Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stay Creative Every Day, Tip #3

I've always loved that ancient joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall:  practice, practice, practice.  But sometimes practicing can be difficult or boring, especially when you're not feeling particularly motivated to just sit down and repeat the same old thing over and over.  Which is why I strongly believe that every time you read a how-to book, it's a good idea to:

Tip #3:  Do the exercises!  (Even the ones you don't like.)

Here's my top reasons why:
  • The exercises have been designed to help you step-by-step.  If you do them, you really will improve your skills.
  • They're much cheaper than the tuition and travel expenses of taking a workshop--and easier too.  You can wear your pajamas if you feel like it!
  • Exercises can help you to create--and stick with--a dedicated creativity schedule.  You choose the best time of day or night to take your private class.
  • You never have to worry about what to write or paint next.  Doing your exercises eliminates the blank page or empty canvas forever.
  • Doing an exercise you don't like, or at least some of it, helps you to understand what it's like working freelance or under editorial direction.
  • Exercises force you to explore and get out of your comfort zone.
  • And you might like them more than you thought you would once you're finished.
  • Which might also give you a whole new direction for your creative work, one you never considered before.
  • Often an exercise can expand into a published or salable piece of work.
  • Just like changing a recipe, it's fun to tweak an exercise, adding your own touches and giving it a unique, personal twist.
  • You can take exercises to your writing groups.  The exercises can be the foundation of "assignments" for your group to do in-between meetings, or they can be used for freewriting sessions together at the actual meetings.  They can even be the reason a group meets.
  • Completing a series of exercises is an excellent way to build your confidence and rack up your creative achievements.  You can say to the world:  "See?  I stuck with it and (wrote, painted, learned to play a musical instrument, made a new dinner set, opened an etsy jewelry store).  I did it--and I can do much more in the future too!"
Tip of the Day:  Once you've finished a series of how-to exercises, do them again.  Not only will you have an entirely new perspective the second time around, but you'll have a stronger set of skills to use as well.

For a free PDF on the full 12 Ways to Stay Creative Every Day and to hear my accompanying web radio interview with Dr. Doris Jeanette, just click here.  Thanks and happy creating!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stay Creative Every Day, Tip #2

It's snowing in Albuquerque today, the perfect excuse to stay home and write about Tip #2 from my PDF "12 Ways to Stay Creative Every Day."  The PDF is a free print-out that accompanies my web radio interview with Dr. Doris Jeanette at Live at the Edge.

Tip #2:  Read How-to Books, lots of them!

I love any book that has something to teach or is written as a workbook.  In fact, as soon as I see anything with the word "workbook" in the title, I'm hooked.  Only a couple of days ago I was at a bookstore renting DVDs when I saw a used copy of Animal Painting Workbook by David Webb.  It didn't take me long to know I had to buy it, and I'm glad I did; I've decided it's going to be the foundation of my painting and drawing practice in the New Year.

Most of my favorite how-to books center on art and writing.  Top of my all-time "best" list has to be Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, followed by Wild Mind.  Others include Making a Good Writer Great, by Linda Seger, and Nick Bantock's book on collage techniques, Urgent 2nd Class

Reading cookbooks and step-by-step travel guides can be another way to keep creativity on tap.  My well-worn and much-loved copy of The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon has given me the confidence to make authentic Indian dishes from dhal to kulfi, and even invent my own vegetarian curries based on her ideas.  It also gave me the idea for a character from India in one of my on-going WIPs. 

One great trick I've learned for using art instruction books, and the over-sized ones in particular, is to tear them up.  There, I said it.  But using them in the conventional manner, i.e., trying to keep the pages open and flat (impossible with a paperback), and then still have space left on my work table to draw or paint can be challenging to say the least.  What I now do is separate the pages from the binding and hold them together with a bulldog clip.  When I want to try an exercise or copy a drawing, I take it from the stack and tape it to the wall.  This has made such a difference to how often and willing I am to use my art books that I wish more were published this way.  (Could also work for cookbooks, too.)

I buy a lot of my how-to books second-hand.  The subjects have ranged from knitting to pottery-making, but I must admit I don't keep many of them.  Unless it's going to be something I'll use again, I usually pass the books on to my friends, writing groups, and the library used bookstore--a great place to find more how-to books!

