The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘positive psychology

It’s the end of the first week of July. We’re in the third quarter of the year.

As I look back over the first two quarters, I can count some successes:

Two pieces of mine are out circulating in the world!

My novelette “Doll Seed” appears in the recent issue of FIYAH: Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. FIYAH is a quarterly, digital publication of fantasy, science fiction, and horror by Black writers. It is about dolls, magic and civil rights! You can read excerpts and even hear a playlist for the issue, as well as buy the issue here.

My essay, “The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank” is reprinted in this gorgeous new book whose cover I love:

Available for purchase at all online booksellers.

My goal for the next 90 days include producing a fast draft of my horror novel. I’m aiming for around 60,000 words. I was inspired to do this by Rachael Herron’s YouTube video about why it is a good thing to fast draft a book. Rachael Herron is an author and podcaster. She said doing a fast draft ensures you are the same writer from roughly start to finish. As a writing instructor she said she witnessed many students struggle with projects that were undertaken over many many years. She said these kinds of projects can be beasts to revise because the writing was completed in very different stages of ability. That makes so much sense to me as someone who has had to mine a 400,000 word unfinished novel over the years!

She gives great suggestions on how to fast draft a novel (but could work for memoir, too), including how to outline and how to stay motivated with the writing. Herron backs up her ideas by describing the success stories of her students that she’s taken through this process. In some ways producing a fast draft over 90 days is like doing an extended NaNoWriMo, but without the exhaustion and frantic energy.

Beginning July 1, I committed to writing between 800-1,000 words a day, 5 days a week.

To give me a little more incentive and accountability, I decided to post my word counts on my Author Facebook page. Knowing I am sharing it with everyone there keeps me honest–public accountability = heightened private results.

It’s funny how quickly one can establish a new normal when you commit. I made my goal this week and have almost 5,000 words. Fast drafting is by far the hardest part of my day and so I try to get to it before the afternoon. This pace hopefully will be my new normal for the next 90 days to produce a draft.

I’m also doing Camp NaNoWriMo, a virtual writing retreat that takes place in July. If there’s a project you’d like to set a goal to move toward completing in July, this might be a fantastic way to get support.

Thinking about and writing a fast draft of the novel is going to take up most of this quarter. I’ll still actively submit work, but I won’t be producing a lot of new work. I’m also judging a literary award for the North Carolina Humanities Council and a writing fellowship for the North Carolina Writers’ Network, so I’ll be busy with those service commitments. It’ll be busy but really fun!

What are your third quarter goals?

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 “Meditation is push-ups for the mind.”- Rachael Herron

As some of you know, I’ve been a long-time advocate of meditation. I use meditation as a tool in my life and I have often taught secular meditative techniques to writers.

Clinical research supports the claim that meditation helps to strengthen the mind, increase concentration and slow our thousands of thoughts down. This is so helpful for writers!

Why do meditation techniques work? Because all human minds, despite their great diversity and capabilities feel and experience the same basic emotions that include joy, fear, rage, happiness, sadness, etc. We also tend to experience similar thoughts both positive (‘I’m great!’) and negative (‘I’m horrible!’). We all also get distracted, frustrated and irritated on a routine basis in relatively the same ways (though about different kinds of things).

There lots and lots of meditation styles and techniques out there from a variety of secular and spiritual traditions. You’ve probably heard a lot about a type of meditation called ‘mindfulness’, so let’s start there.

Mindfulness is a practice of maintaining an awareness of your thoughts, feelings and environment in the present moment. Slowing down and paying attention to the present moment allows us to be more available to what’s happening right now, instead of living in the past or racing ahead in the future. Mindfulness also involves getting some distance from your thoughts and mind chatter without judging them.

Cultivating mindfulness can mean focusing on one’s breathing and being quiet.

Mindfulness can support your writing in a few ways:

-Mindfulness can get us back in the body

“Whatever stories we have, they are organically connected to our physical bodies. Cultivating that connection—that pathway between our heads and our bodies—creates deep writing.”
                                                                    Larraine Herring

Ever have that experience where you don’t know where time went and not in a good way? Ever realize that you’ve been on autopilot and not in the moment? To write well, we have to be connected to the body, our experience, the pain and joy of being alive. Taking a few minutes to recognize we are in a particular place in time and space and we are actually breathing is quite helpful when writing. Sometimes I’m working so intensely, I have hunched my shoulders, clenched my jaw and have tightened up all my muscles. It’s good in that moment to stop, breathe and readjust my body. Mindfulness can open us up to sensations in the body that we tend to ignore. And, indeed in slowing down, we can connect as Herring notes we can open ourselves up to greater bodily knowledge in service of storytelling.

