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

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:  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.