Tip of the Day:  Reading how-to books are a necessary--and enjoyable--part of the creative process, but writing one of your own can be even better.  When I wrote The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript I think I learned more about writing than at any other time in my life. 

To get started writing your own how-to book, list 12 things you know how to do that could be the basis of a book.  Choose one topic and then organize it into 12 potential chapters.  Make each chapter the solution to a problem and add some how-to exercises at the end.  Start writing!  The how-to books that have meant the most to me have also included the author's personal life-story and creative journeys.  Freewrite and add similar examples to your own chapters.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Radio Show! "Stay Creative Every Day."

Last week I did something entirely new for me:  I was interviewed for a web radio show, Live at the Edge, with Dr. Doris Jeanette.  And guess what?  It was so much fun!  The show is now up and running and you can listen here, as well as print out a special PDF I made for the interview:  "12 Ways to Stay Creative Every Day."

When I told Doris that I would be sure to write a blog post to let everyone know about the show and my guest spot, she had a great suggestion--write 12 posts.  I liked this idea because I've been wanting to blog more anyway, but it also gives me a chance to write a little bit extra about each of my 12 tips in the PDF. 

So in the spirit of "The 12 Days of Christmas," I thought I'd make December "Creativity Month" and take each one of the tips as a separate post, starting with: 

#1:  Use Your Favorite Tools.  My choices include fountain pens, plum ink, top quality journals, good pencils, paints, and watercolor or other papers.

I can't imagine writing with a broken pen, or on paper that didn't have a smooth finish and a good weight to it.  But that's just me.  I have friends who love newsprint and old biros, others who couldn't live without chalk.  Whatever we choose, though, will still come down to the same thing:  when we like our tools, we like our work, and it will show in the finished product.  More reasons to use your favorites include:

  • Materials you like to use will inspire you.
  • Choosing ink that flows, or a brush that fits your hand just makes life a whole lot easier!
  • You feel more serious and professional about your artist/writer self when you buy good tools.
  • Buying the tools you want is a great step forward in making future artistic decisions; ones that define who you are as a creative being.
  • Your chosen materials and mediums express who you are right away to your audience.
  • Making a conscious choice about your materials expresses your uniqueness and independence.
  • And it's a great way to learn how to give up the “shoulds” in life, e.g., "You should use oils, you shouldn't use an eraser, you should never use black…"
  • Our day jobs can be too full of "office stuff":  white paper, red ink, #2 pencils.  Fun materials set firm boundaries between the workplace and a chance to enjoy some playtime every day.
  • Nice materials make your creative space attractive and inviting, a true haven away from the pressures and responsibilities of daily life. 
  • Which means you will look forward to going to your writing area or drawing table.
  • Fun materials are a way to give yourself permission to experiment.  If you’ve always wanted to try purple glitter glue—why stop there?  How about purple origami paper?  Purple beads?  Purple feathers?
  • Shopping for art and writing supplies makes for a great Julia Cameron "artist’s date."  No excuses to stay home when you need to buy gold gel pens or a new Moleskine!
Tip of the Day:  It's December, season of holidays and gift-giving.  This year, consider gifts that encourage your friends’ creativity.  Schools and teachers in particular need art supplies of all kinds.  Happy creating, and be sure to tune in to Live at the Edge with Dr. Doris Jeanette.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

At the End of the Day--My Top 12 Writing Tips

I can't believe I haven't blogged in over a month--disgraceful!  My only excuse is I am so consumed with Overtaken pre-pub I barely have time to eat or sleep, let alone blog.  But I've certainly missed you all. It's also been difficult for me to think of a blog-worthy topic right now, but since this is primarily a blog about writing, and we're in the middle of Nanowrimo (which I am NOT participating in this year, thank goodness) I thought I'd share some of my fave writing tips.  At the end of the day, when all is said and done, these are the ones that have always served me the best:

1.  Go for pages rather than word counts.  Yes, I know Nanowrimo is all about hitting that 50,000 word goal, but if you set yourself a number of pages per day first, you'll find you can surpass that final number, and ahead of time too,  During the rest of the year, watching your pages add up is, fo me, far more satisfying than stressing over a bloated word count.

2.  Break your writing sessions up into several sittings per day.  It's a bad idea to work on anything for longer than an hour without a break.  Writing is no exception.  Schedule your writing session for various times during the day (or night).  You'll be more productive.

