The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writing exercises

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?

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Hi folks,

One of the wonderful benefits of the snowstorm last week was the opportunity to curl up with my to-be-read list.

This isn’t the usual view from my porch.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting these two writing books:

Pep Talks for Writers

As many of you know, I am a fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). So, when I heard that Grant Faulkner (executive director of National Novel Writing Month) published Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo, I got really excited. I’ve been a fan of his work for several years. He frequently writes about the process of creativity and is the co-founder of 100 Word Story, a wonderful online literary journal. I’m really proud of my publication, ‘The Lineup’ that appeared last year in 100 Word Story.

What’s it about: Keeping you creative and inspired throughout the year.

Structure: Mini-essays with a call to action, exercise or tip at the end.

Style: Accessible and beautifully written; Faulkner threads his personal experiences and observations throughout.

Topics: It covers all the topics that plague us as writers: keeping going, the imposter syndrome, balancing work and family, building a creative community, giving ourselves creative permission. But Pep Talks for Writers also skillfully dives into the shadow areas of creativity, including envy, boredom and doubt. There are unexpected topics, too, like ‘The Art of Melancholy’ and ‘Sleep, Sleeplessness and Creativity’ that inspire and showcases Faulkner’s deep wisdom about the creative process.

Inspirational Nuggets:

How do you create?: There’s no such thing as the way to create good work; you just have to find your way.

Make Irritants into a Symphony: If we elevate the annoyances in our lives to the state of art, their oppressive powers are reduced or vanished…Redefining life’s annoyances is part of your artistic ninja training.

Using Your Life in Your Story: We bury some things deep within for a reason, and it’s anguishing to try to uncover them. We’ve all experienced painful moments, whether it was being rejected in love, getting bullied on the playground, or losing a pet. Those are perhaps the experiences that will give your stories the greatest meaning, so be brave, and dive into your own past to relive those experiences. It might not be easy, but sense memory is about going back to those moments, re-living the emotions, and then imbuing your character experiences with a similar kind of essence. Don’t shortchange your experiences. You have a rich life to draw on in your writing.

Hold Things Lightly: I have a paradoxical proposal for you: Take your creativity seriously, but hold it lightly…What does it mean to hold things lightly? It’s an attitude that takes work (hard work, ironically). It’s easy to get so serious about our creative work that it can feel like a life or death matter. We pin our self-worth on our ability to carry it out. But, in the end, it’s not a life or death matter. Creativity is necessary, yes. It’s a life enhancing force, yes. We want to maximize it, not minimize it, yes. But I believe each individual project has a lightness that needs to be observed. Otherwise, the light can’t get in to help the seeds sprout. Without lightness, the soil of your story is too hard-packed, and the ground isn’t loose enough for the seed to sprout.

Bottom line: This is book that you’ll return to again and again for its clarity and inspiration. You’ll want to quote many lines and share them with others.

I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop

Long before Mur Lafferty became a well-regarded speculative fiction author, she was known for her compassionate, funny and engaging podcast called, ‘I Should Be Writing: A Podcast for Wanna be Fiction Writers’. She has been hosting this podcast for ten years. Mur’s honesty about the ups and downs of the writing process really speaks to me. She’s very encouraging and a master at sharing tips on how to keep one’s self writing (and why it is important to do so). She periodically conducts interviews with leading authors and also an occasional feedback show where people can send in questions that she answers. She has inspired many people and has served as a model for some to start their own podcast about writing. Her new book, I Should Be Writing: A Writer’s Workshop was recently released. I just bought copies for my writing group.

What’s it about: Keeping your writing going; getting in touch with your inner muse and getting a handle on your inner bully

Structure: inspirational quote from a creative person opens the mini-essays; in the chapters, the inner bully and inner mentor comment on writing process; lots of writing exercises at the end

Style: Accessible, extremely personable and humorous

Topics: Writer’s myths, tools for writing, dealing with imposter syndrome, perfectionism, developing writing routines, ways to revise

Inspirational Nuggets:

One Million Words: Malcom Gladwell made famous the rule that to become an expert, you must spend ten thousand hours on your passion. It is also sometimes listed as ten years. Ray Bradbury said you have to write one million words of crap, get it all out of your system, before anything good comes out.

