The Practice of Creativity

Archive for the ‘women and creativity’ Category

Recently the amazing publicist who works for my publisher, Book Smugglers, asked me to consider using a new social media platform—Instagram. She was putting together a cool campaign on Instagram to promote myself and the other authors with novellas by BSP. Instagram is a social media platform where you can share photos and videos. You can create geotags and hashtags. Instagram is visually driven. The Pew Research Center’s study, conducted a few years ago, notes that it tends to draw in a millennial audience.

And, I should note that the publicist wasn’t adamant that I start using Instagram—she was willing to post my content that I sent her. I’m pretty open to using social media, but I was reticent to add yet one more item on my already densely packed list of social media activities. Still, when your publicist asks you to consider something that they feel will be helpful with developing “organic reach” for your book, it’s wise and courteous to say yes.

In the end, I did join Instagram and it I’m glad I did. But, in doing so, it made me think more about a writer’s relationship to social media and how that relationship evolves over one’s career. It made me reflect on the choices I was making (or not making) related to social media. I thought I would share these musings with you in the hopes that it will spark your own reflections. Some of you may feel really comfortable with social media, and some may feel like it’s a drag and time suck. I find that for many writers (especially newer ones), social media is something they do begrudgingly and it often inspires feelings of guilt, dread and anxiety.

Reflecting on my choices, I can say that I’ve (unconsciously) followed four simple principles:

1) Find out what social media platforms you like and use them.

2) Use social media to serve your audience/community/tribe.

3) Grow your social media (and time learning about social media), in proportion to your goals.

4) Model your social media etiquette after other writers and creatives that you respect and enjoy following.

Facebook

The first social media platform I started using was Facebook. I read Clay Sharkey’s book Here Comes Everybody which was chock-full of reasons why Facebook was an important tool to develop and enhance social relationships and “get things done”. This changed my thinking about the value of Facebook.

Pros:

Facebook is my favorite social media platform.

There is an ease to Facebook. It’s very simple to use, so my technophobic concerns were immediately quieted.

I found that I had a natural voice and ease in expressing myself in Facebook. I love inspiring people and connecting with them, so Facebook seemed the perfect medium. A big plus of Facebook is that my insights can be shorter than a standard blog post.

For many years, I didn’t have an Author Facebook page, but used my personal page to do ‘writing sprints’ and offer up writing and creative encouragement.

I am always amazed at who finds and likes my posts. It’s a good cross section of creative writer friends and academic friends (who are supportive and/or interested in developing their writing).

I now use my personal page less for discussions of writing and have relied more heavily on my Author Facebook page. I set up an Author Facebook page a few years ago when I started developing more webinars and online trainings.

There are lots of writers that have used Facebook very creatively to keep their community engaged. Facebook is an invaluable place to cultivate your community and ideally, once you have some publications–your super fans. Many writers have closed groups where they offer super fans, first crack at content, and other goodies. Other writers use their Author Page to update folks about upcoming publications and/or events and even solicit beta readers. If you teach writing workshops, you can create closed groups and offer specific resources to participants.

Cons:

Facebook is always changing its algorithms so having an Author Page doesn’t mean that the people you want to see your work will. It used to be that everyone saw every post and that’s not true anymore. I don’t usually “boost” posts which involves paying Facebook so that they will show your post to many more people (inside and outside your network).

Upkeep:

I post at least once a week, often twice a week. I like culling and sharing interesting tidbits of news, advice and inspiration related to creativity from around the web. I often post different kinds of resources there than what I share on the blog. Although Facebook’s algorithms are always changing, the way the platform looks and feels has been relatively stable, another feature I also appreciate.

BTW: Come play with me on my Author Facebook Page here (or click the link on the sidebar to the right)

Twitter

Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-characters (until recently) messages called “tweets”. Some writers use it for community building and getting to know other authors. Others use it to promote their work. I joined Twitter in 2012 and it took me some time to figure out its value and how to manage my time using it.

In 2015 I attended the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s writing residency which was amazing. I took a great workshop called “Twitter for Authors” that was so empowering and helped me to think differently about Twitter. Mary Johnson shared a power packed handout about Twitter. She made the case that women’s voices were often underrepresented on Twitter and that many female authors were trying to change that. We explored how Roxanne Gay and other prominent writers use Twitter. Mary also noted that many writers used Twitter as a tool for self-promotion and that was OK, as long as we weren’t only using it for that end. Like all social media platforms, one’s goal should be to serve the community by providing great content, not just “look at me, I have a book” updates.

