The Constant Tension of Creativity (A love letter)

Hey: have you joined the Prolific and Prosperous Facebook group yet? Please do–we’re starting to have some good discussions over there.  Just go here and ask to join and I’ll approve you.  Unless you’re a serial killer. But you’re not, are you?


So, creativity has connotations with warm, fuzzy, wild, free—all positive, right?  And tension is conflict, stress, danger—all negative.  Amiright?  But they are linked. Oh, are they ever linked.  We may prefer to think of creativity as our safe haven, our happy place—and it is, for sure.  But there’s also a dark side to it.

Okay, that sounds a bit overly dramatic and it probably is.  But drama is intricately linked to both tension and creativity so bear with me.

Research has shown that individuals with highly creative aspects may fall prey to some undesirable traits as well. They may be narcissistic. (Who, me? The most beautiful, brilliant, smart and funny human in the world? Nah.)  And, probably because of their ability to, say, make up great stories, they may be chronic liars. Then there’s the creative types who are maladapted socially due to their tendency to burst out saying inappropriate things.  (That’s part and parcel of the creative process—going against the grain.) And all of these add up to creative tension.

And there’s the tension that comes from waiting, as for instance when you have a project out on submission. Agent, editor, critique group, beta readers—waiting to hear their judgement of your work can be excruciating— constant creative tension involving checking the email obsessively ten times an hour. (I know whereof I speak—I’m waiting to hear my agent’s verdict on the latest rewrite of my novel.)

Your brain being creative

But it’s not even those aspects I’m thinking of when I talk about the constant tension of creativity.  I’m talking about its constant, incessant, pull. When you are a creative person you’re always aware of your project calling to you: I should be writing. With every minute, every breath, you’re finagling when you can get back to your WIP, or pondering how to write the next scene—even though to the outer world it looks like you are sitting in a sales meeting pondering the latest sales figures.

This constant tug from our creative sides creates a delicate tension that pulls us through our days.  And, it can be harnessed for our highest good.  Because constant tension is like a pesky gnat flying around your head when you’re sitting outside drinking a glass of nice, cold, white wine in summer.  You swat at it and it returns, again and again, until you finally get your ass up and do something about it—like move inside or kill the damn bug once and for all.  Do the work and quit kvetching about it already, or quit calling yourself a writer.

Ouch.  Yet creative tension can help you.

Because here’s a news flash, creative tension can help you do that, because it is actually a thing. (I thought I made it up, but alas, greater minds have walked this path already.) It’s about your vision for the work (a finished novel, say) and the current reality of it (two chapters written).  This creates the delicate tension whereof I speak. What happens is this: the brain seeks to preserve energy but when faced with the gap between vision and reality, more energy is actually released, giving you the oomph to get the project done.

And so that’s the good news.  This creative tension is actually good for our writing practices. Never mind that sometimes I wish I could wake up and not be constantly thinking about my WIP—either that I should be working on it, or something about the story.  But this hasn’t happened in a gazillion years. And, in truth, I’m grateful for it. Because how boring would life be without this creative tension?

What kind of creative tension do you experience? Leave a comment and tell me.  Or head on over to the Prolific and Prosperous Writers Facebook page and we’ll chat about it there.

Oh, and by the way–I have a couple spots open on my coaching roster if you need help with any aspect of your writing. My current services page is crap so if you’re interested just shoot me an email at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com.

Replenishing and renewing yourself–you need this (A love letter)

Let’s start off with a true confession—I stole that phrase about replenishing and renewing in the title from my friend Patty Bechtold, one of the wisest people I know. She had me as a guest on her podcast this week and that was our topic of discussion.

Patty lives in Santa Rosa and I live in Portland and we’ve never met in person. But we talk on the phone every week—long, rambling, deep soul talks. One thing we’ve been talking about a lot lately is how to replenish ourselves after the year that was 2017 and the ongoing rush of news and information that we deal with every single day.  So we decided to do a podcast on it.

But something else happened this week that made me think about replenishing specifically as it applies to writing. And that was this: I finished the rewrite of my novel that my agent has been waiting for since, oh, the end of October.  It wasn’t a huge rewrite—but I made it into one.  I got myself stalled about how to deepen the motivation of my protagonist and then I turned that into a huge freaking deal that paralyzed me for a couple of weeks. Does that sound familiar? I hope not. I wouldn’t wish the pain of being creatively blocked on anyone.

