The Practice of Creativity

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Got inner critics? All creative people I know struggle with inner critics that can interrupt their work. What to do about them? It’s an unlikely but important answer–give them new jobs! In the latest Chatham County Line column I show folks how and even get to talk about Sandra Oh, too.

Give Your Inner Critic a New Job

No matter how lumpy or faded or boring you feel, your creativity is of value.

—SARK

Inner critics can sabotage our creative work. More than a decade ago, I began to study how and why inner critics become unwanted residents in our psyches.

Inner critics are the sharp-tongued internal voices that often prevent us from consistently writing and creating. They speak to us with the seemingly definitive voice of KNOWING ABOUT EVERYTHING CREATIVE. Inner critics usually know how to do just one thing and have long outlived whatever protective role they once had. Inner critics want to protect us from failure, shame and embarrassment. Gentle and honest feedback about our work is important and can be gained from a variety of sources. Inner critics go awry when they enter into the creative process at an early stage. They become destructive when they engage us in black or white thinking that may or not be accurate. Inner critics often drive us to abandon work too early, convince us that our ideas aren’t worthy, or that we will never be successful.

Inner critics can have a personal and also a cultural component to their makeup. Read the rest here.

afrofuturistbundle

Looking for a summer reading bonanza? And a playlist, too? I’m thrilled to be included in this NEW Afrofuturist and Black Fantastic ‘storybundle’ featuring established and emerging voices in speculative fiction. It was curated by award-winning writer Tenea D. Johnson and includes work from a Horror Writers Association lifetime achievement winner, Tiptree winner, a couple of Parallax winners, fresh voices from the Caribbean and Africa, African historical fiction, intelligent space romps, vampires, and a fiction album.

I believe this is the first Afrofuturist and Black Fantastic themed storybundle. It’s my first time being included in a curated storybundle!

How does it work?

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you’re feeling generous), you’ll get the basic bundle of four books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE. For a little more you’ll get 11 books! My novella, Reenu-You about a mysterious virus seemingly transmitted through a hair care product billed as a natural relaxer is one of the ‘bonus books’.

Bundle buyers also have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to Mighty Writers, an amazing organization that supports young writers! Check out all the details below. This bundle is available for just three weeks. And, please feel free to signal boost. Thanks!

https://storybundle.com/afrofuturism

Feeling stuck in your writing and storytelling? Are you not finishing things because you get overwhelmed with keeping track of your characters and plotlines? Frustrated with how you are plotting your novel or memoir? Are you painting yourself into too many story corners that you don’t know how to get out of?

Want to know how to bring a story full circle, connect the dots and create a fantastic ending? Want to know more about ‘story beats’ and how to effectively employ them?

Want some inspiring writing craft and mindset tips?

Great, my writer friend, Emma Dhesi can help! She is hosting a cool series that you’re going to love.

Emma has brought together 20+ writers, creatives, editors, and publishers for this complimentary training series. 

The Be a Bestseller: Structure Your Story of Success series is guaranteed to ignite your creativity. Many speakers will be sharing their expertise for better plotting and story structure and others will be focused on mindset issues. It is geared for novelists, memoirists and short story writers. She is a fantastic interviewer.

And, I’m ALSO one of the speakers! I’ll be talking about how positive self-talk can supercharge your writing life (as you know one of my favorite topics)!

And it’s totally free. Sign up here and see all the speakers: https://masterclass.beabestseller.net/MicheleTBerger

BTW: If you are struggling with motivation and momentum in your writing, you might like my free guide: Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19.

So delighted to be on the Adam Messer radio show live. The first hour flew. We’re talking about inner critics and the creative process and also speculative fiction.

Here’s a guide for his listeners to keep their creativity flowing: ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self During COVID-19.

Second hour of the show begins now. Check it out here: https://www.wruu.org/shows/the-adam-messer-show/

One of my writing joys in 2020 was producing a monthly column on creativity for the Chatham County Line. It’s always been a strong publication and great community resource, but under the recent leadership of Randy Voller and Lesley Landis it has flourished. The layout and design is fantastic.

