Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Never Ignore the Muse

Posted: December 18, 2014 by writingsprint in My two cents
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A friend once told me, “Do the thing you’re scared of, and do it quickly.”

Hi all! Like I said before, I’ll be stopping by to drop in a post now and then while I’m working on The Lost Princess, rather than the daily posts I usually do.

Nanowrimo was a great way to get down all the ideas for scenes that I had knocking around in my head. It’s a great way to try out your crazy ideas, too, because there’s no time to do anything other than churn out content. It’s difficult to plot during Nanowrimo because plot takes thought. It means answering questions and dealing with funny little issues like cause and effect. Nanowrimo is like dreaming. When you reach a dead end, you either run through the wall or magically teleport yourself somewhere else. You can’t stop writing. It simply isn’t an option.

So, since then, I’ve been taking aim at holes in the plot and working out what the story needs to be. New scenes have been written, old ones have changed. I’m daring myself to write scenes that are the equivalent of walking in a strange, dark room without a flashlight, where I can barely see and I don’t know where the light’s coming from.

Recently I was working on one of the early scenes. I’d done a lot of soul searching and figured out, a little better than “roughly” and not as much as “clearly,” where I wanted the story to go. I could sit down and keep digging, but I was dying to write something creative and I knew it. The digging that I had in mind was well-disguised procrastination. I’d been plotting for a week, busy for two or three days, and being chicken on three or four others. The scene’s in work now and it’s moving along fine.

It gets better. My muse was telling me to send the plot in a direction that was going to open up a completely new branch of the story. At first I thought, hell no. That’s the last thing I need. Then I realized that there are writers out there who are dying for a whisper from their muse. Anything at all. To have a path to an entire side story open up, that I didn’t even ask for? That’s like passing on a dream date with Angelina Jolie because you really prefer blondes. (I know, Angelina’s married. Hence the word “dream.”) It may become an anchor of the story, or it may never even get used, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never, ever, ever ignore the muse. You just say thank you and write as fast as you can.

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What Is Your Writing Process?

Posted: September 15, 2014 by writingsprint in Writing
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research

Question #5 for my Smashwords profile. I made it too long! Here’s the complete version. A shorter version will show up in the profile.

If I’m completely blank-slated, I flip open the book The Amazing Story Generator or roll the “Rory’s Story Cubes” app on my phone and make something up. Those have been good for blog posts so far, and one short story. I haven’t used them for larger pieces yet. I may flip through the pictures I’ve pinned on Pinterest to see if any of them grab me. Often I have to start writing and see what comes out. If I try to work out the story first, sometimes I get an idea, but usually it’s like kneading a brick.

On a good day, I get inspired. I’m playing a game, reading a book, talking to someone, listening to a song, whatever, and something happens that gets my attention and won’t let go. When that happens, it’s best if I grab a pen and start writing as soon as I can. Sometimes it’s just fragments. Emotions. Feelings. Ideas for scenes. Other times it’s a scene unspooling as I write it. Either way, I write as much as I can, because inspiration is rare and precious.

Otherwise, I begin with this question: what’s the story that I want to read? I read a book called Making Story about how almost two dozen authors plot their books, and that was the most compelling piece of advice that I drew from it. If you were to walk into a book store, now, what book or magazine would get your attention and make you want to read it? Think about what it would look like. Who would the characters be? Where would they be? Would it be science fiction, drama, something else? What wouldn’t it be? Can you turn that inside-out and make it cool? Shadow and Shade was basically a reinvention of wizards in the dark forest. The story I’m working on now is based on a collection of characters I grew to love from a video game I was playing. I wanted to hear more, and they fired my imagination so much that I decided they had some new tales that needed telling.

At this point I know enough that I’m thinking about research, but I’m dying to stop thinking about writing and actually write something. So I do that. I’ll probably fiddle around with the first scene, maybe some random dialogue, maybe a scene that’ll happen later. I’ll also start listening for songs that you make a good playlist for the story or the main characters. (I have four playlists like that right now.) Pinterest boards are a good way to collect ideas for things you want to see in your story, or how you want it to feel.

