The Practice of Creativity

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In my recent newsletter, I wrote about how fun it has been to break some WRITING RULES during the month of November. You might want to consider breaking some writing rules, too.

I’ve been taking inspiration from Durham author and podcaster Mur Lafftery. She is creator of the delightful podcast called I Should Be Writing.

Like many folks, I am working on a NaNoWriMo project and juggling other writing projects, work and life. Also, like many folks, I recognize that we’re moving into a time of the year where it can be harder to get creative work done due to holiday travel, holiday plans, increased expectations about spending time with family and/or friends, etc.

I won NaNoWriMo in 2014, but I used an outline and prepared for months. This year, I don’t have an outline, so I’m “pantsing it” and to boot my NaNoWriMo project is an urban fantasy novel co-written with my sister. Complicated!

Mur typically does a special NaNoWriMo series on her podcast. This year, she’s been posting daily using the metaphor of The Purge (which was a series of horror movies). The NaNoWriMo Purge suspends and breaks “all writing laws/rules” in service of getting more writing done.

These movies look scary!

Hearing her encouragement on breaking writing rules has been a lot of FUN and given me PERMISSION to try new things. A writing rules purge every once and awhile is probably good for us. It builds a sense of excitement and rebelliousness when we come to the page.

So, here are some writing rules to consider breaking—just for the month of November, because well, you know how this month goes. You might be doing NaNoWriMo and trying to get more words written or you just might want to get writing again. Anyway, without a bit of fortitude it’s cold turkey sandwiches, sticky leftover cranberry sauce, the last slice of pumpkin pie, a retail headache and a lot of regret by November 30th.

Writing Rules to Break in November according to Mur (with my interpretation)

Write every day. Nope! Now usually this is a good rule to have because it helps with our consistency. Well, as Mur notes, a major American holiday intervenes in the midst of November which usually includes lots of cooking, eating and retail adventures. You can break this law! Instead think about what writing might realistically fit in your schedule. Plan to be interrupted. Find time to steal. Maybe you will write in the car (assuming you aren’t driving) on the way to Thanksgiving dinner. If you are used to doing a specific word count, consider what it would take to write just a little bit more when you can—so plan to make your word count up over six days, knowing that you will probably not be able to write during the holiday weekend.

Don’t write dream sequences. Nope! Many writers are absolutely terrified of putting a dream sequence into a novel. OK, sometimes they are overused, but that’s not always the case. A dream sequence can be just what you need to get your writing juices flowing—it can always be cut later. Put on your Freudian or Jungian hat and write a dream sequence. Use it to foreshadow an event, get into your characters’ subconscious, and show us their desires or their fears.

Don’t head-hop. Nope! So the rule goes don’t go head-hopping between characters in the same scene. You can confuse the reader and it is not as common in literature as it once was. Though as Mur points out Agatha Christy did this within in a scene and even within a paragraph! So, head-hop all you want. Tell us what Janelle thinks about Damon and then tell us what Damon thinks about her. Tell us what the server in the restaurant that is watching them thinks. Give us all the points of view possible in the very same scene!

-Don’t start a scene with dialogue. Nope! This is one of my additions. Common writing wisdom frowns on starting with dialogue as it disorients the reader. Readers need context. I think it depends on what the characters are saying. Read the fantastic mystery writer Walter Mosely, and you’ll find that he often starts his scenes off with dialogue and trust me, you are immediately hooked. I would have never finished my first NaNoWriMo if I stuck to this rule. Starting with dialogue can be a way to get the reader quickly involved into the emotion of the scene.

Can you think of more writing rules that you’d like to break? I bet you can.

You can listen for free to the first of Mur’s NaNoWriMo Purge series here. The rest of her series is available through her Patreon page. Patreon is a platform that lets you directly support artists and creators.

Break some rules, people! It’s really fun. We will return to our writing law-abiding selves after November. Promise.

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In July I created a poll titled, “What Does Leveling Up in Your Writing Life Look Like?” I was prepping for my upcoming workshop and wanted to get a glimpse into what writers are struggling with in their creative lives.

