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Make a Mess!

Creativity

I say these words over and over because they’re so very true. I don’t recall the source, but I do remember when I first heard them. I was sitting on the living room floor, surrounded by a mess of papers, drawings, art supplies, books, and snacks as I worked on a project. Yes, creative people make big messes.

It was then as I began the “cleaning up” process that I fully understood this little saying. As I sorted through ideas and inspirations — keeping some and discarding others — my mess turned into a completed project.

I approach fiction from this perspective, too. I make a huge mess with story ideas all over the place. I scribble notes on odd scraps of paper. I grab research books to keep close at hand. Putting a story together does get very messy indeed.

For what it’s worth, my current project — The Sheriff Wore Skirts — is a disastrous mess at the moment. Even though I began with a synopsis for the publisher, now that I’m working on the story, I’m seeing new possibilities. New characters are emerging. New complications and conflicts are happening.

What do I do?  I let it happen. It’s wondrous fun.

To me, it’s much like working a jigsaw puzzle…only first, I have to create all the pieces.

I won’t use them all. As with any creative project, I’ll find myself throwing away things that aren’t needed, sorting out what’s right for the story, getting rid of ideas that don’t fit. Gradually, the mess will be picked up. The research books will go back on the shelf. The little scraps of paper will be tossed aside. A finished manuscript will come together, ready to go to the publisher.

Don’t ever get discouraged when your creative efforts result in a huge mess. That’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s a process, and making a mess — the bigger, the better — is the first step toward success. Celebrate all the mixed-up, confused ideas. Scatter the pieces of your own puzzle around so you can look at them from different angles. Pick things up and play with them. Enjoy the mess!

Then begin the cleaning-up process. Throw away or set aside things you know you don’t need. Find what’s most important and build around it. Add in possibilities that might work. Discard ones that don’t work.

Slowly and surely, as you clean up the mess — whether it’s an art project, a poem you’re writing, a recipe you’re cooking, or any other endeavor — you’ll see a beautiful creation shining through.

 

 

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Blocks

BlocksI’m one of the “lucky ones”, I suppose. Although I hear writers from all genres bemoaning “writer’s block”, I’ve never been affected by the malady. I’m a writer; I write. It’s what I do. Sure, there are days when writing is easier than others, but even if I’m distracted, distraught, or downright puzzled over what to write next, there’s one sure way to get past the problem.

Sit down and write something.

 

 

It doesn’t have to be good. That’s what the editing process is for. The writing process is for putting words down, for capturing thoughts, exploring ideas, and moving forward.

Recently, I came across a little information about “Writer’s Block” that I found interesting. There are, I discovered, many different ways in which writers can be blocked.

