The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘novels

I have come across two mesmerizing and powerful interviews with authors Cheryl Strayed and Dani Shapiro. They both are interviewed by Marie Forleo on her TV show on YouTube. We usually need a boost for our writing in midsummer when a slower pace and the thrills of gelato call to us, luring us away from the demands of our creative work. I hope these interviews inspire you as much as they did me!

This conversation with Cheryl Strayed is beautiful, honest, vulnerable and completely real:

She covers a variety of subjects:
-why it’s OK not to write every day (she’s a binge writer)
-how to be gentle with yourself and your writing
-how to find the core questions in your work
-why she turned away from her ambitious nature at different times in her writing life
-how to keep putting the words on the page

https://www.marieforleo.com/2017/02/cheryl-strayed/

This conversation with Dani Shapiro offers deep insight on:

-why waiting to feel inspired may not be such a great idea
-why inner critics change the ways they berate us as we grow as writers (and what we can do about it)
-why she put aside 200 pages of writing
-the productive uses of despair
-how to get the courage to share your work
-her two word writing prompt that she uses in classes

https://www.marieforleo.com/2018/01/dani-shapiro-writing-process/

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How long do you want to keep writing and creating? Is your body and mind up for the journey? Writing is one of the few professions that can be practically age proof. There’s one big caveat though—we can write well into our senior years only if we respect our bodies and keep them as healthy as we can.  Joanna Penn, noted and successful indie author has teamed up with Dr. Euan Lawson to write The Healthy Writer: Reduce Your Pain, Improve Your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long-Term. And, it promises to be a new standard on this topic.

Aching back? Chronic pain, sleep problems? Anxious? Sugar cravings? Penn and Lawson tackle many physical and mental health issues that beset writers, including difficult ones to talk about like depression, loneliness, anxiety and challenges with chronic pain.

Like in her other book: Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey (which I also enjoyed), Penn posted a survey on her blog and asked writers to share their triumphs and challenges with staying healthy. And, they did–over a 1,000 writers responded, detailing their struggles, triumphs and tips.

In the past several years, Penn has been open about her debilitating migraines, chronic lower back pain and managing the emotional ups and downs of creative work. Some of her long term solutions have included taking up yoga 3-4 times a week, using dictation software and taking daily walks. I’ve been inspired to see how positively the changes she’s made have benefited her.

What really works in this book is their combined experience. They expertly weave together insights from their own journey and useful snippets from survey respondents. What’s the science on rest, standing desks and ergonomic chairs? Lawson’s got the answers and does a fantastic job of making the science and medical research accessible.

What’s it about: Getting you to think about ways you can keep doing what you love for a long time; prioritizing your health as part of a long term sustainable career as a writer, cultivating a healthy author mindset

Structure: Several chapters are co-written, some chapters are individually written, reflective questions and resources at the end of each chapter

Style: Extremely personable; scientific information presented in a way that is fun to read

Topics: a personal journey to a pain-free back, writing with depression and anxiety, the active writer’s mindset, loneliness and isolation, a letter to sugar, strategies for the sofa bound, tools for writing, dealing with imposter syndrome, perfectionism, developing writing routines, ways to revise

Inspirational Nuggets:

There is a risk that any book about health can get preachy, but this is not a book about denial. It is not necessary to live a life that would make a monk weep. We are not aspirational ascetics, denying the flesh for the greater holiness of the written word. This is not an exhaustive book covering everything possible, but we hope it will help you feel less alone in your journey toward wellness. It is about empowerment. It is about sustainability. It is about making change that will help you become a healthy writer for the long term.

Healthy Writers Need Healthy Connections:

If you want to be a healthy writer, then you should spend as much time addressing your social networks and your social isolation as much as anything else. It needs to be on a par with giving up cigarettes, sorting out your sleep, losing weight and getting exercise.

Jumping into Facebook doesn’t count. In fact, there is mixed evidence about the impact of online social media and its effect on loneliness. One study among postgraduate students found that increased use of Facebook was associated with loneliness.

The inability to do what everyone around me was doing made me feel even more worthless than the illness already did (from a chapter written by Dan Holloway on writing and mental health issues):

And if I ever admitted to my writing friends that I was finding it hard the classic retort would come back: “We all feel like that.” People who say this mean well, but it is such a damaging thing to say. The thing is, when I say I can’t put pen to paper, I don’t mean I’m finding it tough. I don’t mean I need tips to unlock the words. I don’t mean I need prompts or-don’t even go there-a better plan. I mean I can’t. I physically cannot make the words appear. You wouldn’t tell someone who couldn’t use their legs that we all find it hard to stand up, just because sometimes you’re tired and don’t feel like it. It’s time we stopped making the same gaffes with mental ill health.

Sort out your sleep

Many writers surveyed for this book talked about sleep. There were suggestions for developing routines at the end of the day and recommendations on avoiding screen-time. There was a recognition that depression, anxiety and work related stress had a big impact on your sleep.

In Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker collates studies that show sleeping less than six or seven hours a night can impact your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, disrupt your blood sugar levels, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, and contribute to psychiatric conditions including depression and anxiety.

So clearly it’s an important topic for writers.

Bottom line: This is a definitive guide for encouraging writers to make sensible and long lasting changes for their health.

