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November 05, 2009

Priming the Pump

Priming the Pump

by Nancy Go to fullsize image

After a layoff of a few weeks to get my back fixed, I've returned to writing.  And after a week of spending way too much time polishing off the Halloween candy and basically wishing the %^#! book would write itself without any creative input from moi, I figured it was time to take action.

So I went back to The Artist's Way, a writing program I tried a few years back when I was trying to get the Blackbird mysteries off the launchpad. Paint me surprised when I discovered that Julia Cameron's excellent work is now available online--and free!--for any writer sufficiently desperate---er--hungry for inspiration to seek help on the internet.

(Allow me to insert here that I was also astonished to discover that Julia Cameron was once married to Martin Scorsese. Did everybody know this but me?)

Anyway, I highly respect all the theories and practices connected with The Artist's Way, but the two biggies that work for me are the morning pages (sit down and write two pages of anything, without fail, every morning) and the artist date, which is the weekly act of exploring something artsy that interests you, stretches you, hopefully inspires you. 

Instead of making the date weekly, I decided to take the express train and do something daily so I could get this #$%! book moving.

First, my husband and I went to see the Michael Jackson movie This is It. (OKay, I broke a rule already. The artist date is supposed to be solo.  But my husband loves going to the movies, and I couldn't deny the love of my life, could I?)

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Lemme tell you, the movie is terrific.  Especially if you have any theater or dance or musical experience at all, the peek at the collaborative rehearsal process is fascinating.  MJ had his problems, but the man was a creative genius. And I say this as a person who can't exactly call myself a fan--certainly not the kind of trembling, tears-glistening-in-the-eyes sort of fan featured in the film--but I recognized that he came up with some toe-tapping tunes in his lifetime.  Now I recognize that he had a lot more than that going for him. He really knew best what would be dramatic and entertaining and compelling to his audience. Maybe he has some trouble communicating his vision from time to time in the movie, but watching and listening to him try is really a glimpse into the mind of a genius.

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Have you seen the movie yet? Because I'd love to discuss it with somebody else.  My husband and I are still talking about it. 

I came home from the movie wishing I had some collaborative partner to bounce my book around with, but that partner is really inside me, right?  So I tossed some ideas around that evening and even woke up to scribble notes on scraps of paper in the dark.  Next morning, I talked to myself in the shower--always my most creative time. (Left brain is busy with the body and the right brain can roam around freely.) I was my own collaborator after all!  I just wish the result didn't involve going back to Page One on my book, but hey, it'll be a better book for that do-over. (And I can keep most of the pages I'd already written, so no real loss.)

With the artist date working pretty well so far, on Monday I decided to take a more careful look at a book of photos and essays about women and their relationship to their work.  The value of blue collar work is one of the themes of my new series, and another look at this issue was also enlightening.  I made more notes for my character and her friends. I was truly getting off on this artist date concept!

So my next trip was a jaunt to the local museum for a look at dinosaur bones.  Mind you, since I'm still using a cane from time to time (not so much because I need the help walking, but rather because people are so much nicer to a person with a cane!) the trip wasn't exactly jaunty.  But dinosaur bones figure prominently in my new book, and I figured I'd better get some facts and figures in my head to make it all authentic and whatnot. 

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Andrew Carnegie was one of the first dudes who was big into dinosaurs, and since he was a Pittsburgher, we have an excellent dinosaur exhibit at the museum that bears his name.  What a great trip!  I drew some sketches and made notes and came away with some hilarious (I think) ideas for the book.  The cupcake in the cafe afterwards was kind of inspiring, too.

So I'm enthusiastic again!  Revitalized! Back to work  with renewed vigor.  All because I'm taking time to prime the pump, as we say--letting myself enjoy and absorb somebody else's creativity to encourage my own.

Done anything similar for yourself lately?  Been to the theater? The symphony?  Tell me about it! I want to hear about your cultural experiences!

Personally, I'm on a cultural roll. My mother is coming here over the weekend, and we're going to the movie theater to see the "live" performance of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Turandot.  I haven't been to the opera since college (when my senior seminar was about opera---and I don't remember a thing!) but I expect it to be exciting and stimulating.  With luck, I'll come home and write up a storm.


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When you're finished seeing 'Turandot,' you'll remember Liu – for a long time, I'll bet.

We're going to The Folger Library next week to see 'Much Ado' with the granddaughters. They both like Willy Shakes already, so I'm hoping it gives us something to talk about.

But, based on your experience, 'This Is It' is starting to sound pretty good.

My last movie with Julie & Julia, which inspired me to join the rest of the blogging universe. Oh, and to eat.

I joined a critique group two years ago. The three other members are poets. Poets do creative stuff all the time--slams, open mics, events honoring Poe and the Beats, readings at the beach. I tag along like the uncool cousin, but hanging around creative people makes you more creative. I think. Hope.