  • What do I do now? Sometimes we can write ourselves into a corner. Sometimes we give a character a huge problem to resolve…and find ourselves at a loss as to how to proceed. Or we have scenes where we’re unsure whose point of view might be best. Yes, there are challenges in writing, but the answer isn’t to quit writing. When I come to these procedural bumps in the road, I just pack up and skip to a different part of the story. I trust that my subconscious will figure out a way to get around the problem. Sometimes the process of writing a later scene — or an earlier one — will give my brain a jolt, and I’ll have one of those “Aha!” moments. By setting things up differently, maybe the problem will disappear, or by heading for a different outcome, maybe the problem will be more easily resolved.
  • I’m all out of ideas! Sometimes the writer’s well goes dry — or so I’ve been told. We’ve all been told that there are only so many plots…and that they’ve all been used a thousand times. It’s simply not possible to come up with a wholly new idea. The fun of creating, I think, is to come up with fun new twists on old plots, to come up with new characters to act out those familiar storylines, to throw in random ideas and mix old stories together to come up with something that might not be completely new, but is totally different. If you’re feeing blocked creatively, check the web for random writers’ prompts. Open a dictionary and choose a word at random. Do the same with an encyclopedia, choosing a topic. Then look for a way to incorporate that into your WIP or into the story you’re planning.
  • What’s the point? My writing stinks! Oh, yes, this block is a pervasive one in the writing community. No matter how great our idea, no matter much we love a story, no matter how much we sweat and toil to bring our characters to life, at some point during the process — especially when writing a lengthy novel — we suddenly hate everything we’re doing. The idea, we realize, isn’t so clever. It’s silly. It’s dull. It’s boring. Characters? They’ve suddenly fallen flat. Their dialogue is a joke. That noble theme? Our meaningful premise? Somehow they’ve all lost their lustre. It’s all because of us, of course, because of our inadequacies. We’re not good enough to write such a complex story. We don’t have the skills to create memorable characters. We don’t know how to catch and hold a reader’s attention. In other words, plain and simple, we suck. Our writing sucks. Yes, we all feel that way from time to time, but if we keep writing, those feelings go away. We suddenly find ourselves turning a different corner and coming up with new ideas for the story, or a minor character suddenly steps up and grabs our attention. The excitement returns! The crisis is over. Of course, writing is an art and a craft, and there’s much to be learned. Set aside time to study. Learn about how to create characters, read up on writing dialogue, master the principles of suspense, conflict, and other essential story elements.
  • What’s was I doing? Oh, yes. Distractions. Sometimes it’s all but impossible to avoid them. Friends call. Family members need assistance. An unexpected sunny day can lure us away, or a gloomy day can put us in a dreaded funk that makes it impossible to do anything! There’s laundry to do, meals to cook, places to go. Most writers today don’t have the luxury of quitting their day jobs. Children need care, cars need tune-ups, there are appointments scheduled for doctors, dentists, and vision specialists. And…there’s more! Sometimes even the slightest little change in schedule can throw us off. We slept late. We missed our favorite television show. We spent a day in bed with a sore throat. How do we get back in the groove? And then, there’s clutter. Even though we usually might not even notice our surroundings while writing, there are times when something out of place can jar us. Oh, those magazines need to be straightened up. What’s that plate and fork doing on the desk? Well, those coffee mugs need to be picked up, and all those newspapers have to be thrown out. Actually, part of this is the creative process itself. Being creative usually does mean making a mess. Eventually it gets cleaned up. There’s no easy way to avoid distractions. It helps, I’ve learned, to laugh as much as I can, do what needs to be done, and yes, give myself an occasional break — after I’ve finished the day’s writing. The rule is “a sentence a day.” Some days, that’s all I write. Most days, however, I find that one sentence leads to another…and another…and another. When distractions happen, work around them. A sentence a day.
  • I don’t have time! This is usually a spin-off from the distraction problem, and sure enough, there are times when we don’t have enough hours in the day for everything that needs to be done. To be honest, though, such days are rare. We all have twenty-four hours in a day, and truth be told, we can always find time for the things that matter most to us. How important is your writing? If you can’t find time to write — a sentence a day, at least — maybe writing doesn’t really mean all that much to you. Harsh words? Yes. Life holds a lot of harsh realities, especially for writers. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. If you want to write, you’ll find time.

I’m writing this a 3:30 AM. It’s quiet around the house now, and for me, the middle of the night is an ideal time for writing. There’s nowhere else I need to be, nobody needs anything right now, and other than the mess I’m making, there’s nothing distracting me. I can focus. I can think. I can write.

Anna, the parrot, is covered and quiet. My husband is sleeping soundly in our bedroom, and a grandson is sleeping in the guest room. Last night, he and I watched Brain Games for several hours and had great fun learning about the tricks our minds can sometimes play on us. As we watched the program and talked about different things, we were also busy building things. Conner loves to create things with Lincoln Logs, Legos, and other building blocks.

He was awed when I told him about Ryan McNaught’s 190,000-lego recreation of the town of Pompeii.

Pompeii

Now, as I sit here thinking about writer’s block and building blocks, my brain is playing a game of its own, putting these two very different concepts together to create something different.