Now it’s time for research. Any good story needs a solid foundation to back it up. As I write, I flag scenes with elements that need to be developed further. Off the top of my head, the new novel needs research on crime syndicates, Bonnie and Clyde, Frida Kahlo, Che Guevara, smuggling, guns, the Russian czars, psychics, cyborgs, aristocratic governments, I need to invent a galactic government, I need to invent some alien species, military coup tactics, The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and The Art of War by Sun Tzu. These will be used for pieces of the story that I need to understand better as well as just giving me ideas. I may also make stuff up, but even then I have to write it down and keep it straight in order for the story to have continuity. Research is a dangerous thing. At its best, it’ll form a backdrop so real that your reader can’t help falling into the story. At its worst, it’s a rabbit hole that you’ll fall into, chasing details that really didn’t matter to your story anyway.

As these things became clearer, the writing and research become cyclical. I’m still new enough at this that I hope it reaches a point where the story is mostly writing and not as much research, but I suppose it all depends on the story.

When the story is done, it’s time to edit. Someone once said that this is where good stories become great. I completely agree. When you’re writing you’re swimming in the story up to your eyeballs. You’re too close to it to have a good idea of where some gentle tweaks or major changes could make your story better. If it’s at all possible, I ask a friend or two to read it to give the story a fresh look. I am a merciless editor. William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” I thought Stephen King said it better: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” There are certain lines, scenes, nay, whole chapters that you love, but that simply don’t work in the end. When that happens, do what you have to do to make the story better. Cut. Rewrite. Do what I do and put those lines into a scrapbook for use some other day. You’ll be glad you did. Shadow and Shade went through four rewrites. The first was a brutal overhaul where 25% of it was ripped out, then I went back in and gave what was left the detail that it needed. The other three times I gave it some distance, then reread it with fresh eyes and made changes.

Finally, I decide whether I want to keep working on the story, or let it go. If you’re like me you’ll get to a point where you love your story, but there’s one more thing that you want to make better. You just don’t know how. I’ve learned that loving it is a good sign. Our stories are the best that we can write them at the time. Accept it, honor it, and share it with the world.

Oh — I learned one last step from a fellow writer: celebrate your achievements! Whether it’s dinner, cake, or something special, remember to pat yourself on the back. Congratulations!

Image credit: “Research Advice” by Denise Krebs at Flickr
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This man met Bigfoot. He met better than Bigfoot — he met Bill Watterson, author of Calvin and Hobbes.

Pearls Before Swine

Bill Watterson is the Bigfoot of cartooning.

He is legendary. He is reclusive. And like Bigfoot, there is really only one photo of him in existence. 

Few in the cartooning world have ever spoken to him. Even fewer have ever met him.

In fact, legend has it that when Steven Spielberg called to see if he wanted to make a movie, Bill wouldn’t even take the call.

So it was with little hope of success that I set out to try and meet him last April.

I was traveling through Cleveland on a book tour, and I knew that he lived somewhere in the area. I also knew that he was working with Washington Post cartoonist Nick Galifianakis on a book about Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson’s art.

So I took a shot and wrote to Nick. And Nick in turn wrote to Watterson.

And the meeting…

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Taking It to the Next Level

Posted: May 31, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay, My two cents
Tags: , , , , ,

write everything

We have a saying at my job: “What got us here, won’t get us there.” The idea is that we’re good at what we do now, but hard work will only get you so far. Eventually, you need to change the way you work in order to get better. To use a football analogy, what takes you down the field won’t work to punch the ball in from the five yard line.

Yesterday I was doing my morning yoga, and I got to a point where I was moving from half moon – a pose where you form a “T” with your body and stand on one leg facing sideways – to a standing split. It’s one thing to put your hands on the ground and lift up your back leg as far as you can. I was doing that in my first month of yoga. But what does it take to do the perfect standing split?

