The Practice of Creativity

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A few weeks ago, I was a guest on the wonderful podcast Black and Read, hosted by Terry Brown. Each week Terry and his guest discuss a work of literature from the unique perspective of a person of color. I talked about my journey to publication, finding your writing mojo, finding a creative process (and sticking with it), and the state of speculative fiction. Plus, I did some old school reminiscing about how Star Wars, and the T.V. shows The Bionic Woman and Lost in Space (the original) shaped my early love of sci-fi. Terry was a great interviewer and the conversation flowed easily. I loved being on the show.

The episode was released this week and you can hear it here.

I’ve appeared on radio and television before, but I am relatively new to appearing as a guest on a podcast. Being featured on a podcast is a fantastic way that authors and creators can share insight into their work. I’m also a huge fan of podcasts, especially those devoted to writing. If a guest is compelling, I’ll look up their work and consider purchasing it.

In thinking about what makes a guest compelling and reviewing own recent performance, I have complied these tips:

-Come Prepared

This sounds obvious, I know. But I can’t tell you the countless times that I’ve listened to a podcast and it’s clear that the guest has never listened to the show and doesn’t know the format. Being prepared means a few things: listening to several episodes prior to appearing on the show and understanding the format of the show (i.e. does the host ask different questions each time or is there a familiar script? Are there special segments to the show?). Also, your preparation should include having your elevator pitch about your creative work ready to go along with some compelling vignettes that reveal your process as a writer, approach to storytelling, etc.

-Give Us the Energy!

You don’t always have control over when you will be interviewed. It may be scheduled during a time of day that’s not your ideal in terms of peak energy. So, if you know you are not a morning person and you are to appear at 8am, then by all means make sure you are well-rested, caffeinated and ready to sound your best. We need you to sound engaged, excited to be there and eager to connect with the host and listeners.

-Know Your Verbal Tics and Work On Them

In listening back to the podcast I used several verbal tics including, “I would say” and “I think”. Everyone has verbal tics, but we should try to minimize them during an interview. Role play with yourself and imagine the kinds of questions you might be asked. Record yourself and notice how you ad lib and may use verbal fillers, like “um”.

-Create an Ideal Environment

You want a quiet environment during the time that you are being recorded. This might mean putting the dogs or cats in another room with treats so that they don’t bother you, working out a schedule with roommates, a significant other, children, etc.

-Tell Us Where To Find You

If listeners get curious about your work, they are going to take a peek at your website and social media. Speak clearly and slowly when telling us where to find you online. I did just that but, I didn’t tell people how to spell my name, so they may find Michelle Burger instead of me. Luckily, in the show notes, the title and cover of my book (which has a funky spelling, so can be hard to find) is listed.

Do you have other tips about being a guest on a podcast? I’d love to hear!

 

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I’ve attended two conferences during the past two weekends. Last week, I attended the North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference. I hosted a NaNoWriMo meet and greet on Friday night and then a ‘Shut Up and Write’ session on Saturday where writers could come and just write for an hour and half. Both events went very well and I managed to get close to 2,000 words completed on Saturday.

This weekend, I attended an academic conference. I had hoped to get a lot more writing done but only managed to squeeze out about 1,000 words one day.  I also conducted some useful research. My current NaNoWriMo project is a continuation of a novel concept that my sister and began last year. Although I thought I had a decent outline to work with, I find myself unsure about characters, character motivations, plot threads, etc. Not a great position to be in when trying to write fast. I’m way behind where I should be which is 18,000 words. However, I’m not panicking quite yet. I’m about to employ a secret weapon– which is dictation software.

My Groovy Amazon Link

There has been a ton of buzz about writers (especially indie writers) using dictation software and drafting their novels in a matter of weeks. Podcaster and author, Joanna Penn has had several writers on her podcast to talk about using dictation. I invested in Dragon Naturally Speaking last year and really love it.

