Thursday, May 23, 2013

12 Things I've Learned From Reading Blogs

I love reading blogs--all kinds of blogs. Chances are I've read YOUR blog post in the last few days, and I want to say thank you for sharing your life, your wisdom, your ideas. I've learned a lot over the last few years of blog reading, and today I wanted to share the top 12 life lessons gained from your insights.  These are:
  1. From Blogs on Writing: Write Deep. Go for the problem areas and dig deep, especially into the topics or themes that would prefer to be left alone.  Rather than simply writing the surface story, I want to go into my plot and characters as far as I can go, even if means taking the wrong turn, having to tear it up and starting all over. Writing deep might mean it takes an extra year or two before a new book reaches print, but the extra wait is worth it.
  2. From Book Blogs: Be Literary, Or not. In other words, don't apologize for being the author or writer you are called to be. We can only write what we love to write--and read. For instance, I love language, I love doing things people tell me not to do, and I love an unconventional narrative. So for me, despite the nay-sayers of the publishing world, I'm going to stick with literary fiction. It's my genre, no apologies or excuses.
  3. From Art Blogs: Dive Into Paint. Similar to the first two points, I've learned from art blogs to jump into my art supplies without worrying about "law and order" or the ensuing results. In the past I used to think my paints and oil pastels had to all stay pretty in their little paper jackets lined up in a row. And my pictures had to be GOOD. (Read, PERFECT.) No more. Now I break, smear, poke, prod, cut, tear, and smash my supplies until they obey (or disobey) my every whim! And I'm a much happier artist for doing so.
  4. From Fashion Blogs: Dress in Your Favorite Clothes. As Sara Ban Breathnach so famously wrote in Simple Abundance, "Life is not a dress rehearsal." So if the costume fits, put it on "just because" and enjoy every flounce, ruffle, or scruffy T-shirt you own no matter the occasion. No more saving outfits for "good."
  5. From Photography Blogs: Take Photos. I was afraid of technology for a long time. The thought of me and a digital camera seemed like a very bad combination. What if I dropped it? What if I took a GOOD photo? What if I liked taking photos so much I'd then want to become a photographer on top of every other passion pulling on my sleeve? Well, what indeed? Taking photos of things that interest me has been fun and helps me with both my writing and my artwork.
  6. From Business Blogs: Diversify. Some days I like to paint. Some days I like to work on my screenplay. Some days I like to look at beads in bead stores and visualize the neat necklaces I want to make. My interests are wide, my writing interests are even wider and sometimes I worry I'm going in too many directions. But diversification is a healthy approach to creativity. The necklace can play a role in my screenplay. The screenplay can suggest ideas for painting. And with each endeavor I get to know my subject on a new level. Better still--I have multiple avenues for selling my work!
  7. From Poetry Blogs: Write Poetry. A lot of people will tell you poetry doesn't sell. Don't listen to them. Poetry is making a huge comeback and in a big way: as novels! Right now I've got The Marlowe Papers on my TBR list--check it out! (Sincere thanks to Kathryn Eastman of for telling me about this amazing book.).
  8. From De-Clutter Blogs: Don't Waste Time. I don't mean to sound morbid here, but now is the only time we have. So be selective and make sure you are in exactly the place you want to be, doing what you want to do right now. If you're not happy with the way you're using time, make changes--throw out time wasters, be ruthless, learn to say no--and mean it.
  9. From Creativity Blogs: Celebrate the Unusual and Different. Never go for the easy answer. March to a different drummer. Do your own thing! Yes, that means you!
  10. From Runners' Blogs: If You Can't Run, At Least Walk. Blogs on running inspire me, but there is no way I will ever run down the block let alone attempt a marathon. And that's okay, because walking, I think, can be one of the very best exercises for writers. You can observe, think, keep up a good and healthy pace, burn calories, and stop to write along the way. One trick I've developed is to always seek out the worst parking spot. The one that's really far away from where I want to go. And then once I'm inside my destination, e.g., the grocery store, I make sure to go up and down every single aisle regardless of my list. It's a work-out.
  11. From Spirituality Blogs: Read What You Love. Just like reading blogs, I now read only the books that uplift and fill my creative heart. If a book isn't doing that for me, I stop reading and donate it to the library. This is related to #8--no more time wasted on so-so, or dare I say it, bad books.
  12. From Everyone: Be Honest in Your Own Blog. There are so many blogs out there: some are full of humor, some bring me to tears, others make me want to get out my red pen and start editing, but most of them make me want to stand up and applaud. It's not easy blogging. It's not easy to dream up ideas for blog posts week after week, and that's why I think the best blog posts aren't "dreamed up" at all. The ones I have learned the most from are the ones where the authors have truly wanted to share what's inspiring (or depressing) them on any given day. Words from the heart are always the best, don't you think?
Tip of the Day: A good way to show your appreciation for your favorite blogs is to follow and/or leave comments. But commenting isn't always convenient as soon as you finish reading. Something I like to do now is to read a blog, and then write up a comment later. It's easy to "copy and paste" my thoughts when I'm feeling less scattered and rushed.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Adventures in Travel Journaling

It's nearly summer--and time to start thinking of those vacation plans and travel journals, which is I why I recently took a 4-week class on travel sketching.