There were 34 responses (thanks to all who participated!). Here are the top three:

#1: Making More Dedicated Time to Write

“Writers do not have a time problem. We have a priority problem. When you sit down in front of the television, you’re subconsciously saying, “I choose to do this instead of write.” Mur Lafferty

Claiming more time for our writing lives is an ongoing issue. Over the course of our writing lives, we will try many new routines and patterns to support our work.

In Saturday’s workshop, I’ll be drawing on some proven techniques from Rachel Aaron and Jake Bible for getting the most out of your writing time when you sit down to write (which will also help to boost your writing output) as well as creating more time to write.

Below are some tried and true ways to find more writing time.

-Schedule it in. Yes, time for your writing needs to be in your calendar.

Getting your writing projects to migrate from the bottom to the top of your to-do list is no easy feat. Ariel Gore makes this point in her witty book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. She says that most of us believe that making time for creative work is selfish, so we put it at the end of our to-do lists:

“And then we kick ourselves because the novel isn’t written. We look down at our laps and blush when our writing teacher asks us if we got a chance to write this week. Of course we didn’t get a chance to write—it was the last thing on our list. We had a glass of wine with dinner. We got sleepy. I’m going to tell you something, and it’s something I want you to remember: No one ever does the last thing on their to-do list.”

I write every day. For me, writing every day keeps my momentum going. I typically do an hour of academic writing in the morning and an hour of creative work in the evening throughout the week. My academic writing is scheduled in my calendar. My creative work is scheduled in my calendar. It’s what keeps me sane.

If creating everyday doesn’t work for you, find consistent periods of time that do and then schedule them into your calendar. For many people consistency is more important than trying to write daily.

-Develop a better reward system. Over the long journey of creating, producing good work becomes its own reward. However, for those of us just starting to pursue a creative path, may need motivation and encouragement to keep saying yes to our projects. Reward systems can be big or small and can be connected to time and/or output. I keep an active rewards list for meeting writing goals (mostly for academic writing). About every few weeks, I’m checking that list to see what I have earned. The rewards list can keep me going through the really tough periods where writing doesn’t feel like it’s going well.

-Work in smaller blocks of time. Writers often pine for days of uninterrupted time, but as a coach, I’m often in the position of pointing out to clients that what time they have is not always used well. Creativity expert Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) uses the concept of micromovements to break tasks into manageable segments of 5 seconds to 5 minutes. Very effective! She believes that creative people often assign themselves too big of a task. And, then when they don’t meet that often impossible task, their inner critics come leaping out to point out their lack of completion.

#2 Finishing More of My Writing Projects

In my writer’s group last week, we read and discussed Robert Heinlein’s famous writing rules. The second is “Finish what you start.”

I think it is easy to beat ourselves up about not finishing things. Instead, it is helpful to get curious about why you’re not finishing writing projects. There are questions we can ask when we have a big pile of unfinished manuscripts.

-Has the manuscript lost momentum? Am I bored?
-Can I simplify the structure of the story (or creative nonfiction piece)?
-Do I need an accountability buddy?
-Do I need to work more on my craft around middles and endings? (Nancy Kress’s wonderful Beginnings, Middles and Endings really helped me work on my endings.)
-Am I overly worried about rejection (which is interfering with finishing this piece)?
-What would I like to have completed between now and the end of the quarter?

I love using anthology calls and special themed issues as a way to get lingering manuscripts out of the door.

In the workshop I’ll be drawing on the insights of Chuck Wendig and Austin Kleon about how to finish what you start. And, of course we’ll be talking about NaNoWriMo and why it is such as a great catalyst for both starting and finishing a project.

#3-Developing (or improving) My Author Platform (e.g. using social media, blogging, etc.)

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot. So much so, I have proposed a course in the spring through CCCC, tentatively titled: Savvy Social Media Strategies for Writers.

Creating an online presence and managing social media helps writers build relationships with other authors, fans and industry professionals. It also can generate leads, provide exposure and advance your professional goals and aspirations.

In the workshop we’ll take a deep dive into best practices for building and sustaining an author platform/online presence.