This workshop exposed me to a bevy of women writers active on Twitter and gave me some concrete tools in how to connect to the writing community. It’s taken me some time but I’ve grown my community to on Twitter –it now feels like a community, not just a random bunch of strangers I haphazardly followed when I first joined. I’ve also become a fan of tools like Hootsuite to help automate my tweets.

Pros:

There is a quick responsiveness to Twitter which can feel great. It is easy to populate Twitter with information for your community—use Hootsuite to automate. But, you don’t want to automate too much because part of the fun is actually interacting with folks on Twitter in real time. It’s a great medium for getting to know other writers. Another perk is that readers have connected with me on Twitter. Some have tweeted me their reviews of my work. It’s awesome to connect with readers! This rarely happens for me through either Facebook or even my blog.

Cons and Upkeep:

If you aren’t consistent and tweet often, you can fall off of people’s radars. You also have to practice impulse control. You can’t take things back on Twitter. It is very tempting to tweet something without really thinking about the consequences. Don’t!

You should always bring your best self in all social media correspondence. There is Twitter etiquette that should be learned.

BTW: Come play with me on Twitter

Pinterest

Pinterest is a social media site. You create boards and load pictures or anything that already exists somewhere on the web. I have a couple of different boards including one about Pugs, Writing Projects, Petite Fashion, etc.

I got on Pinterest because my curiosity was peaked, especially after I heard author Joanna Penn discuss it in her fantastic podcast called ‘The Creative Penn’ (sorry I don’t remember which one, but you can see her work on social media below).

She used Pinterest as a way to create a placeholder for images of current writing projects and made boards that documented her novel writing process. I loved that idea! With Pinterest, you can signal to others about your passions, interests, hobbies, etc.

Pros and Upkeep:

Pinterest is very easy to use. You begin by naming and creating a board and ‘pinning’ items to it. You can pin when you feel like it—daily, weekly or monthly. Pinterest also suggest items for you to pin, a feature that keeps your imagination stimulated.

How might Pinterest help you as a writer?

Let’s say you are a fantasy author and you write about dragons. You create a board that collects lots of images of cool dragons.  If someone loves dragons and they are on Pinterest, they will search for dragons. There’s a good chance that they may find your board, pin some of your images and “follow” your board.  They may check out other boards that you have (maybe related to fantasy or not). Over time, they may decide to read one of your dragon themed books. Like Instagram, the idea is that this platform helps attract people based on specific interests and that can lead to interest in what you actually produce. It is thought to help with organic reach—reaching people beyond your networks.

Cons:

Pinterest can be very distracting! I have to be intentional when I go on Pinterest or I go down some beautiful rabbit holes!

BTW: Come play with me on Pinterest

Instagram

This is the new kid on the block for me. I have just started using Instagram. Even before my publicist asked me to join Instagram, I had heard some buzz about how authors were using it. Authors were posting images that related to their story ideas. I heard a good tip (I think from Joanna Penn), that to get started on Instagram, post one thing once a week or even once a month and before you know it, you’ll have lots of images. And, you’ll have followers without trying too hard. I am finding this observation to be true. I also think that I am in a place in my career that having a presence on Instagram is worthwhile.

Pros:

It’s pretty easy to use. You can literally upload any picture and tag it. It doesn’t have to be related to anything specifically about your work. It could be, ‘I just saw this beautiful flower and I wanted to share it with my community.’ I find it fun to upload photos from recent book events.

Cons:

It’s a bit harder to use on my laptop. Like Pinterest, I have to be focused when I go on Instagram. There’s so much interesting visual material, it’s easy to get lost.

Upkeep:

So far none.

BTW: come and play with me on Instagram

At every stage of your writing career, social media can support your goals. It is worth taking the time to reflect on and identify how social media can amplify your writing interests. What’s important to you? Connecting with potential readers? Pitching to editors? Connecting with local writers?

Social media continues to evolve and change and so will our use of it.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to do anything related to social media that you don’t want to (unless your publisher wants you to). Overall, you have a lot of choice about the kind of social media you want to use, how often and for what purpose.

Additional resources:

Jane Friedman’s excellent overview ‘Social Media for Authors: The Toughest Topic to Advise On’ (thanks to Erika Dreifus for posting)

Joanna Penn’s ‘7 Best Ways to Build an Authentic Author Brand’ and search The Creative Penn for additional social media posts

 

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Hi creatives,

I just got back from teaching at the incredible North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference. It was a blast. I also enjoyed supporting the conference’s first ever NaNoWriMo launch. I’ll have updates about all this and more very shortly. In the mean time, I wanted to share some upcoming local events that I’m proud to be a part of.

***

Are you a fan of the science fiction writer Octavia Butler? Want to talk about Octavia Butler’s acclaimed science fiction novel Parable of the Sower? Do you want to learn more about Afrofuturism?

