to my main priority of finishing novels. Yesterday, I was thinking about how I can bring the same passion and daily feeling of accomplishment I feel with photography and poetry to my daily novel writing. I wrote in my journal:
“What if I approach each scene as an exploration of an abstract noun? How would I explore –adventure (for example)–in my scene today? How would my POV character encounter–adventure–in this setting? Or express –adventure– to another character? How would he show–adventure– on his face/ with his body language? How would she perceive the world in this moment through–adventure?”
This month, I’m going to play with this idea in my morning pages, replacing –adventure– with each of my abstract nouns each day and see how it affects my scenes. Hopefully it will give my novel writing that same sense of discovery, exploration, and wonder I find in my photographs.
So on to this next adventure, full of exciting risks and hazards, daily daring into unusual undertakings. What does adventure look like today? I want to see what my new door filter I created for yesterday’s “close” images looks like in the mirrorworld, and revisit my squirrel while continuing to practice light painting with a flashlight in the mirrorworld.
Today’s prompt for Quadrille #151 is “static.” Static, it turns out, is a homograph with all sorts of great meanings. To end today’s adventure, I’ll attempt to condense it all down to exactly forty-four words.
Staring at the Static
a screen full of snow hissing hush, mesmerizing smelling of soap and ash rough and jagged out of touch off the dial dissonance untuned to the frequencies of the immovable missing today’s adventure of the shadow or another not getting through because static clings
Today’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt “rope” inspired me to get out and take some pictures. Living near water and boats, rope takes on a special meaning of securing connection. Here’s an excerpt from my journal this morning:
“I was tied in knots. The rope fraying, unraveling, the rope tossed, wasn’t fastened at the other end and fell in a heap when I tried to climb.
“Unroped the weak trunk/stalk bends; the boat floats from the dock lost; the vines don’t rise.
“Roped the weak fibers grow strong; twisted and entwined the brittle become bendable; the separable, inseparable; the meek, brave. Rope connects the floating to the stable; tethers the roaming home; anchors the flighty to ground. Rope can tear and burn the skin when held, but also holds the opposing as they pull, growing stronger as they repel.” ~Maria L. Berg
The dVerse Poets prompt from Thursday was to try the Synchronicity form. I started playing with it yesterday, but didn’t get very far, so I thought I would try again today. The form is a non-rhyming poem of 8 three-line stanzas. Each stanza has a syllable count of 8,8,2. It is in first person and has a twist presented in the last two stanzas.
The rope hangs from the reaching branch of the ancient maple next door waiting
Its looped shadow reflects below changing as a breeze whispers through the leaves
I believe it has always hung there, dry, aged, and fraying, yet strong enough
The branch may be the weaker link How much weight will it take before it breaks?
An eagle screams as the others gather and motion me over to join
The threat of danger makes my bare skin erupt with goosebumps as I shiver
One after another they climb, put a foot in the loop, and swing Scream! Splash!
This time I will dare to let go of the rope swing and fly into the lake
It appears that their new system paid attention to Experience Writing because the first book is blackout poetry which I created examples of and talked about in my post Blackout Poetry Art Day (though I also created a Pinterest collection of blackout poetry), and the theme this year is about creating good habits, to create positive change as I laid out in A Year of Finishing Novels: The first tiny steps. So whether or not I like computer algorithms as part of my life, this one appears to be positive: getting the right books to the right person. I’m excited to review them (look for my reviews over the next couple weeks).
Because I was happily surprised by the selections given to me to review, I added them to my Library Thing library today and saw that I hadn’t added the last Gator McBumpypants book to my page, nor had I ever added any tags to my books. I know I got discouraged by a few people’s responses to my work, but that shouldn’t have stopped me.
It is a truly sad human condition that a bad review can take attention away from the joy on a child’s face when she read the book, or the child that asked if alligators really lived in the lake, giving me the opportunity to talk about the joy of imagination. Or the fact that my books are in my elementary school library. Those are huge successes. I shouldn’t have let the adult judgement get to me. The books weren’t meant for mean, judgy people.
I still have the workings of the book I started in New Orleans when I went back for The Rubber Maids reunion. The trip was an emotional roller-coaster, and when I got back, I went through some major life changes, so my ideas for Gator’s story kept changing. However, looking back at everything I did, this spring might be time to flesh that story out, and create a new Gator McBumpypants for my young niece who is getting close to learning to read.