Why can’t writers’ blocks be used as building blocks?

I think they can be, don’t you? Look again at the blocks and what they represent. Look, too, at the possibilities they offer.

  • Stuck in a plot hole? Not sure which direction to go? Why not use this block to try out several different possibilities? The more options we give ourselves, the more likely we are to find what we’re looking for. So, write, write, write. Write a scene where your character takes one action, then write another where the character does the opposite. Write a dozen different scenes. Try this. Try that. Nobody said it had to be perfect the first time. Nobody said you got only one shot at creating a plot. Use the “stuck” block to build creative freedom and try off-the-wall solutions.
  • No ideas? This block is filled with possibilities. Use it as a reminder of all your interests, all the things that intrigue you, all the things going on around you. Grab a notebook and fill it with notes. What are your hobbies? What places would you like to go? Who are the most memorable people you’ve met? Jot down headlines from the newspaper that get your attention. Throw in random thoughts. Clip pictures from magazines. Use the “no idea” block to build your own Idea File and generate thousands of possibilities.
  • Writing stinks? This might be the best block of all to have in your collection. Use it to build your skills and hone your natural talents. Sign up for online writing courses. Visit the library and check out books on fiction-writing. Join a critique group. Attend workshops. Subscribe to writers’ magazines. Writing is both a talent and a skill. There’s always room for growth and improvement. Use the “stinky block” to build your future by giving you a solid foundation in writing.
  • Uh, what? OK, the distraction block is a tough one. It’s that one with the odd shape that never quite seems to fit anywhere. Consider it a block of challenge…or better yet, consider it a block that symbolizes your creative spirit. Make a special place for it. Take it out and play with it. Cherish it. You’re making a mess around you because you are creative. Celebrate that creativity. Use it. Keep writing, work around the distractions, and when you run out of clean socks, go do the laundry. Creativity is a gift. Honor it.
  • Make TimeNo time? Although this can seem like one of the biggest problem blocks, you can turn it into one of the biggest building blocks. Schedule literal “blocks” of time for your writing. If you can’t write for eight hours a day, can you manage four? How about two hours? Sixty minutes? No? Fine. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes is all you can manage…today. What about tomorrow? Can you pencil in a bigger time block? Do you have extra time on the weekends? How about getting up an hour earlier? Or maybe you could skip that night at the movies this weekend and stay home to write instead. You’ve got twenty-four hours. No, you can’t use all of them for writing, but use the “time block” to remind you that there is always time to do what you really want to do.

Now, it’s time for me to move on, get my day started, and turn my attention to my WIP. It’s going to be a very busy day. Later, we’ll drive Conner home, then we’ll head to our grand-daughter’s place about 40 miles away. She’s living in a house we own, and we’re in the process of fixing it up a bit. Today’s project will be moving a washer and dryer from the basement to the new upstairs utility room my husband has constructed.

Mason SurgeryLittle great-grandbaby had two medical procedures done yesterday, so he’ll probably be a fussy boy, and I’ll probably be running errands or doing other things to help his mommy.

Yes, it’s going to be a busy, busy day.

I’ve got cod fillets, potato salad, and mustard greens on the menu. I’ll be fixing dinner as soon as we get back home. I’d like to find time to watch the latest episode of “Project Runway  Allstars” — it’s recorded on the DVR — and I’ll need to straighten the house a bit. We still have Lincoln Logs, Legos, and assorted building blocks scattered all through the living room.

But, that’s all right. Picking up those blocks and putting them away can wait. Right now, I have a job to do. I’ve got a new romance novel to write.

I’m a writer. I write.


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Today You Are You…

You’ve probably heard it before, right? Dr. Seuss shared that simple truth in Happy Birthday To You.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

seussbday

 

Nice thought! It’s one we should always remember. But… what is it about YOU that makes you YOU?

