The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration

It’s been about a month since I’ve worked on my own creative projects (not including blogging). I’m stuck and I know it and I kind of know why. I’m rewriting my NaNoWriMo draft (a mystery) and have been happily buzzing along until I came to a section that I have to write completely fresh. It was great when it felt like I was just revising and had a template in front of me to follow. Also, my writing group loved the last chapter and told me they can’t wait to read the next one. For some reason, I internalized their excitement as SUPER DUPER PRESSURE TO BE GOOD. All the while I have been telling myself, ‘Oh, you’re just taking this inchoate baby NaNoWriMo draft to the toddler level.’ I was having fun with it, not needing it to be GOOD. And, then I felt that pressure and did it tighten up the creative juices.

Isn’t it funny how something wonderful (like readers wanting more) can create inner turmoil? OK, problem diagnosed! Now I just need to start somewhere and remind myself, it doesn’t need to be good on the first or even second round. I’m just putting words on the page. In the famous words of  Anne Lamott, it’s OK to produce a “shitty first draft”.

I’m just going to start putting one sentence in front of the other until I get to the end of the scene and then I’m going to write the next scene and so on.

I found this article a few days ago and it has some wonderful tips on how to come back to writing when you’ve been away for awhile.

And you? How is your writing going? Do you have some favorite ways to get unstuck?

Advertisements

As many of you who consistently read this blog know, I have been teaching a variety of workshops about the submission process. I started teaching this kind of work because becoming more savvy about submission (and doing it more often), has made such a tremendous difference in my writing life.

My interest and desire in upping my submissions game began with my teacher’s suggestion that emerging writers should actively (and quickly) strive for 99 rejections. And, they should think of those rejections as part of their apprenticeship. As I note in this post, at the time my writing teacher shared this, I thought surely I had racked up 99 rejections. Boy was I wrong! The other reason why I have begun teaching on this subject is that while there are a number of writing books, few discuss the submission process and all that it entails.

Recently, I realized that since December, I haven’t devoted much time to my own submission process. And, time is passing—it’s already the second quarter of the year!

Last Saturday, I sat down and dived in. Wow, was I out of practice with a process that I know well! I was reminded of many of the things that my participants tell me they struggle with regarding submitting their work

It takes time to research new markets (ideally, you’re reading a few issues of the journal or magazine before you submit), it also takes time to adapt cover letters and reformat your materials (there is, unfortunately, no uniform submission standard and every venue wants the materials formatted slightly different—from no contact information in the manuscript to contact information in the manuscript, etc.).

What I thought would only take me an hour or two (as I had several pieces ready to go), took almost four hours from start to finish. This submission thing isn’t easy or speedy.

I wound up submitting work to 5 new markets and 1 market that I already knew. To the majority of these markets, I submitted both prose and poetry. Last year, I had little time to get my poems circulating and I wanted to correct that oversight.

One strategy, however, that I came up with after my four hour adventure was to schedule a reminder in my calendar for the 5th and 25th of each month. Instead of trying to do everything in one sitting, it makes much more sense to spread the work out over the month. I can’t believe I haven’t thought of this before! I also like the fact that on the 5th, I can scan everything I find for the month, bookmark it and make a decision to submit then (depending on the deadline) or later.  If you schedule in twice a month submission adventures then you’re more likely to find great opportunities and follow through on them.

The reality is, if I don’t start scheduling this kind of stuff, I’ll wind up binge submitting and feel exhausted afterward.

I have become a fan of Todoist, a scheduling app. I’ve already added my reminder for the 25th.

Submitting one’s work shouldn’t feel tedious! I’m excited about my new plan.

Do you have tips for managing the submission process? If so, I’d love to hear them.

 

LOCAL PEEPS: This event combines everything I love–talking with other authors, activism, and women’s issues. I hope you consider joining us for what I believe will be an inspiring and lively conversation:


In her only appearance in North Carolina, national leader and former president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards will be in conversation with Michele Tracy Berger in The Fearrington Barn on April 15th at 2pm in support of her new memoir MAKE TROUBLE: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.
Tickets can be purchased through McIntyre’s Books: 542-3030 or online through their website.

I am absolutely loving her book and can’t wait to meet her in person!

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of conducting a compressed version of the ‘Charting Your Path to Publication’ workshop for the Triangle Sisters in Crime organization. A wonderful crowd of newbie and established writers turned out on a warm afternoon. The audience came eager to engage with me and each other.

