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Fueling the Fires

When your work involves being creative, it can be hard to come up with new ideas day after day, hour after hour. To maintain a creative life, you need to feed your creativity. Visit new places, look at new works of art, eavesdrop on new conversations, read new
books/articles/posts, try your hand at a new kind of project … the list is endless.

But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we get stuck. We need a little help to keep that  creative fire burning. I use three million and ten different tricks to help myself out of fire-buring-public-domain
sticky situations. Okay, that might not be the exact number. But as I’ve mentioned before, I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. In fact, I stuff them into every pocket, hat, bag, and even undergarment that I own! The one I’m about to share may seem strange at first. You might wonder how what results will possibly work with your particular project. That’s okay. Let it sit and simmer for a while. Keep it on the back burner because I promise that at some point when you’re stuck (which happens to the best of us) it’ll be ready and waiting for you to turn up the heat.

journal-public-domainSo what is this different little trick? It’s called “On This Day…” and its inception came from my many years of homeschooling and teaching writing to children. When my girls were in grade school, I made it a habit of having them start each day with a journal entry. Young children almost always benefit from a prompt to help focus their wide-ranging thoughts. Heck, many adults do, too. During school hours, at least once per week I used the “On This Day”-prompt where I took an event (or offered a list of events and let them choose one) and asked the girls to use it to write creatively in their journals. Being a writer, I always joined in during journal time and wrote my own entry. I found that sometimes the historical event filled in a blank spot in a story or essay I was writing. I didn’t necessarily use the event itself, but rather the idea it sparked.public-domain-women-and-history

Because it was so helpful, I’ve returned to this trick whenever I’m stuck in a story and need a little help lighting the creative fires again. During NaNoWriMo last year, I used my “On This Day”-technique when considering what might be going on in the world around my characters. It helps me to have a picture of possible events in their lives, even if they don’t all make it into the story. I also use it to spark questions and thoughts for my characters – where might this or that lead? And, I’ve used this trick to inspire drawings and encaustic paintings. For example, reading about an event in history during Prohibition led to a wax painting involving wine and dancing.

Finding information for “On This Day” is extremely fast and easy. I have several daily journal books I used when homeschooling that had interesting and different kinds of information for the day (e.g., Today Hershey produced its first chocolate bar!), and sometimes I still pull them out. But more often, I use the internet because it is simple to gather additional information on a topic if it strikes a chord. I can see this being especially helpful for historical fiction writers who might want specific historical details.

So where do you look? I like History.com‘s This Day in History page, but there are many to peruse when looking for the day’s events. Here is a brief and very incomplete list:

Once you have the list, how does it work? Let’s take today. October 10th. Many things porgy-and-besshappened on this day throughout human history. I like to look at a long list of possible events because usually something strikes me and my brain is off and running. Today, the event that jumps off the page at me is that on October 10, 1935 Porgy and Bess, “the first great American opera,” premiered on Broadway.

Whoa. I love this opera. I used to sing songs from this opera in middle school concert choir. How did I forget that today was the day it premiered? Okay, I probably never actually knew what day it premiered, but nonetheless… reading about this event triggers a host of thoughts and creative avenues for me – even though on the surface it is not at all related to my current writing project.

As I follow the thoughts, I jot notes to myself. Many don’t get used, but I write down – without judgment or too much thought – everything that comes to mind for 5-10 minutes. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote for today:

  • In middle school, I learned “Summertime” (song from P&B) for concert choir – I then got into the opera and insisted on seeing it in person; led to trip to the city where we got lost – what if the main character does similar… what happens when she’s lost?
  • What if the main character wants to play Bess in the high school production but she isn’t black? Or maybe it’s not P&B but some other show … What happens? How does she go about getting the part? How do others react?
  • What if the main character is trying to write an American opera and uses P&B as the basis/inspiration – what could this be about? What is relevant today from P&B? What has changed? How can I change the opera to be new? How does impact the M.C.’s life? 

You get the idea.

I think everyone can benefit from trying this technique at least once. It may not find its way into your story or art the first time, but the brainstorming process that results from looking at “On This Day” forces your brain into creative mode. And in creative mode is always a good place be.

If you try this technique, let me know how it goes! And if you do something similar, please share! I’d love to read about it in the comments so I can tuck it up my sleeve or into a pocket when I need another trick! 

Artistic Ventures: Altered Books (or What I’m Doing When I Should Be Writing

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

20151120_091458I find it easier to “do art” than write. While I love writing and I need to write, there is something about painting or drawing or melting (that’s the hot wax encaustics) that calls to me and pulls me in, even when I’m feeling bored, uninspired, or flat-out fatigued.  When I’m feeling “ugh,” I can still “do art” and feel like I’ve been creative. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to imply I’ve created a masterpiece but rather simply have achieved some creativity.

