The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writing exercises

Desire for an idea is like bait. You’re fishing, you have to have patience. You bait your hook, and then you wait. The desire is the bait that pulls those fish in—-those ideas. David Lynch

Summer is almost upon us. Last month, I began a series on 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!

If you’ve spent some time reassessing your space, schedule and patterns of mind, in connection to your creative life, then you should be in great shape for the next step which is reorganizing.

Reorganizing is an essential component of this process. And, this is where we can get stuck very quickly. In dealing with physical reorganization, if we don’t plan carefully, we’ll leave lots of stuff just laying around.

We actually have to combine intention with action to yield results.

Besides thinking of what’s working or not working in your physical space, you might also want to evaluate how and when you schedule your creative work. Really, it’s about having a creative rhythm. The word schedule conjures up the endless to-do-list.

Spring and then summer usually bring new rhythms into our life that can support our creativity. We are often making time for fun travel, to being outside more, and to taking much needed breaks and naps. All of this can be used in service of establishing a different creative rhythm.

How can we reorganize our schedule to take advantage of this energy? How do we cultivate the patience and spaciousness of mind so that we catch those wonderful ideas that David Lynch refers to?

Here are some easy tips:
-Move your practice outside for some of this season. If your tendency is always to be tucked away in a home office, take opportunities to write at the beach, at the lake, or at a state park.

-Take more advantage of the longer periods of light this season. Can you rise an hour earlier to shoot your photographs or try writing later in the day during the season’s glorious sunsets?

-Keep an idea journal. This is a place for all your ideas as they bubble up. Give yourself lots of permission to allow this idea journal to be filled with musings that delight you. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to turn these ideas into ones that have to ‘become something’. The idea journal should be a place to have fun and play.

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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!

 

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

 

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?

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.

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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