The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘inspiration

Around this time of year, I like to share my ‘spring cleaning for the creative person’ process. It includes the steps of reassess, reorganize and rededicate. You can find more about that here. Spring is a great season to declutter as we generally have more energy (and patience) to assess what needs to go.

For the next nine days, however, I will be attempting a specific letting go & decluttering challenge. I love challenges that jump-start an area that I need more work in.

And, this one promises to do just that.

I recently heard about this challenge while watching a recent television special that featured author Marci Shimoff. She said that she learned this technique through a Feng Shui practictioner. Feng Shui is the Chinese art and philosophy of placement. I have used feng shui approaches before with much success.

Instructions: Give away (or toss) 27 items each day for 9 consecutive days.

This approach is simple, but obviously not easy. As soon as I heard about it, I knew that I wanted to try it. I want to make more mental and physical space for new projects ripening later this year.

Tonight after arriving home from seeing a friend in Virginia, I got to work. In under an hour, I was able to gather my 27 items. I was able to toss several non-working pens and highlighters!

These are items that I have been wanting to give away for some time.

Here is a link to a post that quotes from Marci’s newsletter where she talked about what this process did for her.

If you google ‘letting go of 27 items in 9 days’, you’ll find lots of posts about people’s experiences with this process. I have also seen people say that in some feng shui lineages, the number 9 is auspicious and so are multiples of 9.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress. I’d love for you to join me on this challenge if it speaks to you! It’s only nine days! We’ll support each other.

 

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I’ve found that different creative projects require new ways of brainstorming and opening channels for getting inspired. For the last few weeks, I’ve been playing around with two different items that have kickstarted my brainstorming sessions for my horror novel.

One was already on my shelf, bought years ago. It’s called The Observation Deck: A Tool Kit for Writers by Naomi Epel. Published more than 20 years ago, I remember using it for stories I wrote a long time ago. It has been fun to rediscover its usefulness now. A new edition is available on Amazon.

It includes 50 fun and innovative cards that offer techniques to bust through writer’s block. The cards match to short chapters where Epel draws on her experiences as a writer and advice gleaned from many best-selling authors.

I love the design of the cards. Some of the approaches will feel familiar (like what I drew recently which was to ask ‘What If’ questions; still a good prompt as I made myself come up with 50 plot ideas), others offer fresh approaches that I haven’t seen elsewhere like ‘Follow a Scent’.

I heard about Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards through the fabulous How Do You Write podcast (a new favorite of mine), by Rachael Herron when she interviewed W.L. Hawkin, a writer of edgy urban fantasy. The idea of an archetype was theoretically developed by psychologist Carl Jung. Archetypes are recognizable human patterns, signs and symbols that are found all over the world and across time (e.g. ‘the witch, ‘the maiden’, ‘the hero’, etc). Many writers and storytellers have drawn on Jung’s work to understand how archetypes figure in storytelling.

Hawkin said that she uses the archetype cards to help her brainstorm aspects of her story, especially in developing characters. Here’s the episode. I thought this was a brilliant idea and immediately bought the deck. I’ve done a lot of reading on my own about archetypes but have never thought to apply them to fiction.

There are 74 archetype cards and each description includes light and shadow attributes. She also includes  6 blank cards for your own creations. Although the deck was designed for personal use (i.e. to discover how you embody certain archetypes), it adapts beautifully to storytelling.

The artwork is compelling.

For the horror novel, it’s currently looking like I will have at least six viewpoint characters. And, I’m far enough along to know some things about them including their fears, secrets, needs and wants. But, I was interested in how might they interact with each other (especially under stress), and what could cause conflict between the characters based on how they were expressing aspects of their archetype.

I was able to easily pick out dominant archetypes for each character! So, for example, I have a stunt woman character and it made sense to connect her to the Athlete archetype and use that to explore what aspects of this archetype might she express both consciously and unconsciously. When people are less conscious of how they are acting out of these patterns, it can lead to inner and outer turmoil. And, of course turmoil adds heat to a story!

It’s fun to think about how to update archetypes, too. You can do so by emphasizing lesser known characteristics of the archetype. One of my characters will have a combo personality of the femme fatale and bully. That should be fun!

I had so much fun looking through these cards and making notes, I lost track of time. I’m keeping these cards close as I write.

