Showing posts with label creativity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label creativity. Show all posts

Sunday, July 2

Writer's Block and How to Beat it

Writer's Block and How to Beat it

I've been trying to write this blog post all day but the words wouldn't come.

I know all writers have experienced writer's block and know what a horrible feeling it is.

I know some folks deny there's any such thing as writer's block, that professional writers can't afford it. And they DO have a point.

But sometimes the words hover just out of reach. They peek around the corner then run screaming.

An hour ago I realized what was wrong: I had writer's block because I wanted to write something else! My muse wanted to work on the murder mystery I'm writing, but I NEEDED to write nonfiction.

The Secret to Curing Writer's Block: Compromise

Living with one's creative self, one's muse, is a bit like any serious long-term relationship: the key is compromise. I worked on my murder mystery for an hour (I set a timer!).

After the hour passed I sat down to write this blog post and the words (finally!) flowed.

Another thing that works is to write—or to TRY to write—for half an hour (or whatever span of time) and then, after half an hour, give yourself permission to do something else for ten minutes.

I find that, often, I end up working past thirty minutes because I've found inspiration. But it's important I know I have the very real option of stopping after half an hour.

Writing is about truth (at least, IMHO), and in order to write truth one has to be true to oneself. If your muse is leading you in a certain direction, try it out!

Do Something Else Creative

Take a break from writing and do something else creative: paint, draw, or cook. Do anything creative that strikes your fancy!

Chicken Noodle Soup: A Recipe

My favorite creative activity is cooking. I cook and I write. Today I made chicken soup. Here's my recipe:


4 large mushrooms
1 zucchini, cubed
1 crown of broccoli
1 stalk of celery
1 bunch of spinach
1 sweet onion
1 head of garlic, crushed and cut up
5 medium tomatoes
4 or 5 chicken drumsticks or thighs
chile flakes
civicha sauce (optional)


- Cut up the vegetables into bite sized cubes, including the mushrooms.
- Sauté the onions until almost translucent.
- Add garlic and sauté for 5 minutes or so.
- Add chicken and brown. I don't bother deboning the chicken, but it's up to you.
- Add enough water to cover everything, plus an inch or so.
- Add chile flakes.
- Cut stalk off broccoli and cut into cubes. Add to pot.
- Add celery.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Add cubed tomatoes.
- Simmer for 15 minutes or so or until the chicken is cooked.
- Add zucchini and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes or until the zucchini has reached desired doneness.
- Taste the soup and add salt and pepper as needed. If it's not spicy enough (I love mine spicy!) I had a teaspoon or so of civicha.


Put a handful of spinach in a large serving bowl and ladel the soup on top. Stir the soup, making sure the spinach is limp.

That's it! Add whatever vegetables you'd like, I sometimes roast them first (especially root veges) and add them at the same time as the zucchini.

If you try the recipe, let me know I'd love to find out what you've created. :-)

Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I'm recommending a reference book I have on my bookshelf, one I consult all the time. Next to Stephen King's On Writing, It's one of the most useful books I own. I'm speaking of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark.

From the blurb:

"Ten years ago, Roy Peter Clark, America's most influential writing teacher, whittled down almost thirty years of experience in journalism, writing, and teaching into a series of fifty short essays on different aspects of writing. In the past decade, Writing Tools has become a classic guidebook for novices and experts alike and remains one of the best loved books on writing available."

Wednesday, June 18

Creating A Creative Outline

Today I'd like to talk about outlining. 

Outlining doesn't have to be mechanical.

From several discussions I've had about outlining with various writers I've come away with the idea that certain writers who are vigorously opposed to outlining see it as in some sense mechanical. I'd like to show that outlining doesn't have to be.

Each method of outlining is unique to the writer.

Before I start, though, I'd like to make it clear that I'm not suggesting anyone else use the same method as myself. Each story is different and I suspect that how each story is written differs as well. 

With this blog post I'm saying, "Hey, by the way, this is what I do" in the hope that some of you will, in the comments, share your own methods.

The Index Card Method

One of the reasons outlining works for me is that stories usually come in fits and starts. I'll get one piece one day, another the next, and usually these pieces don't fit perfectly. 

It helps to have a board where I can scribble down my thoughts on index cards and arrange them in terms of the story's chronology.[4] In my case, the board is several sheets of magnetized metal hanging on the wall, but I could do this on a piece of paper or a file on my computer.

Step One: Write the events of the story down in no regard for order.

Often I'll know that something--a particular event--occurs but won't know if it occurs in the beginning, middle or end of the story. I won't know why it occurred or who it will effect.

That's okay. I write the event down. At first I usually write these down in my journal and then, when my journal is getting full, I'll comb through it and transfer the events onto index cards which I then place on my Lost Scene board. 

Each of these cards ... I think of it like catching the tip of a dragon's tail. Each one could lead me to a different story; they are entry points; they are day-dreaming aids. 

As soon as I have enough cards on my 'Lost Scenes' board I start putting them on my story boards. Then I play. I play with the order, I play with writing new scenes. But most of all I think about the core of the story and dream. Perhaps I'll write new scenes in my journal and start the process again.

Step Two: Give each character a card.

I say this is step two, but I do it at the same time as step one: I jot down the character's name and everything I know about them. Sometimes this uses up several cards.

Step Three: Write down clues.

