Using the Four Elements in Your Writing

The four elements: earth, wind, fire, water in your writing can be exhilarating.

The four elements can be nurturing, but they an also destroy. There is much possibility in these primitive forces. Fire, for instance, can be cleansing or destructive at the same time.

There’s a scene about a fire and the seeds. I actually had that dream, where there was a fire, and I dreamt that I was carrying those seeds, that they’re what had to be protected. I thought about that later, that those are the instincts that these women had, the instinct to protect your food source, no matter what, because you didn’t have a Costco, you didn’t have Cub, you didn’t have social services or food shelves or anything else to rely on except yourself. Fire, to me, it’s got the two sides of it. It’s the simultaneous purging and cleansing, but it’s also destructive. But then you see what happens after a fire out in the forest and the deadwood’s gone and all of a sudden, there’s all these wildflowers coming up. I love that. I love that cycle of renewal that happens with fire. That was a really key element in the story.

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Yes. To me, that’s Western science that has made that very arbitrary distinction. I think the extent to which we can consider ourselves “objective” is something of a myth because we bring all of our filters, we bring all of our experience, and while I believe you can have a rigorous process that really does your due diligence in research, it’s never separate from who you are and it’s never separate from everything around you. So that Western understanding of science is very different from an Indigenous understanding of science, which is all about place. There is a great book called Native Science by Greg Cajete. It’s one of my favorite books. I’ve got it underlined, I’ve got it marked up. He talks about the metaphoric mind. He talks about how science has to be relational as well. You can’t take it out of life and its context with everything else around it and say, “There’s just this.” That’s why I think technology has gotten so out of control, because it never takes into account what’s going to happen in the future. It doesn’t take into account the consequences of it, meaning some of the pollution or the using up of resources or nuclear power, when we think about waste that’s going to last for thousands and millions of years. That’s unethical in my mind. What you’ve done is borrowed or poisoned the future for your grandchildren. That’s not right. So science has to have ethics. It has to have a relational connection to the world around it. That book is just a beautiful way of understanding science. That’s my foundational book.

Where are you finding hope or joy or inspiration right now?

Plants, seeds, food, anything to do with the outside world. To go out and garden, to have my hands in the soil, to walk out the door in Minnesota in March and hear birds singing, because our winter is very, very quiet. So to hear birds singing as they’re returning on their migration, and the fact that when all that craziness was happening, the political coup and everything, they didn’t care. The birds keep singing. The world around us is just profound in its disconnect from what humans get so excited about. I think of that as a really good check and balance for our priorities. Writing, reading, working with native writers: those are all joyful places to me.

Witchcraft is thought to date back to the Stone Age and for several millennia witches and their male counterparts Warlocks, were the village doctors, herbalists and counselors. In this day and age, true witches and warlocks still revere the earth and all its inhabitants and work for the highest good of all.

Time Commitment and Writing

The difference I have noticed between successful writers who publish and people who want to be writers is the time commitment. The successful writer takes his/her writing seriously and carves out time daily to write.

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The successful writer is disciplined about writing, if not daily, at regular intervals, and sticks to that schedule. We all go through periods of vacation, periods of time devoted to family and friends, but within those diversions, the writer has discipline about devoting time to the craft.

Never assume that something will get done because you’ve told yourself it will. Have a disciplined approach, and rely on writing groups, calendars, schedules, good word processing systems, in other words, the tools of the trade in good order. Then sit down and write.

It took me ten years to write my most recent collection, but I finished and published it. Take a look:

https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

I will blog regularly on Thursdays.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Storytelling, an ancient art form, allows writers to make sense of the world and derive deeper meaning from their lives since the beginning of human history.

Storytelling takes practice and there are things you can do to improve your technique. You want to have clarity when you tell a story. It should have a central theme and you should keep your eye on that theme as you go along. If you want to tell an engaging story, keep the tension up to the end. Be clear about the plot point that builds the story.

Great literature is crafted around characters that have great obstacles in their way, and eventually overcome them. You must embrace conflict if you want to engage your readers.

A good story has a beginning, middle and ending. A successful story might start with an inciting incident, lead into accelerated action, build to a climax and resolve. A good path to becoming a good storyteller is to read good storytellers. A good writer reads a lot. There’s a reason The Illiad and the Odyssey are still read after centuries of being told and written.

Observe good storytellers. See how they engage their audiences. This can be a family member who weaves tales of ancestors or a politician who engages the public

While reading other writer’s stories is essential, it’s also important to draw on your own experiences. This way your stories will ring true. Be an observer and use those observations. If you can’t use your recall for details, go research and re-experience. I recently revisited three locales I’m writing a story about: New York City, the Nevada desert, and the mountains of Costa Rica.

What places do you write about?

Finding a Theme for Your Blog

There are many types of blogs out there, from buying a car to reading graphic novels. Read some of those blogs and you will get a sense of your competition. Try focussing on a theme for your blog. If you have a sense of what you want your theme to be, look for similar blogs and read them.

Standing out and finding readers for your blog is a challenge. Finding a theme for you blog can help to brand your blog for the right audience. What are you passionate about? What do you want to write about? What is your expertise? All these things should guide and focus your content.

