The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘I Should Be Writing

Hi folks,

One of the wonderful benefits of the snowstorm last week was the opportunity to curl up with my to-be-read list.

This isn’t the usual view from my porch.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting these two writing books:

Pep Talks for Writers

As many of you know, I am a fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). So, when I heard that Grant Faulkner (executive director of National Novel Writing Month) published Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo, I got really excited. I’ve been a fan of his work for several years. He frequently writes about the process of creativity and is the co-founder of 100 Word Story, a wonderful online literary journal. I’m really proud of my publication, ‘The Lineup’ that appeared last year in 100 Word Story.

What’s it about: Keeping you creative and inspired throughout the year.

Structure: Mini-essays with a call to action, exercise or tip at the end.

Style: Accessible and beautifully written; Faulkner threads his personal experiences and observations throughout.

Topics: It covers all the topics that plague us as writers: keeping going, the imposter syndrome, balancing work and family, building a creative community, giving ourselves creative permission. But Pep Talks for Writers also skillfully dives into the shadow areas of creativity, including envy, boredom and doubt. There are unexpected topics, too, like ‘The Art of Melancholy’ and ‘Sleep, Sleeplessness and Creativity’ that inspire and showcases Faulkner’s deep wisdom about the creative process.

Inspirational Nuggets:

How do you create?: There’s no such thing as the way to create good work; you just have to find your way.

Make Irritants into a Symphony: If we elevate the annoyances in our lives to the state of art, their oppressive powers are reduced or vanished…Redefining life’s annoyances is part of your artistic ninja training.

Using Your Life in Your Story: We bury some things deep within for a reason, and it’s anguishing to try to uncover them. We’ve all experienced painful moments, whether it was being rejected in love, getting bullied on the playground, or losing a pet. Those are perhaps the experiences that will give your stories the greatest meaning, so be brave, and dive into your own past to relive those experiences. It might not be easy, but sense memory is about going back to those moments, re-living the emotions, and then imbuing your character experiences with a similar kind of essence. Don’t shortchange your experiences. You have a rich life to draw on in your writing.

Hold Things Lightly: I have a paradoxical proposal for you: Take your creativity seriously, but hold it lightly…What does it mean to hold things lightly? It’s an attitude that takes work (hard work, ironically). It’s easy to get so serious about our creative work that it can feel like a life or death matter. We pin our self-worth on our ability to carry it out. But, in the end, it’s not a life or death matter. Creativity is necessary, yes. It’s a life enhancing force, yes. We want to maximize it, not minimize it, yes. But I believe each individual project has a lightness that needs to be observed. Otherwise, the light can’t get in to help the seeds sprout. Without lightness, the soil of your story is too hard-packed, and the ground isn’t loose enough for the seed to sprout.

Bottom line: This is book that you’ll return to again and again for its clarity and inspiration. You’ll want to quote many lines and share them with others.

I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop

Long before Mur Lafferty became a well-regarded speculative fiction author, she was known for her compassionate, funny and engaging podcast called, ‘I Should Be Writing: A Podcast for Wanna be Fiction Writers’. She 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 an occasional feedback show where people can send in questions that she answers. She has inspired many people and has served as a model for some to start their own podcast about writing. Her new book, I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop was recently released. I just bought copies for my writing group.

What’s it about: Keeping your writing going; getting in touch with your inner muse and getting a handle on your inner bully

Structure: inspirational quote from a creative person opens the mini-essays; in the chapters, the inner bully and inner mentor comment on writing process; lots of writing exercises at the end

Style: Accessible, extremely personable and humorous

Topics: Writer’s myths, tools for writing, dealing with imposter syndrome, perfectionism, developing writing routines, ways to revise

Inspirational Nuggets:

One Million Words: Malcom Gladwell made famous the rule that to become an expert, you must spend ten thousand hours on your passion. It is also sometimes listed as ten years. Ray Bradbury said you have to write one million words of crap, get it all out of your system, before anything good comes out.

These numbers (ten thousand hours, ten years, and one million words) are arbitrary, and were created because humans like big, round numbers. The point is, excelling at anything takes a lot of work. It takes setbacks and learning and plateaus and frustrations and being absolutely sure you will never, ever publish anything. It takes looking at other people’s careers and thinking that they have it easy, that they are lucky, that they are perfect and you are crap.

