The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writers

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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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

 

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.

 

LOCAL PEEPS: This event combines everything I love–talking with other authors, activism, and women’s issues. I hope you consider joining us for what I believe will be an inspiring and lively conversation:


In her only appearance in North Carolina, national leader and former president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards will be in conversation with Michele Tracy Berger in The Fearrington Barn on April 15th at 2pm in support of her new memoir MAKE TROUBLE: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.
Tickets can be purchased through McIntyre’s Books: 542-3030 or online through their website.

I am absolutely loving her book and can’t wait to meet her in person!

I have two lovely pieces of news to share:

The Hugo award nominations were recently announced and I’m thrilled to say that Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler has been nominated under the category, ‘Best Related Work’!

Luminescent Threads celebrates Octavia Butler, a pioneer of speculative fiction. This is a collection of original letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans. There are letters from people who knew Butler and those who didn’t; some who studied under her at the Clarion and Clarion West workshops and others who attended those same workshops because of her; letters that are deeply personal, deeply political, and deeply poetic; and letters that question the place of literature in life and society today.

…And psst, I’m in this collection, too!!!!

I’m thrilled for the editors, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal and for Twelfth Planet Press. Here’s an interview with them from last year.

The second fantastic surprise is that I have been elected to membership in the North Carolina Writers Conference (NCWC). The North Carolina Writers Conference is the best kept secret in the state. It should not be confused with the well-known North Carolina Writer’s Network Conference that is held every spring and fall. The NCWC is an invite and membership only, volunteer based organization that’s been around for over six decades co-founded by esteemed writer Paul Green. It honors a significant NC writer every year at their July conference. The NCWC meets each year to “talk shop, talk craft, and share the problems and joys of writing,” as well as to celebrate the community of writers in North Carolina.

Many years ago, my writing teacher invited me to attend this conference as she was that year’s chair. I had no expectations and felt no pressure as I understood that the purpose of the gathering is to honor a well-known NC author, listen to some academically oriented panels and to connect with writers. This was not a conference about pitching your work to agents. The conference was absolutely lovely and relaxing.

My writing teacher introduced me to several of her writing buddies. At that time, I was early on in my publishing journey and I remember that everyone was so encouraging and supportive. Many of the writers I met that year, I met again at other literary events. At that time, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be published and be invited into this organization! [A member has to nominate you and you have to have a book published]. I’m excited and honored to be part of this organization and to deepen my North Carolina writing roots.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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