I consider myself pretty healthy. I work out 4-5 times a week, watch what I eat and meditate several times a week. I came to this book feeling like I knew a lot about healthy living. This book, however, opened my eyes to the many things that I had taken for granted.

I have been lucky. I haven’t had much back, neck or wrist pain. But, I don’t want to take any of that for granted anymore. I saw that I was cutting corners on getting proper rest, working in not very ergonomically friendly ways, and ignoring good rules for taking breaks from work.

After reading this book, I felt inspired to take even better care of myself—especially now that I turned fifty.

I have implemented a few things right away (like getting a riser for my laptop), and recommitting to using my dictation software more often. The bigger lifestyles changes like getting more rest are long-term projects.

Not to be morbid, but when I face my demise, I hope that I’m very elderly and in a chair writing. I have better hopes of going that way by making investments in my health now.

If you pick up this book from Amazon, please consider using my link below. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Here is the link for the paperback.

 Here is the link for the e-book.

I’m teaching a writing workshop through my local community college on Saturday, October 27 called: Write Faster, Write Better: Author 2.0

I came up with the idea of this workshop as a way to encourage people who have always wanted to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but wanted more guidance. As I was thinking about it, however, it occurred to me that it would also be the perfect place to share ways to “level up” in one’s writing life. So, even if someone doesn’t want to write a 50,000 word draft, they may want to play with upping their productivity in November. As the description below states, I’ll be sharing some powerful techniques and tools to hack your brain to write better and faster (without loss of quality). The workshop also will provide people an opportunity to discuss their writing aspirations, goals and strategies and evaluate what’s working and what needs refining.

So dear reader, my question to you is: What Does Leveling Up in Your Writing Look Like?

I really want to know the areas that you struggle with in your writing life and the goals you are working on. So, I have designed a very comprehensive poll. Would you be so kind as to take my poll? Getting this information here would be really helpful as the readers of this blog are writers and creators at all different stages. My workshop will be in person (see details below to register), but I also plan to create an online version, too. So even if you’re not local and can’t take the workshop, you may be able to take an online version of it later this year.

Thanks in advance! I will be sure to report back on the results!

Write Faster, Write Better: Author 2.0

Do you want to write faster? Do you want to write better? These goals are not in contradiction with each other! This workshop will teach you some fun ways to “hack” your brain to support increased productivity, outwit pesky inner critics and unleash your inner storyteller.

This workshop will help both discovery writers (also known as “pantsers”) and writers that outline find new ways to approach their work.

Write Faster, Write Better is also geared for writers wanting to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ll spend time talking about how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo and how you can produce a 50,000 word draft in a month.

We’ll spend time exploring new ways to combat what stops us from writing including: procrastination, perfectionism, imposter syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with creative ideas. We’ll explore how other successful writers have found ways to write faster and better including Austin Kleon, Chuck Wendig, Jake Bible and Rachel Aaron.

This workshop is about busting through our own self-imposed limiting beliefs about our writing life.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.

And, of course, there will be door prizes!

Register here

As I have mentioned a few times here, one of my WIPs is a mystery (draft written during 2014 NaNoWriMo), and sustainable fashion plays a prominent role in it. Researching sustainable fashion (also called eco-fashion) has made a deep impact on my consumer sensibilities.

Over the past several years, I’ve been more mindful of the clothing and footwear choices I am making.

One of my constant dilemmas in trying to be more conscious about fashion and waste has been thinking about shoes and how to keep them viable over a long time.

Shoe waste is as much of a problem as garments that are disposed of after being worn just a few times. Shoes often end up in landfills and have many chemicals in them from the shoe manufacturing process that can last in a landfill for hundreds of years.

I’m the type of person that when I love a pair of shoes, I really LOVE them and will wear them as long as I can and get them fixed over and over again.

Although I have been reading a ton about how to “upcycle” clothes, I have yet to try any major design projects. I have been wanting to start somewhere. I’m curious about modifying clothes not just for myself, but also so that I might incorporate insights into the novel.

These ballet flats are ones that I love, but you can see that the glittery surface has eroded. There’s nothing that my cobbler could do for these shoes (maybe if I lived in a bigger city, I’d have more options). I thought these would make a perfect upcycling project.

I am not a crafty person mind you, so I had a bit of trepidation about this project. Still, I was determined to try. I took a trip to a local craft store, talked to one of the very helpful cashiers and got busy.

I bought three items: blue glitter, an adhesive and a glitter sealer. This cost about $20.

First comes the masking of the shoes.

Then I assembled my items.

I proceeded with care. Here they are after I added the glitter. I think I did a good job of choosing a close approximation of the kind of glitter that was on the original. And, I like how this deep royal blue color pops.

Glitter really does get everywhere! Next time I will use even more paper under the shoes.
And, here is the the final product! They are pretty sparkly. I’m excited to wear these shoes.

I took them with me on my cruise, but didn’t get a chance to wear them.
My sense of accomplishment is pretty high. And, I’m glad that these shoes didn’t end up in a landfill. And, the best thing is that if the glitter wears off (which it will in time), I can just repeat this process. Not bad for a $20 investment. Not quite sure how I will use this knowledge in my WIP right this moment, but I am tucking it away for when I can pop it in.

Interested in learning more about recycling your shoes instead of just throwing them away? Check out this link

 

 

 

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

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?


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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