The Love-Hate Relationship With the Creative Process

MosaicHeartBeing immersed in the creative process--writing a novel, creating a class, knitting a sweater, planting a garden--is my most favorite thing in the world.

Until I hit a block.

And decide that the novel stinks, nobody will want to take the class, the sweater won't fit, the garden won't grow.  And then I hate the creative process.

I was reading about this very thing on another blog this morning when it hit me.   The tension between the love part and the hate part is what keeps us working at it.  If the creative process--say, your writing practice--was all good all the time, you'd get bored.  And if it was all bad all the time, you'd get frustrated and quit.

A well-known psychological principle is that of intermittent reinforcement, and that's what we're talking about here.  This principle states that reinforcement is doled out in an intermittent manner is far and away the strongest motivator.  Why? Because we never know what we're going to get, and we're always hoping for the good outcome--the wonderfully satisfying writing session as opposed to the time when you sit and stare out the window.

But we're also talking about tension, the lifeblood of all stories.  It's what keeps readers turning pages, the tension in the story itself and the tension the author has embedded in the story.  Without tension, or conflict, there is no story, its a simple as that.  Which is why, of course, the news is full of awful stories about horrible things happening.

While it is frustrating to hit the lows of the creative process, if you just remember that its all a cycle and the highs will soon return, I think you can ease yourself through the times you hate everything you create.  Remind yourself that the work would not be nearly so compelling if it were all easy, all the time.  

And take yourself back to the page once more.

How do you handle the lows of the creative process?

Photo by Carbon NYC.


You're a Creative Person, Right?

Crayons-crayola-artsupplies-867610-hCreative vs. Non-Creative People

In which I attempt to answer the question, is there such a thing as a non-creative person?

Years ago, when I was a fledgling writer still getting used to becoming enraptured in the throes of the creative process, I developed a theory:

The world was divided into creative and non-creative people.

Creative people understood when I said I was in the middle of a chapter and couldn't go to a movie with them (or more likely, watch their child--since I wrote at home, I was that Mom who everyone dumped their kids on).

Non-creative people didn't.

Creative people got it when I talked about getting up early to write.  Non-creative people just kvetched about hitting the snooze button.

And just like morning people and night owls will never agree on the best schedule for the day, so, too, creative and non-creative people will never see eye to eye.

That is what I used to think.

But then I got schooled.

Schooled in the idea that all of us, every single one, is a creative being.  Moreover, our purpose in life, the reason we were put here, is to be creative.  Creativity for me means writing (okay, and knitting, too).  But for you it might mean gardening. Or sewing. Or lawn mowing.  Or playing the ukulele.  Or building furniture. I remember once, years ago, having gum surgery and realizing that for my dentist, working on teeth was a creative process.

Creativity is that thing that you do and you don't know time has passed.  It is that thing you do when you are totally present without having to bring yourself back to the moment a million times because you are jus there--totally wrapped up in it. It is that thing you do that makes you feel most alive--and afterwards in love with all the world.

And all of us have that creative spark within us.  And if we heed it, we'll be happier people.  And thus, so will the rest of the world.

I know I'm happier--by five thousand country miles--when I'm honoring that creative spark within. When I'm making the time, and using the energy, to write, to knit, to garden.  Because the truth is, creativity does take energy.  It is harder to sit at your computer and throw words at the page than it is to surf the internet and read news and celebrity stories because when you're being creative, your brain has to work.  It is harder to pick up the knitting rather than just stare at the TV (I speak for myself here) because your fingers have to move.

Creative work requires energy, for sure.  But the good news is that after you've expended that energy you'll feel better than you could ever imagine.  You'll be exhilarated--and maybe exhausted at the same time.  But it will be a good exhaustion, the kind that comes when you've put everything you've got in that moment out on the page, or the canvas, or the garden bed, or into the strings of your guitar, or however you best like to express yourself.

And I suspect that those among us who claim to be not creative have simply not expended the time or energy to figure out where their creativity lies within.  And if they did, they'd experience the absolute joy of letting it flow out.

So, yeah, don't tell me that you're not creative--because I know you are.  I'm likely preaching to the choir here, but all of us can stand a reminder of this now and then, don't you think?

Did you ever have a time when you thought you weren't creative? Leave a comment and let's discuss.

Photo by laffy4K.


Guest Post: Attune Your Body to Encourage Creative Flow

I'm thrilled to introduce you to my new friend Kaitlyn.  We met when she reached out to me on LinkedIn after which we enjoyed an afternoon talking about creativity and sipping tea.  I love the work she is doing with creative introverts who struggle to express their true selves and I'm thrilled to host her here today.  

Attune to Your Body to Encourage Creative Flow Water_abstract_bubbles_221472_l

by Kaitlyn Mirison

Every person is one-of-a-kind and yet we expend a lot of energy modifying ourselves to fit in or conform to a standardized way of living. And during the self-tweaking process lose touch with our natural way of being.

Your natural way that encourages the essence of you to express fully in life, the richness inside of you to emerge and the magic of your imagination to be realized.

By understanding your natural rhythms and merging into them, you will flow in the world as you - the true you.

The core fundamentals are important to understand in any pursuit. And your body - the vessel that holds you - when listened to becomes a foundation for your soul’s unique expression to naturally flow forth.

Following are a few core elements of you ~

1. Sensory Gauge: The sounds, smells and sights in your environment all have an impact on you. They enter your energy system as a gentle caress, invigorating tingle or sharp stab. And the manner in which these external senses are received within your body - painful or pleasurable - determine if they are a hindrance or an ally to you. By increasing your awareness of which sounds, smells and sights stimulate and calm you in pleasing ways, empowers you to create your environment for your desired experience in a given moment. Including setting up the space in which you engage in your creative pursuits to support and enhance your imagination’s flow.

2. Energy Station: Every person needs to refuel and the activities that effectively recharge your batteries is unique for each person. If you are more extroverted, you gain energy from external stimulation and if an introvert, your energy source is from within. How you gain your energy is a physiological need and vital for you to understand and prioritize for your well-being. The activities that cause you to expend energy aren’t necessarily negative. You may use energy while thoroughly enjoying a music concert at a high voltage standing room only venue. The greater awareness you develop about the characteristics of activities that cause you to use energy helps you learn when you can add these expending-energy activities into your life and not deplete your energy tank.