I want to thank Library Thing for making me feel this way today. Hope is so important and hard to find.
This fall has been intense: jumping out of bed every day to explore new photography ideas and write a poem. I know exactly what I’ve been doing since October first, but what was I up to last January?
I’m glad I took a look because I don’t want this year to be an exact copy of last year, but I have the same revision goals. I made a lot of progress, but not as much as I would like. So this year, to switch things up, just a little bit, the focus will be on Novel Revision Motivation.
Last January, I didn’t post much, but I did discover TBR Con (To Be Read Convention) a free online writers convention that I enjoyed. I looked it up and the TBR Con 2022 schedule is up. Shelly Campbell, who was kind enough to do an interview about her revision process last February, will be part of the Worldbuilding 101 panel on Monday January 24th at 2pm PST.
I also discovered Linda Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS) which I enjoy participating in each week. Having one day a week that is completely stream of consciousness is an idea I enjoy. Glad I checked over there today. Looks like Linda has a daily blogging challenge for January called Just Jot It January, in case you’re looking for a daily blogging challenge for the new year.
In May I did an intensive demonstration of creating a poetry revision process and revising a poem. There are eight parts and it starts with Revising Poetry: Creating a process.
The final post in that series came out in June and then I took July off. In August I had some fun photographing and drawing flowers and I discovered the Changing Focus Challenge and made my first multi-media video with bokeh, music, and poetry. My piece is called Pathways.
In September Experience Writing had a guest post from author, poet, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic, Jacob M. Appel called Vision and Revision. I attempted to do another multi-media video for the theme Reflections, but it didn’t come together.
In November, I made up my own daily photography prompts and continued daily photos and poetry, participating in Writer’s Digest’s November Poem a Day Challenge. I also won National Novel Writing Month attempting a rewrite of the novel I started in 2019. I wrote 50,000 words but the draft is far from complete. Guess what I’ll be working on in 2022.
And this month I made another daily photo prompt calendar, continued to write a poem every day, and made a multi-media project for the Changing Focus Challenge prompt Rest, Sleep and Hibernation.
That was a busy year. Looking back, I did a pretty good job of sticking with my revision theme. Though I did not complete as many revisions as I would have liked, I explored my process and have a better understanding of the steps I need to take to succeed. So here’s to a year of motivated revision!
New Year’s Resolution
And the cycle continues but something has to change the barefoot and bicycles will arrive too soon coming or going they will circle and what will I have finished what sweet delight prepared to serve the gibberish and frothing fills pressed pulp like teeth in a shark’s wicked grin and yet I continue to chum the dark waters and the dollars and itches circle coming and going when will the attention rapt be enough to keep me in my seat carving to the revealed that is supposed to be inside but I find never finished and we cycle again the spokes bent the tire always needing air the road uphill both ways the music and stars will arrive too soon and any interest in taming the gibberish will float on the froth and effervesce
The New Year
Tomorrow all day The Poetry Project is having its 48th annual poetry marathon. Hundreds of poets will be reading their poems. What a great way to enjoy the first day of the new year.
I was planning on taking a little time off, maybe switching to once a week for a while, but today, the final day of 2021, I will have posted new photos and poems every day for 92 days straight. It feels silly to stop 8 days short of 100, so I’ll keep it up through the first week of January.
I found this month’s prompt Rest, Sleep and Hibernation very inspiring, and I’m excited to share my finished multi-media video. I really enjoyed how the stills and video fit with the sounds I collected and arranged. And it was fun to put my poem in the fire. I hope you find this relaxing and restful.
Last month I was excited to find the Changing Focus Blog Challenge, because I’m always looking for ways that my talents and creativity can work together, and a multimedia project around a theme each month felt like just the thing for me. I came up with, and executed, my Pathways response in two weeks. I like it, but it felt like a draft: rushed and rough, And I didn’t realize I didn’t have until the end of the month, so it was late.
I thought about reflecting bokeh and tried several shots with the big mirror in the closet, and got some very interesting shots, but that needs a lot more practice.
The lake wasn’t calm enough to get much other than dock shadow. I took a few photographs of reflections in the windows, thinking of setting up scenes inside and doing an inside/outside type reflection.
