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November 6, 2012
“Creative output must begin with creative input.” (Thomas Kinkade)
Are You a Starving Artist?
Children’s book author Katherine Paterson once said that she didn’t believe in writer’s block. In her experience, the panic of a blank page or blank computer screen came from writer starvation.
Are you a writer facing the new year, but stuck with old ideas? Do you find it difficult to think of fresh ideas to write about? Do you find it really hard to think of new approaches in revising your stories?
Kinkade’s answer? “The the first thing to do is to fill your mind and heart with sights, sounds, ideas, images, experiences.” But how?
Take Yourself on a Date
What are some choices?
- Get outside, for one thing, and really look at the world around you. Look up close at things, like a small child does.
- Read everything around you.
- Go to thought-provoking movies.
- If you surf the web, choose sites that feed your mind with new images.
I love those virtual cameras set up in famous cities. I like to watch the ones in England and soak up what’s happening in real time. You might enjoy science sites or virtual tours of museums. When you’re short on time or money or energy or freedom to leave home, the online virtual opportunities can fill that need. [NOTE: see the end of the post for how to find links to virtual webcams like this. You can zoom in close on the parts that interest you.]
Too often, in the hurry and flurry of living our lives, we writers fish our ponds till they’re empty. Take a break today–short or long–and spend some time purposefully restocking your pond.
Just For Fun
When looking for virtual cameras, Google the place you’d like to see. For example, since I love England, I Googled “London webcam” and found some neat sites around England. Examples:
- http://www.goandroam.com/webcams/uk/london/ [has many London locations to choose from, plus other towns/cities in England]
- I love this Oxford, England webcam: http://webcam.oii.ox.ac.uk/camera1.cfm
- Yesterday I watched an old English movie called “84 Charing Cross Road.” I Googled and found a webcam that showed it today, refreshing every 5 seconds. http://www.camvista.com/england/london/trafsq.php3 Scroll down the page to see the little box.
- Maybe you prefer MUSEUMS–just Google them. You might like to tour the Titantic Museum at Branson here: http://www.bransontravelandvacation.com/webcams/7
- I found museum webcams for railroads, tsunamis, art, maritime, wax museum, science and history, etc. There was even one for Corvettes: http://www.corvettemuseum.com/webcam/
- Famous museums like the Louvre have webcams too. Or maybe you’d like to see the view from the Eiffel Tower: http://www.paris-live.com/paris_webcam/
Just Google your subject plus the word webcam.
If you’re a starving artist/writer, don’t wait another day. Even if you have to “virtually visit” places of interest, start refilling your pond today.
You’ll be amazed at how this will spark your creativity!
August 24, 2012
Grab your cup of coffee or Diet Coke and read on!
“Get Creative on Demand” says “you have to be able to turn on your creativity like it’s a faucet. Why? Because most of us have other responsibilities in our lives that often interfere with our writing time. This means we must make the most of every minute we can steal away to do our writing.”
“How to Effectively Create More Time to Write” is something most of us need training in. “With an already packed schedule of work, family/social obligations, and that pesky to-do list that never seems to get any shorter, making time to write is not only difficult, but sometimes feels like an impossibility.” Where does your time go? You may be surprised.
“LendInk, Author Activism, and the Need for Critical Thinking” from Writer Beware highlights a recent Internet mess that we need to be aware of. “Ignorance and lack of investigation are also what lead writers into the arms of scammers.” ALSO read the whole post. The last half deals with another related subject that you need to take to heart. Her final paragraph says: “We live in highly polarized times. That’s as true in publishing as it is in politics–and, I think, as reflective of the fear of a future that, as much as we would like it to be clear and certain, offers no assurances but the certainty of upheaval. In such a situation, it’s more essential than ever to think critically, investigate carefully, and act deliberately. And to be wary of received wisdom, or anything masquerading as such.” [And that includes anything I say!]
“Are You Really Meant to Be a Writer?” gives some very practical ideas on how to hang onto your dreams during the wannabe-published years.
