Two Gateways to the Garden of Creativity

My friend Beth G. Raps, Ph.D. is a linguist, mother, fundraiser, moneycoach, and philosopher, as well as a writer, editor and French translator. We share many common interests, and most of our conversations revolve around a gentle, kinder life, and about writing and creativity.

After a recent email exchange, I invited Beth to write a guest post on writing and creativity. My reply (which she encouraged me to share) to Beth’s inspiring piece is at the end of the post. I am very pleased to share my creative friend’s widsom with you, dear readers.

Dear Ellie,

The invitation you’ve given me to write for your blog is so sacred. I’m really into structure! And having to work within the structure of a single post–on someone else’s blog, where no one knows me–is especially enticing. I think a lot of writers secretly love structure, even though nowadays it’s not as popular as its complement, freedom. For me these are two gateways to the garden. If one gateway gets overused, its as if it got stuck in the “on” or the open position…the garden suffers.

This letter to you is about my love of taking “the gateway less traveled,” to paraphrase Robert Frost, the one less often opened nowadays–structure. I like structure so much I’m writing a whole book about it!  I see structure as an opening to creativity and more: manifestation. That’s an area in which I work with some of my coaching clients and even my consulting clients when they let me! If it’s appropriate, you can send people to find out more at this link: www.raisingclarity.com

My “Structure Book” (what is it about titles? I’m one of those writers who gives them at the end, not the start of a manuscript; right now I have five different titles) is in manuscript. It’s being read by a dear friend and I’m ready to see how it lands with others if anyone’s interested!

In it, at one point, I draw on the history of the mnemonic arts by Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory, especially her chapter on the classical memory art taught Cicero. Cicero said if you wanted to remember a speech, you created a house for it that was unusual, and then created rooms in your house for each major part of your speech, then placed unusual objects (like sculptures in wall niches) in the rooms that reminded you of the things you wanted to be sure to say in each part of your speech. To help you remember your whole speech, you enter the house, and go room by room to stand before each room’s unusual objects.

The ancient memory arts gave me permission to make even thinking about my writing important enough to set aside time and space for.
For me, thinking is tantamount to writing: once I’m in my set-aside time and space, I begin thinking. And then my fingers start to itch to write. What I write may be drivel! But I know I am putting in the time I need to on my writing.

You can see how natural it was for me, when you invited me to write, and because it was so sacred, to respond that that I would meditate on the subject of my post before getting back to you.  And then, in the magical way that life’s microcosms are a fractal of its macrocosm, I realized that the act of setting aside time to meditate on a piece of writing was probably more unusual, and more useful, to your readers than anything else I could write about.

Let me anticipate some readers’ response, and add that one of the best reasons to set aside time is what you may fear the most: having nothing come from your fingers once your set-aside time begins.

I’m sure many of us have read Writing Down the Bones: Natalie Goldberg’s advice in the event of “nothing to write” is simply to write anyway–write nonsense, keep the arm and fingers moving. Similarly, once you are in the time and space you’ve set aside, you are in the garden. If you keep faith with it, it will keep faith with you. The act of entering a creative space is itself creative.

Being present in our creative space just means showing up, committed but not always clear. The most glamorous garden activities are the most visible ones: planting seeds, or flowering, or fruiting or harvesting. We don’t always have to be in glamour mode. In our garden, we can weed or water or compost or simply contemplate what we’ve done thus far, our garden in its present state. We can noodle around or research or plan or meditate. We can read something inspiring or juicy or controversial to us, and free-write in response to it. We can take a bath (why can’t the garden have a bathtub in it?) and contemplate the back story of our main character. Or a minor character we find interesting. We can make ourselves a special treat in the kitchen, taking our time and dedicate it and the enjoyment of our treat to the fruition of our short story. We can go to a museum or a cathedral and walk around and think about the relationship of what we’re seeing to our essay or history.  We can re-read our last draft from start to finish as my favorite book on writing, Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel, says is when the real work begins, and we understand what we’ve created in an entirely new way.

I have lots more specific ideas but I’d love to hear what other readers of your blog think about and do with this idea!

Thanks again for inviting, Ellie!

