The Practice of Creativity

I’ve started preliminary research for my horror novel. I know that some of it will take place in the Great Dismal Swamp.

The Great Dismal Swamp is one that extends across southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Some scientists estimate that it once consisted of over a million acres.

Over the past several centuries, however, due to intensive logging and the building of the Dismal Swamp Canal (completed in1805), the area shrank to 112, 000 acres.

Books from the library.

I got interested in the history of this swamp, several years ago, when I learned that many African American runaway slaves formed maroon societies in this very harsh environment. There are also lots of tales and folklore about the Great Dismal Swamp that involve eerie lights, ghost sightings and other strange phenomena. There are also true stories about people going into the swamp and never being seen again.

Although swamps can be beautiful places because of the biodiversity, they also lend themselves to a horror landscape.

The swamp has its own unique ecosystem and that includes critters that would be fun (so to speak), to highlight in a horror novel.

To that end, I’d love to know what kinds of fears the swamp might invoke for you. If you have a moment, I’ve created a poll to gather just such information.

 

 

Photo Credits: http://www.virginialiving.com/travel/the-great-dismal-swamp/

https://www.hhhistory.com/2016/09/the-great-dismal-swamp.html

https://www.ncpedia.org/great-dismal-swamp

Advertisements

 

I’ve been working on a Passion Project since the beginning of the year. In my January newsletter, I shared some thoughts about the joys of committing to a passion project. I have expanded the piece here:

In order to begin my PP, I had to do something pretty radical for me. On Jan 1, I stopped listening to writing podcasts, I stopped reading craft books and clicking on the columns of my favorite writing experts. I took a break from everyone else’s wonderful advice, knowledge, tips and went within. I got reconnected with my own CORE WRITING VOICE AND WISDOM.

This was hard to do! As you know I am a ‘resource maven’. I LOVE finding resources and sharing them with my community.

I, however, also believe it is super important to take breaks from the avalanche of others’ advice and guidance and deeply connect with our inner writing intelligence. That inner writing intelligence is always there, of course, but by the end of the year, it craves recognition and reconnection. It craves being in the center and having your undivided attention.

I also truly believe that whatever you focus on the first couple of days and weeks of the New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year. I decided to make room for a passion project that I’ve been dying to tackle. I am writing a creative nonfiction piece (maybe a memoir) about the year my mother left my abusive stepfather and we were almost homeless. I was ten and my sister was four.  Through a special state program, we wound up living in a Manhattan hotel on a floor designated for “battered women and their children”. This year changed my life and I’m investigating all the ways it shaped the woman I became.

A passion project is one that is both scary and ambitious and tugs at your heart. It’s one that has urgency. The one that has been trying to get your attention for all these years. The one where you don’t know if it will “pay off”, the one that is unruly and messy.

How do you make room for a passion project?

You look at your schedule and you notice what activities you do that are either draining, time-wasting, unnecessary or just take up space. We all have some of those. You look for slivers of 10-20% of activities that can be consolidated or cut to give you time. Then you get into the frame of mind where you get excited about your passion project (the one you would LOVE to do, but never seem to find the time). You imagine yourself working on the PP within the time that you have made for it.

To make room for a passion project in light of what’s already on your plate (and I’m assuming that could include, work, childcare, eldercare, exercise, life stuff, other writing projects, etc.) takes some effort. I know it’s not easy, but isn’t it also important to make space for a passion project that has been on your list for a LONG TIME that you intuitively know will bring you JOY, or at least make you feel really ALIVE?

I decided that I would write daily on the PP for 10-45 minutes beginning around 9:30 pm. This meant giving up and rearranging late night time with my partner (we moved our TV time up), ignoring work email (unless it was urgent),  not listening to podcasts, and shuffling other creative writing projects to earlier in the day. It has been challenging but also super rewarding. I began with a brief outline, but most writing sessions I started freewriting with, “I remember”. I now have about half of a journal or 65 handwritten pages.

As luck would have it, I also found my first diary which chronicles a few months of that year.

This was buried under many other journals.

It’s humbling to see what one decides to document when one is a ten-year old!

My handwriting was much neater at 10!

Today, I have begun to transfer these writings into Scrivener. It feels good to move this work from my journal into the computer.

Passion projects replenish our creative wells. They are also addictive. I now will do just about anything to keep this work going though I have other writing projects to finish. These, however, are good problems to have.

I encourage you to find a way to go deep into your work, be it a passion project or something you have already started. And, that might mean taking a break from the outside world for a bit. That was crucial for me. The first quarter of the year is a great time to mirror nature. Winter is about going within and metaphorically playing in the dark.

Do you have a passion project that you want to tackle this year? I’d love to know!

