Tag Archives: creativity

FOMO, Writing & Creativity

FOMO, in case you haven’t heard the term, stands for “Fear Of Missing Out,” and I think it’s something every artist – every person, really – feels from time to time.

Back when I used to buy each year’s edition of the Writer’s Market, I would pore over its pages for hours on end, highlighting the magazines and publishers that sounded like good matches – thinking wild thoughts about how I could submit to each of those opportunities, but never finding the time to act on what I had selected. And meanwhile, the things I did write seemed impossible to match to a market.

wpid-img_20150110_011616.jpgThe internet has only intensified this problem. Along with constant updates of word counts and projects and successes from other writers (and I’m happy for them, don’t get me wrong) there’s a constant deluge of opportunity  – and without having pinned down a calendar of those opportunities that lets me plan ahead, it can be tricky to take full advantage of all the opportunities on offer.

Playwriting opportunities, calls for work with low pay but fascinating concepts – there’s almost never enough time between finding an opportunity and writing down (let alone revising) my work into something I can send out, which isn’t helped by the fact that I see most opportunities just days before their deadlines. And when I do end up with a workable idea, I’m just as likely to save it and self-publish (like with Short Frictions, purchase link to the right), which is a terrible habit that I need to break. At the very least, I should be sending those pieces out to online (and print, though it seems there are fewer of those every day) venues in the hopes of making sales before collecting pieces and publishing them. (For example, after sitting on Blutnacht for over a decade, I saw an opportunity it would have been perfect for…but it doesn’t accept reprints, so that’s that.)

wpid-img_20150222_092153.jpgPart of the problem is my attention span – which is, I’ll admit, woefully flighty at times. Part of my excitement over The Peggy Carter Project is that it’s going to stretch out over time, with enough small pieces, that I can flit from makeup to hair to sewing to shoes to lipstick to other details as I please, constantly working towards a cohesive, finished product.

wpid-img_20150110_181302.jpgBut part of the problem is that I have a hard time anchoring myself in one piece for as long as it takes to complete, these days. There’s so much I want to do. And recently my creative outlets have been non-verbal just as much as they have been about the written word.

I can stand in my kitchen and throw paint on a canvas for an hour or two and have a finished result that I can hang up to decorate the walls of my house. I can spend half an hour gelling and pinning up curls then laze around the house waiting for them to dry, then wet my hair down again and tackle the problem spots (which I’m still maintaining revolve around my hair being shorter than is ideal).

wpid-0217151935.jpgI’ve even started to resurrect my old interest in creating complicated, nuanced cocktails…even though these days I barely ever drink them.

I’m not complaining about any of this – not by a long shot. But it is a re-adjustment, to go from being creative with my words at home, at night, and feeling like a total zombie in my previous day job, to having a fulfilling day job with exciting projects that engages my creativity and then coming home at the end of the day and feeling like I’ve gotten a lot of words out, had some fun, and can explore other avenues of artistry. (Again – this is NOT a complaint – I know how lucky I am to have a job that doesn’t leave me feeling sick with dread every Sunday night, with colleagues who are engaged with what we’re doing, where I’m able to be a creative writer for a living every day).

wpid-0217152332.jpgAll that said, I have a writing project right now – a sitcom about expat Americans in Scotland – that is in desperate need of a rewrite and a second draft. So at some point this week I want to print that out, and that way when I’m practicing my pin curls next weekend I can double-task and go through a full rewrite on that. (Though it wouldn’t hurt to be working on a computer that ran at faster than a crawl to make that happen, quite honestly, since Final Draft isn’t available for Chromebook and I’ve yet to find a comparable program.

Anyways – more updates on pin curls and makeup tutorials coming soon – probably later this week – but I wanted to take a minute to pause and talk about the other kinds of creative work I’m up to just now.

How do you balance your creative outlets? If you’re a writer, do you maintain interests in other art and craft forms? If your “home” medium is more visual or tactile, do you explore other ways of expressing yourself? And for those of you lucky enough to be working on passion projects for your day job, do you get all your creative juices flowing at work or are there things you save just for yourself? Looking forward to answers in the comments.

All Change

wpid-20140919_190841.jpg

Not the kind of view one typically gets in Manhattan.