– Contributes to Writerly Equanimity

Mindfulness helps us stay the course. Bad writing day? OK, we all have them…tomorrow will be better. If we have cultivated equanimity, when we hit an impasse in our writing, we’re more likely to be open to tapping our resources (including connecting with writing buddies, groups, etc.,), trying out other techniques (like taking a walk, freewriting) as opposed to thinking we have to solve it all ourselves or because we can’t figure it out, or that we’re bad writers.

Don’t Worry about What You Can’t Control

Practicing mindfulness allows us to see when negative thoughts arise, but also let them go (especially helpful when trying to write!).  It helps us recognize what we can’t control. If we overemphasize what we can’t control, over time that leads to stress. The only thing we can control is what we create, how much we create and over time, the quality of what we create. We also have a say in how we show up and interact with industry professionals. We can’t control an audience’s response to our work, nor the shifting and fickle interests of the publishing industry.

-Quieting the Inner Critic

A practice of mindfulness helps keep us connected to our inner creative self. I don’t know about you but I have gone through cycles of having a very active inner critic. For me, I’m less susceptible to believing the words of my most upsetting and vicious inner critic if I’ve been practicing mindfulness. Also, if I start to have an attack of the inner critic, if I soften my breath and tell myself, OK, I’m going to take a five minutes and watch my thoughts. Do this can give me the perspective I need to return to the work after the five minutes is up.

Less Easily Distracted

Mindfulness cultivates a resistance to being easily distracted. Practicing mindfulness teaches us about distraction and keeping with something, even when difficult.  If we are to succeed as writers, we have to develop both our attention and our intention. Then over time, we become better able to resist the false siren calls of distraction that are always around.

Something to Try:

One easy way to start to practice mindfulness is to start with the breath. You can practice the following before you write. Breathe in and out a few times (breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth a few times to get relaxed). Then breathe in through the nose for a count of four, pause for a moment at the top of inhale and gently breathe out through the nose to a count of four (over time you can do a longer exhale to six or eight counts, which tends to relax the nervous system). Continue this breath cycle for a minute or more and then build up to 3 minutes or more.

Don’t try to stop your thoughts, notice them and then keep returning to the breath. Visualize thoughts as passing clouds over your mental landscape.

Another way to practice: You can place one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly and observe your breath. Ask yourself the following questions:

-Where am I breathing? (meaning where do you feel the breath the most—the belly, at the nostrils, in the expanse of the lungs)

-What’s the quality of my breath? (Slow? Shallow? Tight? Rapid)

Observe without judgement and then take a few more deep belly breaths.

You can also begin by pausing to notice your breath for a minute and then the next week, up it to two minutes and so on.

Interested in learning more? I particularly like Dr. Sara Lazar’s Ted Talk about meditation—she is a neuroscientist at Harvard who started studying the brain changes in people who meditated regularly.

There are lots of apps (many are free or at least free for 30 days) and places on line to investigate mindfulness and meditation.

I’d love to hear your experiences with mindfulness or meditative techniques in support of your creativity!

It’s been a week into this challenge (giving away or tossing/recycling 27 items daily for 9 days) and I am still loving it. More about the origins of the challenge here. What’s surprised me are the items that I am tossing/giving away and the areas that are getting decluttered because of actions that I am taking. Case in point–tonight’s work was organizing my packing/wrapping boxes/bags/ribbons area over my washer/dryer. That area is always a hot mess as I am constantly trying to save wrapping paper to recycle/reuse, gift boxes to recycle/reuse and store future hostess gifts. Since things are stored willy-nilly, I’m always frustrated when I look at that area and can’t find anything very easily. When I took everything down and went through it, I discovered that much of what I was saving was old, unusable, or multiples of items that was overkill. I’m actually not doing that much shipping or wrapping as it turns out, lol.

Every time I do this exercise, I feel lighter and more peaceful…and that has got to be good for my creativity.

Some folks who follow my author Facebook page are also doing this challenge. If you are too, let me know how it is going!

Just thought of a good prompt for those of us writing fiction–What items does your main character need to get rid of? How would they go about decluttering their workplace or home? Are they very tidy or are they drowning in clutter?

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

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

And, this one promises to do just that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

The last weeks of December were so hectic that I didn’t get a chance to post any reflection about my writing life in 2018. I wanted to take a moment and do that now I had an excellent year in terms of deepening writing relationships and sharing my work locally and regionally. I definitely was a public writer.

I had the good fortune to participate in several literary events where I talked about and/or read from Reenu-You, gave a craft talk about my writing influences and/or  discussed Afrofuturism. I loved connecting with potential readers and new audiences.

