Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Listen to Your Broccoli!

Oh dear, Latayne wrote eloquently on Monday about getting snagged by the little things that lead to a sumptuous poem or novel, and I'm here to talk about broccoli. Now you see what I'm up against around here. I'll try to make this the best discussion on broccoli you've had today, because we've come to Anne Lamott's chapter in Bird by Bird, "Broccoli." I wasn't quite sure what a chapter titled "Broccoli" would offer about the writing craft, but Anne never disappoints. For one thing, I'm now very good at spelling broccoli . Please join in our discussion. You are my best teachers.

Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it. "2,000-Year-Old-Man," Mel Brooks, a quote from Bird by Bird

There are two things you don't want to go bad in your refrigerator--refried beans or broccoli. If that happens, freeze the container with its contents intact and throw the whole mess away on trash day. Do. not. Open. The. Container. Otherwise, the odor will ruin your hearing. I know this to be true from personal experience.

It's been over a year since my agent called to say my publisher had canceled my contract for a third book (stinky broccoli!). Sales weren't good enough to justify the investment in another Patti Hill book. How did that feel? Think of being hit by a Mack truck that backs up and hits you again and again. That's pretty much how it felt.

Today, I am a stronger woman. I write for totally different reasons, but the stink of the broccoli remains. I was about 2/3rds of the way through my WIP when I got the news. I toyed, seriously, with the idea of burying the manuscript in the backyard and turning my office into a craft room. I prayed for direction and God spoke to me--no kidding!--through someone who didn't even know I'd asked God whether I should keep writing or not. She said, "Keep doing what you're doing. Don't get discouraged."

So I sat down at the computer with the odiferous broccoli wafting around me.

According to Anne Lamott, the wisdom of listening to your broccoli to know how to eat it means this:

It means, of course, that when you don't know what to do, when you don't know whether your character would do this or that, you get quiet and try to hear that still small voice inside. It will tell you what to do. The problem is that so many of us lost access to our broccoli when we were children.

Or had our contracts canceled. Ouch!

You need your broccoli in order to write well. Otherwise you're going to sit down in the morning and have only your rational mind to guide you.

That will not do. We need to trust our intuitions to write something that is honest and true--and fun. So, how do we get our broccoli back. Here are Anne's suggestions:

You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side.

I'm starting a new WIP , so I'm working at regaining my sense of trust. How in the world am I
going to do that? This kind of confidence doesn't come from believing what others say about you or your writing. It's something that comes from within. I've set some toys on my desk to remind me that, first and foremost, storytelling is play. I never worried about the quality of my play or my daydreams as a child, I simply indulged. Must do that again.

You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind.

As much as I'm able, I'm going to keep my new story to myself until it's written. I never told anyone about my daydreams when I was a child, because I would have heard, "Where are you going to get an Arabian horse? How will you feed it? Where will you keep it? How will you get a horse to Arabia? Do you speak Arabic? How can you race Seabiscuit? I think he's dead." This monologue may seem silly to you, but it's not far off from the uptight writer I've been for the last year. These kinds of questions can and should be answered of our writing, but not until the rough draft is written.

Sometimes, intuition needs coaxing.

My outline will be much looser this time around. I have plot points and an ending in mind. I'll jot these down on Post-it notes and start writing. This will demonstrate, at least to me, a new kind of trust in the gift God has given me, my story intuition. This should be fun...and terrifying but not boring.

I think a major step in learning to rely on your intuition is to find a usable metaphor for it...whatever you come up with needs to suggest a voice that you are not trying to control.

Cute Puppy

Oh boy. I need something a little more candid and active than broccoli, but not as general as "animal," as one of Anne's friends uses. How about that Arabian stallion I loved as a kid? His hooves are too hard. How about a monkey? They're expressive. Playful. They fling poo. Sorry, no. A puppy? They're playful and spontaneous, plus you can put them in a crate when their play or piddling gets out of hand. Okay, a puppy it is. Now, when I sit down to write, I'll let the "puppy" out to play. Release the hounds!

I know the whole discussion about intuition can be a bit esoteric. Weird. Out there. But trusting your intuition and/or imagination is vitally important for fresh writing. And I want to be known for my fresh writing. Don't you?

Do you struggle to trust your intuition? So how do you release your intuition? What's your metaphor for your intuition? Come clean!


Anonymous said...

To me, the greatest threat to intuition is the breakneck pace of life that we all live. I can understand how fears and insecurities choke your intuition, but I think mostly time is the biggest intuition robber.

