Many people need desperately to receive
this message: 'I feel and think much as you do,
care about many of the things you care about,
although most people do not care about them.
You are not alone.
- Kurt Vonnegut
Weddings. Graduations. Vacations. Summer Jobs.
And for many, Summer Camp!
I have decided to found and attend my own invented imaginary virtual writers’ summer camp: CAMP COWBIRD! Right here!
How’s that again?
Yes. I decided that my participation here needed a bit more discipline, focus and mindfulness, and to imagine myself, here, in my own virtual writers’ summer camp seems a useful exercise.
Maybe even for you as well? You decide!
How did this happen?
I recently did an evaluation of my purpose for being here, and asked myself a lot of questions, which appear in the Footnote to this Story, “EVALUATION,” (See below)
This evaluation was sparked by one of Clem Page’s Stories in which he talks about feeling in overload.
I include the text of my response to Clem’s concerns below, but in case you do not have the time to read it, I will share, here, what emerged from my reflections about my purpose here, and how I can serve my Inner Writer, you, my audience, and our Cowbird Community.
A Summary, if you will. A “Summer Camp Summary”!
As I pondered the various questions I posed to myself, I realized that to date, I have not practiced much discipline in my Story postings, and that if I am going to create CAMP COWBIRD for myself, I need to institute some guidelines.
It is that time. There is just too much out there, and people are getting lost in it. I am getting lost in it, and I am getting lost trying to respond to it.
All communities, sooner or later, need some purposeful structure, but in a community where it is pretty much open space, each of us has the opportunity to create our own guidelines.
Thus, I invite those of you who agree with these guidelines to join me, and when inspired, sprout a few of your own.
So that is it!
My personal CAMP COWBIRD is in session, and here are the guidelines which I have decided I need to follow to create my best work, make my most constructive contribution to our community, and give your own work my best attention:
1. I will only post one story a day.
2. I will follow the guidance of Ernest Hemingway: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” And then the next. And the next.
3. I will do everything I can to continue to grow and learn as a writer, just as if I was in a real world writing workshop. I will experiment, push the envelope, take risks, risk offending you, risk delighting you, speak my truth, and continue to do what I have done all my life: write from my heart.
4. I will spend approximately 3 hours writing, editing and polishing, and creating art for every one hour spent reading Stories. This means a four hour per day commitment to a project, a place, and people I love. Anyone can of course set their own schedule, but this is mine. I am a serious writer, just like you, and i am here to write.
As the King says in the play, Amadeus, “There it is.”
I hope these guidelines, and my evaluation questions below are useful to you in creating your own version of CAMP COWBIRD here if that sounds like fun.
And I hope if you have ideas, thoughts, suggestions and guidelines of your own, that you will sprout them here. I look forward to your own reflections and insights.
Socrates said it best: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
And so with us writers.
You and me.
Thanks for your support on this magical, expansive, beautiful journey!
FOOTNOTE: This is the Story I refer to, titled “Evaluation,” in which I share some of the questions I have been asking myself about my participation here, which led to the conclusion, outlined above, that it is time for me to create some healthy guidelines for myself, and start my own virtual writing camp within our larger community: CAMP COWBIRD. Welcome!
Clem Page, being a good planner, mindful lawyer and honest soul, has CONFESSED!
Like others before him, his Cowbird chalkboard is eating him alive.
He is in overload. This is not an uncommon Cowbird phenomena!
Today, I too am feeling in overload. Thanks, Clem, for ‘speaking the unspoken’ here!
Wordsworth said it well:
So many worlds,
so much to do,
so little done,
such things to be!
I have noticed that many aspiring writers publish voluminously, and then disappear. Overload.
Some writers focus on building audiences rather than doing what we are supposedly here to do, which is WRITE. These folks tend to burn out, too, sooner or later. They somehow miss the whole point of the incredible opportunity we have here. Overload.
I have noticed other writers who become Cowbaddicts, and are having so much fun they don’t know when to stop. They are the Energizer Bunnies of Certain Burn Out. I have been one of those Bunnies, posting 3-4 Stories a day. Wheeeeee! I love this place! I love you all! I love posting. I love love love being loved! But like Clem, I regularly face a feeling of…overload.
Clem’s confession….or shall I elevate it to “Clem’s Confession”… gave me a wake- up call and provoked this note to myself by way of personal evaluation.
I like periodic evaluations because they speak to a certain seriousness of purpose, clarity of intention, respect for readers and respect for a process. I realized that it might be a good thing to step back and ask myself a few questions about my participation here.