I thought about every aspect of the pose that I could imagine. If there was any tension, anywhere in my body, even between my eyes, I tried to relax it. I breathed, of course (you’re always focused on breathing in yoga). I straightened my leg, and realized out that I needed more strength in my upper quads. I wiggled my toes for a second, because why not, and realized that my foot had felt like dead weight before, and maybe it helped. I aligned my hips, and realized that I needed far more flexibility there, not just in my legs. I flattened my back, and realized that a flexible back would lead to more flexible glutes which would help my hips which would help me to lift my leg. I wondered, just wondered, if changes in my diet would help with my flexibility or muscle too, too. Finally, what about meditation? Would a clearer mind help me pick up the micro-adjustments I need to make?

That got me thinking, what can people do that take their writing to the next level?

Work hard. We all know this one. Start writing, and reading. Write the best that you can. Write the worst that you can. Write regularly, and at odd times, too. Finish your stories, then edit them to make them better. Read the things that got you interested in writing, so that you can learn from them. You’ll absorb it into your skin and it’ll color how you write.

Work smart. Writing’s about all of you, not just your passion or your inspiration. Use your head, too. Plan things out. Do research. Work on the elements, like character, plot, setting, tension, voice, motivation, and so on. A good craftsman knows how to use all his tools.

Get feedback. Use meetup.com to find a local writers group. Your library may have a club. This is great for three reasons. Your fellow writers will give you great ideas and inspiration that you never would have imagined. It feels good knowing that you’re not the only one out there who has this strange, wonderful love affair with words. And it turns writing from a lonely pursuit to a social pursuit. I can tell you that the connections I’ve made from writing have been my favorite part about it.

Play. One of the best ways to overcome writers’ block is with play. Write 100-word shorts. Write haiku. Take a scene and turn your good guy into the bad guy and vice versa. Write scenes that will never see the light of day. Turn your own personal negative into a positive.

Let it cook. Sometimes you’re working too hard on something. Let go of it and do something else, especially exercise. Sleeping on it works pretty well for me, too. Your subconscious is still working on it. The idea you’re looking for may well pop into your head once you get out of your own way.

Broaden your creativity. Olympic athletes cross-train to fill in gaps left by specialized training. Writing is a creative pursuit, and there are all kinds of creativity. Learn a musical instrument. Take an acting class. Join your church choir. Sketch. Learn calligraphy. Sculpt. This is the insight that I picked up when I was trying to do standing split in yoga. Anything you do that makes you feel more alive will help your writing. Did I mention that I’ve started creating iTunes playlists for my characters, to get farther inside their heads?

Share your knowledge. You haven’t truly mastered something until you can teach it to someone else. Helping other people improve their writing builds good karma, and it’ll give you perspectives on your own writing that you never had before. Comment on other people’s blogs and share helpful thoughts with them, as well as contributing in your writers group.

These have helped me make breakthroughs in writing, and this is just what I’ve learned so far. Give them a try and let me know how they work for you.

What have you done to take your writing — or anything — to the next level?

Photo credit: “to write love on her arms” by ashley rose at Flickr
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Weird is Good

Posted: March 17, 2014 by writingsprint in My two cents
Tags: , , , , , ,

weird is good

5 Ways to Jumpstart Inspiration

Posted: February 1, 2014 by writingsprint in Writing
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Christine is a passionate, insightful poet whose work I love to read. I lwill definitely try some of these ideas. Exercise is working for me already — I get ideas during yoga all the time. The first one I may try is writing something even if it sucks. I usually stop and change direction instead. There’s a story about a great composer, who was asked by an another composer how his symphonies could be so great, while his weren’t? The great composer said that the average composer considered only great ideas, while the great composer considered both good and bad ones.

I think my favorite is to give one thing close attention. I’m usually so focused on getting the scene down that I’m chattering away about what happened instead of describing it. Great writers seem to describe their scenes in ways that the rest of us never would have imagined before.

I would also add “play.” We’re usually so hard at work with our writing that we forget that we started out just having fun with it. I’m not just saying to enjoy it. Sometimes it’s work, and it’s intense, and that’s hard to change. I’m saying to take the time to just play. Write scenes that you’ll never use. Write scenes that you’d be embarrassed to show people. (I’ve been writing erotica in my journals myself.) Turn scenes on their heads. Write short scenes. Write long scenes. Flip the characters. Show your main character hitting his thumb with a hammer and cursing a ridiculous blue streak. Use the page as your own personal big blank wall, you have a can of spray paint and it’s time to make the world’s wildest graffiti mural.