When you’ve let your blog updates slide for as long as I have, how do you jump back in and start writing again?

A lot has happened this year. After a lot of struggling, especially since hurting my back in January, I finally came to terms — a couple months ago — with the fact that my time in New York City had run its course. I spent six years living there – I’ve already been back for one visit, just this past weekend, to wrap up some final loose ends – and they were years that taught me a lot. But towards the end, in particular, I realized that (for now at least) I’d learned what I needed from the city. I was being ground down by various circumstances, I wasn’t making the progress I needed to make, and my back injury had come to dominate every facet of my life. After a lot of soul searching, I decided that it was time to move on.

So I moved.

Now I’m living in a small town, not too far from where I grew up. More importantly, I was lucky enough to find what has been, so far, a tremendously wonderful job where I can write (and write creatively) and work with a group of talented, dedicated people, in an atmosphere with a great work/life balance (so far) that’s helping ease my stress and rebuild my health.

The move was (and still is) a big shift. At least as much culture shock (if not more) as when I moved to the UK, at least as much (if not more) as when I moved back. It’s taken some settling in – an ongoing process – as I shift my schedule, my habits and so much more, but after all this time I can finally say I’ve come farther than I have left to go.

While I had intended to write a long explanation tracing all the steps it took to get me from there to here, I realize (in my 6am clarity) that’s less important than taking a deep breath and moving on.

After dozens of procedures and probably hundreds of doctors appointments, I am happy and relieved to report that my back is now in a place where I can sit again, where I can drive a car (yes, I have a car now, no more complaints about the MTA from this girl), where I can walk around my new home organizing things, and where I can pick things up off the floor without getting stuck or panicked about how to get back up. I’m not back to 100% just yet, but I feel like I’m getting there. And I’m grateful – so grateful – that as difficult as getting through this year so far has been, I never wound up needing surgery. Knock on wood.

Going forward, there will be more writing, there will be more quiet time, there will be more re-connecting with the things that have been important to me on a personal level, and may have been neglected over the last few years. I’m going to try and shift my focus back to things like my creative writing, and other creative projects. I’ve already fallen down a Pinterest hole when it comes to decorating my new home, and I’ve started paying more attention to my photography again – for the first time in years, taking more than just quick snapshots here and there.

Anyways. I don’t want to bore anyone, and this is more a post to get me moving on blogging again than anything else. I have internet now, so you should be hearing a bit more from me as we move forward.

Your Mind Is Beautiful, Your Notes Need Not Be

IMG_20140428_003107One of my favorite things about writing is how entire worlds, full of connections and characters and meaning, can simmer in your head right up to the moment when they burst out onto the page (or screen, as the case may be). Even so, thinking about stories, and eventually writing then down – especially once your life has reached a point where you’re snatching minutes from other obligations – can make keeping a train of thought difficult.

While I’ve never been one for formal outlines, over the years I’ve come to realize that making some kind of lose structural notes can help me both keep a story on track and make sure it’s tightened up before I have to restart it too many times.

My toolbox has a few basic methods in it, and today I’m going to share it with you.

1. Whiteboard/Visual Outlining
This is one of my favorite ways to outline a writing project. Whether you’re working in prose, film or theater format, I find that visual representations of ideas can be a great way to get ideas out of your head and down on paper.
Pros: fast, informal, fun, free-form. You can follow your gut and explore new pathways easily, with fewer lasting repercussions. Want to change a theme or an action, or foreshadow something happening later in your story? Just go back and add in another layer of your thought-web.
Cons: can be tricky to transcribe easily, leaves you looking like you went all BEAUTIFUL MIND if you happen to use a whiteboard wall. VERY unstructured, usually requires another round or two of thinking through what you want to say before you have something you can really work from. Hard to share with others.