I have used it to draft talks and lectures I give and when I feel stuck on a project. It takes a little while to train the software to your voice, but it is worth the effort. I use the headset in conjunction with my laptop. Some people use the app on their phone and dictate while taking a walk.

I’ll start using the dictation software this week and I think it will help my word count. Why? Well, some people think that we tap into our ‘inner storyteller’ when we tell our story aloud. I feel like I get into a natural creative rhythm speaking aloud after just a few minutes.

In my writing workshop just three weeks ago (whew! it’s been a busy few weeks), I encouraged my participants to try dictation as a way to bring some more play into the drafting process. Also, if you use the app then you can get more walks in which most us desperately need.

Maybe dictation might serve you well, too, for drafting new material.

Until then, I will just

 

Every time you write something valuable will occur.
-Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy aka SARK

Hi folks,

We’re four days into November which is also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’m NaNoWriMoing. Are you? I hope you are! Last weekend, I taught my ‘How to Level Up in Your Writing Life’ workshop for the first time and it went incredibly well. There were twelve people who signed up and one of the participants had already won a NaNoWriMo. I spent some time talking about the benefits about participating in this international creative event. We had a blast brainstorming the ways they could use NaNoWriMo to further their writing projects. Even if you don’t reach the 50,000 word mark at the end of November, you’ll write more than usual just by trying to write 1,667 words a day.

It’s also a great way to push yourself to finish a project.

I reminded folks that it is so easy to let our creative work slip to the bottom of the to-do list.

I shared with them insights about how I won NaNoWriMo in 2014 and the things I did then to keep me on track as well as what I am doing differently now, including using dictation software.

I’ll be updating my word count as we move through the month. I got off to a great start on Nov 1 with 1738 words and then over 1,431 words in the past two days. I’m behind, but I’m not worried yet as I plan to get up early over the next few days and do some writing sprints.

Let me know if you are attempting NaNoWriMo. I’ll cheer you on!

In July I created a poll titled, “What Does Leveling Up in Your Writing Life Look Like?” I was prepping for my upcoming workshop and wanted to get a glimpse into what writers are struggling with in their creative lives.

There were 34 responses (thanks to all who participated!). Here are the top three:

#1: Making More Dedicated Time to Write

“Writers do not have a time problem. We have a priority problem. When you sit down in front of the television, you’re subconsciously saying, “I choose to do this instead of write.” Mur Lafferty

Claiming more time for our writing lives is an ongoing issue. Over the course of our writing lives, we will try many new routines and patterns to support our work.

In Saturday’s workshop, I’ll be drawing on some proven techniques from Rachel Aaron and Jake Bible for getting the most out of your writing time when you sit down to write (which will also help to boost your writing output) as well as creating more time to write.

Below are some tried and true ways to find more writing time.

-Schedule it in. Yes, time for your writing needs to be in your calendar.

Getting your writing projects to migrate from the bottom to the top of your to-do list is no easy feat. Ariel Gore makes this point in her witty book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. She says that most of us believe that making time for creative work is selfish, so we put it at the end of our to-do lists:

“And then we kick ourselves because the novel isn’t written. We look down at our laps and blush when our writing teacher asks us if we got a chance to write this week. Of course we didn’t get a chance to write—it was the last thing on our list. We had a glass of wine with dinner. We got sleepy. I’m going to tell you something, and it’s something I want you to remember: No one ever does the last thing on their to-do list.”

I write every day. For me, writing every day keeps my momentum going. I typically do an hour of academic writing in the morning and an hour of creative work in the evening throughout the week. My academic writing is scheduled in my calendar. My creative work is scheduled in my calendar. It’s what keeps me sane.

If creating everyday doesn’t work for you, find consistent periods of time that do and then schedule them into your calendar. For many people consistency is more important than trying to write daily.