I bought an xBox 360, and it came with "Lego Batman."

And that's about the level of my cultural exposure lately.

My daughter and I were going to go to see Turandot Saturday. Then when I checked for Rasafrats!!

lost sentence?? When I checked for times I found it playing only at 1pm. Both of us work till at least 2.

Tom--I think Much Ado is the perfect Shakespeare for young girls--after 12th Night. Enjoy!

I know I should enjoy poets, too, Ramona, but there's a guy here in my town who's such a downer, he's pretty much ruined the whole community for me. I should look up a different group, huh?

Josh? Is the X-box really the way to go?

Lynn, I think the opera only starts at 1pm because it's "live." (Which they claim, but my sister who actually attends the Met says the tape on Wednesday nights! So . . . which is it?)

I watch a lot of old movies. Does that count?

Has everyone been watching the Jeopardy Teen Tournament? Because it's inspiring and thought-provoking. Plus our viewing parties involve much creativity!

TONIGHT is the first night our Rachel Rothenberg plays. More in tomorrow's blog - but you have to catch the show when it airs because there are no re-runs!

Nancy - you should check the entertainment schedule at the Square Cafe. They have great poets, comedians and musicians when they have shows.

The Square has entertainment? (slaps forehead) Where have I been??

My "writing two pages every morning" usually involves TLC. Just sayin'. Is that sad?

Way to jar things loose, Nancy! Getting out, all by itself, helps, but to peek into someone else's creative process would be even more of a boost. Great advice, which I will take. I've been writing over 2000 words a day for NaNoWriMo, and now it's time to leave the cave, so to speak.

Turandot was a crazy, mind-bending experience for me. I saw it performed at Music Hall by the Cincinnati Opera with my husband's cousin. She worked with the opera at the time, and she had free tickets. Up until then the only opera I'd seen had been La Boheme, which, even in Italian and without surcaps had my friend and me sobbing. But Turandot blew me away. Not just the music (sigh), but the fact that it's about a Chinese princess, is performed in Italian, and has English surcaps. It took an entire act for me to wrap my brain around that odd juxtaposition of languages. So I'm thinking it would be perfect for jump-starting the creative process, just for the jarring it does to your ability to perceive.

Two more days til Elaine's signing!

Yesterday I accosted some women who were painting along side the road by Tomales Bay. I asked if they met regularly and could I join them. I learned a couple of months ago that if I do anything outside, I feel better if I partner with someone more comfortable -- so now I have a walk partner. This group of women meet irregularly throughout the county, so I am now in and will start priming my artist's pump.

Holly, it's so weird that you posted this yesterday. I was talking to my best friend just a few hours before about an artist's retreat she may have, with another friend teaching painting en plein air. Maybe this is a sign of a creative side trip I need to take.

Karen, I understand 3 of the Chinese characters are named Ping, Pang and Pong. So, not sure it's authentic Chinese.

Holly, there's a group of painters who meet in my nearby park! I'm not good enough to brave asking to join them, though.

Could it be that Puccini had never been to China? The libretto was apparently based on some Persian stories, so it sounds to me as though ole Giacomo just sort of winged it with the names, and a bunch of other stuff.

Typical opera, isn't it? Crazy shit just so a bunch of people can sing stirring arias. It rarely makes any sense. ;-)

Nancy, good post. Do you think kids would like THIS IS IT? My son became obsessed with MJ songs over the summer, but I'm wondering if there's enough singing/dancing in the movie to occupy a first-grader who doesn't care that much about "the persona" of Michael Jackson.


I'm in the middle of writing furiously for NaNoWriMo. The daily writing is key for me. On Saturday I'm heading to the author's fair to support some local talent and maybe even find some of my own. Thanks for the link to Julia Cameron, I'm definitely desperate, er, hungry enough for it!

Theater helps me think. I am revitalized by people getting up on a stage and taking the chance of either succeeding or failing. Don's theater company put on a free variety show two weeks ago. So much talent -- and so little outlet for these poets, singers, actors and comedians.

Kelley---yes, there's lots of singing & dancing & all the big MJ songs. But there's also a lot of rehearsal chitchat that a first grader might not enjoy. So buy the big box of popcorn for the slow moments.

Funny, but the audience we saw the movie with was mostly white folks over the age of 40. What's up with that, do you suppose?

Nancy, the issues in the Middle East will be resolved before there is agreement on which gaming system is best.

I got the xbox because it's what my children have at home, and I want to prove I love them better by having them over to play on the better xbox with the better TV and the (obviously) better parent. If they wanted sex, drugs, tattoos, any vice other than alcohol, I would procure that for them, if they made me think they would love me better. My son has not availed himself of the offers, and my daughter is apparently not yet aware of how easy it is to manipulate a non-custodial parent who is desparate to show that he still loves her in the face of the constant sniping about him from the parent with whom she lives.

