My Creative Mis-Beliefs

          Recently I had a revelation. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind-heart, I believe I don’t deserve time to nurture my creativity. That any form of creativity, be it writing, drawing, painting, daydreaming, crafting or anything else is a waste of time, a luxury. It might be an activity I can do after I do “the important things” but to routinely indulge is irresponsible.

          That internal belief (a better term is mis-belief) wars with my compulsive need to express myself creatively. This hidden, destructive mis-belief gives no credence to reality and quantifiable facts. The reality is that I feel most alive when I am creating something. It is an observable and repeatable fact that when I spend time creating something of beauty, I am productive in other areas of life. Case in point: a couple of Saturdays ago I was overloaded with homework assignments from multiple courses. I felt I needed to spend the entire day studying, but I’d signed up for a craft class. Even though I probably could have talked with the studio and convinced them to refund my money, I really wanted to learn this craft. I decided, even though it seemed irresponsible, to take the 2-3 hour class and spend the rest of the day studying. (I absolutely loved the class and have ideas for some impressive Christmas presents.) The next 5-7 hours of studying were so productive that by 7pm Saturday evening I was caught up on all assignments and readings through the middle of the next week.

          What does this have to do with this week’s Routines for Writers big picture/details theme? I’ll tell you. 🙂

          I’ve been wondering if I need to stop trying to hang onto my writing. Maybe it’s time to give it up. It gets harder and harder to write each week. I didn’t expect this. It is understandable that during the emotional upheaval of last year that some of my creativity would shut down. Isn’t it also reasonable to expect at least some of that creativity to return as I have progressed through emotional healing this year? To be honest, I have experienced creative success in several art courses. Not so with writing. In fact, because it has gotten so hard at times to write anything at all, I’ve seriously considered withdrawing from Routines for Writers and abandoning any future writing goals.

          Then came the above mentioned revelation. With it came the realization that it is crucial for me to hang onto anything and everything creative I want to do. At this season in my life, I need to battle and overwhelm that mis-belief by feeding and nurturing my creativity. Currently, I’m aided in this fight by my routines. The art courses I take each semester force me to spend time creating. Writing this blog forces me to write. In these and other creative doings, I find peace and joy and a sense of purpose. As difficult as some of my art assignments have been over these past three semesters, I relish them. I have an excuse now to “do art,” to be creative. Because of that, I’ve realized that need for creative expression is as necessary as breathing for me.

          That’s the big picture for me. My life must include lots of creative time. Creative time in my daily life is valuable, necessary and to be protected and nurtured. It is as necessary to me as breathing clean, fresh air. The details of my life need to support that big picture view. Even though sitting down to write may be difficult, I need to do it. Even in the midst of more prosaic school assignments, I need to carve out time dedicated to creativity just for creativity’s sake. Above all, I need to confront and root out this erroneous belief that my creative expression is worthless and time spent on it is wasted. The only way I know to do that is to continue creating.

          So for now, you’ll find me here each week.

Twin Engines of Creativity

          I don’t know much about jet airplanes, but I have watched enough TV and movies to realize there are at least two engines. According to those dramas, a jet plane can still fly even if an engine stops working. It’s not easy nor incredibly safe (which makes good drama opportunity, right?), but it is possible. (There are also small twin-engine planes, but I’m not sure they can fly on only one engine, which means they won’t fit my analogy.)

          This week we are talking about creative breakthroughs. Until recently, I would have said you must be working in order to have a creative breakthrough. How could you break through anything if you aren’t pushing on it? However, as we explored last week, procrastination can actually aid in production. I’ve come to realize that creative breakthroughs are powered by the twin engines of creative discipline and creative procrastination.

          Discipline creates an infrastructure that can support the creativity. The discipline of just “showing up” for work creates a routine that ensures there is time to accomplish the creative work. When a routine time is scheduled (and guarded) for writing and only writing is done during that time, there is a guarantee something will be written. It might not be fantastic; it may not be a breakthrough; but it will be consistent. That consistency creates an environment of productivity as well as giving direction and forward momentum. It doesn’t matter if I am consistently writing every day or only writing from 2-3pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays or for some extended time on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. It’s not the when that matters. It is the consistency. That consistent time for writing, or any other creative endeavor, programs the mind to be ready to work.