But earlier this week, I finally finished the rewrite and sent it off.  I was home alone at the time, and right after I emailed it I had a bunch of appointments back to back. So there was no big celebration, just a quiet little “yay” and a rush to get ready to head out the door. The next morning, I rose early as usual, got my coffee and went to my desk and….did nothing but mindlessly cruise around the internet.

Because I had nothing to work on.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I have a ton of things to work on—plans for a class I’m teaching this Saturday, a short story I’m in the middle of a first draft on, a novella to rewrite, a new novel with one chapter finished to plunge back into. And the weekly installment of this newsletter.

But it was as if there was a blank wall between me and any of those projects in my brain. I couldn’t focus on any of them.  Could barely even remember what it was I needed to do. My brain had short-circuited. Fried.

I’d gotten a pretty good roll of momentum going as I finished the rewrite. Getting up early every day, making steady progress—and now that the project was done everything collapsed.  It is obvious I need a big dose of replenishment before I launch back into any other big projects.

I’d like to say that I took the next couple of days off, doing whatever I wanted. But I didn’t. Things are crazy right now, with a home remodeling project about to start, a writing retreat in France in six weeks, and a ton of appointments as I start a new treatment for my bum knee.  And that’s on top of working with my wonderful coaching clients, babysitting grands, and having time to spend with my husband.

But I did take a break between appointments yesterday and indulged myself with an hour of knitting.  I enjoyed a couple glasses of wine by the fire after a long, rainy drive home from the knee doctor. And I have a massage scheduled for next week. (Okay, truth is I try to get massages every two weeks—they are excellent for my knee issues.)

More than anything, I believe that replenishment and renewal is an inside job. As in, you have to give yourself permission to do it. Permission to take a day off from the writing and/or social media, permission not to check email or answer the phone, permission to do what will make you happy and light again.

Your writing will thank you for it.

What do you do to replenish and renew yourself? Leave a comment and let me know! I always need ideas.

And don’t forget to listen to the podcast!

 

The Three Fastest Ways to Improve Your Writing in 2018

Here we are, two weeks into the new year. How are those resolutions going for you? Like, say, the one where you promised yourself you would improve your writing? Perhaps improve it so much that you’d nab yourself a publisher—or feel confident enough to publish your work yourself?

Don’t despair if you feel you haven’t made much progress on this goal. Because I’m here to tell you how to make it happen.  There’s just one catch.  You have to promise to do what I’m telling you to do. Okay? Okay. Let’s get to it.

Thing #1

Write.  Write a ton. Most especially, write fast.  Yeah, I know that seems counter-intuitive to improving your writing, but actually, it isn’t.  Because by writing fast, you get words on the page. And then you have something to work with that you can improve. If you don’t have anything written, you can’t make it any better. So write.  Go for quantity over quality—until you get to the revision stage. But that’s a topic for another day. 

Thing #2

Change your mindset.  Nobody likes a gloomy Gus, especially when it comes to writing. Yeah, there’s a glut of indie books on the market and traditional publishing is impossible to break into. But who cares? Your book may be the one that beats the odds.  Plenty of authors and writers are making good living doing what they love. And beyond that, writing is an innately powerful activity in and of itself. And, I would also submit, that shaping said writing into a story of some kind is even more powerful. Life changing, even. What you’re doing when you sit down to write is important. Don’t forget this. Celebrate it.

Thing #3

This is the one you’re going to hate.  Ditch social media. Specifically, Facebook. Because, really, it is an insidious plot to turn us all into complacent citizens who do nothing more than scroll through their news feeds.  So rise up and rebel! Spend your time writing instead of scrolling.  Oh, wait, there is that small fact to consider that you will want to spend time on social media building your platform. But if you do that intentionally and mindfully you won’t get lost in the Facebook vortex, wherein you tell yourself you’re just going to take a quick look and half an hour later you’re still scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

Okay, who’s with me on this? Let’s do it.  Leave a comment and tell me how you’re improving your writing this year.

And if you’re struggling with any of these things maybe you need a coach. I have a couple spots open on my roster.  Email me if you’re interested!

On Feeling Sorry for Yourself (A Love Letter)

I awoke one morning this week to an email with the headline Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself. I don’t even know what the email was about—it is one of many (way too many) I get because I signed up for something somewhere along the line.

The email stopped me for a minute. Because, right at that very moment I realized, I actually was feeling a bit sorry for myself.  So I stopped and pondered why. And realized there was no good reason for it. Maybe ….. because I was a little tired, still waking up. Because my big toe hurt. Because I was still dragging myself through the rewrite of my novel when I should have been done a week ago. No good reason.  No real reason.