3. Internal clock: We live in a world that is constantly going. With our expanded capabilities to connect anytime, anywhere it becomes a breeding ground to ignore your very basic core needs of healthy sleep and food because sleep and food require you to pause. There are optimal times in a day for each person to sleep, eat and be active. Some people feel more alive from 5am - 10am while other people experience a greater sense of aliveness from 9pm - 2am and anywhere in-between.

Attune to your unique internal clock to plan your activities including creativity time to sync with your natural ebb and flows.

I encourage you to embark on an expedition to explore, experiment and discover the sensory stimuli, refueling activities and internal times that allow your body to feel at ease.

During the next month or two take note ~

When entering a space how are the sounds, smells and visual elements being received in your body; When engaging in an activity, notice if your body feels like you are receiving or expending energy; During x time of day, does your body feel alert or is your body craving rest.

As you gather your data, pay attention to patterns and common themes and weave the positive elements into your day. Understanding sensory communication, the rise and fall of your energy levels and nuances of your inner cadence will allow you to nourish and foster your foundation, to remove tension and give freedom for the creative genius within you to emerge in full delight.

How do you encourage your own creative flow?

HeadShot_201101_BWKaitlyn Mirison guides introverted artists and writers to embrace their true nature and connect to their signature soul self so their art and life become their soul’s unique expression. Discover more about Kaitlyn and her program, Live Empowered as You at createbeyondlimits.com.

Image by Marinela.


The Creative Trance

Melbourne_victoria_australia_54546_hI'm working on a project that puts me into a trance.

My fingers fly across the keys and I'm totally and completely absorbed in it.  Time passes and I have no sense of it--if you asked me what the hour was, I wouldn't have a clue.  Dim thoughts that I should get up from my chair arise (I'm trying to stand up and move every 30 minutes) and they leave my brain again just as fast.  Because my fingers are moving across the keyboard, as if of their own volition.  It doesn't even occur to me to check email or see what's up on the internet. My fingers just keep moving.

When I finally come out of it, I'm wrung out--but in a cheerful, energetic way, if that makes sense.  I'm ready to take a break and I also cannot wait until I get to go back into the trance again.

This is what writing is all about.  This is how I like my creativity.

And, I recall, this is how writing used to be for me always.  Before I started worrying about how it sounded.  Or doing it right.  Or if the client would like it. 

So why is it suddenly happening for me again?

I think because I'm playing around with a different genre.  It's something new, I'm not worrying so much about the rules, and I'm allowing myself to have fun.   At the same time, I've got enough of a sense of mastery that I'm not second guessing myself all the time.

But also, I believe there's a sense of allowing myself to let it happen at play here.  I have to admit, in the past I've felt close to being in a trance state and talked myself out of it.  Got up from the computer, clicked over to check email, gazed out the window instead.

And I think I know why.  Because once  you're in the trance state it is the most wonderful place imaginable.   But it's also a bit scary.  You're out of control of your conscious mind to a certain extent.  You're in the grip of something bigger, something beyond you. 

What if you never come out?  What if you get so compelled by this trance state that you give yourself over to it totally--don't bother to shower, forget to pick up the kids, ditch cooking and cleaning?   What if you give yourself to it so fully that you become the madwoman who wanders around town talking to herself?  

Okay, so realistically, we're all pretty sure that's not going to happen.  But, still, it could, our inner critic insists.  And so we reign ourselves in, listen to that voice, attempt a more measured approach to writing.

But here's the thing: the writing I do while I'm in a creative trance is my best work.  It flows, it has a sense of authority, and at the same time, ease.  I wrote it effortlessly and it reads effortlessly.

So, I, for one, am vowing to allow myself more time in the creative trance in 2014.  

How about you?  Have you experienced the creative trance?  Do you like it or loathe it?  

Photo by Scott Sandars.


My Tabs

I'm not really sure what this has to do with writing, probably nothing, though perhaps we could say it has a lot to do with creativity.  Yes, that's the ticket.  It's all about the creativity.

For some reason today, I got an idea to write about my tabs.  You know, the ones that you keep open on your computer.  Wait, you don't keep tabs open on your computer?  I do.  I currently have 12 of them open, even though it's much easier to open and close tabs and keep track of them since I downloaded Google Chrome, replacing years of using Firefox.  (For the record, I love Chrome.)

So here goes, from left to right, the tabs I currently have open:

1.  My Gmail inbox.

2. The site for an online workshop called Yoriginality.  It's about becoming a yoga teacher.  Kinda not sure where this came from, I think Twitter.  I am not going to become a yoga teacher, but I have recently started doing yoga after years of resisting it, so I was interested in the mother site, which is Curvyyoga.  And, also recently, I discovered Alexandra Franzen (more on her in a minute), and she's one half of the Yoriginality duo.  

3. The page for an E-course on painting that I would cut off my right hand to take (but then, hmmm, I wouldn't be able to paint).  This is the site of painter Flora Bowley, and its worth exploring for all the interesting and inspiring things she features. This must have come from Twitter as well.  I love me the Twitter.

4.  A post from the above-mentioned Alexandra Franzen, titled, Read This When You Can't Remember Who You Are, What You Do, Why You Do It--or How to Talk About It.  The post features a handy little exercise to help you discover who in the hell you are.  Another site that is worth exploring (which explains why I have it and Flora's open on my tabs--so I can go peruse them in spare moments).

5.  My Typepad blogging site, which I keep open to stay current with comments and stats, and also to inspire me to blog.

6.  My latest blog post, so I can tweet it and such.

7.  My Twitter @connect feed so I can keep up with who wants to talk to me.

8.  My Comcast inbox.

9.  Page which has information on purchasing tickets for upcoming talks by Isabel Allende and Diana Gabaldon, both of whom I would very much like to see. (I went to a lecture by Isabel years ago, and it was one of the best I've ever heard.)