          Creative procrastination is the other engine that powers the jet plane of our creative productivity, creating an environment conducive to creative breakthroughs. If an engine is run constantly, it eventually gives out. In the same way, if we are always “on”, always trying to produce something, we’ll eventually burn out. Even when we do have a breakthrough, we may not have the energy to follow through. As we all discussed last week, taking a break from our work, even totally ignoring or abandoning it for a time, can actually make us more productive.

          Taking a break gives our “creative brain” or consciousness a rest. The pressure to produce is removed for a time. Just as several hours of sleep can totally refresh us even though the body is still “working,” so a break from our writing can refresh us even though our subconscious mind, muse, or whatever you want to call it, is most likely still be working on the project. In addition, the activities we engage in during those breaks provide input of new ideas and experiences that fuels our inspiration. That time away from the project allows us to be refreshed and re-energized, returning to the project with new ideas and new enthusiasm.

          I’ve come to believe consistent productivity can only be achieved with a finely tuned balance of creative discipline and creative procrastination. I’m in the process of tuning that balance.

Do I FEEL Creative Today? I THINK So

Where does creativity come from? Do you get it from things you do or see or touch or taste or smell? Probably. So if you need some creativity and you don’t have any more cans of it on the shelf, what do you do? Do you stop and read a book or watch a movie or take a trip to Disney World because you need more creativity for your current book or project? Probably not. Those things are great, but you can’t do them every day during your writing time.

So what can help on a daily basis?

I think one of the most helpful things I’ve found is this attitude-changer I heard in a writing workshop a couple weeks ago. Say, “I have to go write now.” Notice how your body responds. What is happening to your breathing, heart rate, muscles, shoulders? Now say, “I get to go write now.” How does your body respond differently?

Do it again, say one a couple times, then the other. You may be like me and feel much happier and want to write more when you say the second sentence.

This is because we can use our thoughts to direct our feelings. We can change the way we feel by deciding what we want to focus on. When we focus on being excited to be “allowed” to spend our time writing, it may give us more energy, which will spur our creativity more. When we feel we “must” write, whether because of deadlines or goals or making the rent, it may add negative pressure that drains our creativity. (That being said, if you are motivated by fear – fear of missing a deadline, for example – you need to do what works best for you.)

As I mentioned last week, giving a fun persona to your creativity may help get you in the mood to be more creative. When I think about how much fun I had as a child, I remember that that’s why I gave my creativity a 10-year-old persona. The more I think about that, both the silliness of the concept and the actual fun kids have, the more creative I feel.

Sometimes, though, I have to sit and really think about it. Really get my mind focused on that mindset. Because life has hard days, hard times. My feelings are telling me a lot of things that aren’t helping me during difficult moments. So I have to take a more active approach and use my thoughts to guide where I want my mind and feelings to go. You do this when you use positive self-talk, but you can also use your thoughts to ignite your creativity.

Consider the one-eyed one-horned flying purple people-eater who wants to get a job in a rock-and-roll band. Songwriter Sheb Wooley came up with this character after listening to a child tell a joke, and he’s had my attention since I first heard the song as a kid. Try to think up ridiculous things that don’t go together. Make yourself laugh. Scare yourself. Then after a few minutes of fun, get back to your manuscript.

What do you think? Do you feel more creative?

Come Here Creativity!

          Where does my creativity come from? I look at those people I call creative and wonder where they come up with the ideas. I’m sure you do too. Whether it is writing a novel, designing a building, drawing, painting or homemaking, creativity is elusive. Those who “have it” mumble things like “I just do it” or “It came to me” or tell a story about what was happening when the idea came into being . . . and that story’s connection to creativity is elusive, often even in the creator’s mind.

          Even when that person spells out just what it was that inspired him or her, I still have trouble seeing the same inspiration. I just mumble, “Ok. That’s interesting.” But then it happens to me. I get slapped in the face with an idea and I want to run with it. When I try to understand or explain it, though, I’m left mumbling, “It just came to me” or some such.