“Mette Ivie Harrison on How to Find Time to Write” will blow you away, so I saved this one till last. Read it and be inspired!
June 8, 2012
I plan to go back to blogging here twice a week. On Tuesdays I will discuss some “first aid help for writers” topic. On Fridays I plan to give you resources I’ve found helpful: other blog posts, articles, apps, books, and methods to make our writing lives better, more productive, and more fun!
This Freebie is Great
Five weeks ago I signed up for “The Creative Pathfinder,” a free 26-week course on creativity. You receive one lesson per week in your email.
I hadn’t planned to write about this until I finished the whole twenty-six weeks. However, after just five lessons, I think I will pass this along now. It’s a perfect course to begin during the summer months. It will keep your creativity bubbling along despite interruptions from vacations, kids, and visitors that come with summertime.
How It Works
Each lesson builds on the one before it. Each lesson comes with additional articles to read (if you’re interested), worksheets to download so you can apply the lesson, and links to books that are quoted.
To whet your appetite, here’s Lesson #5: “The Four Most Powerful Types of Creative Thinking.” If you like what you read, there is a link at the bottom of the lesson to sign up for the entire free 26-week course.
May 30, 2012
If trying to be creative feels like slogging through mud lately, you may be trying too hard.
If so, I’ve got good news for you!
Several articles I’ve read lately disputed the idea that “thinking outside the box” is the way to be more creative. It’s given me hope, as I don’t tend to be an “outside the box” thinker.
I actually like my box. It’s cozy. It’s nicely decorated–but unoriginal, I fear.
Inside or Outside the Box?
Who’s most creative? Read the following articles and decide for yourself.
- “Spark Your Creativity by Thinking INSIDE the Box” and “Don’t Try to Be Original” by Mark McGuinness (two articles)
- “Do You Recognize These 10 Mental Blocks to Creative Thinking?” by Brian Clark.
- “Do More Great Work: an Interview with Michael Bungay Stanier” The subtitle of his book Do More Great Work is a good summary of the article: Stop the busywork and start the work that matters.
- Are you looking for that idea that fits you like a glove? The one you can be passionate about for many months as you write your book? Mick Silva says to “Write About What Disturbs You.”
One Last Thought
Are you thinking that the articles sound good–but you just don’t know if you’re up to it? Then I have one last post for you to read: “3 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Build Your Self-Confidence“ by Henrik Edberg. They’re simple–but effective. And they work no matter what side of the box you prefer.
Now, have at it! And if you’re brave, leave a comment and tell us which side of the box you prefer!
February 8, 2012
I recently bought The Literary Ladies: Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas. Its subtitle says it is “inspiration and advice from celebrated women authors who paved the way.”
One of my favorite quotes is from the author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. She said:
“My methods of work are very simple and soon told. My head is my study, & there I keep the various plans of stories for years sometimes, letting them grow as they will till I am ready to put them on paper. … While a story is under way I lie in it, see the people, more plainly than the real ones, round me, hear them talk, & am much interested, surprised, or provoked at their actions.” –from a letter to a journalist in 1887
Your Portable Study
During the writing of my first ten or eleven novels, I always had from one to four babies, toddlers, and preschoolers underfoot. I desperately loved writing fiction, and I longed for the day when I could sit down at the typewriter, take a deep breath, close my eyes in solitude, and think about what I wanted to say.
However, with small children, you have to think on the run. My way of creating—like most young moms—was to do a lot of pre-thinking. I worked out plot twists and problems while washing dishes. I thought of titles and character names while folding diapers. I rolled bits of dialogue around in my mind while pushing someone on the swing set or nursing or walking a teething baby. When no immediate demand required my attention, I lived in my head with my characters. As Louisa May Alcott so aptly put it, my head was my study.
I promised myself that this was a temporary way of writing, one I was eager to abandon as soon as I had more time. In actuality, it turned out to be an excellent way to write.
