The Seven Sentences Challenge

I follow a gentleman named @GeoffTalbot on Twitter.  He has a website, sevensentences.com, which he calls “Daily Inspiration for Creative People.” 

He asks writers to distill their thoughts into seven sentences only -- with a beginning, a middle and an end.  He offers creative questions that “have the power to unlock your imagination and increase your productivity.”

Now, anyone who knows me, and my belief that “if one word is good, then ten must be better,” will know what a daunting task this was. 

Seven sentences into anything, and I’m just warming up the engine.

I’ve just taken on his most recent challenge, to write about the inception, or “creative birth” of a writing accomplishment.  I enjoyed the exercise much more than I thought I would.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it works. 

These are my seven sentences:

I ask myself what makes me write, but more to the point, what made me write this?
This novel: twelve hundred words placed just so -- in this order, with emphasis, adjectives, syntax, lovers, motion, scenes, kisses, anger, laughter, tableaux, abandonment, decisions, tears -- words, and words, and more words, every one a choice.
To each day turn on the computer, tap forehead, write and delete, sip coffee, listen to music, write and delete, walk around, search for inspiration, write and delete,  then write and keep, and move on to the next words.
Like keys on a piano, words wait here to be improvised, scratched out, rewritten, sung, howled, whispered, loved, despised, accepted, owned, and finally, formed into a sort of symphony -- individual as a fingerprint.
What made me write this novel, this story, this poem?
The answer comes, and it’s simple. 
I wrote it because I cared about the people in it, and I wanted to know how it would end.



TED Talk: Taking Imagination Seriously

TED Talk: Taking Imagination Seriously
by Janet Echelman

A story about how to let our creativity and imagination take us places we never thought we'd go  •*˚¨˚*•An artist talks about how she changed her focus in her art according to what presented itself...

It reminds me that what I end up with in my writing may not look the way I thought it would.  There's a very good chance that it will be better if I just let go of expectations ....  



Words As Little Miracles

I suppose this “writing thing” was inevitable. 

Paper and pens were my preferred toys when I was little –- for drawing, scribbling words, making large bubble letters that were strung together into nonsense sentences.  While other little girls played with dolls, I fashioned a stationery store in my bedroom, complete with a desk as a counter, a partitioned box as a cash register, and displays of supplies that I’d gathered from drawers and shelves all over the house.  When my forbearing father wanted to use a stapler, he was forced to buy it back from me for the exhorbitant sum of a nickel. 

I never cared much about the money. The real gift was getting to write out the receipt –- a piece of paper on which I’d painstakingly drawn straight lines with a ruler, and could now fill in with item, price and even some sort of tax.  I’d take the nickel with all the solemnity of a shopkeeper, and then cheerfully say, “Thank you for coming in today, sir!”

I can’t tell you how many times my sweet father bought that stapler from me. 

Those low-tech times gave me the opportunity to decide that I was going to read the dictionary from beginning to end –- and I’m aware that this puts me firmly into some sort of “club,” as I’ve heard the same thing from many other writers since.  But if I close my eyes, I can still feel the fragile pages with their gold-painted half-moons, just the size of a child’s thumb, each with a letter.

And like many others, after a stab at “begin with A, and go through Z,” it became a sort of metaphysical scattershot method of tightly shutting my eyes, opening the book, and dropping my finger onto the page.  I began to imagine that the word thus randomly chosen could inform and direct my day.  “Voyager” meant a walk around the block, “mottled” indicated I should spend time in the garden peering at leaves, “kabob” meant searching out skewers and stringing Cheerios on them for breakfast.

I think I’ve never looked up a word in a dictionary that I didn’t also learn another one.  As I scanned the columns, reading aloud, my forefinger traced a line from top to bottom of the list of words -- I was like a puppy, “What’s this?  What’s that?”   It took forever to look up a word, because “neophyte” would yield “necromancy,” “nefarious,” “negligent,” and “nemesis” on a path to the definition. 

I thought words were little miracles, really.  Sets of letters that meant something.  I was fascinated by “The Miracle Worker,” and that moment when Helen Keller realizes that letters make words, and words have meaning.

All this is not to say that I believed the best words were the most complicated or obscure.  My college Communications thesis was a “readability study” of the university’s catalogue, a book sent out to high school seniors, hoping they’d enroll.  Through in-depth counting of the types, sizes and clarity of the words used in the catalogue, I determined that you needed to be in your second year of Graduate School to properly understand it.  My professor sent the study on to the Admissions Department with a wry smile.

And my love affair with words continues today.  Dictionary.com has a “popular searches” column, a word of the day, and a new Beta program called Word Dynamo that estimates your vocabulary.  The website functions for me in the same way those delicate pages did so long ago –- you can even “Browse Dictionary” randomly -- it’s the best of technology, I think, when it mimics the real thing in spirit.

In the end, I can imagine myself in the last moments of life, trying to describe it, saying, “What’s the word I’m looking for….?”  Ah, yes…“transition…that's it...”



A Mixed Marriage

My husband and I, after fifteen primarily blissful years together, have suddenly found ourselves on either side of the Great Decision of the age:  Twitter or Facebook.

Yes, I know, there are legions of people who manage to straddle the line and do both, but I’m sort of an “all or nothing” person, and with only so much disposable time at hand, I found I had to make a firm decision.  Twitter won out. 

And so, one night, with the compassionate support of a good friend on MSN I managed to “unfriend” or ignore all those who had requested the pleasure of my company, and I shut down my Facebook account.  It required a rather largish glass of wine for courage, but afterwards, I’ll admit I slept like a baby.