The reality is, other people’s careers have likely had the setbacks and learning curves and plateaus that you’ve experienced. You just don’t see that when you look at them. You see their amazing book, their awards, and their long autograph line. You haven’t seen their years of struggling and haven’t read their terrible words that came before they published anything.

…It’s a long journey. And, yes, it’s been a long journey for nearly everyone you admire.

All Writing Advice is Crap: Writing advice is generally trying to bring across good rules of thumb, but it’s important to know yourself well enough to realize that when something doesn’t work for you, you’re allowed to try something else.

There is one piece of writing advice that you MUST follow: you have to write.

That’s it.

Perfection is the Enemy: Another thought on that perfection thing. Writing is subjective. This means that different people will get different things out of your story. So let’s say you manage to attain that mythical perfect story you’re yearning to write. You send it off in complete confidence. And, it gets rejected.

Guess what? The editor didn’t agree with you. It wasn’t perfect to them.

Let’s say the editor agrees with you! Buys the book! Sends it out to reviewers! And, boom, it’s eviscerated. It wasn’t perfect to the reviewers. Readers give it one star. It lands on the Top Most Disappointing Books of the Year lists!

So now you’re confused and unhappy because the book was perfect! What happened? Do they hate you? Is there a vast global conspiracy against you?

No. Because there is no perfect book.

Your work won’t get published if you wait for perfection. You write the best book you can and then you send it out and get to work on the next one. Don’t edit the book once you send it out. Don’t think about it. Just get back to work.

Chasing The Elusive Time Beast: I can’t fix your life for you and give you a magical hour to write. All I can do is tell you to take a hard look at your life and see where you can find thirty minutes. Ten minutes, even. Make a clear decision: what are you choosing to do—write or play games? Write or watch television? Write or sit waiting impatiently for an appointment?

Bottom line: Sage wisdom that makes for great reading. I love her frame of the Inner Muse and Inner Bully and how she uses each of those voices to illustrate issues in writing.

 

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Long before Mur Lafferty became a well-regarded speculative fiction author, she was known for her compassionate, funny and engaging podcast called, ‘I Should Be Writing: A Podcast for Wanna be Fiction Writers’. She 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 an occasional feedback show where people can send in questions that she answers. She has inspired many people and has served as a model for some to start their own podcast about writing, including, ‘The Dead Robots Society’ (of which I am also a fan). ‘I Should Be Writing’ has won the Podcast Peer Award and three Parsec Awards.

Mur Lafferty has an MFA in popular fiction from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. She has published two novels with Orbit Books. The Shambling Guide to New York City won the 2014 Manly Wade Wellman Award. Its sequel, The Ghost Train to New Orleans, came out March 2014.  In 2012, she won the distinguished John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

She has hosted and/or created shows for Tor.com, Lulu, and Angry Robot Books, as well as created several of her own shows like ‘Geek Fu Action Grip’ and ‘I Should Be Writing’. Her nonfiction essays have appeared in Knights of the Dinner Table, The Escapist, and on the podcast ‘The Dragon Page’.

The Shambling Guide was a breakout hit. It told the tale of Zoe, a young human woman who finds herself working with monsters, or “coterie” (the preferred term for nonhumans). Yes, they do exist, everyone from zombies to water sprites. They travel and they need to know places to stay (and where to eat) when they do. Enter Zoe, the most unlikely editor of a travel guide for the coterie. Hilarity, a bevy of misunderstandings and juicy subplots ensue. This is urban fantasy at its best. Although I am not doing a review of the book here, let’s just say when I finished TSG, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Lafferty’s latest novel, Ghost Train. In Ghost Train, we find out more about Zoe’s mysterious background, the different factions of coterie, all while enjoying the sights, sounds and cultural history of New Orleans.

I recently caught up with Mur and invited her to talk about her work and the writing life. I’m so delighted to welcome Mur Lafferty to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

 

Tell us about your new book The Ghost Train to New Orleans. What inspired this book?

Ghost Train was born from a story I wrote in 2005 to benefit the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina. I had an idea about a tour guide who loved her job so much that after she died, she kept doing it. The idea stuck with me, and when I turned it into a book, I took my travel writer, now a human writing guides for monsters, to New York for my first book, but always intended to go back to New Orleans.

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You’re much admired for conveying humor in your novels. How did that aspect of your writing voice develop and how do you nurture it?

I read a lot of Douglas Adams growing up, and was the shy class-clown type. If such a thing exists. My humor tended to veer toward the amusing, and it’s what I enjoy writing the most. As an adult I’ve been inspired by Connie Willis, a writer with sometimes subtle humor, sometimes obvious humor.

