The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘novel writing

When fears are attended to, it clears the way for clear and simple writing that comes from your heart. Even the briefest attention can melt fear.
-Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, author

Last week, I began a series about spring cleaning for your creative life.

There are three steps in the process:

1) You reassess your space, your schedule, and patterns of mind to see what is supporting or not supporting your creative life.

2) You reorganize your space, schedule, and patterns of minds to allow you to create with more ease.

3) After reassessing and reorganizing, you rededicate yourself to having a productive and joyful creative life!

Reassessing your physical space is a great place to start because it is visible and you spend a lot of time there. Another thing to reassess during spring cleaning are your ‘patterns of mind’. By this I mean, the habitual ways of thinking and responding to your creative life.

One powerful pattern of mind is fear.

Fear can show up in so many ways in a creator’s life. We fear to write, draw, and sing badly, we fear rejection, we fear we won’t reach our potential, we often fear the blank page, canvas, music studio, etc. Fear often causes us to procrastinate.

Fear looks like not following through when an editor asks you to send them new work.

Fear looks like talking yourself out of registering for that art class that you’ve been dreaming about.

Fear looks like spending more time listening to writing podcasts than taking time to write.

One thing that helps is acknowledging and tracking our fears. One great way to do this is by keeping a fear journal.

In 2015, I had the good fortune of meeting the writer Daisy Hernandez, author of the incredible memoir, A Cup of Water under My Bed. During a talk she gave to my upper division ‘women and creativity’ seminar, she said that keeping a ‘fear journal’ has been helpful to her writing process. She explained that a fear journal is where she lists her fears that come to her as she begins writing (or even after she’s finished). So, while she works, she has her fear journal open on her desk. Sometimes she’ll write ‘Still afraid’, or she’ll name a fear specific to the project that she is working on.

What I love about this concept is that it acknowledges that writers tend to have lots of fears while writing and that it is powerful to capture them in one place. Fear is a normal part of the writing experience. Writing it down allows us to have some distance from the feelings that the fears evoke. A fear journal helps us to see the ebb and flow of our worries and concerns.

Fears never go completely away, but by employing self-reflective exercises, they don’t have to immobilize us.

Do you have a pattern of mind that needs some attending to during spring cleaning?

 

Image credits: Dreamstime; Shutterstock

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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?

 

 

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?

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.

 

This isn’t a book review. It’s an appetizer. You know when you start reading a book and you feel like it’s about to reshape everything you’ve thought about a subject? And, you can’t wait to tell everyone about it? That’s me, right now. I’m obsessed with the new book, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living.

It’s an amazing book exploring raw vulnerable truths, myths and contradictions about writing and making a living. The collection includes essays and interviews. Every piece moves me.

Last fall, I heard an interview with the editor, Manjula Martin, on the wonderful DIY MFA podcast, hosted by Gabriela Pereira. I bought it and have been devouring it this past week. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it soon. Right now, please excuse me as I curl up with Scratch until the wee hours of the morning.

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 all,

We’re already into the first three months of the year. How are you feeling about the work you’ve submitted for publication? Are you submitting as much as you had hoped? You are submitting, right?

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.

Many writers feel daunted navigating the submission process and often find themselves stymied by periods of rejection.

If you’re interested in supercharging your submission rate this year and learning new strategies for taking consistent action to publication, you might like the following:

I’m giving a FREE workshop: Charting Your Path to Publication: Strengthening Submission Skills and Honing Author Mindset

for the Triangle Sisters in Crime meeting this Saturday
March 10, 1:30 PM, at the Durham South Regional Library, 4505 Alston Ave., Durham. The meeting is open to the public.

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.

Workshop will be about 1 hour & 30 minutes plus Q&A

Door prizes, too!

I’d love to see you there!


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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