This, to make sure that I am not getting caught up in a Waring Blender or Vitamix consciousness of more, better, faster, bigger…like the rest of our crazy world today.
If there is one thing that is tearing our nation, our culture, and ourselves apart, I believe it is the obsession with MORE. This, a subject for another essay on another day.
I shall call it, perhaps, the Crisis of More… Which is the hellish road to Too Much… Again, more on this at another time. No redundancy intended.
I have just finished reading Joan Didion’s remarkable and poignant BLUE NIGHTS. What kept me turning the pages and reading every word was an awe of Didion’s craft, her incantatory language, her diamond-bright prose, which sometimes reads like poetry. In brief, Joan Didion is a true Master, and has been widely recognized as such. Which raised some questions for me about mastery, and I am thinking about all that. Bottom line, a key question: How does one become a Master?
There are no quick or easy answers, and library shelves are filled with books about how to write well. Writers like Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, James Dickey and hundreds of others have opened their souls to us and given compelling advice about how one ascends into quality writing and attains one’s own, unique mastery.
But underlying all the advice about good writing I have ever read are recurring themes:
DON’T BE BORING. DON’T BE TRIVIAL. DON’T BE SELF-OBSESSED. RESPECT YOUR READERS. AND FOR GOD'S SAKE, EDIT, EDIT, EDIT!!!
The distinguished American Poet, Yvor Winters, said (and I still have my class notes): “Ladies and Gentlemen, your spontaneous impressions are not worth very much.”
Dr. Winters believed in craft, mastery, contained passion, ferocious editing, and minimalist elegance.
His own work is resonant, memorable and recommended.
We are having great fun with writing badly, and I hope we can continue to share our very worst openings with each other, because they are hilarious channel changers and day-brighteners.
But, my deeper question: how do we write well, with purpose, intention, clarity, and perhaps most of all, respect for each other, and the Audiences we have gathered?
I feel rather Buddhist here in saying: Please don’t waste my time! And I will do everything I can not to waste yours.
All this by way of introduction to sharing a few thoughts with you, questions I am asking myself, and offer to you.
See if they fit your own quest for excellence and quality:
By way of my own self evaluation, here are some of the questions I am pondering, with the goal of serving you and our community, and doing my small part in helping to make Camp Cowbird the best if can be. I will let you know my conclusions.
1. Why am I here? Do I have a clear purpose? Has my original purpose changed since I joined, and if so, what is my purpose now? Is my ego getting in the way of excellence and quality?
2. What unique gift do I bring here, and am I focusing on this gift? Do I have a sense of direction, or do I sometimes fall into the trap of throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping some of it sticks, just to get those ‘loves’?
3. Am I creating overload for myself with a false sense of responsibility to “keep up”? If so, what can I do about this? Do I need to schedule regular ‘time outs’ to look at the big picture of where I want to go as a writer, and what I have to give?
4. Am I balancing my own work with ongoing study of Masters, such as Joan Didion and others mentioned above?
5. Am I getting high on all the ‘loves,’ and forgetting that praise is no substitute for mastery or writing well? Worse, am I getting addicted to all the ‘loves’ and is this harming rather than helping me continue to grow and challenge myself?
6. What if I disciplined myself to only post ONE Story a day as many have suggested along the way, to help lighten our community reading load? Would this discipline make me a more responsible member of our community, and also demand that I become more thoughtful of others and discriminating in what I post? Would this discipline make me a better editor of my own work?
7. How can I create better time and information management protocols to keep my engagement with Camp Cowbird healthy, reasonable and balanced? If I develop good habits, can my example be of help to new members of the community, to keep them out of the traps of MORE MORE MORE, and ultimately, overload and burn out?
8. How do I view Cowbird, anyway? Do I see our server space as a public bulletin board for posting my every fleeting thought, without evaluation? Do I see it as a synergistic unfolding enterprise where we have certain responsibilities to each other for creating quality work and thoughtful posting? Do I see it as a sort of uber-social network, where personal chatting takes the place of good writing about events, experiences, insights and things that matter? (Annie has issued at least one letter about this, and yet we have all pushed the envelope at times.)
9. What is the personal gain, satisfaction, and delight for me in participating here? Do I care enough about this opportunity to take responsibility, with others, for keeping our Campsite in good order? Keeping the bears out, so to speak.
10. How can I tell when I am going into overload, and what can I do about it?
Final thought for the day:
"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke."
What do you think? Does any of this ring true for you? Is it helpful?