10.  The Slashed Reads site, which my publisher pointed out to me and which I may do a giveaway with (though they don't know it yet--haven't gotten around to contacting them, hence why the page is open in my tabs).

11.  My hootsuite page.  Which is how I manage all my Twitter people.  If I were ever on Facebook, it's how I would manage that, too.  But I'm never on Facebook.

12.  And finally, my Yahoo home page, where I have a really random variety of RSS feeds stored.  I know the whole RSS thing is going out of favor and Google ditched their version of it, but I stubbornly like it.  I like having all the blogs I read in one place.

And that's it--those are my tabs.   A day in the life of my computer, I guess.  Hopefully it reveals me as a fascinating, multi-faceted creature, but I'm not holding my breath about that.

So, reassure me that I'm not crazy--you keep tabs open on your computer, right?  Right?  Care to share which ones?


10 Ways to Welcome Autumn and Awaken Your Creativity

I love autumn. Fall_topv111_topv222_955_h

Love, love, love it.

Fall is my favorite season--the gorgeous color, the warmish days turning to cool nights, the early dark (I know, I'm crazy but I love it when night falls early), Halloween, and the knowledge that Christmas is coming. 

It is a time when suddenly we're indoors more than out (we spend our summers here in the back yard, having Happy Hour and dinner out on the deck every evening and grilling most nights).   So, since you're spending more time indoors and it's getting dark early, why not refocus your creative efforts? 

Herein, 10 ways to rejuvenate yourself for the runup to the end of the year:

1.  Put your garden to bed.  We planted raised beds this year, and I learned how much harder vegetables are to grow than flowers.  (Turns out they need, um, constant tending.)  Currently the beds feature some anemic tomato plants and deep broccoli kale (a doomed experiment).  But I know that when I get around to going out there and weeding, chopping and dealing with the garden, creative thoughts will flow.  Because that's what happens when you do repetitive tasks--it lets your right brain roam free.

2.  Start a knitting project.  Speaking of repetitive activities, knitting is a great one.  And now that the temperatures are cooler, its a bit more comfortable to hold needles and yarn on your lap. Knitting has the same effect as gardening for me--it sparks all kinds of ideas.  It's time for me to pull out that baby blanket I'm knitting for a friend, before said baby turns into a toddler.

3.  Kick leaves.  Do I even have to elaborate?  Is there anything better than stomping through a pile of fall leaves?  We're not quite there yet in Portland, but I look forward to the near future when I can scuff through leaves on my walks.   Contrary to popular belief that unhappiness and anxiety creates great writing, I believe the opposite.  Doing the things that make you happy creates great writing.  And kicking leaves makes me very, very happy.

4. Sit by the fire.  One of my best purchases ever was a gas insert for our fireplace.  I turn that baby on at the merest hint of cold weather, much to my husband's chagrin.  But just as summer means sitting out back on the deck, fall means sitting inside by the fire.  With a glass of wine, pen and paper, it's perfect.  A fireplace fire means fall to me, what signals autumn to you?  Whatever it is, do it, enjoy it, experience it--the pleasure you derive will be excellent for your creativity.

5.  Make soup.  Like I said, we grill most all our meals during the summer (no hot kitchens for me). But when the temperatures drop, there's nothing better than a pot of stew or soup bubbling on the stove.  A fire in the fireplace, soup on the stove, a glass of wine...the creative juices will be flowing in no time!

6. Take a road trip.  I just got back from a mini-road trip to the eastern part of the state, which inspired me no end.  So did my trip to France.  But my point is you don't have to go overseas or somewhere exotic, take a day trip to the beach (if you're lucky enough to live nearby), or the mountains (ditto), or just the other side of the city.  Travel opens the brain to all kinds of new ideas.

7. Read a book.  I know, we're writers, and so of course we read.  But, shockingly, sometimes we don't, because life gets in the way.  Or summer activities distract us.  But its fall now, darker, colder, and reading weather is upon us.  Short of actually writing, there's no other activity that will make you a better writer than reading.   Period.  I never thought I'd be saying this, but for speed and ease I recommend an Ereader.  I started out loving reading on my Kindle, but now I'm a huge fan of reading on my Ipad mini.  Anyway, it doesn't matter how you read, just do it.

8.  Clean and clear clutter.  My family is laughing hysterically at this one, because,  I'm a bit, shall we say, challenged when it comes to these activities.  But something about the change of the seasons makes me focus on these tasks anew.  Maybe its because I'll be spending more time inside, but suddenly I'm looking for ways to improve my living situation.  I've learned, over and over again, that clearing physical clutter clears mental clutter as well.  So have at it.

9. Play.  Something about telling adults to play is cringe-worthy, isn't it?  But, in our success and status oriented society, taking time to play is the ultimate radical act.  And fall is a good time to do it.  Build a fort out of chairs and sheets in your living room and sit beneath it to write.  Color.   Doodle.  Skip around the block.  Have a tea party with stuffed animals.  It might help if you can nab a nearby child to do this with you, but even if you can't, do it anyway and see what happens.

10. Have a writing marathon.  C'mon, its getting cold and dark outside, you can do it.  Instead of spending your weekend catching the newest movie (or doing any of the above-mentioned activities) vow to write a pre-set number of words.  Maybe 10,000?  Think how fantastic you'll feel when you're done.  And when you are done, you can celebrate with a glass of wine in front of the fire. 

 So those are some of my ideas about how to welcome fall.  What are yours?  Please leave a comment and share them.

Photo by Chris Darling.


Whatever Works

So, we teaching and coaching types love to give advice (except that the true essence of coaching is not so much giving advice as pulling what you yourself already know to be so out of yourself).

I, for instance, love to tell people to do Morning Pages.  (If you don't know what Morning Pages are, they are three pages of glumping on the page all your crap and good stuff as well, first thing in the morning.)

And I love to tell people to use prompts.

I also tell people to do what is most important to you first thing in the morning.  I presume that writing is most important to you.  So I further presume that it is what you will aim to do first thing.

