Sunday, May 23, 2010

Musings on Inspiration

A version of this interview appeared earlier this month on Dan Stone's First A Dream blog.

Mark David Gerson on Inspiration 
(Interviewed by Author Dan Stone)

This week’s “Musing on Inspiration” features gifted author, teacher/coach and visionary Mark David Gerson.

DS: How do you define ‘inspiration’ for yourself?

MDG: Inspiration is that spark of creative fire that fuels not only my writing but my life. It’s that aha moment in which a bolt of clarity suggests a project, a direction….sometimes even just a word or a step. Like a flash of lightning, it’s that momentary illumination that reveals just enough information to get me going or, if I’m already going, to keep me going. It’s not the whole picture, or the whole story…or even the whole scene. It’s just the minimum required to ignite my imagination and my faith.

What inspires me? I think life is what inspires me. At the same time, I enjoy living in inspiring places and have lived in many. Although I’m about to move to Los Angeles, I’ve spent the past several years living in the mountain foothills of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Being able to walk in those natural areas has been very inspiring to me. It has grounded me and opened my heart. I think that anything that opens our hearts is a potential source for inspiration, and I’m sure the ocean will pick up where these mountains have left off.

DS: What do you think first inspired you to become a writer/artist? Can you identify a moment or experience or influence that turned you in that direction? And where did it lead you?

MDG: When I was in school, I hated writing….anything creative. What I see now is that I was afraid. I was trying to avoid anything that involved the potential for judgment, that didn’t exist in that fuzzy realmbetween black and white. As a result, I gravitated towards math, because if I somehow recognized that if I got the right answer, I couldn’t be judged.

Apparently, though, my Muse had different plans for me and had marked me as a writer from day one. I just had to be eased, unknowingly, into the process. It began in high school, when I somehow got talked into doing publicity for a high school musical production and had to learn to write press releases. From that safe (because it was formulaic) place, I began to do more publicity and PR work, which led me into some journalistic work and a surprisingly lengthy stint as a full-time freelance writer and editor. Each of these steps propelled me to the Point of No Return: a creative writing workshop that an editing colleague persuaded me to take, against my better judgment, in the early '90s in Toronto.

That workshop was a life-changing experience, a nurturing, supportive environment that belied all my fears and beliefs about writing classes. The experience not only sparked a creative awakening but also a spiritual awakening. It also turned out to be my gateway into teaching about writing and creativity and into coaching writers.

DS: What is your most ‘inspired’ work? Why?

MDG: Many of of my readers might say it’s The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, my book about writing. But for me, it’s my novel, The MoonQuest, probably because it’s a powerful metaphor for my own journey through and past my creative blocks.

The story, about a mythical land where stories are banned and storytellers are put to death, begins with the main character as an old man, pushed by a “dreamwalker” to write the story of his MoonQuest, the odyssey that restored story and vision to the land and light to a darkened moon. So often, when I give readings from that prologue and encounter his resistance to his stories, I’m reminded of my own. And so often, it moves me so deeply that it’s difficult not to cry.

I didn’t know I was writing my own story when I wrote The MoonQuest. Frankly, I didn’t know what I was writing when that story was coming out of me! In fact, I knew nothing at all about the story when I began…or, rather, when it began me. That it takes a profoundly personal story and turns it into something universal — and that it does it in a way that transcended my conscious awareness as I was doing it—still moves and humbles me.

DS: Describe your muse, and how you invoke your muse, and do you use rituals?

MDG: Given the title and cover of my writing book, I’d better be careful how I answer this one! Seriously, despite the book’s cover, I don’t see my Muse in human-like form. Rather, I see it as an energetic force, a free-flowing river of creativity that’s always available to me.

I don’t believe Muses need to be invoked. I believe the Muse is always present and willing to speak. We’re the ones who need to be invoked! We’re the ones who turn away and say, “No, not your way. I want to write it my way. No, not your story. I want to write a different one.”

As long as we’re in a place of surrender to that creative source that is our Muse, it will always speak. And as long as we surrender to all that it would have us write, we will never be be blocked. I rarely engage in pre-writing rituals anymore, though I used to meditate before beginning — not to call in the Muse, but to put myself in a more receptive state for its words and stories. These days, I just sit down with some gentle, ambient music and begin.

DS: What is your take on the notion that any artistic creative work is more about perspiration than inspiration?

