The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘fiction writing

I did illogiCon full tilt last weekend. Instead of driving back and forth from the conference like I usually do, I stayed on site. I was an active guest, went to room parties, networked at the bar, caught up with writer friends I hadn’t seen recently and met new writers. I got introduced to terrific readers and fans. I also made meaningful connections with a few publishers and editors.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share some highlights from some of the panels I attended or was a panelist on.

One of my favorites was the last panel on Friday at 11pm:  Sex in Other Worlds.

Description: How do aliens…do it?

It was well worth the wait! The panelists included J.L. Hilton, Julie Steinbacher, Natania Barron, James Maxey and Jim McDonald.

I don’t write a lot of stories that delve into sexuality, either off world or in secondary fantasy. But, I was curious how others approached the subject. One of the fun things about attending a con is that it allows time to restock the creative well.

Conversation threads ranged from how to write a good sex scene to how to create new forms of sexuality and reproduction in everything from hard sci-fi to urban fantasy.

The panel began with each author discussing their journey exploring sexuality in their work. Some authors began their careers writing about sexuality (and even writing erotica), but tapered off as the years went on. Others noted that they have just started to experiment incorporating sexuality more explicitly in their work.

The panelists highlighted the importance of reading about procreative habits of other species for inspiration.

Male Hooded seal nasal display, St Lawrence Gulf, Canada. Photo © Doug Allan


One panelist reminded us that humans are unique with our complex mating rituals, diverse sexual expressions and long, often monogamous pair bonding.  When world building, you can ask yourself questions like: How might these ways of being fray or get stressed in near future stories? What are ways that humans may adapt these behaviors in a different environment?

Many of the panelists said that they only write sex scenes through a grounded character perspective. One author stressed that when writing sex scenes with non-humans, “try find one detail that is sensual and familiar” that can be amplified and pull the reader in.

The audience laughed when a panelist declared that writing good sex scenes is similar to writing good battle scenes—“they need to be well-choreographed and awash in bodily fluids.”

Another fun comment someone said was “some readers want to just hear [sex] through the door; others want to be next to the bed.” Several writers mentioned that they definitely heard from readers –either when readers thought they went too far in a story or when they loved it. It made me think about the value of knowing your readers, once you have an audience. You have to think about how your readers may respond to your take on sex and sexuality.

During the last few minutes of the panel an interesting conversation bubbled up about movie, The Shape of Water.

What seems to be pretty common in speculative media is the trope of a human woman falling for a non-human man (i.e. alien, fantasy creature, “the beast”, etc.). [A quick Google image search tends to confirm this point.]It’s much less common for the roles to be reversed—a human male protagonist falling for a female “monster”. Usually when female bodies are presented as deviant or monstrous, there is no opportunity for love, desire or admiration, only disgust or contempt. I thought this was an excellent observation and of course, part of me wanted to get to work on just such a story.

I love a good challenge!

Overall, this was a fascinating panel. I left with great notes and a commitment to incorporate some of these ideas into future stories.


Most writers delay doing the one thing that concretely helps move them toward their goal of publication—submitting their work consistently.

No one knows about your work until you take that step of sending it out into the world.

Sometimes writers delay because they find the process of submission difficult, confusing and intimidating. They have trouble finding time to submit their work, finding venues for their work, and keeping track of submissions. Many writers don’t submit their work consistently, going through binge and bust cycles. They often don’t know how to build relationships with editors.

Sound familiar? Is this you?

I’ve found in teaching my ‘Charting Your Path to Publication’ workshop several times that many writers feel daunted navigating the submission process and often find themselves stymied by periods of rejection.

My workshop, Charting Your Path to Publication teaches strategies to beat the odds of rejection. Participants learn how to select markets for their work, track submissions, and find great resources.

I’m thrilled to be offering CYPP again as longer workshop this Saturday from 10am-4pm.

This workshop is designed for writers at all levels.

If you’re a local writer and interested in learning how to take consistent action to get your amazing work out into the world, this workshop is for you.

You’ll discover where to submit short literary and genre fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry as well as how to submit to agents and publishing houses. You’ll also learn how to compose cover and query letters (and the differences between them).

We’ll also spend time exploring the role of author mindset as vital to publishing success. There is no one path to publication, but we can follow and replicate the strategies of accomplished writers. You will leave with an action plan with concrete steps toward publication (or, if already published with a plan about how to become more widely so).

