The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘productivity

Hi folks,

Last week, I was away at sea, on a cruise, so I wasn’t able to post. This trip was the kickoff to my upcoming 50th birthday and there is LOTS to tell about that (I got to visit Cuba!). I will share my reflections SOON.

Today, I wanted to follow-up on ridding ourselves (or at least examining) unhelpful patterns of mind as part of my Spring Cleaning and the Creative Life series. My last post was on fear and there is *always* more to say about this topic.

Four years ago, I wrote a poem about fear and its presence in my creative life. Four years ago, I held a big creativity summit online with renowned coaches and writers. I went on a roller coaster learning curve and at times it was painful. Four years ago, I was also submitting my work like crazy and getting poems published and placing in contests. Inevitably, as we grow bigger, we often have to deal with our fears that come wrapped in new clothes. This was true for me in 2014. Looking back now, I can see that my creative growth triggered a powerful fear attack. If I hadn’t pushed through it, I might have stopped on my creative journey and never made it to this amazing time in my creative life.

It is really powerful to use four years as a marker on your creative path. Amazing podcaster and writer, Joanna Penn wrote an excellent post on using the Olympics as a way to think about what one can achieve in just 4 short years. Check it out, I think you’ll find it inspiring:

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/08/11/measuring-achievement-by-olympics/

Here is the post I wrote in 2014 (almost exactly four years ago) that explores how to handle a fear attack:

As a coach, I have found that the number one thing that stops most people from pursuing their deepest and most meaningful heart’s desire is fear. Fear comes in a variety of forms, shapes and personas including ‘what will they think’, ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I’ll never make money doing what I love’, ‘I need more credentials’, and ‘what if they don’t like what I create’, etc.

None of us are immune from feeling fear, especially when we’re moving outside out comfort zone. The danger is that fear with its tricky (and sometimes believable) tunes of gloom will get the best of us and immobilize us for far too long. I’ve had my own run-ins with fear over the years. What follows below is an impromptu ‘talking back’ that I recently gave to fear.

When you’re in the grip of a fear attack, it might be fun to write a poem/letter/manifesto to your fear and finish the lines ‘I’ve lived through….’

I am looking you, FEAR, straight in the eye

I am looking you, FEAR, straight in the eye
How dare you try to intimidate me!
Do you know what I’ve lived through?

I’ve lived through being a battered woman’s child
I’ve lived through being an abused young woman
I’ve lived through poverty
I’ve lived through being almost homeless
I’ve lived through discrimination
I’ve through academe
I’ve lived through the vagaries of a creative life

What else do you think you can do to ME?

How dare you sit there!

How dare you, FEAR!

How DARE you, FEAR!

So what if they laugh? I’m supposed to be worried if the unspecified THEY laugh?

What do you mean?

THEY have laughed before, so I imagine that they’ll laugh again

How dare you trying to make me afraid!

for asking for more
for wanting more
for trying more
for talking more
for being seen more
for saying I deserve more
for desiring more

How are dare you, FEAR!

Here’s what I want you to know, FEAR

Your days are numbered

I’m cleaning house in 2014

You better get in line

Or, I will strip you down into the dysfunctional four letter thing that you are

And EAT you!

 

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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

Wow, we’re in the middle of the second quarter of the year! Can you believe it? It seems like only yesterday when we were writing down resolutions for our creative lives for 2018. Have some of those commitments and intentions gotten sidetracked since then?

Totally understandable. Spring can put us back on track. This season enables us to connect with a feeling of renewal that we begin to see physically manifested all around us. Spring also powers us with the energy to tackle the physical spaces (and states of mind) that no longer serve our creative life.

Several years ago, I started writing about the power of spring cleaning in support of one’s creative life.

Spring presents us with a perfect time to reassess, reorganize and rededicate ourselves to the projects that we most want to bring into the world.

Here is my three step process that I have found useful for spring cleaning:

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!

Clutter can immobilize our creative lives.

Ah, Houston…we have a problem!

 

I know from personal experience how debilitating and draining it can be to work in a perpetually cluttered space. I’ve written about how powerful it was to tackle clutter and re-imagine my home writing space.

My desk=before

My desk=after

In upcoming posts, I’ll talk more about the 3 ‘R’s as it pertains to schedule and patterns of mind. But, let’s start with reassessing your space.

What about your creative space? Does it need a spring tune-up?

Go and look at your creative space. What’s the state of it? Do you feel a sense of ease when you look at it? Is it crammed with stuff that belongs in other rooms of your house? If you live with other people, is this space known as your special writing/photography/painting, etc., area?

Have you even claimed some special place yet, or are you waiting for permission from someone else? If you’re struggling with this, see my post on claiming creative space.

Survey your space and make a quick list of what you feel needs your attention most. The questions below are not exhaustive*, but offer a good place to begin.

-Do you need to organize and sort your paper files?

-Would it be useful to create an index for your piles of journals, scripts, flashdrives, DVDS, boxes of sewing materials (i.e. whatever you consider your primary creative material)?

-Are there notes from conferences, master classes, residencies and/or workshops that need to be reviewed and filed?

-When was the last time you did a backup of your computer files? Do you need to delete or add programs?

-Are there financial records related to your creative life that need to be updated?

-Are there creative projects that you’ve abandoned that still take up lots of physical space? Can they be re-purposed or stored elsewhere?

-Do you need to physically clean your computer?

-Do you have visible reminders of your creative accomplishments? Is it time to take some down and put up new ones?

-Do you have too much or too little of something in your space?

-Do you need more or less shelf space?

-Are there big physical jobs you’d like to do (e.g. paint)?

Once you have your list you can break each item down into specific tasks.

It’s important to not get overwhelmed during spring cleaning. Many people decide they will devote a day to a spring cleaning project and then realize that they’re cranky after two hours and that the task requires at least two days. Start small and reward yourself often. Why not take from now until the official start of summer to spring clean? You could choose one project each week. I suggest working in 15-30 minute intervals so there’s less chance of getting frustrated and overwhelmed. I enjoy using an online stopwatch.

What plans do you have for spring cleaning in relation to your creative projects?

*adapt this question and others to your needs if writing isn’t your primary focus

 

I found this interview with the multi-talented actress, Sandra Oh so inspirational. She talks about keeping herself engaged and inspired as an actress even when she wasn’t getting the kind of work she wanted. In the end, as creatives, we only control how we partner with the creative process and what we produce. In addition, she talks about how important it is for creators from marginalized communities to believe that we can be the heroines in our own stories–even if that isn’t always mirrored around us.

Check it out: http://www.vulture.com/2018/04/sandra-oh-killing-eve.html

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.

 

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

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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