Occasionally I want to put in hints at what is to come, or perhaps I've included a mystery, so must leave a smattering of clues for the reader. I'll write one clue per index card. Later on I'll pin each clue to the scene where I introduce it.

Step four: Write a scene or write an interview with one or more of the characters.

As soon as I have a clear idea of a few of the scenes I want to have in the book, as soon as I have some sort of fledging sense of my protagonist, I'll start to write. 

What I write is different for each story. Sometimes I'll do a character interview, sometimes I'll write a piece of flash fiction featuring my protagonist (or my antagonist or both). 

I need to connect with the characters and the events of the story (I need to break into the story) as soon as possible so that I know that what I'm working on isn't just smoke and mirrors. 

For me the bottom line is: if I can't connect to the character's there is no story.

Step Five: When the story begins to coalesce I look for pivotal scenes.

At some point the story will more or less coalesce and I'll have grasped certain big events--pivotal events--that change the characters lives. These events help me find the joints of the story.

In case you're wondering, I find the joints of the story by thinking of the movements, the beats, in the classic three act structure. Keep in mind, though, that these points aren't intended to be a straightjacket. I don't feel as though I have to shoe-horn my story into any particular structure. 

That said, thinking about the three act structure often helps me find the beating heart of my story.

Step Six: Plan the pivotal scenes.

Deborah Chester just published two terrific blog posts (Scene Check, Part 1; Scene Check: Part Who) where she lists some of the many questions writers can use to plan a scene:

- Who is the viewpoint character and what is their objective?
- What is the viewpoint character's motivation?
- What is at stake?
- What will the protagonist do to achieve their goal and what will the antagonist do to counter it?
- Why is this event important to the story?
- When will the scene's outcome affect events down the line?

Once I answer a few of these questions for each of my pivotal scenes my mind will be awash in ideas for intervening scenes, scenes which lead up to the big events. 

Step Seven: Keep doing Step Six.

For each new scene I tack up on my board I plan it out in the same way I planned out the pivotal scenes, though perhaps in less detail.

Step Eight: Don't be afraid to reorder, delete or add scenes.

A story doesn't live in index cards (or in computer files or on pages of looseleaf), a story is a living thing that resides within the storyteller. 

Since a story is a living, breathing, growing thing it's inevitable that it will grow and change and transform. When this happens, even though it can be painful, index cards have to be taken down and stored in my RIP pile and new ones created. 

Step Nine: Write an outline.

At some point I'll feel the story is just about there, just about right, and I'll write a hurried outline.

Step Ten: Redo the cards.

Inevitably, whenever I write an outline, the story will change a bit and I'll go back to the cards and shift things around, keeping an eye on whether the clues that I've scattered through the story need to be changed, moved or deleted.

Step Eleven: Type the cards into a word processor.

At this point I'll type all the cards on my story boards into Scrivener and, in so doing, write a detailed summary of the novel. I'll print this out and keep it handy. 

Step Twelve: Don't hesitate to change the outline.

For me, an outline is important because at some point when I'm writing I'll get lost and wonder: Okay, where am I? What happens now?

If I have an outline I look at it and see what I'd wanted to do originally. I don't have to do that, but often I'll look at it and think, "Oh yes, I remember!" and off I go. But I could just as easily change the outline.

I like how Mary Robinette Kowal describes the outline as a roadmap. When I take a roadtrip I like to have a destination and I like to know where I'm going to stop along the way. That way I know (roughly) how much gas I'll have to buy, I can book a hotel to sleep in, I can search for interesting spots along the way I might like to visit.

Having a roadmap doesn't mean I can't change my destination mid-trip. But if I do, and I have a roadmap, it'll be easier to calculate how much more (or less) gas I'll need, see what spots I can stop off along the way, and so on.

Final thoughts.

Some writers get hold of a story through prose. Other writers get hold of a story through daydreams. Other writers ... well, I suspect that the number of ways to get hold of a story--to catch a dragon by the tail--are as numerous as writers.

The important thing is to catch the dragon--to write the story--before it eats you.


1. Chuck Wendig's blog is wonderful--plenty of pithy tips about writing, plenty of encouragement. (But be warned, his blog is NSFW.) Here are two articles CW wrote about outlining:

2. Mary Robinette Kowal on outlining:

3. Lee Goldberg on outlining:

4. I use index cards but you can use anything. Strips of paper, a file on your computer, pages in a binder. Use whatever method strikes your fancy.

Photo credit: "Creative Outlining" by Karen Woodward under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Friday, May 2

Creativity, Inc: Ed Catmull On Success, Candor And Fear Of Failure

I'm reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.[1] For me, the most interesting parts are where Catmull talks about failure and how to handle failure. 

Failure is an intrinsic part of a creative person's life, whether they are a singer, a songwriter, whether they play an instrument or write stories. We've all experienced failure of some sort and if there is one thing I believe with all my heart it is that how we handle failure goes a long way to determining whether we will succeed.

In Creativity, Inc. Catmull writes:

"Left to their own devices, most people don’t want to fail. But Andrew Stanton isn’t most people. As I’ve mentioned, he’s known around Pixar for repeating the phrases “fail early and fail fast” and “be wrong as fast as you can.” He thinks of failure like learning to ride a bike; it isn’t conceivable that you would learn to do this without making mistakes—without toppling over a few times. “Get a bike that’s as low to the ground as you can find, put on elbow and knee pads so you’re not afraid of falling, and go,” he says. If you apply this mindset to everything new you attempt, you can begin to subvert the negative connotation associated with making mistakes. Says Andrew: “You wouldn’t say to somebody who is first learning to play the guitar, ‘You better think really hard about where you put your fingers on the guitar neck before you strum, because you only get to strum once, and that’s it. And if you get that wrong, we’re going to move on.’ That’s no way to learn, is it?”


