The Practice of Creativity

Self-talk is important. What have you been saying to yourself about your writing these past few weeks, or months or even years? Most of us use negative internal language in relation to our creative lives. In last month’s Chatham County Line column I shared how in 2016 a daily affirmation practice changed my life. If you were a reader of the blog in 2016, you may remember this endeavor. Coaches, psychologists and other mental health providers now routinely advocate the use of helpful and positive self-talk. My piece is called “Fruits of a Daily Affirmation Practice”. Here’s a snippet below. I hope you check it out.

I loved making nice images for my affirmations using Canva

The Fruits of a Daily Affirmation Practice

 

Feeling worthy is a learned behavior. —Beverly McIver, visual artist

 

In 2016, I committed to a practice that changed my creative life.  I posted an original affirmation every day on my blog, The Practice of Creativity, from January 1-December 31.

What are affirmations?

 There is a great secret which successful writers and creators from all backgrounds use – affirmations. That’s right, affirmations, phrases that affirm our work and value. And, they help us direct intention into our work. And, they can work for you. Many psychologists, mental health workers and coaches advocate the use of affirmations.

 An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching the Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” You can use them as ‘thought substitutes’ to dispute self-injurious thoughts (as a cognitive behavioral approach), or to provide incentive and encouragement when those seem to be in short supply. Affirmations rewire our assumptions about what’s possible.

The imposter syndrome is a universal one among writers. Established writers can have bouts with it as often as emerging writers. We combat it through affirmations, having a writing community and persisting.

In 2016 what I needed as a writer was lots of practice in self-kindness, plain and simple. I had craft, discipline and perseverance in spades. Many creative people struggle with simply being self-accepting. As you know, we can think the meanest things about ourselves. I don’t know of any writer who hasn’t felt like giving up on their writing dreams. I don’t know of any writer who couldn’t benefit from helpful, kind self-talk on a regular basis. Anxiety, unhelpful self-talk, and inner critics often stop us before we can even get to our projects.

https://chathamcountyline.org/pdfs/CCL.april20.web.pdf

 

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

Hi writing peeps,

Most writers I know are having a difficult time staying connected to their writing life. In the past six weeks, you’ve probably had your schedule upended in completely dramatic ways. Your writing routine is now very different than it once was. Me, too.

This was the #truth

Some of us aren’t writing and really want to. Many of us still have deadlines and projects.

How can you move forward on the writing that matters most?

You know my mission is to serve creative people. I’ve recently written a short guide ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’. In it are some powerful ways to get and stay inspired. These are techniques I’ve culled from years of working with clients through my coaching practice. You’ll love this information and find it valuable. [And, the guide includes some cool bonuses, too]. It’s my FREE offering to you.

I’m only offering this to people in my community. You won’t find this information elsewhere.

Click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

*Also, if you are reading this and work in a creative area besides writing, I believe you’d find the guide useful, too.

Photo credit

Creative peeps, what are you doing Friday (tomorrow!), 10am-12pm EST?

I’ll be a virtual guest for the Wonderland Book Club, co-sponsored by the NC Writer’s Network. I’ll do a short reading from my sci-fi novella Reenu-You recently published by Falstaff Books. This book club is known for digging deep into craft which I’m looking forward to. The group will have questions and I’ll take yours, too. It will be interesting to discuss this story set in the 1990s about a virus that exploits racial and gender health disparities given current events. I also hope to say a few words about staying creative during a crisis and share thoughts about the writing life.

I’m so grateful to organizer Alice Osborn for suggesting a virtual meet up since Quail Ridge Books is closed.

I hope you’ll join me (whether you have read the book or not) for some of the time. I think it will be fun and nourishing for all.

The novella is available at all online booksellers.

Zoom link is available here.  Two step registration process.

Art credit

I’ve been a bit quiet here because I’ve been recovering from crazy deadlines and intense creative output. In October, I shared that I attended the Hay House Writer’s Workshop and learned much about book proposal writing. Hay House Publishing is known for publishing leading self-help, health and wellness, and personal transformation books and has a very successful thirty-year track record.

