The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘NaNoWriMo

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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Hi creative peeps,

I’m doing ‘pop-up’ coaching at 6:30 (EST) tonight on Facebook Live. Ask me ANYTHING about writing, making time for a creative life, and how to beat those pesky inner critics, etc. I’ll also share some tips about how to get your creative projects going full blast through the end of the year.

Come to my Facebook Page (Michele T Berger) at 6:30. I’d love to support you in meeting your creative goals.

Last November during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I took on the daunting but exhilarating task of writing a 50,000 word draft of a cozy mystery. I finished with a 50,000 word ‘baby’ draft that I loved. More recently, I’ve been revising that baby draft toward a real first draft. Cozy mysteries are ones that typically involve humor, an amateur sleuth and are set in an intimate social setting (usually a small town). They tend to downplay violence, sex and police procedure. As part of my research I’ve been reading a lot of cozies, paying attention to ingenious plotting, and keeping an eye out for new authors. I’m happy to have discovered the work of Karoline Barrett.

Karoline Barrett writes women’s fiction and cozy mysteries. Her first book, The Art of Being Rebekkah is women’s fiction. Her agent is the person who encouraged Karoline to write her first mystery as Karoline notes below. Like any good writer, she heeded her agent’s suggestion. Her new book Bun for Your Life (A Bread and Batter Mystery) is being published by Penguin this month.

I’m so happy to welcome Karoline Barrett to The Practice of Creativity!

Michele, thank you so much for having me on your blog. Appearing on blogs is one of my favorite things to do, and I had lots of fun answering all your questions! KB

 

bunforlife

 

What inspired your new book, Bun for Your Life?

I love this question. My first novel, The Art of Being Rebekkah, is women’s fiction. When I finished that, I was floundering around, trying to think of what to write next. My agent asked me, “What do you like to read?” I replied, “Mysteries.” She then replied, “Why don’t you write one?” Then she tossed ideas at me, one of them being a hybrid pepper. From that, grew my premise for the first book in my Bread & Batter cozy mystery series, Bun for Your Life. Only, the pepper she talked about turned into apples!

-Tell us about your sleuth, Molly Tyler. What’s she like?    

Molly owns a bakery with her best friend, Olivia. Molly’s intuitive, funny, an animal lover, and she’s partial to puzzle solving-hence her love of solving mysteries! It doesn’t hurt that she’s a little bit nosy as well. She loves Destiny (most of the time), the small upstate New York town she grew up in, and is devoted to her family and friends. Last, but not least, she certainly wouldn’t mind having a special man in her life to make her forget about her feelings for her ex-husband! Maybe the bachelor auction in Bun For Your Life will introduce her to a new man!

Did you always want to be a writer?fb home picture----

Off and on. I was always a reader, but I didn’t get serious about writing until I was older.

What’s been your journey to published author?

I began writing short stories, which were published. Then decided I wanted to write a novel. My first novel started off as a short story. Once I finished it, I began querying agents. I got a lot of requests for partials and fulls, but no takers. I was ecstatic when Fran Black of Literary Counsel signed me. She was my 121st query!

What does your writing practice look like?  

Quite messy at times! I work full-time in addition to writing, so even though I have a schedule, I don’t always stick to it! I have a little office at home, which is my writing room, so I can retreat and leave my husband happily watching TV. Most of my writing is done in the evening, which is hard as I am not an evening person, and on the weekends.

-What starts you writing a new story? 

Since I’m working on a mystery series right now, the main characters and setting are already in place. I come up with a story, bad guy (or girl), the crime, some new secondary characters, a secondary plot, and throw in as much humor and conflict as I can.

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

Just one? That’s hard! I’d have to say, Don’t get bogged down with self-doubt, just write!

 

Karoline lives in a small Connecticut town with her husband. When she’s not writing, she loves reading, the beach, traveling, and her family.

Visit her at http://www.karolinebarrett.com/

Dedicate v. 1. To set apart for a special use. 2 To commit (oneself) to a course of action. 3. To address or inscribe (e.g., a literary work) to someone. (Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary, 2nd ed.)

Spring possibilities are about to cede to summer pleasures. I’ve been ruminating on the importance of spring cleaning for your creating life and have covered the first two steps—reassessment and reorganization. The third step is the most powerful one—rededication. To rededicate ourselves to something we deem as special in our lives strengthens and amplifies our commitment.

Rededicating ourselves to our creative life sends a joyful message to our ‘Creative Self’. Our Creative Self loves to be wooed. Its language includes ritual, ceremony and demonstrative acts of appreciation.

 

What aspects of the creative life would you like to rededicate yourself to as you move into summer’s rhythms?

Here are some to consider:

I rededicate myself to knowing that my creative work will matter to someone, so I must finish it.

I rededicate myself to owning my creative impulses, even in the face of naysayers and saboteurs.

I rededicate myself to claiming my creativity despite bouts of envy, doubt and fatigue.

I rededicate myself to curtailing the diet of my inner critics, who feed on fear, and instead nourish my Creative Self with periods of rest and play.

I rededicate myself to appreciating my Creative Self’s firework moments and subtle whispers.