MDG: Honestly? I think it’s bullshit! Of course, unless we’re writing there is no output. But the notion of perspiration suggests heavy labor. And although writing can be difficult at times, that difficulty is all about our resistance to the story our Muse would have us tell.

The more we surrender, the more access we have to inspiration and the less laborious is the process. At its best, creativity is about playfulness not hard labor. The more playful we can be, the less seriously we take ourselves and the process, the easier it always is.

DS: What do you think is the most problematic misconception about inspiration?

MDG: That we have to do something to access it. Inspiration is around us in any and every moment we’re open to it. There’s no switch to flick, no Muse to invoke. When our hearts are open to our lives and to the world around us, inspiration pours in. Then it’s our job to listen, to surrender, to trust the process…and to write it all down.

DS: List a few tools or practices or methods that work reliably for you to get you in the mood to create.

MDG: Rather than shifting into a zone, I do my imperfectly human best to live in the zone — to keep my heart and mind open, to live in a place of trust and surrender in all aspects of my life, not just my writing life. When I’m feeling stuck or shut down, a walk in nature will usually shift my energy and my mood — again, not just in my writing, but in my life.

For me, life and creativity are inextricably linked. If I’m living from a place of passion and faith, there’s less I need to do to switch gears. And if I’m experiencing writing issues, I need to look at my life, where the underlying causes of those issues most often reside.

DS: What are you currently feeling inspired to do?

MDG: Where do I begin!? I could talk about my works in progress (a sequel to The MoonQuest and a just-started memoir). But in truth, inspiration for me is less about specific projects than it is about a way of life. So I would say that I feel inspired to trust more, surrender more fully and life more heartfully — in my life as well as in my writing.

Dan Stone's original interview

More about my coaching services

Dan Stone is author of The Rest of Our Lives, a compelling, original story that is sure to touch you with its humanity and universal wisdom.
I interviewed him in November for my Muse & You radio show.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Muse & You with Mark David Gerson (#11): Radio About Writing, Creativity & Life

Episode Eleven: Thursday, May 20, 1pm ET

(click here to listen live or to listen to or download the archived version any time after the show airs)

• Inspiration for your creative life and to help you live creatively
• Ask the Writing Coach (your questions for me about writing and creativity)
• Feature interview with Diane Dennis, author of The Hourglass: How To Live As Time Flies By

What would you do if you knew, really knew, that your time was finite? What would you do, for example, if you were told you had only a year left to live?

Questions like these have been asked so often in so many contexts that they've almost grown trite and cliched. Yet they were life-alteringly serious to the Portland women in late-stage ovarian cancer whose journey Diane Dennis has chronicled in her deeply moving book, The Hourglass: How To Live As Time Flies By.

This wasn't a book Diane planned to write (an experience with which I profoundly identify). Rather it emerged, unexpectedly, from the ashes of a TV series that had exploded into hot tempers and legal battles after two years of planning. With that project beyond resuscitation, a distant, disembodied voice -- the voice of her muse -- kept urging Diane to put into words what she could no longer portray visually. The result was a book described by author Anne Jackson as "remarkable" and "inspiring."

But The Hourglass is about much more than death and dying. It's about life: Diane's life and all our lives. It's about doing more than paying lip service to the spiritual dictum that would have us live in the moment. It's a recognition that old ways of past- and future-dwelling are no longer sustainable.
From the women who pass through the pages of this book, I have learned the value and power of living in the moment. Slipping through the hourglass, they have shaped each kernel of sand into moments that count. Time gives no refunds. I have come to accept that the future is a figment of my imagination ...

And when all is said and done ... all I own, all you own, is the moment. And it is up to you and up to me to make that moment shine. I've learned to take the vast time I once wasted by dwelling on the past and forecasting my future and bestow it to each moment. Now my moments explode with love, intention, purpose and passion. Live in the moment. Please join me there.
~ Diane Dennis, The Hourglass
In this episode of The Muse & You, you'll hear how Diane's journey and the journeys of these Portland women came to intersect and you'll discover how all those journeys are all our journeys. It's an inspiring story -- from the book's birth to all that it has to offer us in its completion. I hope you'll join me for what I know will be a profound and uplifting conversation.