3.  And break those sessions up too!  For instance, give yourself 15 minutes to freewrite, then stand up and get a drink of water.  Then take 15 minutes to write some more.  Stop, read a few magazine pages.  Then go for, say, 30 minutes...have lunch.  You get the picture.

4.  Write your first draft from start to finish--without editing.  While you're writing the first or discovery draft, try not to look back at your previous pages unless it's for something like a quick reminder of a character's name or the last thing he or she said when you put your pen down.

5.  Write your last scene first.  I've always thought it's important to know where I want my story to go.  I consider this last scene or page the equivalent of a life raft, something to swim toward when the going gets rough.

6.  Always diagram a "W" goal structure even if you have no other plot or outline, starting with:  What does my main character want, and why can't she/or he have it?   (For more information on the full "W" and what exactly it is, check out The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript, currently on super sale at valeriestorey.com.)

7.  Write longhand whenever you can.  In my workshops I've always taught:  ideas come through our heads, pass through our hearts, and are expressed through our hands--with a brush, pen or pencil, or even a twig.  There's something very honest and fresh when we write by hand.  I also think it's much easier and more comfortable than any other method.

8.  Print out every draft.  Edit and rewrite from a paper version of your manuscript, rather than relying on your computer screen to catch errors or ways to improve and polish your writing.  The difference between the two formats and what you can find "wrong" is astonishing.

9.  Collage your feelings, scenes, chapters, characters, and book covers, and keep them all together in your manuscript binder.  For more information on writing with magazine cut-outs, just click here.

10.  Write with a friend.  Create a writing group that's based on productivity rather than critique.  Have assignments and goals to accomplish between meetings.

11.  Always be aware of your genre and where you want your book to be in the bookstore--both online and bricks-and-mortar.  This is especially helpful for writing query letters and synopses, but it's also a good way to keep your writing on track.  Know your genre and how you fit into it, or how and why your manuscript is taking that genre in a new direction.

12.  Be playful.  Use as many prompts, tricks, what-ifs as you can throughout the writing process.  Be willing to change your story when it tells you to.  Be outrageous, be daring, "go for the jugular," as Natalie Goldberg always says, and do your best to enjoy the journey through all its many stages.

So there we are!  Happy Nanowrimo, everybody.  Now back to our writing.

Tip of the Day:  Let's make it a baker's dozen and throw in a 13th tip:  Don't be afraid of your creativity.  If you're fearful of "what will people think," use a pseudonym.  If you're afraid of failure, tell yourself it's all pretend, anyway, and much more fun than washing the floor.  Good luck!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Overtaken Update (and Another Blog Award--Yay!)


Wow--the last few weeks have been hectic, sending me far away from my blog, my usual social media sites, my life...  Proofing Overtaken has been intense to say the least.  Scary, nerve-racking, and insomnia-producing would be good descriptions of the process, too.

But during all this sturm und drung, there have also been some bright spots along the way, starting with The New Mexico Women Author's Book Festival in Santa Fe where I presented a workshop on making book trailers (yes, it will be a future blog post!) and where I signed copies of Better Than Perfect as well as The Essential Guide for New Writers

And,

I received another blog award--this time from the wonderful "writer of creative nonfiction, poetry, and musings" Chris Galvin Thank you, Chris!  I really appreciate you thinking of me.

This is the second time I've been given the Versatile Blogger Award, and it's an award I love.  Versatility is the soul of creativity and I'm grateful that my friends acknowledge how much I enjoy blogging and sharing new ideas with you.

The requirements that come with the award are that I share it with 15 other bloggers, notify them that they have received the award, and that I then list 7 things about myself. 

Because 15 is a rather hefty number, I'm going to break it down over the weeks so that I can include not only some of my favorite blogs, but new ones that I discover along the way.  This week I'm going to start with two:  


Congratulations to these lovely and multi-talented bloggers, people who truly epitomize what it means to be a  "versatile blogger." 