I wrote more poems about reflections. I found a great site for kids that inspired me to do an acrostic, but that led me to working on a submission for Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction with the theme Redirections. I love how my work on pathways and reflections had my mind firing for redirections.
After I looked up “reflections” definitions and found “folding back,” I thought my daily inkblots that I started during “Pathways” could continue into this project and I thought about playing with my Rorschach mask, a mask that reacts to temperature change to change its black and white pattern. I couldn’t see through the mask, so the 10sec timed shots were very tough, but I had some fun with it.
However, a couple of minutes of that would take more space and time than my computer or I have; we would all get dizzy; and it seams like something I want to save for a more Halloween inspired piece.
I came up with some melodies in A-flat, chose beautiful chords with my capo on the fourth fret, and yet nothing was coming together. I even started a page in my hardback The Musician’s Notebook: Deluxe Edition, titled it “Reflections in A flat major.” But blank those pages stay. Perfectionism is a curse. Nothing will ever be perfect.
I took my small, ornamental mirror into the bathroom, creating eternal reflections, then I remembered that the large mirror in the office closet wasn’t attached to the wall. It was heavier than I would have liked, but I shoved, slid, carried it into the closet where I was working. I had ideas to film myself moving the mirror while filming to create more and less eternal reflection with my eyes and feet around the mirror: naked to full costume was also an idea through all of these processes.
By this time I was stressing and hitting other deadlines and any one of my ideas would take another month. So this morning, I decided I had to let this reflections project go and do a project every other month and be happy for the inspiration.
But this evening, the world provided. And this panoramic image says it all.
Jacob M. Appel is an American author, poet, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Education at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, where he is Director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry. He is also the author of four literary novels, nine short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery, a thriller, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas.
Vision and Revision
Once I had the pleasure of chatting with a well-known sculptor whose preferred medium was marble—and I couldn’t resist asking her what happened if she made a mistake. I had expected her to respond with an earnest observation about the planning required to prevent such a calamity: measuring with calipers, modeling in plaster, etc. Instead, she laughed and replied, “Why do you think the Venus de Milo is missing her arms?”
Fortunately, writing is far more forgiving. A loose plot line can always be tightened or a more original rhyme found to end a stanza. Would-be authors are taught early on that Hemingway wrote forty-seven different endings to A Farewell to Arms and Fitzgerald continued to revise The Great Gatsby even after it had been typeset, that Auden had the audacity to alter “September 1, 1939” after publication and Moore grappled with the text of “Poetry” for five decades. In contrast, writers publicly (although falsely) believed to eschew revision—Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara—are often derided accordingly. One can still hear the disdain of Capote’s quip about Kerouac, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
In modern western culture, and particularly in the United States, revision has claimed a hallowed position. Nearly every writing course I have encountered incorporates an emphasis upon revision, a belief that multiple drafts are essential to the writing process. Maybe this reflects the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, or the Edisonian notion that genius is 99% perspiration. Unfortunately, many aspiring writers take the wrong message from these lessons. It is certainly true that revision has a valuable place in the writing process. However, that does not mean that vision isn’t also necessary. Nor does it mean that, just because great works require revision, revision necessarily leads to great works.
Grace Paley frequently observed that she did her best writing in the bathtub. Her point was not, of course, that she had to worry about getting soap suds on her writing pad. Rather, she was suggesting that she thought through her stories in depth before she put pen to paper. Having a sense of where you are going in advance helps you get there—both in life and on the page. Anyone who has ever planned family vacations with young children surely knows this: It is far wiser to book a hotel room at Disneyland or Yellowstone prior to departure than to hop into the station wagon and drive until one finds an appealing destination. For John Wayne and a few inveterate literary explorers, the open road may be alluring. For many writers, it is the sure path to hours before a blank computer screen. That is not to say that a writer cannot change paths or make discoveries as she writes—for the creative mind, that is inevitable. But choosing the Goldilocks moment to transfer words from one’s soul to one’s hand—not too soon, not too late—is one of the skills that separates the skilled writer from the amateur. And, fortunately, it can be cultivated.