          In one of the art courses I took this summer, the instructor gave us an outline, or Process for Creativity. I’m not sure if this is just one of many elusive attempts to quantify the creative process or might actually have some validity. It’s possible that this list actually does describe what I do at the intuitive level when I’m “in the zone”. I’m open to investigating it further.
         
5 Steps to the Creative Process

  1. Assess the Problem.
    1. State the problem clearly
    2. Dig to understand the problem
    3. Set objectives for solution
  2. Input: Feed Information
    1. Understand the problem
    2. Comprehensive research
    3. Be an authority on the problem
  3. Process and Incubate.
    1. Mentally incubate
    2. Allow for eureka moments
    3. Activate the process if needed
  4. Output: Retrieve Options
    1. Execute a variety of options (20, 50, 100, more)
    2. Test against objectives
    3. Refine best solutions
    4. Evaluate best options
  5. Present Best Solution
    1. Keep it simple
    2. Present a clearly stated solution
    3. Listen for feedback: was the problem solved?

          It’s true that when I have a clear picture or explanation of what I want to accomplish, I’m more successful. Example: Write a short story vs write a 1500 word short story about a girl taking a spontaneous day off work. How do I input information and gain a clearer vision of “the problem”? I think of Kitty’s slew of character and plot charts. Maybe. They’ve never been that helpful in the past. But my own process of journaling in my character’s voice or interviewing my character is probably the right-brained version of those lists and charts.

          As I look at this outline, I can see some validity, steps that would benefit me immensely. Particularly the executing multiple options and keeping “the solution” simple. I also see some cautions, at least for me. The most obvious is that my process cycles through these steps multiple times and in random order. And I need to allow myself to do that. That’s how my brain works. Layer upon layer upon layer.

          If I follow these steps to creativity I might actually discover how to more reliably access my own creativity. Or I might not. I might be better served finding another way. Like the one presented by Holly Lisle in one of the first lessons of her “How To Think Sideways” course. By mind-mapping words and images that create emotion in me, I might be able to access my own creativity on a more intuitive and emotional level.

          I’m still searching for the best pathway into my own creativity. What about you? What works for you?

My Creativity is Currently in the Warehouse (13)

I’m on a Warehouse 13 marathon right now. Even though we’re watching episodes we’ve seen, starting at Season 1, Episode 1, I still love it. That’s the great thing about stories you love. You can enjoy them over and over again.

The other thing about stories you love is that they inspire creativity. Watching episode after episode of Pete and Myka grousing at each other, competing with each other, and always having each other’s back presses all my creative buttons. When Pete asked Myka if she was afraid they were the Red Shirts, and she said yes, John and I laughed out loud when Pete replied, “First, we aren’t going to die. Second, I’m so pumped you know what that means.” [paraphrased]

Over the last 20 episodes, I’ve gone from just enjoying the show for its own sake to thinking about my work and how I can make it funnier, more interesting, tense without being over-serious, adding death and destruction if necessary without a Law & Order feel.  All the artifacts and the things that they do make me think about what I can add to my stories, whether fantastical stories or “regular” ones.

One of the “ah-ha” moments in creating my current romantic comedy series, Strays of Loon Lake (Love at the Fluff and Fold, book one in the series, will be out later this year), was when I decided that a local dog was the frisky father of a lot of puppies in town. Suddenly I had this funny element that I could play up.

In addition to a lot of TV watching, I’ve upped my hours of reading lately. It feels soooo much better to be reading more, like I’m eating healthier or something. I’m reading a lot of nonfiction on writing, self-publishing, and neuroscience. But I’m also reading a lot more fiction than I have in the last year or so. I’ve been reading inspirational, historical and contemporary romance, young adult books, paranormal and urban fantasy books and short stories, some horror, and some suspense. (Trying to track it all on Goodreads, but forgetting to add the books every time.)

Now here’s a chicken-and-egg thought: in the midst of this burst of desire to pull creative stories IN, I’ve also been writing more, getting creative stories OUT. Did the extra reading inspire me to write more? Or did the deadlines for the two anthologies I’m in push me to gobble up more stories for inspiration? My answer is YES.