These numbers (ten thousand hours, ten years, and one million words) are arbitrary, and were created because humans like big, round numbers. The point is, excelling at anything takes a lot of work. It takes setbacks and learning and plateaus and frustrations and being absolutely sure you will never, ever publish anything. It takes looking at other people’s careers and thinking that they have it easy, that they are lucky, that they are perfect and you are crap.

The reality is, other people’s careers have likely had the setbacks and learning curves and plateaus that you’ve experienced. You just don’t see that when you look at them. You see their amazing book, their awards, and their long autograph line. You haven’t seen their years of struggling and haven’t read their terrible words that came before they published anything.

…It’s a long journey. And, yes, it’s been a long journey for nearly everyone you admire.

All Writing Advice is Crap: Writing advice is generally trying to bring across good rules of thumb, but it’s important to know yourself well enough to realize that when something doesn’t work for you, you’re allowed to try something else.

There is one piece of writing advice that you MUST follow: you have to write.

That’s it.

Perfection is the Enemy: Another thought on that perfection thing. Writing is subjective. This means that different people will get different things out of your story. So let’s say you manage to attain that mythical perfect story you’re yearning to write. You send it off in complete confidence. And, it gets rejected.

Guess what? The editor didn’t agree with you. It wasn’t perfect to them.

Let’s say the editor agrees with you! Buys the book! Sends it out to reviewers! And, boom, it’s eviscerated. It wasn’t perfect to the reviewers. Readers give it one star. It lands on the Top Most Disappointing Books of the Year lists!

So now you’re confused and unhappy because the book was perfect! What happened? Do they hate you? Is there a vast global conspiracy against you?

No. Because there is no perfect book.

Your work won’t get published if you wait for perfection. You write the best book you can and then you send it out and get to work on the next one. Don’t edit the book once you send it out. Don’t think about it. Just get back to work.

Chasing The Elusive Time Beast: I can’t fix your life for you and give you a magical hour to write. All I can do is tell you to take a hard look at your life and see where you can find thirty minutes. Ten minutes, even. Make a clear decision: what are you choosing to do—write or play games? Write or watch television? Write or sit waiting impatiently for an appointment?

Bottom line: Sage wisdom that makes for great reading. I love her frame of the Inner Muse and Inner Bully and how she uses each of those voices to illustrate issues in writing.

 

I’ve heard from many folk that you really enjoyed my last post on prompts for Winter Solstice. I thought I’d share another source of inspiration to support the creative journey this winter.

I have included is a link to ‘Wake Up Your Magic’ coach Susan Guild’s ‘Tele-Share’ where she invited myself and writer Wendy Fedan to talk about how to deepen and grow one’s creativity practice. We called it a Creativity Bash! We recorded this episode a few winters ago and covered the following topics:

-Discover how to take your creativity to the next level

-Learn your creative cycles

-Understand what “following the energy” means to take action on your creative projects i.e., following “the Divine breadcrumbs”

-Uncover your mood blockers

-Pay attention to your body’s physical and reactions to pain and strain

-Live following the nudges to your creative dreams

This call was fun and magical.  Enjoy!

 

Hi creative peeps,

Winter Solstice is almost here! We’re about to enter the season of winter: Quiet. Reflection. Incubation. Going Inward.

Doesn’t that sound lovely?

OK, so right now you might not feel like you’re experiencing any of those states of being. But, I want to put Winter Solstice on your radar. Winter Solstice brings us the opportunity to pause, at least for a moment, and invites into the mystery of creativity.

Winter Solstice signals the start of winter. It is the day with the least amount of daylight. Also referred to as “the longest night” or “shortest day of the year”.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is Thursday, Dec 21.

After Thursday, we get about one minute more daylight each day until Summer Solstice. Isn’t that magical? What will you do with that extra minute?

Winter Solstice (and the beginning of winter) provides an ideal time for you to take stock of the light and dark aspects of your creativity.

So much of creating is about cultivating the willingness to explore the unknown, uncharted and mysterious places of the imaginative psyche. Often it feels as if we are in the dark while creating.