In the meantime, you might like this post about I wrote about growing your author’s platform over the course of your writing career.

Stay tuned for a spring 2019 date and more info!

LAST CALL:

Mary Robinette Kowal recently said that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) allows writers to “chase their joy”. I love that expression! My workshop is about helping writers do just that in prep for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is an ignition starter for your writing, no matter what your goals or what you are writing (i.e. memoir, short stories, etc).

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: Saturday, October 27, 10am-3pm, Central Carolina Community College, Pittsboro

How to Level Up Your Writing Life
Do you want to write faster? Do you want to write better? These goals are not in contradiction with each other! This workshop will teach you some fun ways to “hack” your brain to support increased productivity, outwit pesky inner critics and unleash your inner storyteller.

This workshop will help both discovery writers (also known as “pantsers”) and writers that outline find new ways to approach their work.

How to Level Up is also geared for writers wanting to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ll spend time talking about how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo and how you can produce a 50,000 word draft in a month.

We’ll spend time exploring new ways to combat what stops us from writing including: procrastination, perfectionism, imposter syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with creative ideas. We’ll explore how other successful writers have found ways to write faster and better including Austin Kleon, Chuck Wendig, Jake Bible and Rachel Aaron.
This workshop is about busting through our own self-imposed limiting beliefs about our writing life.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.
And, of course, there will be door prizes!

Register here

 

Hi all,

As many of you know I serve as a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. The North Carolina Writers’ Network connects, promotes, and serves the writers of this state. It supports writers at all stages of development. Recently, I was asked to contribute a short piece to our newsletter. I’m sharing it here as it gives you insight into how I found the Network and why I think that are a great place for writers, the importance of literary community and also about my participation in hosting our second “NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet” as well as a new “Shut Up and Write” session during the conference. So, I get to talk about two favorite things in the newsletter–National Novel Writing Month and the Network!

Not a member yet? Check out all the good stuff here.
Joining the Network really did change the trajectory of my writing life.

Not signed up yet for the amazing fall conference happening, Nov 2-4? You’ve got two weeks to go before pre-registration closes! Check out the fantastic line-up of workshops, classes, events and instructors here.

“North Carolina is known for three things, hogs, tobacco, and writers. Since you’re an aspiring writer, I assume you’ll know which community to connect with.” These words were spoken to me by my therapist at the time and I’m forever grateful for them. More than fifteen years ago, I moved to North Carolina and although I had a professional position I loved, other aspects of my life post-move remained challenging. My partner was having a difficult time finding fulfilling work and my creative writing goals had stagnated.  Despite my therapist’s blunt (and a bit exaggerated take on North Carolina’s reputation), I got the point. In this new place, I needed to take action, find like-minded writing folk and investigate North Carolina’s impressive literary history. An aspiring poet, too, my therapist was the first person that told me about the Network and its two annual conferences.

At that time in my life, I was writing metaphorically in the basement. I read lots of craft books, yes. But, I didn’t know any other writers, wasn’t in a writer’s group and so therefore never received productive feedback. I kept rewriting hundreds of pages over and over and was assailed by devious “inner critics”. I was in a kind of literary quicksand. Like many writers, I thought I could (and should) do it all alone.

It took me a few more years to muster up the confidence to attend a Network conference. If you’ve ever been to a NCWN conference you know how dynamic and exciting it is. What energy! What excitement! I felt welcomed. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had found people I could discuss the joys and challenges of the writing life. No one is an outsider when attending a NCWN conference.

I wasn’t in the basement anymore.

The years have flown by since that first conference. I kept attending them and deepened my craft knowledge, met terrific writers and made friends.  I got to know my wonderful regional rep for Chatham County—Al Manning and also started to attend local writing events. My world is so different now! I’m a trustee deeply committed to the mission of the organization. I now get to welcome members into this literary community.

Given my past of having to battle long periods of creative self-doubt, I’m really passionate about strategies to circumvent inner critics. One of the most fun ways to do that is to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

You’ve probably heard the buzz about it. November is National Novel Writing Month. Amateur and professional writers sign up to write 50,000 words, a short novel, during the month. That is roughly 1,667 words a day. And, yes the draft’s supposed to be rough, need work, and a beautiful mess that yields something amazing later.