Come join me on Wednesday (tonight!), Nov 8 @7pm at Flyleaf Books! I will have the distinct honor of hosting a conversation about Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower with my special guest and colleague, Dr. Lilly Nguyen! We will explore the themes in Parable of the Sower and how they engage us on critical questions of humanity’s future, race, gender and transformation. We’ll discuss how Butler’s work has propelled our own, and how it can relate to, inform, and inspire other lives.

It’s OK if you are new to Octavia Butler, read Parable a long time ago, are reading it now, or just want to come and listen!
This is part of a free event series celebrating the US premiere of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower at Carolina Performing Arts, an opera created, written, and composed by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Check out more here!

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I’m super excited to be reading from Reenu-You this Saturday at the wonderful Ngozi Design Collective at 11am at 321 West Main Street, Durham. I will be joined by speculative fiction author Nicole Kurtz. We will read from our recent publications and discuss how African American female creators are reshaping the landscape of all things sci-fi, fantasy and horror in books, TV and film. Door prizes and refreshments! I’d love to see you there!

Hi folks,

Binge On Books is running a wonderful feature–Sounds like Halloween. They are primarily a book reviewing site. They have asked various writers to read a 5-10 minute selection from their published work. They have posted an audio recording of me reading from my dark fiction/sci-fi novella, Reenu-You. It’s a particularly pivotal and creepy scene.

It was super fun to choose a selection from the book and record it.

I didn’t know anything about them until my publisher pitched me to them. I’ve discovered some really wonderful writers by listening throughout the month. You might, too!

http://bingeonbooks.com/sounds-like-halloween-day-25-with-michele-tracy-berger/

 

I couldn’t wait to read this book as I am hooked on following the adventures of the brave, smart and complex women that populate Samantha Bryant’s novels. Be prepared for a fast read in this third installment in ‘The Change’ series. Everything pops in this well-plotted novel that continues the adventures of four menopausal women changed forever by the scientist, Cindy Liu. The characters from the first two novels who choose to use their superpowers for the collective good include Linda/Leonel (a woman who was changed into a super strong man), Jessica (a woman who can fly), and Patricia (a woman whose skin can make spikes and armor). In Face the Change, these superheroes feel the consequences of their choices as their work with ‘The Department’ (an organization that deals with supernatural occurrences), deepens in complexity and scope. This has particularly acute ramifications for Leonel and his husband, David. In order to help community relations, the Department’s charismatic director encourages Leonel and Jessica to take on public personas through their new work in the ‘Unusual Cases Unit’. They even get costumes and stage names. This turn of events allows the reader to explore with Leonel and Jessica what it really feels like to be a superhero. Patricia also begins working for the Department. Can a woman used to calling the shots become a team player? Patricia plays with this question throughout Face the Change. Bryant continues the excellent characterization that defines the series and in this book, we spend extended time following Leonel and Patricia.

 

Helen is one of the four women who used Dr. Cindy Liu’s products, but who didn’t turn into a superhero. She’s still the villain and she’s nastier and more dangerous than ever! We primarily see her actions and the havoc that she creates through her daughter Mary, introduced in the second book. The stakes are raised dramatically for the smart and compassionate Mary, who has to deal with an increasingly unstable mother set on seeking revenge against Cindy Liu and the other women. Mary has to make some difficult choices during the course of the novel. Her fear and challenges are believable, as is the slow reveal about her own unusual talents.

As the book opens, Cindy Liu is on the run after narrowly saving herself and her father from being arrested. Cindy’s special formula has regressed her to the age of thirteen (her actual age is sixty-seven). Being thirteen isn’t fun for anyone, but especially not for a super talented scientist. Cindy doesn’t take it well.  The frustration she faces as she makes decisions about her ailing (and unethical father) while dealing with moods, zits and raging hormones (often directed at a hot bodyguard hired by her father’s friend) makes for a very fun read. None of the characters in this novel are one-dimensional and Bryant continues to make us sympathize with, if not always like, Cindy.

A second compelling subplot emerges in this novel, too.  A group of patients that underwent an experimental neurological treatment, at a local hospital, awoke with exceptionally strong powers including mind control and telekinesis. Six of these patients band together and begin to create criminal mayhem.  Sally Ann, Leonel, Jessica and other members of the UCU must work together to stop these criminals.

Bryant delivers strong action scenes throughout the book. There are also unexpected romantic developments in this story that are quite satisfying. There are great twists, turns and reversals throughout. This series keeps me on the edge of my seat. Although much is resolved at the end of Face The Change, the clues that are peppered throughout book about the world-wide strange happenings makes me hopeful that Bryant has plans to keep the UCU busy for many more books to come.