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You helped pioneer podcasting as an engaging and entertaining medium. After ten years of podcasting I Should Be Writing, what do you still love about hosting a podcast?

I love that I’m still influencing new writers. At the beginning I felt like I was just whining into a mic about how I couldn’t get published (but was continuing to keep trying) and I’ve heard from so many people that they relate to this. Now my listeners are starting to email me with news about publishing deals, which is amazing.

 

What authors do you consistently mine for inspiration?

Connie Willis, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, and Seanan McGuire.

 

What’s next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading now?

Currently going through the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie, with Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire waiting for me.

 

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

Never give up. That’s the fastest way to failure.

 

Mur Laffetry is author, blogger and podcast creator. She’s been the editor of Pseudopod, Escape Pod, and is currently the editor of the upcoming ezine from Escape Artists: Mothership (launching August 2015). To find out more about Mur, check out her website The Murverse Annex.

 

 

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NaNoWriMo update: I’m pleased to say that after the first week of NaNoWriMo, I am on track with a word count of over 15,000 words. And, I haven’t overindulged in caffeine or pulled any all-nighters. I attribute this success mostly to drawing on an outline that I wrote during the summer. As I said in an earlier post, I tend to be a discovery writer (or ‘pantser’). However, for this project I am experimenting with using an outline. I have found Elizabeth George’s Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and The Writing Life extremely helpful on the topic of outlines. She encourages writers to do a step outline (basically a list of scenes), for each section of the book and then write a plot outline. Since I am working on a mystery, where plot is essential, these have been helpful tools. I also have been experimenting with the well-known ‘Snowflake technique’ that helps with structuring a story.

This foundation has been a lifesaver, especially since I missed three days of writing. The other thing I do before I begin writing is to compose a nice note or affirmation about my writing. It’s usually something short and sweet: “Michele, you create magic when you write.” I find that taking the time to say something positive helps my mental outlook. For more thoughts on writing affirmations and how to use them, see this post. Also, NaNoWriMo’s organization and communication with us is great. I have enjoyed receiving emails this week from NaNoWriMo that tell me about ‘writing sprints’ organized on Twitter. The NaNoWriMo website is a treasure trove of help, support and encouragement. When inspiration (and willpower) during the month flags, writers can check out the “Pep Talkers” section, where bestselling authors including Brandon Sanderson (“Mistborn”), Jim Butcher (“The Dresden Files”), and Kami Garcia (co-author of the “Beautiful Creatures” series) will provide encouragement.

One of the ways I treat myself (and also sometimes procrastinate) is to listen to podcasts about writing. I thought I’d share my favorites with you. I hope these stimulate and inspire your creative work. I’d love to hear about any writing podcasts that you adore, too.

I Should Be Writing: host, Mur Lafferty

‘Winner of the Podcast Peer Award and the Parsec Award, this is a show about a writer going from wanna-be to pro. Focusing on the emotional road blocks one finds in a writing career, this show speaks to over 8000 listeners every week. ‘

What I love about it: Mur is a speculative fiction writer and this is one of the longest running podcasts of its kind. 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 and also an occasional feedback show where people can send in questions that she answers.

New Letters on the Air: host, Angela Elam

‘New Letters on the Air is the half-hour radio companion to the literary quarterly magazine New Letters. Each week the program features intimate conversations with contemporary writers who reveal secrets about their creative methods, read a few favorite passages, and inspire the listener’s imagination.’

What I love about it: This podcast makes me feel like I am sitting in the audience, listening to excellent writers talk about craft and read their work. I don’t get to enough readings and this podcast introduces me to many literary poets and novelists that I might not know about otherwise. Angela asks smart and thoughtful questions of each guest.

Writing Excuses: hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells

‘To educate aspiring writers in the ways of the author. Writing excuses is a fast-paced, weekly podcast covering topics related to writing genre fiction.’

What I love about it: This podcast’s tagline is ‘Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart’. All joking aside, this is an insightful podcast hosted by some of the most well-respected and successful writers and artists working in fantasy, horror and science fiction. They work well as a team and cover a wide range of topics about novel writing. And a bonus is that at the end of every episode, they offer a writing prompt.