Over the years, I’ve noted several things that are “quintessentially me” — things that I recognize as being part of who I am. Let me give an example.

Once a friend of a friend came to visit, noticed my baby grand in the living room and commented, “Oh, what a beautiful piano.” Without thinking, I replied, “Yes, but I don’t play it.”

Let me explain. I began studying piano at age four. I was put on stage for the first time at a school assembly when I was in Kindergarten. (Never mind that I was so sick I wasn’t able to attend school that day. I was driven to school to perform, then quickly taken home to bed again.) All through elementary school, junior high, and high school, I was “the girl who plays the piano.” I played for music classes, I played for fashion shows, I played for school musicals. I went on to study piano at the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City, and for a time, I taught piano.

baby-grand-piano2Music was an integral part of my life. It was a big part of what made me…ME. But this friend of a friend knew nothing about that. When, with a serious expression, he looked at me and asked, “Have you ever thought of taking lessons?”, my mind didn’t understand the question.

To me, I realized as I pondered the situation, playing the piano was so much a part of who I was that I couldn’t grasp the fact that somebody didn’t know that.

What I’d actually meant with my off-hand remark was “Yes, of course, I’ve played the piano for years and years, but even though I have this beautiful piano, I don’t play it very much anymore because I’m too busy with other things.”

Basically, I expected this individual to fill in the unspoken words. I thought they should be obvious because I had always been “the girl who plays the piano.”

This has happened a number of different times with different interests and abilities I claim as part of who I am. It’s always rather startling, I think, to realize that, many times, we define who we are through what we do.

  • I play the piano
  • I love to cook
  • I study American history
  • I am a writer

Yes, true enough. I am all of these things and more.

  • I am a wife
  • I am a mother

Yes, again, true enough, but should we define ourselves by our relationships?

ECWhenever I ponder this question of what makes me who I am, my mind goes back in time to one very memorable afternoon more than twenty-five years ago. I was attending a school “field day” trip with one of my daughters. The class was visiting what’s known as “Exchange City”, a place where students could gain a first-hand understanding of how our economic system works.

Note: Sometime I’ll share my thoughts and feelings on Exchange City. For now, let’s just say I was not impressed with the “lessons in consumerism” the children received that day.

As the students were herded off for instructions on how to be good little shoppers, the parents were divided into groups to become shopkeepers. My group was to run the city’s warehouse, a place where other business-owners could come for supplies. Our first task was to name our warehouse.

I remember it so well.

Immediately, all eyes turned to me. I knew none of these parents, had never met a single one of them before that day. Yet, somehow, when the time came for a creative decision to be made, every man and every woman in that room looked — at once — to me.

“What do YOU think we should call our warehouse?”

 

It was another of those clearly-defining moments in my life, a moment when I realized exactly who I am.  I am a creative individual.

How did these people know? Creativity was, and is, so much a part of me and my life experience that it shows through somehow. Maybe these individuals picked up on it from things I’d said, or maybe it was my expressions, my attitudes. Maybe it was the way I dressed. I don’t know how these people knew, but they did.

Yes, that’s who I am.

Now, who are you?

HB2U

What is it about YOU that makes you YOU?


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Headed Out for Parts Unknown

One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter – who was a child at the time – asked me, “Daddy, why are you writing so fast?” And I replied, “Because I want to see how the story turns out!”

. . . Louis L’Amour

This has long been one of my favorite writing-related quotes. Although I can’t write in “pantster” style, I’m always awed by those who can start at the beginning with nothing more than an idea and bravely head out for parts unknown, finally finding themselves at a logical, coherent, and meaningful ending.

My approach is almost the exact opposite. I look first at where I want to go and then figure out how to get there. Of course, getting from one place to the other — for me — requires a lot of hops, skips, and jumps. I bounce around a lot while writing, working on various scenes at different points in the story. For me, that’s how new ideas emerge.