The attendees to each of the Hay House WWs are able to submit their book proposal into a subsequent contest for one of the three publishing prizes that they sponsor between Hay House and Balboa Press, their smaller imprint. The cool thing is that you are only competing with people who attended that particular conference, in that particular city. Usually about 250 people attend each conference and Reid Tracy, CEO of Hay House reminded us that typically 80-100 people actually are able to get the book proposal in on time. I liked those odds which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend.

Super inspiring to hear Rebekah Borucki’s journey. She attended a HH Writer’s workshop a few years ago but didn’t submit a proposal. She then worked on the book proposal for ‘You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life’ and platform. She submitted her proposal to Hay House via the traditional route and it got acquired and it is now out. She talked about writing the book of your heart. I also appreciated that they showcased an up and coming author and one who identifies as bi-racial.

I’ve been working on a creativity book for some time and so had a draft proposal. I was determined to be in the group of people who submitted their work (see my post about the importance of submitting your work and not self-rejecting) by the due date which was April 5. However, despite my best intentions, I didn’t start the revision process until January. And, although they gave us an invaluable handbook and worksheet of what to include in the proposal, I started the revising later than I had wanted. I had a lot more to add in the marketing and competing books sections. During Jan and Feb, I also attended to other pressing deadlines. Oh, and then COVID-19 happened. And, everything became harder and more chaotic.

And, as they do, my excuses glommed together and created a wonderful home for resistance to take hold.

Deep resistance kicked in just days before I was due to submit the proposal. I kept telling myself that on closer inspection my idea was dumb, had all been said before, unworthy, etc. Yup, the inner critics were phenomenally loud. And, to top it all off, I waited until the last minute to create a short video which was a mandatory part of the package! They asked applicants to create a video to provide some background about ourselves and our book idea. Since marketing and promotion often requires authors to create short videos, they want to see our comfort and skill level with video. We had to post it to our YouTube channel. I do have a YouTube channel, but had forgotten the password, how to login, etc. Resolving that took a good twenty minutes.

As we all know, perfect is the enemy of the good, so after I was pretty happy with the proposal, I got busy on the video. I really tried to not overly script the video and to just enjoy myself. I probably did at least twenty takes before I said, OK, I’ve got to go with the strongest one so far. It’s not perfect.

Looking at the video now, there are lots of things I would do differently and will do differently in the future. I decided though to hold off on judgement for a good 24 hours. I learned long ago from Barbara Sher, author of Wishcraft, how important it is to not judge yourself for at least for 24 hours after you do something creative in public.

The most important thing is that the book proposal package was sent a few hours before the deadline. It got done!

I learned so much from attending the workshop, revising the proposal and submitting it. No matter what the outcome, I feel like a winner.

In my notes from the conference, I wrote down something that Reid said that we should all remember (paraphrased): “The challenge for most writers is to remind yourself…the work doesn’t feel new to you, but it is new to other people.” (emphasis mine)

That was the crux of my resistance–I’d been looking at and living with aspects of the book idea forever, so it didn’t feel exciting or new anymore. That’s why those voices were on hyperdrive. I’d forgotten what that type of resistance felt like.

In the video, I talk about my book proposal for The Creative Tickle®: 52 Ways to Tap into Your DNA and Divinity and a little about myself.  

If you’re so inclined, check out my video and feel free to leave a thumbs up or a nice comment (y’all are kind people, I know!).

It’s been a weird few days for all of us, huh? About two weeks ago, I left for Copenhagen and by the time I got back (with some difficulty), COVID-19 was in full swing. Later this week, I’ll share some reflections about that trip and how we can keep writing some during this difficult moment.

In the meantime, I’m sharing something that I’d love your help supporting and/or signal boosting. This is my second invitation to a crowdfunded anthology and I’m super excited about it! [BTW, I am working on the edits to my story that I wrote for the successfully funded Witches, Warriors and Wise Women, due out in June]

LET’S SLAY!