The class, offered through my local continuing ed. department was, um, let's say, interesting. I learned a lot about the subject, more than I'd ever hoped to know, and I especially learned about everything I don't want to do with my travel journal.

I think the initial problem stemmed from my personal definition of the word "travel," a word that I'm sure has different connotations for different people. I have to admit I never gave this any thought before the class. For me, travel means wearing nice clothes, going to museums and fancy restaurants, and shopping (e.g., my recent New York post). I usually travel with a Moleskine notebook, and I like to fill it with written descriptions of my experiences, illustrated with collage and pencil sketches of things like hotel lobbies, my coffee and croissants, cute shoes, architectural details, beautiful gardens, and if I'm really lucky--a stray cat or two.

But that's me--and I readily admit it's just one viewpoint. "Travel" for you could be a non-stop beach, or spelunking in the Pyrenees. We all have different reasons and desires for choosing travel destinations, and a one-size travel journal does not fit all. Trust me, I learned this the hard way during the last 4 weeks. From struggling to stay awake because the class started far too early in the morning, to spraining my foot whilst hiking through New Mexico's Petroglyph National Monument because I had on the wrong shoes (nobody told me there's weren't paved walkways), I think I've paid my travel journal dues in heaps.

Now that the class is over, I'm almost tempted to say, "Travel journal at your own risk," but I think I'd rather look on the bright side and instead share with you the top 12 things I plan to do the next time I leave home:
  1. Travel light. Even when you think you've pared down to the very minimum of supplies, think again. After the first two weeks I discovered the perfect kit for myself consisted of 1 Holbein Mixed-Drawing sketchbook; 12 watercolor pencils; 1 flat bristle waterbrush; 1 Derwent Outliner pencil; 1 X-acto knife; 1 kneadable eraser, and a black gel pen. I also brought along 2 paper towels, 2 tissues, 1 bottle of drinking water, and my camera that I carry everywhere anyway. I put the art supplies into a plastic Ziploc bag that fit along with everything else inside a very small handbag.
  2. Two journals can be better than one. Despite exhorting minimalism in all things, I do think it's a good idea to have 2 journals on your trip: 1 for drawing and painting, and 1 for writing. The reason for this is that if you paint on too-thin of paper (e.g., Moleskine), you could end up with a paint-soaked, buckled and moldy disaster. On the other hand, if you then restrict yourself to a dedicated watercolor sketchbook, the pages can be too bumpy and rough for comfortably writing long entries of prose or poetry. I like having both.
  3. Although color is a wonderful thing, you can always add it to your sketches later, perhaps during the evening in your hotel or even when you get back home. Waiting for watercolor to dry before you turn the page can be frustrating--and another reason for bringing along a second journal.
  4. Just like finding the perfect time to write at home, sketch at the most comfortable time of day for you and your body rhythms. I am not a morning person. Before 10.00 AM I am growly and frowny and tend to deep silences. I can work okay on my own, but I can't socialize or be part of a group. I would have been much happier sketching in the afternoon. But you might love sketching at 5.00 AM, or midnight--so be sure to arrange your daily travel schedule to fit.
  5. Before you take off, write down your goals for your sketch journal. What do you want from the experience? For instance, the next time I travel with my journal, I want to find new designs for clay work. These could come from local plants, ancient cathedrals, modern door handles, and with any luck from some actual ceramic pieces I see along the way. Other themes could include settings to illustrate your current work-in-progress, plant groupings for your home garden, or people-watching--looking for interesting characters for your novel or portrait painting.
  6. Take photos. Repeat: take photos. When there isn't time to sketch on site, you can always rely on your camera to preserve the memories. (And you can then peruse your pics in the comfort of your own home...).
  7. Collect postcards and tourist brochures as references. The next best thing to taking your own photos. Slipping them into a manila envelope pasted into the back of your sketchbook works a treat.
  8. Bring a sweater. Better yet, check out the weather before setting out. Sitting outside and not doing much more than moving your hand around in vague circles, even in the sun, can be cold. And there's nothing worse than sketching in the cold. Brrr. On one of the class days the weather was so dark and miserable I found myself repeatedly running to my car for refuge. Not only had I lost all the circulation in my hands, thereby dropping my pencil every few seconds, the cold made my hands crack and bleed. When I got home I discovered more blood than paint on my sketch pages. An avant-garde approach, perhaps, but not the effect I was going for.
  9. Don't be self-conscious. Paint, draw, get comfy and let people watch if they want to. You're the artist/writer here--and that means you're the expert and authority! No one is judging your sense (or in my case, the lack of) perspective, or if your pigeons look a bit more like bats than birds. Instead they will actually envy you a little and wish they'd thought to bring their own sketchbooks.
  10. Go for 12. If you're limited for time, rather than writing lengthy entries into your journal, jot down 12 things that impress you about a place or view, and that you want to remember. That will be more than enough to jog your memory for writing later on.
  11. Smell the roses. Don't think you have to sketch the entire mountain range followed by every blade of grass in the foothills. Take some time to just sit and observe the scene around you, and then maybe draw a small section of the vista--the part that truly interests you. Recording the position and color of a few small rocks or wildflowers can often be more evocative, and pleasurable, than spending hours filling your sketchbook with dutiful impressions for posterity.
  12. Relax. We're doing this for fun, right? It's not about making great art or doing your travel homework. The point of keeping a travel journal is to enhance your journey, giving yourself the gift of time and creativity in a new location.
I must say that now that it's all over and my hands and feet have finally healed, I'm ready to grab my sketchbook and hit the road again--maybe going as far as the mall! It's warm, they have great coffee, and lots of interesting people to study. See you in the shoe department.

