NOVEMBER 2018 – Self-Help For Writers and Other Imaginary Peoples

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Hello Monarch Writers!

We’ve been talking about the philosopher Hegel, a very complex and influential figure in philosophy, and we’ve got a good overview in the Literary Theory text we’re working through.

The study guide I prepared earlier in the month for the study of Hegel and how he relates in particular to the practice of writing is up now on the Monarch Writers site here, in case you want to refer back to that ever.

One of the main focuses of our study of Hegel is his motion ‘from substance to subject’, that is, seeing how individual parts of a system, when looked at in situ —as part of a WHOLE— jump, start, and stir, to become living things, as the system itself is a living thing! And this is a wonderful way of looking at stories, where flat characters, upon striving to write an organic-whole piece, become lively creatures who climb the walls and leap off the page.

In continuing this focus, I’d like to attempt a strange exercise for Monday’s meeting, and look at a list I got from a self-improvement web site – a list of 23 ways to make yourself better everyday, and I’d like to look at these in the meeting and see if we can morph them creatively into ways we can make our characters, and our stories, and our characters -in-our-stories- become something more alive.

So, the list is below, take a look before hand, see if anything springs to mind, jot down a few ideas, feel free to stretch around corners to let good ideas come forth, it’s just a prompt after all. And come to the meeting on Monday ready to discuss!

Practices That Make You Better Every Day

1. Keep a reading habit.

Don’t isolate your characters from the real world
While you don’t have to constantly be breaking the
Your characters should be aware of the real world
And that tension between them and their story
Is what makes the reader want to read
And bring them to life by continuing reading

2. Have a growth mindset.

You want to not break the ‘vivid and continuous dream’

Things will come up that interrupt your ‘plan’, for your life, for your story, for your characters.

You are not so much dictator putting on a parade in tribute of your skills as leader, as an alchemist creating a Frankenstein monster out of parts of your favorite pieces of art, and the world, and your experience, and dreams. With a dash of wild destiny, and rebellious pursuit of some dream of purpose your great work holds in its heart for itself. Whether it has the heart of an athlete, the brain of a madman, hands of a great thief, or the toes of a magician… the wondrous thing is when the lightning strikes the disparate flesh of words and bits, and congeals the parts, and it comes ALIVE!

3. Meditate regularly.

The Idea of
ROMANTIC IRONY* (*SEE THE END OF THIS PACKET. I’ve quoted a section on Romantic Irony from the next chapter in the Literary Criticism Text we’re using: Chapter 16: Romanticism (I): Germany and France – Which discusses the phenomenon of ‘ROMANTIC IRONY’ more in depth and which we’ll be talking about more in December

4. Align your priorities with your goals and values.

Writing is about
And making choices is about

How Do your characters’ struggles affect them?
Do they break them? Make them?
Or Take them… some other place altogether?

5. Visualize your success.

In my opinion, in order to chase that united vision and holistic artwork, one should

Write the Whole Piece at Every
Juncture, as Much as that is Possible
But also, Give Focus To Each Scene As
It Is The Most Import In The Moment

Your CHARACTERS have motivations, or they should.
Goals, desires, things they are chasing.
Give them scenes of pining, scenes where they glimpse the thing they strive for. Scenes that further motivate them, perhaps only the throw them down again, back into the chase.
But, which make them stronger? More themselves?

6. Measure your improvement.

Keep in Mind What You’ve Written
And Revisit It Often
ReRead and Don’t Be So Critical
That You’re Constantly ReWriting,

7. Make good use of your time.

There is always
to Write

8. Learn new skills.

Take time away from the literal writing from those things that should be left unsaid or the bits too dark for TV.
Paint a piece of used furniture,
Make a Collage,
Take a walk to someplace new and take some pictures

Practices for the Body

9. Exercise on the regular.

Best exercise in the world, especially for writers,
because it’s a great pace for thinking.

10. Respect your body.

Or abuse it, for the sake of a story.
How much coffee can you drink before you die?
That’s a story in itself.
As long as you survive to tell it, or, like Hamlet, have
someone to tell with your dying breath, some witness,
“If thou didst ever hold me in my heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

But respect the fact that if you don’t take care of your body, it will kill you.

11. Practice self-care.

For real, tho.

12. Eat mindfully.

Vegetables. Potatoes and whutnot.

13. Schedule regular breaks and down time.

“Sometimes it’s the fight that keeps you out of the ring.”

14. Mind your daily water intake.

Drink a bunch of H2O.
Keeps you awake and fresh.

Practices for the Soul

15. Practice daily mindfulness.

Directed thinking.
Think about your writing, on purpose.