The Dead Robots’ Society Podcast: hosts, Paul E. Cooley, Jason Macumber, Terry Mixon, and Scott Roche

‘This podcast is by aspiring writers for aspiring writers. The Dead Robots’ Society was created by Justin Macumber in an effort to offer advice and support to other aspiring writers. It was inspired — in part — by Mur Lafferty’s podcast “I Should Be Writing.” Over the course of the show’s storied life it’s had a bevy of co-hosts.

All the hosts, current and former, have writing experience of some kind. They gather on a weekly basis to share stories of their individual journeys and discuss topics important to the world of writing. Occasional forays into the territories of brown dragons, taco eating cowboy space ninjas, or random discussions involving monkeys are all considered rumor at best and none of the hosts are willing to admit any of that actually happened.’

What I love about it: These hosts are funny, bawdy and pretty rowdy. They cover the business of writing (especially about self-publishing and working with indie presses) and also how to stay motivated.

The Roundtable Podcast: hosts, Dave Robinson and Brion Humphrey

‘The Roundtable Podcast is about nurturing ideas, fostering inspiration, and getting the creative juices flowing.  It’s also about mistakes and blind alleys, harsh reality and uncomfortable truths.

Each week we invite publishers, editors, and authors to get on the line with a writer who presents an idea on the table… an idea for a story they want to write.  And then everyone digs in, asking questions, pointing out problems, and proposing solutions.  Characters are dissected or dismissed, plots reinforced or torn apart altogether, and hopefully what started as an idea, becomes something more.’

What I love about it: I’m a new listener to this podcast. I’m captivated by the variety of formats they have: interviews, workshops and themed conversations. They try to create ‘literary alchemy’ with each podcast. I think they do.

June provides a great time for us to review the goals, commitments and visions we made at the beginning of the year. Do we even remember the commitments we made in January? Do our goals still take our breath away? Have we already accomplished some of them?

When you think about your writing goals are you feeling a sense of ‘Woo-hoo’ or ‘Uh-oh’? I hope you’re on the side of joy and excitement. If not, then it may be time to take stock of your writing strategies thus far and make some adjustments. There is still plenty of time to meet the writing goals that you set at the beginning of the year. This month, I’m going to suggest some tips that can support your writing.

Tip #1: Track your daily word count using the ‘Magic Spreadsheet’ (or your own system).

I discovered the Magic Spreadsheet from author Mur Lafferty. For many years Mur has hosted a terrific (and addictive) podcast for writers called I Should Be Writing. One of her MFA buddies, Tony Pisculli got inspired to design a support structure that would encourage one of the hardest practices of the writing life to maintain—daily writing. The story goes that he heard that author Cory Doctorow say that if you write about 250 words per day, in a year you’ll have a book. When it comes to writing, small increments of time and energy can yield tremendous results. And, Tony thought on most days, one can write at least 250 words.

So, he designed a system (a spreadsheet) where people can enter their daily 250 word count. He also added elements of ‘gamification’, meaning that it has fun elements–there are points awarded, levels to gain, etc. He circulated it to his MFA community and then over the last two years many other people discovered it and joined in. Currently, it is hosted on Google.

I think the Magic Spreadsheet is brilliant and is a great service to writers. This idea appeals to me on a variety of levels. I love group related activities that provide public support and accountability. I love the idea of friendly competition (it’s all on an honor system), and I love anything that kind of resembles a video game. Score, score, score!

The only thing that you do is enter your name, a few details and then move across the spreadsheet to enter your daily word count and with a click of a button, the program calculates all the other stuff. It’s like magic!

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People are using the Magic Spreadsheet to make progress on their goals of finishing short stories, novels, plays, and even a few dissertations. You get more points for every day you write and every day you make the 250 word count (but you are of course free to enter in higher word counts).

A few days ago, on my birthday, I found a space on the spreadsheet and entered my name and word count. I wanted to start the spreadsheet on my birthday with the intention of writing every day from now until my birthday next year. I’m a pretty consistent writer, but have never tried to write 7 days a week, no matter what and with a minimum word count. It was a great way to kick off my birthday!

If you’re interested, you can listen to two podcasts here where Mur Lafferty interviews Tony about the Magic Spreadsheet’s origins and about the technology behind the scenes that makes it possible. You can also find all the info about the Magic Spreadsheet and how to join in here. There’s info at the link about the Facebook and Google+ groups. And, BTW, it’s all free! How is that for support?

Give the Magic Spreadsheet a try or set up your own system. Setting a specific and manageable word count (or page length) and sticking to it consistently is a fantastic way to build your writing muscle that is fun and sustainable.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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