My reading at High Point University through the Creative Writing Program. I also gave a talk for the Creative Writing club.

Loved being on this panel with other Black women speculative fiction writers. Park Road Books was packed and everyone wanted to also talk about Black Panther’s release. Lots of energy was in the room.

The Movable Feast event, in Winston-Salem, is held by Bookmarks. Bookmarks is a literary a literary arts nonprofit whose mission is to connect readers with authors.
The event is basically like “speed dating with authors”! As an invited author, you visit a table for 10 minutes, talk about your book, etc., then rotate to a new table for another 10 minutes and repeat. I met with 10 tables and met many wonderful people in book clubs.

I organized this local event for spec fic writers which was a lot of fun.

I also gave my Charting Your Path to Publication workshop to several new audiences and developed a new workshop, “How to Level Up in Your Writing Life” that was very well-attended.

My efforts last year were focused on submitting my short story collection to various contests (that offer publication with the top prize) and submitting fiction to SFWA qualifying markets. I’m still waiting to hear about some of the contests. Fingers crossed, there will be good news. I submitted to a ton of places and I have gotten some really encouraging rejections and a request to send more work. Rejection still stings, but over time, if an editor likes your work and encourages you to submit, that’s the beginning of a working relationship.

One of my goals was to begin an author newsletter and I finally did so in August! I have a commitment to those in my writing community to share resources and inspire. I don’t know why I waited so long to start!

I also kept up my blog and interviewed some terrific writers.

Reenu You was eligible for the Hugo Award, the Nebulas and the Manly Wade Wellman Award for North Carolina Science Fiction and Fantasy which was pretty awesome.

Nussia, my novelette was released by Book Smugglers in July!

 

In terms of craft, one of the things that I learned was how to tighten the dramatic arc in every scene.

The things that didn’t get completed include:

a complete revision of my mystery

a first draft of the co-written novel that my sister and I are undertaking

There’s a lot on my plate for 2019.  I hope to share some really great news soon.

That’s a quick overview for me–what did you learn about yourself as a writer in 2018? What were some of your accomplishments?

 

 

Dear Creative Community,

I hope you are having a fantastic holiday week. Given all of the hustle and bustle at this time of year, I wanted to remind you about my two holiday gifts that are just for YOU. One is a FREE webinar TODAY and the other is the opportunity to work with me (e.g. my new e-course which includes a coaching session)–that gift is time sensitive and the price and bonus expires late on 12/31.  I am also offering a special half hour coaching for $49 (also expiring late tomorrow). All details are below.

FREE webinar: ‘Affirm the Writer in You 2019”. This webinar is designed to allow you time to reflect on your 2018 writing accomplishments and chart what’s next in 2019.

During the webinar we’ll explore:

-The sequence of success on the author journey
-Trends for authors in 2019
-Cultivating the “maker” and “manager” energy of the writing business
-Harnessing urgency in order to write in 2019

-How to supercharge your productivity and sustain your momentum
-How to get unstuck and approach the page with more ease
-Cultivating audiences that love your work

(we’ll be able to interact in real time!)

No need to signup—just bookmark the details below

DEC 30th-3-4:15 pm EST

Dial-in number (US): (605) 475-4081

Access code: 380339#

International dial-in numbers: https://fccdl.in/i/bergermichele2005

Online meeting ID: bergermichele2005

Join the online meeting: https://join.freeconferencecall.com/bergermichele2005

(copy and paste the above link–you’ll want to join the online meeting so you can see my slides!)

My second holiday offering to you is an opportunity work with me through my NEW e-course Charting Your Path to Publication NOW.

So many writers feel daunted navigating the submission process and often find themselves stymied by inevitable rejection and not making progress on the path of publication. I’ve been teaching this successful live workshop over the years and have taken all that wonderful content (and wisdom learned from what writers need) and created an amazing e-course.

This transformative course will empower you with the necessary tools and skills to move your writing forward in 2019

SPECIAL BONUS: If you sign-up by Dec 31st, you’ll receive a 30 minute coaching session with me!

Click here for the FULL DETAILS and see the fantastic price of this offering.

If you are interested in a short coaching session. I am offering a 1/2 hour coaching special for $49. Depending on your interests, we could focus on:

  • me as a a friendly first reader of your work (up to 5 double-spaced pages)
  • help you brainstorm where to submit your work/submission strategy
  • how to grow your social media strategies
  • how to create smack-dab in the midst of your busy life.
  • ways to harness both “maker and manager” energy for the writing life and business
  • creating a realistic action plan for your writing in 2019

If interested in coaching, please email me at mtb@creativetickle.com

Offer expires tomorrow at 11:59 pm.

I look forward to serving you in 2019!


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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