Creativity

Whatever Works

So, we teaching and coaching types love to give advice (except that the true essence of coaching is not so much giving advice as pulling what you yourself already know to be so out of yourself).

I, for instance, love to tell people to do Morning Pages.  (If you don't know what Morning Pages are, they are three pages of glumping on the page all your crap and good stuff as well, first thing in the morning.)

And I love to tell people to use prompts.

I also tell people to do what is most important to you first thing in the morning.  I presume that writing is most important to you.  So I further presume that it is what you will aim to do first thing.

I could go on with my list of helpful things I tell people.  Like, working with your inner critic, not checking email first thing in the morning, knowing your market, the power of prayer and meditation, and on and on.  And, some might say, on.

But here's the deal:

If what I say works, then use it.

If it doesn't, then don't.

But find something that does.  The point is, not everything works for everyone.  But my offerings are based on working with dozens of clients and students over the years.  And how will you know if they work for you until you try them?

Truly, I don't care if your favorite technique to get the words flowing is to stand on your head and rub your belly button.  If it works, do it.  I'm all about getting the words onto the page and I know full well that even though we like to haughtily say that writer's block doesn't exist, it really does.  Because I've experienced it, and so have you. 

But just because it exists doesn't mean it can't be dealt with.  It can.  Keep trying things until you get over it.

Okay, that's my rant for the summer.  I promise.  Now tell me what kinds of techniques work for you to get the writing flowing?  Alcohol?  A nap?  A brisk run?  Chaining yourself to the computer?  I'm all ears.

***Guess what?  I'm offering the book proposal teleclass again this September.  And right now, there are crazy fast action bonuses: an early-bird price AND a free coaching call.  But hurry, because the fast action bonus is time sensitive.  Check it out here.

Writing Process: The Three Ps of Glumping

Over the last week, I've been revisiting the writer's process.  (You can get caught up on the other posts here and here.)  As promised, today's post begins a look at each step of the process. 

And so today we talk about the fine and wonderful art of glumping. Note_creative_author_260972_l

Glumping is a word that I've always used for the magical process of spewing words onto the page in your first, or discovery draft.  (Don't know where I came up with this word, to be honest.  I thought it was a made-up word I picked up somewhere along the line, but dictionary.com defines glump: to manifest sulleness, to sulk.  Which is what happens to writers when they don't write.)

For many people, this step engenders the magic of writing, the truly creative time when ideas fly and words combine in fabulous ways.  (For others, rewriting is when the deeply satisfying work begins, but we'll get to that in the next post.)The most important thing to remember about glumping is this: just do it.  The act of getting words onto the page in a first draft really boils down to picking up your pen and writing, or turning on the computer and pounding away on the keys.

So simple and yet so difficult.

Because sometimes it is damned hard to glump. 

If you find that to be the case, remember the three Ps of glumping:

1. Prepare.  Glumping will go much easier if you ponder your project ahead of time.  (Okay, I'll quit with the ps now, I promise. Oops, sorry.) If you're writing a novel, make character dossiers, a loose outline of the plot, write descriptions of locations, and so on.  For non-fiction, a list of points you want to follow. Anything that will help seed thoughts for writing. 

2. Prompt.  Oh, the poor, maligned prompt.  People love to sneer at these clever sentences, when really, all they want to do is help you get your writing going.  If you're staring a blank page or computer screen without a clue what to write, they can be a lifesaver.   Use them as a way to get words flowing.  I recommend keeping a list handy in your journal or writing notebook and pick one at random ( do not stop to make value judgments about which prompt you want to use–just choose one).  Then write.  The first few sentences may be totally off topic, but soon you'll settle back into your draft.

3. Practice.  As in, practice makes perfect.  Because, it does.  The more you write, the easier it gets.  When you spend more time working other aspects of the writing process, like rewriting, returning to glumping feels strange and out of control.  But soon it will become second nature again.  That is, if you practice regularly.

So there you have it, the three Ps of glumping.  How do you glump (or should I even ask, that sounds vaguely obscene)? What are your expriences with the writing process?

 

 Photo by christgr, from Everystockphoto.

 

A Two-Step Process for Creating Energy

Behold:

Library This is one wall of the new library in my home.  Yes, I now have a library.  Don't be too jealous.  It took hours and hours of clearing, cleaning, and moving books and bookshelves from the living room into the room formerly known as the guest room.

But it was worth it.  The coolest thing in the whole world is to sit in a room surrounded by books.  (The other wall has two full bookshelves on it.) And now that the room is finished, I realize how much stagnant energy was released from those bookshelves that hadn't been rearranged in years.