Play is a glorious way to get to know your characters and to experiment with creativity in ways that you normally just wouldn’t do, because it “matters.” Play is how we begin to learn as children. I think it unlocks the subconscious. You do silly things when you’re playing, but on some level it makes sense to you. Two or three steps later, you have an idea.

Where do you think this post just came from?

Christine Klocek-Lim

IMG_2979

A lot of people ask me where I get my ideas from for writing. For many years when I was younger, I had trouble with inspiration. Ideas were like birds I could see only in the distance, in a sky I could never reach. Bits of them floated to the ground once in a while—useless, discarded feathers. It wasn’t until I spent more time writing, every day, that the ideas started flocking into my head. I developed some habits that called them to me, like scattering mental birdseed around to draw them in. Here are some of them:

1. Exercise/meditation/hiking: spend some time alone in your head. If you’re like me, sitting around doing nothing may drive you crazy, so I have found that if I do something physical while I’m wandering the pathways of my mind, ideas float into my consciousness with almost no effort.

2. Listen to music:…

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20 Pieces Of Advice For Female Artists From Female Artists
Pearls of wisdom straight from flawless ladies of NYCC’s Artist’s Alley
By Krutika Mallikarjuna at Buzzfeed.com

This is a great series of photos with advice from comic book artists. It’s by women, for women, but there’s good advice in there for all creative types.

Thought for the Day

Posted: September 14, 2013 by writingsprint in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Creativity is like growing things: you can’t force a plant to grow faster. You have to take care of it, feed it, and put it in surroundings and conditions that will help it to grow.

book pickings

From Brain Pickings blog!

“The Best Books on Writing, NYC, Animals, and More: A Collaboration with the New York Public Library” by Maria Popova

This post at Brain Pickings combines writing, books, libraries, great design, creativity, dogs, cats, adventure, travel, children’s literacy, and the list goes on.

Om...

Om...

…but it’s pretty cool, too.

I’ve been taking a course on yoga, and today we had a lesson on the four types brain waves, and how they relate to the four levels of mind described in the Mandukya Upanishad. Brain waves are beta, alpha, theta, and delta, which correspond to conscious brain activity, subconscious activity, dreaming, and deep dreamless sleep. The Upanishad discusses the sound “Aum” and the states of waking, dreaming, sleeping, and the state of illumination or enlightenment.

As part of the lesson, our teacher, Wes, wanted to hook one of us up to a device called a Mind Mirror, which is basically an electroencephalograph tailored to analyze brain waves in the four levels I described. Since I’m the biggest ham in the group, I’ll try anything, and I have the shortest hair, I volunteered. The short hair was important because there are five electrodes that he had to connect to my head. The good news is there was no fire at the yoga studio tonight…

Wes started guiding me into a standard meditation. “Imagine that you’re outdoors, in a calm, peaceful place… explore this place and experience it…” Through most of this part my beta waves were high. I was excited and laughing at being the center of attention. Focus on breathing. Relax the face, and take deep breaths from the belly. That’s it. For the outdoor place, I tried a forest, a beach, and a tropical rain forest on for size. I settled on the forest. I saw a creek that I went for a swim in. I saw a wolf that was familiar to me. I tried to talk to it but it dove into the water and stayed away from me.

“Now imagine that you find a spiral staircase. Follow it down. It curves down, and around, deep underground, into darkness.”

I don’t know about you, but I was scared of the dark as a kid. I liked the idea of the spiral staircase, and going deep into the mind, but a spiral staircase going into the dark? No way. I imagined torches on the walls, and pretended that the big, marble, spiral staircase in the middle of the woods was a familiar place, even though I’d never been there before.

“We’ve starting to see some good alpha and theta brainwave activity here.” My breathing was deep and I was relaxed. My imagination was starting to move. I remembered the beta waves, and how I felt then. That was what it was like to be at work, when the pressure was on and I had to be alert. This was how it felt to be relaxed and loosen up, to let ideas flow. I breathed deeply and sank into the feeling.