For me, to really dig deep into my writing, to reach those moments where I just cut loose and let that deep story logic emerge, I have to have TIME to really lose myself in my writing. That's where those 15 minute snatches here and there don't help--at least not for me. Intuition gets submerged under almost mechanical writing. For me, and maybe I'm just weird, intuition is not ready and waiting, like the compact in your purse, to be yanked out and used on the fly. It's more like a shy puppy at the shelter who stays in its corner, waiting to be coaxed out. (there's that puppy again!) 8-)

BK Jackson

Nicole said...

I've been reading and writing since I was a child. And I'm no kid anymore - those days are lonnnggg gone. So, I know what I like to read. In the end I have to trust myself and that which I've given to the Lord to use.

So what if you write for a niche market? Someone enjoys what you enjoy, and that makes your writing come alive for you and for them. You have to get to the place where you (we) trust what you produce in that garden of imagination. Some people hate broccoli. Others love it. Isn't that the blessing and curse of writing novels?

My intuition is like the actress who can do high drama or the softspoken and demure.

Jan Cline said...

Oh my, this is a thinker. I'll need to stew on what my metaphor might be. I do know that environment adds stimulation (or distraction) and I have mistakenly moved away from making sure I am surrounded by positive, relevant items or sounds when I write. While working on a novel based on my mom's life with her 1st husband I kept pictures of them above my desk. I loved looking at them and they inspired me. As far a broccoli is concerned - it's nice to know we all have a head in the fridge. Mine is always uncooked - wonder what that means.

Patti Hill said...

Good morning, all!

BK: Yes, yes, yes to the whole notion of time. I gave up on 15 minute snippets, too. I'm fighting like a crazed warrior to protect my writing time and mulling time. I'm rereading The War of Art by Pressfield. First name? Anyway, resistance--read that: busyness, for one--is evil and must be engaged. Sharpening my sword!

Nicole: It sounds you're listening to your "broccoli" very well. Write your heart out, Nicole

Jan: I use all the cues one can possibly employ--pictures, props, music, food, and complete silence. Do what works for you.

Anonymous said...

Patti, I really enjoyed this post. I love the way you're taking us through Bird by Bird. Today, I was especially touched by your line: "I never worried about the quality of my play or my daydreams as a child, I simply indulged. Must do that again." Wonderful advice!

BK, I so agree. I need time to submerge myself in my story world to get the most out of my writing.

Anonymous said...

Doubt, doubt, doubt. Is it right for the Christian market? Can I let that character cuss? Are my friends telling me they like my writing just because they don't want to hurt my feelings? Am I wasting my time?

And on and on and on.

Then there's envy. How did that person get published? They're not THAT good of a writer (or so my jealous mind thinks).


Megan Sayer said...

Oh...Patti...Oh oh...Ohhhhh...I feel for you with that Mack truck phone call...ohhhhhh!!!!!!
I'm so glad God encouraged you to keep going. And I'm so glad you've kept going, and that you're trusting your intuition. It seems very much like this new step is one of God's plot-points in your writing career.

Okay, that's all I have to say really.

Patti Hill said...

Sharon: My favorite place to daydream? On a quilt spread on the lawn under a shade tree. A breeze is nice too.

Susie: Doubt and/or second-guessing kills intuition. Jealousy is a very real temptation in publishing. We have to remember that God is writing our story while we are writing one for him. And waiting happens to be a great writing tool.

Megan: Oh yeah, Mack trucks are definitely tools in the Lord's hands as well. Someday, we'll know the whole story, our whole story.

Marian said...

I get it. I'm going to listen to my broccoli, except brocoli totally misses it for me. This calls for a brain-storming session. I'll let you know when I find my metaphor.

Anonymous said...

You know, Patti, I had a conversation with my husband the other day. All about the writer's doubt thing. I called myself an "Indie Writer". THAT took so much pressure off! I realized that, unattached to a publisher, I can write whatever the hee haw I want! That's a liberating feeling!

And freedom is pretty good on the old inspiration.

Bonnie Grove said...

Everyone repeat after Susie: I can do whatever the hee haw I want.


I do feel better!

Marian said...

I haven't been able to come up with a metaphor. It's because the thing that I do is ask the Lord. The Holy Spirit comes up with creative direction that outdoes my intuition.
Now if I could ignore the distractions and stay motivated.

Kathleen Popa said...

Oh, Patti! You're fantastic. Militantly on my side? Really? Is that okay?

You've lifted my spirits. And that puppy in the picture works for me.

Hee haw!
(funny donkey-puppy)

Patti Hill said...

I'm in! I'll write whatever the hee haw I want, too! Love the wisdom and the freedom.

Thanks to all for joining the conversation. You're the best!

Anonymous said...