The idea here isn't that one should try to fail--I can picture someone sitting in a bar nursing their third scotch and soda saying, "I'm on my third divorce, whoohoo!"--but that our goal shouldn't be to avoid failure since that path leads to mediocrity. Instead, we should strive to achieve success. 

Fear of failure leads to taking fewer risks and innovating less. Instead, we want our curiosity to drive experimentation. The alternative is to play it safe so we won't fail, but if we look at things that way, if we take "don't fail" as our goal, we'll never do anything brilliant. 

And, yes, maybe we will never do anything stunningly brilliant, but it's a lot more fun to be creative and fail occasionally than to play it safe, never fail, and hate what we do. 

Pixar's Rough Drafts Suck

This line suprised me: "early on, all of our movies suck." That got my attention! Here's the entire quotation:

"[C]andor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I make a point of repeating it often, and I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions of our films really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing by saying this. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.” This idea—that all the movies we now think of as brilliant were, at one time, terrible—is a hard concept for many to grasp. But think about how easy it would be for a movie about talking toys to feel derivative, sappy, or overtly merchandise-driven. Think about how off-putting a movie about rats preparing food could be, or how risky it must’ve seemed to start WALL-E with 39 dialogue-free minutes. We dare to attempt these stories, but we don’t get them right on the first pass. And this is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul."

That's courageous! And they've gotten terrific results. (By the way, Maria Popova over at has written a wonderful article about Catmull's book.)

Having planted my feet firmly on the "failure is an agent of learning" bandwagon, I'd like to offer a couple of notes of warning.

1. Pick the right people.

Catmull writes:

"Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be."

I agree! In principle. 

Yes, in the best groups that's true. But I've learnt from experience that humans have good reasons to fear speaking up in groups, to fear sharing the product of their creativity with others. Unfortunately some--whether through ignorance or malice--find glee in ripping the creative efforts of others to painful, bloody, shreds. Don't give them the chance.

Yes, share your creative work with others, but test them first. Don't wear your heart on your sleeve the first time. Get to know your collaborators and make sure they're the right fit for you. A team that is simpatico (and here I'm thinking of writer, beta readers, editor, etc.) is a beautiful thing. One that isn't grinds everyone down. Picking the right people to rely on is key. (IMHO)

2. Don't try to fail.

I know I've said this before, but it's an important point. 

Catmull is saying that you shouldn't aim to avoid failure--you shouldn't have that as your goal--because that's focusing on the wrong thing. Rather, aim for the stars and embrace failure when it happens. 

Of course, if you're aiming high, if you're trying to do things no one else has, you're going to fail. A lot. But Catmull says that's okay. You're learning. Adapting. Evolving. A culture--whether corporate or otherwise--that doesn't foster people who are willing to take risks will never achieve anything truly great. Anything truly different. Why? Because they will be too fearful to strike out where no one has gone before (yes, I'm hearing the Star Trek theme in my head!)

I think Ed Catmull's book, Creativity, Inc. is a must for any creative professional to read, especially the chapters on candor (Chapter 5) and fear of failure (Chapter 6). 


1. Ed Catmull is a computer scientist and president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios.

Photo credit: "spring in the park" by *Light Painting* under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, July 20

What Writers Can Learn From Aaron Sorkin

What Writers Can Learn From Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin is a genius.

A while ago I blogged about an article he'd written that dissected the first few minutes of the opening scene of The Newsroom, explaining the effect he'd wanted to create in the viewer and what he did to create it.

Here is a clip of the opening scene of The Newsroom:

Here's Sorkin's article: How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin.

One of the reasons I'm posting about Aaron Sorkin's dissection of his own wizardry has to do with Stephen Pressfield's blog articles:

Art is Artifice, Part 1
Art is Artifice, Part 2

Stephen Pressfield writes:
In a nutshell:

Real = unpublishable.

Artificial = publishable.

When I say “artificial,” I mean crafted with deliberate artistic intention so as to produce an emotional, moral, and aesthetic response in the reader.

What do I mean by “real?”

Real is your journal. Real are your letters (or these days your texts, tweets, Facebook postings.) Real is that which possesses no artistic distance.
Great articles.

Giving the artificial, giving one's art, a semblance of reality requires the kind of talent that only comes from many, many, hours of practice.

Here's an example of talent that comes from practise. This video (see below) was taken behind the scenes at the Tony Awards during the opening number. It's only 2 minutes long:

That director was using instinct. I'm sure that when he first started directing he had to think about it, but now he's like a musician carried away by the score or an athlete on a runners high.

Both Arron Sorkin and folks like the above director, folks who have worked in their chosen profession for decades, have put in the time.

They've worked, they've practiced, they've sacrificed, and now, at the pinnacle of their careers, they have these moments of unparalleled excellence.

Sorkin's opening scene was amazing, startling. Completely artificial and, possibly, absolutely true.

Artificial, because Sorkin crafted that scene: no one is that smart, that eloquent, that directed.