–Beth

My response to Beth:

Dear Beth,

I’m very pleased to share your wonderful, insightful piece! I found myself nodding and smiling as I read along. Thanks for accepting my invitation; it’s an honor to share your wise words.

After reaching 57, 467 words with my work in progress, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, I couldn’t decide on an ending. My characters were doing things I hadn’t expected, so I stopped writing to sit with the story. I also watched movies, puttered around the house, painted a few pieces of furniture, and bought two books for further research.

As much as I’d like to put out one book a year, I must remain patient with the story, the characters, and with myself. I listen to my gut and spirit, and try not to fall prey  to kind and generous cries of, “We are ready for your next book.” I wasn’t ready.

Last night, the ending came to me, and how the entire story and characters fit together! How important it is to sit with our characters and the pasts we’ve created for them in order to know and understand what their next moves might be. My job is to listen, write, and not rush the characters and story along. And I agree with you: what I do in between is also important and necessary to the creative process.

I love my new story, I’m happy with the ending, and now, it’s time to think about structure, while remembering that the story is still baking until I write, ‘The End’. Even then, I allow myself time to think and honor my ability to edit and rewrite, just as I did for 25 years as a painter. When is a painting, a story ready to be shared with the world? When my gut tells me it’s time.

All the best with your book, Beth!  Thanks again. Off to write.

–Ellie

About Beth:

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Beth G. Raps, Ph.D. is a linguist, mother, fundraiser, moneycoach, and philosopher, as well as a writer, editor and French translator.  She blogs at:

http://www.raisingclarity.com/blog/

https://bethrapsblog.wordpress.com/blog/

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/rapsraps

About Eleanor:

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Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second novel, The Laments of Forgotten Souls, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

 

 

A special thank you to Beth Raps and Raising Clarity for the kind invitation to share my journey.

A Decent Woman Reinvents Herself and Her Situation: A Guest Post by Eleanor Parker Sapia

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OK, beloved readers, I have a treat for you: a true inspirational story that just happened to someone we know!

This interview was conducted with our soul-colleague Eleanor Parker Sapia about the life of her first book, A Decent Woman. Eleanor is an author and then some. She embodies “what goes around comes around”; she consistently highlights other writers’ work in her blog, The Writing Life. She is into her heritage and (as each of us is when we embrace who we are fully) universal. Her bio follows at the end of her interview for us on a recent challenge and her amazing turnaround. Blessings to you who read this and may they flow on Ellie for sharing hers with us!


Late last month, my family and friends joined me in celebrating a new publisher for my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman, after my first publisher unceremoniously announced they were closing their doors. My kids asked, “Mom, how did you find a new publisher so quickly?” Well, it didn’t happen quickly, and I had one month to turn an awful experience into a happy ending. I had no idea how in the world I would make that happen, but I couldn’t give up on my book.

I’m of the mindset that we attract people, places, and situations by what we think and believe. What we perceive as negative can often be for our highest good, with lessons usually not far behind, if we care to investigate and learn from the negative experiences. Those beliefs would soon be tested.

I won’t lie; mind-numbing, stunned disbelief overshadowed a fun weekend with my best friend when I received Booktrope’s fateful email on April 29, 2016. By Monday, I was spitting mad. Another dream come true had dissolved. Did I have the energy to gather my wits, listen to my gut, and act without fear while my stomach was in knots? Did I have a clue what to do next? “No” to both questions.

Months before learning about Booktrope’s closing, I revamped my query letter. I don’t know why, but I was thankful I had listened to my gut. By the following Wednesday, I’d sent out two query letters to small publishers, even before the full details of Booktrope’s pending demise became available, which as it turns out, didn’t reach us for a week. I’m sure you can appreciate the stress induced by an uncertain future of an already-published book, a bestseller. Add to that the stress of not only having my book yanked off Amazon on May 31, 2016, but the potential of losing 74 wonderful book reviews in a month’s time. If I did nothing, by June 1, 2016, it would look like my book had never existed.

Well, the weekend was brutal for all Booktrope authors, their families and friends, for creative team members, and for Booktrope staff members, who despite losing their jobs, tried to answer our many, many burning questions. It was a tough situation all around.

