The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

I’m taking a break from my weekly post to share this interview that rocked my world and is worth a listen. It is led by Brooke Warner, author and co-creator of SheWrites Press and Tayari Jones, NYT bestselling author. Brooke interviewed Tayari during the recent Bay Area Book Festival.

Jones gives an incredible interview that details what happens when the publishing world gives up on you and how she not only continued to believe in herself, as a writer, but also thrive. She talks about writing her recent novel, An American Marriage and how she created characters and a story line that challenge notions of what makes a marriage and relationship work. She also discusses why she used fiction to explore the inequities of the criminal justice system and class dynamics in the African American community. It’s a compelling interview because Brooke is a fantastic interviewer who poses substantive questions and Tayari brings warmth, honesty and humor in sharing her writing journey. I found out about this interview because it was posted through the Write-Minded podcast. If you don’t know about Write-Minded with Brooke (and co-host Grant Faulkner), check it out–they offer a great format (e.g. writing actions and “green light” moments), they interview a wide spectrum of authors and they also provide inspirational writing advice. Listen to the interview here.

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I had a wonderful time as a panelist at Greensboro Bound. The moderators for each panel were excellent. We received their questions a week before the conference. Our moderators were well-prepared, able to flow with the conversation and drew out the best from each of us. I am always appreciative of others’ moderating skills as I am often a moderator in my academic life (at conferences) and increasingly at sci-fi conventions and other writing venues. I love moderating and take it very seriously. I see my job as making sure that others shine and that everyone participates as equally as possible.

I’ve been reflecting on my participation as panelist. Overall, I did very well and wasn’t too nervous. I was, however, a bit over prepared. I had pages of notes and an outline. In one case, we were seated on a stage which made balancing my folder unwieldy. The other panelists were clearly prepared too, but they seemed to talk easily without notes. I was so wedded to mine that I felt like I missed connecting with the audience a few times. I also think when one can speak confidently without notes, one’s body language is more open. Sometimes I get too focused on trying to get it all right they way that I have it in my head (or notes) as opposed to just being open to what I want to share.  Before events like this, I’m always a bit worried that my memory is going to fail me right when I need it the most. There’s so much to talk about in relation to one’s work and the nuances thereof. When I let go of the notes, however, and ‘saying it just right’, my humor and passion came through naturally. Again, from the outside I don’t think my participation looked that different than the other panelists, but I was struck with the performance of the other panelists.

One is always learning how to be a writer in public and I look forward to the next opportunity I have to talk without notes!

This was the scene last night at the writers’ after party at Scuppernong Books. We were getting ready to read a page aloud from Howl by Allen Ginsberg. This is a tradition at Scuppernong Books; for several years, the staff used to invite folks to read the whole poem together over one night.

This party was a great way to cap an excellent time at the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival. It was a dream weekend of talking with writers (and other kinds of creators), readers and being around books.

This was a very well-executed festival and the writers were treated incredibly well by the staff and volunteers. More reflections soon! Now, I will go rest…

 

I’m thrilled to announce that I will be co-leading a writing workshop with Marjorie Hudson at the Table Rock Writers’ Workshop in August! We’ll be there for a week! Dates are August 26-30.

Our workshop is “Stretch. Breathe. Write: Opening the Writer’s Heart”

We’re exploring how gentle mindfulness and movement practices can enhance our work and open our hearts-so that our writing goes deeper and explores new territories. We’ll do lots of freewriting, as well as support projects that are already underway.

Writing together is always joyous, often funny, sometimes very moving. To have concentrated writing time is a rare blessing for most of us. To enjoy each other’s company for a couple of days in the mountains is sweet indeed.

Marjorie is an author (Accidental Birds of the Carolinas and Searching for Virginia Dare), my writing teacher/mentor and friend. Over the years, we have co-facilitated a number of writing and movement workshops. When we team up, MAGIC happens.

Table Rock is a supportive environment that is known for nurturing writers. It’s in the mountains and will provide a wonderful escape from the heat and humidity of the summer.

No movement experience necessary for our workshop; writers at all levels and genres are welcome.

The schedule is such that you’re in a specific workshop in the morning and then there are some afternoon sessions and evening sessions with the entire group. There’s also plenty of time for writing on your own. And, there will be time to get to meet and interact with the other faculty teaching there, chat with the editor-in-residence and get to know some of the other participants. Sometimes there’s evening entertainment. It’s a lively time.

See the full description of our workshop and more details at the website. Our workshop is already half-filled, so don’t take too long to decide!

I’d love to see you there and nurture your writing! Feel free to email me with questions!