I could go on with my list of helpful things I tell people.  Like, working with your inner critic, not checking email first thing in the morning, knowing your market, the power of prayer and meditation, and on and on.  And, some might say, on.

But here's the deal:

If what I say works, then use it.

If it doesn't, then don't.

But find something that does.  The point is, not everything works for everyone.  But my offerings are based on working with dozens of clients and students over the years.  And how will you know if they work for you until you try them?

Truly, I don't care if your favorite technique to get the words flowing is to stand on your head and rub your belly button.  If it works, do it.  I'm all about getting the words onto the page and I know full well that even though we like to haughtily say that writer's block doesn't exist, it really does.  Because I've experienced it, and so have you. 

But just because it exists doesn't mean it can't be dealt with.  It can.  Keep trying things until you get over it.

Okay, that's my rant for the summer.  I promise.  Now tell me what kinds of techniques work for you to get the writing flowing?  Alcohol?  A nap?  A brisk run?  Chaining yourself to the computer?  I'm all ears.

***Guess what?  I'm offering the book proposal teleclass again this September.  And right now, there are crazy fast action bonuses: an early-bird price AND a free coaching call.  But hurry, because the fast action bonus is time sensitive.  Check it out here.


Writing Process: The Three Ps of Glumping

Over the last week, I've been revisiting the writer's process.  (You can get caught up on the other posts here and here.)  As promised, today's post begins a look at each step of the process. 

And so today we talk about the fine and wonderful art of glumping. Note_creative_author_260972_l

Glumping is a word that I've always used for the magical process of spewing words onto the page in your first, or discovery draft.  (Don't know where I came up with this word, to be honest.  I thought it was a made-up word I picked up somewhere along the line, but dictionary.com defines glump: to manifest sulleness, to sulk.  Which is what happens to writers when they don't write.)

For many people, this step engenders the magic of writing, the truly creative time when ideas fly and words combine in fabulous ways.  (For others, rewriting is when the deeply satisfying work begins, but we'll get to that in the next post.)The most important thing to remember about glumping is this: just do it.  The act of getting words onto the page in a first draft really boils down to picking up your pen and writing, or turning on the computer and pounding away on the keys.

So simple and yet so difficult.

Because sometimes it is damned hard to glump. 

If you find that to be the case, remember the three Ps of glumping:

1. Prepare.  Glumping will go much easier if you ponder your project ahead of time.  (Okay, I'll quit with the ps now, I promise. Oops, sorry.) If you're writing a novel, make character dossiers, a loose outline of the plot, write descriptions of locations, and so on.  For non-fiction, a list of points you want to follow. Anything that will help seed thoughts for writing. 

2. Prompt.  Oh, the poor, maligned prompt.  People love to sneer at these clever sentences, when really, all they want to do is help you get your writing going.  If you're staring a blank page or computer screen without a clue what to write, they can be a lifesaver.   Use them as a way to get words flowing.  I recommend keeping a list handy in your journal or writing notebook and pick one at random ( do not stop to make value judgments about which prompt you want to use--just choose one).  Then write.  The first few sentences may be totally off topic, but soon you'll settle back into your draft.

3. Practice.  As in, practice makes perfect.  Because, it does.  The more you write, the easier it gets.  When you spend more time working other aspects of the writing process, like rewriting, returning to glumping feels strange and out of control.  But soon it will become second nature again.  That is, if you practice regularly.

So there you have it, the three Ps of glumping.  How do you glump (or should I even ask, that sounds vaguely obscene)? What are your expriences with the writing process?

 

 Photo by christgr, from Everystockphoto.

 


A Two-Step Process for Creating Energy

Behold:

Library This is one wall of the new library in my home.  Yes, I now have a library.  Don't be too jealous.  It took hours and hours of clearing, cleaning, and moving books and bookshelves from the living room into the room formerly known as the guest room.

But it was worth it.  The coolest thing in the whole world is to sit in a room surrounded by books.  (The other wall has two full bookshelves on it.) And now that the room is finished, I realize how much stagnant energy was released from those bookshelves that hadn't been rearranged in years.

So often in life we get stuck.  Not just in our writing, though Lord knows we writers struggle with that often enough, but in life.  And sometimes we might not even realize how stuck we are.  Like the old bookshelves, we're harboring stagnant energy that prevents us from moving forward with our writing, our creativity, our lives.

But lately I've been working on a two-step process that helps you to get unstuck.  And actually, I think the process works well for when you want to create some garden-variety energy.  Ready? Here goes:

1.  Vent.  Vent like you've never vented before.  Give it all up.  All the crap from your dark side that you've been hanging onto.  I got the idea from Marianne Williamson, in her new book on weight loss.  She suggests writing out responses about your anger, your greed, your shame, embarrassment, when you feel superior, when you feel inferior, what your worried about, why your heart is heavy...you get the idea.  But take this idea and really run with it.  Don't just write for 10 minutes or so, go deeply into all these feelings you've been carrying around and get them out onto the page.  It might take awhile, but it is so worth it.  You will feel immediately lighter and more buoyant.  (Which is, by the way, my current favorite new word.)

2. Be grateful.  Now that you're all light and floaty from releasing so much dreck, think about what you're grateful for.  Say out loud what you are grateful for.  Write down what you're grateful for.  Saturate the air around you with what you're grateful for.  Kathleen Gage suggests that you feel grateful for the things that are working in your life.  Like your furnace (its very cold here in Portland today and every time the furnace clicks on, I'm grateful.) And your electricity and the water that flows through your pipes at will and your computer and the internet and all the other things we take for granted.  Odds are good that if you are reading this, you have, not to put too fine a point on it, a shitload of things to be grateful for. 

That's it.  Couldn't be simpler.  Or more profound.  It's a great process.  Try it and report back.


For Those of Us Who Remain

I'm spending the day writing a eulogy for a family friend.  Actually, my daughter is doing much of the work and I'm helping her.  The two of us are sitting in my living room, kitty cats lolling on the floor between us, basking in the warmth of the fire we've had lit all day.

It is a difficult day.  Tomorrow, the day of the funeral, will be even harder.

Our friend was only 46.  Too young to die.  And to make matters worse, she took her own life.