I did make a few early decisions which served me well. I decided the reasons Booktrope was folding weren’t helpful to know; it just hadn’t work out. The publishing model, while interesting, unique, and hopeful, had failed. I don’t enjoy or see the merit of going around and around in circles with the “why” something has happened…okay, except for dating the wrong man…in the past, which has caused me to go around and around, trying to figure out what went wrong. Right or wrong, these days, I prefer asking “why?” once and moving on.

The second decision was not to get involved in the myriad heated discussions on social media, and not joining in when the name-calling, bashing, and the legal threats started on Facebook. Now, don’t get me wrong, at times I felt unreasonable and childish, and wanted to give certain people a little piece of my mind, but I knew that wouldn’t have been helpful or useful for me. Instead, I followed only useful, positive Facebook threads started by Booktrope authors and creative team members, who offered helpful information about moving forward and finding new homes for our books.

It was very tempting to sit on my river porch with a wine bottle, tearfully watching the boats sail by. I thought of going on vacation, burying my head, doing anything, anything, but restarting the tedious query process. I knew if I sat passively on the sidelines, I would hurt myself, my book, and my writing career, but it was tough to move.

Some situations require action and others require gathering information, thinking, and sorting things out before moving forward. But I, we, 639 authors, didn’t have the luxury of time…correction, Booktrope hadn’t given us much time. We had one month to sort ourselves out, get over the pity party, and find new publishers for our books or self-publish. Sink or swim time. I had to preserve my sanity AND save my book that had taken me years to write and see published.

So, as much as it pained me to step away from the great momentum I’d reached with my current work in progress, I set it aside. Regaining my footing was crucial as the initial shock wore off, before my emotions careened out of control due to paralyzing fear, self-doubt, and a loss of self-confidence. Worrying was fruitless. Being proactive helped me regain my balance and composure, and believe me, Booktrope’s announced closing ranked right up there with the time I dropped my only laptop on a concrete sidewalk. The hard drive had shattered and I’d lost most of my documents and all of my photographs. I began querying publishers before something worse happened.

Interestingly enough, starting the odious query process gave me the time and breathing room I needed. Baby steps made me feel more in control of my life, and reading the weekly emails from Booktrope, turned out to be far more appetizing and easier to digest than one huge info dump. While waiting for replies from publishers, I learned what I could about self-publishing from generous fellow writers, editors, and cover designers, who’d either helped put together a self-published book or had self-published themselves. I contacted a few trusted author friends, who like me, had never self-published, and a few who’d self-published several successful books. My friends replied with gracious information and assistance, if I decided to go that route, and most importantly, they offered the emotional support and friendship I desperately needed. I also reached out to a few Booktrope authors who I knew were struggling, hoping to be helpful and supportive. I am very grateful to all of them.

To keep myself clear and balanced while I waited to hear back from publishers, I practiced self-care. I didn’t isolate, but I sure thought about how my foundation had crumbled under my feet…again. I’d survived a financially devastating divorce after 25 years of marriage; I’d left my dream home in the south of France to move back to the US with my kids; and I’d survived on very little money as a single, working Mom of two college-aged kids. I’d graduated from massage therapy school at age 50 (trust me, it’s a pre-med course), and had reentered the dating game at age 50, which wasn’t easy! I’d bought a house in West Virginia, where I didn’t know a soul, and I decided to write full-time, which meant many, many sacrifices. Yes, it all worked out, thank God; much better than I’d ever dreamed possible, but it was tough going for a few years. How was I back to reinventing myself? Why?

I’d turned struggles and challenges into goals met in the past. I could do it again. Life was good, I’d tell myself in the morning, only to feel overwhelmed again by the afternoon. I continued writing out my blessings until I felt better. It became a mental game—a combination of being my own cheerleader and “fake it until you make it.” But Ego kept a good grip by reminding me of all I’d given up for writing, and then whispering, “It’s not worth it, Ellie. Too hard, too hard.”  Yes, there were many sacrifices to living the writing life. I’d accepted the solitary life of a writer with its myriad publishing woes because I love to write. I didn’t have much of a social life and wasn’t traveling as much as I like, but I was happy. My kids were happily thriving; my health was much improved, and then BAM. I found myself on my knees, yet again, at 58 years of age. The negativity reentered. Whatever happened to enjoying my golden years in peace and tranquility? Wasn’t it my turn to breathe free and easy for a while, after years of strife and heartache?