Add to all that, my jump from wanting to know more about how the brain works to finding books explaining it to me, and I’ve added yeast to the bread mix. I mean that in terms of rising and growing, not in terms of becoming gaseous and fermenting. Though the fermenting part is making me think of wine, which reminds me of living in Australia, which reminds me of some of the unexpectedly creative pieces I wrote in uni. (Now that I have Australia-brain, my brain is using Australian terms. “Uni” is short for university, i.e., my master’s in creative writing program.) And using Aussie vocabulary reminds me of my friends whom I miss terribly, which reminds me I was going to call Verizon this week and get that international calling plan, which makes me think about having some international characters in my superhero novels, which makes me think of the Cowboy character I created for a short story that went nowhere. Now I just need to figure out how to get an Australian superhero named Cowboy, and his super horse, across the ocean to Michigan where my superheroes are living.

And THAT is how creativity so often works. It’s a bunch of very quick, sometimes illogical jumps in the synapses of the brain that lead from one idea to another. The more you allow and train your brain to make these jumps, the more creative you can be. Sometimes you can even get more creative more quickly.

Many writers have named the part of their unconscious that does this work. Jennifer Crusie calls her unconscious “the girls in the basement” I believe. Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird that her friend Carpenter says there is a little boy in the cellar handing up characters through the cellar door.

I get this “down below consciousness” idea, but I’ve rarely, if ever, been in a basement that made me feel happier than any other room in the building (even the very cool basement of the State Library of New South Wales isn’t as awesome as the Shakespeare Room there; that’s a room I could be locked in forever!), and I’ve never been in a cellar that I wanted to stay in for hours. (Not even a wine cellar.)

I had problems being nice to that creative part of myself. I found myself whipping it to give me more, faster. It didn’t produce much, so I whipped it more. Then I read and really got the idea that you needed to be nice for the unconscious to flow. But basements and cellars didn’t seem that nice to me.

So I created a character named Katie, a little girl about 10 or 12 who plays in the sunroom or in the huge beautifully well-kept backyard. (I live in a small apartment.) Katie loves to read and watch TV and movies that make her laugh or make her a little scared but that always end well. She likes to pretend after the movie or book ends that she is the hero who vanquished the enemy and tamed (rather than killed) the dragon. Or she is the heroine who helps the hero save the day and they live together happily ever after.

I like Katie. I like her so much that I like to play with her even though she’s a little girl and I’m a grown <cough> woman. She’s fun. And when she’s making me laugh or making me wonder what will happen next in her one-girl backyard plays, I find myself writing more words with more joy than ever before.

As it turns out, both Katie and I love watching Warehouse 13, and mostly for the same reasons. Katie is giving me ideas about “artifact”-like things I can put in our stories. She wants me to put in more pop culture references like Red Shirts to make people who get the jokes laugh. I tell Katie this is too much work, I’d have to do more research, keep better notes, and I remind her that I too often lose my notes-on-napkins anyway so really–

Katie interrupts me with some cute begging and funny faces and tells me that surely these touches will make me really famous and make me heaps of money and (she knows this is the coup de grace) I’ll make people laugh.

I think about it and then consider the alternative. But what if I don’t make people laugh, Katie? What if they think it’s dumb?

And in her properly outraged 10-year-old voice, she shouts, “Then they’re dumb!”

I laugh and shake my head and agree to try harder to be cute and funny like her. And then I start writing and…well, Katie and I like the results.

What about you? Where does your creativity come from?

What I did on my summer vacation – Stephanie

          Ha! What vacation?

          Ok. You are right. I did take a vacation from RFW. In fact, I’ve pretty much taken vacation from writing. Of course, if you have been following the blog this year, you know that vacation has been going on for a while. I haven’t written fiction in over a year. Even my journal writing, which used be an almost daily thing, dwindled to a weekly or biweekly thing . . . or less. For more weeks than I want to admit, my posts to RFW were the only thing getting written. Then we went on vacation.

          I have to admit, I was torn. I wanted to keep on writing. The enforced blog writing was . . . well . . .forcing me to write. And since I was on an exploration of myself topic, it was also forcing me to look at my life and my pain and my art and all that angst. I was finding answers. I’ve always processed my thoughts and emotions through writing. Many writers do. To find more answers, more emotional health, I needed to keep up the written exploration. Right?