Is your character the type to make great realizations?
Are they the victim of circumstance, or are they, -or are they BECOMING- a person who rises above the waves to be a mover and shaker, someone who other people watch to see what’s going down? Have they got their sails out and tuned into their own winds? Pumping loud their own drum beats?

16. Practice mindful listening.

Does your character have a favorite song?
Or twenty favorite songs they’ve been listening two exclusively the past year and they feel like they’re living in a biodome against the rest of the world, some kind of experiment, some kind of lost civilization, and what’s wrong with the rest of you?

17. Practice gratitude.

If your character did catch that break,
how would they respond?

Do you look on the bright side?

Strike a healthy balance between remembering tough times and hoping and enjoying the good times, because if you let go of the pain too easily, you’ll fall back into those habits that lead to trouble. It’s best to remember some parts of what causes your woes, if only to avoid those pitfalls. And be thankful things aren’t worse when they’re just going okay.

18. Recite positive affirmations.

Put quotes up on your wall.
Treat language how you want them to treat your words.
Graffiti the truth on sidewalks and tape posters of your most frequent incantations inside the walls of the skulls of the apathetic.

19. Develop a mindful journaling habit.

Is your character an artist?
These days, everyone has their fifteen minutes, spread out over social media, looking for that one viral post.
Everyone’s an artist nowadays.
Mindful, of course, is another sort of animal.

20. Surround yourself with positive people.
Does your character have that person they can confide in?
Are they their own person? More than just some supporting actor in the main character’s mythos?

21. Heal your negative self-talk.
22. Learn to forgive yourself and others.

There are many formulas you can borrow and lean on, or at least study to give your character an arc. From Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’ even to Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 Steps, many things can be graphed onto your tale to provide a skeleton for you to ply some flesh onto.
Take the time to Bake up some ginger bread protagonists (it makes the whole house smell delicious), or plant some plot seeds and water them a bit with details from the Possibilities-Can each morning, and watch how you lose the negative attitude that you can’t paint like the masters, because you realize there is a reason you were drawn to writing. Because you have your own style and enjoy words, language, making phrases and meaning, into stories, and moving pictures. Imagining things and creating the meaning of a happening that only you can convey.

23. Be giving and kind.

Be a generous writer. Be ambitious, take risks, aim for big effects.
Give your plots and characters a wildness, a recklessness. Tell those bone truths that are dangerous to explore but more dangerous to ignore.
Lay it all on the table, and know when it’s necessary to call the dealer out, the game rigged, the exchange blasphemous, and flip the table over with a joyous yell! Stand up to the silence that suffocates the spirit, run into the burning building to save those photographs that prove the past the dream destroyers would have the world forget, protect with clenched fists (and nimble, typing digits) the delicate things, the mysteries that will be forgotten from neglect, that you can save with the strength of your own hands, alone.





The Romantic self was a profounder, more authentic ego lying beneath the layers of social convention, a self which attempted through principles such as irony to integrate the increasingly fragmented elements of the bourgeois world into a vision of unity. And it was primarily the poet who could achieve such a vision. In general, the Romantics exalted the status of the poet, as a genius whose originality was based on his ability to discern connections among apparently discrepant phenomena and to elevate human perception toward a comprehensive, unifying vision.

The most crucial human faculty for such integration was the imagination, which most Romantics saw as a unifying power, one which could harmonize the other strata of human perception such as sensation and reason. It should be noted that Romanticism is often wrongly characterized as displacing Enlightenment “reason” with emotion, instinct, spontaneity, and imagination. To understand what is at issue here, it is necessary to recall that much Romantic thought took Kant’s philosophy (which itself
was not at all Romantic) as its starting point, notably his distinction between phenomena and noumena, his treatment of imagination, and his establishing of a relative autonomy for the category of the aesthetic. Kant’s relation to Enlightenment thought was indeed ambivalent inasmuch as he attempted to establish the limitations of reason. However, Kant declared that the categories of the understanding applied throughout the phenomenal world; his notion of the noumenon is merely a limiting concept and its actual existence is nothing more than a presupposition of morality and free will. He had, moreover, viewed imagination as a mediating principle which reconciled the deliverances of sensation with the categories of the understanding. The Romantics, like Hegel (who himself was certainly not a Romantic), placed the noumenal realm within the reach of human apprehension, and often exalted the function of imagination, viewing it as a vehicle for the attainment of truths beyond the phenomenal world and beyond the reach of reason alone. But they did not attempt to dismiss or discard the findings of logic and reason, merely to place these within a more embracing scheme of perception. Hence Coleridge saw the secondary imagination, peculiar to the poet, as a unifying power which could reconcile general and concrete, universal and particular. Shelley even saw imagination as having a moral function, as a power enabling the self to situate itself within a larger empathetic scheme, as opposed to reason, which expressed the selfish constraints of the liberal atomistic self. Hence the relation between Romanticism and the mainstreams of bourgeois thought, which had risen to hegemony on the waves of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, was deeply ambivalent. Our own era is profoundly pervaded by this ambivalent heritage.