Tip of the Day: You don't have to travel far to keep a travel journal/sketchbook. In fact, a "stay-cation" can be one of the best times to start, and right in your own backyard. Gather a few simple art supplies from the list above, and set out to see the familiar with new eyes and a fresh approach. Be a tourist in your own town and go to some of the places you've never got around to visiting for one reason or another. Just don't forget your sweater.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What Can You Do in a Month?


Yesterday was the last day of National Poetry Month and I'm missing it already.

To close out the month I wrote a new poem, made a tiny origami kimono, and sprayed fixative on one more mixed-media illustration (above) for "30 Days of Kimono." I'm far from finished with this particular project, but right now it's Happy May Day and a brand new month of writing, this time back to my screenplay for 31 days. No rest for the writer!

I like working on month-by-month projects. I think it all started with my first attempt at National Novel Writing Month. Ever since then (gosh, what's it been? 8 years?) I've found that dedicating an entire month to a solid project is a serious way to get things done, mainly because:
  1. I can focus. For one month, nothing else is quite as important as the work I've chosen to concentrate on. This doesn't mean I abandon my other writing and art projects; they just don't take center stage for a few weeks.
  2. I don't have to think too hard about the month's structure or schedule--usually someone else has decided for me what the month will entail. A good example is my current decision to go with screenwriting this month. I saw a notice for a Facebook group planning to write screenplays in May. It sounded too good to pass up.
  3. Even allowing for spontaneity, like finding this FB screenplay group only a couple of days ago, I can still plan out my year in advance. Working with a calendar helps to accomplish my yearly goals.
  4. And I do get A LOT accomplished!
  5. Signing up for a month of writing is the perfect reason to say "no" to potentially time-wasting activities and energy drains.
  6. Month-size chunks of creativity make big projects do-able.
  7. They are also great motivators (e.g. "Just five more days until I don't have to work on this horrible manuscript ever again . . .")
  8. It's a good excuse to give yourself a special present or reward when the month is finished (no cheating allowed!).
  9. You can use the month to complete a single project . . .
  10. Or you can  take several months for the different aspects and stages of a longer project, e.g., a month for a first draft, a month for extra research, a month for editing, etc.
  11. If you stick to a month-by-month plan, you will actually get where you want to go!
  12. And you'll never wake up in the morning wondering what on earth you will tackle or write about that day.
Don't think you have to restrict yourself to "just writing" either. How about giving yourself  a month to explore a new art technique? Or to take photographs of a favorite subject? Or perhaps you want to set aside some time to plan out your creative life with a month-long vision quest and accompanying goal map.

One of my favorite parts of working on projects-by-the-month is that they're often group-oriented. Whether it's just a small bunch of Facebook friends, or an undertaking as huge as NaNoWriMo, everybody gets the chance to be part of a movement much bigger and friendlier than hours of writing alone. The support and inspiration from working alongside other writers is invaluable and highly recommended.

So what are your plans for the month? Leave a comment and let me know--maybe it's something we can work on together.

Tip of the Day: Make a chart listing the current and next 6 months of the year. Assign either an established project to each month, such as NaNoWriMo in November, or create your own, e.g. "July is Edit My Novel Month. August is Market to Magazines Month." See what fits you and your writing and then stick to your given plan.