In the summer, I began a three part series about how publishing and writing will change during this decade. The last installment of the series spotlights diversity and is now available. Documenting the ugly things about publishing and its lack of diversity was painful. For a while I had writer’s block (which is atypical for me) because I had to relive and remember the ways I’ve been affected by the cumulative effects of multiple ‘isms’ in publishing’s history. In the end, I found a way to strike a balance between talking about the structural obstacles and point to the tentative positive direction of change. That felt like a win as it gives the average reader a way to understand the issues without overwhelming them. And, I took some of the most charged parts of my experience out to explore in a future long-form essay, so that’s a win, too. Writing always leads to more writing!

You can read it (and parts 1 & 2) on the updated website. I look forward to writing more columns this year. And, if you’ve got a topic you’d like to see me explore, please let me know!

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Writing and Publishing in the 2020s-Part 3

Coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s, I never read a commercial novel that featured a character that was anything like me: African American, female, wickedly smart, urban, and geeky. The children’s and young adult market was dominated by white heroes, white heroines and white authors. If I came across an African American character, they were typically described by the color of their skin (in contrast to white characters who were never described by skin tone) and simplistically rendered. They functioned as a sidekick, devoid of cultural experiences that connected them to the rich kaleidoscope of African American life. It wasn’t until college (!) that I discovered commercial (and literary) novels that reflected some of my life experiences back to me. This was a result of two factors. One was the success of small independent presses begun by second wave feminists that published new work by a diversity of women writers. The second was that by the mid-1980s traditional publishing briefly opened up to a few African American female writers, including Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor.

Read the rest here

When I was asked by Nicole Givens Kurtz to contribute to her anthology about vampires and their slayers across the African diaspora, I was both thrilled and terrified. Thrilled in that I would get to pen a new story and be in a collection with many established and well-known writers in speculative fiction. Terrified in that I hadn’t ever written a story about vampires nor was I steeped in vampire lore. But, when you get a great writing opportunity, you always say yes!



SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire launches on Tuesday. SLAY includes twenty-nine stories, plus original illustrations. It’s a big book!

Here’s an overview: Few creatures in contemporary horror are as compelling as the vampire, who manages to captivate us in a simultaneous state of fear and desire. Drawing from a variety of cultural and mythological backgrounds, SLAY dares to imagine a world of horror and wonder where Black protagonists take center stage — as vampires, as hunters, as heroes. From immortal African deities to resistance fighters; matriarchal vampire broods to monster hunting fathers; coming of age stories to end of life stories, SLAY is a groundbreaking Afrocentric vampire anthology celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the African Diaspora.

SLAY has already received positive reviews from early reviewers!

I loved working on my story and digging into urban fantasy, a new genre for me. I knew that I wanted the story to center on contemporary vampires. My story “Blood Saviors” features a conflict between Fae, humans and vampires–and a virus to boot (I couldn’t help myself). It’s the first story I ever wrote where I began with a theme. I wanted that theme to resonate and I wanted the reader to feel the weight of the moral choices that confront the main character, Shonda. The story explores the question: What would someone be willing to do to save their own kind? Would they be willing to sacrifice another race to save their own?

This collection is important in a couple of different ways: SLAY will be a touchstone for readers of color who love horror and are aficionados of vampire stories but never really saw themselves reflected in mainstream narratives. It offers white readers something unique in the vampire subgenre because the anthology isn’t centered in white and/or male characters. It’s important for the genre in that until now no one has attempted to retell the vampire mythology through and about the experiences of people across the African diaspora.

Pre-order link for SLAY is here

Below is a sampler of AWESOMENESS about SLAY that includes my participation on Alicia McCalla’s Diverse Sci-Fi & Fantasy podcast. We had an outstanding time talking about my story, vampires and subverting conventional tropes in speculative fiction. 