As for the "7 things about me," I thought for a change of pace I would list 7 things about Overtaken.  These are:
  1. The story is set in London and a privately-owned Greek island.
  2. My main character is named Sara Elliott and she is an artist.
  3. I started writing the book as an exercise in a workshop at the International Women's Writing Guild summer conference in Saratoga Springs.  Pages 15-16 of the finished manuscript were first written in a morning workshop presented by poet and author of Gifted Grownups, Mary Lou Streznewski, and the last page was written in a class I took later that same afternoon, led by Emily Hanlon, author of Petersburg and The Art of Fiction Writing.  When I got home from the conference I was too busy with other projects to even look through my notebook.
  4. But when I did start thinking about turning those exercises into a full draft, I entered the first 50 pages into the Gothic Romance Authors Haunted Hearts contest, the first contest I'd ever entered, and I won 3rd place!
  5. Overtaken is the most unusual book I've ever written, a modern literary gothic, part fairy tale, part metaphysical search.
  6. It was also the first book I'd ever used my "magazine cut-out" collaging techniques to help develop my plot, setting, and characters.
  7. I wrote my entire first draft and all extra material long hand.  I then transcribed it onto paper using my trusty Panasonic KXE-700M typewriter, and then finally transcribed it again onto my computer.  Writing long hand and using my typewriter were definitely my two favorite stages.
So there we are!  Just a few more weeks and with any luck Overtaken will be published at the end of the month.  Whew.  Now back to my proofing.

Tip of the Day:  It was fun for me to make a list of "7 things about Overtaken," making me think it would be a good idea to do something similar for my other books, including those already published and those still in the WIP stage.  Not only is it a good jumpstart to future marketing, but it helped to clarify my thinking for those times when I'm asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" or "What is your book about?" 

In the meantime, do visit the blogs I've mentioned here and say "Hi!" to their writers.  You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overtaken: We Have a Proof!


OVERTAKEN:  The proof is here at last, complete with cover art which I absolutely could not resist sharing with you all.  I'm thrilled with the way it turned out, and I'm just as pleased with the look of the interior pages too.

So armed with my trusty red pen, mini post-its, and a brand new legal pad, I am now taking the next few days off to go through the entire book line by line, word by word.  Again (!).  Oh, well.  As they say, "the proof is in the pudding" and my choice is pistachio.  Should keep me sustained until publication day.  Wish me luck!

Tip of the Day:  Keep writing--keep drawing--keep going.  There were days--weeks and months--when I thought I would never be holding a copy of this book in my hands.  How silly was that?  If I could give you just one word that means everything to me, it would be:  Persevere.  It's the only way to accomplish anything.  See you soon. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Poetry Reading

My first poetry reading!  In public!

Last night I had the privilege of being part of the Quinto Sol/Sexto Sol, Dissolution and Creation opening held at the South Broadway Cultural Center here in Albuquerque. 

The event was organized by Vistas Latinas, and was designed to be: "An art exhibition that will explore the meaning of the year 2012.  By understanding our past, we can create the present, and envision the future."   It was an amazing night:  incredible visual art; a mysterious piece of performance art, music from young musicians (very young!), good food, and of course, poetry reading.  Adding to the fun was the welcome addition of a dramatic rainstorm, much-needed after a summer of severe drought. 

The idea of including poetry came from one of the exhibit's curators and exhibiting artists, Elaine Soto.  And when she invited me to participate along with six other poets (as in, ahem, real poets), I was nervous.  I'm a prose writer; when I write poetry it's for fun, journaling, experimentation.  I'd never tried writing a poem for an event, and I'd certainly never read a poem in front of an audience larger than my writer's group.  It was a challenge for sure, especially given the large theme of the Mayan Calendar and (maybe) the end of the world. 

In the end I decided to take the theme into a more personal perspective, hoping that by doing so it could also translate into a universal metaphor of life and death, "dissolution and creation."  I wrote:

Waiting for an Orchid to Bloom

Can take days, months; so many other
things can happen while that bud sits
as tight and full as a little bound foot.

Anticipating my own rebirth,
I watch the turning on the stalk,
A secret thing preparing its rotation, sudden and fetal.
Only orchids can make this sharp turning.
Only orchids swerve in answer to the pull of time.

The opening—if ever it comes—will be sudden and unexpected.
My own calendar means nothing to this
green creature poised and placed to follow
the unbreakable rules of feng shui.
My wealth corner is its doom.
It has no choice to leave for better light or conditions.
Instead, it stays where I insist it bring me
luck, or happiness, things it will never understand,
things it answers with stubbornness, shyness, and grief.
Only last week two buds died of blast,
withered and shrinking beneath my impatient
testing and tapping for soundness.