Our writing life encompasses so much more than the actual writing. Here are some other important tasks besides writing that will help you sustain and deepen the quality of your writing life. Over this quarter, when you need a short break from writing, try a few items on this list.

-Check on and manage your money and intellectual property: Last year, authors and the mismanagement of their money and intellectual property assets by agents, accountants and publishing houses made the news:

https://www.thebookseller.com/news/palahniuk-795516

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/77656-agent-danielle-smith-s-former-clients-speak-out.html

These events constituted a wake-up call across the industry. It’s important for writers to both manage our money and our intellectual property.  Make it a point this quarter to collect any outstanding monies owed to you. Check your contracts with various venues that you’ve published with (e.g. anthologies, magazines, presses, etc.) and make sure you have received payment in a timely manner. Peruse royalty statements. In 2018, if you brought books to your readings at a local bookstore (often the case for writers with small presses), or made appearances at a conference, and had someone sell books on your behalf, make sure you have received the correct payment owed. I spent a good chunk of last year chasing down such monies. Furthermore, make sure you are keeping track of your intellectual property by knowing what rights you have with various publishers and when they are expiring, etc. I have really enjoyed author and entrepreneur Joanna Penn’s focus on her podcast encouraging writers to become savvy about understanding the value of our intellectual property. She has devoted several podcasts to this issue, here is a recent one.

Line up beta readers: You are going to finish something this year, right? If so, you will need some beta readers. Beta readers are people who read your work while it is in draft form. They could be people in your writing group, other writers, trusted friends, etc. It’s generally good to have a mix of non-writers and writers as beta readers. Want to know about beta reader etiquette? Check out author K.M. Weiland’s helpful post on this topic.

-Clean up your bio across your social media sites: Read your short bios that live on social media (e.g. FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.). Do they still reflect the writer that you are? Are they compelling? Do you need to add, subtract or tighten anything?

-Clean up digital clutter on your desktop: It’s coming to get you if you don’t.

-Volunteer to support and serve a published writer that you know: Several years ago, I was privileged to accompany one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson, to several speaking events and workshops. I learned invaluable things watching a working writer deal with the public aspect of a writing life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.

Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. If you don’t know any published writers, this is a great way to connect with a local writer whose work that you admire.

Be a personal assistant, or driver, for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye. There’s also nothing like the satisfying feeling of helping another writer on their path.

-Toss out old drafts: What do you do with drafts you’ve gotten back from your writing group? How long do you keep them? I have tendency to keep them way too long; they start to form into mountains on my desk. When you have integrated editorial comments into a completed story, toss the draft.

-Check the ergonomics of your writing space: What can be moved and realigned for maximum support of your body?

-Straighten up your submissions file: Update your 2018 submissions file and create the 2019 one. And, of course if you haven’t started a submissions file yet, correct that. Writers write and submit their work. See one of my tips for crafting a helpful submission strategy.

-Go through last year’s journals, classes and conference notes: If you took writing classes, attended conferences or workshops and/or kept a journal last year I bet there are still some nuggets to mine. Take time to honor that work.

-Update your writing accomplishments list and post it where you can see it: Smile at it from time to time. If you don’t have one, now is the time to make one!

 

I’m super excited and honored that Reenu-You was reviewed in this recent issue of the North Carolina Literary Review!

The NCLR bills itself as a “cross between a scholarly journal and a literary magazine” and is published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. The print edition appears in the summer. The NCLR “publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by and interviews with North Carolina writers and articles and essays about North Carolina writers and the rich literary history and culture of the Old North State.” My review is right next to a review of Jason Mott’s recent novel, The Crossing, under the heading, ‘The Structure of Hope in Speculative (and War) Fiction’! This issue also has a special focus on North Carolina African American Literature.

Check out this gorgeous issue here.

When I originally signed up for Samantha Bryant’s ‘Finish Your Novel’ workshop, I thought I would either be working on a parallel novel set in my Reenu-You universe or the urban fantasy novel I’m co-writing with my sister. The workshop meets for five Saturdays for three hours. Samantha’s a great instructor and I’ve taken her classes before through CCCC’s Creative Writing Program. She is most well-known for her superhero menopausal series, which I adore. See my interview with her about Going through The Change, her first book in the series.

I loved when Samantha asked us to place ourselves as writers on the spectrum of Explorers (i.e. Discovery writers) and Architects (i.e. Plotters) in how we begin projects.

Everything changed last weekend when I attended Illogicon, the local sci-fi convention that I’ve been attending since 2015. I had scheduled a meeting with a publisher that I was hoping to get to know better.

Although I can’t release all the details yet, suffice it to say I pitched this publisher a horror novel idea that’s been rolling around in my psyche for a few years. They loved it. So much so, they are offering me a contract. I will have a soft deadline of turning in the novel by October and a hard deadline of January 2020.