Hi folks, Reenu-You soon gets to have its turn in the TV spotlight.

I was so honored to be invited on UNC TV’s show Bookwatch to talk about my novella “Reenu-You”. D.G. Martin is the host and we did the taping during the summer. It was great fun and I learned a ton.

My episode is scheduled to air on Tuesday, October 10th at 8:00pm on the North Carolina Channel & on Sunday, October 15th at Noon on UNC-TV, with an encore broadcast on UNC-TV the following Thursday at 5pm. I hope you can check it out.

In this promo clip, I talk about the creative process and how to stay connected to one’s writing.

http://video.unctv.org/video/3003427932/

At some point, I will write a post about all the things I learned during my first TV appearance!

 

I’m thrilled that my essay about Octavia Butler is now in print in the new collection: Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler.

In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction Twelfth Planet Press has published a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans. There are letters from people who knew Butler and those who didn’t; some who studied under her at the Clarion and Clarion West workshops and others who attended those same workshops because of her; letters that are deeply personal, deeply political, and deeply poetic; and letters that question the place of literature in life and society today.

 

 

I write about Octavia Butler’s use of affirmations to support her writing and how I have viewed her life as a model for creative practice. Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time know how important a tool I think affirmations are for creative people. In 2016, I committed to a daily practice of  writing an original affirmation about creativity and posting it on this blog. This practice provided tremendous nourishment for my creative life.

There are many writers in this collection that are well-known in the science fiction community including Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okrafor, L. Timmel Duchamp, and Steven Barnes, but also you’ll discover newer writers (like myself) in this hefty 405 page book.

A few months ago, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, the editors of LT gave a great interview here.

If you’re a Butler fan, you’ll want this work in your library. If you have friends that are OB fans, please pass on info about this book!

 

The first thing you notice in Eden Royce’s short story collection, Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror, is the exquisite attention to language and setting. Royce’s storytelling is layered and dense. Spook Lights is billed as dark fiction. The sense of horror, dis-ease and dread are developed in an entertaining and unexpected way in each story.  This collection is a great introduction to Southern gothic horror and is well worth your time.

Themes that recur in the stories include: betrayal, the meaning of death, the price of living, what makes a joyful life, and memory. The challenges of love, especially for women and the price that they are willing to pay for it (whether for a son or lover) is often costly. The characters in these stories yearn, love, desire and act in ways that make for compelling fiction.

This collection is populated by a variety of diverse characters and cultural reference points that include European American, African American, and indigenous histories. And, their experiences are filtered through the landscape of the South, most often Charleston. Indeed, one of the gems of Eden’s storytelling is the way she uses language, dialect, and setting to re-imagine folk traditions, hoodoo, and everyday people seeking spiritual assistance. She upends the traditional Hollywood stereotypes of root workers and conjure women. She is interested in how the magical and mundane intersect, especially for women of color and the paths that they travel to find freedom– both physical and psychological. Indeed, the title of the collection embodies a playfulness about ideas of darkness and light, and personal and official histories.

I truly enjoyed every story in this collection. Some of my favorites include, “Dr. Buzzard’s Coffin”, a fresh take on zombies, including ones that can restore balance. This tale involves an uncle undergoing a metamorphosis in order to cleanse the community of a dangerous threat. In many of the stories, the main character seeks assistance from the spirits and after receiving the assistance, realizes (often too late) that it came with a high spiritual price tag. “Hag Ride” is one of these stories. What is one to do when one loves a philandering husband? We feel for Frieda, the main character when she is warned by ‘Big Mama’, her godmother (who works roots), that sometimes we should let someone go rather than trying to force them to love us.  The troubled young woman doesn’t want to hear this sage advice and proceeds to call on ‘The Hag’ for help. Her philandering husband gets more than he bargains for when he meets a beautiful woman who gives him the “ride” of his life. He is definitely transformed in ways that Freida can’t anticipate. It is a delicious revenge story with a twist at the end.

With the “Turn of a Key” and “Rhythm”, roles are reversed and it is the man that’s been betrayed and seeks help from otherworldly forces.

The stories vary in length and viewpoint, alternating between first and third person. Some like “Hand of Glory” and “Homegoing” are flash fiction driven, leaving us with more tantalizing questions than answers.

My very favorite story, “The Choking Kind”, ends the collection. I love this story because it is a mother and daughter story, a mystery and a story about magical beings all rolled into one. Imaginative and unexpected it deals with ideas of loss, memory, identity, freedom and family.

In this collection, there is a story for every kind of horror and dark fiction aficionado. Compelling short story collections are marvels of pacing, selectivity and wordsmithing. Eden Royce brings all of that and more to this work. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

 

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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