Do you like vampires? Vampire slayers? A fresh take on vampires and vampire slayers? Mocha Memories Press is crowdfunding Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire, an anthology which will be groundbreaking as it explores vampires of the African Diaspora. I’m one of the invited authors that will be submitting a story along with Sheree Renee Thomas, Steven Van Patten, and Teri Clarke! Mocha Memoirs Press is run by the incredible Nicole Smith and has been a force in amplifying the work of diverse voices in speculative fiction.


We’re almost halfway funded! Please consider supporting this anthology, there are lots of great perks available (with great names like hunters, slayers, stakes and blood drinkers). $1 perks available! Feel free to share with others! TY!

 

Stay safe and healthy!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my feelings and relationship to the term ‘Afrofuturism’ in this recent essay for the online quarterly magazine South Write Large: Stories, Arts and Ideas for the Global South. Is this a term that you have heard a lot about? How do you engage with Afrofuturism?

My Unlikely Path to Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is everywhere these days. From the staggering success of Black Panther to the revival of Octavia Butler’s works, especially the prescient Parable of the Sower written in 1993, to the award-winning novels by N. K. Jemisin, these books have ushered in a new moment. We’re not just talking about literature or film, but music, fashion design, visual arts, and social activism as well. What often gets lost or flattened, however, when a phenomenon enters the mainstream, is the nuance, history, and multiple viewpoints on said phenomenon. Read the rest of the essay here.

February has been a rich and wonderful month. It felt as if I was in deep communion with the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). For many years, I’ve been fascinated by her life. ZNH was ahead of her time as a writer and scholar (she was the first Black woman to receive a doctorate in anthropology). She was also a cultural icon and transgressive artist.

Zora Neale Hurston

In 2016, I started a story, “Etta, Zora and the First Serpent” that takes place in the 1930s. Etta, a dancer at the Cotton Club, meets the charismatic ZNH and gets entangled in one of Zora’s schemes to conjure secrets from an old spirit. As you might imagine, trouble ensues.

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 was inspired to finish this historically themed horror story (with a twinge of fantasy), and then submit it in 2018 for a specific anthology. It got rejected from that anthology and I went to work on it some more. Last year I submitted it to AfroMyth: Volume 2-A Fantasy Collection and it was accepted!

I went through intensive edits on the story. What was refreshing, however, was that I didn’t have to work much on the structure of the story (I often struggle with plotting), but instead needed to beef up description in the last quarter of the story. It was one of the shorter stories I have written, submitted at 5,000 words (which was the maximum word length). In the revisions, however, I wound up adding another 500 words.

AfroMyth: Volume 2 was released today! It features fourteen fantasy stories featuring characters of the African Diaspora.

I love the cover of this collection!

Zora had her spirit fingerprints all over my life this month. I was invited to attend the 31st annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. It took place in early February in Eatonville, FL.  Eatonville, a historically all Black town is where Zora grew up. The Festival spans multiple days. This year the theme was the multiverse and Afrofuturism! There was an academic conference, an outdoor festival and tons of activities and festivities.  I was with an amazing group of speculative friction writers, all paying tribute to ZNH, her genius and legacy.

Standing, left to right P. Djeli Clark, Nwatchukwu Iheoma, Bill Campbell, Tenea Johnson. Seated: Maurice Broaddus and Chesya Burke. We are all looking very writerly!

It’s rare that I have the opportunity to read with and connect to other Black writers, especially in the field of speculative fiction, so my time at the ZNH Festival felt pretty magical.

If you are a speculative fiction reader, I hope you check out the collection. You can find it at all online sellers. Amazon link is here. Here’s the book trailer to check out, too.

I’ve returned to monthly column writing and I’m thrilled about it. My first adventure with column writing was with the Chapel Hill News from 2012-2014. I was discovered by an editor at the CHN through a very personal and vulnerable post that I shared on social media. He encouraged me to become a ‘My View’ columnist. See more about that story here.

For that column, I wrote about a variety of topics including the perils of petite fashion, my early life, my mother, creativity and feminism. I absolutely loved it and learned tons including the ability to write to deadline, what kinds of columns move readers and how to cultivate a nonfiction writing ‘voice’.

Now, I’ve decided to write for the Chatham County Line, a refreshed monthly community paper distributed in the county where I live. I took up monthly writing again for several reasons:

-The publisher is a longtime friend and is interested in making sure a diversity of voices are represented in the paper.