-Develop a better reward system. Over the long journey of creating, producing good work becomes its own reward. However, for those of us just starting to pursue a creative path, may need motivation and encouragement to keep saying yes to our projects. Reward systems can be big or small and can be connected to time and/or output. I keep an active rewards list for meeting writing goals (mostly for academic writing). About every few weeks, I’m checking that list to see what I have earned. The rewards list can keep me going through the really tough periods where writing doesn’t feel like it’s going well.

-Work in smaller blocks of time. Writers often pine for days of uninterrupted time, but as a coach, I’m often in the position of pointing out to clients that what time they have is not always used well. Creativity expert Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) uses the concept of micromovements to break tasks into manageable segments of 5 seconds to 5 minutes. Very effective! She believes that creative people often assign themselves too big of a task. And, then when they don’t meet that often impossible task, their inner critics come leaping out to point out their lack of completion.

#2 Finishing More of My Writing Projects

In my writer’s group last week, we read and discussed Robert Heinlein’s famous writing rules. The second is “Finish what you start.”

I think it is easy to beat ourselves up about not finishing things. Instead, it is helpful to get curious about why you’re not finishing writing projects. There are questions we can ask when we have a big pile of unfinished manuscripts.

-Has the manuscript lost momentum? Am I bored?
-Can I simplify the structure of the story (or creative nonfiction piece)?
-Do I need an accountability buddy?
-Do I need to work more on my craft around middles and endings? (Nancy Kress’s wonderful Beginnings, Middles and Endings really helped me work on my endings.)
-Am I overly worried about rejection (which is interfering with finishing this piece)?
-What would I like to have completed between now and the end of the quarter?

I love using anthology calls and special themed issues as a way to get lingering manuscripts out of the door.

In the workshop I’ll be drawing on the insights of Chuck Wendig and Austin Kleon about how to finish what you start. And, of course we’ll be talking about NaNoWriMo and why it is such as a great catalyst for both starting and finishing a project.

#3-Developing (or improving) My Author Platform (e.g. using social media, blogging, etc.)

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot. So much so, I have proposed a course in the spring through CCCC, tentatively titled: Savvy Social Media Strategies for Writers.

Creating an online presence and managing social media helps writers build relationships with other authors, fans and industry professionals. It also can generate leads, provide exposure and advance your professional goals and aspirations.

In the workshop we’ll take a deep dive into best practices for building and sustaining an author platform/online presence.

In the meantime, you might like this post about I wrote about growing your author’s platform over the course of your writing career.

Stay tuned for a spring 2019 date and more info!

LAST CALL:

Mary Robinette Kowal recently said that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) allows writers to “chase their joy”. I love that expression! My workshop is about helping writers do just that in prep for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is an ignition starter for your writing, no matter what your goals or what you are writing (i.e. memoir, short stories, etc).

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: Saturday, October 27, 10am-3pm, Central Carolina Community College, Pittsboro

How to Level Up Your Writing Life
Do you want to write faster? Do you want to write better? These goals are not in contradiction with each other! This workshop will teach you some fun ways to “hack” your brain to support increased productivity, outwit pesky inner critics and unleash your inner storyteller.

This workshop will help both discovery writers (also known as “pantsers”) and writers that outline find new ways to approach their work.

How to Level Up is also geared for writers wanting to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ll spend time talking about how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo and how you can produce a 50,000 word draft in a month.

We’ll spend time exploring new ways to combat what stops us from writing including: procrastination, perfectionism, imposter syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with creative ideas. We’ll explore how other successful writers have found ways to write faster and better including Austin Kleon, Chuck Wendig, Jake Bible and Rachel Aaron.
This workshop is about busting through our own self-imposed limiting beliefs about our writing life.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.
And, of course, there will be door prizes!