Please remember that I’m the type of person who has to turn out all the lights in the house when I run out of Halloween candy -– guiltily flinching in the dark as the laughing voices, in Doppler fashion, move toward the front door and away.  When the FedEx man comes to the door and I don’t want to stop writing (or even comb my hair), I sort of hold my breath, not wanting to hurt his feelings, until I hear the package drop on the front stoop, and the truck gears up and drives down the street.

The process on Facebook was simply too difficult for me.  I’m aware this is a failing of mine, not of the 250 million other people in this big world of ours whose days begin and end with it.  I’ve been told I took it all much too seriously –- which I’m certain is true. 

When I got a birthday wish from a friend of a cousin of an acquaintance, I felt I had to answer it with, at the very least, a short thank you.  I’m not inordinately popular, but when you multiply that by thirty or more, there goes my birthday wish of a day of peace, writing at my computer.  When a newborn’s picture is posted, aren’t we required, as members of the human race, to send a message back saying the baby is adorable?  And now that I know about said child, is a gift expected?

I’m sure if I asked these questions of the internet, I’d get 250 million answers –- most giving me the one my friends gave me:  “If you don’t want to answer, then don’t.”  But there I was again in the back bedroom, hiding from the laughing children dressed as Hello Kitty and Harry Potter, wishing I’d bought more candy. 

So, the final exercise of rejecting my nephew’s best friend, or ignoring a person I went to junior high school with and haven’t spoken to in 25 years, or of not answering a note put on my wall by a dear friend of my late brother Kim –- required an actual, human friend online giving me permission, and the glass of wine referred to earlier.  Once it was done, I vowed never again to open the silly thing.

Enter my wonderful, practical, not-always-good-at-staying-in-touch husband.  I’ve been on Twitter since February of 2009, and have tried in vain to get him hooked.  Suddenly, he announces that he’s starting a Facebook account, and my reaction surprises me so much, I actually laugh out loud.  He may as well have told me he’s embarking on an affair.

But, as usual, he’s right about this being the perfect forum for his way of staying in touch.  He can post his ongoing study of sunsets, which he loves to photograph, so that instead of just describing them to his mother, he can say, “go to my Facebook page and look.”  He can, as he did yesterday, share the joy of an exciting San Francisco 49er’s win with friends from work.   A old girlfriend from high school posts pictures of her husband and children, and he smiles while he sips his coffee, telling me long-ago stories.

So I suppose, in a way, we have the best of both worlds.  I scroll happily through my timeline on Twitter, reading tips on writing to him, sharing useless but endlessly interesting trivia, telling him news of friends from the UK and Paris, or what @StephenFry or @WilliamShatner are up to, and reading bits of blogs from around the world. 

He, in turn, lets his family know that I’m still alive, but no, I’m not on Facebook any more.

The perfect mixed marriage.



A Confession About Reading

I find myself feeling a bit stuffy in my middle years, puffing up about the way some in the current generation seem to study great literature by the light of YouTube, while texting, watching DVDs and googling.
I tell myself, despairing somewhat, that as a child, I read Little Women and was given the gift by Miss Alcott of creating the March family out of imagination -- and that now, whatever visions a girl might have of Jo have been supplanted by Winona Ryder.  If you ask someone today if they’ve read Atonement, they might cheerfully tell you, yes, they saw the movie. 
But before I get too righteous in my indignation, out with the confession.  And an unflinching look at my own high school study habits
When I was in my formative years, the literary hue and cry was about Cliffs Notes.   Just in case you’ve not seen them, these are small yellow-and-black booklets which summarize and condense the plot, characters, and spirit of books -- many of them classics -- into bite-sized, manageable ideas.  I’m ashamed to say that my fellow students and I used them liberally when English class report deadlines loomed. 
It was possible to read Hawthorne’s 750-page The Scarlet Letter in an evening, through the 128-page, large-type, easy-to-digest summary of the chapters.  This allowed us that extra night on the weekend to drink at the beach with friends, or to take the drive up the Pacific Coast Highway with eight-track tapes blaring, or perhaps to spend an afternoon doing next to nothing and moaning about it.

Then, Sunday night would bring the frantic scanning of the trusty Cliffs Notes booklet, with its eloquent opinions already formed, its syntax in perfect order, and its insight into the motivations and symbolism of Hester Prynne’s shame already canned, sterile, and ready to put to the page.  I never plagiarized, mind you, but my thoughts were decidedly bent in the same direction as the person who wrote that little summary.  
So you can see, I really have nothing to be judgmental about.  I suppose I could grasp at straws and say that the visual nature of films, television and video clips tend to shortcut all imagination, even down to hair color and tone of voice –- whereas the Notes still allowed us to create the characters in our minds, but really, I don’t have a leg to stand on.  I’ll simply put myself in the town square, as Hester did, and wear the truth on my frock.
I didn’t read The Scarlet Letter in its entirety in high school, but I did in college.   And I’ve re-read it since.  It changes as my view of the world changes -- as it will for the ones now watching Demi Moore and Gary Oldman play out the story in Roland Joffe’s 1995 version of what he thinks the story means.
What I know, above all else, is that great books endure.  They sit patiently on the shelf until we’re ready to take in what they have to offer.   
They have all the time in the world.



TED Talk: How To Write and Stay Sane

TED Talk: A New Way to Think About Creativity
by Elizabeth Gilbert

The author of "Eat, Pray, Love" talks about the double-edged sword of a bestselling novel.... "Aren't you afraid that now, you'll fail?"  

Keeping our focus intact in the face of success...