You ever feel this way, too?

Well, I have two words for you. (And me.)

Stop it. Just stop it.

We have all the things in the world and yet we feel we don’t have enough.  I had a huge epiphany last week when I was working on some goals for the new year. (Finally, it took me forever to get to it.) When I think I don’t have enough, then I go for too much. Not enough food? Overeat. Not enough money? Overspend. Not enough time? Waste it.

And, worst of all, not enough writing talent? Squander it.

And of course, the whole idea of not enough is an illusion anyway, fed by my primitive, reptilian brain that is still convinced I’m living in a time when food and resources truly were scarce for days.

I’m convinced this vague feeling of not enough translates into feeling sorry for ourselves. And that translates into resentment. It’s really hard to write when you’re feeling put upon and woeful and resentful.

So, again, to you and myself, I say stop it.  In the most loving and kindest of ways. But if you want a really funny version of someone saying stop it, watch the video below. It may just become your new catch-phrase to yourself for the new year.

 

Wearing Radical Pajamas

Most mornings, I follow the same routine.  I get up, drink coffee, and work at my computer for a couple of hours (theoretically writing and not looking at the internet). I do the crossword puzzle while eating breakfast and then shower, to get ready for the rest of my day.

But sometimes I just keep writing. I eat breakfast (because: breakfast) but don’t bother with the shower. And if I’m really into my writing, I stay in my jammies.  I tell myself I’ll get dressed, but then another word beckons.  Another sentence forms in my mind. Another scene begs to be written. And so I don’t bother.

Honestly, though? I kind of have to force myself to let this be okay. It is ingrained in me to get showered, put on make-up, fix my hair.  Put my game face on.  It makes me feel a little bit nervous.  Like, what if someone comes to the door and there I am, still in my jammies? And recently, while writing in my journal about how to devise the perfect schedule for myself (a constant quest), I figured out why.

Because staying in my jammies to write is in many ways a radical act, precisely because I am not putting my game face on. I’m not putting any face on. I’m facing the computer. My work. My writing. My passion.

I’m putting all that first instead of worrying about what the world will think. Me first. Not the rest of the world. A radical act, especially for women.

And yeah, I know you could make the argument, and many have, that it’s a good thing for those who work at home to act as if they are going to the office. To show up at their home office with game face on. It’s a mental thing, they say.  Showing your readiness.

But I like my radical jammies idea better.  I like turning to face my work first, the world second. Not making myself into an image of what I think I should be, but allowing myself to be what I want to be.

One of my favorite Instagram images from the past year was around Halloween. A novelist named Tif Marcelo shared a photo of her daughter’s costume. She was attired in bathrobe and slippers and a sign around her neck proclaiming “Tif Marcelo, Author.” A seven-year-old’s view of her mother’s job.  Isn’t that the best thing ever?

I mentioned a couple newsletters ago that I was having trouble indulging in my usual end-of-the-year sport of setting goals.  Still am. But now I have one: wear radical pajamas more often.  I leave you with a Crescent Dragonwagon quote and wish you a very happy new year.  See you in 2018!

“Choose, daily, for and on behalf of the best and highest in yourself. Choose for what and who you aspire to be. Choose what will serve the you that you are growing towards, however uncertainly, not the you you were or even are, but the future you.”

What are your goals for 2018? Leave a comment!

Both images from everystockphoto

Ah yes, the holidays (A love letter)

If you read this on the day I’m publishing it, which is doubtful, seeing as how it is Christmas Eve and you likely have a million other things to do, you may be any of many things:

–Snug in the comfort of a family holiday, feeling happy and joyous, or barely surviving the holidays with your family, convinced once again that you were switched at birth.

–Feeling all the feels, or feeling about as blue as a person can be.

–Happy and excited about what the fast-approaching new year will bring, or dreading it.

–Thrilled with what you’ve accomplished in 2017 or frustrated with yourself once again.

–In love with the hoopla of the season or just wanting it all to be over.

Maybe you feel a little bit of all these things—I know I do. But mostly I am feeling the feels of the season and loving it.  There are things I didn’t accomplish this year that rile me, and the year itself was awful interesting, but Christmas is a time when we get to pause, at least for a day or two, and forget all that.