Completely true, because--through art--he extracted the underlying reality and presented it in a way that startled and entertained.

Did I mention that Aaron Sorkin in a genius?

My point in writing this long meandering post is that writing is supposed to be hard, it's supposed to take a lot of work, but you can do it.

Let me leave you with a video sent to me by a friend, it's a conversation Neil Gaiman had with Connie Willis at the World Fantasy Conference in 2011:

Photo credit: "Three trees" by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, June 12

3 Ways To Fan Your Creative Fire

C.S. Lakin writes:
It’s not easy to translate concepts that feel like hot sparks of brilliance into words that actually ignite a reader’s soul .... Those of us who know how special that feeling is—when the passion of our story emerges in a seeming explosion of inspired beauty—want to be able to “get to that place” as often as we can. But is there a way to do that?
The answer is yes! And C.S. Lakin helps guide the way:

How to fan your creative fire:

1. Change the scenery.

"Nature can spark passion. Immersing yourself in beautiful surroundings might help your creativity.

"And maybe it’s not beauty and sublimity you need. Perhaps for you, sitting in a crowded cafe in a foreign land does wonders for sparking ideas—the fresh change of scenery an inspiration. The point being—getting out of your rut and routine can sometimes be the antidote for mundane writing and uninspired thinking."

2. Write at a different time, perhaps early in the morning

"You may feel you only write well or can concentrate early in the morning. Try setting the alarm and getting up a few hours earlier. Take a shower to shake off your sleepiness and then in the quiet before dawn, try writing that scene you have planned to tackle. If you can’t write at night because you’re just too tired, try taking a walk to invigorate yourself (or some other type of exercise) and then sit down after dark and try writing. You may surprise yourself. Sometimes by attempting to write at a time you normally don’t can fire up your little gray cells."

3. Read before you write

"Some writers, like my favorite mystery writer Elizabeth George, spend a half hour or so reading a great book before beginning to write for the day. Reading really well-written books, whether novels or nonfiction, can inspire and spur some on to passionate writing."
You could always try a combination of ways! Take an early morning walk to your favorite coffee house, perhaps buying a cinnamon bun on the way, one fresh out of the oven. After you've ordered your favorite beverage, read for a bit before you write.

I think these tips by C.S. Lakin are marvelous. I already read before I write, but I like to read books that are similar to what I'm writing. For instance, something in the same genre written from the same point of view.

How do you keep your creative fires burning?

Photo credit: "Ode to Birds" by Zach Dischner by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, November 23

How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse

How To Become More Creative: Nurturing Your Muse

If the first rule of writing is "writers write" then a close second is "writers read".

I haven't been reading. Sure, there are reasons--too busy, don't want to use it to procrastinate, haven't found a book I love, and so on--but for the past few days getting my 2,000 words a day for NaNoWriMo has been like an exercise in self-torture.

Yesterday I had one of those 'light bulb' moments where I realized my problem might be that I haven't read enough, so I downloaded a book from my local library and started reading. Or, to be precise, listening.

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but I stayed up till 7 am listening to that book! I just couldn't stop. I think my muse was starving.

Nurturing Your Muse

This is why, for my second post today, I want to talk about ways to nurture the muse within us all.

The following is from a post over at The Creativity Post called 101 Tips on How to Become More Creative by Michael Michalko.
1. Take a walk and look for something interesting.

3. Open a dictionary and find a new word. Use it in a sentence.

6. Create the dumbest idea you can.

7. Ask a child.

10. Create an idea that will get you fired.

11. Read a different newspaper. If you read the Wall Street Journal, read the Washington Post.

14. What is your most bizarre idea?

15. List all the things that bug you.

16. Take a different route to work.

22. Doodle

24. Go for a drive with the windows open. Listen and smell as you drive.

40. Daydream.

50. Eat spaghetti with chopsticks.

51. Make the strange familiar.

52. Make the familiar strange.

55. Wear purple underwear for inspiration

63. When you wake write down everything you can remember about your dreams.

69. Talk to a stranger.

75. Change your daily routines. If you drink coffee, change to tea.

85. Learn to tolerate ambiguity.

86. What have you learned from your failures? What have you discovered that you didn’t set out to discover?

87. Make connections between subjects in different domains. Banking + cars = drive in banking.

90. Hang out with people from diverse backgrounds.

96. Sit outside and count the stars.

99. Cut out interesting magazine and newspaper pictures. Then arrange and paste them on a board making a collage ...
I hope your muse is well-fed and willing to help spin your tales! If you have any tips you'd like to add, please do. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- For NaNoWriMo: 10 HarperCollins Books On Writing For $1.99 Each
- Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales
- The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself

Photo credit: "untitled" by 416style under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, November 20

Rejection Enhances Creativity

Science: Feeling Rejected Can Help Us Access Our Creativity

A couple of days ago I wrote about how science was beginning to understand the creative process. It turns out that when you're in creative mode (for instance, when you're writing a first draft) you shouldn't edit yourself. Write whatever comes to mind and clean it up later. (See: The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself)

Rejection Enhances Creativity

Today I came across the result of a series of experiments designed to measure the effect of rejection on creativity. The researchers concluded:
While it is never a comfortable experience, the feelings of rejection can actually help us access our more creative selves. ... Moreover, we can enhance that [creative] ability by changing the way we respond to rejection. Instead of dwelling too much on the pain of being turned down or turned aside, consider the freedom you now have to explore new possibilities and less mainstream options. (How Rejection Breeds Creativity, David Burkus)
It seems that subjects who felt rejected did better of tasks requiring creative thought than subjects who felt included.