Charting Your Path to Publication, Saturday 1/20, 10-4pm, Pittsboro Campus

You can register for this workshop by calling the Pittsboro campus (919) 545-8048) or signing up online.

Feel free to email me with any questions!

Holy moley, this weekend I am appearing on a number of panels at the local science fiction convention known as IllogiCon!

This year marks my 4th year attending. IllogiCon has connected me with local writers, and writers’ groups and allowed me to meet editors and publishers that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Attending IllogiCon also keeps me current on emerging trends in speculative fiction and media. I always look forward to meeting up with writers and creative folk that I only see here.

I’ve moderated panels, appeared as a guest on panels and this year I will give a reading from my novella, Reenu-You. I pushed myself to sign up for more panels and on a diverse array of topics than I have in the past. I’ll also participate in the con’s “office hours”—a new feature where writers hang out, meet and greet and maybe even sell a few books. For visitors, I’ll have chocolate on hand!

Here’s my schedule of panels, etc.:

#Hustle: Author Newsletters and More –6pm Friday

Anthologies: How they Pick ‘Em and How to Get In – 10 am Saturday

Reading!-11 am Saturday

“Office hours”-4:30-5:30

Afrofuturist Fiction and Trends –11am Sunday

Mothers and Daughters-12pm Sunday

What Should We Be Reading?-2pm Sunday

If you’re local and love science fiction media check out the schedule for this wonderful con.

And, wish me luck with my reading and office hours!


Keeping a gratitude jar is a symbolic act. As creative people, we have to take physical action in the world to pursue our dreams, I, however, also believe in utilizing symbolic acts of power. Symbolic acts of power are those that connect us to mystery, the unknown, serendipitous help and support, luck, and universal good. Symbolic acts of power can also free us from a constant focus on the mundane aspects of the creative life. Using symbolic acts of power can help boost our confidence, remain playful in the face of adversity, and develop trust in ourselves and the power of the universe.

For many years, I have kept a gratitude jar focused around my creative life. The idea is simple…get a big jar, write one thing you are grateful for at the end of the day and put it in the jar. The jar offers a visual touchstone of joy as you see it filling up with entries during the year.

At the end of the year, one of the things that fills me with delight is to go through and read my entries. I rarely get close to having 365 entries, but that’s OK. I definitely love reading about all the special moments that happened last year that I had forgotten. The majority of the entries relate to giving thanks for some aspect of my creative life going well. I was grateful that I had gotten a submission accepted, or someone had offered kind words on a reading I gave, or I had a day where good ideas seemed to flow endlessly.

The powerful benefits that stem from a gratitude practice are ones that science now validates and that spiritual traditions have always claimed. Noticing what is going well in our lives helps maintain our focus and contributes to our ability to be resilient. Gratitude also creates a kind of forward momentum in our creative life that is like rocket fuel.

The jar is now empty and I will start all over again. Last year was an anemic year for my gratitude jar. I tried to write too many entries at the end of the evening. I also started writing notes along with the gratitude entry—notes that would have been better placed in a journal.

This year, I am going back to the basics—one entry per day whenever I remember to do it.

What about you? Why not grab a jar and dedicate it specifically for your creative practice/life/ dream/goal? Or you can put something in the gratitude jar before you start work on your novel, book of essays, musical score, etc. List what you’re grateful for before you begin or end a project. There are many uses for a gratitude jar. There’s actually so much that goes right on our creative paths, if we just slow down and notice.

This is a practice that you will wind up loving for your creative life! Promise!


One of the things I deeply enjoy about my blog is conducting author interviews. I love finding out how writers create magic on the page and what sustains them when working on long projects. My blog allows me to reach out to new and established writers after I hear them give a reading, or learn about them online, and ask for an interview. Every time an author agrees to an interview, I feel excited and inspired. My goal is to ask thought-provoking questions that get at the heart of their ideas about craft. I look forward to checking my email and seeing how they play with and sculpt answers to my questions. Interviewing and helping to promote writers is a passion and gratitude generating activity for me.

At the end of each interview, I typically ask an author: What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Below, I have collected some of the answers from writers I interviewed in 2017 that stayed with me.

Keep this list close at hand. The advice is refreshing and offers a great way to jump-start your new year of fresh writing in 2018!

*To see the full interview, click on the author’s name.