          Truth is, if I’d really wanted to keep writing, I would have continued to write. I could have written and posted to my personal website/blog. That is what I fully intended to do. But all that enforced analyzing my motives and being honest with myself had its effect. I had to admit the relief I felt at not having to write the blog was just a little louder and stronger than the desire to continue the writing exploration. So I took my vacation.

          Such as it was.

          Oh it was definitely a vacation from writing. I’ve barely written a thing. I’m just not sure I can honestly call this summer a vacation. I’ve been busy in ways I haven’t been for a long time. (Happy, too!) I’ve returned to college, with plans to finish with a degree in web design and development. I took more classes this summer, in the hopes of more quickly arriving at the a place where I can confidently sell myself as a web designer.

          Summer semester at Troy University is intense. In 4-8 weeks (depending on the session) teacher and students have to cover the material that is usually covered in 16 weeks. Like I said. Intense. I took two art courses and one computer concepts course. I had projects in all of them, some with only days to finish. With that intensity, I had a lot of opportunity to learn about myself, my processes and the ways I try to sabotage myself. (Fortunately, I recognized and combatted that sabotage and ended the semester with all A’s!)

          I’m still in learning mode where my own motives and emotions and choices are concerned. It is not reasonable to think it will only take a few weeks or months to change patterns of behavior and thinking that have developed over decades. There are sure to be blind spots and fuzzy areas where I do not really see myself clearly. But I see myself much more clearly than even just a year ago. One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes the best way I “deal” with something is to back away from it and ignore it.

          Obviously, I have used that trait in unhealthy ways. That’s what has led to many of my life’s current upheavals. I’m on a journey to change those thinking and behavior patterns. As I seek to change past patterns, I’m trying to force myself to face my problems, not hide from them. The truth is, though, it is a part of my psyche, my creative process, my emotional process, whatever you want to call it, to find solutions by ignoring the problem. It works rather well at times. As long as I don’t permanently ignore the problem, issue, project, what-have-you.

          That’s what I’ve learned while on this vacation.

          To find solutions, sometimes I need a time (or multiple times) of not focusing on the problem, followed by a time of actively working on a solution. Eventually, a project is finished, a problem is solved, order is wrenched from the chaos. This summer I continued learning that lesson and, in the process, am better able to discern when it’s time to back away and when it’s time to refocus.

         The coming months will be a time of refocusing. I’ll be back writing this blog, of course. In addition, I’m taking several courses, such as English Composition, where I will be expected to write. It’s possible my passion for writing will be re-ignited. Or not. I do know is that writing is how I process things . . . but sometimes the things needing processing are too big and have to hide from me and my writing. And that’s ok, too. Eventually, they will be ready for processing. And eventually I will write more. For now I’ll be writing this blog and the myriad of assignments that will come with my new schedule of classes.

          It’s good to back from vacation.

Oops Revisited

          Last week I had a major miss-step. An “Ooops” that still makes me cringe. In the aftermath of that, I’ve been blasted with some major negative voices. “Why did you wait til the last minute?” “How could you not realize it was Wednesday?” “You should have thought of this Tuesday night.” “How can you be so ditzy? “That was so irresponsible!” Falling into old, familiar thought patterns, I find myself agreeing with all that negativity. It was irresponsible. I shouldn’t wait to the last minute. Remembering days shouldn’t be hard. Why do I do such stupid things?

          I think I’ve shared on this blog . . . if not, I am now . . . I am combating those negative voices in my head. I stare down each and every thought; I subject it to truth and reality; I adjust or discard the thought based on that reality. In the process, I am coming to know myself in a much more conscious way. I’m seeing that many of my weaknesses are really just the flip side of a strength.

          My tendency to believe and accept people makes me gullible, but it also build trust and true friendship. I’m laid back and easy to get along with, but that also means I don’t always recognize the seriousness of situations. I usually can see the big picture pretty well, but I don’t always remember the details. That one manifests in so many ways in my life. For example, I do great at rearranging a room or getting it organized. Keeping in clean and uncluttered, though, is often a struggle.