Every writer has his or her own way of coming up with a plot. Some writers begin with a character; others start with a basic premise or theme. Some writers need to pin down every last little detail, and others are content to start writing with only a vague idea of when, where, and how they’ll reveal significant bits of information. No way guarantees success. No way is right; no way is wrong.

No matter how carefully we may plan and plot, however, the act of writing a story almost always involves change. We think we’re writing about one thing then discover we’re writing about something very different. Our characters change, our storylines head off in new directions, and emotions we never expected are suddenly jumping out at us.

This is why I love writing. It’s fun! It’s unpredictable. It’s a creative process that allows me to learn new things about life, about love, and most of all, about myself.

In writing, I often think of my story as a puzzle, and all the pieces must fit together. But…before I can even begin to solve the puzzle, I have to create the pieces. Those pieces are the characters,  the settings, the problems, the conflicts…all of the many elements that — hopefully — come together in what we call a plot.

While browsing around one day, I found this handy little diagram. I’ve never used it and probably never will, but somebody might find it useful:

summary-puzzle

Sometimes I wish the thoughts inside my head were so neatly organized. They’re not and never will be. For me, the creative process of plotting begins with a day of “playing on the page”…it’s a wild and crazy journey. It goes something like this:

I really don’t have a clue what I’m going to write about. Earlier, I listened to Robert Rich’s music – Aquifer – and I have thoughts of wolves running through dark forests, but is that something I want to write about?  Not really. I like the spooky feelings of edgy ambient soundscapes, but that doesn’t mean I want to write about haunted houses, ghosts, or vampires.

During this first week, I should inquire into the nature of my premise. What premise? I must allow images and ideas to emerge. I can handle the second part, but I’m stumped on the first, and the first precedes the second, and the second is dependent upon the first, so where does that leave me? Out in some ambient forest with a pack of howling wolves.

howling-at-the-moon-kitsunes-and-wolves-30847061-300-361

Yes, it’s a messy process, but somehow it works for me. Eventually, I figure out where I want to go, and eventually I find a way to get there.

While I may be awed by those writers who can start at the beginning, head off for parts unknown, and speed at breakneck pace through a story, I don’t think I’d want to work that way. I’d rather let my mind wander off here and there — I just hope I don’t lose it somewhere along the way!



Thanks for visiting today!

I hope you’ll leave a comment and share a thought or two.


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Sand Castles — and More!

Beach 1

With summer approaching, many of us are dreaming of glorious days at the beach. And why not?  Feast your eyes on this gorgeous “scenery”.

 

Yes, beautiful ocean waves rippling toward the shore, a brilliantly blue sky…who could ask for more on a hot summer’s day?

 

Beach 3

 

Actually, I had a purpose in posting about the beach, specifically about sand castles, but I seem to have gotten a bit distracted! Darn the luck.

Let’s see, I was thinking about whitecaps, the sound of the waves crashing…the haunting sound of sea birds soaring through the heavens.

 

No, really, I wasn’t thinking about the beach. I was thinking about writing. I was thinking about the creative process. Mostly I was thinking about this fun little quote I found:

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sand castles.  – Shannon Hale

Beach 2

Somehow, my mind wandered.  Instead of sand castles, I thought of surfboards. Instead of writing, I found myself doing a bit of day-dreaming.

Dream along with me!

 

 



 

All right, back to reality. Yes, I’m working on the first draft of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Book 3 in “The Sunset Series”.  It does help to think of shoveling sand into a box, throwing ideas, characters, conflicts, and problems all together. Later, I’ll pour the box out and start shaping it into a sand castle — a story about a young woman whose “observant tendencies” — yes, readers, I’m talking about snoopy little Emily Sue Phillips — lead her into trouble.



For now, I’ll dream a little longer.  Summer is coming, and there’s so much to enjoy!

It will be over all too soon.

But wait!  There’s more!

Mark your calendars NOW for a great End of Summer Giveaway!

Summer Vacation

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