Stained_glass_glass_229090_l

This is the hardest part to comprehend for those of us who remain.  She was loving, vibrant, funny, intelligent, creative, joyous, and passionate.  She had a husband who adored her, and a wide circle of loving friends.  And she was also in terrible pain, both physical and emotional. 

Eventually the pain won out.

For those of us who remain, it is difficult to know how to react.  Words are inadequate to comfort her husband, or each other.  Wrapping one's brain around the awful finality of it is impossible.

But there's this:

My friend was a writer, a sometime blogger, an entrepreneur, a truly creative woman.  Whenever something like this happens, I think and think and think about it.  And cry and weep and wail.  And then I get back to thinking.  And I think the best tribute to her is to carry on.  To live life as fully as possible, which to me--and I think it was so for her--means using all my talents to the fullest.  To serve others and the world with my gifts.  To laugh and love and enjoy.

Her death makes me recommit to my writing, fiercely and fervently.  To vow not to waste a minute mindlessly surfing the internet when I could be creating something beautiful and full of life.  To remember what a gift life is and share that knowledge as often and in as many ways as possible.  This is the highest honor and respect I can give her memory.

And so that's what I'm going to do.

Rest in peace, my dear friend.

 


5 Ways to End Worrying and Write (Or Create)

Worrying is not good for your writing or your creativity.  Or anything else, really.  How can you write the next great American novel when you are obsessing about how to pay the bills?  Or if your marriage is going to survive?  Or if your teenager is going to make it through high school without getting kicked out?

You can't.

Bali_indonesia_monkey_633954_l

Because when your brain is full of worries and obsessions, there's not a lot of room for creative thoughts or ideas.  Or fictional characters who come to life on the page.  Or lyrical descriptions of locations. 

Even little, garden-variety worries can derail a work session.  For instance, worrying about what to cook for dinner can distract you from working on a book chapter.  Pondering paying bills might derail your work on your memoir  for several days.  And so on.

What to do? How to prevent worrying from stopping your writing?  Try some of the following ideas:

1. Journal.  For writers, writing is often the cure.  If you are feeling so angsty and anxious that you can't work, grab your journal and write about it.  Even if you only do five or ten minutes it can help.  In truth, often five or ten minutes of journaling is all it takes to turn yourself around.  Write specifically about the worry.

2. Meditate or Pray.  I'm better at prayer than meditation, I'll be honest.  And when I speak of prayer, I mean it in the broadest of terms--pray to God, to the universe, to Buddha, to the goddess, to your higher self, to your boyfriend, or your ancestors.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is asking for help.  That is what makes a difference.  You can easily do this in meditation, too.  Just ask for whatever you need help with, such as ending worrying, and begin a meditation session.

3.  Active Imagination.  One of my favorite techniques, this can be like prayer on paper.  Choose who you are going to ask for help from, (any of the above will do nicely), and then write your question, with dialogue tags.  So,

Charlotte: I need help

God: What can I do for you?

And so on.  The other thing you can do that is really cool is to embody your problem and talk to it.  Give worry a personality and talk to it, ask it what it needs to be quiet and let  you work.

4.  Affirmation or Affirmative Prayer.  If you tend to worry and obsess over the same old things, identify them and write an affirmation about the positive incarnation of it.  Example:  I, Charlotte, am so happy and grateful that I now have a published novel, rather than damn it, why haven't I heard from that agent yet?  This really helps to turn obsessive and negative thoughts around.  The trick is to have identified the negative thought ahead of time and have the affirmation ready to go to counter it.

5.  Find Comfort.  You're worrying for a reason, no doubt, because all of us have problems that distract us.  Sometimes what you need to do is give yourself a little love.  Figuring out what the root cause of the worry is and do something about it helps.  But so does uncovering the emotion that is driving your obsession and tending to it.  Maybe you'll find comfort in taking a walk, or sitting by a fire for a bit.  Or petting your cat, or reading.  Taking a few minutes to ease your worries can do wonders for your attitude.

So now, if  you figured out ways to end worrying and focus on your writing, how much more could you get done?

 Photo by Shazbot, from Flickr.


Floating

I awoke at 8 this morning. Float-thumb14721491

Me, the dedicated early riser.  The one who generally springs (okay, it is more like a shuffle) out of bed at 6 AM and starts writing.

But this week, after two weddings in the family and a summer's worth of social events,  organizing a writing weekend for the program I direct, dealing with ongoing clients, and rewriting my novel, I am beat.  I am so beat that this is the second blog post I've written about it.

Two days later, however, I have repaired to LA, and now I'm no longer considering myself tired.  I have entered a new phase.  I am now floating.  And floating is different than being tired.  Floating is giving into the tiredness instead of resisting.  It is about allowing.  It is about admitting you're tired and instead of pushing past it, going with it. Floating is, well, floating.

Floating, for me at this particular moment, means a visit to wine country to do nothing more strenous than tasting wine.  Taking the afternoon off to go see Eat, Pray, Love.  Sleeping late.  Not getting out of my pajamas until nearly noon. Doing just enough work to get by. Reading.  It is about intentionally finding activities that will replenish me, body and soul.

Floating is good for every single part of me, from the physical, to the mental, to the emotional and spiritual.  And I'm loving every damn minute of it.  Because I know myself well and I know I can't float for long.  Soon, very soon, I'll be bored with it.  And then I'll be rarin' to go again.  And when I am rarin' to go, I'll have the energy to do everything I want to do because I've allowed myself to replenish.

And here's the really great thing--my brain will start forming new ideas for writing and writing projects.  I'm already really excited about visiting a new place tomorrow and thinking about how I need to take extensive notes because I might want to use Paso Robles for a location sometime.   The writing brain needs to take a break once in awhile because, as we all well know, the writing brain is pretty much always, always on.  It observes, ponders, notes ideas, descriptions and dialogue.  I am truly grateful for my writing brain and I know it needs a rest once in awhile.

Which is why I'm happily floating.

How do you float?  What do you do to replenish your writing brain?


Ah, Weddings

This is going to be a short post.