I held the fallen heads between my hands, an ugly tobacco yellow
staining and replacing the creamy greenness
of their first appearance.
Stillborn and hollow, whatever life they had to offer fled.
I wept.

Now all my future is bound and cast into one
last bundle, one final bud,
that forbidden package sealed and silent,
speaking only to itself.
I wait to weep again.

Tip of the Day:  Writing to a pre-set theme can be intimidating.  I'm thinking about all those times I've looked through both prose and poetry calls for contests and magazine submissions, and thought, "What would I write??"  However, after this particular exercise, I learned that the best way to tackle the project is to start small, bring it home, and not try to cover absolutely everything that comes to mind.  Thanks for reading--have a great Labor Day Weekend!



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Commonplace Book of My Own

Hello, everyone!  The last couple of weeks have been hectic for Dava Books.  Preparing Overtaken for a September 30 publication date is both nerve wracking and an occasion for celebration. 

After umpteen months of writing, editing, and endless rewriting, it's going to feel very odd to not have the Overtaken manuscript in my life anymore.  Every time I finish and release a book I go through a mini-version of empty-nest syndrome; a good reason to have a fun project ready and waiting to fill the void.  This time it's going to be starting my commonplace book, as well as doodling on some screenplay ideas. 

Over the weekend I used my store credit at a local indie bookstore, Page One, to buy this luscious journal for my first attempt at commonplacing.  I think it's the perfect choice:  a magnetic fold-over closure to keep the pages tidy; slim enough to fit in a tote or large handbag; a full-size cardboard pocket fitted to the inside back cover for slipping in cards and gallery notes; smooth, creamy, top quality paper.  It also just looks so inspiring.  The cover's old-world patina already has an antique feel that makes me think of magic, mysteries, and museums.  I can't wait to start filling it up!



On the inside:


However, as lovely as this journal is to me, I'm being strict with myself and refusing to even write a single line until Overtaken is in print.  I shouldn't even have taken these pics!  I've got a zillion things to do today, finalizing the Overtaken trailer amongst them, but I couldn't resist the chance to share my dreams with you.  Because isn't dreaming what it's all about anyway?

Tip of the Day:  Whatever creative project you're working on right now, be sure to reward yourself along the way for a job well done.  Don't just wait for the "end" to celebrate.  Reaching your weekly page goal quota, filling up a sketchbook, or writing "morning pages" for a month can all be reasons to treat yourself to something nice.  In the meantime, wishing you all a happy and creative day!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Commonplace Book of One's Own

For many years I've been intrigued with the idea of the "commonplace book," a type of journal- or notebook-keeping system that dates back to the seventeenth century.  Two of my favorite examples from more modern times include E.M. Forster's Commonplace Book and A Writer's Commonplace Book by Rosemary Friedman. 

Basically the idea behind creating a commonplace book is to have a written record of meaningful or important instructions and reminders that you would not ordinarily find in any one place.  The two books I've mentioned above concentrate on the art of writing, but I've read others that are a wonderful hodge-podge of obscure and fascinating factoids, from graveyard inscriptions to medieval recipes for swan pie. 

If you're like me and have kept any kind of journal at all, you've probably unwittingly been creating a kind of commonplace book without even knowing it.  When I re-read many of my journals I'm always discovering notes on recommended book titles or a writing friend's best advice on how to create a scene or write a pantoum.  One of the reasons I've been reluctant to part with my journals is the fact that if I tossed everything out I'd be losing several volumes-worth of good advice.  Finding that advice when I need it, however, can be a major headache, especially when most of it is hiding between old morning pages, drafts for long-ago published novels and poems, and all the rest of the usual stuff that goes into a journal.  So here's my plan for separating the sheep from the goats:  Create a dedicated commonplace book! 

This first attempt, I've decided, is going to center around an art theme.  Some of the things I want to include are:
  • Information on new art supplies—with pages that give me a place to try them, record how to use them, or paste in the manufacturers’ suggestions and instructions.
  • Artistic quotes and phrases I like.
  • Colors and palettes I want to try. 
  • Lines of poetry about art.
  • Other people’s art—whether from magazines, exhibition catalogs, or postcards.
  • Museum/gallery notes and flyers. 
  • Wish lists of supplies. 
  • Lists of ideas and themes to work on in the future. 
  • Art-related books I'd like to read or buy. 
  • Notes from these same books. 
  • Notes from workshops I've either attended in the past, or will be attending later on.
  • Business and marketing tips and resources for artists.
A commonplace book is an excellent item to turn into a gift for someone special, either for now, or to be passed down through the generations.  You can include anything you want--there are no rules.  For instance, you might want to insert family recipes, favorite poems, or vintage photographs.  I'm defintely looking forward to starting my own book and seeing how it evolves.  Recently I received some gift cards from local bookstores, so there's no excuse for not finding the perfect journal to be my starting point.  Once I begin, I'll be sure to post some pictures to let you share in my progress.

