Symbols for Writers: the Snake

About the Symbols for Writers Series: I’ve found that symbols and imagery can trigger valuable insights into writing, life, problem-solving, finding joy, and more. This series was born because I wanted a collection of symbolic images coupled with text and questions intended to kick-start the creative process, help identify a creative block, or aid expression of complex concepts in condensed packages–and I thought you might enjoy such a collection, too! If you’d like to know more about how the Symbols for Writers series came to be, check out the first post in the series.

How to Use

This week’s image is meant to inspire thoughts about success and what it means in your personal universe. You can also use the image as a creative prompt, or as a reminder of some key idea you want to remember in the coming week. Have fun!

The Snake…

 snake

SOMETHING THAT IS: UNPREDICTABLE 

OUT OF CONTROL

UNKNOWN

FEARED

HIDDEN & THREATENING

* * *

SNAKES CAN ALSO SYMBOLIZE TRANSFORMATION

SHEDDING THE OLD, AS A SNAKE SHEDS ITS SKIN

What thoughts and emotions does this image bring to mind?

Take a good look at the image above, then close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. Let your thoughts wander through the meanings this symbol can carry.

  • Is your gut reaction to the snake image positive or negative?
  • If positive, what transformation might the snake image bring to mind?
    • Is there a change happening–or a change that needs to happen–in your life?
    • Can the snake help you think about a transformation one of your characters is undergoing?
  • If your reaction is negative, what feels unpredictable or out of control in your writing life?
    • Consider how these ideas might apply to your characters: does one of them face something beyond their control?
    • Do they face a betrayal? A danger that might strike without warning, like a snake’s sudden attack?

Take 5 minutes and journal about the snake symbol and the thoughts or images it sparks. 

How could this image relate to something in your writing life? Please share in the comments!

The Myth of Simple

I read recently that the brain tends to see everything as far more simple than it actually is.* It was remarkably refreshing to read that this is a problem common to humanity, since it’s one I struggle with all the time.

Take writing, for instance. I get an idea for a new book project, and as soon as I start brainstorming, ideas for characters, plot elements, and cool world concepts come flying fast and furious. I might even write a skeleton outline of the story structure in those magical first days when I know that the story is THE BEST IDEA I’VE EVER HAD and that WRITING IT WILL BE SIMPLE.

sabrinas stash

Simple? Ha. Once I actually put pen to page (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be) I have to face reality: The characters and scenes I thought I’d envisioned so clearly are no more substantial than mist. It’s one thing to have the idea, but quite another thing to bring that idea to life on the page.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too. It’s easy to forget, somehow, that the beautiful language, witty dialogue, and sparkling characters we want to create are the result of a hundred rewrites. This is the reason that Anne Lamont instructed writers to “write shitty first drafts” in her classic guide for writers, Bird by Bird. There’s always a gap between that first story vision and the first words you write. This is also the reason we practice things like freewriting and participate in challenges like NaNoWriMo, which help us learn to silence that inner critic long enough to get something—anything—down on the page. Once those first words are written, it always seems to be easier to see how they can be improved.

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Care and Feeding of the Discouraged Writer

This post was originally published in April, 2011, but it seems to be particularly relevant during the craziness of the holidays. Hope this encourages you as we hurtle toward the end of the year!

Jami Gold’s recent post Have You Ever Been Tempted to Give Up? is thought-provoking and true. In a weird way, it’s encouraging to realize that even published, successful authors struggle with this question.

Jamie’s post ends with a question: “What pushes you to the edge of giving up (lack of time, rejections, something else)?  What things help motivate and encourage you (a support system, wanting to prove something, finding successes wherever you can)? ” Visit her blog to see what other writers have to say.

Have I ever been tempted to give up? Absolutely! As has every writer in my critique group. As has every writer I know personally. And yet, most of us don’t. What keeps us going? I think the answer depends on why we’re tempted to quit, the way different illnesses respond to different treatments.

In my experience, there are several factors that can push me to the edge:

  1. Too much rejection/too little affirmation: This ailment is best treated by interaction with other people. Turn to your critique group, writer friends, Twitter tweeps, or a trusted first reader for encouragement and perspective. Or read the thoughts of a successful author in writing books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Jane Yolen’s Take Joy, or Stephen King’s On Writing.
  2. Physical exhaustion: When a writer is juggling multiple jobs and responsibilities—as most of us are—sometimes we spend so much time living inside our heads that we forget to take care of our bodies. Are you physically worn out? Try treatment with a brisk walk, plenty of water, a restful foray into nature, or a good night’s sleep.
  3. Mental overwhelm: When juggling too many to-do’s—writing or otherwise—it’s easy to get mired in too-much-to-do-itis. Overwhelm is not conducive to creativity. Treat with a hefty dose of self-kindness, lightening your load, word play, and small, achievable writing goals to help you rediscover the joy of writing.
  4. Negative creative balance: In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes the source of an artist’s creativity as a “creativity pond”, something that can be overfished and emptied if we don’t take are to refill and restock. If you spend too much time working—even doing work you love—you may discover that your muse is not longer speaking to you. Treat with Artist’s Dates, infusions of beauty and sensory delights, and creative stimulation such as a conference, class, or writing book.

Sometimes, you have to have faith and keep pressing forward; other times, mere willpower is not the answer. If you’re tempted to give up, ask yourself why. It might help you puzzle out the best remedy for what ails you.

:) Cheryl

Photo courtesy of Paolo Camera

The Joy of Writing Play

Have you watched kids at play recently?

PERIODdiannaPeriod

Image courtesy of .dianna. on Flickr Creative Commons

I’m talking pure, imaginative play, where they aren’t necessarily trying to make anything, produce anything, or win anything. They’re just fooling around—mentally trying on different characters, scenarios, and abilities.

They’re making up stories.

Pure play is characterized by a lack of judgment or pressure, and because of that, it frees the imagination. The inner critic doesn’t get much sway here. You don’t often hear kids in the midst of make-believe saying, “That dialog sucks!” or “What a lousy idea!” They might argue over who gets to be the princess or whether that cardboard box is a racecar or a baby carriage, but they don’t usually argue over the worth of the ideas or how those ideas are executed.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

When I started making up stories and writing them down, there was no inner critic present. Why should there have been? I was just playing: making up stories to find out what would happen next, writing the daydreams that I wanted to read and, later, writing chapters about unicorns and kids with magic powers so my younger siblings would beg me for the next installment. It wasn’t until I grew up a bit that I started to worry about things like passive voice, dialog tags, head-hopping, and whether I could write well enough for publication.

The problem is that if we focus entirely on the work of writing (improving our craft, marketing, building platform), it’s easy to forget the joy that brought us to writing in the first place. We forget to play. Our inner critic gains power, and that childlike voice of creativity can be squashed.

Do you ever feel blocked? Stressed about writing? Pressured to produce? Overwhelmed?

Sometimes, the best antidote is play.

Join me tomorrow for some writing play ideas, and give yourself some practice creating without that darned inner critic getting in the way.

Has your experience with the writing process changed over the years? How did you feel as a young writer compared to how you feel now?