I literally have only about six pages of notes on my horror novel idea. Getting published is often a mysterious processes defined by things both in and out of one’s control. As I have often said, there is no one route to publication. And, although I still have to write the book (no small feat!), the way this opportunity has unfolded has been marked by a wonderful feeling of synchronicity. I also believe that all the other pathways of the writing life that I have been contributing to (e.g. blogging and using social media, building relationships with other writers, and submitting work) has contributed to this moment of serendipity.

I’m still both gleeful and stunned at the ease of how everything unfolded. When I met with the publisher, I didn’t have the slightest intent on pitching this novel idea, but during the conversation it felt right. I had studied the company’s catalog and surmised that they might want to continue to develop their horror line.

After the conversation finished, I immediately thought—OK, WELL THIS CHANGES ALL MY WRITING PLANS FOR 2019! and, I NEED SOME SUPPORT IN GETTING THIS NOVEL WRITTEN! and, CLEARLY THIS STORY WANTS TO BE BORN!!! and, YIKES! AND, OMG, I’VE NEVER WRITTEN A HORROR NOVEL!!!!!

I took a deep breath and told myself that I would figure it out, as all writers do.

This brings me back to the Finish Your Novel workshop. We met yesterday and I think it’s going to provide a helpful model for accountability. Samantha will discuss key issues about novel structure and all the participants will have at least one opportunity to receive feedback on their work. My goal is to develop a detailed outline for our Feb meeting.

There is nothing like getting a new notebook when starting a project. My writing teacher got me hooked on these colorful and inexpensive composition books.

I can’t wait to share more details. I’ll do that once the contract has been signed, etc. I can tell you that my story will be set in North Carolina, in the present. I will be updating you right here about the joys, triumphs and struggles of writing this novel.

One question for the fiction writers:

What’s your favorite book on plotting and novel structure? I’d love to know!

One question for the horror lovers among us:

I haven’t read that many classic European and early American horror writers like Lovecraft, etc. What are some classics that I should read?

The last weeks of December were so hectic that I didn’t get a chance to post any reflection about my writing life in 2018. I wanted to take a moment and do that now I had an excellent year in terms of deepening writing relationships and sharing my work locally and regionally. I definitely was a public writer.

I had the good fortune to participate in several literary events where I talked about and/or read from Reenu-You, gave a craft talk about my writing influences and/or  discussed Afrofuturism. I loved connecting with potential readers and new audiences.

My reading at High Point University through the Creative Writing Program. I also gave a talk for the Creative Writing club.

Loved being on this panel with other Black women speculative fiction writers. Park Road Books was packed and everyone wanted to also talk about Black Panther’s release. Lots of energy was in the room.

The Movable Feast event, in Winston-Salem, is held by Bookmarks. Bookmarks is a literary a literary arts nonprofit whose mission is to connect readers with authors.
The event is basically like “speed dating with authors”! As an invited author, you visit a table for 10 minutes, talk about your book, etc., then rotate to a new table for another 10 minutes and repeat. I met with 10 tables and met many wonderful people in book clubs.

I organized this local event for spec fic writers which was a lot of fun.

I also gave my Charting Your Path to Publication workshop to several new audiences and developed a new workshop, “How to Level Up in Your Writing Life” that was very well-attended.

My efforts last year were focused on submitting my short story collection to various contests (that offer publication with the top prize) and submitting fiction to SFWA qualifying markets. I’m still waiting to hear about some of the contests. Fingers crossed, there will be good news. I submitted to a ton of places and I have gotten some really encouraging rejections and a request to send more work. Rejection still stings, but over time, if an editor likes your work and encourages you to submit, that’s the beginning of a working relationship.

One of my goals was to begin an author newsletter and I finally did so in August! I have a commitment to those in my writing community to share resources and inspire. I don’t know why I waited so long to start!

I also kept up my blog and interviewed some terrific writers.

Reenu You was eligible for the Hugo Award, the Nebulas and the Manly Wade Wellman Award for North Carolina Science Fiction and Fantasy which was pretty awesome.

Nussia, my novelette was released by Book Smugglers in July!

 

In terms of craft, one of the things that I learned was how to tighten the dramatic arc in every scene.

The things that didn’t get completed include:

a complete revision of my mystery

a first draft of the co-written novel that my sister and I are undertaking

There’s a lot on my plate for 2019.  I hope to share some really great news soon.

That’s a quick overview for me–what did you learn about yourself as a writer in 2018? What were some of your accomplishments?

 

 

Happy new year, everyone! It feels especially poignant to begin the first post of the year with a special Author Q&A. More than a decade ago, before I formally began my coaching practice, I taught creativity workshops at UNC-Chapel Hill’s The Friday Center. They had a thriving adult enrichment program. My classes were popular and I met and coached people from all backgrounds. It is always a delight to run into people many years later and hear about their creative adventures.