Tip of the Day:  What subject interests you enough to start a commonplace book?  Keep in mind that you can mix subjects, too, sometimes this makes the books even more interesting to read.  If you're stuck, brainstorm a list of topics, e.g., genealogy, the paranormal, sewing, French cuisine.  Who knows--you might want to start and keep half a dozen!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Life Lessons From a Drawing Class

On Tuesday night my experimental drawing class came to an end.  It was both sad (no more Tuesday night socializing with like-minded new friends) and liberating:  "Okay, you've learned all about mixed media--now go make art!  You can do it!"

Besides acquiring a whole arena of fresh knowledge regarding techniques and materials (I absolutely fell in love with Pan Pastels and Stonehenge paper) I feel I learned several important lessons that can apply not only to drawing and painting, but to the way we approach any creative pursuit--including the art of living!  Here's my top twelve:
  1. Be patient.  There is no magic button.  Life—and especially creativity—is not a foot race.  Take your time; trust that the process will work--it will.  Eventually!
  2. Work on several pieces at once.  While you’re waiting and deciding about how to continue or enhance a piece, start working on something new.  Ideas will seed each other, bringing inspiration and giving you a strong sense of productivity.
  3. Start.  Stop.  Wait.  Start.  Then stop again.  It’s a good idea to break your work into segments.  Once you’ve added a new element to a piece, let it sit for awhile before you rush to the next “improvement.”
  4. The marks we make clue us into our natural direction.  Because I’m a writer, I tend to love line.  Cross-hatching with a sharp pencil, swirls of charcoal depicting hair and fur, I enjoy elegant mark making.  A knitter in the class gave her work the smooth, even order of a “knit, purl” pattern.  Another woman, a beader, worked with circles.  Art reveals our natural rhythms and preferences.  Go with them. 
  5. Instead of saying you don't like a piece, say "it's not finished."  Which is another way of saying “don’t give up.”  It’s a journey—not every stop along the way is going to be "oh, wow!"
  6. Put your work on the wall and live with it for a while.  Along with #1 and #3, let everything you do sit for a while and breathe.  Ask the piece what it needs (if anything).  What does it want to say?  Listen and don't rush to judgment or completion.
  7. Your work is sacred, but it's not precious.  Honor the process, but don’t be afraid of letting the work go when it's time.  Most pieces and drafts are simply stepping stones and tools to guide you toward a more important work or truth.  Once they’ve served their purpose, thank them and move on.
  8. Just make a mark.  Start.  With anything.  A red slash.  A green dot. A woman in a shopping mall.  Add a feather.  A leaf.  A crying baby.  Find the story.  One idea really does lead to another.
  9. Be comfortable with awkwardness.  Appreciate the adolescent in your artwork or manuscript:  nose and ears too big for the face; gangly arms and legs, excruciating shyness—we were all thirteen once upon a time! And guess what? We all grew into swans and flamingos and eagles in spite of thinking we’d never be anything more than frozen turkeys.  Recognize your work will go through the exact same life stages we all do—every one of them special and engaging in its own right.
  10. Take risks.  You’ll never know unless you try.  Throw that paint! Put a poem in Chapter Seventeen!  Write from the dog’s point of view!
  11. You can't ruin anything.  There isn’t a single piece of art or writing that can’t be fixed.  Even the worst "accident" (torn paper, spilled ink, smeared paint, the dog’s POV didn’t work) can be turned into the starting point for a new—and often more exciting—direction.
  12. There's plenty more where this came from.  We are all creative beings with limitless access to a universe of possibility.  Never fear running dry, or feeling you have to hoard your ideas and skills for “the real thing” (whatever that is).  The universe is simply bursting with grand ideas, and all of them are yours for the taking.  Give everything you work on your total best, your full attention, your most interesting angle—the well will be refilled long before you could ever possibly reach “empty.” 
Tip of the Day:  As the people around me can testify, I did a lot of complaining during the early stages of this particular class:  "It's nutty!  Everything I do looks like dog vomit!"  It took me nearly all eight weeks of class time to believe that any of the above lessons were true, let alone usable.  In the end I finally threw caution to the wind.  Here's the result:

Keep Playing!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Making a List--and Checking it Twice!

