Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward on ROAARS and The Unmarked State

Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward are guestblogging here on Booklifenow all this week. Their book Writing the Other is a remarkable exploration of character, situation, and perception. It’s a recommended text in Booklife – JeffV

Cynthia and I want to begin our joint stint as guest bloggers here by sharing an excerpt from Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, the book we wrote together based on the workshop we co-teach. The excerpt will help you get into the spirit of our upcoming posts, which are going to riff on related topics

First, we’ll define a couple of the terms we use:

The unmarked state—Possessing demographic characteristics considered “unremarkable” by the dominant culture.

ROAARS—This is an acronym we created to talk about a group of differences from the unmarked state that are, in this culture, considered to be deeply significant differences. These differences are: Race, (sexual) Orientation, Age, Ability, Religion, Sex.

Keep those concepts in mind as you read the book excerpt below. – Nisi Shawl

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Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward: Guest-blogging on Booklifenow This Week

Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, authors of Writing the Other, among other books, will be guest-blogging this week on Booklifenow. Please help welcome them–I think you’ll find their posts fascinating.

Here’s more about both writers…

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Relinquish All Writing Fetishes: When Should You Hold Onto Them?

In Booklife I have a section on relinquishing all fetishes, which is another way of saying don’t let having to use a fancy pen or special desk get in the way of writing. As I mention in the book I’ve learned to write anywhere at any time, and to never stifle my imagination just because I’m not in the ideal writing situation.

I give this advice in the book because we most commonly procrastinate and find reasons not to write. But the fact is some “fetishes” actually aid our creativity.

Case in point—the photograph above. On the left is a leather-bound, hand-made writing pad I bought in Victoria on Vancouver Island while on my honeymoon. I’d had it in the closet in my office ever since then, more than seven years. Every time I pulled it out, I put it back in the closet again. The thing just seemed so nice, so opulent, that I couldn’t imagine writing in it. And yet I’d bought it because it was tantalizing–it suggested adventures I’d never write about in any other journal.

Well, this past week I finally found the perfect use for it. The paper inside is perfect for writing, but also perfect for art. I’ve started a rather odd story that includes extensive illustrations, and no other writing pad I have gives me the same sensation of effortless motion while both writing and drawing. Even the odd size of it helps, because it better accommodates the art and the words. Suddenly, everything about this impulse purchase that turned me off is helping me get into the groove of writing, energizing me, and recharging my imagination.

Meanwhile, next to it in the photograph is a plain black Moleskine notebook. In it, I’ve written several book reviews and a new short story–a very conventional, Southern Gothic-style story. The utilitarian look and feel of the notebook seems to help me keep focused and on task. I could no more write the reviews and the Southern Gothic story in the opulent oversized writing journal as I could create the illustrated strange story in the Moleskine. Each is perfect for its particular purpose.

So my question to you, because I’m curious, is: Have you had similar experiences with your writing tools, your writing surfaces, your writing life?

Six Elements That Drive Your Personal Booklife

Your Private Booklife constitutes your core activities: the engine that drives your creative life. It has six essential pillars, or qualities:

• Curiosity
• Receptivity
• Passion
• Imagination
• Discipline
• Endurance

Try to encourage these qualities in yourself and others. Draw them out into the open if necessary, and at times allow yourself to indulge in them. In all ways be generous to yourself so that you can be generous in your work.

Although several of these qualities are useful to your Public Booklife, nowhere are they more necessary than in your Private Booklife. Let’s explore them further…


(What does this photo spark in your imagination? How does it make you curious? Image by the highly recommended Jeremy Tolbert.)

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