Well, I spent the first week in April licking my wounds, enjoying daily naps and lots of movies. I gardened, read, and followed the Booktrope story on social media, which wasn’t looking pretty. We were now called the Booktrope survivors and had a hashtag, which felt like a label. I used it once and disregarded it, but it was true—we were publishing orphans in a tough publishing world. We were frightened, angry, and lost, but I knew we’d survive.

My fears were temporarily assuaged by joining a Facebook support group page started by Booktrope authors. The members offered answers, hope, support, and information. I kept my hopes up, but it seemed the more I knew about the publishing world, the worse I felt. I started to feel unbalanced and a bit out of sorts again. How in the world would I find a new publishing home for my bestselling novel by May 31, 2016, Booktrope’s final day? Enough already!

To keep my sanity and clarity, I continued my regimen of self-care in the forms of prayer, meditation, and practicing Usui Reiki on myself. I gathered the ancestral, spiritual arsenal available to me and went quiet. I protected myself and blocked out the confusing, outside world of too much information coming at me from too many directions. I was still. I listened. I prayed. I waited. I walked and listened. I protected myself.

I rewrote my list of blessings and meditated on them, remembering how blessed I truly was despite the new bump in the road. I practiced gratitude and reconnected with family and friends. I gardened to my heart’s content and reconnected with friends on social media. I lit candles and recited prayers of protection and for guidance. I prayed the right people would enter my life.

Two weeks after the publishing fiasco, I emerged stronger, more in balance, and open to receive. I was clear enough to sift through and recognize good, useful publishing information and advice. I was ready to receive the blessings I knew were coming, and when I felt fear nudge me, I physically swept it away from my mind, body, and soul with Reiki. And then new blessings came to my life. Synchronicity and serendipitous events happened left and right. I was ready to act. I’d managed to see my book, A Decent Woman in print once; and I would do it again.

Well it turned out, unbeknownst to me that the fabulous editor of my book, Ally Bishop, had started a small publishing press called Scarlet River Press, which is now an imprint under Sixth Street River Press. When I told Ally I planned to self-publish my book, she sent me an email and an open door. A week later, I signed a publishing contract with Sixth Street River Press.

Two weeks later, A Decent Woman was selected as a Finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now.

In one month’s time, my book, which had been in danger of turning into a ghostly relic of the past, became an award-winning book. I can’t honestly tell you how that happened, but I can say I was open to receive and I didn’t give up on my dream. I also entered the competition in February 2016. We do have to act!

Each of us is on a personal journey, where some paths are straight and narrow, others are wide and curving. Up the mountain and low in the valley we go; it’s life. Sometimes we hike up, reach the goal, and sit on the plateau for a good long time. Other times, it seems there is no rest in sight, but the momentum is good, so we keep putting one tentative foot in front of the other.

I believe it is necessary and useful to reinvent ourselves several times in one lifetime. While I didn’t plan on reinvention, I’ve done just that several times since 2006. Last month, while awful, wasn’t life-threatening, although it sure felt like it. I have faith and hope that all will go well.

Blessings to you and yours.


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Award winning Puerto Rican-born novelist Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s career paths as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s award winning novel, A Decent Woman, set in turn-of-the-nineteenth century Puerto Rico, is published by Scarlet River Press. The book is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now! Eleanor is featured in the award winning anthology, Latina Authors and Their Musesedited by Mayra Calvani. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society. She is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reading, gardening, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time. Eleanor adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, and the sequel to A Decent Woman. Find her on Twitter @eleanorparkerwv and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia . More information about her, her work and the blogs she writes for are athttp://www.elliesbookz.wordpress.com.


PS: I asked Ellie about the image on the cover of the book. It’s of a wooden, hand-painted statue of Our Lady of Montserrat, which Eleanor purchased while volunteering at the Catholic shrine of Lourdes, in France. The statue is made by Artisanats des Monasteres de Bethleem de l’Assomption de la Vierge et de Saint Bruno and Heather Parker, Eleanor’s daughter, is the photographer.