This ambivalent connection of Romanticism to bourgeois thought operated through both the notion of imagination and the equally archetypal notion of Romantic irony. The ancient Roman authors Cicero and Quintilian had followed the Greeks in defining irony as a form of dissemblance whereby a speaker’s intention differed from his statements. This broad definition of irony remained in currency through late antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the neoclassical era. Both the French Encyclopédie of 1765 and Johnson’s Dictionary reiterated the definition of irony as a figure of speech in which the meaning undermines or opposes the actual words used to express it.

It was only at the end of the eighteenth century that irony rose in status from a mere rhetorical device to an entire way of looking at the world, becoming, in the guise of Romantic irony, an index of a broad philosophic vision. The emergence of this change is usually dated to Schlegel’s Fragments of 1797, which accords irony an epistemological  and ontological function, seeing it as a mode of confronting and transcending the contradictions of the finite world. The theorizing of irony in this direction was furthered by numerous writers including Heine, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. At the core of irony as formulated by most nineteenth-century thinkers was a Romantic propensity to confront, rather than overlook, the obstinate disorder, contingency, flux, and mystery of the world. In this sense, an ironic vision accepts that the world can be viewed from numerous irreconcilable perspectives, and rejects any providential, rational, or logical foreclosure of the world’s absurdity and contradictions into a spurious unity. Yet such Romantic irony is not entirely negative: while it rejects the “objective” order imposed upon experience or the world by religious or rational means, it seeks a higher transcendent unity and purpose, grounded ultimately in subjectivity. Modernist irony is seen by most theorists as a development of Romantic irony and as entailing a dual posture: a negation of prevailing values and institutions, and a helpless complicity with them. However, it diverges from Romantic irony in being more nihilistic, despairing over the possibility of transcending or changing the current state of affairs. Irony effectively entails a failed search for meaning and unity.

The “Romantic” metamorphosis of irony in the eighteenth century from a classical and medieval rhetorical device to an index of a metaphysical perspective was integrally tied to the broader social and political changes earlier invoked. The emergence and rapid theorizing of irony as a metaphysical perspective coincided with the era in which the hegemony of bourgeois interests and values was establishing itself not only in political life and economic practice but also in philosophy, literature, and science. Irony was essentially an idealistic reaction against the mainstream tendencies of bourgeois thought which attempted to define the world in terms of its own clear-cut categories, founded on rationalism, pragmatic efficiency, and an atomistic and utilitarian commodification of all the elements of the world, including the human subject. Underlying these tendencies lay the conviction that, in principle, knowledge, reason, and science could extend their control over all aspects of human life.

The Romantic thinkers who embraced an ironic vision reacted against the reductively mechanistic, utilitarian, and commercial impetus of bourgeois thought. Irony was a means of reinvesting the world with mystery, of limiting the arrogant claims of reason, of denying the ideals of absolute clarity and definition, of reaffirming the profound interconnection of things, and of seeking for the human spirit higher and more spiritual forms of fulfillment than those available through material and commercial efficiency. Yet irony as a very mode of reaction bore the imprint of defeat: it could merely voice subjective protests against colossal historical movements which were already in process of realization, protests which often floated free of any viable basis of institutional change. The Romantics were struggling against a world whose materialistic, pragmatic, utilitarian, and scientistic foundations had already been laid since the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Like the French symbolists after them, their only recourse was to an ironic vision which insisted that reality is not confined to the here and now but embraces the past or is located in a Platonic ideal realm. The connections between Romanticism and subsequent eras have been influentially examined by M. H. Abrams, Frank Kermode, and others; as Marshall Brown notes, crucial elements of both elitist modernism and populist postmodernism can be traced back to Romantic criticism; the rhetorical, textual, and skeptical dimensions of Romanticism have been explored extensively by critics such as Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Harold Bloom, and Stanley Cavell. Feminist approaches to Romanticism – advanced by scholars such as Margaret Homans, Susan Levin, Anne Mellor, and Mary Jacobus – have attempted to rescue neglected female authors, examined the ways in which some of the Romantics exploited women, questioned the Romantic masculine obsession with self, and challenged what they have seen as the essentialist doctrines of  Romanticism.

Good Hunting, Writers,


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