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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trigger Creativity

So you've done your morning journaling, cleared the sludge from your brain and you're ready to get to work. But nothing stirs. Your imagination is stifled. That part of us that wants to dance, sing, or color out of the lines gets told 'no' a lot during the course of a day. Which is fine, because there's a time and a place for such things. It would be pretty frustrating if the cashier at Walmart was too busy dancing to ring up your purchase (although I'd really like to see this).

Sometimes all we need is a way to signal our creative self that it's time to play, to coax it out into the open. I'm sure you've heard of psychological triggers like Pavlov's dog drooling at the sound of a bell. Your imagination can be trained to respond to a trigger the same way. There are lots of different triggers you can use, so experiment until you find one or a combination of several that work for you. The list is endless, but here are a few ideas that have worked for me:

  • Light a scented candle on your writing desk. Smell is a great trigger. You can use one particular scent to trigger your writing, or have a variety depending on what you're writing about. I have a coffee-scented candle, pine, Yankee Candle's 'Fireside' (yum!), and I also use juniper or piƱon incense, especially when I'm writing outdoor scenes that feature campfires.

  • Particular music. You might listen to the same instrumental background music, or maybe loud rock. I often listen to music with headphones on to drown out the sound of the kids and the tv and the phone ringing. I also listen to a variety of styles of music, depending on what I'm writing. I think of it as my soundtrack and to this day when I put on Jon Bon Jovi's 'Blaze of Glory' I am immediately transported to one particular story.

  • Make a cup of hot tea. I rarely drink hot tea at any other time, but when I sit down to write, especially after a few days away from the keyboard, I fix myself a cup of triple ginseng tea.

  • Solitaire. Use this one with caution and careful discipline. Allow yourself to sit down and play exactly three games of solitaire. Or freecell, or spider, or minesweeper. But after three games, whether you've won them all or lost them all, you must start writing. If you start making deals with yourself that you'll write as soon as you've won three games in a row, remove all the game programs from the computer you use to write. (Don't ask me how I know)

Whatever trigger you use, make it your writing ritual. Don't fix your tea and then sit and play freecell for two hours and never write a word. If tea is your ritual, make the tea, then sit down and make words happen. At first it might take a bit of effort, but before long, as soon as you smell that candle or taste that tea, you'll feel the urge to write.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Keeping the Well Stocked

In every writer or artist, there is a Well, a deep pool of possibilities that we draw ideas and thoughts and inspiration from. It is important to keep this Well stocked at all times.

How do we do this?

One of the best ways to keep the Well stocked is to journal. Right now, I’m working through The Artist’s Way program, which is a process of unblocking creativity that was created by Julia Cameron. One of the basic tools of this program is called The Morning Pages. Three pages of free thought spilled out onto the page, preferably when you first wake up in the morning (although I’ve been known to do mine on the subway into work, or in the afternoon). Even if you’re not doing The Artist’s Way, this is a great tool to keep you in touch with writing. It will get the sludge out of your brain, that extra layer of “did I turn the coffeemaker off, I need to do laundry, I didn’t call my doctor” that resides in our minds. We need to get below that layer to write. We need to get below that layer to tap into the Well.

Eventually, after you’ve journaled that sludge away, things like, “that’s how to solve the problem that chapter is giving me, I need to cut that character out, this is the real plot of my novel” will begin to come out. That’s when a bucket of water will come up from the Well.

It is vitally important to keep the Well stocked in times when life is getting in the way and you just can’t work on your WIP (work-in-progress). During those times, journal fifteen minutes a day. Yes, you can find fifteen minutes to journal. If you journal for fifteen minutes a day, you’ll find that when you return to your WIP, there will be a lot less sludge to deal with, because you kept the Well stocked.

So tomorrow morning, set your alarm for fifteen minutes earlier (you don’t really need that extra sleep) and journal. It doesn’t need to be brilliant; no one is going to see it. It just needs to be three pages of free thought. And when you’re done, your Well will be stocked for the day.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thoughts on Facing the Page

We've all been there. If you're reading this blog, then you are most likely a writer, and we writers have all been to that place in our work when sitting down and facing the page is the last thing we want to do, right? We scrub the toilets, we reorganize the bookshelves, we surf every editor and agent blog on the internet - anything to avoid the dreaded WIP that is for some reason or another giving us trouble.

It's what we do.

But here's the thing. We can't leave it alone. Even when our work (or the lack thereof) tortures us and we just can't make the scene come out right or find the perfect word to describe the way our MC walks into a room (without using an adjective!) we feel the itch. We have to scratch it. Because the only thing harder than writing is not writing. Writers write, after all. And we want to be writers, so we do the dance, dipping and twirling between exhilaration and despair. For us, there is no choice.

That's what facing the page means to me. It means having the balls/guts/determination/compulsion/discipline/insanity to sit down every day with pen or computer and create when creating's hard. It means not giving up. Even when you a.) feel unworthy because another writer's work is better b.) are disgusted because another writer's work sucks and they're agented/published c.) are frustrated because your editor/agent/critique group/significant other doesn't get it d.) feel certain that your editor/agent/critique group/significant other gets it - but you don't e.) have just discovered your plot goes nowhere/your mc is not sympathetic/your dialog is wooden/no one likes your story f.) etc., etc., etc.

Do I always face the page bravely in my own work? Ha. Just ask the group here how often they have to soothe the insecurities and push me back on track. But I'm here. And so is the page. And once I stop procrastinating/fearing/avoiding/loathing, the page and I are going to have a great time.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nourish your writer's soul

Nicole, Jen and Barb did an awesome job talking about facing the page during times of tragedies, busy lives and extreme stress. I’d like to talk about facing the page for a writer’s own well being. I have come to realize that writing is like drinking my 8 glasses of water a day. I have to do it to stay healthy, to keep my writer’s soul hydrated. And, I have to do it every day. Some days I don’t get those 64 ounces in, and some days I don’t get the word count in that I’d like, but I write something! (Even a blog post.) *s* Yes, there are days that it’s simply not possible for some reason or another…but I try never to skip two days in a row. I equate this to getting dehydrated. You can’t go without water…a writer can’t go without writing. Period!

There have been plenty of times that my life took on, well…a life of its own. I put writing on the back burner, to simplify things, but I found it didn’t help. In fact, it complicated my life even more. That is because writing and being a writer is part of me. It’s part of who I am every single day. Writing feeds my soul and nourishes my spirit. If I neglect it, I suffer. I might mention that my family and friends share in the suffering because I perhaps turn a tad cranky and short tempered when I’m not getting my words in.

Furthermore, during the dry spells, the longer I went without writing, the harder it was to start again. But, when I forced myself to write something, whether that be work on my novel, attempting to write a short story, maybe even taking a writing class online…it actually felt like the act of writing was fuel for my body. It literally gave me energy. I’d be pumped up, heart thumping and imagination zinging. It feels so good!

Make writing your water. Your body and your mind crave it! Make it part of your day, something you have to do to be whole and content. Face the Page every single day because it’s good for you…it’s a part of who you are…you need to….because you are a writer.