So mail off your novel, your shorts stories. If they get accepted, great! If they don't, you'll become even MORE creative. Win-win!

#  #  #

Other articles you might like:
- How Often Should A Writer Blog? Answer: It Depends On Your Goals
- Donald Maass Talks About How To Make Your Readers CARE About Your Characters On The First Page
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover

Photo credit: "Stopped Watch" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, November 17

The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself

The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself

Sometimes characters refuse to do what you want. You finish your outline, complete with a heartwarming theme and everything looks great. Then you sit down to write and ... Nothing. Your characters refuse to cooperate almost as though they had wills of their own. Damn them.

Other times it's as though your characters are acting in a play you didn't write. They do wonderful and interesting things, unexpected things. All you have to do is write down the story unfolding in your mind.

I've had both these experiences, as I'm sure you have, and we all prefer the second type. Especially during NaNoWriMo when we don't have a lot of time to coax characters to play nice.

The point is ... yes, there is one! ... that our characters often behave, for better or worse, as though they have a will of their own.

Science Is Beginning To Understand Creative Processes

Recently Science has shed some light on this phenomenon and, in the process, revealed two things I believe are of special interest to writers:

1) When characters act as though they have wills of their own, they kinda do.

2) All things being equal, it's probably better to pants your first draft.

Let's take each of these in turn:

1) Pants Your First Draft

Neuroscientists Siyuan Liu and Allen Braun recently put rappers inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and asked them to freestyle. (That's one sentence I never thought I'd write!) Why? Because they're trying to understand the creative process.

Specifically, Liu and Braun were wondering whether the areas of the brain which regulate its own activity would be MORE active or LESS active when a subject was engaged in creative pursuits. It turns out they're less active, far less active.

What does that mean? Braun says, “We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity.” [1]

In other words, stepping back, being uncritical--just letting it happen--is what creativity is all about.

What does this mean for writers? All things considered, try to pants your first draft. 

You can still have an outline, but don't let it get in the way of your creative flow. Just let it happen. If you have to throw out your outline, do it! After your first draft is done, or even after you've finished writing for the day, you can go back to your outline and adjust it as needed.

2) Your Characters REALLY DO Have Wills Of Their Own ... At Least It Seems That way

Liu and Braun think that decreased activity in certain areas of the brain, those involved in self-regulation, could explain why artists sometimes have the sensation of their performance having “occurred outside of conscious awareness”. For instance, those rare times when it seems your story is unfolding of its own accord and all you have to do is write it down.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if science could give us tips on how to make this happen more often?

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: I have 31,010 words and am shooting to get up to 33k tonight. I'm starting to feel we're nearing the end. Yea!! :-)

Other articles you might like:

- Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care
- Time Management For Writers: Nanny For Chrome
- Tucker Max's Advice: Become Your Own Publisher And Triple Your Royalties


1) Brain Scans of Rappers Shed Light on Creativity, Daniel Cressey and Nature magazine. Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for a link to this article.

Photo credit: "shadows on the wall" by AlicePopkorn under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, October 7

Perfection Is The Death Of Creativity

Perfection Is The Death Of Creativity

I can no longer use a word processor to write.

I sit and stare at my computer screen groping for a thought, any thought, to make an appearance but as soon as one does it turns tail and flees as though every movie monster ever conceived wants it as a nice light snack. I can only write if I draft the piece in my blog editor and copy the newly expressed thoughts into my word processing program.

At least, that's what happens when I try to write blog posts using a word processor. At first I thought blog posts, being non-fiction, might require a different process than my fiction. (It's possible, right?) But this problem doesn't only occur when I write non-fiction, it rears it's shaggy, misshapen, slightly mocking, mustard stained head when it comes to my fiction as well.

A few months ago I noticed I couldn't write the first draft of a story sitting at my desk, typing words into my word processor, but I can do it if I scribble them into my journal. Only then, once the words are safely on the page, can I type them into my computer and begin editing.

Odd, right?

I didn't understand why until now. (At least, I think I know.) When I write a blog I take a piece of writing, even a lengthy one, from nothing to completed in around 2 or 3 hours. As a result I have to accept that the piece I'm creating won't be perfect. The result? My thoughts tumble over one another in their eagerness to escape.

Similarly, my journal is, and has always been, a place of no rules where I can write whatever I feel like with no fear of criticism. What I write in my journal is for me, and me alone.

The common thread seems to be that if I'm freed from the idea my writing needs to be perfect that I can write. I feel free to let thoughts flow, unchecked, uncensored, until I come by on the second (third, fourth ...) drafts and make them tuck in their shirttails and shine their shoes.

Well, that's my thought for this Sunday, that creativity may be the price paid by the desire for perfection.

I guess what I've been talking about--my inability to use a word processor for my first draft--is a kind of writers block. Do you have writer's block? Have you ever? Did you, like me, find a workaround?

Edit (Oct 7, 12): I changed the first line from "I can no longer use a computer to write" to the infinitely more accurate "I can no longer use a word processor to write". :-)

Other articles you might like:
- NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready
- 7 Tips On How To Get Your Guest Post Accepted
- 12 Writing Tips: How To Be A Writer

Photo credit: Dawn Ashley

Sunday, August 26

Creativity: Use It Or Lose It

Creativity: Use It Or Lose It

I have a theory. I think that the more one writes, the more one can write.