We can use the cycle of the season to go inward. During winter, you can review your creative accomplishments of the year and plant dream seeds for the future. As you turn inward into the muck of your own fertile landscape, you mirror the outward cycle of the earth.

If you have a moment on Thursday, cozy up with a journal, go to a café, or take a walk and enjoy playing with one or more of these winter inspired prompts:

Three new ways that my creativity expressed itself this year were…

What continues to interest me about my creative practice is…

I took the most risk this year in creating…

The fresh new project that wants to be born in 2018 is…

The project that needs more incubating time is…

One successful way that I kept my inner critic at bay this year was…

Harnessing support for my creative life during the winter season looks like…

One affirmation about my creative practice that I could create for 2018 is…

Time and energy wasters that take me away from creating are…

A self-limiting belief I have about my creativity that I could release into the light is…

 

Hi folks,

You’ve written your best work and honed it to perfection. Now what? Do you know what venue to submit to? How do you find great venues? How do you write a query letter? How do you beat the odds of rejection?

If you struggle with these questions—consider taking my upcoming workshop: Charting Your Path to Publication: Tips, Techniques, and Lessons for Writers!

I am teaching ‘Charting Your Path’ as a Saturday morning workshop at the upcoming North Carolina Writers’ Network fall conference, Nov 3-5, in Wrightsville Beach!

 

I created this workshop because I know firsthand how challenging it is to take consistent steps to submit one’s work for publication. I also know the joys and frustrations in establishing a publication record that makes one proud. In my coaching work, I often hear from clients about their frustration, lack of preparation and deep confusion about how to create an authentic, sustainable path to publication.

In my workshop, you’ll learn how to select appropriate target publications, track submissions, compose cover letters and find great resources.

In January, I taught a longer version of this workshop through Central Carolina Community College’s Creative Writing Program (through Continuing Education). It was deeply fulfilling to share resources and insights I’ve gleaned from my personal experience and my coaching work. And, I keep getting updates from many of the participants, both about their publishing successes and their new enthusiasm in consistently submitting their work in an organized way.

If you haven’t attended the NCWN Fall conference, consider going. It’s a friendly, supportive and well-run conference that attracts topnotch teachers and a diverse group of writers. And, although quite popular, it is a manageable size conference.

Here’s the description for my workshop:

Charting Your Path” is designed for writers at all levels. Attendees will focus most of their time on how and where to submit short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. They’ll examine a variety of venues including literary journals, magazines, newspapers, anthologies as well as how to submit to agents and publishing houses. They will also discuss the role of author mindset as vital to publishing success. There is no one path to publication, but one can follow and replicate the strategies of accomplished writers. Each participant 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).

Pre-registration is open until Oct 27th. I would love to see you there!

Today is the beginning of my fifth full day in Portobelo, Panama and I have fallen into a great writing rhythm. I’m awake by 7 and I usually do a little bit of exercise and meditation. I then settle into writing for an hour or two and then go downstairs and have breakfast made by Soledad, a wonderful cook.

After breakfast and a bit of socializing with some of the other guests, I then get some more writing done until lunch which is usually served by 12:30.

 

With great food like this served daily, I am having to up my exercise game.

It’s the rainy season here so if it looks sunny then we’re pretty spontaneous about taking a walk or heading over by boat to a beach.

This was on a hill overlooking Portobelo on a clear day.

 

I couldn’t get a great picture of this heron but I was fascinated by it as I watched it go about catching fish. This was taken on a little beach that we took a boat to get to.

It is rumored that the famous pirate and sea captain Sir Francis Drake is buried on that little island. He was a scourge to the Spanish.

 

I’ve never actually seen an ant cutting leaves in the wild, but they were on this beach!

Wandering around town is also an option, if it isn’t too hot.

Writing prompt: There is great public art all over the town. Make up a story about this figure on the wall. Who is he? What’s he up to?

 

Writing prompt: There is a tradition of ‘the Black Christ’ in Panama, especially Portobelo. What does this image provoke in you?

 

Writing prompt: What is this wall made of? How would you describe the texture? Why does this wall exist?