Probably my inner Creativity Junkie talking.

Writing, on the other hand, requires that my brain cells line up and fire. 20151120_065003
And that doesn’t always happen the way I’d like. In fact, often the more I try to make it happen the less success I have. So I fool myself. I do some other form of creative activity to trick my brain into getting into writing mode.

And I love it when the sneaky activity involves something with which I’ve had a love affair my whole life – books.

20151120_064428 (1)This month, my daughters (you remember them from their starring role in this post?) and I have worked on creating altered books. (<– Mine is still in the  early stages, but I’m all for showing works-in-progress so I’ve posted a picture nonetheless.)  20151120_064807

I love that the girls each embraced different aspects of altered books. One daughter got into the words on the page. Another folding. Another painting. Another adding feathers and other tidbits. One book features a shadow-box-like cutout.  I’ve set them out around our house to serve as decorations in honor of National Novel Writing Month – this may not be what the authors thought would happen to their works, but I think it makes a nice tribute to the world of the written word.

20151120_065410If you’re feeling uninspired when it comes to writing, I recommend tearing into an old book (library discards are wonderful for this!) and turning it into a work of art. Or a work of creativity if the word “art” is too intimidating.

Have you created an altered book? If you have one or decide to give it a go, post a pic! I’d love to see what you come up with. Altered books not your thing? Share what YOU do when you should be writing! 

The Writing Life: Best Tips for Finishing NaNoWriMo

**Don’t forget to enter my Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of What If? Writing Exercises. Ends 11/24!**

finish lineThis is my first year taking on the month-long challenge that is NaNoWriMo. And so far, I’m pleasantly on track. Not ahead, not behind. Right on target. But every day, the words come more slowly. The looming mountain ahead feels higher and steeper than it did week one.

Bottom line? I’m starting to get worried about finishing.

So last night, I took a few hours and did what procrastinating writers everywhere do best – I surfed the web.  And read. And surfed. And read some more.  And I found some of the best tips for finishing NaNoWriMo on the web.

Because I want you to finish, I’m hoping my wasted writing hours will mean less procrastination for you. Take advantage of my surfing trip and check out these helpful articles and posts for finishing NaNoWriMo.

My personal favorite way to write when the well appears dry? NaNoWriMo Word Sprints on Twitter. I don’t know what it is, but just having that page up while writing motivates me to plow through and have something on the page before they yell, “STOP!”

Note: I’m only including five of the many, many, MANY articles I read because, well, the truth is you need to be writing and so do I!

When you’re through reading the wise words of these WriMo sages, get writing! The end is near – so write on!

TIPS FOR FINISHING NANOWRIMO
brought to you by World-Class Procrastinator, Kat McCormick… 

  1. From WritersDigest.comHalfway There: Finishing NaNoWriMo Strong by contributor Cris Freese

    This tidy article offers creative and inspiring tips from past finishers and writers to get you through the second half of NaNo.  My personal favorite? Bring wine!

  2. From WritabilityHow I Won NaNoWriMo in 9 Days by writer Ava Jae

    I know what you’re thinking… nine days?! You and I may not be aiming to pull off a 9-day feat (or if you’re behind maybe you are), but regardless of timing the tips and tricks used by speed writer Jae will help you power through toward the finish line.

  3. From Write It SidewaysHow to Get Past the NaNoWriMo Danger Point and Finish Your Novel by author and coach Hillary Rettig

    This article offers some tips I’ve read before, and some I haven’t – but they are presented in a different light that made something “click” in my brain. I especially like the tips about writing nonlinearly and examining your fears and pitfall (procrastination-busting at its best).

  4. From Kirsten Lamb’s Blog8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo by, you guessed it, Kirsten Lamb

    While this post is not specifically about finishing NaNo, Lamb points out flaw that will stop you from completing your story and provides insights on what is needed to avoid/fix them. I especially appreciate the section on the core story problem (or lack thereof).

  5. And last but not least, from CreativeLiveHow to Break Through Writer’s Block: Show Up & Bring a Pen by Hanna Brooks Olsen

    What I like best about this post is how straightforward it is – if you want to break through the shiny ribbon at the NaNo finish line, there is only one thing to do – WRITE! Olsen does offer some tips on how to write when the words don’t want to come, but overall this article was a swift kick in the rear for yours truly.

Any of these tips resonate with you? Or if you’re a past finisher, please share your best tip in the comments section and stop a WriMo procrastinator from spending more precious writing time surfing the web …