My daughter is getting married tomorrow.  I've written about her story on this blog before, and you can read more here, and here.

But let me just say that weddings are hell on the writing schedule.  As if you didn't know that.  I suppose planning any event for 200 people will do that.  Yesterday I spent the entire day at my daughter's command, cleaning and straightening (she's having an open house at her place the morning after) and in general doing what I was told.  And then were things to deliver and in the middle of it all, a memorial service to attend.

Today is no different--we are heading out to the wedding venue in just a bit to begin stringing lights around the huge tent that was erected yesterday.

By the way, could every single person who reads this blog please, please, please give a little prayer for sunny weather tomorrow?  Please?  Thank you.

Even though we've been enjoying this mad, crazy schedule, I have gotten a little bit of writing in.  Just a touch, but its enough to keep me feeling centered and in touch with who I am.  And here's what I realized the secret of doing this has been for me:

PRA

The first part of that is to Pause.  Pause and take a second, just a wee second, to Remember your connection to whatever or whomever you believe in (and if its a big fat nuttin', just feel your connection to everything around you)and then Acknowledge. 

It's that simple and boy does it make a difference.  You can do it in seconds without anybody knowing, or you can repair to the bathroom and sit on the toilet and take long minutes.  You can extend your PRA to an hour-long meditation.  Its a perfectly adaptable habit.

And that is all I got for you today.  Have a great weekend, everyone.  And remember, think sun.


In the Aftermath of a Fever

Thermometer_temperature_healt_265180_l Monday evening, I got sick.

It had started with cold symptoms earlier that day.  After dinner, I started feeling achy all over and soon I was passed out on the couch, in the full throes of a fever.

Not such a big deal, right?  I mean it was clearly not life-threatening and people get sick all the time.

Except it was.

Because I don't do sick.  Ever.  I'm blessed to have one of those constitutions that allows me to slough off illness easily.  I rarely get colds, and if I do, they last a day or two.  So when I do get sick, it's a big deal (and, I might add I'm a horrible sick person, bitching and whining and moaning the whole time, except when the fever got so bad I didn't have the energy for it).

And this time it was an even bigger deal.

Because my daughter is getting married this Saturday.  It is actually a renewal ceremony (read the full story here), but still and all, 210+ people are expected, and there is a lot to do before the big day.

So all night long, as I tossed and turned with the fever, alternately pulling the down quilt over me and shoving it off (same thing with the cats), I worried.  How would I tell my daughter that I couldn't help her with all the things we planned to do on Thursday and Friday? Would I even be well enough to attend the wedding on Saturday?

And then there was the matter of the appointments I had Tuesday morning.  An 8 AM at the dentist to fix a gaping missing filling and an 11 o'clock hair appointment to beautify myself.  In my feverish brain, I imagined myself calling both places and saying, "I'm sick."  But then when would I get my tooth fixed?  When would I get my hair done?

All these thoughts went round and round in my brain.

And then, at 7, I awoke for the day.  Sat up.  And decided, much to my surprise, that I felt good enough to get to that appointment.  And so instead of calling to cancel, I jumped in the shower and got myself ready to go.

Everything looked fresh and clean, even though it was still gray and gloomy.  My dental appointment went well--no crown needed, just a new filling.  The sun broke through the clouds as I drove downtown to my hair appointment and I kept marveling at how pretty everything looked.

I felt, not to be too woo-woo, cleansed and transformed by the raging fever, which had broken sometime in the middle of the night.  I felt like something big and important had happened to me, something that had been coming for a long time.

And when my appointments were over, I went home and took a three-hour nap.

This morning, I feel pretty good.  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I feel normal.  And I keep remembering that feeling, how clear and clean I felt.  Like all the bad ju-ju had been rinsed out of me.  And so now I'm letting the good ju-ju guide me.  And of course, the most important thing to let it guide me on is my writing.

Anybody have any comments on getting sick, fevers, or writing in general?

***Note, if I do not manage to get a post up on Friday it is because I've been shanghaied by my daughter at a very early hour wedding preparations.  And can I just say how much I miss posting every day?  And yet I need to stick to my commitment until I get my novel rewrite done.


Lessons From a Rock Concert, Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about attending the Eagles concert in Portland last Saturday night and promised real takeaways from the experience for today.  So here we go:  Eagles1

1.  Put it all out there.  Writers, put it all on the page.  Painters, put it all on the canvas.  Musicians, all in the song.  All you got, every time.  This reminds me of the second to last night of American Idol this season, when winner Lee DeWyze sang his heart out through two songs.  By the end of the second one, he appeared completely spent, like he put everything he had into his performances.  Awesome.

2.  Everything counts.  Or, staging matters.  Attention to detail is very important and this is a crucial point because many creative types (um, like me) are visionaries, and less wont to deal with the trivialities of details.  Bad mistake.  A typo on the first page of your manuscript might cause an agent to toss it into the round file.  A caveat: deal with the details as the very last step, okay?  Don't let them bog you down in the white heat of writing a first draft.

3.  We're so lucky.  Okay, I touched on this yesterday, but it bears repeating.  Being a creative person, particularly a writer, is the best existence on the planet.  I often wonder how my non-writing friends make it through life.  As a writer, I make sense of life by writing stories about it, which gives it meaning.  Without that, what do we have?  A series of seemingly unrelated episodes.

4. Keep it going. Whatever you do, don't lose the connection to your work.  Your writing or your creative work can and will change.  For a few months you may concentrate on blogging as your main outlet and then you get an idea for a novel and get so engrossed in it you forget to blog.  Doesn't matter.  What matters is putting words on the page, one after the other, in some form.

5.  Lower your expectations.  I have seen the Eagles twice before, and Don Henley twice also.  Recently have been listening to so many teleseminars that I've not been as into music as usual.  So I wasn't waiting with bated breath for this concert.  Then it got rescheduled and that made it lose some energy for it as well.  But, oh my God.  The concert reignited my passion for music, for the Eagles, for creativity.  And I don't think it would have been as powerful if I'd been eagerly anticipating it.  Because, as the Buddhists know, sometimes having expectations just ruins things.  So, too, with your writing.  Don't expect anything except to show up at the page.

6.  Be in it for the long haul.  At one point during the concert, Don Henley said he'd been doing this for 40 years and was finally kind of getting the hang of it.  Enough said.

7.  Allow the old to nurture the new.  The band played all their old standards--Take it Easy, Hotel California, Life in the Fast Lane, I Can't Tell You Why, Desperado (and there's nothing better than when everybody sings along to all the words of the old hits)--but they also played the newer and less familiar songs from their latest CD.  

So that's it, my final word on music and creativity and writing.   At least for the weekend.  Have a good one, everyone.  And comment on music, creativity, the Eagles, writing, or even what you plan to do this weekend.

***By the way, the fact that it is Friday has not escaped me.  Besides looking forward to the weekend (wine on Friday night is a requirement of life) the significance of Friday is that it is Friday.  Friday, when I am supposed to alternate between running guest posts and mini-critiques.  But, alas, I cannot do that if you do not send me guest posts or material to critique.  So c'mon, save me from having to write five days a week and send me something!


Traveling Down A Different Road

We went to the beach for a night this past weekend. Oceanside3

But it was to a different cabin in a different town than we've ever stayed at before.  We traveled down a different highway, went to different beaches, ate at different restaurants, saw different things.  All of this was quite by accident, but it was also quite wonderful.

And man oh man, did it get my creative juices flowing.

I'm lucky to live in Portland, Oregon which is about an hour from the coast.  This is a good thing, yes, but it also tends to make me complacent.  I live so very close to the Pacific, and yet I can go months or longer without visiting--when it is a quick hour drive away.  Last week I started jonesing for the ocean.  Big time.  I wanted just to see it, to hear seagulls, to smell the sea air.  I wanted to feel the sand beneath my feet.  Needed the sensory experience of the sea.  

And yet, the upcoming weekend was Memorial Day.  We could only go one night because of obligations on Friday and Saturday night (the Eagles concert!).  What were the odds of getting a reservation for one night?  None, even in this recessionary time.  Enter my new son-in-law, who offered up the use of his family's cabin in one of the small fishing towns that dot Tillamook Bay.

And thus beginneth the different trip to the beach.  A drive down the Wilson River Highway through lush, green, rainy woods where woodsmoke and mist hung low to the ground and the river burbled along next to the highway.  The cabin on the hillside above the bay with a tiny view of it obscured the whole time by mist. A visit to Oceanside, where long ago a local family blasted a tunnel through the cliff to get to the beach on the other side.  I kid you not.  See the photo of the bunker-like entry below.  It was dark and moist and, well, creepy inside, but also irresistible. 

Oceanside2 And there was Netarts, home to Lex's Cool Stuff, the best second hand-store on the Oregon Coast, and a visit to the Cape Meares Lighthouse and then back to Tillamook to eat at a scrumptious Mexican restaurant which featured the best Margaritas this side of Texas and my friend George's blender.

The funny side note to all of this was that the weekend before, I was in Manhattan, as far as you can get on the eastern side of this continent.  And a mere week later, I was as far as you can go on the western side.  Ah, modern life.

But here's the best part:  I kept pulling my journal CapeMearesLighthouse out and scribbling madly.  I wrote a bit about what I was seeing, but mostly I wrote other stuff.  Ideas for stories.  Ideas for blog posts and newsletter articles.  Ideas for the novel I'm sort of working on.  Ideas for life in general. Something about experiencing the new that just jogs the ideas out of the brain.  Maybe the new sensory input literally pushes out the old to make room it. 

So my new rule in life is do something new every day.  Drive a different way home from the grocery store, skip around the block, wear your hair in a crazy style, write something completely different.  I dunno, what do you think? Give me some new ideas for newness in the comments, if you please.  And, um, be nice.


Cultivating the Mental Energy to Write

Thinker_statue_rodin_233683_l How does one coddle the mental energy to write?

Ah, that is the question, is it not?

As I wrote in my post last Thursday, energy for writing is different from energy for other activities, because writing is active and engaged.  (As opposed to say, TV watching, which is passive.)  And sometimes, in the crush of our daily lives, it is difficult to find this energy.

I have a few tips for finding it.  But first, let me say that you've probably seen these tips before.  They really aren't anything new, and I know I'm doing nothing more than reminding you about them.  But here's why we all need to be reminded of them: because they work, but only when done consistently.  Damn.  Sometimes I hate that word, consistent.  It is the bane of we creative types' existence, because we like to think of ourselves as free spirits.  But really, it is consistency--as in putting your ass in the chair and writing regularly--that fosters creativity. 

So, consistency fosters creativity, yet we need to find the mental energy to be consistently creative.  Here's how:

1.  Meditation.  Oh, lord I rebel against this one.  So much so that I've never really managed to create a consistent meditation practice of any duration.  However, I get so much out of it that I return to it again and again.  And so I guess, in a way, that is a consistent practice.  It really does help to center and clear your mind, if you can force yourself to do it.

2. Journal.  This is one I am consistent at.  I never go anywhere without my journal and I generally write in it every day, even if it is just a brief note about an idea or something I've seen.  Some days I'm scribbling madly away in it.  You can do Morning Pages, Active Imagination, or just sit down and write.  It seems counter-intuitive to spend precious writing time working in a journal, but it actually helps me to get the dreck out, clearing the decks for the "real" writing.

3.  Repetitive Action.  Do something that involves repeated motion.  Sewing, knitting, weeding, mowing the lawn, hammering nails.  I don't know what it is, but the soothing action of doing the same thing over and over jogs the mind and gets ideas going.  

4.  Artist's Dates.  Julia Cameron recommends these.  Find something you love and go do it, by yourself.  Swing in the park, go to the art supply store, buy crayons and a coloring book and color...whatever you like to do and don't allow yourself to do on a regular basis.  I have to admit, I don't do this often.  But every once in awhile I realize it has been quite some time before I've allowed myself and artist's date and go off on one.  I come back feeling like my brain has been washed, rinsed and dried and is all shiny and clean.

And, here's the bonus point, one I've only recently realized is incredibly effective:

5.  Practice Being Less Judgmental.  Sigh.  I know, I know.  Judgment is a writer's stock in trade.  Right?  Well, not really.  What I'm talking about here is the kind of knee-jerk reactionary judgment we make every day, over and over again.  And particularly, I'm talking about the kind of judgment that is so ingrained in us we've made it into a story.  What I'm finding as I do my best to look at how I judge, is that if I stop myself from going into the story the world opens up.  And then there is room for ideas, and creativity, and even awe to come in.  And I still have to work on it practically every second of every day.  But the struggle is worth it.

Okay, let me hear it from you--how do you cultivate your mental energy?


The Adorable Purple Sandals

AdorablepurplesandalsYesterday I wrote a brief post about my trip to New York and how I bought an adorable pair of purple sandals.  Yet I failed to offer up a photo of said adorable purple sandals.  So, for those of you interested, check them out in the photo to the right. 

Cute, huh?  And surprisingly comfortable, too.  I wore them for hours on Saturday afternoon as we walked through Chinatown and all the wonderful shops of Canal Street, full of scarves and knock-off purses and cheap jewelry.  Heaven!  When we were children, our family drove to San Francisco every summer to visit relatives and there our favorite thing to do was visit Chinatown.  We'd come home laden with rice candy and woven thingies you stick your fingers in and dolls and little purses.  So it is no wonder that both my sister and I love the ticky tacky stores of Canal Street in Manhattan.

We also went into probably every shoe store in New York and studied what shoes women wore on the streets.  I am now ready to report what the latest in shoe fashion is: flats.  Zebra flats, beaded flats, red patent leather flats, plain black flats.  Except for the two skanky young women we saw one night, nobody is wearing heels.  You heard it here first.

The shoes and Canal Street were only a portion of the overall trip.  We met an interesting man from Nottingham, England, who owned a huge, thriving bakery, a woman from Portland who has already become a new friend, and a man from Virginia who told us where to buy beads in Hong Kong.  We saw museums and my Beloved Niece's dance classes and performances and visited friends and ate and drank and walked.  And walked.  And walked some more.

And I came home with my head swimming, full of images of Manhattan that go beyond shoes.

This is a good thing, because when my head is swimming it is alive and making new connections and carving new furrows or whatever that brain circuitry is called.  I'm coming up with new ideas for blog posts and articles and info products and books and stories.  Sometimes when you travel you get shoved out of your comfort zone.  Walking much farther than you normally would on feet that are sore, for instance.  Or staying in a hotel where the bathroom is down the hall.  And then you find out that you will not only survive such things, you'll enjoy them.  And suddenly you have a different view of the world.

Which is a wonderful thing for writers.  Or any kind of creative person in the world.  And aren't we all creative?

Anybody have a good travel story to share?  Or even some news about shoes?


Nobody Cares. This is Good.

We worry far too much about what others think. Staring-25819-m

Have you ever had this experience:  you have decided to commit yourself to a creative project, say a novel.  And then you have to tell people about it.  You worry about this.  Because, what if they think its dumb that you want to do this?  What if they don't think you have the talent?  What if they don't want you to take attention away from them?  And so on and so forth.

Finally, you get the nerve to tell them. 

And they shrug.

Perhaps they are interested for a moment.  Perhaps they ask you, politely, what it is about.  But after that they go back to their own concerns.  (Because, now, they have another one--someone they know is making good use of their time and being creative instead of watching TV every night.  Dammit!)

Nobody cares.  Honest.

We worry so much about what other people think.  How will they react to my toothpick and glue gun creation?  Will they laugh at me for my passion for Ricolas (this is, alas, in my case, true.  I buy them by the bushel and eat one before I go to bed every night and I know this is really, really weird)?  Will they mock me or scorn me when I express my most deepest desire to go to Fargo on vacation?

No, they won't.  They'll smile and nod and go back to whatever it was they were obsessing about.

And this is good news for us creative types, people.  Because it allows us to smile and nod and slink away to work on our writing.

So no more worrying about what others think, okay?

Have you ever had experience worrying about what others would think?  What happened?  What was the reaction when you told them?

Cool photo by anitapatterson.


Look To Your Language

Book_books_page_237394_l I'm not entirely certain I can explain this.  But, as always, that never stopped me and I'll give it a go.

As I've mentioned before, I'm studying marketing, of the internet and other varieties.  My new favorite expert in this field is Lisa Sasevich, and one of the things she talks about a lot is utilizing the language of your client to sell them stuff.  She says it a lot more eloquently than that, but you get the drift.  A lot of this has to do with figuring out the transformation that you have to offer and talking about it accordingly.

So, for instance, because I want to market myself to creative professionals who need a book to boost their careers, I needed to realize a crucial point: these potential buyers of my future products want to have written a book.  They want the book in their hot little hands, all finished.  They could give a rip about writing itself, as you, my loyal readers are interested in. So when I'm speaking to this market I need to speak differently (and I'm pretty sure I'm going to need a new blog/site to do it).

But you see what I'm saying, right?

And I've been thinking about how this also applies to creative writing.  Because sometimes we carry a story around with us, and have things that we also think about it, but somehow those things we always think or say don't get out on the page.  And that stuff is the stuff we want to pull up and put on the page.  It is the way you always tell the story--whether to yourself or to a regular audience.  That's where the power is.

Do you have a story you tell about, say, the first time you met the love of your life?  And if so, do you have a standard line you begin it with?  But do you use that line when you are actually putting words on paper?  Or do you decide you need to get all formal and official and say things the correct way?  To hell with that.  Write it the way you say it.

I'm working with a client who is writing the story of her husband's brain tumor and his eventual death.  She is the first to admit that she's not a writer.  But the great thing about her is that she's written the entire story down, start to finish, and the way she has written it is exactly the way she has told me parts of the story. 

This is how we get to voice, people.  It is that thing deep within us that we edit out half the time.

Think about it.  And comment about it, too.

By the way, Jessica wrote a post about creative English when trying to communicate in another language that made me think more about this topic.  So hop on over there and read it.