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Happy Spring, Everyone! What are you going to do with this happy and colorful season? How about giving yourself the gift of a brand new creative start? For instance:
- Try writing in a new genre. Although I primarily consider myself a literary author with a background in writing for young readers, I've always wanted to try writing a traditional mystery for grown-ups. With that goal in mind, I've purchased a copy of Hallie Ephron's How to Write and Sell Your Mystery Novel. The book is brimming with dozens of useful exercises designed to cover all aspects of the genre, exactly what I needed to get going. Conversely, if you've written several mysteries already, you might want to try writing a historical romance, or a children's picture book. Spread your wings!
- Draw or paint in a new medium. (Even one you usually resist.) The key here is to not worry about results and to focus on exploration. If you've only painted with watercolor, try oil paint, charcoal, or melted crayon. Often you can surprise yourself by using untried materials in your own way, rather than "following the directions."
- Take a Five-day Challenge. Five-day challenges are a great way to start or finish a particular project, especially one that's caused you to stall or procrastinate. Five days may not seem like a lot, but it's astonishing how much you can accomplish if you make the effort to show up every day. So what have you been putting off? Starting your novel? Hemming a quilt? Painting a series of animal portraits? Set aside a dedicated time to work for five days straight and plan to be amazed at your progress.
- Buy a new journal or sketchbook and use it for a single theme. While it's easy and tempting to use your journal or sketchbook as a catch-all for every fresh idea or observation that pops into your head, it can be far more rewarding to assign one subject per book. Using one sketchbook for drawing faces and hands, and another for ink studies of trees can help eliminate the problem many artists have of wondering "what to draw or paint" every day. It's the same with writing. Having a journal solely for, say, character studies, and another for poetry means you'll be ready to write the minute you sit down at your desk.
- Choose a subject to research. A good friend of mine has just returned to her home in Mexico from a trip to Guatemala. I'd love to do something similar, but travel's not an option for me right now. However, that doesn't mean I can't go for a little armchair travel with the help of my laptop and local library. One of the subjects I've decided to explore based on my friend's journey is Mayan clothing. I've become captivated with the hand woven and embroidered huipiles that Frida Kahlo so famously wore. After only a few pages of research I'm already inspired to dive into some new sewing, drawing, and painting projects utilizing these wonderful designs.
- Write some flash fiction. The beauty of flash fiction is its brevity. Set a timer, set a word length, choose a word prompt, and get ready to write. Although you may want to edit, revise, and polish your work at a later date, the secret to good flash fiction is to immerse yourself in the moment: write as fast as you can in as short a space as you can. Let the words take over. Approach the exercise as a game or challenge rather than a race to perfection.
- Try virtual school: watch a series of how-to videos and don't forget to do your homework. While my favorites are always the art classes, there is simply no limit to what you can learn online. What's important here, though, is to go beyond being a passive viewer and to put what you've learned into practice before moving on to the next video.
- Find a discarded manuscript or some old sketchbook pages and rework them. If you're anything like me, you have a cupboard or storage box filled with practice work: sketches and story snippets that may not be your best but certainly helped you reach the skill level you have today. Open the box and see if there's anything you can salvage and re-use. Is there a story you can completely revamp with new characters and settings? Can you draw or paint fresh pictures based on your old sketches? (Bonus tip: Is there anything you can part with and declutter while you're at it?)
- Write, draw, or paint with an unusual implement. Try writing or drawing with a coffee stirrer, a bamboo stick, a broken twig, a feather, your fingertips. Pencil tip erasers. Your non-dominant hand. Gold ink, tea bags, squashed flower petals. Play with a variety of supports: cardboard, newspaper, an old sheet or a piece of unwanted clothing. Let your creativity flow.
- Create some found poetry. Found poetry is much more than cutting out groups of eye-catching words and phrases from old books and magazines, or reassembling the entrees listed in a menu to read like a sonnet: it's what you bring to the table as a writer and artist that turns the mundane into a work of art. Rather than transcribing a handful of found words from junk mail and shopping lists onto a blank page, try gluing your finds onto an interesting background, one you've painted, or in the same way as your text, rescued from the trash.
- Explore nature. There's nothing like being outside to clear the mind and get the ideas rolling. Creative activities can span the range from planting a garden to starting a nature journal. Try sketching or writing outdoors more than you usually do; visit a botanic reserve or park; sew an apron for yard-work. Buy some cheap terra cotta planters and decorate them with paint or collage you varnish onto the surface. Glue on some seashells or glass tiles.
- Leap out of your comfort zone. Yes, leap! And don't overlook stretching, bending, walking, dancing and moving in any direction you can. One of the greatest dangers of modern creative life is the tendency to sit still for hours and hours at a time while your brain is moving at lightning speed. If you've ever stood up from a lengthy computer session and groaned from the kink in your back, you'll know exactly what I mean. Not only will moving at regular intervals help to improve and maintain your physical health, it's important for your emotional well-being, too. Writers and artists can be hard on themselves and a quick walk around the block has the power to change everything.
Tip of the Day: Creative exploration should be fun--and easy. If you're a writer who's never picked up so much as a pink pastel, don't pass up an attractive paint-by-number kit or an adult coloring book. It's the same for artists; your local bookstore or library has shelves and shelves of inspiring how-to books for beginners wishing to take their first steps into poetry or memoir. Go for the basics and see what you like. It might be the start of something big!