I have a literary blog. I am most interested in writing, the writing process, books, publishing, readings. This is what my blog is about. I blog announcements of new books and events on Tuesdays and I blog about the literary life, writing and blogging on Thursdays. Consistency is important.

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My most recent collection of poetry, Touch My Head Softly, was published recently by Finishing Line Press. It’s about my experiences with my partner, who died of Alzheimer’s in his sixties. Check it out:

https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

Your Unique Voice

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Finding your own unique voice in your writing can be a challenge, but one worth pursuing.

One way to begin is by finding unique voices that you like in published writers. Billy Collins suggests finding a poem that you like and writing it out to discover exactly what makes it unique. What is it that drew you to it? The language, the topic, the genre? No matter what you’re writing: creative nonfiction, a blog, a poem, read other writers who have been successful in that genre.

But in the end, there’s only one unique you who has your own story to tell. You don’t necessarily have to write memoir or autobiography, but bring your own individual experiences to your writing. Focus on what you know, what interests you. If you love food, eating it, growing it, cooking it, write about that in a nonfiction article. If you’re a birder, out mornings observing birds, bring birds into your poem or short story.

I recently published a collection of poems about Alzheimer’s Disease, which I knew through my experiences with my partner. It was published by Finishing Line Press. Take a look:

Finishing Line Press: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55776971-touch-my-head-softly?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=8ZpBlRznY3&rank=1

“There are dozens of unfinished or aborted projects in my files, but I can only assume they don’t get done because they’re not robust enough to struggle through the birth process.” – Grant Morrison

I have many unfinished poems. Billy Collins says five or six poems wind up in his trash bin before he gets one that’s a keeper.

The concept of being complete is an interesting one. If you are complete, you don’t have to strive to do anything else. You don’t have to reinvent yourself.

We can change as we develop new skills, new experiences, new outlooks. That’s what makes the writing interesting. We adapt to new circumstances and overcome limitations. This affects our writing.

I wrote a book that was just published by Finishing Line Press:

https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

After it was published, I floundered for awhile, trying to write different things, but not really liking any of the new work. Then I started on a new longer poem about the drowning earth. Here’s an excerpt:

The Boat

“Cuando sale la luna, el mar cubre la tierra

When the moon rises, water covers the earth”

                        –Federico García Lorca

I want to begin with the boat.  It was a thing of beauty.

Can one be seduced by a boat? I was.

This project intrigued me and I continue to work on it today. How do you stay engaged with your writing?

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How do you revise?

You have a poem that has some interesting ideas or rhythms, but it’s just not making it? Here are some things I do when I revise a poem to work:

Take some of your lines, split them down the middle, and regroup them e.g.:

Here are the shelves of unread books

An immigrant who stands on the edge of the forest

becomes: Here are the shelves on the edge of the forest

An immigrant who stands on unread books.

Or try to take a poem and erase words, e.g.

In first grade

We learned the names of dandelions and birch trees?

Forgot them & relearned them. 

They didn’t make much sense to us,

because we were in New York City

where there weren’t many flowers or trees.

becomes:

Trilliums, sweetgum trees,

forgetting, relearning.

No sense,

New York City,

No flowers or trees.

Try rewriting your poem from a different viewpoint:

Two brothers planted a sequoia in the orchard one afternoon

becomes: All afternoon my brother and I worked in the orchard planting a sequoia.

When I wrote my new book, Touch My Head Softly, I went through many revises:

https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy

What do you do to revise?

I will be posting on Thursdays, and on Tuesdays, if I have an announcement.

My new poetry collection can be viewed here:

https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

Here is the link to my book on Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3609820860https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

Are the sources of our strengths as writers in natural conversation?

You may have come to think of writing as a solitary, lonely process. And sometimes it is, especially during the pandemic. But writing is a social exchange. We write, often, to publish and put our writing out into the world. Here other people interact with our words, read it, understand it, and sometimes respond.

As a lifelong writer, I do often write in isolation, but I find my best writing comes from sharing it with other writers, or a mentor, and getting their feedback. How do you use speech to further your writing?

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This is the link to my new book of poems at Finishing Line Press:

https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

Here’s the link to my book on Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3609820860https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

I will blog on Thursdays, and on Tuesdays when I have announcements.

“…we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life,” Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I find myself having writerly thoughts as I am driving, walking, swimming. I pull over and blog on my iPhone if I get a good thought. I used to have a notebook in my car, by my bed stand, but it often disappeared when I needed it. I find I have by IPhone more regularly.

I’ve got a book, Touch My Head Softly, coming out soon from Finishing Line Press. There is always work around a new book, with readings and interviews, but I find myself looking toward my new work eagerly. I haven’t really decided on the next collection, but some new ideas are germinating.

Do you think about your writing as you go through your day? Do you write the thoughts down and write from them later?

Here’s the link to my new book on Finishing Line Press:

https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

Here’s the link to my new book on Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3609820860https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touch-my-head-softly-by-eileen-kennedy/

I’ll be posting regularly on Thursdays, and on Tuesdays if I have announcements.

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