Generally, I think the more tasks one does which require creativity the more such tasks one can complete. Clear as mud? For instance, let's say a writer has a hobby; she finds it relaxing to make dolls, or bind journals, or paint, or do fridge poetry, or write a thousand words of glorious nonsense that, like a sandpainting, exist only for a moment and then is gone, sealed away forever. Those actions require creativity and I think creativity works something like muscles do: use it or lose it. The more we use our creativity the more we are able to use it.

Aisha Sultan seems to agree with me. She writes:
If you ask a kindergartner to tell you a story, chances are you'll hear a nonsensical and fabulous tale. If you put a chocolate chip cookie on a counter and forbid the child from using a chair to reach it, chances are she'll find a few alternate routes to that cookie.

Children are born inherently creative. They act on it unselfconsciously when they are young, willing to dance, draw or create at a moment's notice. We all begin with enormous creative capacity, but how does our willingness to act on it diminish as we grow older?

I confronted this question when I participated in my first fiction writing workshop last year. The instructor gave us a series of prompts, and each time, I stared at a blank screen with unmitigated fear.

I was convinced that my fiction would be poorly disguised autobiography. And that it would be terrible. And that others would see just how terrible it was. So terrible that it wasn't worth making a fool of myself.

I envied how easily my children could slip into pretend stories, where make-believe dialogue didn't sound contrived or wooden, and plot was just a four-letter word.
. . . .
We unlearn creativity, according to Josh Linkner [...]. "Instead of growing into our creativity, we grow out of it," he said.

Fear is the main culprit, he says. We are conditioned through years of schooling to strive for the "right" answer.
. . . .
"People learn from an early age to get in line," he said. So, we judge others and judge ourselves when we make a mistake or - heaven forbid - fail. We talk ourselves out of creativity and hold ourselves back from big ideas.
. . . .
My own children were encouraging during my creative-writing fits.

"Just try again," they would say.

So, I did. And it was never as terrible as I imagined it would be before I began.
You can read the rest of Aisha's article here: How we grow out of our creativity. Thanks to Passive Guy over at The Passive Voice Blog for posting a link to Aisha Sultan's article.

What do you think? Have you found that the more creative tasks you complete the more you can complete?

Other articles you might like:
- Seth Godin on Creativity, Childhood and Heroes
- Amanda Hocking's Unusual Writing Schedule
- Ripley Patton: The Self-Validated Writer

Photo credit: h.koppdelaney

Wednesday, August 15

Seth Godin on Creativity, Childhood and Heroes

Seth Godin on creativity, childhood and heros
Seth Godin

I know I just posted an article on Seth Godin and I don't usually do two articles in a row on someone, but his interview over at The Great Discontent was just too good not to mention! Here's a sampling of what Seth had to say:

On Seth's journey to becoming an entrepreneur:
In the years that followed [getting married, moving to New York and starting a company], I just failed and failed and failed and failed. I got 900 rejection letters in the mail from book publishers. I would go window shopping at restaurants and go home and eat macaroni and cheese. It was a very long slog, right on the edge of bankruptcy for almost eight years. I did a whole bunch of books as a book packager; I did almanacs; I did books on personal finance; I did the Professor Barndt’s On-the-Spot Spot and Stain Removal Guide; I did a book which I’m embarrassed about called Email Addresses of the Rich and Famous (laughing).
Creativity and childhood:
I think “creativity” is better described as failing repeatedly until you get something right.
.  .  .  .
In terms of creativity, the really formative thing that happened to me is that I started teaching style canoeing in Canada at a very old co-ed summer camp in a national park , which I still do every year—I’ve been doing it for 42 years. What I discovered is that if you’re in a situation where people don’t have to engage with you—because at this camp they could do anything they wanted—you have to figure out a way to attract them. The number one way I found to attract people was to help them connect with their dreams. And so, when I was 17, I started a cycle of creative ways to put on enough of a show in front of people that they would choose to engage in that to achieve their dreams. I’ve basically been doing the same thing ever since, except that there are no canoes in New York City. 

Heros vs. mentors
I think that heroes are more important than mentors. A hero is somebody who you can emulate; somebody who raises the bar for you. Heroism scales, so one person can be a hero for a lot of people. Mentoring is over-rated in that there’s this myth that they will pick you, cover for you when you make mistakes, encourage you, and be at your side until you become your true, best self. There are very few of those relationships in the world. 

On taking big risks:
When I finally had my book packaging company working after seven or eight years of struggling, I had ten employees and we were finally making a profit. Two-thirds of our revenue came from one company and they were jerks. They were making our lives miserable and what we were becoming was the kind of company that was good at working with difficult clients. I didn’t want to become that kind of company, so I fired our biggest client—the one who accounted for more than half our revenue. I said, “Here. Here’s the project we spent four years building. You can have it. Keep it.” It could have wiped us out, but instead, the group was so energized that they made up all the revenue in the next six months. 

On social responsibility:
I have all the toys and stuff and detritus that I need. Getting more stuff is not what I’m trying to do. I wonder, “Who can I impact today and how can I do it in a way that in four years from now, they’ll be glad I did?”

