Monday, July 30, 2012

Stay Creative Every Day Tip #12: Stay Focused With the Basics

It's been a long journey, but we're finally here at Tip #12: Whenever you feel scattered with too much going on in your life, or you're working on too many projects at once, go back to the basics.

I love staying busy, and I often work on several different pieces of writing or art during any given day. Not only is this a great way to get a lot done, but it keeps me from becoming bored or burnt-out on any one thing. The downside of this, however, is that it can also become overwhelming at times, making me feel I'm going in too many directions without any real sense of purpose. The best way I've found to counter this feeling is to remember how I got to this point in the first place, followed by a session of starting all over again with beginner's mind and simple tools. For example:
  • Read one how-to book as if it's the only book in the world. Do the exercises. Take the advice to heart.
  • Morning pages--just three handwritten "whatevers" every morning. I find writing on a legal pad with a stiff backing is an excellent way to plow through the noise, dreams, and endless lists of unfinished projects and plans in my mind. It's also a good way to find the answers to what's keeping me scattered and how I can focus in on what's really important to me.
  • Write only by hand. The act of simply holding a pen or pencil, listening to the sound it makes working across the page, and letting the words (or pictures!) flow upon the surface can be very healing, and very real.
  • Try limiting yourself to just one medium or aspect of writing for an entire week, e.g., just use charcoal for drawings, or paint with a limited watercolor palette of 3 colors. Write only character biographies for a week, or simply block out your scenes on index cards--and nothing else.
  • Along the same lines, choose just 1 subject for writing, painting, or collage. Sometimes there are too many choices in life. By selecting a single topic, e.g., apples, you can more easily zoom in and get to the heart of the subject. A good way to tackle this would be to find pictures of apples, buy apples, draw them, write poems, use the imagery to trigger a personal essay. You could even add some of your efforts to your current WIP if you think it will fit.
  • De-clutter one area of your house or office: a single drawer, shelf, or magazine rack. Keep this up until you feel you've got more breathing space and working room.
  • Go through your TBR pile and pick the one title that seems the most appealing to you right now. Store the rest out of sight in a box or on a specific area of your bookcase. Any books that you've been resisting reading, sell or give them away.
  • Plan a week's worth of meals and go to the grocery store to buy only the ingredients that you need to use.
  • Stay home. Take a break from meetings and other social activities (including online browsing and networking if necessary!). Rest up until you feel re-energized and ready to face the world again.
  • Go to bed early. Read rather than watch TV or movies. If you listen to the radio, try to avoid news programs.
  • Meditate with simple visualization techniques for 5-minute sessions. Doing this 3-4 times a day can give you a much-needed rest with a huge boost in energy and productivity.
  • Evening pages. List what you did accomplish during the day--you might want to write another three pages just like you did in the morning, but I find a list of 12 can be equally helpful. Another approach could be to write down 12 things you noticed during your day that made it special.
Tip of the Day: Keep a notebook that is solely for jotting down ideas for future projects, or for those perfect plot points or lines of dialogue that pop into your mind at all the wrong times. Label them clearly as where you think they should go, and then ignore them until you've finished your current project.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Stay Creative Every Day Tip #11: Don't Worry

The Big Move is over: (most) boxes are unpacked; old furniture has been gifted to new owners; the to-do lists shrink on a daily basis--and I'm doing my best to follow Stay Creative Every Day Tip #11: Don't worry. Easier said than done, of course--especially when there's so little time left each day for my writing, not to mention blogging, tweeting, e-mailing.... 

And as much as I'm trying to "stay calm and carry on," I know it's natural to worry about things like getting to the post office on time to mail packages, or keeping the refrigerator stocked with more than toaster strudels. What isn't acceptable is getting equally worked up about the times I can't get to my art and writing, thanks to things like moving. I've also discovered that the #1 reason I worry is because I've neglected following my previously-posted 10 tips on how to stay creative every day. For instance, the times I've managed to not have pen and paper handy while waiting for the cable installer to show up, or then trying to write with a faulty pen I found in the trash.

During more settled times, my other "creative" worries can stem from not feeling "good or smart enough" to be a writer or an artist at all. (Tip #8, "Don't compare yourself to others" is the true root of this problem.) Or worrying about not having enough time to accomplish all the amazing goals swirling through my mind, especially in the middle of the night. I'm sure we've all been there, and I'm sure we've all done as much as we can to avoid the worry track, but if you're still feeling stuck and can't see a wait out, here are some ways to approach the anxiety:
  1. Worrying wastes energy--energy that can be used for creative work. A good trick is to simply write out or express your worries through any art form: clay, collage, even dancing.
  2. Some people are fuelled by worry--and that's okay if it helps get the work done. What isn't okay is wasting other people's time by incessantly voicing those worries, being the kind of worrywart Julia Cameron has referred to as a "toxic friend," someone who wants to stop your work while they complain about their own. Avoid at all costs!
  3. Take action! Do one small task toward your goal every day, no matter how small. For instance, because I've had zero time to write, I've been collecting visual bits and pieces for a collage about this current time in my life. It only takes a few minutes, but it does help me feel that I'm doing something.
  4. Procrastinating is a form of worry that is self-perpetuating and can only add to your worries. That's why schedules and routines are so important to keep. Even if you only designate 15 minutes a day as the bare minimum where you MUST work on your project, do it.
  5. Feeling like your work isn't matching the picture in your head? This is a big one for me. Yet no one else can possibly imagine what I'm envisioning as the perfect story or perfect painting. The same for you, so just be proud of the work you have accomplished and keep going forward. And never, ever point out to others what you think are your work's flaws, or apologize for what you think is "wrong."
  6. The sense of being overwhelmed by all that's required to finish any major piece can be pretty worry-making. So while it's admirable to be able to see the whole picture while you're creating, it can also seem like such a huge job to complete it can keep you from ever finishing the darn thing. To counter this, concentrate on a small portion of the work: for instance, just blocking in the hands on a portrait, or just outlining Chapter 7, or looking for new ways to build and increase tension and conflict scene-by-scene.
  7. "What if?" is a great question when you're writing a novel or short story, but it's a lousy way to try to get some sleep: What if I can't meet my deadline? What if I get a bad review? What if my manuscript is rejected? Stop! Listen to music, meditate, stop and smell the roses.
  8. And have a contingency plan in place: During your down times make a list of positive reviewers who read your book's genre; write up a new daily schedule that will allow you to meet your deadline; prepare manuscript submission packages in advance so that you can send out your work to as many readers as possible.
Tip of the Day:  Every now and then, give yourself time and space to do nothing. Yes, that's right--take a break! Sometimes deliberate and luxurious idleness can be the very cure for all those "must" and "should" monkeys floating through your head. It's also amazing how the very act of refusing to write or draw can drive you right back to your work-in-progress. Typical contrary artistic temperament, wouldn't you say?