So often in life we get stuck.  Not just in our writing, though Lord knows we writers struggle with that often enough, but in life.  And sometimes we might not even realize how stuck we are.  Like the old bookshelves, we're harboring stagnant energy that prevents us from moving forward with our writing, our creativity, our lives.

But lately I've been working on a two-step process that helps you to get unstuck.  And actually, I think the process works well for when you want to create some garden-variety energy.  Ready? Here goes:

1.  Vent.  Vent like you've never vented before.  Give it all up.  All the crap from your dark side that you've been hanging onto.  I got the idea from Marianne Williamson, in her new book on weight loss.  She suggests writing out responses about your anger, your greed, your shame, embarrassment, when you feel superior, when you feel inferior, what your worried about, why your heart is heavy…you get the idea.  But take this idea and really run with it.  Don't just write for 10 minutes or so, go deeply into all these feelings you've been carrying around and get them out onto the page.  It might take awhile, but it is so worth it.  You will feel immediately lighter and more buoyant.  (Which is, by the way, my current favorite new word.)

2. Be grateful.  Now that you're all light and floaty from releasing so much dreck, think about what you're grateful for.  Say out loud what you are grateful for.  Write down what you're grateful for.  Saturate the air around you with what you're grateful for.  Kathleen Gage suggests that you feel grateful for the things that are working in your life.  Like your furnace (its very cold here in Portland today and every time the furnace clicks on, I'm grateful.) And your electricity and the water that flows through your pipes at will and your computer and the internet and all the other things we take for granted.  Odds are good that if you are reading this, you have, not to put too fine a point on it, a shitload of things to be grateful for. 

That's it.  Couldn't be simpler.  Or more profound.  It's a great process.  Try it and report back.

For Those of Us Who Remain

I'm spending the day writing a eulogy for a family friend.  Actually, my daughter is doing much of the work and I'm helping her.  The two of us are sitting in my living room, kitty cats lolling on the floor between us, basking in the warmth of the fire we've had lit all day.

It is a difficult day.  Tomorrow, the day of the funeral, will be even harder.

Our friend was only 46.  Too young to die.  And to make matters worse, she took her own life.

Stained_glass_glass_229090_l

This is the hardest part to comprehend for those of us who remain.  She was loving, vibrant, funny, intelligent, creative, joyous, and passionate.  She had a husband who adored her, and a wide circle of loving friends.  And she was also in terrible pain, both physical and emotional. 

Eventually the pain won out.

For those of us who remain, it is difficult to know how to react.  Words are inadequate to comfort her husband, or each other.  Wrapping one's brain around the awful finality of it is impossible.

But there's this:

My friend was a writer, a sometime blogger, an entrepreneur, a truly creative woman.  Whenever something like this happens, I think and think and think about it.  And cry and weep and wail.  And then I get back to thinking.  And I think the best tribute to her is to carry on.  To live life as fully as possible, which to me–and I think it was so for her–means using all my talents to the fullest.  To serve others and the world with my gifts.  To laugh and love and enjoy.

Her death makes me recommit to my writing, fiercely and fervently.  To vow not to waste a minute mindlessly surfing the internet when I could be creating something beautiful and full of life.  To remember what a gift life is and share that knowledge as often and in as many ways as possible.  This is the highest honor and respect I can give her memory.

And so that's what I'm going to do.

Rest in peace, my dear friend.

 

5 Ways to End Worrying and Write (Or Create)

Worrying is not good for your writing or your creativity.  Or anything else, really.  How can you write the next great American novel when you are obsessing about how to pay the bills?  Or if your marriage is going to survive?  Or if your teenager is going to make it through high school without getting kicked out?

You can't.

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Because when your brain is full of worries and obsessions, there's not a lot of room for creative thoughts or ideas.  Or fictional characters who come to life on the page.  Or lyrical descriptions of locations. 

Even little, garden-variety worries can derail a work session.  For instance, worrying about what to cook for dinner can distract you from working on a book chapter.  Pondering paying bills might derail your work on your memoir  for several days.  And so on.

What to do? How to prevent worrying from stopping your writing?  Try some of the following ideas:

1. Journal.  For writers, writing is often the cure.  If you are feeling so angsty and anxious that you can't work, grab your journal and write about it.  Even if you only do five or ten minutes it can help.  In truth, often five or ten minutes of journaling is all it takes to turn yourself around.  Write specifically about the worry.