O PATTI!! How true this is in ALL of our truly important work...trusting what God gave us deep inside. And how ridiculously hard it is to do in a world that calls us WEIRD for being we shut ourselves up lock and bolt and throw away the key and forget who we are and start floundering trying to please EVERYONE who doesn't KNOW us and did NOT MAKE us.
I'm reading a book right now called "The Rhythm of Family" by Amanda Blake Soule and her husband Steve. The book is a bit of a craft book; but they tell family stories mixed with family philosophies throughout the book...and if you could only know how I have been inspired these last two days. My house seemed to be falling apart and my life dissolving into a puddle of "why in the world am I alive? What am I to do here?"...some of it has to do with some major transitions in our community life...but much of it has to do with the voices I have been letting eat away at my CHILDLIKEness that you so wonderfully made important in your post today. The book I just mentioned talks so much about parenting and living (and working) as children with our eyes open to imagine and play and feel what's all around us with excitement and truth and fierce adventure...and to embrace who we are creatively. Can I just say that for a very long time, I've been snuffing myself out. Missing my potential because I didn't meet the criteria. Working toward a goal of this or that...I believe that that is not God's intention for us. He tells us not to brag about tomorrow...because tomorrow is not promised...and to be as little children to enter the Kingdom. I'm not bashing making plans or being responsible...what I'm saying is that God's plan for you is written on your heart. He made you the way you are...raised you the way He did for a very specific purpose.
Sometimes the Wemmicks in Wemmicksville (see Max Lucado's You Are Special) cover us with dots instead of stars and we let them stick because we think it matters. But all that matters is that each day when we wake up...that we look up and ask "What today Lord?" and let Him speak...and as you said Patti...He always does...sometimes in the Word...sometimes through another...sometimes in His silence. And when we really listen and be still or act accordingly...His glory is revealed because it wasn't planned by us...but completely orchestrated by every piece of the mixed up puzzle He created us to be. Love to you dear Patti...He's working something special out in you and all of us...keep Him close!!!
Much Love,
Ashten :)

Anonymous said...

And p.s. Can I also note that sometimes the "bad guys" in our stories...don't even know they are...and that in all work done for the Lord...if only one little lamb is recovered back to the Shepherd by whatever it is we do...then THAT is the true measure of a job well done...
It's in the saying "here I am Lord" that our real work gets done...and I think especially in a job like writing or acting or singing or preaching or anything where your name and face are out there. It's important for the Lord to give us perspective and (*yipes!*) remind us that the great work really truly is His...and we're just the stewards of all the good gifts He's given.

And I'm sorry I'm so windy...part of the character that I've been tucking away and trying to hide because sometimes I need to just shut my trap...but sometimes He can use these loosey goosey lips and I keep praying that He'll be in control of the zipper to close me up when that needs to happen...

Patti Hill said...

Ashten: What a delight to hear from you. I AM encouraged by your words and the hope I hear in your voice. We are his children in every way. Our lives are in his hands, his scarred hands. Love to you, too!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I love the toys on the desk. Storytelling is play! So easy to forget that.

I really feel what you're saying in this post. How hard it can be to let go and trust enough to play, with all the pressures a writer can feel. I remember you sharing a year ago when you lost that contract and how deeply I felt for you. It seems so unfair that poorly written books abound, while a truly gifted author like you can struggle. Kudos to you for not growing bitter and for continuing to write through the storm.

"I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all." ~Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

Patti Hill said...

Karen, thanks for the kind words and the great quote. I'm printing that one and putting it in a prominent place. You're a dear!

Lynn Dean said...

Coming late to the conversation, but hoping you'll find these words encouraging. Catching up on a backlog of blogs, I've found three now on this same theme. Usually, that's how the Lord gets my attention.

A while back, you kindly sent me copies of your books. Dear lady, you can write! Never doubt it. When I read your post, I felt angry in your defense. What does "contract" mean if not "bound by one's word and honor to behave fairly or at least lawfully"? The publisher was unsuccessful in promoting your stories to their typical market. Deeply disappointing, but it does not imply that the fault was yours.

Having passed the half-century mark, it's ironic that the child inside still stands at the end of the diving board shouting, "Look! Are you watching?" We so desire affirmation. And there are some who find power in denying it. But as one commenter has already said, did they make us? No. Many times they have never even attempted what you have already accomplished, and without the words of others they would have no trade at all. The only One whose approval matters is God, and His love is unconditional. Moreover, He tells us that He prepared works in advance that we should walk in them. I find such peace in that.

As for listening to your broccoli, I think you're on exactly the right track. Imagination, creativity, and writing were such fun when we were playing. It only becomes un-fun when it becomes work...and when the naysayers begin to complain that our creation is not making them enough money. ;)

Please forgive me, but I'm feeling a little snarky today.