Register here

 

Hi all,

As many of you know I serve as a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. The North Carolina Writers’ Network connects, promotes, and serves the writers of this state. It supports writers at all stages of development. Recently, I was asked to contribute a short piece to our newsletter. I’m sharing it here as it gives you insight into how I found the Network and why I think that are a great place for writers, the importance of literary community and also about my participation in hosting our second “NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet” as well as a new “Shut Up and Write” session during the conference. So, I get to talk about two favorite things in the newsletter–National Novel Writing Month and the Network!

Not a member yet? Check out all the good stuff here.
Joining the Network really did change the trajectory of my writing life.

Not signed up yet for the amazing fall conference happening, Nov 2-4? You’ve got two weeks to go before pre-registration closes! Check out the fantastic line-up of workshops, classes, events and instructors here.

“North Carolina is known for three things, hogs, tobacco, and writers. Since you’re an aspiring writer, I assume you’ll know which community to connect with.” These words were spoken to me by my therapist at the time and I’m forever grateful for them. More than fifteen years ago, I moved to North Carolina and although I had a professional position I loved, other aspects of my life post-move remained challenging. My partner was having a difficult time finding fulfilling work and my creative writing goals had stagnated.  Despite my therapist’s blunt (and a bit exaggerated take on North Carolina’s reputation), I got the point. In this new place, I needed to take action, find like-minded writing folk and investigate North Carolina’s impressive literary history. An aspiring poet, too, my therapist was the first person that told me about the Network and its two annual conferences.

At that time in my life, I was writing metaphorically in the basement. I read lots of craft books, yes. But, I didn’t know any other writers, wasn’t in a writer’s group and so therefore never received productive feedback. I kept rewriting hundreds of pages over and over and was assailed by devious “inner critics”. I was in a kind of literary quicksand. Like many writers, I thought I could (and should) do it all alone.

It took me a few more years to muster up the confidence to attend a Network conference. If you’ve ever been to a NCWN conference you know how dynamic and exciting it is. What energy! What excitement! I felt welcomed. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had found people I could discuss the joys and challenges of the writing life. No one is an outsider when attending a NCWN conference.

I wasn’t in the basement anymore.

The years have flown by since that first conference. I kept attending them and deepened my craft knowledge, met terrific writers and made friends.  I got to know my wonderful regional rep for Chatham County—Al Manning and also started to attend local writing events. My world is so different now! I’m a trustee deeply committed to the mission of the organization. I now get to welcome members into this literary community.

Given my past of having to battle long periods of creative self-doubt, I’m really passionate about strategies to circumvent inner critics. One of the most fun ways to do that is to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

You’ve probably heard the buzz about it. November is National Novel Writing Month. Amateur and professional writers sign up to write 50,000 words, a short novel, during the month. That is roughly 1,667 words a day. And, yes the draft’s supposed to be rough, need work, and a beautiful mess that yields something amazing later.

NaNoWriMo is for fresh, wild, and fast writing. And, you don’t have to be an aspiring novelist to participate—writers adapt NaNoWriMo for their own needs. NaNoWriMo gets people writing more words than they normally would in a month.

There are many success stories of writers who carefully revised their NaNoWriMo drafts and have made sales of novels (including the bestselling Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough), short-story collections, and other kinds of publications.

But publishing is not the overall point of NaNoWriMo. It is about getting started. It’s about getting some words—any words down that then can turn into good words later.

I’m hosting a NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet on Friday night after the plenary. We’ll gather and talk about goals over wine and refreshments. If you’ve ever been curious about NaNoWriMo, come to this event.

Given the pace of the conference and the lively workshops, plenaries and networking opportunities, most of us don’t get a lot of writing done when attending.  In recognition of this fact, we’re trying out a new session during the conference: Shut up and Write. Shut and Write will offer conference participants a quiet space for writing.

I hope I’ll see you at one or both of these events. And, you can tell me your story about how you found the Network.