          The fact is,those negative voices are so devastating because is that there is a grain of truth in each one. I do procrastinate. Forgetting to write/post the blog did seem ditzy, or even irresponsible. How could I not mentally connect having to post the blog with the day of the week? Many times that truth needs to be put in perspective, confronted with the reality. Yes, I procrastinate, but that is part of my creative process. This week, as I scrutinized all those negative voices, I made an interesting observation. This time, instead of the weakness, or in this case the miss-step, being the flip side of a strength, it’s a side effect. And not necessarily one one I want to discard.

          This semester, I’m reconnecting to my creativity. I’m relearning how I create. I have to draw for hours in and out of class. I have made multiple projects (I’ll include some pictures here soon) in another art class. My desire and my creativity has increased. As my artsy, creative, right-brain part of me grows, my logical, analytical, time-bound left-brain loses just a bit of control. Result? A ditzy mistake like last week, where I forget to finish my blog.

          In order to be creative, I need a lot of “right-brained” time. That means time that is random, not clock-watching, time to make connections and dwell on them. Time to play with the “materials” be they words, colors or physical objects. When I have that time, I surprise myself sometimes at what emerges.

          The down side to that, though, is the diminished “left-brained” abilities . . . like keeping track of time. That’s what happened last week. I have been immersed in getting my art projects finished for the end of the semester (last day . .. yesterday!). As a result, my mind “lost” the connection between it being Tuesday night and the next day being the day my blog was due. So come Wednesday morning, as I prepared for a day that was booked with classes and activity from the moment I woke, I was shocked to realize I’d made that mistake. My left-brain me was appalled. And at first, my right-brain me cringed and accepted the criticism.

          But no more! If I’m going to renew and regrow and nurture my right-brain, creative side, I have to accept that these types of mis-steps will happen. That is not to say I excuse myself and say, “You just have to accept me as I am” and give myself permission to be irresponsible. I do need to own the mis-step. I do need to apologize for the miss-step. More importantly, I need to guard against similar future miss-steps. But I do not need to internalize the vilification of those tendencies, which til now has been a standard reaction..

          An obvious way to do that for this blog would be to give myself a different deadline to post each week’s blog. That will ensure it goes up before time and, if I do miss that deadline, there will still be time to recover. Another change I can make is to take some time to loosely flesh out several post topics at a time, always having 3-4 posts at least partway finished. (getting the idea and finding the angle to present that idea is what takes me the longest time. When that is clear, I can usually polish up short post in a couple of hours or less. Sometimes a lot less.) Making those changes is even more imperative as I look at my coming fall class schedule.

          I am truly sorry I didn’t get my post finished and uploaded last Wednesday. I do apologize. But I am also very glad it happened. What I have learned/realized as a result is invaluable to me. I believe it will prove just as great a thing for our readers. Over the next few months, as I work on getting posts written and uploaded early, the quality and substance of those posts is sure to improve. I will have more time to go revisit my words, refine and refocus them to be even more helpful and inspiring. So forgive me if I am just a bit glad for the miss-step. 🙂

          What did your latest miss-step reveal to you?

Focus, Writer

For the past two years I have been the proud mother of a talkative and rambunctious daughter. Some people ask me how I can take care of her all day and still manage to get so much writing done. For the past two weeks I have also been the mother of a precious and hungry newborn. Some people ask me how I can get back to writing again so quickly. I don’t know if I have an answer to these questions that will work for everyone but I do have an answer that works for me.

Being a mom to two kids under two years old while running a business, running a household and running circles around my dreams means most of my days are spent juggling. While in the middle of making breakfast, I’ll get a phone call, which will lead me to writing something down so I can make another phone call in between flipping eggs and pouring milk into a sippy cup. Then it’s in and out of the shower while I deal with toddler tantrums and try to keep her from tearing the house apart. I brush my teeth as I make the bed. Almost every hour of every day sees a task on each hand while balancing another on one foot.

But I can’t do that with writing.