Two months ago at the North Carolina Writers’ Conference, out the corner of my I saw a distinguished-looking woman. Her face looked familiar, but I only caught a glimpse before moving on to my next panel. To my great delight and surprise, this same woman came up to me at the reception. We immediately recognized each other. She had taken one of my classes at the Friday Center and credited me with planting a seed of creative possibility! At the time, she did not know that she even wanted to write a book. Yet, as she stood there, we both rejoiced about her newly published book, Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers. It was a joyous moment to celebrate this accomplishment with her. When I heard about the subject matter of her book, I couldn’t wait to invite her for an interview. I also was curious (as always) about what being on this writing journey has meant to her.

Aging is a reality. Needing competent and compassionate healthcare as we age is a reality. I just turned 50 last year and I often think about what the next 30 years (or more) of my life will be like. I think about the importance of personal health and also a health care system than can work for all. My mother passed away at 56 and I often think about what kind of care she might have received as a senior citizen, if she had lived. The quality of care that our elders receive is of paramount importance. Nurse practitioners play a vital role in helping us navigate the demographic shift of aging Boomers that is already under way.

Marianna Crane became one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners in the early 1980s. A nurse for more than forty years, she has worked in hospitals, clinics, home care, and hospice settings. She writes to educate the public about what nurses really do. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Eno River Literary Journal, Examined Life Journal, Hospital Drive, Stories That Need to be Told: A Tulip Tree Anthology, and Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine.

I honored to welcome Marianna Crane to The Practice of Creativity.

-Why did you write Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers? What’s in store for readers?

I wrote the book because I had to. The patients I cared for hounded me for years until I finally told their stories. I also wanted to show the emergence of the nurse practitioner role.

The problems facing the underserved elderly are depicted. Unfortunately, the issues are not too different with the issues this population still faces today

I was the first coordinator of the Senior Clinic, which was located in a one-bedroom apartment in a Chicago housing high-rise for low-income elderly. It was novel to have a clinic for the elderly housed in a building where they lived. Each day was a total surprise. Folks walked into the clinic for a routine medical appointment or with a life-threatening illness or carrying a loaf of zucchini bread. The reader will meet these colorful characters as well as the opinionated staff that challenged me to rethink my values.

-What did you learn about yourself as a writer while you worked on the memoir?

I learned that what I wrote initially in the book was not a clear map of what I wanted to convey. I just wanted to tell this story. But what story? My memory cast my co-workers in roles that inhibited my progress. With each rewrite, I softened my harsh critique of others and uncovered some detrimental actions that I had initiated. My insight became sharper when I let the story percolate in my head rather than rushing to rewrite. Reflection and patience, albeit over seven years, finally enabled me to be truthful to what happened in the tenth-floor clinic.

-You were one of the pioneering nurse practitioners (NP) in geriatric care. Given the upcoming demographic shifts happening in the U.S. (e.g. Baby Boomer retirement) what expanded role might NPs play in helping the public to navigate this change?

Physicians tend to choose specialties that they feel are more exciting and well-paid than geriatrics. To offset the deficit of physicians that care for the elderly, NPs could step into the role of primary care provider. They are educated to see the total patient, not just physical illness. It’s important to note, however, that not one health care professional is optimal in delivering care to the elderly. An interdisciplinary care team working to address social, economic, mental, functional, and physical problems has been shown to be most helpful. The NP could coordinate this effort.

Who would you love to know was reading your book?

Oprah Winfrey.

-What’s been the most fun or surprising thing about being a new author?

Having the license and permission to talk about nursing and the care of the elderly as a trusted narrator. Telling how the role of the NP developed and the barriers that new NPs faced 30 years ago when physicians felt threatened is especially satisfying when other nurses are in attendance and we relive our shared history.

I am humbled that in various settings when I speak about my book, the fact that I am a nurse holds weight and credibility.

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

I am speaking of creative nonfiction, specifically the memoir.

Don’t be too sure you know what you are writing about in the beginning. Let it evolve. Trust that you have a story inside you that will declare itself. Step aside and let it unfold.

In retrospect, I see that having a preconceived notion of what I wanted to write had caused me to miss what was behind the real story—my belief about the stories from the tenth-floor clinic stemmed from what I remembered—my truth at that moment. The passage of time has a way of rearranging recollections. It was only after re-examining my place in my memoir that I uncovered what the story was really about, even if I had already lived it.

Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers is Marianna Crane’s first book. It is published by She Writes Press. Find out more her at here.

Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

View Full Profile →

Follow me on Twitter

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow The Practice of Creativity on WordPress.com
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: