The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘NaNoWriMo

Like most writers, I love research. And, like most writers, research can send me down endless rabbit holes. For my novella, Reenu-You, I spent years researching viruses. Of course, only a sliver of our research ever ends up in the actual story. This means we have to make wise decisions about how much to research before writing (or while writing). Still, it is so much fun to deeply explore a subject and find details that will create emotional truths in our characters, or enliven our setting.

One of my early creative loves was fashion design. I can still recall spending hours sketching out designs and showing them to my mother when I was about eight years old. Living in NYC, it was easy to fall in love with fashion, as it is one of the driving industries and a style capital. My mother was incredibly savvy about clothes and my early interest in designing was often a desire to understand her aesthetic tastes. As I got older, I remember talking myself out of pursuing fashion design. I didn’t know anyone who was a designer, so it didn’t seem like a real career, just a glamorous dream. My inner critic told me that I didn’t sew very well and that I was horrible at measuring things. Yup, I already had an active inner critic as a pre-teen!

Anyway, our true loves have a way of sneaking into our stories. For example, Constancia, one of the two main characters in Reenu-You is passionate about fashion and is about to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, for accessories design.

In 2014, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time and completed a draft of a novel where ‘eco-fashion’ plays an important role. I absolutely love this story and have been researching sustainable fashion or eco-fashion for some time.

Before doing research, I had heard of the downsides of “fast” or highly disposable fashion, but I now know SO much more. I love fashion and also want to be a responsible consumer.

Did you know that most of our clothes eventually end up in a landfill?

Approximately, 85% of the clothing we discard in the US is sent to landfills and incinerators.

And, no giving to thrift stores doesn’t solve the problem—most of what is donated is never used and also goes into the landfill: https://daily.jstor.org/fast-fashion-fills-our-landfills/

The fashion industry has historically employed some horrendously unequal labor practices; ones that often significantly impact women workers globally. It also contributes to environmental degradation.

The fashion industry is complex and there are lots of challenges associated with reform.

But, there are also lots of opportunities for change. That is good news and involves consumer advocacy, changes in corporate practices and also the rise of designers interested in sustainable practices.

Although, I’ve read a number of books and articles, on this subject, I hadn’t talked to anyone in the design world.

So, I was thrilled that during the weekend, I was able to attend a wonderful event hosted by the Abundance Foundation called Think Again: Fashion, Farming, Fiber! This event was designed to ask local and global questions about the fashion industry and sustainability. I got to hear from experts about how technology is changing how cotton is grown (to eliminate the need to dye it), and the rise of industrial hemp being grown in North Carolina. I also got to talk to a few designers about the way they use upcycled, recycled and local materials.

The evening fashion show on Saturday was spectacular and showcased a half dozen designers, in N.C., that specialize in eco-fashion!

The model in the video is wearing an outfit made entirely from post-consumer “waste”.

It was a great community event with lots of local kids participating. The models were a range of body types, ages and gender expressions, too.

I think the key to not letting research hijack your writing is to give it a time limit and also to keep writing. This event gave me a boost to keep pushing forward in the novel. Once I get through this draft, I can go back and layer what I’ve learned into subsequent drafts. No more research until this draft is completed.

How do you manage the research process for your writing projects?

 

 

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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?

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.

 

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!


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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