 

“The fruits of the harvest are gathered and stored. The trees shed their leaves and reveal their true forms. The days grow shorter and darker, reminding us of how brief our time on earth really is.  It’s autumn:  a season for reflecting on what it means to be truly alive, and for giving thanks for the gifts an authentic life bestows.”
Alan Jones and John O’Neil, Seasons of Grace: The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude

Although the weather is still warm for many of us, autumn is here and requests our attention. Autumn invites us to reflect on the fruits of our harvest and make sense of a way forward. We know the fallow period of winter is not far away. I love this time of harvesting, gathering and reflecting. Around this time of year, I also find it much easier to reboot my gratitude jar practice if it has fallen off track. Keeping a gratitude jar is like rocket fuel for your creative life. Don’t know what a gratitude jar is or how to fill one up? Here’s my post on this amazing practice.

Here are some writing prompts to feed your creative impulses as you explore the gifts of fall:

-Look at the following two words—autumn and authenticity. What connections between these two words do you sense? (Authors Alan Jones and John O’Neil note that both of these words share the Latin root aut-, meaning “to increase or grow”.)
-What are you harvesting this fall?
-Write about a time when you felt bountiful.
-Write about the bounty of your writing and/or creative life as it is right now.
-Write about what you’re most grateful for.
-Write about what you feel like you should be grateful for, but aren’t.
-Write about the gifts from summer. What came to fruition? What didn’t? What are you letting go of for fall?
-When do you feel the most authentic? Alone? With others? At work? In nature?
-What are your favorite autumn flavors?
-What was a ‘back to school’ ritual that you loved as a child? What rituals do you enact during fall as an adult?

 

 

 

The beginning of September marks change. For many of us, it signals the end of summer and a realization that we’re well into the third quarter of the year. It’s often a time of transition and reflection.

At this point in the season, we usually need a boost for our writing as we make a transition in our schedules. Our schedules shift now for a variety of reasons. For some that means getting kids (or one’s self) off to school, starting a big home project, or squeezing in the last vacation until the winter holidays. Any change in our schedule can interfere with our desire to get creative work done. Also, ongoing summer weather can make us feel lethargic which can translate to how we meet the page.

Here are 3 FUN ways to stay inspired during the last weeks of summer:

  1. Check Out New Writing Podcasts. There are TONS of great podcasts about writing. I listen to several while driving back and forth to work. They help me think about craft, catch up on publishing news and brainstorm good ideas. These are a few of my favorites:

-The Writer’s Well: Ever wonder what it’s like to quit your day job and write full-time? Rachel Herron and J.Thorn team up for 20 minutes each week to talk about the real life joys and struggles of making a living from their writing. One host asks the other an unscripted question and they both answer it. Lots of impromptu wisdom shared. They also focus on issues of wellness and health for writers.

I Should Be Writing: A Podcast for Wanna be Fiction Writers. Author Mur Lafferty has been hosting this podcast for ten years. Mur’s honesty about the ups and downs of the writing process really speaks to me. She’s very encouraging and a master at sharing tips on how to keep one’s self writing (and why it is important to do so). She periodically conducts interviews with leading authors and also does an occasional feedback show where she answers listeners’ questions. ‘I Should Be Writing’ has won the Podcast Peer Award and three Parsec Awards.

Shipping and Handling-Ever dream of being represented by an agent? Most writers do. Ever wonder what an agent’s life is like? Check out two successful agents, Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary Inc. and Jennifer Udden of Barry Goldblatt Literary that get together every month, over a glass of wine, and chat about how they decide to sign a client, how they pitch to editors and much more. A peek into a world the fascinating and fast changing world of publishing.

2. Host a Submission Party
How is submitting your work going? Has it slowed down some? Need a bit of support? Have you ever tried hosting a submission party with other writers? It’s fun and can provide the momentum needed to get more of your work out into the world. I wrote about the why and how of submission parties here.

3. Try Some Writing Prompts
Feeling stuck in your writing? Bored with your writing? Take a break and try these fun writing prompts, all focused on ice and coolness.

 

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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