Lost “Head Space”
Babies and toddlers grow up and go to school. Mine did too, and I finally had that time to sit and think at the keyboard (a computer by that time). I quickly decided that I must have undiagnosed ADHD or something. I couldn’t sit still and think.
For the first time in my eight years of writing, I experienced the dreaded writer’s block I had read about in my writing magazines. So this is what they were talking about! It was truly awful, and no matter what suggestions I tried, nothing seemed to work. Often I would give up and go do some chores that waited or start editing assignments (I was teaching by then).
I was aggravated with myself that I wasn’t writing more and enjoying it more. For years, I had dreamed of the day I’d have peace and quiet to write. Now that it was here, I was stuck more often than not. But with student assignments to mark, there was no time to waste just sitting and staring at a blank screen. I needed to be productive with all the time I had while the kids were at school.
I didn’t realize at the time that I had lost the ability to have “head space,” as my writing friend calls it. “Head space” is that inner solitude where you go and ruminate on a story. It’s where you live in your head with your created story creatures, be they human or fantasy characters. It’s not a rushed place—you don’t hurry in, think a minute, then rush out. You live there for a while.
Lost in the Desert
I didn’t just lose “my head is my study” ability for a short time. I lost it for years—close to twenty years, by my estimation. Oh, I still wrote and published a lot during that time…but the novels were no longer the kind that reached down deep inside me and pulled out the “good stuff.” (We all know what that feels like when we strike writing gold.)
I also wrote a lot of nonfiction during that time—all books I’m proud of—but nonfiction (for me, at least) doesn’t require head space. It’s more like writing term papers: just sit down and do it.
However, last week I made the happy discovery that sometime in the last couple months, I have regained that ability to dwell in my own head space. This will sound silly, probably, but I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning the first time it happened. I remembered that lovely feeling! And it came out of the blue.
When it happened a second time, and then a third time, I started paying attention to what was causing (or allowing) it. Each time I was pushing my one-year-old granddaughter in a stroller or in her swing in the back yard. The walks in the afternoon are up to an hour, and the swing time can last twenty minutes or more.
I realized that ideas were popping in my head. The voice of a character I had been struggling to “hear” suddenly started talking to me. She was real, and I knew her. The first time it happened, I held my breath, afraid she would disappear as suddenly as she’d surfaced. After it kept happening, I relaxed and blessed the unexpected side benefits of unrushed routine tasks.
L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books and Emily of New Moon, called this “dwelling in head space” process “brooding up.” It’s a way to juggle duty with a writing schedule, a way to think out plots and characters while attending to your job and motherhood. And Agatha Christie is famous for saying that her best time to plan a book was while doing the dishes.
“For anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of long hours to spend at the writing desk,” says Atlas in The Literary Ladies, “it’s comforting to know that your head can serve as your study…and that you can carry this portable work space wherever you go.”
Yes, it’s a great comfort to me. Is it to you?
December 19, 2011
Writing in Flow author Susan Perry says, “To allow your creativity, your insights, your inner stories, to spill over onto the page, you’ll need to work out—consciously or not—some way to loosen yourself up so it can happen.”
If you already have a looser, laid-back, easygoing personality, you may find it easier to get into the flow state for writing. However, if you’re more like me, don’t despair! Even control freaks can loosen up.
I will give you some ideas below, and hopefully one or two of them will work for you. Not all of them work for me, but we all have different personalities. What doesn’t work for me may be exactly the idea that will help you.
Ways to Loosen Up
ONE: Most writers develop certain individualized routines and rituals that seem to ease their entry into “flow,” that timeless state where writing is a pleasure. By using specific daily rituals or routines to ease into the writing, it helps you make the shift into another state of consciousness, something like when you fall asleep. My daughters both created multi-ritual night time routines, each step done in the same order, to help their babies transition from playtime to bedtime. Some babies need longer rituals than others to make the transition, and some writers need more time and more rituals to make the transition into flow writing. Experiment until you find the routines that work for you.