The last few weeks have been incredibly hectic as I prepare Overtaken for publication.  Each time I bring a book to this last stage of the journey I'm reminded how very difficult the work really is.  Checking for word repetition, making sure the timeline is consistent, assuring myself that I really have gone as far as I can go with the editing--it's a lot to do.  And if I didn't have a series of lists to follow, I shudder to think how far behind I'd be right now.

I love writing lists.  As you've probably noticed by now, most of my blog posts are comprised of, or include, one or more lists somewhere in the text.  I think it's the organization I find so compelling, my brain just seems to thrive on list-making.  It's also about the only way I can multi-task.  Keeping lists close by can remind me where I am in my manuscript, how many times my heroine has worn a pink dress, and what kind of pictures I want to feature in my book trailer.

That said, I also have to admit "to do" lists are my least favorite.  I often find myself abandoning them halfway through, that is if I even get that far.  A much better system for me is to make a "have done" list, especially as a journaling theme.  The other kinds of lists I enjoy making are ones I can refer to many times over and that can even be expanded.  For instance:
  • Repetitive word lists--things to avoid, e.g., buzz words such as "just," "only," "nice."
  • Synonyms:  how can I take my buzz words to a new level?
  • Interesting, active verbs:  same as above.
  • Interesting scenes to write.
  • Tips and checklists for making a scene "work."
  • Character names:  the more variety, the better.
  • Unusual professions--go for the weird.
  • Little known locations, cultures, and customs.
  • Colors, e.g. rather than green, how about "spinach"?
  • Future book titles.  Nothing like being prepared!
  • Rare phobias.
  • Rare health disorders.
  • Interesting hobbies.
  • Unusual character goals.
  • Bizarre opening lines.
  • Little known facts/trivia.
  • Strange items/objects.
  • Ideas to write, paint, or collage.
  • Lines of poetry--my own, to add to a future piece of work.
  • Lines of poetry from others, to act as prompts, themes, idea starters.
  • Unusual animals and their habitats. (Naked mole rats, anyone?)
  • Food--past, present, and future.
  • Memories.
  • Dreams.
  • Things to learn more about.
Whew.  And that's just the beginning.  The best way I've found to keep all these lists in order is to have a special journal or notebook just for list making.  Not only is it a great way to "keep writing" on the "blah" days, the finished product can also be one of the most useful reference books on your writing shelf.

Tip of the Day:  Create some lists of your own, perhaps using some of the ideas I've suggested here.  The next time you're stuck for a freewriting prompt, choose one item each from at least three lists, e.g., a character name, a strange profession, and a bizarre opening line.  Put them all together, and presto--it's story time!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Scenes from an Experimental Art Class

 

For the last five weeks I've been taking an art class:  Experimental Drawing.  And what an experiment it's been!  The best way I can describe what we're doing is by calling it "free painting," the visual equivalent of "freewriting." 

Personally I've found the approach both difficult and oddly liberating--a constant struggle between wanting to create the "picture in my mind" and then having to give in to what the images dictate.  It's a lot like wanting to write a contemporary romance only to have it turn into a Norse saga in iambic pentameter with science fiction elements.  All you can do is stand back and say:  "Oooh-kaaay..."

On a more technical note, the materials we are using for this grand experiment include:
  • Stonehenge and watercolor papers, as well as Bristol board.
  • Acrylic paints.
  • Watercolor paints.
  • Pastels in both stick and loose, powdered forms.
  • Acrylic mediums/grounds/gels.
  • Fixative.  (Lots of fixative between each layer of pastel or paint.)
  • Ink.
  • Collage papers.
  • Graphite pencils.
  • And just about anything else that makes, or takes, a mark.
So here's my small gallery of works to date (including the picture at the top.  I like that one in particular because I threw in some words: "The Art of Placing."  I love combining text with visuals.)