Seth's one piece of advice: pick yourself
There’s a picture that I just saw online two days ago. Monday I have this seminar I’m running for free for college students and I’m going to show them this picture before we start. It’s a picture of someone graduating from college. You can’t tell, but you can guess that they’re probably $150,000 in debt. Written on the top of their mortarboard with masking tape it says, “Hire me.” The thing about the picture that’s pathetic, beyond the notion that you need to spam the audience at graduation with a note saying you’re looking for a job, is that you went $150,000 in debt and spent four years of your life so someone else could pick you. That’s ridiculous. It really makes me sad to see that. The opportunity of a lifetime is to pick yourself. Quit waiting to get picked; quit waiting for someone to give you permission; quit waiting for someone to say you are officially qualified and pick yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to be an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it does mean you stand up and say, “I have something to say. I know how to do something. I’m doing it. If you want me to do it with you, raise your hand.”

Seth's typical day:
Ha! There isn’t one. That’s on purpose. If you have a typical day, I think that that’s something you should work on. 

You know, I don’t know how to pick one book. I tend to read mostly non-fiction leavened with trashy fiction and science fiction. Back when Neil Stephenson was good, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age were two of the best books ever. I probably read four or five nonfiction books a week—everything from The Peter Principle, which I started reading 35 years ago when I was just a kid, to books that have shown up lately that make me sit up straight. Kevin Kelly is three for three; his new book, What Technology Wants, is an absolute must-read and will change the way you see the world. 

On the kind of legacy he hopes to leave:
I think the goal I have in my work is not to be remembered, but for the people who use the work I did to be remembered instead.

These are just excerpts, I'd encourage everyone to read Seth Godin's entire interview: Seth Godin. Thanks to for passing on the link.

Other articles you might enjoy:
- Amanda Hocking's Unusual Writing Schedule
- Indie Writers: 10 Things Not To Do
- 10 Tips For Decluttering Your Life and Increasing Creativity

Friday, August 3

10 Tips For Decluttering Your Life and Increasing Creativity

I don't know about you, but my life is too cluttered with things I never use that get underfoot.

Part of the problem is I try and see the usefulness in everything; it seems rude to say to the cardboard packing case my wonderful new computer came in: You are no longer useful to me, begone! I mean, with the right tablecloth, perhaps a few flowers, it could be a fashionable side-table. Maybe. (Sometimes creativity can really come back to bite one in the posterior.)

The following tips for decluttering your life and channeling your energy in creative yet productive ways are from Sara Rauch.

1. Say no.

To invitations and purchases, to guilt about disappointing others and items you don’t need. We all have our weaknesses—mine is shoes, my partner’s is helping people—but learning to say no, is really the first step in simplifying your way back to creativity. It isn’t selfish to honor your creative self; it’s self-care.
.  .  .  .

3. Keep the editor away.

The editor has her place in creative “work”—like when I write book reviews or polish stories for publication—but she has no place in the creative sphere. Figure out a way to keep her busy or send her packing, and only call on her when her not-picky voice might actually be useful.
.  .  .  .

5. Expect and embrace imperfection.

Perfection is creativity’s enemy.
.  .  .  .

8. Keep it simple.

Don’t run out and buy anything you think you need to be creative. Creativity isn’t about items—though you may need brushes or a pencil or paper—it’s about the act. Start small, start with what you have.
.  .  .  .

10. Make it a routine.

This might sound anathema to creativity—it’s all about inspiration right?—but it’s actually the key. The grass doesn’t get green from the occasional heavy watering. It gets green from regular tending.
Creativity is the same: Attend to it everyday—the results are worth the effort.

I don't want to list all of Sara Rauch's tips so I've only given 5 here, the rest are listed in her excellent blog post: 10 Tips to Nurture Your Creative Life: Making Time and Space. Thanks to C.G. Cameron for the tip!

Other reading:
- Penelope Trunk Discusses Time Management
- Writers & Blogging: Should You Host Your Own Blog?
- How To Sell 100 Books Per Day: 6 Things You Need To Do

Photo credit: Rebeca Stovall

Tuesday, June 12

John Cleese Talks About Creativity

John Cleese begins his talk by saying that "creativity simply cannot be explained" but goes on to give it a pretty clear outline. It is, he says, not a talent, it is a way of operating.

Creative people, he says, can get themselves into a particular mood, a playful mood, in which their creativity can function.

John Cleese advises us to stick with whatever problem we are facing and refuse to settle for the obvious answer or the easy way out. He admonishes us to be prepared to tolerate the slight anxiety caused by not solving the problem. It is tempting to take the easy decision because that would make us feel better, the anxiety of not having decided would be gone, but we need to give our minds as long as possible to come up with something original.

Confidence is important. Don't be afraid, he says, of making a mistake. Don't fret over what will happen if you do this, or if you do that. You can't be playful if you're frightened of experimenting. You have to risk saying things that are silly or illogical or wrong.

This reminds me of the advice Bill Murray gave in his Esquire interview: "You've gotta go out there and improvise and you've gotta be completely unafraid to die. You've got to be able to take a chance to die."

John Cleese's talk is about 30 minutes long but it goes quickly, he is a marvelous speaker. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 20

The Versatile Blogger Award, Part Two

Having to choose 15 blogs I've recently discovered or follow regularly is difficult because there are so many! I've decided not to list big blogs like Joe Konrath's (A Newbie's Guide To Publishing), Dean Wesley Smith, Kris Rusch or The Passive Voice Blog because I've talked about them and posted links to their blogs elsewhere.