 

Writing prompt: Who owns this monkey? What has been the monkey’s life up until this day? Tell a story about how the monkey escapes.

After that, I usually take a break from writing and do some reading and research.

If I’m lucky, I’ll catch a quick nap in one of the hammocks!

Another writer here has lent me James Scott Bell’s Conflict and Suspense which is packed with great ideas about building up conflict in one’s work. He suggests to make sure the stakes are high for your main character and that they face either physical death, professional death (“something on the line here that will make or break the Lead in the area of her life’s work”) or psychological death. It’s great if your character faces more than one type of death, especially in a novel.

After dinner, I usually get another few hours of writing under my belt. I love staying up late and either listening to a writing podcast or doing a bit more reading.

Over the weekend, I’ll be tackling some of the harder projects that I brought with me that need a lot of attention.

More soon!

 

 

Scratching can look like borrowing and appropriating, but it’s an essential part of creativity. It’s primal and very private. It’s a way of saying to the gods, “Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll just wander around in these back hallways…”and then grabbing that piece of fire and running like hell.
-Twyla Tharp, choreographer

Where do you get your ideas? How do you generate small ideas that lead to big writing projects? It’s springtime and as we put away our winter coats, boots and hats, we naturally desire to generate fresh ideas for our writing life. Twyla Tharp, world famous choreographer, in her understated, but powerful book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use it For Life, uses the concept of ‘scratching’ as a method for finding and incubating new ideas.

‘Scratching’, she observes is what we do so we aren’t always waiting for the “thunderbolt” of inspiration to hit. Tharp says, “That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something. It’s like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward.”

Twarp notes the importance of reading, as a place to scratch for ideas. Many writers reread the classics or work by mentors they love as a way to sharpen their senses and generate new perspectives. Tharp likes to read ‘archeologically’, backwards in time, working her way from a contemporary idea back to an ancient text.  When working on an idea for a dance she began with Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy which led her to Dionysus and then studies of Dionysus (worship of and symbols connected to), which led her to Euripides and his The Bacchae. These readings led to her choreograph ‘Bacchae’, a dance that explores hubris and is loosely based on the Euripides text.

Inspired by her strategy, years ago, I made a list of the subjects that I typically read about both as an academic and as a creative writer.

List:  self-help /’how to’ in yoga, health and wellness, women’s health, women’s empowerment, public speaking; craft of writing books; cookbooks; leadership; 18-20th century African American history, spirituality; creativity; women’s spirituality; African American women; black feminism; dreams; sociology of race; women’s and gender studies; elections and campaigns; feminist theory, history of the American university; genres: speculative fiction, thrillers, literary fiction

When finished with this list, I felt pretty impressed.

But then I asked myself, what are the subjects I rarely read in, have no working knowledge of, couldn’t put two sentences together about, or even avoid?

Here’s that list: general biographies, colonial American history, world history, geography, travel memoirs, animals, romance, celebrities, sailing, cars, history of language, math and science, sports, nature, children’s books, plays, poetry, Christian fiction, true crime, technical books

Doing this exercise motivated me to dig into many unexplored subjects.

What would your reading lists look like?

Here are three scratching strategies:

-Flirt with a different genre (or even subgenre)-It’s always fun to explore a different writing genre than the one that’s become your norm.  In a recent writing workshop, the instructor encouraged us to take a short piece that we were working on, keep the characters but rewrite it using a different genre. This exercise felt so liberating. I found myself exploring space opera with what had started out as a realistic story. I have little working knowledge of space operas, but it was fun to use my imagination to fill in the gaps.

-Visit a writer’s residence or historic site-Traveling to see a writer’s home is a kind of pilgrimage that can bring us fresh insights. A few years ago, I traveled to Edenton, NC to learn a bit more about Harriet Jacobs, a fugitive slave, writer and abolitionist who penned Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl under the pseudonym Linda Brent. My literary pilgrimage was so rejuvenating.

-Mine Magazines-Acquire ten magazines that you never read (you can buy some and collect others from friends, the doctor’s office, libraries, etc.) and read them from cover to cover. Keep a list about the trends, ideas and musings that spark your interest.

Where are you going to scratch for ideas this spring?

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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