I urge my students to take time to reflect upon what they want to say, and how, long before they consider saying it. It is easier to erase a sentence in one’s mind than on one’s parchment. (There are a few exceptions, like Dostoevsky, who managed to weave his revisions and even his mistakes seamlessly into his prose without any undoing.) Either Will Rogers or Head & Shoulders once warned: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That is as much true regarding the impression you make upon yourself as the impression that you make upon others. Once you’ve committed yourself to a word or idea in print, you’ve often moored yourself to a particular course. Needless to say, there are limits to how much one should wait before setting down your internal epics. As either Aristotle or Voltaire or my Great Aunt Sadie once warned, “Don’t make the perfect an enemy of the good.” But the good, thought through in advance, can prove the mortal foe of the mediocre.
The fetishization of revision often leads writers to forget one of the craft’s most important principles: Quit while you’re behind. I firmly believe that anyone with the passion and commitment can write valuable and inspiring poetry or fiction. Yet that does not mean that every particular poem or story can be transformed into a work of value and inspiration. Sometimes, the materials themselves don’t cohere: the author had chosen the wrong structure or genre for this particular idea or the underlying plot simply isn’t compelling; other times, the material is worthwhile but the author is at the wrong point in her journey to share it most effectively. Knowing whether a story or poem is working is a talent. But recognizing whether a story or poem can work is a far more crucial skill.
So how does one know whether a story or poem can work? One question to ask is whether, as you are writing, you find yourself with too many or too few ingredients. An analogy I often share with my students is self-assembling an exercise bicycle—inevitably, one of life’s greatest challenges. If you try multiple times and find yourself with excess parts and wheels that don’t spin, or too few parts and a hollow pole for a seat, you might consider repackaging and returning to the supplier. The same is true with writing. Sometimes, the pieces just don’t fit together. Accept that. Move on. Live to fight another day. I say this as a writer who has spent thousands of hours writing manuscripts that should have been scrapped after fifteen minutes. Revision is often necessary, but it is rarely sufficient. No writer wants to be lauded as a “revisionary.”
It has become a trope in creative writing to place original drafts and revisions of famous works side by side to admire the radical changes imposed by the authors between drafts. That is often a rewarding exercise. But I exhort students that they should admire the vision of the original as well. Exceptions do exist: The Ray Carver-Gordon Lish Complex, for instance. (Editor Gordon Lish is often credited with line editing Carver’s stories to create the spare, crystalline prose we now know as Carveresque.) Yet it is usually the magic of the original draft that still enchants in the final form.
Revision, in other words, is an essential tool—but it shouldn’t be a crutch. I am very wary of writers who plan on revisions at the outset, of students who assure me, “I’ll fix that later.” To my thinking, that is like planning for a second marriage at your first wedding. The responsibility of the writer is to get it right the first time. And then, in the revision, to get it even righter.
I thought I’d share this vocal warm-up I like to do before recording (because it’s fun):
Yesterday, I discovered that the bass effects pedal I’ve had for many years, has a built in drum machine, so hold onto your hats world.
Focus on Reflections
I face a self-imposed focus on reflections a month of looking of looking in mirrors looking at me
not turning away looking further and deeper finding the deep waters past the imperfections
What will I find there? What does reflection smell like? What is its taste? How will I get to the point where I only see what I like?
All those flaws become only a reflection only the light hitting a chip in the mirror everything reflects light all we see is a reflection
*That was an interesting experience. After finding a drum beat and recording the drum and bass. I played it back while saying lines to the room. When I felt like the concept was flowing, I recorded myself, then typed up what I said as if transcribing. That was fun. I think I’ll play with that a lot.
I hope all of you will come by this Thursday, Sept. 2, and read a special guest post about revision by Jacob M. Appel. I recently enjoyed his poetry collection, The Cynic in Extremis. I found it both entertaining and provocative.
I’ve wanted to try something that combines music, photography, and writing for a while, so this was a great inspiration to give it a try. This first effort was a bit rushed ( I happened upon the challenge halfway through the month), but I had a lot of fun with it and learned a lot.
While putting together the video, I learned how to do some animations with my photographs (haven’t figured out how to use them with my video editing software yet), and learned some techniques for combining motion and still photography.
Recording myself reading my poems was great practice. While practicing, some revisions and edits became obvious.
Writing music to go with the visuals and poetry was very challenging. Many of my ideas just wouldn’t work. I went through days of discarding recordings, but finally came up with the feel of pathways I was going for.
September’s theme is Reflections. I have a lot of reflection to do about my Pathways project. 😉