So whether you love this time of year or despise it, I recommend that you allow it to take you wherever you want to go.  Enjoy the season in the arms of your family or curl up alone at home and binge-watch your favorite show.  Celebrate or grumble. Whatever your choice, I hope that writing will be a part of it. Because I know for me, that whatever is happening in my life, good or bad, writing makes it all worth it.

So my wish for you is for a very merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and peace and joy if you don’t.  Well, how about merriment, peace and joy for all of us?

Best wishes of the season!

About Intentions and Goal Setting (A Love Letter)

Usually around this time of year I am deep into reviewing the past months and planning for the next twelve. There’s something about the dark days of November and December (which I love) that encourage introspection, pondering, and planning.  I’ve been known to fill up entire journals this time of year.

But this year is different for reasons I cannot discern.

I’m not journaling.

I’m not reviewing 2017.

I’m not busy setting intentions and goals.

And I’m not in the least bit tempted by any of the end-of-the-year programs and books that people are attempting to get me to buy. (Yeah, I’ve succumbed to many of them in the past.)

It’s weird. And yet I’m okay with it.

I had a long discussion with my wise friend Patty about this, and I’m not sure we came to any conclusions about it, but we are planning to do a podcast about it come January so stay tuned for news about that.

Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

–This year has been so brutal in so many ways that I really don’t want to spend time going back over it.

–And, I’m busy writing. I’m more than halfway through the rewrite of my romance novel, and I’m quite happy with my efforts so far. I’m also working on a Christmas short story set in the same world (Oregon wine country).  I’m way too late for this year, but I’m letting the spirit of the season infuse my work.

So that’s a good explanation for why I’m not reviewing the year, but I’m not sure that entirely explains my antipathy to goal setting.  Part of it may be that I’ve reached my limit with the online marketers, many of whom are trying to convince me I need one of their programs.  These are not just the goal-setting programs, but ones that will teach me how to boost my business, write a best-seller, be thinner, happier, more brilliant, you name it.

And I think I’m tired of myself as well.  Tired of setting grandiose goals and then going back over them in June and realizing that not only did I not meet any of them, but that they were impossible in the first place.  Then, too, I’m aware that the first few months of the year are already booked, with workshops in Portland throughout January and February, and a month in France in March. Add to that a home remodel that will be getting going soon after the first of the year (we’re knee-deep in refinancing at the moment) and, well, it seems I’ve got plenty to do without adding more.

Mostly, all I want to do is write fiction, work with my clients, teach workshops here and in France, and spend time with my family.  Drink some good wine.  Take time to knit and crochet and weave and stitch.  Continue to heal my body through regular exercise. And then write some more. And there are already not enough hours in the day to finish all that so why would I want to add on more stress?

Right? Amiright?

Are you feeling at all like this? Maybe I’m just late to the party and most normal people always react this way to the end of the year.  I dunno. Is the stress of 2017 making you ready for a year full of ease and writing and fun? Or is it just me? Leave a comment and talk to me.

You Have a Choice (A Love Letter)

You have a choice.

You wake up in the morning and you get to open up your kitchen cupboard and decide—coffee? Tea? Smoothie? All of the above?

You open your closet and you get to choose what to wear.  (Or, if you work at home like me, you get to decide if you’re going to bother to get dressed or stay in your jammies all day.)

You get in the car for the drive to work and choose which way to go. Freeway? Nah, its jammed up.  It’ll be surface streets this morning.

And most importantly, you have a choice about your writing. Specifically, how you feel about it.  This is one of the most important choices you will make each and every day.

Will you:

–Tell yourself its awful and nobody is ever going to want to read it so why bother anyway? And then make the choice to go back to bed or go eat chocolate cake instead of writing.

–Tell yourself it’s likely awful at this moment, but that’s why rewriting was invented to make it better. And then make the choice to sit down at the computer and write some more.

You can make the good choice! But sometimes it is really hard to remember this. The other morning I woke up cranky and out of sorts with the world.  Everything—including my writing—felt like a big blah, blah, blah. No color.

I dragged myself around feeling this way for awhile. And then I remembered. I have a choice. I can find a way to make myself feel better.  In my case, that particular day, it was meditation, because it had been awhile. But often I find the answer in the writing.

The funny thing is, I think I don’t want to do it. How can I write when I feel irritable, depressed, fill in the blanks? But making the choice to write always, always, always is the right one—because it always makes me feel better.

What will you choose today?

Leave a comment and share.