Milton Davis one of the contributors (and small press publisher in his own right) has been hosting many of SLAY’s authors on his blog for short interviews where we ‘SLAY 11 Questions’. They are fabulous. I have enjoyed reading more about the other contributors. You can check out my interview here and learn why I name Shori from Octavia Butler’s Fledgling as one of my favorite vampires.

Check out contributor John Linwood Grant’s excellent posts on ‘Black Vampire’ week on his Grey Dog Tales blog. He covers African vampires, movies with Black vampires and more.

I’d appreciate any signal boosting that you can do for this collection. Thanks in advance.

And, if you are a writer struggling with your productivity and motivation, you might like my ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’. Click here to receive it.

I’m super excited about my guest for this author Q&A and the new format. I thought I’d start moving my author Q&As to Youtube. Dr. Molly Howes was so gracious in agreeing to being the first one!

Molly is a Harvard trained psychologist and an award-winning writer. I met Molly in summer 2015 when we were both soaking up the wonders of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico during the A Room of Her Own (AROHO) residency.

Anne Lee Photography

As I say in the interview, I always felt an openhearted vibe from Molly and I’m glad we have stayed in touch over the years. When I heard about the release of her new book A Good Apology: Four Steps to Make Things Right, I knew I wanted to share her work here.

It’s a timely and powerful book that I enjoyed reading. During the interview we talk about her comprehensive approach to apologies, why it’s important to do them well, how her case studies from years as a psychologist inform the book, and how A Good Apology made its way into publication. We also talk about racial legacies and reparations and Molly’s experience as a new author. I hope you enjoy our discussion and let me know if you want more Youtube interviews!

***

Your invitation still stands, click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

I’ve missed bringing you awesome author interviews this year, so I’m glad to share this new one with you!

Last June, I met Paige L. Christie on a panel at my first ConCarolinas. We were on a panel that I had pitched about ‘Mothers and Daughters’ and how their relationships are portrayed in speculative media. I had heard of Paige’s Legends of Arnan series and my curiosity was piqued as it was described as an epic fantasy with Western elements and feminist sensibilities. Or, as one reviewer on Amazon described it as, “a feminist Western with dragons”. The panel was fabulous and Paige and I quickly realized we had many overlapping interests. My plan was to invite her for an Author Q&A in 2019. The best laid plans…

Fast forward a year. Paige and I got reconnected through the lovely fact that we both have stories in the recently released Witches, Warriors and Wise Women anthology (by Prospective Press, same publisher as her epic fantasy series) and were on a virtual panel together promoting the book.

Paige L. Christie is author of The Legacies of Arnan fantasy series: Draigon Weather (2017), Wing Wind (2018), Long Light (2019), and the forthcoming Storm Forge (2020). As a believer in the power of words, Paige tells stories that are both entertaining and thoughtful. Especially of interest are tales that speak to women and open a space where adventure and fantasy are not all about happy endings. When she isn’t writing, she teaches belly dancing, is director of a non-profit, and runs a wine shop. She is a proud, founding member of the Blazing Lioness Writers, a small group of badass women, writing badass books.

It’s wonderful that Paige could join us to talk about her most recent novel, Long Light.  I’m so delighted to welcome Paige L. Christie to The Practice of Creativity.

 

 

Tell us about your new book, Long Light? This is the third book in your series that began with Draigon Weather. What’s in store for readers?

When I finished Draigon Weather, I realized that one of the minor characters, Kilras Dorn, was much more vital to the overall story than I initially anticipated. Much to my publisher’s dismay, I announced that the series would not be 3 books but rather 4 books. Long Light is Kilras’s story, from his childhood right up to the moment that ends the second book. Basically, I wrote Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, and am now writing Book 4. Oh the tribulations of being a ‘pantser’.

-When we were on panel together, you mentioned that you came to writing late in life (although you always had a desire to write). What are the gifts of pursuing a writing career later in life? What are the challenges, if any?