This is the third time I’ve taught a version of this workshop and every time it’s gone supremely well. On Saturday, I focused a lot on strengthening one’s submitting skills. The reason why I created this workshop is because a vacuum exists in helping writers understand and manage one of the key components of creating a writing career–submitting one’s work. There’s not much about the submission process in writing craft books, except to “just do it”. But this declaration leaves out so much about submitting one’s work including 1) how to build relationships with editors 2) how to find appropriate venues for one’s work 3) how to track one’s submissions and 4)how to cultivate a resilient author mindset, especially in dealing with rejection.

As I say in the opening to the workshop, charting one’s path to publication is not like shooting an arrow and hitting a target.

Getting published really isn’t like shooting an arrow and hitting a target perfectly the first time.

This is the perception I had when I first started writing. It’s more like a series of knocking on doors and hopefully building relationships with editors, publishers and readers behind many of them.

Understanding the nuances in publishing is more like being very curious and knocking on a wide array of many doors.

It can be a long and rewarding process when one is armed with knowledge and support. I wish someone had explained this to me much earlier in my writing career.

Here are three tips for increasing your submission savvy:

  • Always be on the lookout for new venues for your work

You want to create a readership? You want to get paid for your writing? If the answer is yes, you’ll need to find markets where you can submit your work. Make seeking out new venues a playful process and think of yourself as a type of treasure hunter.

There are some tried and true submission market databases. These include Duotrope and Submission Grinder. You can also find a number of groups on Facebook representing various genres that post submissions (i.e. ‘women of color writers’ community’, ‘science fiction and fantasy authors’, etc.)

One fantastic venue is poet, Tricia Hopkinson’s ‘Where to Submit’ website. She updates monthly and includes submission markets for all kinds of genres; her site is also good for finding paying poetry markets.

  • Create a great bio

As a working writer, you’ll need different bio lengths including a 50 word, 100 word and 300 word length bio for various publications (or queries to agents and editors). I spent a lot of time on Saturday making a case for a bio that engages the reader, conveys something compelling about the writer and is more than a laundry list of publications. The bio is not only for your forthcoming publications, but is an important component of your website and other social media sites, etc. Start collecting examples of author bios that you love and study what makes them work. I used author, Jake Bible’s longer bio on his website as a fun example and perfect for the genre he writes in.

  • Create a rejection ritual

It’s going to happen to you, if it hasn’t happened already. You’re going to submit something and it gets rejected. You’re minding your own business, thinking of yourself as a writer, keeping to deadlines and then a rejection letter arrives in an email. Sometimes we forget a piece of writing is out floating around in the literary universe. When a rejection arrives out of the blue it often feels like your head has been plunged in cold water.

As writers, many of us have great rituals for getting ourselves to the page or celebrating when we finish a piece. Most of us don’t have any rituals for dealing with rejection.

I started thumbing through my writing books-all of which talk about the inevitability of rejection-and was surprised to find that few gave concrete advice or guidance about how to take care of yourself when you get a rejection letter. Most just say that you should immediately write a new query letter and send the manuscript back out–very perfunctory.

I asked the audience if they have a rejection ritual. Someone said, “A glass of chardonnay and popcorn and then the next day I get back to work.” Another person said, “I think I need a rejection ritual.”

You can create your rejection ritual around what kind of feedback you receive from the venue. Is it a form letter or is it personalized? What will you need to tell yourself to get the piece back into submission (assuming that the piece is as strong as you can make it)? It can be as simple as having a phrase that you tell yourself. A ritual can help ease the sting of getting rejected. Consider crafting one.

If you’d like to deeply explore your publication path, I’m teaching a longer workshop through the wonderful Creative Writing Program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro this coming Saturday, March 24th 10am-4pm. I was scheduled to teach this workshop in January, but didn’t because of the snowstorm. I’d love to see you there!

Charting Your Path to Publication teaches strategies to beat the odds of rejection. You’ll learn how to select markets for your work, track submissions, and find great resources.

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).

Writers at all levels welcomed.

Door prizes, too!

Register here

 

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.

 

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! mtb@creativetickle.com

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!


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

View Full Profile →

Follow me on Twitter

Follow The Practice of Creativity on WordPress.com
Advertisements