As usual during the The Muse & You, I'll also offer some writing tips and inspiration and take your questions about writing and the creative process and about me and my books, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy. We may even have time for that guided meditation for writers we didn't get to last month.

Please tune in, and bring your questions -- for me and for Diane!

There are three ways to ask questions of my and my guests or to post comments:
• Post your questions in the show's chat room (free Blog Talk Radio account required)
• Post your questions directly to me on Twitter (@markdavidgerson)
• Post your questions directly to me on on my Facebook wall

The Muse & You with Mark David Gerson, is all about writing, creativity and life -- an opportunity to listen to writers and creators of all sorts talk about how and why they create and, of course, about what they create. It's also an opportunity for you to ask your questions -- of both me and my guests.

Listen to The Muse & You with Mark David Gerson on the third Thursday of every month at 1pm ET (10am PT). June's guest: author Lev Raphael.

The Muse & You Show Archive
If you miss any live broadcast, you can listen to the archived episode, which is available immediately after each show on the show's web page. You can also download any show directly into your computer for later listening.

#7 ~ Jan 21 ~ Cristina M.R. Norcross, author of Unsung Love Songs

#6 ~ Dec 17 -- Karen Walker author of Following the Whispers

#5 ~ Nov 19 -- Dan Stone author of The Rest of Our Lives

#4 ~ Oct 15 -- Kristin Bair O'Keeffe author of Thirsty

#3 ~ Sept 17 - Joanne Chilton and Jeanne Ripley co-authors of Wings to Fly

#2 ~ Aug 20 -- Jared Lopatin, author of Rising Sign

#1 ~ July 29Julie Isaac, founder of Twitter's #writechat, and Malcom Campbell, author of
The Sun Singer and Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vision & Revision II ~ A Radical Approach to Editing

What follows is Part II of my two-part series on my radically heartful approach to polishing your work and your words.

As I noted in Vision & Revision I, we're accustomed to seeing the editing process as a harsh, left-brain, punishing activity. What I propose instead is a new paradigm, one that respects your work in all its drafts and that also respects you as its creator.

One way to start on that path, apart from crafting a vision statement for your work is to let these seven principles guide you as you shape, hone and polish your words.

1. Be detached but loving.
Let your work sit quietly for a time before you launch into revision. That time could be a day, a week, a month or six months. And it could be longer or shorter from one piece of work to the next. The key is to give both you and your work the space and distance that allow you to approach it heartfully, objectively and discerningly. Respect your initial draft. Respect all your drafts. Don’t be a slave to them. Allow your work to grow, change and mature.

2. Read aloud.
Whenever practical, read aloud. We are always more attuned to language, rhythm and flow when we read aloud. We often read more thoroughly when we read aloud. You will want to read your work silently as well, of course. But particularly at the beginning and each time you make major changes, your voice will tell you where you have strayed off course.

3. Be respectful, gentle and firm.
Treat each draft as you would your child — with love and without judgment. Revision is not about taking a broadax to your creation. It’s about treating each draft as a necessary stage in its growth toward maturity. Just as you gently, sometimes firmly, guide your children toward the fulfillment of their unique destinies, guide your work with that same spirit of respect — for yourself as creator as well as for your creation, which has its own vision and imperative.

4. Accept that language is not perfect.
Do your best to bring your heart and vision to the page. Do your best to write the words and paint the images that most accurately reflect your dream and intention. As you revise, never hesitate to seek out more forceful and evocative ways to translate your vision onto the page. But remember that translation is an art and that language can rarely more than approximate emotion and experience. Think of the most wondrous scene you have ever witnessed and imagine trying to recreate that in words. You can come close. Yet whatever your mastery of the language, you will not recreate every nuance of your vision, emotion and experience. And that’s okay.

5. Respect your intuition.
As you become more adept as a writer, more in tune with your work and its vision, and more in touch with your Muse, you will gain an intuitive knowingness of what works and what doesn’t, without always being able to articulate why. That inner compass will direct you to the appropriate improvement or solution — again, often without explanation. Trust your intuition. It’s the voice of your Muse, the voice of your vision. And it won’t lead you astray.

6. Do your best.
Do your best to commit your vision to paper. Do your best to polish, enrich and enliven your work so that it aligns with that vision. Do your best on each piece of writing and, when it’s time, let it go so that you can create a new work and do your best on that one as well.