2. Meditate or Pray.  I'm better at prayer than meditation, I'll be honest.  And when I speak of prayer, I mean it in the broadest of terms–pray to God, to the universe, to Buddha, to the goddess, to your higher self, to your boyfriend, or your ancestors.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is asking for help.  That is what makes a difference.  You can easily do this in meditation, too.  Just ask for whatever you need help with, such as ending worrying, and begin a meditation session.

3.  Active Imagination.  One of my favorite techniques, this can be like prayer on paper.  Choose who you are going to ask for help from, (any of the above will do nicely), and then write your question, with dialogue tags.  So,

Charlotte: I need help

God: What can I do for you?

And so on.  The other thing you can do that is really cool is to embody your problem and talk to it.  Give worry a personality and talk to it, ask it what it needs to be quiet and let  you work.

4.  Affirmation or Affirmative Prayer.  If you tend to worry and obsess over the same old things, identify them and write an affirmation about the positive incarnation of it.  Example:  I, Charlotte, am so happy and grateful that I now have a published novel, rather than damn it, why haven't I heard from that agent yet?  This really helps to turn obsessive and negative thoughts around.  The trick is to have identified the negative thought ahead of time and have the affirmation ready to go to counter it.

5.  Find Comfort.  You're worrying for a reason, no doubt, because all of us have problems that distract us.  Sometimes what you need to do is give yourself a little love.  Figuring out what the root cause of the worry is and do something about it helps.  But so does uncovering the emotion that is driving your obsession and tending to it.  Maybe you'll find comfort in taking a walk, or sitting by a fire for a bit.  Or petting your cat, or reading.  Taking a few minutes to ease your worries can do wonders for your attitude.

So now, if  you figured out ways to end worrying and focus on your writing, how much more could you get done?

 Photo by Shazbot, from Flickr.

Floating

I awoke at 8 this morning. Float-thumb14721491

Me, the dedicated early riser.  The one who generally springs (okay, it is more like a shuffle) out of bed at 6 AM and starts writing.

But this week, after two weddings in the family and a summer's worth of social events,  organizing a writing weekend for the program I direct, dealing with ongoing clients, and rewriting my novel, I am beat.  I am so beat that this is the second blog post I've written about it.

Two days later, however, I have repaired to LA, and now I'm no longer considering myself tired.  I have entered a new phase.  I am now floating.  And floating is different than being tired.  Floating is giving into the tiredness instead of resisting.  It is about allowing.  It is about admitting you're tired and instead of pushing past it, going with it. Floating is, well, floating.

Floating, for me at this particular moment, means a visit to wine country to do nothing more strenous than tasting wine.  Taking the afternoon off to go see Eat, Pray, Love.  Sleeping late.  Not getting out of my pajamas until nearly noon. Doing just enough work to get by. Reading.  It is about intentionally finding activities that will replenish me, body and soul.

Floating is good for every single part of me, from the physical, to the mental, to the emotional and spiritual.  And I'm loving every damn minute of it.  Because I know myself well and I know I can't float for long.  Soon, very soon, I'll be bored with it.  And then I'll be rarin' to go again.  And when I am rarin' to go, I'll have the energy to do everything I want to do because I've allowed myself to replenish.

And here's the really great thing–my brain will start forming new ideas for writing and writing projects.  I'm already really excited about visiting a new place tomorrow and thinking about how I need to take extensive notes because I might want to use Paso Robles for a location sometime.   The writing brain needs to take a break once in awhile because, as we all well know, the writing brain is pretty much always, always on.  It observes, ponders, notes ideas, descriptions and dialogue.  I am truly grateful for my writing brain and I know it needs a rest once in awhile.

Which is why I'm happily floating.

How do you float?  What do you do to replenish your writing brain?

Ah, Weddings

This is going to be a short post.

My daughter is getting married tomorrow.  I've written about her story on this blog before, and you can read more here, and here.

But let me just say that weddings are hell on the writing schedule.  As if you didn't know that.  I suppose planning any event for 200 people will do that.  Yesterday I spent the entire day at my daughter's command, cleaning and straightening (she's having an open house at her place the morning after) and in general doing what I was told.  And then were things to deliver and in the middle of it all, a memorial service to attend.

Today is no different–we are heading out to the wedding venue in just a bit to begin stringing lights around the huge tent that was erected yesterday.

By the way, could every single person who reads this blog please, please, please give a little prayer for sunny weather tomorrow?  Please?  Thank you.