2. The Save the Cat Beat Sheet
Last year, a friend introduced me to this tool during a too-infrequent visit. Based on Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat model, which is geared towards screenwriting, the adaptation I’ve been using is from a site called Liz Writes Books, and lets you plug the length of your project in, then adjusts for length. This is the method I’ve been using on the project Sareliz and I are working on together, and it’s been nothing short of brilliant. Using this excel sheet, we can easily communicate ideas and plot lines, and once I finished the sheet for the first novella in our series, the first draft was finished inside of a week.
Pros: Organized, helps make sure you’re hitting every note on your way through the novel.
Cons: The last time I tried to share the link with someone, the Excel sheet had been taken down. It looks like it’s back up, but who knows for how long, so I’d advise you to save a copy to your hard drive. The names of the steps can be a little misleading, but there’s plenty of additional information on Snyder’s theory out there to read up on.

3. Step-by-step Guide
Most of my notes for stories wind up being in this format. The other day, for example, I went all Beautiful Mind on my whiteboard; in transcribing the ideas over and making them into something I could coherently share, the ideas fell most easily into this form. An example would be, “Jane talks about her feelings. John doesn’t want to hear it, he leaves, she follows him, they argue. Everything blows up in her face.” Nice and succinct, gives you a general throughline on the story.
Pros: Easy to write organically, easy to keep up with your thoughts.
Cons: Hard to share in raw form, since specifics are rarely spelled out. Requires you to keep the specifics in mind as you work – what are Jane’s feelings? Why doesn’t John want to hear about them? 

4. Formal Outline
I hate formal outlines. I probably only use them when writing feature scripts and TV scripts, since those are two of the most structured forms of writing I know. If I’m writing a play, I rarely use an outline at all until I’m at least halfway through and have learned a bit about the characters. Anyway, a formal outline goes scene by scene and details what’s going to happen in each. Usually, they require several drafts themselves. What I find is that where feature films and TV scripts are concerned, they’re absolutely necessary, because you need to be able to adjust the story in major ways before you commit to writing a 50- or 120-page script. With short films and shorter episodic stories, however, I find they’re kind of a waste of time. In the time I can write a formal outline, I can work through two or three drafts of a short film script.
Pros: You pretty much must write one for a longer filmed project, and it’s good to at least know your way around putting one together. If you can keep focused, they make the actual writing of a script go much more quickly than it might otherwise go.
Cons: They’re bloody boring to write and then iron out, and in some cases you run the risk of getting tired of the project before you’re even at a first draft stage.

So, there are four methods for gathering your ideas and turning them into a coherent piece of creative writing. There are plenty more options – index cards, for example, though I’ve never been able to get the hang of using those – and these are just my preferences.

What method do you use in working on your creative writing pieces? Have you heard about other ways of working that I haven’t listed here? I’d love to hear about them if you have, so feel free to leave a comment!

Wanna Write? Gotta Write.

This is a companion piece to a piece I wrote about treating the artistic process like an industrial/mechanical one over on Jesse Abundis’ ARTISTS UNCENSORED blog. That post was inspired by a request for inspiration, and its response, below:


First, what is it to be “in the zone”? I had written about being in that precise place in this blog entry, which I posted a day or two before. Being in the zone is comparable to flow.

But it doesn’t always come easy, and sometimes it just doesn’t come. Sometimes – often those times – there are external conditions necessitating a piece be written. It’s for a magazine or a website, or a class paper. You want to make sure you have a relevant piece of writing on your site when visitors from another blog come calling.

In this hypothetical, we’ll say the situation is this: an article you wrote on another site is being  published, and you want to talk about how writing something on demand is a skill writers need to develop.

That’s when you rely on your craft, your writer’s toolkit. That’s when you force yourself to be disciplined and focused.

Cancel plans.

Jot down ideas.

Make an outline. (God I hate making outlines.)

Take a break. Come back, look at what you’ve written. Evaluate it. Re-arrange your ideas.

Then trust yourself and start writing.

You may delete every word for an hour. You may feel self-conscious about every point your argument strikes. You will, I guarantee, have to go back and read the thing multiple times, probably print it out, possibly even read it aloud – and add and delete sections that you missed or rambled on in the first time around.

In the end, you’ll have written something. Your best work ever? Maybe not. Something that communicates your point? Hopefully.

The process is more complicated in a creative endeavor – more the territory of writing exercises and accessing your subconscious than just working with craft, because a writer’s emotional connection to their work is so clearly reflected in it.

Capturing that lightning in a bottle is a blog entry for another day.

