The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘creative writing’ Category

Confession time. I have a bad writing habit. Actually, it’s really more of a bad organizing habit that impacts my writing. I tend to write things down in multiple places. Every few months, I start off with a journal of some size and vow to write everything of importance in one place—that journal. After a few weeks of trying, I am back to scribbling ideas on sticky pads, legal pads, index cards, slips of paper, the back of my checks, receipts, etc. I forget to carry my journal, or I discover it’s uncomfortable to carry in my purse. You get the idea. I’m quickly demoralized by the array of unorganized paper that gathers. At times I’ll have so many unrelated sticky pad notes wadded together it will seem as if they wandered off, had some fun, and produced sticky pad offspring. Overall, this lack of having my notes organized creates a lot of wasted time, energy and clutter.

I often listen to author Mur Lafferty’s podcast, I Should Be Writing. Recently, she talked about the value of tackling one bad writing habit at a time. She said it is too hard to fix multiple issues in one’s writing all at the same. Makes sense. And, this insight is applicable to anything that impedes one’s writing.

I’m a fan of digital organizers like Evernote and I do take notes on my phone. But, I am a paper gal through and through. I wanted to find a solution to my inability to keep all my ideas/thoughts/musings in one place.

One of my dear friends has been using and raving about the Bullet Journal, a popular tracking and organizing system, for years. She uses it for everything and continually encourages me to try it. I have resisted. I felt like I would start with the best of intentions and then stop using it in a month b/c I have multiple projects that I like to keep kind of separate (academic and creative). She disagreed with me, but let it go.

In late June, I came across this article from blogger and author, Chrys Fey. She uses the bullet journal to support her writing career. Instead of using it as a main to-do list, Chrys shared:

“For my bullet journal on the other hand, I like to keep track of all the things I do (from my to-do list) for my writing career, from writing and editing to publishing and marketing. I love this because it’s a log I can come back to if I need to know when I completed a specific task. It’s also great proof that writing is my full-time career, if that should ever be questioned, lol. And, it’s nice to see all that I accomplish.”

Her post gave me the idea to use the bullet journal in a similar way—just to support my writing. As writers, we dream about success, but rarely in those dreams do we visualize ourselves working in different ways. It’s a lot less glamorous to envision new organizing systems as part of our success. The reality though is that my writing career is expanding and I need different structures to keep connected to its various components (e.g. submission opportunities, speaking gigs, scheduling readings, upcoming workshops, writing blog posts, author newsletters, fictional works, etc.).

Using the bullet journal just for my writing felt interesting and doable.

As many people do, I decided to adapt the bullet journal system to meet my needs. I took an existing journal (one I can carry around everywhere) and watched this video on the basics on how to set up a bullet journal.

This journal had little writing in it, so it became a perfect candidate for its transformation into a bullet journal.

The result has been fabulous. I feel more organized and my space is less cluttered.

I occasionally write an idea down on sticky pad, but usually in a day or two, the idea is transferred to the journal. I am really enjoying using this system.

The August log

I highly recommend Chrys’s post for more information on how to use a bullet journal for your writing.

What’s a bad writing habit that you’re wanting to change? I’d love to know.

Photo credit (top picture)

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I just completed a month long complaint fast and I feel great. I haven’t done one in years.

What is a complaint fast and what might you gain from trying one?

This fast is just what it sounds like—you refrain from making a complaint, or a repetitive negative statement, for a specified amount of time. You can choose a week, a month or longer.

There have been times where I have felt that I was complaining way more than was good or healthy for me.

The benefits I have experienced on complaint fasts include having energy to focus on what’s important in the moment, being action oriented and being more attuned to my feelings. These benefits definitely support my creative life.

I discovered the idea of a ‘complaint fast’ probably about six years ago. Amanda Owen, personal transformation author, is the first person I remember writing about and introducing me to this concept. She is the author of two fantastic books: The Power of Receiving: A Revolutionary Approach to Giving Yourself the Life You Want and Deserve (I liked this book so much, I reviewed it on the blog) and Born to Receive: 7 Powerful Steps Women Can Take Today to Reclaim Their Half of the Universe (here is my interview with her).

Here is a snippet from Owen:

“We live in a society where complaining is a way of life and a way to bond. But recounting the unfairnesses, the slights and the difficulties that you endure day in and day out has insidious consequences….Complaining is different from talking about your feelings. Complaining is telling a story about your suffering. And, as you have probably discovered, that story doesn’t ever seem to end! Additionally, it chases people away. Have you ever been trapped listening to a monologue of misery? It’s not fun.