NaNoWriMo is for fresh, wild, and fast writing. And, you don’t have to be an aspiring novelist to participate—writers adapt NaNoWriMo for their own needs. NaNoWriMo gets people writing more words than they normally would in a month.

There are many success stories of writers who carefully revised their NaNoWriMo drafts and have made sales of novels (including the bestselling Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough), short-story collections, and other kinds of publications.

But publishing is not the overall point of NaNoWriMo. It is about getting started. It’s about getting some words—any words down that then can turn into good words later.

I’m hosting a NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet on Friday night after the plenary. We’ll gather and talk about goals over wine and refreshments. If you’ve ever been curious about NaNoWriMo, come to this event.

Given the pace of the conference and the lively workshops, plenaries and networking opportunities, most of us don’t get a lot of writing done when attending.  In recognition of this fact, we’re trying out a new session during the conference: Shut up and Write. Shut and Write will offer conference participants a quiet space for writing.

I hope I’ll see you at one or both of these events. And, you can tell me your story about how you found the Network.

 

“The fruits of the harvest are gathered and stored. The trees shed their leaves and reveal their true forms. The days grow shorter and darker, reminding us of how brief our time on earth really is.  It’s autumn:  a season for reflecting on what it means to be truly alive, and for giving thanks for the gifts an authentic life bestows.”
Alan Jones and John O’Neil, Seasons of Grace: The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude

Although the weather is still warm for many of us, autumn is here and requests our attention. Autumn invites us to reflect on the fruits of our harvest and make sense of a way forward. We know the fallow period of winter is not far away. I love this time of harvesting, gathering and reflecting. Around this time of year, I also find it much easier to reboot my gratitude jar practice if it has fallen off track. Keeping a gratitude jar is like rocket fuel for your creative life. Don’t know what a gratitude jar is or how to fill one up? Here’s my post on this amazing practice.

Here are some writing prompts to feed your creative impulses as you explore the gifts of fall:

-Look at the following two words—autumn and authenticity. What connections between these two words do you sense? (Authors Alan Jones and John O’Neil note that both of these words share the Latin root aut-, meaning “to increase or grow”.)
-What are you harvesting this fall?
-Write about a time when you felt bountiful.
-Write about the bounty of your writing and/or creative life as it is right now.
-Write about what you’re most grateful for.
-Write about what you feel like you should be grateful for, but aren’t.
-Write about the gifts from summer. What came to fruition? What didn’t? What are you letting go of for fall?
-When do you feel the most authentic? Alone? With others? At work? In nature?
-What are your favorite autumn flavors?
-What was a ‘back to school’ ritual that you loved as a child? What rituals do you enact during fall as an adult?

 

 

 

The beginning of September marks change. For many of us, it signals the end of summer and a realization that we’re well into the third quarter of the year. It’s often a time of transition and reflection.

At this point in the season, we usually need a boost for our writing as we make a transition in our schedules. Our schedules shift now for a variety of reasons. For some that means getting kids (or one’s self) off to school, starting a big home project, or squeezing in the last vacation until the winter holidays. Any change in our schedule can interfere with our desire to get creative work done. Also, ongoing summer weather can make us feel lethargic which can translate to how we meet the page.

Here are 3 FUN ways to stay inspired during the last weeks of summer:

  1. Check Out New Writing Podcasts. There are TONS of great podcasts about writing. I listen to several while driving back and forth to work. They help me think about craft, catch up on publishing news and brainstorm good ideas. These are a few of my favorites:

-The Writer’s Well: Ever wonder what it’s like to quit your day job and write full-time? Rachel Herron and J.Thorn team up for 20 minutes each week to talk about the real life joys and struggles of making a living from their writing. One host asks the other an unscripted question and they both answer it. Lots of impromptu wisdom shared. They also focus on issues of wellness and health for writers.

I Should Be Writing: A Podcast for Wanna be Fiction Writers. Author Mur Lafferty 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 does an occasional feedback show where she answers listeners’ questions. ‘I Should Be Writing’ has won the Podcast Peer Award and three Parsec Awards.