7. Be the writer you are.
Each piece of writing will teach you, and from each piece of writing you will mature in your art and your craft. Strive for excellence not perfection. Be the writer you are.

• Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.
(c) 2008 Mark David Gerson

Too often as writers, we view the editing process as a harsh, left-brain activity filled with violent and abusive language: We force our work to our will. We gag, restrain or reign in in our characters. We hack away at our words, whip our work into shape or beat our work into submission. It’s a dysfunctional paradigm that holds us back as writers and disrupts the organic flow essential to all creation.

Vision & Revision: An Intuitive Approach to Editing, my final Albuquerque writing workshop before my move to L.A., aims to help you discover a more heartful approach to polishing your work and your words.

This radical departure from traditional editing techniques is more effective than the old way because it respects both the inherent wisdom of your manuscript and your innate knowingness of what works and what doesn’t. It’s neither a left-brain method nor is it a right-brain one. It’s whole-brain and whole-body approach that will revolutionize your view of editing and revision.

Click here to register or for more information on the May 8 workshop.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Vision & Revision I

We're accustomed to seeing the editing process as a harsh, left-brain activity too often filled with violent and abusive language: It's about forcing the work to our will, gagging, restraining or reigning in our characters, hacking away at our work or banging our manuscript into shape. Yet when we treat our drafts with such disrespect, we're also disrespecting ourselves as its creator.

What follows is Part I of a two-part series on a more heartful approach to polishing your work and your words.

See the editing process as one of re-vision, of revisiting your original vision for your work and putting all your heart, art and skill into aligning what's on paper with that vision.

As you move through your piece -- whatever it is, whatever its length -- see yourself as a jeweler, delicately etching your rough stone into the gem that reflects the vision your heart has conceived and received, then lovingly polishing it until you achieve the look and texture you desire.

Your vision is the light force of your work, the life force of your work. It's the spirit that is its essence, the breath that keeps it alive. Your vision is your dream for your work, the expression of your intention. It's what guides it, drives it and propels it -- from conception to completion.

The more deeply you stay connected to that vision -- however broadly or specifically you have drawn it -- the more completely the finished piece will remain true to that life force, that dream, that intention. And the truer you will be to the work that has called upon you to commit it to paper and breathe life into it.

Creating a vision statement is one way to maintain and strengthen that connection. In the vision-statement examples that follow, the first is the one I created for The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write before it was finished. The others were written by coaching clients and workshop/coaching-group participants, the first and third are for works-in-progress and the second is for the overarching spirit of the writer's work.

The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write is about freedom: freedom to grow, freedom to create, freedom to write. Through a dynamic blend of motivational essays, inspiring meditations and practical exercises, it nourishes, nurtures and reassures its readers, inspiring them to open their hearts, expand their minds and experience, with ease, a full, creative life.
~ Mark David Gerson

• Through the eyes of Lily Addams, A House of Gold will explore the arrival and lives of the Chinese immigrants here in Sacramento and the Foothills during the Gold Rush, as well as the possibilities for women during this transitional time in the Golden State. At a deeper level, at the very “heart” of the book, will be a story about the heart and becoming and staying whole-hearted through triumphs and trials, as well as through the daily joys and hurts that make up our lives. It is a book about heart, for heart, and by heart.
~ Sue Cross

• Writing is choosing to dance with the The Goddess of Creativity, choosing to be in service to the Universe, choosing to surrender with Joy and Love to the Voice and Story that allows itself to be expressed through my Being and my experience.
~ Vicki Daigneau

Remembering Your Divinity, A Co-Creator’s Guide to Manifesting by Heart is about creating -– by heart. Through a blending of science and mysticism, Remembering Your Divinity reminds you of who you are, why you are here, what it means to be a conscious co-creator, what creative energy is, how it flows, and how to use it, why the heart is the key to manifesting, and provides tools to stay in the flow of your creation so that you live as the God/Goddess that you are!
~ Joan Cerio

What's your vision for your work-in-progress or for your work as a writer?

• For more information on how to articulate a vision statement for your work, see "Awakening Your Vision" in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.

I'll be offering a full-day workshop on "Vision & Revision: A Radical Approach to Editing" on Saturday, May 8 in Albuquerque, New Mexico as my final workshop here before moving to Los Angeles. Included will be an exercise to help you create vision statements.

Click here to register or for more information on the workshop.