Feelings are universal; everyone can relate to them. When you talk or write about your feelings, you discover solutions that help you find your way to a happier situation….

If you have an impulse to complain, check in with your feelings instead. Sit with them a bit. Become familiar with what they are telling you.”

Practically this means that when on a complaint fast, you are observant of your language and emotions during the day. When you feel like you are about to complain (out loud), you check in with yourself. It doesn’t mean that you don’t acknowledge what is bothering you or share that appropriately. A complaint fast for most of us gets us off auto-pilot and raises our awareness of how we manage the inevitable irritations in life. It’s definitely not about bottling up feelings, suppressing feelings or putting on a happy face. I found myself journalling quite a bit about my feelings and also taking the time to share my feelings with others in an open and honest way. And, as she suggests, by redirecting the energy one uses for complaining about a situation into finding solutions, new ideas pop up all the time.

I absolutely love doing complain fasts with a buddy. It’s a sure fire way to create some accountability and humor during the process.

I guarantee you that if you try a complaint fast for even for a short period of time, you will tap into new areas of self-knowledge. After a few days you may feel emotionally lighter and more at ease with life.

If you take on this challenge, I’d love to hear about how it goes!

I’m so excited to share this cover reveal of Feminine Rising! It’s a new collection coming out next spring that will feature essays on what being gendered female in this culture has meant to some writers. The editors are Andrea Fekete and Lara Lillibridge. My essay, “The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank” is being republished in it which first appeared in the literary journal Trivia: Voices of Feminism. I’m thrilled to be a part of this collection and you’ll be hearing more about it over the next few months!

A bit of backstory: During Fall 2010, local writers were invited to visit the Joyful Jewel, a gallery in Pittsboro, North Carolina and see which piece of art inspired them to write.  My piece was inspired by Sharon Blessum’s photograph “Medicine Women.” In the photograph, there are four small iridescent torsos of mannequins with names like Copper Shaman, Shaman of the Heart Chakra, Shaman of the 7th Chakra, and Water Shaman. Some of the torsos have feathers sprouting from the backs of their necks and others showcase big chunky necklaces.

In December, the Joyful Jewel hosted “Visions and Voices” where writers were asked to read what they wrote after their visit and the corresponding artists were asked to display their objects and say a few words about the art-making process.

I first read my piece at the “Visions and Voices” event and then three years later it was published in Trivia. I really love this piece so I continued looking for reprint opportunities. I submitted it to Andrea and Lara in 2016 and it was accepted right away. The editors found a publisher and now this essay will have a new home in spring 2019!

 

How long do you want to keep writing and creating? Is your body and mind up for the journey? Writing is one of the few professions that can be practically age proof. There’s one big caveat though—we can write well into our senior years only if we respect our bodies and keep them as healthy as we can.  Joanna Penn, noted and successful indie author has teamed up with Dr. Euan Lawson to write The Healthy Writer: Reduce Your Pain, Improve Your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long-Term. And, it promises to be a new standard on this topic.

Aching back? Chronic pain, sleep problems? Anxious? Sugar cravings? Penn and Lawson tackle many physical and mental health issues that beset writers, including difficult ones to talk about like depression, loneliness, anxiety and challenges with chronic pain.

Like in her other book: Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey (which I also enjoyed), Penn posted a survey on her blog and asked writers to share their triumphs and challenges with staying healthy. And, they did–over a 1,000 writers responded, detailing their struggles, triumphs and tips.

In the past several years, Penn has been open about her debilitating migraines, chronic lower back pain and managing the emotional ups and downs of creative work. Some of her long term solutions have included taking up yoga 3-4 times a week, using dictation software and taking daily walks. I’ve been inspired to see how positively the changes she’s made have benefited her.

What really works in this book is their combined experience. They expertly weave together insights from their own journey and useful snippets from survey respondents. What’s the science on rest, standing desks and ergonomic chairs? Lawson’s got the answers and does a fantastic job of making the science and medical research accessible.