I am so impressed by all the writers who are doing the NaNoWriMo. (Which sounds like some kind of nano technology to me.) Break a leg, everyone!

Josh? I have no words. But hang in there.

My most current culteral event lately, has been a bus-trip with my walking club.

Started out in Indiana, Pa. Did a 10k walkabout of Jimmy Stewart's hometown. Saw his childhood home, and the museum. Got my own bell to ring.

Then to Punxsutawney, Pa. where I learned more about ground hogs that I ever really needed to learn. Although, I did get to meet Phil, face to fur (within 6" anyway). Didn't get to see Phyllis, Barney or Stinky though. But the Phantastic Phils that are about town were very artistic!

Then we finished up with Clarion and Clearwater. Pretty, but nothing of note that stood out to me.

Next weekend will be a Gettysburg weekened with the walking club, as we do three 10k walks. Including the ghots walk! Oooooo.

In December, I am probably taking a bustrip with my mom to NYC with the Hanover VNA to see Wicked. Been there, done that. But they needed more participants, and mom didn't want to go alone, even though she knows some of the others.

Josh, you live near me. The next time I see an interesting poetry or writing event or anything fun in this area, I am going to make you attend.

Anyone else in the Delaware/Philly area? Because I think we need to give Josh a cheer-up intervention.

Glad to hear you're out and about, cane or no...and you're right. People open doors and pull out chairs and let you in the ladies and all that when you have that walking stick :o) I NEED the morning writing discipline, especially since I decided that November will see the finish of the second book...still no takers on the first, but hey...writing makes me happy. :o)
I haven't seen This Is It but know several people who have (none rabid fans) and they were all in awe as to the creative genius that was Michael Jackson. Whether he could deal with the real world or not, the man had talent and a knack for knowing what worked. It's on my list.
As for 'cultural stretching', I'm going to see The Men Who Stared At Goats tomorrow night. Aside from the fact that George Cloonet and Ewan MacGregor (and I think Hugh Jackson but I could be hallucinating)are in it...it looks hilarious. And next week we're going to a local theater production of Zombie Prom (the musical). Humor is cultural, right?

Turandot is my absolute favorite! I sing NESSUN DORMA in the shower!

Hijack: This is a charity that I really believe in (and not just because some designer created a dynamite logo!). I'm bringing it here because, you know, books.



I haven't done many cultural field trips, although my friend and are in our second year of season tickets to a wonderful theater in Philly that produces 5 plays a year. We enjoy it immensely, and call it our "date night" - neither of our husbands would ever do it with us.

My husband and I go to a lot of concerts, but they're mostly country music, so I'm sure none of you would consider thar culture. ;) However, I am excited that I have tickets to see Straight No Chaser in December.

I am ashamed to confess that I haven't seen many of the wonderful cultural opportunities Philly has to offer, except for the National Constitution Center, which is awesome.

I'm totally up for the Josh intervention. Maybe we should take him to the art museum, and make him run up the steps like Rocky.

Oh, Laura. I'm so envious of you Straight No Chaser tickets. I love witty harmony.

No, Puccini was never in China. Cultural authenticity wasn't an issue; selling tickets was an issue, exoticism sold, and Puccini could write fantastic tunes all day long.

Ping, Pang and Pong – the predecessors to The Three Stooges, minus "Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck."

Josh . . .

Debby---I lived in Indiana for 20 years. (And our Kathy was born there!) I'm so glad you took the tour! And for Punxsy---well, the less said the better.

Holly, we're totally open to hijacks. Cute!

Laura, one of the best cultural outings we've had since moving to Pittsburgh was the Dixie Chicks concert. Huge fun!

Does the Beauty and the Beast (25 minute) stage show at Disney World count as culture?

The last movie I saw was Transformers 2 . . . I am sure that doesn't count as culture at all.

Gaylin, I was actually fascinated by the architecture at Disney World. I sketched bits and pieces, took photos and went home to copy a few things in our house!

Nancy, I'm sure I have spent hours looking at architecture in various resorts, taking pictures and noticing details. Then I get home and look at the pictures and think what the heck is that! I have taken a few tours at WDW, the guides always remind people to look up, even the roof lines are detailed.

My culture for this weekend is going to the DMV for a new license and getting my hair cut. And hopefully not getting a cold as I sit in the office and sneeze - really loud.

Thanks Ramona, Laura! I'd be up for a reading or something.

The Art Museum steps? That's for tourists. Plus, it would remind me of going there with my family on the free Sunday mornings .

Great post, Nancy. I recently purchased Julia Cameron's "The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size," both for inspiration and for weight loss.

Julia noticed at the end of her several-weeks writing programs that people in the class had lost weight. She credited the morning writing exercise required of the participants as the key to the weight loss. Evidently as people wrote their three pages every morning, they started releasing anger, fear and whatever else may have caused them to eat more, and that resulted in people releasing the need to feed that emotion with food.