Why Writing is Good For Your Brain (A Love Letter)

Here’s reason #5,001 (I’m counting): that writing is a worthwhile activity: it’s good for your brain.

Allow me to digress a bit. I’m teaching myself to crochet. (Head on over to the blog if you want to see a photo of my first finished piece, a scarf heavy enough to qualify as a weighted blanket if it were an afghan).   Every time I start a new project, I puzzle over the directions, which read like a foreign language—even to somebody used to deciphering knitting patterns like me.  Then I need to Google obscure abbreviations I don’t understand, and often refer to two or three sites to figure out what I’m supposed to do.  And finally I usually have to start the project several times before I get it right.

While I’m doing this I swear I can feel all the neurons in my brain firing.  Learning something new like this is good for my brain! And if there’s one thing I desire to maintain, it’s my brain. Which is why I do crossword puzzles, read a wide variety of book genres from non-fiction to fiction, and try to get my butt out the door or to my stationary bike to exercise. (Yes, exercise is good for the brain as well as the body.) 

But as I loop yarn around my crochet hook and congratulate myself for being a lifelong learner, I keep thinking about writing.  The thought occurred to me that it must be an excellent thing for your brain to be engaged in. Because, think about how hard your brain works when you’re trying to figure out how to make a plot work, or what happened in your character’s backstory that created her motivation that powers the story.  It’s hard to think up new worlds and create people to populate them.  (And I believe that is the reason some struggle to find time to write—they don’t have the necessary brain space to do it, what with the crazy amount of input we get these days.)

So I went to the Google and looked it up. And found this: “challenging your brain activates processes that maintain brain cells and stimulate communication between them.” Boo-yah. But this is even better: a German study observed fiction writers at work and found that their brains showed similarities to people skilled at other complex actions, such as sports.

Sometimes I think we need excuses to take time to write (which is why I maintain that afore-mentioned list). So next time your partner complains about you burying yourself in your writing cave, you can haughtily inform him or her that you are improving your brain.  Never mind that you’d much rather be writing than watching Fast and Furious #18 for the thousandth time.

Do leave a comment and tell me how you’ve improved your brain recently.

Note: these love letter are taken from my weekly newsletter. If you’d prefer to have them come right into your inbox, sign up to the right!

Giving Thanks (A Love Letter)

So, this past Thursday was Thanksgiving day in the United States.  It is, of course, a day to give thanks, based on the time many years ago that the original settlers had reaped their first harvest and it began to look like maybe they could do this new world thing after all.  I’m quite sure that you’ve all been inundated with emails and blog posts and newsletters about gratitude and giving thanks, but I’m adding mine, too.

 I once wrote an article that began, “Watercolors, like earth girls, are easy.” * And sometimes I feel the same way about gratitude.  It often appears as the facile answer. Just be grateful and everything you want will appear!  There’s numerous Oprah quotes to that end, such as this one: “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

Part of me rolls my eyes.  Because, doesn’t it all seem a bit superficial and simplistic? Yes, yes it does.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve closed my eyes and felt deep thoughts of gratefulness and opened my eyes and the world was still the same.  Gratitude didn’t change anything.

But another part of me believes.  After all, I attend a church that hands out gratitude journals to complete every November.  And I have a lot to be grateful for (I won’t bore you with the details, which I mention often here).  But mostly, because being aligned with gratitude feels a helluva lot better than its opposite, which to me is getting mired in grumbly crankiness. Cynicism.  Because cynicism is cheap, too. Cheaper than gratitude, I think.

I’m for anything that makes me feel better. And, according to Pedram Shojai in his new book, The Art of Stopping Time, “Practicing gratitude is healthy.  It helps paint a worldview of optimism and hope. People who practice it are consistently happier—we’ve seen this in multiple studies.”

So there you have it. Gratitude does make you happier.  And here’s my bottom line: “to whom much is given, much is expected.” (John F. Kennedy, based on the bible.) Feeling gratitude for what I have reminds me that I have a duty to appreciate it and give it back.  For me, the best way to give back is to do what I’m put on this earth to do, which is write.

You, too?

Then go to it.

And most of all, let’s all be grateful we have the privilege to do this, to express what we want, when we want to. There are many, many people the world over who don’t have this freedom.

*Apologies to any watercolorists out there—my point was that watercolors might look easy in the hands of a master but really aren’t. Oh, and the earth girls reference is to the movie from 1988, in case you weren’t yet born then.

Please do feel free to leave a comment on what you’re grateful for.