TWO: Some writers suggest that it’s helpful to bring a sense of play into your work. Ask yourself, “How can I make today’s writing fun?” Try whatever comes to mind. Yes, trying new ways of writing may feel risky. Just remember that early on in the process, there is really no risk. It’s an illusion. There’s no need to censor yourself yet. No one needs to see your writing until much later—if ever! “If you procrastinate over your writing,” Perry says, “it may be because you believe on some level that your first drafts have to be excellent, perhaps even perfect.” Instead, tell yourself (out loud, if necessary), “It doesn’t matter!” Or as Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, allow yourself to write ”%&#$@*^ Rough Drafts.”
THREE: To get into flow, some writers try nothing at all…they say they simply stop trying and wait for words to bubble up, knowing this is what it takes for their own minds to loosen up and get into the flow.
FOUR: I wouldn’t have believed this next tip would work—except that I found out it did by accident. Doing your e-mail works to loosen up some writers and helps them slide smoothly into their “real” writing. I found e-mail to be helpful in a different way. I was babysitting at my daughter’s one day, and the baby took an unusually long nap, but I hadn’t brought my writing with me. So I got on my daughter’s computer and wrote an email to myself! There is something about writing e-mail that lets you go with the flow. With e-mail, you don’t worry about word choice or impressing someone usually. You just write off the top of your head. The day that I decided to do my writing at her house, but email it to myself, produced some of the easiest writing I’ve done in years. Other writers say that e-mail gets them to the computer, which is the biggest hurdle they have to overcome.
Take time to experiment with these rituals and routines. See which ones work for you. “There’s something about rhythmic, habitual, routine physical activity,” says Perry, “that relaxes and loosens both the body and the mind, thus preparing it be creative.”
FIVE: One last tip: “trivialize the task.” Very few writing sessions are that critical all by themselves. Each day’s writing is only one part of the whole. Each part you write is small and just not that important in the larger scheme of things. Knowing that no one piece of writing is that critical may help you gain perspective and loosen up.
Do you have a favorite ritual or practice or routine that you follow that helps you loosen up and get to your writing? If you do, please share!
December 12, 2011
One of my writing goals for 2012 is learning how to recapture the “fun” of writing. I love having a writing career and being published, but sometimes I long for the days when it was simply enjoyable to write.
I remember the days of getting into my fiction simply because I loved the character and I wanted to tell her story. No deadline. No contract. Just a story to tell. I’d get immersed in my fictional world, lose all track of time. Then I’d hear a baby wake up crying, and be shocked that ninety minutes had passed!
Getting into the Flow
In order to recapture this “timeless state of writing,” I’ve been reading books like The Art of Relaxed Productivity e-book and Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us and a few blogs. I found many references to “flow” and the “flow experience.” It reminded me of a book I read years ago incorporating the principles of “flow” (from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.) That book is Writing in Flow by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. I’m re-reading it now, and I think the topic is so important that I’ve decided to do a blog series on it.
We all want to be more productive as writers and make the best use of the little writing time we have. And we all want to ENJOY it more. We want to relax and lose ourselves in our writing. This is true if you’re a student working on your first lesson or a much published writer in an established career.
What is writing in flow? According to Perry in Writing in Flow, “You know you’ve been in flow when time seems to have disappeared. When you’re in flow, you become so deeply immersed in your writing…that you forget yourself and your surroundings. You delight in continuing to write even if you get no reward for doing it…”
Apparently we writers have a lot more control over getting into this “flow state” than I used to believe. There are habits and rituals that can help you get into flow. We don’t have to wait for the muse to appear. I’ve been trying the author’s advice this month on how to write in flow more often, and it works for me. There are things to watch out for and avoid, too, so that you’re not jerked out of flow once you enter it.