Perhaps the hardest thing for me right now is to stop assigning meaning to the work, in other words, to simply let the pieces be.  They are what they are:  surprising, foreign, challenging, and miles--light years--away from the Polyvore creations that usually illustrate my blog posts. 

I still have four classes left to attend, including one tonight, and I must say I'm filled with curiosity to know what's coming next.  It's kind of like waiting for the next chapter of a very strange book--one that I'm writing in my sleep!  Stay tuned. 

Tip of the Day:  S-t-r-e-t-c-h.  Take a class, join a group, buy a how-to book in a new-to-you subject.  It may not be in your comfort zone, but there's nothing like a little creative risk-taking to liven up the "tried and true" and get your mind going in a brand new--and exciting--direction.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Write Every Day--Even When You Can't

It's summer and the days are filled with distractions, heat waves, parties, holidays, vacations...yet we still have to "write every day," right?  But how?  How do we stay true to word count quotas, personal page goals, editorial deadlines--and still enjoy the season?

One way I've learned to solve the problem and take the pressure off is to at least do my best to "communicate with the manuscript" every day.  To me, the important thing is to stay in touch with my writing, especially on the days when I think I can't.  For instance, on my busy or "blah" days, I can still find 15-30 minutes or more to:
  • Doodle on book cover ideas.
  • Brainstorm a book "blurb."
  • Design new postcards or bookmarks.
  • Draw, paint, or collage my characters' homes, wardrobes, and story scenes.
  • Freewrite in a "no thinking allowed" manner to create back stories, memories, and dreams for my characters regardless of their usability in a final draft.
But those things can be accomplished anywhere, from sitting at my office desk to lounging in bed propped up against a stack of pillows.  The real challenge is to still "call home" when I'm miles away from my writing space.  Some solutions I've discovered include: 
  • Use waiting time for creative time.  Nerves can make it difficult to write while you're waiting for the doctor, dentist, or hairdresser, but that doesn't mean you have to sit in total boredom or frozen terror waiting for your appointment.  Reception lobbies and waiting rooms are full of magazines.  Pick one or two and ask someone at the desk if you can keep them--the answer for me has always been "yes."  Now instead of aimlessly waiting, you can start searching out pictures to illustrate your manuscript--a very active way to stay in touch with your story (and to stop worrying about your appointment).
  • The next time you're at a social gathering and feeling guilty for not working on your manuscript, try this:  ask the people you're with for some "what-if" suggestions.  Welcome as many ideas as everyone can think of, the more outrageous the better.  Write the ideas down on slips of paper and save them for your next writing session.  If they're really good and you use some of them, you can always thank your friends in print when your manuscript is published.
  • Rather than lugging a laptop computer or other device along with your luggage or picnic basket, go back to basics:  tuck a hard-backed journal or sketchbook into your bag along with your favorite pens.  Writing by hand is easy and of course quite wonderful for instant idea transcription.  It can also encourage you to explore some new perspectives and insights you may be losing if you depend solely on typing.
  • While you're traveling or sightseeing, imagine your trip through your characters' eyes.  What details are important to them?  Why?  What tourist site would they want to visit?  What foods would they order?  What places would they avoid?
  • Another travel idea is to purchase souvenirs or items that can somehow relate to your WIP.  Whether they are items your heroine would buy for sentimental reasons, or they're objects that can make your story setting more vivid once you return home, the point is to shop with your plot in mind.
  • Heat and humidity can make you sleepy--so take advantage of the lethargy and lie down.  But before you turn out the lights, make sure you have an open journal or some blank pages by your side together with a smooth-flowing pen.  As soon as you close your eyes, ask yourself a question relevant to your story and then drift off with the intention of having the answer when you wake up.  This works particularly well for those seemingly "unsolvable" story dilemmas that plague even the best outline.  And if by chance your dreams go off onto a tangent unrelated to your current WIP, see if there's a way you can incorporate them anyway.
  • Find a new time of day or night to write.  Rearrange your schedule to either get up earlier or go to bed later and use those times just for writing.  With any luck the hours you pick will be cooler, quieter, and the new times may also stimulate new ways of thinking and working.
Tip of the Day:  Rather than abandon your manuscript for the summer, consider these months to be some of the most creative times you'll have available all year.  The next time you think you're too busy or hot to write, try one or more of the suggestions listed above.  Personally I find writing in shorts, T's, and bare feet so comfortable I wish summer could last forever.