What’s it about: Getting you to think about ways you can keep doing what you love for a long time; prioritizing your health as part of a long term sustainable career as a writer, cultivating a healthy author mindset

Structure: Several chapters are co-written, some chapters are individually written, reflective questions and resources at the end of each chapter

Style: Extremely personable; scientific information presented in a way that is fun to read

Topics: a personal journey to a pain-free back, writing with depression and anxiety, the active writer’s mindset, loneliness and isolation, a letter to sugar, strategies for the sofa bound, tools for writing, dealing with imposter syndrome, perfectionism, developing writing routines, ways to revise

Inspirational Nuggets:

There is a risk that any book about health can get preachy, but this is not a book about denial. It is not necessary to live a life that would make a monk weep. We are not aspirational ascetics, denying the flesh for the greater holiness of the written word. This is not an exhaustive book covering everything possible, but we hope it will help you feel less alone in your journey toward wellness. It is about empowerment. It is about sustainability. It is about making change that will help you become a healthy writer for the long term.

Healthy Writers Need Healthy Connections:

If you want to be a healthy writer, then you should spend as much time addressing your social networks and your social isolation as much as anything else. It needs to be on a par with giving up cigarettes, sorting out your sleep, losing weight and getting exercise.

Jumping into Facebook doesn’t count. In fact, there is mixed evidence about the impact of online social media and its effect on loneliness. One study among postgraduate students found that increased use of Facebook was associated with loneliness.

The inability to do what everyone around me was doing made me feel even more worthless than the illness already did (from a chapter written by Dan Holloway on writing and mental health issues):

And if I ever admitted to my writing friends that I was finding it hard the classic retort would come back: “We all feel like that.” People who say this mean well, but it is such a damaging thing to say. The thing is, when I say I can’t put pen to paper, I don’t mean I’m finding it tough. I don’t mean I need tips to unlock the words. I don’t mean I need prompts or-don’t even go there-a better plan. I mean I can’t. I physically cannot make the words appear. You wouldn’t tell someone who couldn’t use their legs that we all find it hard to stand up, just because sometimes you’re tired and don’t feel like it. It’s time we stopped making the same gaffes with mental ill health.

Sort out your sleep

Many writers surveyed for this book talked about sleep. There were suggestions for developing routines at the end of the day and recommendations on avoiding screen-time. There was a recognition that depression, anxiety and work related stress had a big impact on your sleep.

In Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker collates studies that show sleeping less than six or seven hours a night can impact your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, disrupt your blood sugar levels, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, and contribute to psychiatric conditions including depression and anxiety.

So clearly it’s an important topic for writers.

Bottom line: This is a definitive guide for encouraging writers to make sensible and long lasting changes for their health.

I consider myself pretty healthy. I work out 4-5 times a week, watch what I eat and meditate several times a week. I came to this book feeling like I knew a lot about healthy living. This book, however, opened my eyes to the many things that I had taken for granted.

I have been lucky. I haven’t had much back, neck or wrist pain. But, I don’t want to take any of that for granted anymore. I saw that I was cutting corners on getting proper rest, working in not very ergonomically friendly ways, and ignoring good rules for taking breaks from work.

After reading this book, I felt inspired to take even better care of myself—especially now that I turned fifty.

I have implemented a few things right away (like getting a riser for my laptop), and recommitting to using my dictation software more often. The bigger lifestyles changes like getting more rest are long-term projects.

Not to be morbid, but when I face my demise, I hope that I’m very elderly and in a chair writing. I have better hopes of going that way by making investments in my health now.

If you pick up this book from Amazon, please consider using my link below. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Here is the link for the paperback.

 Here is the link for the e-book.

I’m teaching a writing workshop through my local community college on Saturday, October 27 called: Write Faster, Write Better: Author 2.0

I came up with the idea of this workshop as a way to encourage people who have always wanted to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but wanted more guidance. As I was thinking about it, however, it occurred to me that it would also be the perfect place to share ways to “level up” in one’s writing life. So, even if someone doesn’t want to write a 50,000 word draft, they may want to play with upping their productivity in November. As the description below states, I’ll be sharing some powerful techniques and tools to hack your brain to write better and faster (without loss of quality). The workshop also will provide people an opportunity to discuss their writing aspirations, goals and strategies and evaluate what’s working and what needs refining.

So dear reader, my question to you is: What Does Leveling Up in Your Writing Look Like?

I really want to know the areas that you struggle with in your writing life and the goals you are working on. So, I have designed a very comprehensive poll. Would you be so kind as to take my poll? Getting this information here would be really helpful as the readers of this blog are writers and creators at all different stages. My workshop will be in person (see details below to register), but I also plan to create an online version, too. So even if you’re not local and can’t take the workshop, you may be able to take an online version of it later this year.

Thanks in advance! I will be sure to report back on the results!

Write Faster, Write Better: Author 2.0

Do you want to write faster? Do you want to write better? These goals are not in contradiction with each other! This workshop will teach you some fun ways to “hack” your brain to support increased productivity, outwit pesky inner critics and unleash your inner storyteller.