One condition to be aware of resonated with me. Apparently I’m not alone in needing to get through an entire draft or two before showing a manuscript to anyone. “The optimal conditions for creativity (and thus for flow entry) include a condition of psychological safety from external evaluation,” Perry says. “Tell yourself that no one has to see this, that you can decide afterwards whether to show it to anyone. Make a habit of putting your finished work away for a while before looking at it again.”
Is It Important?
Another condition for getting into flow has to do with value. “One of the most powerful combinations of motivators [for getting into flow] is the sheer love of writing and the belief that it matters.” I know that most writers–including me–struggle with this at times. We ask ourselves, “Does what I want to write really matter?”
The answer to that is a personal one. It will be based on your belief system (what you believe is important in life), and only you can answer that. Some examples… If your belief system says that writing for children is important and they need good role models for solving problems in our complex world, then you’ll have trouble feeling like your writing matters if you take an assignment that violates that belief. If you believe that kids really need to stretch their minds, your nonfiction pieces that do that will reassure you that your writing matters. If you believe the world is crying out for humor and good entertainment, then writing this type of story or book will be something that matters to you.
What Motivates You?
Do you write because something inside you drives you to write? Or is your writing these days motivated by external rewards only (money, a prize, fame)?
More from Susan Perry: “Researchers have found again and again that work feels like play when you’re motivated intrinsically, that an intense involvement in an activity for its own sake, with little or no thought of future rewards, leads to positive feelings, persistence, creativity and flow. It’s also been found, however, that when extrinsic rewards or motivators, such as competition or the pressure of being evaluated, are thrown into the mix, the desire to do the thing for its own sake may be undermined.”
What does this have to do with flow? When you are writing ONLY as a means to an end (to pay the rent, to meet a deadline obligation, to please someone else) you’re typically less intensely absorbed by and engaged in the task itself. This reduces the likelihood of being able to write in the enjoyable flow state.
Steps to Finding Flow
In Writing in Flow, Perry talks about the “five master keys to flow entry in writing,” and I’d like to talk about these five keys in the next five blog posts. They will be overviews only and won’t replace reading her excellent book. However, I hope to share with you how you can have considerably more control over your writing frame of mind than you may now believe.
I’m always looking for ways to be more productive, but also to ENJOY the writing more. These keys to writing in flow have helped me, and I hope they will also help you.
The five master keys to writing in flow that we’ll discuss are:
- Have a reason to write.
- Think like a writer.
- Loosen up.
- Focus in.
- Balance Among Opposites
Her book also includes a lengthy section on “making flow happen,” which includes specific techniques (many of them!) for “luring” flow into your writing life. There is also a section on how to “flow past blocks.” I will highlight a couple of her ideas, but I don’t want to plagiarize her excellent book. The upcoming blog posts will give you enough information to know if you want to buy the book yourself. (Good used books available on Amazon!)
See also Susan Perry’s blog for Psychology Today called “Creating in Flow.”
October 10, 2011
Today I want to share something with you that I read about dreams.
“Only dreams give birth to change,” the meditation for writers said. “Gradually, as you become curator of your own contentment, you will learn to embrace the gentle yearnings of your heart.”
Guardian of Writing Dreams
What longings about your writing life do you have tucked away somewhere? I think we all have them. Some get tucked away until that fictional future of “when I have more time.” Others are hidden because we don’t believe that we have the skill or ability to produce the kind of writing we hold dear.
“There are years that ask questions,” said Zora Neale Hurston, “and years that answer.” Right now, with the publishing industry changing so much (in both good and challenging ways) some of your writing dreams may be on hold. But this time shall pass. We are growing and adapting as writers. So don’t let “dreams on hold” become “dreams forgotten.”
Sowing Until You Reap
Don’t stop dreaming. Continue to sow the seeds of your dreams. Water them daily. Be the curator of your writing contentment. Your dreams need guarding and protecting, and you’re the only one who can do that.
Take a moment today and write down your most private writing aspirations. Name two things you can do to protect those dreams. Today, do at least one of them!
September 26, 2011
I was wrong–again.