Writing Spaghetti

Right now my “writing plate” feels like it’s full of a dense, stodgy pile of concept-rich spaghetti. Everything is tangled up with everything else, and once I get through this plate of stuff I know it’s going to take a long time to digest.

I try to do three entries a week here, and after the pointed focus of the recent vaginathon, it’s been tricky to find a topic that doesn’t feel self-indulgent and limp by comparison. It’s because of where my various projects are at, I know: that frustrating time between initial brainvom and settling-in.

I have two short stories that need to be worked on; in putting together a collection for this fall, I’ve wound up with little screaming chunks of fiction waving their arms and running around my mental writing desk. I’m trying to keep them in a drawer and only take them out one at a time. Working on one becomes a distraction from the other, then working on the other takes some of the tension out of working on the first.

One, I have to go back through and re-thread a point, because of something I took for granted that turned out to be false. It reminds me of the maps they make of the London Underground – disproportionate, based on connections. I can choose a different point – something that fits the descriptions and scenes I’ve already written (in which case the tapestry of the story still needs to be reviewed in full, to make sure the patch doesn’t show) or I restitch the scenes from the ground-up. Either option will work. I’m just not sure, yet, which choice will result in the stronger story.

The other has a distinct theme in my mind that isn’t coming out yet in the text. The full text of the second story has not been written yet. So this is okay, if gelatinous.

A friend’s novel needs proofread. I should go to the gym. I should be out in the city, enjoying today’s gorgeous weather, doing something instead of home and hunched over the computer, particularly given the abatement of the heat wave of the last few days.

At the very least, I should take a shower.

I’ll start with the shower.

Seven Roles for the Self-Publisher

Have been giving some thought to the way a self-publishing writer has to handle the different roles required of them when they make their own work, and had written some notes for this blog post on my white board wall a month or so ago. The white board wall is too crowded, now, which meant it was time to write this entry.

So. If you want to self-publish a book,  your role will change from one phase of writing to the next.

Through the experience of  publishing Hot Mess, I tried to track the different roles I played. Several people asked me about the process of putting the book together, so this blog is my first effort at gathering those thoughts.

So here are the seven roles I’m thinking I’ve identified. I’m assuming the cover design is generally farmed out no matter what, so that’s why I haven’t included it here.

1. Project manager. It’s one thing to sit at your computer and write, or post a blog entry or piece of fiction on the internet. But if you want to self-publish a good product (thereby establishing that people should pay attention to, and for, your work), then the ability to project manage – set schedules and deadlines, balance priorities, multitask, and interact effectively with others – is critical to putting out a professional-quality product.

2. Author. If I have to explain this one, self-publishing is not the field for you.

3. Editor. This one, maybe not so much – editing can be hired out, after all. I guess the point here is more that your book should have an editor and should have been edited. Speaking with a friend earlier today, she mentioned her two biggest complaints about reading self-published material: 1) that there were mistakes in the manuscript she was reading – some quite bad ones, and 2) that often as not the author really did need an editor’s guidance on a story’s arc. It was interesting to hear from her, as a reader, just how deeply this affected her decisions to read certain books over others.

4. Proofreader. Once the story is ready to be published, you need to proofread it. Multiple times. And then ask someone else to proofread it for you. You may have to, at some point, return this favor. Lots of self-publishing seems, to me, to work like that.

5/6/7. Press agent/Marketer/Copywriter. I’m putting these three in the same line, even though they’re different roles, because they’re very tightly connected. You need to be able to write copy that will make people buy your book: its Amazon profile is going to be your biggest marketing tool (we’ve sold more copies of Hot Mess via Amazon than we have any other retailers, on multiple orders of magnitude). Get keywords into your book descriptions. Know the tags you’re going to use. Plan your books far enough in advance that you can start making contacts in communities – whether they be message boards, informational resources, or other communities –  that care about your manuscript’s topic and your message, and then build on those relationships to spread the word both before and after your book’s release. Note that, in my opinion at least, PR and Marketing are two slightly different things – one, to me, is more the act of keeping up a conversation about your product, while the other is the process of actively selling. (Maybe two sides of the same coin. Thoughts?)