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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Forced Creativity, part 1

A response to Reasons Why I Disklike BEDA by Kayley Hyde (owlssayhooot)

It’s become something of a tradition over the last few years for nerdfighter* bloggers  to participate in twice yearly months of daily blogging, called BEDA for Blog Every Day August and Blog Every Day April. Last year I took the solemn oath of a BEDA blogger and put fingers to keys 29 days out of the month. In 2008, I also attempted to write 50,000 words of a manuscript during National Novel Writing Month and failed spectacularly*.
Fellow nerdfighter, friend, and all-around awesome blogger/vlogger Kayley recently blogged about how she’s not sure these kinds of organized month-long attempts at scheduled creativity really do us much good as writers or readers.  In summary, Kayley concluded that BEDA and NaNoWriMo glorify quantity over quality, encourage mediocrity, and push people to create subpar blogs/stories just for the sake of making content.  My friend Hayley (YouTuber, blogger, and consumer of burritos) also posted some worthwhile thoughts on the subject that you can read here. My knee-jerk reaction was to agree wholeheartedly with Kayley’s hypothesis, but when I stopped to think about what BEDA and NaNoWriMo ask of us, I realized that we’re placing two vastly different projects into one umbrella category.
BEDA and NaNoWriMo are similar, I think, only conceptually. Writing a 200-500 word blog every day with no boundaries or rules about content is vastly different from trying to write 50,000 words worth of a novel in 30 days. Both can be good exercises, if used correctly, or complete wastes of time.
BEDA forces writers to think of a new blogging topic to cover every day.  Bloggers cheat themselves if they keep blogging about having nothing to say and, as Kayley observed, if you’re just going to cheat your way through BEDA, why bother? Free writing about having nothing to write is a fine exercise to get your fingers moving and words flowing, but it doesn’t often need to be posted on the internet. However, if you really challenge yourself to write a quality paragraph or two each day, you’ll start to find inspiration everywhere, start to see things in new ways. The ability to flex your creative mind like this is invaluable.
NaNoWriMo is a different monster. It exists to help people get ideas on paper, ideas that probably won’t ever venture further than their author’s word processor or perhaps the inbox of a trustworthy friend. I know several people who adore the NaNoWriMo process and use it as the opportunity to crank out a draft. The serious writers among them go back edit and heavily revise this draft before passing it along to a friend or writing buddy for feedback. I honestly think NaNoWriMo works for some people and not for others. If you’re the kind who needs to be motivated by a kind of game (if you write 50,000 words by the end of NaNo you “win”) or likes the challenge, awesome. But unlike BEDA, the art of novel writing requires planning, plot, character, and, story arc not to mention the ability to, like, move characters through situations and stories with strong, active sentence-level writing. The way NaNo is like, “Yeah! You can write a novel easy peasy in 30 days, even if you don’t know how to write!” is kind of silly. Some people can write strong novels in a month, I’m sure, but for most of us, our finished product is like to be a very long short story. In the case of NaNo, when you’re not actually writing material for anyone to read immediately, that’s fine. If it gets you writing, go for it. But just like you need the discipline to finish NaNoWriMo, you need the discipline to come back to your work, rewrite, and edit like crazy.
Which brings me to part 2.

*If you don’t know what a nerdfighter is, start here and here and also here.
**In my defense, I was taking 18 credit hours at school, working 30 hours per week, dancing 15 hours per week and planning a wedding. Also my story concept sucked.

Forced Creativity, part 2

This is the second part of my unnecessarily long response to Kayely’s blog post about why she dislikes projects like Blog Every Day April/August and National Novel Writing Month.  Read part 1 first.

Discipline is a more important component of creativity than most of us realize. The way I see it, people who wait until they feel inspired to create art will never reach their full potential as artists. Further, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to work professionally in a creative field if you’re used to the luxury of waiting for inspiration.
 Right now, most of my income comes from writing. Granted, it’s not the most creative kind writing, but it’s using combinations of words to communicate ideas. As I’ve been blessed to progress further in the field of freelancing, I've become a more disciplined writer by necessity. If your ability to pay rent depends on how much publishable content you can produce each week, you’re probably going to overcome that writer’s block really fast. If you have a book contract and a deadline, you don’t get to put your work on hold until you have a really good idea for that next chapter. You just have to do it. Dancerand choreographers face similar situations. You don’t get to put a show or gig on hold until you know you have the inspiration to do your best. You have to do your best possible work within the time frame you’re given. It’s not optional. It's your job.
I have never struggled much with discipline as a dancer, but writing discipline is a different story. I’ve already seen a dramatic improvement in my ability to sit down and pound out articles and stories without succumbing to Chronic Self-Editing Syndrome (CSES).
CSES  inhibits me from writing a sentence without erasing it and rewriting it with slightly different word choice a minimum of twelve times. With CSES, an hour or two of hard work will pass before I can even get a paragraph to stick to the page. It primarily strikes when I’m working on creative pieces like short stories and personal essay and makes me so sick of whatever I’m working on that I invariably give up or put the project on hold after just a few days of trying to write the same sentences over and over again.  In order to overcome CSES entirely, I’m going to take a leaf out of NaNoWriMo’s book and challenge myself to finish 25,000 words of an in-progress manuscript during the month of May.  We’ll call it Make Manuscript Progress May or MaMaProMay*.
In conclusion, BEDA and NaNoWriMo and other such projects are beneficial if you allow them to be and I really hope NaMaMaProMay helps me cultivate more discipline. Lord knows I could use it.