For twenty years, I’ve told students and wannabe writers that you have to put the writing first! Do it before other things take over your day.
Fight the impulse to clean your kitchen first, or straighten your office, or clean up the mess the kids made before leaving for school.
“But I can’t work in chaos,” writers protest.
You know what? Neither can I anymore–at least not well! And when I force myself to, the work is doubly tiring. Doubly stressful. Much less satisfying.
Energy Drains in Disguise
Something I read today made me realize my advice might be a tad off. Not wrong altogether, since if we don’t make writing some sort of priority, we won’t do it. However, to eliminate energy drains in your life, you need to look at the whole picture. Certainly all the things you do in a given day take your energy. Every action you take on your lengthy “to do” list uses energy.
What you may not realize is that actions you don’t take use energy as well. Your disorganized office, the piles of laundry on the bedroom floor, the stack of bills to pay, the two birthday gifts to buy, the clothing needing repair–all this drains your energy reserves as well. It happens whether you are looking at the unfinished business or just thinking about it.
It siphons off energy that could be used in a much more positive way. “These items on your mental ‘to do’ list, the ones you’ve been procrastinating about, distract you or make you feel guilty and drain the very energy you need to accomplish your goals.” (So says Cheryl Richardson in Take Time for Your Life.)
NOT an Excuse to Procrastinate
Taking care of the unfinished business that nags at your mind–and keeps you from feeling like you can settle down to write–may be necessary before you can tackle your writing assignment. Don’t go overboard though, or you’re just procrastinating. Washing the dirty dishes is one thing–taking time to replace the shelf paper in your pantry is something else.
Figure out the things that you MUST have done to feel at peace in your environment, and do those things ONLY. (It helps to do as many of them as you can the night before too.)
Eliminate the chaos in your environment, and you’ll eliminate a LOT of the chaos that blocks your writer’s mind. Now…off to clean my office.
September 21, 2011
Research indicates that the average person talks to himself or herself about 50,000 times a day. (I bet writers do it even more!) Most of that self-talk is about yourself, and according to the psychological researchers, it is 80% negative.
While much of the negativity comes from criticizing ourselves (I don’t like my new jeans… They don’t like me… I can’t ever seem to get organized…), a lot of the negativity we sensitive creatives feel is picked up from other people. We tend to take on the emotional states of other people–and if they’re negative, it impacts us.
Kinds of Conversations
I found three great articles on the types of conversations we have (with others and with ourselves) and the impact on us as creative people. There’s even one strictly for introverts!
“Are Invisible Conversations Preventing Your Success?” tells us about the invisible conversations we’re often in without knowing it, especially the kind where we’ve picked up on someone else’s bad mood. This type of invisible conversation is called “emotional contagion.” It can be especially detrimental to creative people.
“You Become the Network You Hang With” had this to say: “When my first book was published they told me they [my friends] could also publish a book if they had time. When I suggested they would have time if they quit going to the pub and watching so much TV, it was made clear they did not tolerate such talk…I started to see real progress when I made a new network. When I sought out people who were a positive, nurturing influence. People who would help me up rather than find ways to knock me down.” [This is called "crab mentality."] ”Rather than hold me back my new network expanded my horizons, expanded my opportunities, and expanded my reach.”
“The Introvert’s Guide to Making Great Connections” had this to say before giving his “guide” recommendations: “People will tell you that meeting and mixing with others – networking, hanging out, socializing, tribe-building, whatever you want to call it – is a vital part of the path to… something. Greatness, maybe, or creativity. Perhaps just contentedness…Honestly, I haven’t found that to be so. In fact, I find most of the connect-y, conference-circuit-y, business-socializing stuff to be vacuous, painfully false and a waste of time.” He goes on to say what kind of conversations work for introverts–and what happens between conversations.
Do you identify with any of these writers? Do you find your creativity is impacted (positively or negatively) by the kinds of people in your life? If so, share with us. And if you have a tip for dealing with it, share that too!Newer Posts »