It’s been a week into this challenge (giving away or tossing/recycling 27 items daily for 9 days) and I am still loving it. More about the origins of the challenge here. What’s surprised me are the items that I am tossing/giving away and the areas that are getting decluttered because of actions that I am taking. Case in point–tonight’s work was organizing my packing/wrapping boxes/bags/ribbons area over my washer/dryer. That area is always a hot mess as I am constantly trying to save wrapping paper to recycle/reuse, gift boxes to recycle/reuse and store future hostess gifts. Since things are stored willy-nilly, I’m always frustrated when I look at that area and can’t find anything very easily. When I took everything down and went through it, I discovered that much of what I was saving was old, unusable, or multiples of items that was overkill. I’m actually not doing that much shipping or wrapping as it turns out, lol.

Every time I do this exercise, I feel lighter and more peaceful…and that has got to be good for my creativity.

Some folks who follow my author Facebook page are also doing this challenge. If you are too, let me know how it is going!

Just thought of a good prompt for those of us writing fiction–What items does your main character need to get rid of? How would they go about decluttering their workplace or home? Are they very tidy or are they drowning in clutter?

Around this time of year, I like to share my ‘spring cleaning for the creative person’ process. It includes the steps of reassess, reorganize and rededicate. You can find more about that here. Spring is a great season to declutter as we generally have more energy (and patience) to assess what needs to go.

For the next nine days, however, I will be attempting a specific letting go & decluttering challenge. I love challenges that jump-start an area that I need more work in.

And, this one promises to do just that.

I recently heard about this challenge while watching a recent television special that featured author Marci Shimoff. She said that she learned this technique through a Feng Shui practictioner. Feng Shui is the Chinese art and philosophy of placement. I have used feng shui approaches before with much success.

Instructions: Give away (or toss) 27 items each day for 9 consecutive days.

This approach is simple, but obviously not easy. As soon as I heard about it, I knew that I wanted to try it. I want to make more mental and physical space for new projects ripening later this year.

Tonight after arriving home from seeing a friend in Virginia, I got to work. In under an hour, I was able to gather my 27 items. I was able to toss several non-working pens and highlighters!

These are items that I have been wanting to give away for some time.

Here is a link to a post that quotes from Marci’s newsletter where she talked about what this process did for her.

If you google ‘letting go of 27 items in 9 days’, you’ll find lots of posts about people’s experiences with this process. I have also seen people say that in some feng shui lineages, the number 9 is auspicious and so are multiples of 9.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress. I’d love for you to join me on this challenge if it speaks to you! It’s only nine days! We’ll support each other.

 

I’ve found that different creative projects require new ways of brainstorming and opening channels for getting inspired. For the last few weeks, I’ve been playing around with two different items that have kickstarted my brainstorming sessions for my horror novel.

One was already on my shelf, bought years ago. It’s called The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers by Naomi Epel. Published more than 20 years ago, I remember using it for stories I wrote a long time ago. It has been fun to rediscover its usefulness now. A new edition is available on Amazon.

It includes 50 fun and innovative cards that offer techniques to bust through writer’s block. The cards match to short chapters where Epel draws on her experiences as a writer and advice gleaned from many best-selling authors.

I love the design of the cards. Some of the approaches will feel familiar (like what I drew recently which was to ask ‘What If’ questions; still a good prompt as I made myself come up with 50 plot ideas), others offer fresh approaches that I haven’t seen elsewhere like ‘Follow a Scent’.

I heard about Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards through the fabulous How Do You Write podcast (a new favorite of mine), by Rachael Herron when she interviewed W.L. Hawkin, a writer of edgy urban fantasy. The idea of an archetype was theoretically developed by psychologist Carl Jung. Archetypes are recognizable human patterns, signs and symbols that are found all over the world and across time (e.g. ‘the witch, ‘the maiden’, ‘the hero’, etc). Many writers and storytellers have drawn on Jung’s work to understand how archetypes figure in storytelling.

Hawkin said that she uses the archetype cards to help her brainstorm aspects of her story, especially in developing characters. Here’s the episode. I thought this was a brilliant idea and immediately bought the deck. I’ve done a lot of reading on my own about archetypes but have never thought to apply them to fiction.

There are 74 archetype cards and each description includes light and shadow attributes. She also includes  6 blank cards for your own creations. Although the deck was designed for personal use (i.e. to discover how you embody certain archetypes), it adapts beautifully to storytelling.

The artwork is compelling.

For the horror novel, it’s currently looking like I will have at least six viewpoint characters. And, I’m far enough along to know some things about them including their fears, secrets, needs and wants. But, I was interested in how might they interact with each other (especially under stress), and what could cause conflict between the characters based on how they were expressing aspects of their archetype.

I was able to easily pick out dominant archetypes for each character! So, for example, I have a stunt woman character and it made sense to connect her to the Athlete archetype and use that to explore what aspects of this archetype might she express both consciously and unconsciously. When people are less conscious of how they are acting out of these patterns, it can lead to inner and outer turmoil. And, of course turmoil adds heat to a story!

It’s fun to think about how to update archetypes, too. You can do so by emphasizing lesser known characteristics of the archetype. One of my characters will have a combo personality of the femme fatale and bully. That should be fun!

I had so much fun looking through these cards and making notes, I lost track of time. I’m keeping these cards close as I write.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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