I rededicate myself to taking incremental steps to finish my creative projects.

I rededicate myself to looking for support, for my creative work, in new ways. [i.e. critique groups, mastermind groups, creative buddies, mentors, etc.]

 

Here are some aspects of the writing life that I’m rededicating myself to between now and fall:

I rededicate myself to sending more of my work to professionally paying venues. [I am aiming for paying semi-pro and professional speculative fiction magazines.]

I rededicate myself to naps, a restful schedule, and daydreaming, all of which nourishes my Creative Self.

I rededicate myself to cultivating time for reading.

I rededicate myself to remembering that I am here to seduce and delight the reader.

I rededicate myself to finding ways to make writing fun and feel like a game.

[I discovered word sprints during last year’s NaNoWriMo. I find them to be so fun. How many words can you type in 10 or 20 minutes? Last November, I wrote 7,000 words in about 5 hours using timed sprints (100 words=10 minutes, 200 words=10 minutes (2x), 300 words=20 minutes, 100 words=10 minutes…at the end of an hour, you may have written anywhere from 700-1,000 words). This works very well for messy first drafts.]

I rededicate myself to looking at revision as a way to honor my writing by keeping the right words and setting the rest free for another day.

I rededicate myself to spending time honing my social media presence.

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

I crossed the 50K word finish line yesterday and validated my manuscript with NaNoWriMo. I am still buzzing with excitement. These are the factors that contributed to my success:

Writing affirmations: I started most writing sessions by writing a kind note to myself. This ritual kept my doubting inner critics relatively quiet. Go here for more on the power of affirmations for writers.

Learned new writing tricks: I stayed on track by writing about 2,000 words every day. I, however, got stuck by the time I got to 40,000 words and headed into Thanksgiving weekend way behind.

I was running out of time. Luckily, I found some folks on the NaNoWriMo forums who were setting up timed writing sprints. I’ve done timed prompts before while writing longhand. Doing time writing sprints on my computer were new. I participated in a 2,000 word sprint where you write as fast as you can for 10 minutes trying to make the following word counts in each sprint: 400, 300, 200, 100. You take short breaks along the way and then go in for a second round of sprints using the opposite order: 100, 200, 300, 400. In about two hours you can reach 2,000 words. Several people kept time and we checked in as we reached our word counts.

Using this method on Friday and also utilizing the #NaNoWordSprints on Twitter I was able to write about 7,000 words in about six hours. Definitely a personal best. Discovering these writing sprints felt like a miracle. I am grateful to the many writers who organized these events and cheered others on.

Utilized online writing forums: The NaNoWriMo forums were amazing and my go to resource. Encouragement, creativity and humor were in abundant supply.

Periodically reviewed a very popular blog post: on how Rachel Aaron, an author upped her daily output from 2,000 words to 10,000 words. I highly recommend this post. She provides some great tips that anyone can employ. Works wonders.

Used Scrivener-I had heard great things about Scrivener. They are a sponsor of NaNoWriMo this year and I decided to give their special NaNoWriMo template trial offer a go. I literally spent only ten minutes looking at their intro video before diving in. The ease! The joy! It made a huge difference to be able to have all my chapters in one place, and easily visible as icons. I also loved their ‘corkboard’ feature that displays the chapters (or scenes) as movable index cards. This feature was a tremendous help with organization.

Received daily doses of encouragement from Mur Lafferty:  I wrote about Mur Laffterty’s excellent podcast a few weeks ago. She like many creative artists are on Patreon. Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that allows direct and ongoing support of artists. I was already in her Patreon circle when she announced that she would be sending a daily short NaNoWriMo audio message to her Patreon supporters. The 3-7 minute commentaries on topics including narrative structure, staying motivated, and character development were fantastic. I came to rely on those daily writing vitamins to keep my spirits up. Check out Mur’s writing and podcast. You might also want to check out Patreon to see if there are creative artists you’d like to support.

Drew on the momentum of daily writing: The success of NaNoWriMo was built on the headwind I generated in the summer writing a minimum of 250 words a day and using the tracking tool of ‘The Magic Spreadsheet’.

I didn’t try to ‘pants’ this one: I spent most of July and August writing an outline and character sketches for this book. This preparatory work saved me.

 

Do I have some plot challenges? Yes. Do I need to add more about the setting, conflict and some of the characters ? Yes. Will I need to do a lot of editing? Yes. But, I am pretty proud of my NaNoWriMo draft. I love my characters and my plot.  And, having never written a mystery before I discovered I enjoy writing in this genre. I also like how I just figured things out along the way (without agonizing over details) because of the intensity of writing at high speed. And, I loved being inspired by people who participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote way beyond 50K.

In January I will continue work on this project and shoot for a solid first draft in early spring. I’ll also try to keep what worked for me during NaNoWriMo going.

If you are still in the writing trenches trying to finish NaNoWriMo, I cheer you on. If you’re not going to finish by tonight, celebrate all the hard work you’ve done thus far.

Now, I’m off to order the official NaNoWriMo winner T-shirt and print out my winning certificate!