This post has encouraged me to start the program tomorrow. I have great hopes that my creativity will soar while my waist size drops. Hey, it could happen...

Paulina, I just went back to the 11/2 posts, and I'm glad I did -- What a story!! Love is so beautiful!!

I am green with envy at how much y'all are doing. My cultural interludes are whatever dance music is playing while my workout group is, you know, working out. Mind you, I wouldn't trade these ladies for anything - they really keep me going!

I'm told that Fame is a great song/dance movie for little kids. My trainer's niece apparently danced all the way down the aisle at the end of it, to everyone's applause :)

Nancy, if I can offer any assistance vis-a-vis your dinosaur bones, you know where to find me.

Now I'm going to replenish myself with a DVD and a snooze . . .

Kerry, I definitely think workout music qualifies as inspirational.

But the Julia Cameron diet--! Okay, you know we have a rule here at TLC about not discussing diets, but this is one book I may have to go looking for. Thanx, Becky.

WHOA!!! Is it true that today is William's birthday?? Our very own James Bond has finally turned 40?

Many happy returns of the day, oh, suave one!

Hey everyone, Been buried in NaNo. Since Sunday, the 1st, been non-stop, and I'm actually happy with them myself! Which, as writers know, is a rare and wonderful thing..:)

Thank you most kindly, Nancy...:) It's tomorrow.... and 40 is wayyyyyyyyyy back in my rearview mirror....:)

I just remembered I did see some short concerts while in Disney World, I saw Vanessa Carlton who was great, except for swearing into the mike when she made a mistake - Disney fired her . . .
And Taylor Dayne, puts on a great show but kind of slick.

Happy Birthday, William!

"Our very own James Bond has finally turned 40?"

He's 39. Repeat after me: "He's 39."

What an inspirational post, Nancy! I must admit that I am familiar with The Writer's Way. I bought notebooks to put my entries in. Last year I wrote two pages and stopped. I bought another notebook yesterday and convinced myself that yes I would make entries. I feel ashamed that I am not disciplined. I need a self-help book to nudge my journal enteries. I always feel energized when I see documentaries about old film stars and filmmakers. I also have become interested in art history. Music is divine and touches my soul. Congratulations on your accomplishments. Opera at the movie theatre is very intriguing. And Happy Birthday William!

Oops! I meant The Artist's Way!

Marie, it's all about discipline, which is boring, huh? But the morning pages can be absolute crap, you know.--Just jotting down my thoughts about the day ahead is what gets me rolling every morning. Nuthin terribly artsy, that's for sure.

William, that's great news about your progress! Just take some time for cake tomorrow, okay? We want to know you'll be well birthdaied!

Nancy I am so thrilled to get feedback from you. I went back to Julia Cameron's site and watched the Tarcher Speaks interviews and Julia ia a remarkable woman. Now I realize with your encouragement what is lacking in my life...a direction. And this is certainly a beginning. You surely have made my day. Thank you! I can hardly wait to read your new novels.


The only problem with NaNoWriMo is that you have to glue your butt to the chair EVERY day. And it's NOVEMBER. Which means that at least four of the days of this month are going to be spent with my family, who descend upon us for Thanksgiving (that's become our Christmas). And I spent all day today in the car, and will spend a chunk of the next two days in the car. How am I going to do this?

My count so far is 8,731, but that's not going to be enough of a headstart, I'm afraid. (On the other hand, it's almost 1/6 of the necessary words, AND it's more than I've ever written of a novel before now.)

I know: Whine, whine, whine. Be a real writer, and do this every day of your life. Sigh. Honestly, I don't know how you Tarts manage.

Karen? How we manage? We cheat. If you want to skip Thanksgiving, you stay up until 2am some other day. You live in your office. You sleep on the sofa. You drink a lot of whatever beverage keeps you awake. You become obsessed.

Marie, I was just over on Facebook where a writer friend was moaning about her lack of a plot for her current project and how she wasn't making any progress. In the next few minutes, though, she sent her latest results in three of those Facebook timesuck games--Farmville and others that I have no clue about. Uhm.......wonder why she doesn't see the connection?

ps. I do great writing in the car! As long as my husband doesn't play his Elton John Cds.

Karen, you may bring whatever writing material you need to St. Louis. We can arrange some quiet time . . .

I'll even let you choose the music . . .

Mary, you're so sweet. I'm just panicking for no reason. Heck, I don't even have a plot, so why should I worry about not typing enough words? LOL

Nancy, you are so right about the consequences of wasting time. Human beings have a giant capacity for self deception, don't we?

Self-deception. That's a novel unto itself, Karen.

It's so lucky for me to find your blog! I am very glad, and welcome you visit mine.

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