I’ve tried, trust me. It’s in my nature to try to accomplish as much as possible in the shortest amount of time but writing isn’t something I can rush through and still feel like I’ve accomplished something. Switching back and forth between writing and other tasks leaves my writing feeling flat and me feeling unsatisfied. Writing replenishes me, but not when I don’t give it my all.

The answer for me is focus.

Uninterrupted time is hard to come by as a mom but I work hard to create it when I can. That’s why I work so hard the rest of the day. My other mom friends can’t understand why I live on such a strict schedule but I know what I want out of my days. I want to be a mom and a writer. So I work doubly hard in the morning so that when the afternoon rolls around and my girls go to sleep, I can use that time to write. To focus.

Today, after nineteen days straight without so much as a bathroom break from mom duty, my husband watched the girls while I got out of the house and you know what I used that time for. I parked my Mom-mobile at the park, sat in the passenger seat and typed with abandon on my laptop. And nothing else. I didn’t have to play mommy or clean house, I didn’t hang out online, I didn’t take phone calls. For that hour, I focused on my writing and penned 2,000 words. Talk about replenishing!

It isn’t easy to get the time to dedicate to my writing but hey, that’s life. Just like anything else that’s important, we have to fight for that time and when we get it, we have to take full advantage of it. Set aside all the other “to dos”, all the other worries, all the other distractions…and focus.

That’s what works for me.

Photo by John Loo

My Creative Process

          I love my art classes! I think I’ve said that a few times in the past few weeks. It’s still true. I do love my art classes. I’m taking two of them, Drawing and Foundations of Time and Space.

          Time and Space is sort of a sculpture class. Each of the assignments has been to create something with certain materials and various “rules” or criteria. One project was to create a sphere from cardboard, another time we had to create a wearable hat, mask or shoe from items we would normally throw away.

          Each assignment has been challenging. Each time I wondered how I would be able create anything that would satisfy the instructor’s criteria. Each time I succeeded. And each success has brought new encouragement and confidence. No wonder I love my art classes.

          Drawing has had its own challenging moments. Each new drawing assignment has its own goal. We might be learning to make the glass look transparent or the leaves look curled or the ribbon look realistic. And each successful drawing (and the B grade I got at mid-term) has increased my motivation to keep drawing. (So very different from the drawing class I took my first year of college 30+ years ago!)

          In addition to drawing and creating art from found objects, I’m rediscovering my process of creativity. There are some definitive steps and stages I progress through with each project. Sometimes those steps and stages are more obvious than other times, but they are always there.

The initial “I’ll never be able to do this” stage.

          This is when I am sure I will not be able to think of anything that will work. That manifests itself in various ways, but essentially I am certain I will fail. In drawing, it usually is seen in the way I lightly draw, erase, draw, erase until I finally get the beginning “skeleton” drawn. From there I can add, fill in, shape and shade.

          This stage is a little more dramatic (and scary) in my Time and Space class. Part of the process is to sketch ideas and plan what we will do. I don’t plan well. (That’s why my writing is more organic and less structured.) Sometimes I’ve had to just play around with the materials. When we had to make a sphere from cardboard, I cut lots of circles and half-circles and arranged them together in different ways before I discovered what I wanted to do. When I’m familiar with the materials, it is easier. The found object shadow box was almost easy. This first stage is more of a discovery process, although sometimes it is accompanied by a (false) certainty that I won’t be able to do it.

The Excitement stage.

          This is when I have a clear idea of what I want to create and the confidence I can do it. Or, if I’m not completely confident, I at least believe it’s possible. Varying levels of excitement accompany this stage. In drawing, this happens when I step back from my drawing and realize I have the basic shapes drown well and not I just need to add in the details. Or when I realize I’ve hit on a particular way that really works, like shading so that it appears two objects are ovelapping.

The “I’m failing” stage

          This happens partway into the project. It might be near the end or it might be in the middle, but a good portion of the project is finished. I’m certain, though, that the project is terrible and I need to drop it. Or start over. Since these assignments must be turned in, I don’t have the option of quitting. I have to finish the project. In this stage, it gets harder and harder to ignore the voice in my head saying I will fail, I’m not smart enough to finish, there are more important things to do, and a myriad of other thoughts designed to get me to quit. Or start over. A few times I have started over. Was that the right thing to do? Maybe. Maybe not. In the case of one of my drawing assignments, it was the best decision I made. Other times, I was certain I was not going to be able to finish the project, but I kept working at it. Eventually, that led to . . .

