Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Keeping the Channel Open

We're in the midst of a series of posts sharing quotes intended to provide everyone with some mid-year inspiration. I don't know about you, our readers, but these quotes  have already helped me, especially the one April shared last week from Marla Frazee. In particular, I was struck by this sentence:
"The more personal and heartfelt the story is for the author and/or illustrator of the book, the more universal the emotion that can be gleaned from it."
These words opened my eyes to a problem with my current work-in-progress: I wasn't putting enough of myself into the story. This was probably due, at least in part, to the fact that the novel is based on the life of a girl who lived nearly 300 years ago. Reading the above quote reminded me that I had to find a way to connect with my protagonist on an emotional level if I wanted my readers to do so, too. After thinking more about my character and her situation, I did indeed find some things we have in common. I'm currently reworking the story to make that "universal emotion" come through. Thanks so much to Marla, and to April for sharing her words!

The quote I'm sharing today is one I recently gave a dear friend of mine who I'll call Debbie. For years,  Debbie's dreamed of writing a screenplay or novel. But, as so many of us do, she put more practical pursuits ahead of her dream--earning a living, helping out with the family business, raising her daughters. Now that her older daughter has graduated college and her younger is away at school, Debbie has more time to pursue her dream. Yet she's still hesitant. So for her birthday, I gave her a blank journal, a pen, and this quote from Martha Graham:
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open."
Funny thing is, as I typed up this quote to give to my friend, I realized I needed it as much as she did. I'd begun to doubt the value of my work-in-progress and to question that anyone could ever care as deeply about it as I did. Reading Graham's words reminded me that I was uniquely qualified to tell this story simply because I cared about it in a way no one else could.

So, after printing out Debbie's copy of the quote, I printed a second for myself. It now sits on my desk as a daily reminder to "keep the channel open."

I invite everyone to try the following  Writing Workout with Graham's words in mind. (You can read the rest of the quote at   

Writing Workout
Keeping the Channel Open

One way to "keep the channel open," is via timed freewriting. I first read of this technique years ago in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. In a timed freewriting session, the idea is to keep your pen moving without pausing and definitely without editing. (I recommend doing freewrites with pen and paper rather than at a keyboard.) If you find yourself stuck, you write something like "I don't know what to write next but I'll think of something soon." If your mind wanders away from your main topic, that's fine. Just keep writing.
For today's Writing Workout:
  1. Open your journal to a blank page, or take out a blank sheet of paper.
  2. At the top of the page, write: What idea is calling to me that I keep pushing aside? What might happen if I pursued it?
  3. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  4. Write a response to the above questions. Try to write without stopping. Don't edit yourself. Keep the channel open and let your thoughts flow until the timer goes off.   
  5. If you get stuck, write: I don't know what to write next but I'll think of something soon. Write it multiple times, if necessary.
  6. If you can, come back and tell us how the exercise worked for you.
You can read more about timed-freewriting at Getting Started: Freewriting, which includes a freewriting example.
Happy (free)writing!


Linda B said...

Thank you for your post, Carmela. What a wonderful quote to help keep going in the risky business of putting down our words. I have actually told students that what they say can't be said by anyone else because it is 'their own story', but certainly didn't say it quite so eloquently. I appreciate the sentiment.

Carolee Dean said...

I appreciate your comments on needing to find a way to connect with your protagonist and having difficulty relating to a character from the past. It's exactly what I need to do with the characters I'm working on presently. Thanks for the insights.

Carmela Martino said...

Linda, hurray for you encouraging your students! I try to do the same, so after finding Graham's words, I let her do it for me. :-)
And Carolee, glad to be of help. I'm SO enjoying the revision process as I work to put more of myself into my novel. Hope you have a similar experience with your writing.