I actually started writing when I was 7 years old, and majored in writing and editing for my undergraduate degree. I’ve spent my whole life writing, but somewhere along the way I convinced myself that I was incapable of writing a novel, and that even if I did manage it, no one would be interested in reading it. So I did not complete my first novel until 2015, when I was 44 years old. The gift of this was that I had almost 4 decades of secret writing practice and had developed a strong, unique voice in that time period. The challenge is carrying a lot of guilt about ‘time wasted’, which, while pointless, weighs on me. I wish I’d had faith in myself and my writing sooner. But on the other hand, Draigon Weather could not have been written any sooner in my life. It’s a mixed bag. I’m just grateful that I got my act together at last!

-You take some delight, I think in mashing up and subverting genres. Your series is an epic fantasy that has a Western feel. What does genre mean to you?

Genre tells me where to find a book in a bookstore. It also lays out some expectations for long-time readers. People who read mysteries expect certain and different things than people who read horror or modern literature or fantasy or romance. Genre is basically a set of expectations mutually agreed upon by publishers, authors, and readers. Those expectations are based in resonance and shared history – and it’s really fun to ride those things to a place the reader does not expect.

 -How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I wrote the first draft of Draigon Weather in 4 months, then spent the next 18 months re-drafting and editing until it was in good enough shape to put out into the world. Wing Wind and Long Light both took about 2 years each to get into shape. The final book in the series is taking longest of all, mostly because the 2020 Pandemic has shorted-out my creative side. Overall, I can usually create a draft in 4-7 months, and then I nitpick for a year to get it where I want it.

-What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? Why?

What comes to mind for me is not a novel, but a series The Wars of Light and Shadow series by Janny Wurts. It is by far the most epic and intense thing I have ever read, and I think it gets over-looked because it is 1) a massive series written by a woman and people make ridiculous assumptions about what that means 2) uses such rich language and depth of detail that it demands a lot of the reader, and we live in a time when people want instant gratification. As a fan of intense character and world building, and a lover of complex, gorgeous use of language, the very things that freak people out are what attract me to these books. That and the fact that every time I think I know exactly what is going to happen next, I’m wrong! I simply adore these books.

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

This is a tough question because there’s no one-size writing advice for every human. I’d say never get to a point where you think you know it all. Always remain a student of craft. Read widely, seek advice, study books you like and figure out why you like those books, then try new techniques and styles until you find what works for you. Start writing and know that as long as you keep writing, you’ll get better!

Some craft books I recommend:

  • The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
  • Techniques of the Selling Writerby Dwight V. Swain
  • Steering the Craft– Ursula K. LeGuin

Paige L. Christie is a short story writer and novelist. She possesses an uncanny knowledge of myths, archetypes and mystical worlds, and is a true student of fantasy, science fiction, history. It is her deep interest in folklore, as well as intersection of Middle Eastern and North African cultures that originally piqued her interest in the exploration of the influence of different societies, which became the foundation of her novels. Find out more about her here.

Her third novel in the Legends of Arnan series, Long Light, is available everywhere online.

Your invitation still stands, click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

Hi and holiday greetings! I hope you are having a restorative and joyous holiday season. I’m hoping that you can help me spread the word about the North Carolina Writers Network’s contest season. If you are a writer that lives in North Carolina, please check out the various competitions that open in the first quarter of the year, including Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize (Jan 2), Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition (Jan 15), Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (Jan 30), and Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition (March 1). If you don’t live in NC, please still consider sharing to your writing networks–you never know who might see the announcement.

Please also help me signal boost the second year of our newest literary prize, the Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize. It honors the best short prose by African-American writers in North Carolina. UNC-Chapel Hill alum Cedric Brown helped get this award off the ground. This award honors Harriet Jacobs and Thomas Jones, two pioneering African-American writers from North Carolina and seeks to convey the rich and varied existence of Black North Carolinians. The contest is administered by the Creative Writing Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. The winner receives $1,000 and possible publication of the winning entry in The Carolina Quarterly.