-I like that he has updated the paper and I want to be part of the positive and forward thinking changes it fosters in the community.

-Writing a column increases my profile locally.

-I told the publisher I want to focus on topics of creativity and inspiration, areas that I’m passionate about and ones where I want to deepen my publishing record.

-I also want to take risks in what I write about creativity. That feels pretty vulnerable. Writing a blog can be an intimate experience, but readers are spread across the globe. And, subscribers to blogs generally have an affinity for what a blogger is sharing. Writing for one’s community, knowing that you might run into someone, that read your column, in the grocery store is a different feeling.

I’m excited though about this adventure and I hope you’ll check it out, too. This month’s theme was ‘Get Out of the Basement:  Cultivating a Writing Community.’

I’m a creative writer. It’s taken me a long time to publicly claim and affirm that designation.
There is no one path to being a writer or embodying a writing life. 

You can find the rest here.

Remember, small local papers always need interesting writers with something to say. Consider pitching yourself as a columnist!

Reenu-You is about to have its second life. It has been published by Falstaff Books. I love the cover design by Natania Barron, Falstaff author and artist. In our back and forth conversations, we decided on a theme that implies a cityscape and a viral threat (in the book my virus has a spiral pattern) and that is more in line with covers of sci-fi books that are about epidemics. This cover has a grittier and darker feel than the original.

I love how Natania gets at the hair/beauty product idea with the scissors and styling tools in the main box.

I have been thinking a lot about cover designs. I’ve been very lucky that both Book Smugglers (the original publisher) and Falstaff have included their authors in cover design conversations. That is not always the case in publishing.

Whether you are traditionally or indie published, understanding the importance of the role of book covers in selling one’s book is essential. I found a recent episode from the Write-Minded podcast with an industry professional extremely valuable. Check out Brooke Warner and Grant Faulkner’s interview with Julie Metz (‘What Every Author Needs to Know about Cover Design’). Metz is an industry veteran and discusses everything authors need to know about covers from multiple perspectives (i.e. readers, publishers, designers). I found it highly informative and loved knowing the history of book cover design from the 20th century until now. Another takeaway is that authors aren’t always very good collaborators. They can sometimes be rigidly attached to a concept that falls way outside the norms for reader expectations for a particular type of book. Online, readers spend seconds skimming book covers, so there isn’t a lot of time to grab them visually. The professionals know what they are doing when they make suggestions to authors!

A request for reviews: Reviews of any length help authors. I have 18 reviews thus far on Amazon and 25 on Goodreads and I’d love more. Interested in reading Reenu-You and doing a short review for Amazon, Goodreads, etc.? And, short can mean one sentence. I would be happy to send you a digital copy for an honest review. It’s a novella, so it’s short and intense. It’s sci-fi with a twinge of psychological horror. If you are a very new reader of the blog and don’t know what Reenu-You is about, see below. If you’re still interested, email me at mtb@creativetickle.com

You can purchase the book on Amazon here. Also available at all online retailers.

Back Cover blurb:

What if a visit to the salon could kill you?

What if a hair product harbored a deadly virus?

Kat is an out of work ski instructor who just wants to pack up her deceased mother’s things, leave New York, and return to Aspen. Constancia is a talented but troubled young woman who just wants to start her first semester of college.

In different shops across New York City, they and hundreds of other women of color try a new hair relaxer called “Reenu-You.” Then things start to go horribly awry.

Within days, they find themselves covered in purple scab-like lesions—a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. They are at the epicenter of a mysterious virus spreading throughout the city. As the outbreak spreads and new cases pop up in Black and Latino communities throughout New York, panic, anger, and questions fill the streets.

What is this virus and where did it come from?

Is it corporate malfeasance?

Or is this an orchestrated plot to kill minority women?

In the face of a terrifying and uncertain future, Kat, Constancia, and a small band of other affected women are forced to confront their deepest fears to save themselves and others. As the world crumbles around them, they will discover more about each other, learn about themselves, and draw strength to face the future together. Reenu-You looks at the social and political meanings of hair, female friendships, and viruses.