This workshop will help both discovery writers (also known as “pantsers”) and writers that outline find new ways to approach their work.

Write Faster, Write Better is also geared for writers wanting to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ll spend time talking about how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo and how you can produce a 50,000 word draft in a month.

We’ll spend time exploring new ways to combat what stops us from writing including: procrastination, perfectionism, imposter syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with creative ideas. We’ll explore how other successful writers have found ways to write faster and better including Austin Kleon, Chuck Wendig, Jake Bible and Rachel Aaron.

This workshop is about busting through our own self-imposed limiting beliefs about our writing life.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.

And, of course, there will be door prizes!

Register here

Whew, last week was busy, productive and full of surprises.

-The Locus Science Fiction Foundation recently handed out their year’s best awards and guess what??? Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler won for best nonfiction!!! This wonderful book was edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal. Mimi was actually at the ceremony and didn’t expect to win and thus didn’t have an acceptance speech prepared, lol. I know, however, that she was thrilled. I’m so proud that my essay is in this collection. All nominees and winners can be found here.

-I started a story two years ago in a wonderful speculative fiction workshop run by Samantha Bryant. The story takes place in the 1930s and involves the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston and a young woman named Etta who dances at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem.

Zora Neale Hurston

They get up to all kinds of trouble when Zora asks Etta to to help conjure up a spirit and dance for it. I am generally fascinated by the time period of the 1920s-1940s and have always been interested in the Cotton Club as my maternal grandmother danced there for a brief period.  In the story, I get to explore the race, class and gender dynamics of the day as the Cotton Club practiced segregation (only white patrons were seated) and colorism (i.e. African American female dancers that were hired were typically “light-skinned” or with a “cafe au lait” complexion).

Several Cotton Club dancers

The Apollo Dancers at the Cotton Club Revue in 1938. still from BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, a film by Heather MacDonald

I worked on this story off and on for the past two years but got determined to finish it when I saw a call for an anthology that I thought would make a perfect fit for it. As I tend to write long works, I’m proud of myself that I completed a 5,000 story on Saturday and got it submitted (minutes before the deadline!). And, even if it gets rejected from the anthology, I can submit it elsewhere.

-My novelette Nussia was released last week! What goes into writing a sci-fi horror story like Nussia? In this brief “Inspirations and Influences” essay, I talk about the influences of everything from incisive comedy by African American comedians to the horror movies of the 1980s.

You can read Nussia for free on the Book Smugglers website.

It’s also available as an e-book from all major online retailers and includes a very cool interview with me.  If you pick it up from Amazon, please consider using my link below. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

Dedicate v. 1. To set apart for a special use. 2 To commit (oneself) to a course of action. 3. To address or inscribe (e.g., a literary work) to someone. (Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary, 2nd ed.)

Don’t you feel it in the air? Spring possibilities are about to cede to summer pleasures. I’ve been ruminating on the importance of spring cleaning for your creating life and have covered the first two steps—reassessment and reorganization. The third step is the most powerful one—rededication. To rededicate ourselves to something we deem as special in our lives strengthens and amplifies our commitment.

Rededicating ourselves to our creative life sends a joyful message to our ‘Creative Self’. Our Creative Self loves to be wooed. Its language includes ritual, ceremony and demonstrative acts of appreciation.

What aspects of the creative life would you like to rededicate yourself to as you move into summer’s rhythms?

Here are some to consider:

I rededicate myself to uplifting and amplifying other writers.

I rededicate myself to patience and persistence in claiming a creative life.

I rededicate myself to owning my creative impulses, even in the face of naysayers and saboteurs.

I rededicate myself to knowing that my creative work will matter to someone, so I must finish it.

I rededicate myself to curtailing the diet of my inner critics, who feed on fear, and instead nourish my Creative Self with periods of rest and play.

I rededicate myself to appreciating my Creative Self’s firework moments and subtle whispers.

I rededicate myself to taking incremental steps to finish my creative projects.

I rededicate myself to looking for support, for my creative work, in new ways. [i.e. critique groups, mastermind groups, creative buddies, mentors, etc.]

Here are some aspects of the writing life that I’m rededicating myself to between now and fall:

I rededicate myself to sending more of my work to professionally paying venues.

I rededicate myself to naps, a restful schedule, and daydreaming, all of which nourishes my Creative Self.

I rededicate myself to cultivating time for reading.

I rededicate myself to spending time revamping this blog!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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