I am a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers Network and am very proud of the fact that the Network awards more than $4,000 annually in prizes through our various competitions.

Details for the above competitions can be found here.

I’m winding down from a terrific and transformative week co-leading a workshop called ‘Opening the Writer’s Heart’ with the amazing Marjorie Hudson. We integrated yoga, mindfulness, breath work and prompt writing.

We were at the Table Rock Writers Workshop in the mountains. It’s held at the Wildacres Retreat Center. It’s a special place that encourages generosity of spirit, conviviality, and community. Loved connecting with our workshop participants, the many writers and creatives in attendance and the faculty. Gratitude to organizers Georgann Eubanks and Donna Campbell for saying yes to our proposal.

I’ve been to a number of writing retreats and residencies and this one is incredibly special and I totally understand why it is both beloved and kind of a secret!

The Prep

Showing off our blue toes as we get in the car to drive up to TR. We didn’t even plan on having the same color!

Marjorie teased me about how much stuff I was taking, but I reminded her that I was taking workshop materials, my own work, books to sell, clothes (didn’t know how cold it was going to be–turns out it wasn’t cold at all), and snacks!

Great stop in Little Switzerland for a bite to eat on the way up to Table Rock. I told Marjorie, I’d have to restrain myself if I went into the used book store. I have a ‘situation’ at home with books piling up behind the door in my office. It’s a fantastic bookstore though!

What Makes Table Rock Special?

I had heard about Table Rock for years, but knew little about before Marjorie and I pitched our workshop. It is a week-long retreat that many writers attend year after year. When we arrived everyone made us feel welcome and told us how much we would love the experience. People were pretty emphatic that we would love TR. I nodded, smiled and thought, OK, people are really into Table Rock. Not that I didn’t believe them, but I needed to just allow the experience to unfold. After just a few hours there, I felt a shift and by the end of the first full day, I knew what everyone was talking about!

Here are some things that struck me about Table Rock:

-The workshops are kept small, both in class size (no more than 12 people; we had 6 participants) and overall number of people. The size leads to an intimacy over meals and gatherings. It also contributes to community-building.

The wonderful dining hall where connections deepened over meals. And, what a gift to not have to cook for a week!

-there’s a daily social hour and people hang out and really get to know each other

-the faculty have been teaching there for many many years. These are people working at the top of their craft and teaching at an extraordinarily high level. Participants raved about their instructors, and many participants come back and take the same workshop with their favorite instructor. That’s high praise! They also enjoyed experiencing new teachers (such as myself and Marjorie). We were the new kids on the block. The faculty made us feel so welcomed (as did everyone)! They also shared tips about the writing life and their own journeys. We were so honored to be part of this group and add our own special sauce, so to speak. One of participants, Cyndy gave us the nickname M-squared!

This year’s Table Rock faculty (left to right): Philip Shabazz, Joseph Bathanti, Abigail DeWitt, me, Judy Goldman. Back row: John Claude Bemis, Dawn Shamp (editor in residence), Marjorie Hudson (photo credit: Judy Goldman)

-The Table Rock ethic is to support each other’s writing and to recognize we have a lot to learn from everyone in the room, not just faculty. It’s not about competition. Established writers and newbies get to mix it up at TR. People are interested in who you are, not just what (or where) you have published. People are encouraged to listen deeply to each other.

-Participants get to read their work and so do faculty. Folks in the audience are attentive and supportive.

-It’s a beautiful space that both inspires and restores.

A wonderful space to read, write and enjoy the natural beauty.

-It’s a creative hub. Not only are fiction, poetry and memoir writers at Table Rock, there are also a dozen or so songwriters attending their own workshop. Both groups get to hang out, cross-pollinate and the songwriters also perform for the community on Thursday eve.