The beginning of the year has been a whirlwind, in a good way. I was invited to lead a craft workshop for the students attending Carlow University’s low-residency Creative Writing MFA program, taking place in early Jan, in Pittsburgh, PA.

I was very excited, honored and nervous. I am an educator by training and routinely teach undergraduate and graduate students in my areas of my research expertise (e.g. women’s and gender studies, sociology, and political science). Although I have given craft talks, I have never designed and solely led a workshop for MFA students. Even though I have taught writing workshops alone and with others, I have never taught in an actual MFA program.

I received the invitation in September. Once I accepted, an annoying inner critic voice popped up and said, “Who does she think she is to teach MFA students, especially when she doesn’t have an MFA?”

I had to repeatedly say to myself, “This is not about your ego or degrees. You are here to serve the students and offer up what you think will be useful to them.” One of the reasons why I was invited was because they have had students express an interest in writing speculative fiction. The administrators gave me complete freedom to design the workshop in any way that I wished.

Once I reminded myself that I had something unique to offer and that it was OK not to be perfect on the first round, I totally got into designing the workshop.

The MFA students sign up for the classes they want to take about a month before, so I sent some preliminary questions about their goals, challenges, interests, etc. I used their answers to guide me as I developed the workshop.

I taught about speculative fiction and my path as a winding path as a writer (i.e. why I went to get a PhD in political science instead of an MFA). I integrated mindfulness and contemplative practices as resources for sustaining their writing. I also had them generate lots of material through prompts and free writing. We looked at some ways that writers can play with premise, setting and character as part of speculative work. I drew on a wide variety of authors and my own work as demonstrations of particular approaches.

Boy, does two and half hours fly by!

The students were amazing and generous to me and each other.

I so enjoyed watching students dive deep in the exercises and claim some of their buried interests, including horror and dark fiction.

The fantastic MFA students I worked with at Carlow.

I absolutely loved teaching the workshop.

I’m glad I didn’t let my fear get the best of me. I’m also glad that without acting like a know-it-all, I could share with them some lessons I’ve learned as well as hear what their writing lives are like. As in all adult learning communities, you know some things and they know some things. Learning happens in the middle.

The only thing I would do differently would be to send some of the short readings ahead of time, so we would have more time for in class writing and reading our work.

I was honored to read alongside Patrice Gobo (center) and Lynn Emmanuel. We read poetry, memoir and fiction and our selections all complimented each other.

The faculty and staff were welcoming and it was a joy to be with them. I loved reading with the other faculty, too.

Creatives, don’t we just light up when we are with other creatives?

Below are two of the exercises that I used as warm-up material. I absolutely adore Dena Metzer’s Writing for Your Life: Discovering the Story of Your Life’s Journey (a more spiritual approach to creativity, but some of the deepest writing advice I’ve ever seen and great prompts throughout the book)

The Dream Police

We are what matters to us. Our identity materializes through images, memories, events and through things.

Suddenly there is a knock on your door. A trusted friend enters to warm you that the Dream Police will arrive in twenty minutes. Everything, everything in your life that you have not written down will evaporate upon their arrival. You have a short time—twenty minutes-to preserve what is most previous in your life, what has formed you, what sustains you. Whatever you forget, whatever you have no time to record, will disappear. Everything you want must be acknowledged in its particularity. Everything to be saved, must be named. Not trees, but oak. Not people, but Alicia. As in reality, what has no name, no specificity, vanishes.

*set the timer for 20 minutes and GO. This is great prompt to help us dig deep and go from the abstract to the concrete. Every time I do this exercise, my list looks different.

The Dream Police #2 (also from Writing for Your Life)

Imagine you are an anthropologist who has unearthed this list of “possessions” that once belonged to some unknown person. Write a brief portrait of fleshing that person out, speculating on his or her character and life.

-The anthropologist writes about this subject in the 3rd person, (i.e. he, she, they)

My addition: circle 3-5 items, images, memories from this list that interest you. How might you approach what you have created as the basis for a new character? What kind of trouble or setting might be interesting to explore with this character sketch?

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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