My muse visits me a lot—so much that I’ve personified her and written several poems about her. I’ve learned that she is boss. When inspiration hits, I grab the nearest piece of paper and start writing before the train of thought or mood is lost. Waiting longer than a minute can result in the initial impact or feeling fading away as quickly as it came. Once that happens it’s gone forever.
I write better in the mornings after I’ve had coffee and written whatever is on my mind in my journal. Once my journal entries are done, I get my dictionary, thesaurus, and rhyming dictionary and focus on my creative writing. I save the first draft so that if I stray too far from the point, I can refer to it. After writing for hours I put it away and get back to it days later, when it’s new again, and I can see what needs revising. Depending on what style of writing I’m doing, I might revise three or four times before I’m satisfied. Even after it’s published, if I see where I could’ve used a better word or line, I edit my computer version. Hardly any of my work is absolutely final. As I grow, my work grows.
I used to think the term “writer’s block” meant not having anything to write about. But it simply means being stuck. When I’m stuck and can’t find the words or a line I want, I stop writing and do something else. Especially if I have a pending deadline. I do something that I can complete because my spirit needs to finish something. I might finish a piece of artwork I started, iron clothes, or clean the house. Or cook. When my spirit sees that I have a final result, it feels a sense of accomplishment and is ready to go back to work.
A year ago I ran into a neighbor I hadn’t seen in over 35 years, and the first thing she said to me was, “You still have all those papers layin’ around in your house?” I smiled and asked, “Did I have a lot of papers back then, too?” She said, “Yeah, girl. You know you used to always be writing all those poems and stuff.”
When I mentioned it to my mom later, she told me that ever since I was a little girl my bedroom was full of papers that I was “scribbling” on. After a minute it dawned on me that she was right, and I remembered being the child who raised her hand at the end of English or Spelling class to ask if we had any homework. Manipulating words on paper was as common to me as taking in air to breathe.
So, since writing was my inherent nature, I hadn’t identified myself as a writer. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that a close friend said, “You should send some of this stuff off. You know you’re a writer, don’t you?” That statement was an epiphany for me—an awakening to what my spirit knew all the time—and started me on a conscious writing journey.
I had to learn how to accept critique from writers and editors, though. The only people who had read my work before I joined the group were my friends and family who weren’t writers, and although they knew what they liked, they weren’t knowledgeable in writing. They couldn’t see where or how to make my writing better.
Getting into the writing community taught me that revision is a major part of writing and the biggest asset to getting published. I had submitted some of my poetry to women’s magazines after my friend suggested I do so, and received rejection slips, some with advice on what to do to make my work appropriate. I was offended. No one had ever suggested I revise my work. I thought my work was born perfect.
Joining a weekly writing group was one of the best things I ever did as a serious writer. In the group, writers critique each others’ work, and if we listen without being offended, we learn what the public sees in our work that we don’t. I believe writers who write to be read or published or paid should belong to a writing group because an author can be too close to her piece to see it objectively. I’ve been with my writing group (sponsored by the Neighborhood Writing Alliance, publishers of the Journal of Ordinary Thought) for 11 years.
Once I started writing for an audience I started attending poetry readings and open mic events. Those ventures exposed me and my signature pieces to people and writing or performance opportunities, including an ongoing traveling play where I was paid nightly to sing a song I wrote. My most recent chance of a lifetime! was a 15-month residency in the arts and culture department at Access Living, an organization that empowers people with disabilities.
At Access Living I started and facilitated a writing group, learned how to perform one-woman shows by watching other actor/writers, and eventually wrote, directed, produced and starred in my own variety show titled “The Pennie Brinson Show.” As a result, I was asked to perform for an art gallery opening. I accepted.
Because I am a person with a disability, I receive a government income to pay my expenses, so I don’t worry about making a living. I’ve written news articles for community papers for the money. But I prefer writing fiction because it allows me to show off my muse, who’s always talking on and on and on.
Written in Spring 2010.
Clemolyn (Pennie) Brinson is a writer and visual artist. She was born in Chicago in 1958 and attended grade school and high school on Chicago’s West Side. She facilitates a weekly writing group at Access Living where she was the organization’s first artist-in-residence (2008–2009). She is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, freelances as a journalist for Residents’ Journal and North Lawndale Community News, and is working on her first novel. Her work is also published in Garland Court Review, Journal of Ordinary Thought, Messages from the Odyssey, Crossing Cultures, and several chapbooks. Pennie grew up with the crippling effects of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which left her hands severely misshapen by the time she was 18. Despite the condition, of her hands she has always been able to write, type, draw, and paint.