A rocking concert by performers who had written and scored songs just that week!

Our Workshop!

Our participants were fabulous! They were a mix of emerging and experienced writers. All had prior yoga experience (though that was not a requirement). All opened their hearts to each other. We were blown away by the quality of their writing and how deep they went with the prompts we offered.

The table was set! The space we taught in was spacious and we had plenty of room for yoga. Flowers from Marjorie’s garden adorn our table.

Our sessions were from 9am-12pm and we opened with yoga and gentle movement, a brief meditation and then launched into writing exercises (people would write anywhere from 5-15 minutes). Folks would read aloud from what they wrote and the group would note what struck us and where they could go next if they wanted to develop the piece. Sometimes, Marjorie and I would read selections aloud from poetry or a novel in preparation for a prompt. We’d provide another prompt, take a stretch break midway through, do another exercise, read aloud some more and offer homework to continue with the prompt. They were always free to scrap the prompt and write something else.

Our themes for opening the writer’s heart and qualities you need on the writer’s path included:

-practicing courage

-practicing connection

-practicing gratitude

-practicing silence

We also allocated some time for ‘instant coaching’ about the writing and publishing life.

A prompt for you!

We spent time talking about what kinds of things open the heart (e.g. courage and dealing with fear) and what closes it (e.g. lies, secrets). This is one of the prompts I offered:

“I didn’t tell the truth for the first forty years of my life. I thought that reason I lied was that I thought I was protecting other people, but the truth is, it was to cover my own behind. I lied to my kids to get them to do what I needed them to do. I lied to my friends to get whatever it was that I needed. I lied to myself but I would never have known they were lies…This is what I realize: Being able to tell the truth makes being able to write the truth easier. And writing the truth is the beginning of healing the heart.” (emphasis in original) —
–Nancy Aronie

-Write about a lie you have told (5 minutes)

Then for homework, I suggested the following:

“Take a situation or topic or an event that you haven’t talked about honestly yet; something that is still stuck in your throat, like a tiny fishbone, small enough not to choke you to death but big enough to let you know it’s still there.

Work on it in small amounts. Truth is all you need to write. No gorgeous phrases, no sparkling syntax, just truth. Write until you’ve written the whole story.” Nancy Aronie

Write for 30 minutes.

Or: write about a major lie told to you

Our group went deep with this prompt! This prompt is adapted from Nancy Aronie’s Writing from The Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice (a writing book that has a similar feel to Bird by Bird; also very funny and very poignant; Nancy Aronie came to writing late in life and I really identify with her journey.)

Our workshop participants doing our last exercise where we invite them to dream big about their writing life. They name their accomplishments, writing skills they want to strengthen during the coming year, and identify allies and mysterious sources of support. It involves colorful post-it notes!

 

Love this picture of Marjorie practicing Lion’s Pose, a great refresher for the face and tension reliever. (photo credit Donna Campbell)

We provided participants with easy, sustainable exercises to support their back, shoulders and hands during the labor of writing. Check out these poses for hands and wrists:

https://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/ss/slideshow-hand-finger-exercises

The Last Day

A quick pic with faculty member John Claude Bemis before we get down to selling our books!

 

Books, books and more books! Faculty and participants get to sell books on the last day. Humbled that my Reenu-You novella was on the table next to so many authors that I admire.

Overall, a very soul-refreshing adventure. I love teaching with Marjorie. And, because we had a week to teach the material (unlike our previous weekend teaching gigs), there was more spaciousness built into the experience. I was also able to stay on my own writing schedule!

And, of course I couldn’t leave with out some books! Can’t wait to dive into these books by the faculty!

I don’t know if we will get the chance again to teach at Table Rock due to schedules, etc. I hope so! I can also see myself taking a class at TR, too. Table Rock definitely made an impression on me.

Doesn’t this look like a really happy face? Taken on the last day of the workshop by the fantastic Donna Campbell.

Check out more about them and their schedule here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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