Even though we've been enjoying this mad, crazy schedule, I have gotten a little bit of writing in.  Just a touch, but its enough to keep me feeling centered and in touch with who I am.  And here's what I realized the secret of doing this has been for me:

PRA

The first part of that is to Pause.  Pause and take a second, just a wee second, to Remember your connection to whatever or whomever you believe in (and if its a big fat nuttin', just feel your connection to everything around you)and then Acknowledge. 

It's that simple and boy does it make a difference.  You can do it in seconds without anybody knowing, or you can repair to the bathroom and sit on the toilet and take long minutes.  You can extend your PRA to an hour-long meditation.  Its a perfectly adaptable habit.

And that is all I got for you today.  Have a great weekend, everyone.  And remember, think sun.

In the Aftermath of a Fever

Thermometer_temperature_healt_265180_l Monday evening, I got sick.

It had started with cold symptoms earlier that day.  After dinner, I started feeling achy all over and soon I was passed out on the couch, in the full throes of a fever.

Not such a big deal, right?  I mean it was clearly not life-threatening and people get sick all the time.

Except it was.

Because I don't do sick.  Ever.  I'm blessed to have one of those constitutions that allows me to slough off illness easily.  I rarely get colds, and if I do, they last a day or two.  So when I do get sick, it's a big deal (and, I might add I'm a horrible sick person, bitching and whining and moaning the whole time, except when the fever got so bad I didn't have the energy for it).

And this time it was an even bigger deal.

Because my daughter is getting married this Saturday.  It is actually a renewal ceremony (read the full story here), but still and all, 210+ people are expected, and there is a lot to do before the big day.

So all night long, as I tossed and turned with the fever, alternately pulling the down quilt over me and shoving it off (same thing with the cats), I worried.  How would I tell my daughter that I couldn't help her with all the things we planned to do on Thursday and Friday? Would I even be well enough to attend the wedding on Saturday?

And then there was the matter of the appointments I had Tuesday morning.  An 8 AM at the dentist to fix a gaping missing filling and an 11 o'clock hair appointment to beautify myself.  In my feverish brain, I imagined myself calling both places and saying, "I'm sick."  But then when would I get my tooth fixed?  When would I get my hair done?

All these thoughts went round and round in my brain.

And then, at 7, I awoke for the day.  Sat up.  And decided, much to my surprise, that I felt good enough to get to that appointment.  And so instead of calling to cancel, I jumped in the shower and got myself ready to go.

Everything looked fresh and clean, even though it was still gray and gloomy.  My dental appointment went well–no crown needed, just a new filling.  The sun broke through the clouds as I drove downtown to my hair
appointment and I kept marveling at how pretty everything looked.

I felt, not to be too woo-woo, cleansed and transformed by the raging fever, which had broken sometime in the middle of the night.  I felt like something big and important had happened to me, something that had been coming for a long time.

And when my appointments were over, I went home and took a three-hour nap.

This morning, I feel pretty good.  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I feel normal.  And I keep remembering that feeling, how clear and clean I felt.  Like all the bad ju-ju had been rinsed out of me.  And so now I'm letting the good ju-ju guide me.  And of course, the most important thing to let it guide me on is my writing.

Anybody have any comments on getting sick, fevers, or writing in general?

***Note, if I do not manage to get a post up on Friday it is because I've been shanghaied by my daughter at a very early hour wedding preparations.  And can I just say how much I miss posting every day?  And yet I need to stick to my commitment until I get my novel rewrite done.

Lessons From a Rock Concert, Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about attending the Eagles concert in Portland last Saturday night and promised real takeaways from the experience for today.  So here we go: 
Eagles1

1.  Put it all out there.  Writers, put it all on the page.  Painters, put it all on the canvas.  Musicians, all in the song.  All you got, every time.  This reminds me of the second to last night of American Idol this season, when winner Lee DeWyze sang his heart out through two songs.  By the end of the second one, he appeared completely spent, like he put everything he had into his performances.  Awesome.

2.  Everything counts.  Or, staging matters.  Attention to detail is very important and this is a crucial point because many creative types (um, like me) are visionaries, and less wont to deal with the trivialities of details.  Bad mistake.  A typo on the first page of your manuscript might cause an agent to toss it into the round file.  A caveat: deal with the details as the very last step, okay?  Don't let them bog you down in the white heat of writing a first draft.

3.  We're so lucky.  Okay, I touched on this yesterday, but it bears repeating.  Being a creative person, particularly a writer, is the best existence on the planet.  I often wonder how my non-writing friends make it through life.  As a writer, I make sense of life by writing stories about it, which gives it meaning.  Without that, what do we have?  A series of seemingly unrelated episodes.