Jake Bible, Stone Cold Bastards

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

Never quit. Sit your ass down and do the work. Writing is work. The vast majority of people who are not writers think it is fun and being a writer must be a dream come true. It is fun and it is a dream come true, but the fun and the dream happen because you sit in your chair and work until you can’t work anymore. Then you do the same thing the next day. And the next. You never quit. You do the work and keep doing the work until you get to where you want to be.

Margaret Dardess, Brutal Silence

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

When you tell someone that you want to write, ignore the ones who respond, “How are you going to do that?”  A date in college said that to me once when I told him my dream was to write a novel. That was the end of him. There never seems to be a shortage of nay-sayers and wet blankets. Avoid them at all costs. If you want to write, write. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

L.C. Fiore, The Last Great American Magic

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

The one thing no one ever really taught me, which took me years to learn, is that revision is the most important aspect of the writing process. Revision is not just checking to make sure everything is spelled correctly, or that you’ve used proper grammar. Revision also entails wholly re-imagining the way your book or story is constructed. That means exploding chapters, moving chapters around, consolidating characters, and much more. I find that usually, after my “first draft” (although there again, who counts drafts in real life?), whatever I’m working on usually sustains one, if not two, macro revisions, where I tear the manuscript down to the studs and rebuild. Why does no one teach revision? Perhaps because the workshop setting is a very poor environment for learning what it actually takes to be a writer, because there simply isn’t enough time to allow for the deep kind of revision that excellence requires. But extensive, substantive revision separates would-be writers from the pros.

Dianna Gunn, Keeper of the Dawn

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

Don’t take criticism of your stories personally, and ignore anyone that uses flaws in your fiction to attack you as a person. I know it doesn’t FEEL like our books are separate from us, but they are. We should treat them that way.

Heloise Jones, The Writer’s Block Myth: A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom

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

Trust the process. Let go in the story you’re telling, and let go of the way you intend to tell it. Open to what might be there you hadn’t thought about before you go into edits. Think of your writing as a dance you’re doing, and you’re expanding the dance floor. You’ll be a stronger writer, and it will help you feel freer inside. This includes the process of editing, too. But that’s another conversation.

Tonya Liburd, A Question of Faith

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

Keep writing; make it a habit and it’ll come even though you don’t feel “inspired”. Edit, edit and edit some more!

Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, editors, Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler

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

Alexandra: Pay attention to the guidelines and communicate clearly with your editor!

Mimi: “Write a little bit every day, even if you’re not in the mood.” is a wonderfully effective tip that, unfortunately, I don’t follow. It has improved my writing exponentially in a very short time every time I’ve managed to do it for short periods, though, so maybe it’s worth passing on!



I’ve heard from many folk that you really enjoyed my last post on prompts for Winter Solstice. I thought I’d share another source of inspiration to support the creative journey this winter.

I have included is a link to ‘Wake Up Your Magic’ coach Susan Guild’s ‘Tele-Share’ where she invited myself and writer Wendy Fedan to talk about how to deepen and grow one’s creativity practice. We called it a Creativity Bash! We recorded this episode a few winters ago and covered the following topics:

-Discover how to take your creativity to the next level

-Learn your creative cycles

-Understand what “following the energy” means to take action on your creative projects i.e., following “the Divine breadcrumbs”

-Uncover your mood blockers

-Pay attention to your body’s physical and reactions to pain and strain

-Live following the nudges to your creative dreams

This call was fun and magical.  Enjoy!



It’s holiday time and time to start thinking about the writers in your life (including yourself!).

My amazing writing group meets once a month. At our meeting this morning, one of the members surprised us with gifts. We don’t usually get each other gifts around the holidays, so it felt very special.

We all received different kinds of bookmarks. A perfect gift for a writer! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really appreciated high quality bookmarks.

One woman in the group who loves horses received this one. It’s leather and is like mini-stirrups. Very cool!

A newer member in the group received this magnetic bookmark shaped like a cassette tape.

I and several others, in the group, received this beautiful butterfly bookmark. Each one had different strands of colored beads that seemed to fit our personalities. So lovely! We also noted that it could also be used as a hair ornament!

Her generosity prompted me to search around the web for a roundup of fun writing gifts that might make your holiday lists.

You’ll find everything here from awesome bookends, literary games, writer inspired jewelry, computer software to desk foot hammocks (which I had never before heard of until now).

Take a peek and you just might find the perfect gift for yourself, or a beloved writer in your life.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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