The “I did it!” stage

          This is when I look at the completed, or almost completed work and realize I did it! I finished the project and I finished well. I’ve actually surprised myself at times.

          Did I mention that I really love my art classes? 🙂

          What does that have to do with writing, you ask? Everything! The cerative process I go through for my art classes is the same process I go through with my writing. I’m sure re-learning that is going to help me reignite my desire to write and my output. I need to “play with the materials.” I need to find and choose a project and start working. I need to push past the negative thoughts and keep working. Once I start doing that on a regular basis, my writing output is sure to increase. More importantly, my writing excitement is sure to increase.

Patterns and Repattening

          A couple of weeks ago, in The Truth in Lies, I wondered if maybe I was running away from writing. Maybe my decision to take art and graphic design is just a way to get away from writing. Am I ignoring writing, running away from it? Am I replacing writing? Hiding in fear?

          Or . . . maybe . . . I am intuitively doing something much healthier?

          At times I feel as if I am stumbling in the dark, blind and uncertain. At other times, I am confident I’m headed in the right direction and just have keep doing what I’m doing while giving myself time to heal. I think I’m learning to discern true healing in myself, but could I be wrong? The emotions and events of the past few years have surely damaged me in ways I only partially realize. That makes it possible (probable, actually) that any (or all) my perceptions may be distorted or even completely erroneous.

          True, but . . . I have to learn to trust myself. If I can’t do that, how can I heal? Part of my damage is from the negative voices, both inside my head and out. Those negative voices that insinuated or outright said my own judgment is flawed. But! Past experiences have proven (some) instances where those voices were obviously wrong. Maybe they were (are!) wrong most of the time. I’m going to believe so. While I will stay open to the possibility I may be deceiving myself at one or more levels, I am going to confidently assume my perceptions of my own emotional, mental and physical states are accurate.

          That being the case, there are some significant observations I’ve made in art and drawing classes. (I love my art classes. They are not always easy, but they force me to “do.” That is a good thing.)

          I’m noticing a pattern in drawing. Each time we are given a new assignment, I take a lot of “prep” time. I mark and erase, mark and erase, several times before finally committing to the picture. Once I get started, I do pretty well. I’ve even surprised myself a few times at how well I reproduce something on the paper. I’ve noticed, though, my beginning process is the same. Light practice strokes, a (sometimes overwhelming) feeling of “I can’t do this. I’ll never be able to do this,” and several restarts. Once I start leaving those tentative marks on the paper and adding more and more to them, I am able to create a decent, sometimes great, drawing.

          This same sort of thing happens in my other art class. In this one I have to create things. There are certain criteria, but within those guidelines, anything goes. This is a class designed to teach the process of creativity. Again, there are several tentative “beginnings”. In this class, this usually amounts to “playing” with the material. When we had to create a sphere from cardboard, I spent a lot of time cutting out semi-circles and circles and putting them together in different ways. For other projects, I’ve had ideas, but had to experiment to discover how to accomplish them.

          I’m not sure of all the insights and ramifications this play and discovery is having or will have on my writing, but I know it is important. Maybe not the most important, but the most relevant for the moment is that it is “rewriting” my creativity. Or rather the patterns of my creativity. I fell into destructive patterns of thinking over the past few years. That overflowed into my thinking, which affected my writing. The way I think about writing, the way I try to accomplish writing, even what I try to write has been corrupted into something it wasn’t meant to be. I need to rediscover the “play” and “practice” that must be part of the beginning stages of how I create. Then i’ll be able to craft complete stories again. Right now I just can’t see myself well enough to know how to do that with writing (but I’m almost there!). Art is helping me relearn my way of creating. Eventually, (soon!) I will be able to merge my art creativity with my writing creativity and return to creating stories and people.

          So,yes, my art classes may be a substitute. That is a good thing. I am relearning how to respond creatively. As I relearn how to play at art, I will also relearn to play creatively in writing.