4. Keep it going. Whatever you do, don't lose the connection to your work.  Your writing or your creative work can and will change.  For a few months you may concentrate on blogging as your main outlet and then you get an idea for a novel and get so engrossed in it you forget to blog.  Doesn't matter.  What matters is putting words on the page, one after the other, in some form.

5.  Lower your expectations.  I have seen the Eagles twice before, and Don Henley twice also.  Recently have been listening to so many teleseminars that I've not been as into music as usual.  So I wasn't waiting with bated breath for this concert.  Then it got rescheduled and that made it lose some energy for it as well.  But, oh my God.  The concert reignited my passion for music, for the Eagles, for creativity.  And I don't think it would have been as powerful if I'd been eagerly anticipating it.  Because, as the Buddhists know, sometimes having expectations just ruins things.  So, too, with your writing.  Don't expect anything except to show up at the page.

6.  Be in it for the long haul.  At one point during the concert, Don Henley said he'd been doing this for 40 years and was finally kind of getting the hang of it.  Enough said.

7.  Allow the old to nurture the new.  The band played all their old standards–Take it Easy, Hotel California, Life in the Fast Lane, I Can't Tell You Why, Desperado (and there's nothing better than when everybody sings along to all the words of the old hits)–but they also played the newer and less familiar songs from their latest CD.  

So that's it, my final word on music and creativity and writing.   At least for the weekend.  Have a good one, everyone.  And comment on music, creativity, the Eagles, writing, or even what you plan to do this weekend.

***By the way, the fact that it is Friday has not escaped me.  Besides looking forward to the weekend (wine on Friday night is a requirement of life) the significance of Friday is that it is Friday.  Friday, when I am supposed to alternate between running guest posts and mini-critiques.  But, alas, I cannot do that if you do not send me guest posts or material to critique.  So c'mon, save me from having to write five days a week and send me something!

Traveling Down A Different Road

We went to the beach for a night this past weekend.
Oceanside3

But it was to a different cabin in a different town than we've ever stayed at before.  We traveled down a different highway, went to different beaches, ate at different restaurants, saw different things.  All of this was quite by accident, but it was also quite wonderful.

And man oh man, did it get my creative juices flowing.

I'm lucky to live in Portland, Oregon which is about an hour from the coast.  This is a good thing, yes, but it also tends to make me complacent.  I live so very close to the Pacific, and yet I can go months or longer without visiting–when it is a quick hour drive away.  Last week I started jonesing for the ocean.  Big time.  I wanted just to see it, to hear seagulls, to smell the sea air.  I wanted to feel the sand beneath my feet.  Needed the sensory experience of the sea.  

And yet, the upcoming weekend was Memorial Day.  We could only go one night because of obligations on Friday and Saturday night (the Eagles concert!).  What were the odds of getting a reservation for one night?  None, even in this recessionary time.  Enter my new son-in-law, who offered up the use of his family's cabin in one of the small fishing towns that dot Tillamook Bay.

And thus beginneth the different trip to the beach.  A drive down the Wilson River Highway through lush, green, rainy woods where woodsmoke and mist hung low to the ground and the river burbled along next to the highway.  The cabin on the hillside above the bay with a tiny view of it obscured the whole time by mist. A visit to Oceanside, where long ago a local family blasted a tunnel through the cliff to get to the beach on the other side.  I kid you not.  See the photo of the bunker-like entry below.  It was dark and moist and, well, creepy inside, but also irresistible. 

Oceanside2 And there was Netarts, home to Lex's Cool Stuff, the best second hand-store on the Oregon Coast, and a visit to the Cape Meares Lighthouse and then back to Tillamook to eat at a scrumptious Mexican restaurant which featured the best Margaritas this side of Texas and my friend George's blender.

The funny side note to all of this was that the weekend before, I was in Manhattan, as far as you can get on the eastern side of this continent.  And a mere week later, I was as far as you can go on the western side.  Ah, modern life.

But here's the best part:  I kept pulling my journal
CapeMearesLighthouse out and scribbling madly.  I wrote a bit about what I was seeing, but mostly I wrote other stuff.  Ideas for stories.  Ideas for blog posts and newsletter articles.  Ideas for the novel I'm sort of working on.  Ideas for life in general. Something about experiencing the new that just jogs the ideas out of the brain.  Maybe the new sensory input literally pushes out the old to make room it. 

So my new rule in life is do something new every day.  Drive a different way home from the grocery store, skip around the block, wear your hair in a crazy style, write something completely different.  I dunno, what do you think? Give me some new ideas for newness in the comments, if you please.  And, um, be nice.