You come to a hallway filled with doors

You come to a hallway filled with doors...

“You come to a hallway filled with doors. You walk down this hallway, passing door after door. These are places in your subconscious mind.”

SHIT! Nobody told me that I have this sneaky fear that there’s stuff in my subconscious mind that’s going to reach out and bite me.

“You turn to one of the doors. It’s familiar to you, and you recognize the color, or a word on the door.” Pause. “That’s a big jump in beta waves there.”

Yeah, no kidding! The fight or flight response was going ape in me. Breathe. Relax. This is a safe place. Whatever is behind this door, I can deal with.

“Open the door, and go inside.”

On the other side of the door is a science lab, a mad scientist’s science lab. There’s an examination bed in the middle of the room and a million different things that I can be poked, prodded, or otherwise examined and dissected with in all kinds ways. With the recognition that happens in dreams, I know this is a place where something bad happened to me. No one is here now, except me, and the lab hasn’t been used in decades.

“Explore the room, and make any changes that you wish to.”

All this crap has to go. I started moving things into the hallway to get rid of them. The examination table, the spotlights, the millions of tiny metal probes and instruments. Everything goes. The movers will haul it away to the dump tomorrow. I put a couch against the wall and hung up pictures of my family and friends.

You come to another door. It’s also familiar to you…

You come to another door. It’s also familiar to you…

“Leave the room, and walk back down the hallway…”

I felt better, and started playing with imagination mush.

“You come to another door. It’s also familiar to you…”

Yes. This is a safe place. It really is safe, unlike the lab.

“You recognize its color, and a sign or word on the door.”

The door flashes blue, then turns back to wood. Carved into a plaque on the door is a Chinese character. With the wordless understanding that comes in dreams, I know what it means. More on this later.

“Open the door, and go inside.”

I’m smiling. I know this is a safe place, this is where I should be right now, and something good will happen here. I open the door and see a reddish, living cloud inside the room. I think, warm, and go inside.

“Explore the room, and make any changes that you wish to.”

I fly around in the cloud. It shifts back and forth from cloud to jello, and I shift freely from flying to swimming. Breathing is easy. I see flashes of a walls of a cave. I’m exploring, and this is good, but there’s something here for me to learn. I need to see it.

golden lightIn class, we once did an exercise to help us feel life energy between our fingers — a ch’i ball. I imagined the same golden light that I did then, in crystal balls that I started hanging around the room. Other lights floated off my hands and hung in the air.

“Whoa! Look at that jump in theta waves!”

I hung up more lamps around the room. In a few moments, Wes brought me back out. This time I flew gently up the spiral staircase. He brought me back to the forest and had me sit down to meditate there, before coming all the way back up to reality.

I saw the wolf again

I saw the wolf again

I saw the wolf again. I smiled — it did too — and I decided to play with this image. I became a man-wolf, covered in fur and with a wolf’s head. I floated between being having a wolf’s head, and my own body, and my own head, and… it was still my own body, but for some reason it felt more wolfish. Maybe it was; I don’t remember.

“There’s another jump in theta! Did everybody see that one?”

We peeled the electrodes off my head, and I told everybody what happened during the meditation. It was a great class.

About the Chinese character: in reality I doubt I’ve ever seen it before. Thinking about it now, it looked kind of like a bridge, with a bar across the top, legs on the sides that poked over the bar, and a little waggle thing under the bar like that thing hanging down in the back of your throat, the uvula. With the bridging going on between my unconscious and conscious mind, now I’m not surprised. Voice, and the bridging of the heart and mind, are a big part of what I’m getting out of yoga, too.

As far as the wolf/man merge goes, on PBS, I saw a special once that talked about the sphinx. One thing that makes the sphinx unique is that, unlike most human-animal images of the time, the sphinx has a human head with an animal body, compared to the human body, animal head of previous images. It could symbolize the mind having benevolent rulership over our animal nature, or as I like to think of it, union with it. I thought it was very cool, which is why I went there with the image.