Hi folks,

A few weeks ago I announced that I am participating in Greensboro Bound, a new and amazing literary festival. The festival is May 16-19. All events are FREE, though for some workshops and talks you’ll need to get tix ahead of time including for Zadie Smith’s talk and the conversation between musicians Ani DiFranco and Rhiannon Giddens. The organizers have poured their hearts and souls into this schedule and have planned an incredible array of workshops, talks and panels across all genres that tackle subjects from climate change to yoga. There’s something here for every kind of writer. Take a look at the schedule here.

This is my lineup for Saturday, May 18. I’m psyched!

  • 10 am  The Real and the Unreal: Speculative Fiction  with Valerie Nieman, Michele Tracy Berger, and Jamey Bradbury.

Excited to meet Jamey. Thrilled to be on this panel with Val. She also has a new book coming out this summer which I can’t wait to read. To the Bones is an Appalachian horror/mystery/eco-thriller mashup. Doesn’t that sound cool?

  • 12:30 pm Writing as Intersectional Feminism. Feminist Conversation with Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes, Michele Tracy Berger, and Cassie Kircher. Moderated by Jennifer Feather.

Wow! I live and breathe intersectional feminism as a women’s and gender studies professor and as a creative writer. I am really looking forward to this conversation.

  • 3:15 pm Afrofuturism with Michele Tracy Berger, Sheree Renee Thomas. Moderated by Gale Greenlee.

Sheree Renee Thomas is a writer, editor, publisher and pioneer in documenting Afrofuturism. I’ve admired her work for a long time, so I will try not to fangirl the entire time. I had the distinct pleasure of working with Gale (now Dr. Greenlee), a few years ago when she took my graduate class ‘Exploring Intersectionality: Theories, Methods and Practices of Social Change’. What a gift that she is moderating this discussion.

 

On Saturday, I came across a great article on writing and self-rejection by the prolific blogger and talented author Chuck Wendig. His post interrogates the nature of why writers self-reject their work (and by extension themselves) and how to blunt its effect. It’s SO good. Right after reading it, I felt so empowered and unblocked (I didn’t even realize that I was feeling blocked), I went on a writing tear. I’ve been sharing this post everywhere and thought YOU might enjoy it, too.

Self-rejection is a subject near and dear to me. I have written about the vexing nature of self-rejection before. I almost talked myself out of submitting an essay about Octavia Butler to an anthology even though I thought my take on her work was unique. Thank goodness I resisted the impulse to self-reject as the work went on to get published in Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler. So should you resist self-rejecting!

Check out Chuck’s piece ‘Self-Rejection: What It Is, Why You Do It, and How to Eject Its Ass Out of an Airlock’. You don’t want to miss this one, folks!

 

Hi all,

I’ve been working all weekend on writing applications for residencies in the fall. So, no long post today. I do, however, have a great resource for you! Samantha Bryant in our monthly ‘How to Finish Your Novel’ workshop, on Saturday, shared this wonderful article by Elizabeth Sims, “10-Minute Fixes to 10 Common Plot Problems”.

She identifies the places where most of us get stuck in writing and offers creative solutions. When I’m stuck in a story, it’s usually plot related, so I appreciate how Sims offers a way out of common ruts. And, who doesn’t love a quick fix?

Check it out! BTW, I loved #10–how to fix a story when you believe ‘The Whole Thing Stinks’!

It’s March and winter hasn’t quite released its grip yet, at least not in the southeastern United States. I’m late this year in getting to begin a new gratitude jar as I usually start one in January. I’ve been traveling for work and was feeling a bit more cranky and tired than usual and I needed a life-affirming pick me up. I checked out my 2018 gratitude jar, still full of entries.

But first, what’s a gratitude jar?

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.

For many years, I have kept a gratitude jar focused around my creative life.

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.

I like to use a big jar (see first image) but you can also probably find ones like these in stores or online

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.

Today, I plucked a few from the jar and read them. They transported me back in time and space and jogged my memory about all sorts of big and small events. They made me smile and I immediately felt less cranky.

In reading a dozen or so I was reminded of these two simple facts:

-most things in life work out just fine, creative work included

-we live in a powerful interlinked circle of friends, associates, colleagues, loved ones and even strangers that give our life meaning through their acts of kindness, grace and love. It’s important to remember!

The powerful benefits that stem from a gratitude practice are ones that science now validates and that spiritual traditions have always claimed.

This week, I’ll be reading all the entries of 2018, honoring them and then starting afresh. One new entry per day.

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 and is like rocket fuel for your creative life! Promise!

 

 

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!


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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