Shipping and Handling-Ever dream of being represented by an agent? Most writers do. Ever wonder what an agent’s life is like? Check out two successful agents, Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary Inc. and Jennifer Udden of Barry Goldblatt Literary that get together every month, over a glass of wine, and chat about how they decide to sign a client, how they pitch to editors and much more. A peek into a world the fascinating and fast changing world of publishing.

2. Host a Submission Party
How is submitting your work going? Has it slowed down some? Need a bit of support? Have you ever tried hosting a submission party with other writers? It’s fun and can provide the momentum needed to get more of your work out into the world. I wrote about the why and how of submission parties here.

3. Try Some Writing Prompts
Feeling stuck in your writing? Bored with your writing? Take a break and try these fun writing prompts, all focused on ice and coolness.

 

 

I have come across two mesmerizing and powerful interviews with authors Cheryl Strayed and Dani Shapiro. They both are interviewed by Marie Forleo on her TV show on YouTube. We usually need a boost for our writing in midsummer when a slower pace and the thrills of gelato call to us, luring us away from the demands of our creative work. I hope these interviews inspire you as much as they did me!

This conversation with Cheryl Strayed is beautiful, honest, vulnerable and completely real:

She covers a variety of subjects:
-why it’s OK not to write every day (she’s a binge writer)
-how to be gentle with yourself and your writing
-how to find the core questions in your work
-why she turned away from her ambitious nature at different times in her writing life
-how to keep putting the words on the page

https://www.marieforleo.com/2017/02/cheryl-strayed/

This conversation with Dani Shapiro offers deep insight on:

-why waiting to feel inspired may not be such a great idea
-why inner critics change the ways they berate us as we grow as writers (and what we can do about it)
-why she put aside 200 pages of writing
-the productive uses of despair
-how to get the courage to share your work
-her two word writing prompt that she uses in classes

https://www.marieforleo.com/2018/01/dani-shapiro-writing-process/

I’m teaching a writing workshop through my local community college on Saturday, October 27 called: Write Faster, Write Better: Author 2.0

I came up with the idea of this workshop as a way to encourage people who have always wanted to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but wanted more guidance. As I was thinking about it, however, it occurred to me that it would also be the perfect place to share ways to “level up” in one’s writing life. So, even if someone doesn’t want to write a 50,000 word draft, they may want to play with upping their productivity in November. As the description below states, I’ll be sharing some powerful techniques and tools to hack your brain to write better and faster (without loss of quality). The workshop also will provide people an opportunity to discuss their writing aspirations, goals and strategies and evaluate what’s working and what needs refining.

So dear reader, my question to you is: What Does Leveling Up in Your Writing Look Like?

I really want to know the areas that you struggle with in your writing life and the goals you are working on. So, I have designed a very comprehensive poll. Would you be so kind as to take my poll? Getting this information here would be really helpful as the readers of this blog are writers and creators at all different stages. My workshop will be in person (see details below to register), but I also plan to create an online version, too. So even if you’re not local and can’t take the workshop, you may be able to take an online version of it later this year.

Thanks in advance! I will be sure to report back on the results!

Write Faster, Write Better: Author 2.0

Do you want to write faster? Do you want to write better? These goals are not in contradiction with each other! This workshop will teach you some fun ways to “hack” your brain to support increased productivity, outwit pesky inner critics and unleash your inner storyteller.

This workshop will help both discovery writers (also known as “pantsers”) and writers that outline find new ways to approach their work.

Write Faster, Write Better is also geared for writers wanting to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ll spend time talking about how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo and how you can produce a 50,000 word draft in a month.

We’ll spend time exploring new ways to combat what stops us from writing including: procrastination, perfectionism, imposter syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with creative ideas. We’ll explore how other successful writers have found ways to write faster and better including Austin Kleon, Chuck Wendig, Jake Bible and Rachel Aaron.

This workshop is about busting through our own self-imposed limiting beliefs about our writing life.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.

And, of course, there will be door prizes!

Register here


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

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