Here is the rest of my list:

- The Creative Penn
I am an author, blogger, speaker and business consultant based in London, England although I have lived in Australia and New Zealand for the last 11 years. I always dreamed of writing my own books, and spent many years thinking about it before I actually took the plunge.

- Adventures in ePublishing
I am a part-time YA and scifi writer. I self-publish my own novels for e-readers such as Kindle and Nook.

- Jim C. Hines
My name's Jim, and I write books. And also short stories. Plus a fairly regular blog. Not to mention the occasional nonfiction article. And once I wrote and sold a small bumper sticker. But these days, it's mostly books.

- John Green: New York Times Bestselling Author
In 2007, Green and his brother Hank ceased textual communication and began to talk primarily through videoblogs posted to youtube. The videos spawned a community of people called nerdfighters who fight for intellectualism and to decrease the overall worldwide level of suck. (Decreasing suck takes many forms: Nerdfighters have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight poverty in the developing world; they also planted thousands of trees around the world in May of 2010 to celebrate Hank’s 30th birthday.) Although they have long since resumed textual communication, John and Hank continue to upload three videos a week to their youtube channel, vlogbrothers. Their videos have been viewed more than 75 million times, and their channel is one of the most popular in the history of online video. He is also an active (if reluctant) Twitter user with more than 1.1 million followers.

- Nathan Bransford
"Nathan Bransford is the author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (Dial, May 2011), Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe (Dial, April 2012) and Jacob Wonderbar and the Interstellar Time Warp (Dial, March 2013). He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and is now the social media manager at CNET. He lives in San Francisco." 
I began following Nathan's Bransford's blog when he was an agent, and fortunately he's left all those old posts up. Knowledgeable about the publishing industry from both sides of the fence, charming and articulate, this is one of the first blogs I subscribed to. Well worth the read.

- The Book Deal: An Inside View of Publishing The Book Deal is a blog for writers and book people, with a veteran editor's insider take on the strange and inscrutable way books are published and the big changes going on in the business today.

- Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind
...Sometimes there's stuff that needs to come out. I can't say whether it's relevant or not; it just wants to be said. These things are the 'utterances of an overcrowded mind.'

- Charlie's Diary
Being the blog of Charles Stross, author, and occasional guests ...
Witty and always interesting.

There are SO many more blogs I would have liked to post. I'm truly sorry I couldn't list more! In case anyone is interested, italics indicates the text is a quotation. Regular unquoted text represents my own comments.

Thanks for reading and thanks again to Melanie for the award!

Saturday, May 19

The Versatile Blogger Award

For me, the good news today was that I wrote 4,700 words, I haven't done that in a while! The bad news, though, was that none of those words went into a blog post. That's okay, I decided, I did what writers do, namely write, but I still wondered what I was going to post about.

With these thoughts running around in my head like a gerbil on a wheel I opened my digital mailbox and found a note from Melanie Marttila over at Writerly Goodness breaking the good news that she had awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award.

Looking at Melanie's email, it felt as though the universe had smiled on me. What a lovely thing to be given and what a marvelous topic for a blog post. I'm honored, thank you Melanie!

So, from Melanie's blog post, here are the rules (Oh my! And, yes, I have recently read 50 Shades of Grey ;):
a) Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
b) Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
c) Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
d) Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to this site.
e) Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.
So, first, thank you Melanie! I'm honored that you thought of me when you were giving out the award. :-) I've put a link to Melanie's blog, Writerly Goodness, above, but I thought I'd include it here as well.

My fifteen nominees, in no particular order:

- Elizabeth Span Craig: Mystery Writing Is Murder
Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010, 2011, and 2012.

- Seth Godin's Blog
 The man needs no introduction and I would be hard pressed to winnow his interests down to just a few areas. Here are a couple of articles about him:
Seth Godin: How To Change Your Luck
Seth Godin: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread (includes a link to his TED talk.)

- Dead Houseplants.
I am a mother of three with an English degree and an obsession with children's and YA literature. I edit children's books part-time for a small, independent publisher. I love teaching and wish I could do more of it. I have a love/hate relationship with writing and think I ought to do more of it.

- Kim Nevile: Faith, trust, pixie dust
I write stories, most of which contain a fairy or two. On this blog I write about the things that matter to me. When I'm not making stuff up I also love taking photographs. All the photos here are my own. If you're still curious, find out more on my About page.

- The Land of Deborah. Singer, songwriter, composer.
Deborah isn't a writer, but she is definitely a fellow creative. Here's her YouTube channel [link].

- Failure Ahoy! Adventures in Digital Publishing
I'm a sci-fi/fantasy author, freelancer, and movie critic, which as far as jobs go is among them. I enjoy kung fu, which I'm all right at, and my aquarium, which kills more fish than StarKist. I'm not too happy about that.
(Ed Robertson has a terrific blog that is, among other things, filled with statistics on different strategies for selling books on Amazon. A must read for indie authors.)

- Ghostwriter Dad: Helping good writers make a great living online
His tagline says it all. Great writer, great advice.

I'm going to have to split this post into two, it's getting so long! 7 today, 8 tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

btw, I tried to avoid overlap with the links I gave out in a recent post, Great Writing Blogs, but Elizabeth's blog and books are just too good not to mention again!