NaNoWriMo update: We’re now wrapping up week three of NaNoWriMo. I’ve got about 31,000 words which is great. But, I’ll need to write about 2500 words a day to finish by next week. I have to say that I got a little cocky earlier because the words were coming so easily. I literally felt that my characters were talking to me and all I had to do was listen. This is rare for me. My characters are not quite as chatty now and I am definitely working hard for every scene. Like many NaNoWriMoers, I will be working a lot during the Thanksgiving break. Send me your good vibes this holiday week.

Here’s a treat for you: Writing coach Rochelle Melander’s insights on how to boost your creativity. Her work is phenomenal, so check out her link at the end of this post. Enjoy!

 

Three Tools to Boost Your Creativity by Rochelle Melander

 

Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere. —Albert Einstein

 

In 2006, I launched Dream Keepers, a writing program for at risk children and teens in Milwaukee. Since then, I’ve taught at dozens of libraries, schools, and churches. In the past year, I’ve noticed that many of the young people have difficulty imagining. When I ask them to write a scary story, they write what they’ve seen in movies and on television. When I push them to create something of their own, they stare at me like I’m from outer space.

My own ability to imagine has taken a hit in recent years, too. Too much time hooked up to the computer has made me much more likely to research than question. Research backs me up. A 2010 study done by Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, discovered that creativity has decreased in children since 1990, along with the ability to imagine.

So how can we address the problem of our dwindling creativity? We need to practice imagining and immerse ourselves in creating. No doubt, our creative play will support our writing. If you’re up for a little fun, try these exercises:

  1. Don’t look it up, make it up! Have you noticed how public wonderments have turned into competitive research sessions? You’re standing in a park talking and someone says, “I wonder what people did for fun in Milwaukee in the mid-1800s?” Then five people pull out their smart phones and race to find out first. (Actually, the answer for that, like the answer for all things Milwaukee, is easy: they drank beer.)

Your assignment: Next time you wonder, don’t pick up that phone (or tablet). Quickly make up

5-10 answers. If you’ve got time, develop one of them into a short story.

  1. Play the “What If?” game. As a chronic worrier, I play the “What If?” game all the time—what if my kids flunk out of school and have to live on my couch forever, what if that chicken I ate for lunch was bad, what if I never get this book published! Far better to play the “What if” fantasy game: what if squirrels were really super intelligent and took over the world? What would life look like then?

Your assignment: Create 5-10 crazy “what if” sentences. Then take one of them and follow it to its strangest conclusion.

  1. Invent it. Earlier this summer, my dog had a giant sore on his ear (I know, yuck). It stunk and worse, every time she scratched, it bled all over the house. Before we brought her in to have the sore removed, I spent a lot of time devising ways to keep her from itching it. (She can’t use the Elizabethan collar.) Believe it or not, I had lots of fun trying to invent a protective ear device.

Your assignment: Invent a solution for a pesky problem in your house. If you don’t have any problems (lucky you), get a bunch of stuff from your junk drawer and see what you can create with it.

Bonus Tips:

+Do something impractical and creative every day.

+Read about artists and inventors.

+Visit places that honor art, science, and creative endeavors.

 

Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is an author, a certified professional coach, and a popular speaker. Melander has written ten books including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It). As the Write Now! Coach, she teaches professionals how to write books fast, get published, and connect with readers through social media. Get your free subscription to her

Write Now! Tips Ezine at http://www.writenowcoach.com.

 

 

“It’s a simple equation. Subtracting your dependence on some of the things you take for granted increases your independence. It’s liberating, forcing you to rely on your own ability rather than your customary crutches.” –Twyla Tharp

It’s day sixteen of the NaNoWriMo challenge and I’m right at the word count I should be: 25,000 words. I’m actually shocked and periodically I have a strong desire to shout: ‘Who’s in the house? A NaNoWriMoer is in the house! And, she’s writing!’

Almost half done. Shocking!

To complete NaNoWriMo, I know that I will have to give up a few things. At least temporarily. Some things, in the next few weeks, will be easy to shed: cleaning my home office, tweeting, clothes shopping, talking on the phone. I’ve already said apologies to my partner and friends. The process of trying to write 50,000 words brings on an intense focus and concentration. It makes you ask the question: What lifestyle “fat” can be cut during an intensive creative challenge?

cutting

The incredible choreographer and creative thinker, Twyla Tharp reminds us that giving up something can create a sacred container for the work to come:

“The act of giving something up does not merely clear time and mental space to focus you. It’s a ritual, too, an offering where you sacrifice a portion of your life to the metaphoric gods of creation. Instead of goats or cattle, we’re sacrificing television or music or numbers—and what is a sacrifice but a ritual?”

I’m willing to give up checking Facebook as much as I do. I probably can gain back a half hour of my day, if I just refrain from mindlessly checking Facebook.

I have to give up the rather comforting rhythm I’ve established this semester which is to write late at night when I get home. I’ve been getting up around 5:30 am and trying to write for two hours.

For those of you doing NaNoWriMo, what kind of fat have you been cutting?

If you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, how do you maintain focus on a demanding a creative project? What is easy for you to cut? Would love to know.

 

 

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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