*How many awkward acronyms and abbreviations can I put in this post? 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Giveaway: Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder

I'm giving away a book! Scroll down to find out how to enter. 

Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder: Reclaim Yourself, Regain Your Health, Recover for Good

While working on a story about my eating disorder journey for a dance magazine (I'll link to it here when it's published in the fall), I had the wonderful pleasure of getting some advice and tips from Johanna S. Kandel, executive director of the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness and author of Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder: Reclaim Yourself, Regain Your Health, and Recover For Good. She was gracious enough to send me a copy of her book. At this stage in my life, I am wary of reading books that discuss eating disorders because I'm worried they might trigger old habits or cause me to dwell. In fact, one of the greatest things I ever did during the midway stages of my recovery was to purge all eating disorder-related literature from my life. As I began reading, however, I quickly realized that this was not your typical eating disorder book.

Kandel, a former ballet dancer, provides positive, gentle encouragement and advice for women and men in all stages of eating disorder recovery. In my experience, most eating disorder books fall into one of two categories: memoirs of the illness (like Wasted by Marya Hornbacher) or clinical guides to recovery, usually written by people who have never had an eating disorder themselves. Kandel's book resists these categories. Instead, she infuses practical advice for recovery with recollections from her personal journey. Unlike most memoirs or personal anorexia and bulimia stories, she avoids descriptions of harmful habits and thoughts that might trigger eating disorder sufferers. As Kandel mentions in the book, the problem with most movies and books about eating disorders is that they give people who are already at risk for eating disorders a step by step guide for how to do it "really well." Kandel's voice is honest but hopeful, encouraging but realistic.

I wish I had had this book while I was in the early stages of my recovery, but I am learning from it even now. She includes metaphors to help recovery anorexics, bulimics, binge eaters and everyone in between, visualize their mental processes and alter their negative thinking. The book, encourages the reader to take things moment by moment and to be okay with being okay. All of these mind habits are essential for perfectionists and those of us who tend to obsess about what we didn't do or what we plan to do but forget to be present for life.

Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder is nearly essential for anyone battling disordered eating. I can't recommend it highly enough and to prove it, I will be be giving away one copy of Kandel's book! To enter, you must be a follower of Dancin' Words on Google Friend Connect and leave a comment on this post. If you win, you'll get your choice of a paperback or Kindle copy. Leave a separate comment for each of these optional extra entries.:

1) Link to this giveaway on your  Facebook page or Twitter account (one entry for each link).
2) Link to this giveaway on your blog (three extra entries).
3) Buy a copy of the book for a friend in paperback or for their Kindle (five extra entries).

Remember you must first follow my blog on Google Friend Connect to qualify!

This giveaway will close on May 1 so tell your friends and help spread the word about eating disorder recovery!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The End of Art

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the role art plays in our lives.
For most of my life, I viewed my art--dance--as an end in itself. Like many dancers, I would sacrifice anything for the sake of my art. It was the nexus around which everything else in my life revolved. To me, it was a god.
In NYC, my tendency toward art-worship was encouraged by the city's professional dance scene. But something about the world I loved started rubbing me the wrong way. I started to see what idolatry of art was doing to artists. It became increasingly more painful to see so many gifted, driven artists who derived their self-worth only from their ability to create the art that they loved. If they couldn't serve their "god" the way the art said they should, they felt worthless. A few (too many) used the art as what I see as a kind of self-worship. They loved themselves in the art and with the right job, the right people, the right status, they felt like failures. Often these people (myself included) completely run themselves into the ground or worse--run others into the ground in the competitive show business marketplace.
Against all odds, my time in NYC brought me closer to the one true God. Even immersed in a dance world that encouraged the idolatry of the arts, God brought me back to Him. He became the center of my life. Well, most of it. During my week at Ad Deum Dance's spring intensive last month, I realized that I'd given every part of my life to the Lord, except one--dance. Since that week, I've started seeing dance and writing as means of communication with God, glorifying Him, showing Him to others. For so long my dancing was focused on my goals for my life. It was all about me. Now I'm learning to give it back to Him, to see art as a tool, not as a god.
I really admire artists of all faiths and personal convictions who use their art for a purpose greater than themselves. Be one of them. Make a difference.