Advice from Karen Benke

Posted by: Chris Angotti on 11/03/2010

“Just let the tip of your pen scrawl, scribble, leap, doodle and rip...”
by Karen Benke

After celebrating 44 turns around the sun, I finally got it: the not-so secret pact we earthling-writer-seeker-teachers must make with ourselves… We’re all our own teachers and students of creative writing (and life). No, not just after we finish going to school. ALL the time.

At long last, as my own teacher (insert sigh of relief) I’ve finally dismissed the withering comments and stern looks of those people with red pen in hand who once graded my writing, my stories and poems. “How could you have relinquished so much of your earthling-writer-seeker-teacher power?” you might ask with concern in your voice. Well, I didn’t yet know about the earthling-writer-seeker-teacher pact that I had to make with myself. I was scared, wobbly, lonely, too busy listening to the advice of others rather than to my own earthling-writer-seeker-teacher self. (Say that three times fast!)

Now that I’ve made the pact, I want to share something radical with you. Life’s too short to wait for the approval of others. Yes, even from your parents, hard as that may be to accept. As earthling-writer-seeker-teachers, you must be willing to break rules. Take risks. Give yourself miles of time and plenty of space on and off the page. You must claim and embrace your inner earthling-writer-seeker-teacher self.

You must be willing to set your own due dates (like November 30). Aim for lots of “mistakes.” Use best-guess spelling. And cast off all worries and cares about commas. There’s plenty of time later to be the comma police.

Oh, and don’t listen to anyone who says you must hurry up and fix what you’ve just whispered to the page. Because if you rush to fix what you’re creating, it will keep you away from that part of yourself that needs to s l o w down and dream BIG in order for your narrator and characters to fully come into their own. If your concern is that someone (the English teacher with that red pen; some sage on the stage; a critical part of yourself you’re still hanging on to) is going to give you a grade or a gold star, it will keep you from fully making that all-important pact with your earthling-writer-seeker-teacher self. Really.

So I invite you to take a deep breath and simply trust yourself. (Yes, it takes practice.) Send your critic outside for a loooong hike or bike ride while you stay in your pajamas with your notebook, a stack of cinnamon toast, and your muse who’s always rooting for you to get silly, be foolish, let your main character dig holes to China in the backyard and collect toenail clippings if that’s what she’s compelled to do. Relax. You know what to do. Just let the tip of your pen scrawl, scribble, leap, doodle and rip, rip, rip—word after glorious word—down page after page. Allow yourself to get lost. Only in this way will you give your characters a heartbeat and a sprawling, genuine life so they can go where they need to go as you help them get there.

But don’t take my word for it. Scoot to the edge and leap off a lofty line. Find out for yourself how far you can fly to the corners of your expanding mind.

Karen Benke is the author of Rip the Page!

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