29 Online Lessons to Ignite Creativity
We know it as the writing process. When I think about processes I think of a linear sequence, a set number of steps from beginning to end. In the computing world, a process is the execution of a program sometimes utilizing multiple threads of execution at the same time. It implies multitasking. In science a process is a method that results in transformation. For example, birth is a process.
Then I start thinking about writing as a cycle. We began this workshop mining for ideas, hoping to begin a writing project. We cycled through getting the idea down on paper, adding layers of meaning, revising and editing until the work is ready to publish. In Lesson #7 we looked at the experiential learning cycle. It moves through experience, reflection, theory, and action. As writers we can move through idea, reflection, research, and writing. When we feel the writing is done we return to the first phase: idea. The cycle continues rolling as long as we are writing.
I prefer the writing spiral. A spiral is not linear. A spiral does not need to be predictable. A spiral does not risk the monotony of going in circles. A writing spiral twirls and swirls, picking up ideas, revealing layers, going deeper into our craft with each step. Everything is connected. Change is inevitable. When we engage in a writing spiral the energy is vibrant. The writing spiral begins at a central point, at who we are as writers, and progressively winds around our emotions, experiences, and actual work. Continue reading
Does a writing project ever truly feel finished? Sometimes I wish writers could be more like movie stars. Johnny Depp rarely (if ever) watches a film in which he is starring. Depp does not see revisiting the work as serving a purpose. When the filming is over, his contribution to the process completed, Depp walks to the next project without looking back. Depp knows when his work with a film project is done. Depp’s line in the sand is absolute.
My writing projects tend be done-ish when I reach the deadline. There comes a point in the writing process where I step back and allow the work to move on, much like an independent teenager who is ready to enter adulthood. I will have given the work all I can with the time and the resources available. I will close my eyes, make a wish, and blow the work out into the world to meet its fate. Continue reading
When your project is ready, it is time to find it an audience. This is the part of the process where I often get stuck. The process moves from creating to selling. Some writers find the business side of writing to be a drag. Sending out your manuscript to an agent or a publisher takes planning and preparation. It takes time and perseverence.
Some writers are experts at submitting manuscripts. This group of writers sends out daily query letters, weekly follow-ups, frequent pushes at the industry until they find their work a home. They tend to get more work published than the first group.
What is your relationship with the publishing process? Have you found homes for your work? How much time do you give to the business of writing?
So, imagine you have finished writing your debut novel. First, format the manuscript to industry standard. Find an agent. Find a market for your work. Send query letters to publishers. It seems simple but it is a process that eludes me consistently. I need to develop more patience for the business of writing.
Agents help support the business side of writing. According to my research, agents will take 15% from the sale for placing the book with a publisher, negotiating a contract, and in some cases, providing editorial advice.
In the book industry, sales do not indicate reading. Someone may buy the book and never read it. Or, someone may buy the book, read the book, and then share the book with a dozen friends. Continue reading
Inevitably I get bored in every creative project. From singing for an audience to painting with watercolours to acting in a community production to writing a novel or play, I get bored. The work loses its energy and zoom. Distractions appeal to me. I start to lose faith in the work and the process. This is not writer’s block, but a general malaise toward the work.
I have a box of unfinished projects. I started my first novel in the fall of 1998. I was a student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I spent hours researching and writing the story of Tess, a modern rendering of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I was fascinated by the idea of a “fallen” protagonist, a hero who is also a victim. I rewrote the first eighty pages for five years and then I put the project in a box. Continue reading
Solitude and community are essential elements of the writing life. Just as a writer needs to spend long periods of time connecting to his/her inner world, a writer also needs to nurture relationships and experience community.
Meaning continually moves from within us to outside of us and vice versa. When we write we translate the ideas ruminating in our minds to the page. The events of our lives feed the ideas and emotions pulsating through our work. Most writers create for an audience. When we give our work to readers they filter our words through their experiences and create a new meaning. A story that grew within us through the events of our lives can become a story on the page that is processed by a reader who interprets meaning based on his/her frame of reference. The work now belongs to both the reader and the writer.
A writer needs a safe community in which to test ideas, to share works in progress, to learn how to communicate his/her internalized vision for the work into an external product. A writer needs supporters who validate the writing process, ensure accountability, encourage discipline, and offer constructive critique. A writer needs to celebrate and commiserate wth like-minded people about the uses for a semi-colon, the intricacies of point of view, the format for submission to contests. Writers are life long learners. Writers need opportunities to learn about craft, process, and promotion.
Writing communities can be large or small. In high school we wrote together a couple of times a month in the computer lab. We worked on the school newspaper. In university we met in darkened lounges to share poetry and whisper book ideas.
When I became a grown-up I decided to become a “real” writer. I read all the books I could find on writing. I scheduled daily writing time. I played with poetry and prose. I kept my writing hidden. It was a secret past-time. Continue reading
My writing process begins simply. I get an idea. I think about it for a while. I try the idea out on the page. If I like the direction it is going in I continue to write until I am done. A first draft of a major story introduces characters and setting, establishes major plot developments, and explores the elements of a compelling story. A first draft of a poem introduces the metaphor or story, establishes a general sense of form, and explores poetic devices. Phase two of my writing process is to revise.
How do you revise a writing project for meaning? How do you intensify empathy? What roles do values play in writing? What benefits are there for explicitly understanding the moral and ethical dimensions of your work?
Some of the greatest stories of all time connect to our sense of justice, reveal the complexity of human nature, and pose moral dilemmas for characters. Through reading and writing we can learn more about what it means to be human.
Have you ever considered the moral development of your characters? If you were to place your protagonist on Kohlberg’s scale where would s/he sit? Do the events of the story ignite a quest that leads to a change in your character’s morality? (Consider Sophie’s Choice). Does your character remain steadfast in the face of adversity? (Consider A Man for All Seasons). Or does your story offer characters with contrasting moral compasses? (Consider To Kill a Mockingbird)
Review the stages of development below and consider how the characters you are working with fit. How can you use Kohlberg’s theory in your work to connect to universal human truths? Continue reading
Tuesday after work I stopped at the bookstore. I love the energy of rows of shelves of books. Even if I am too busy to read I like to have books around. I like to buy books, borrow books, share books, and admire books.
Among the few memories I have of elementary school, I remember reading. I remember Mr. Muggs, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and I Am A Duck. Mom signed me up for a Dr. Seuss book club. Each month a new book arrived in the mail. I stretched out on my bed in my room with the Holly Hobby wallpaper for hours whispering the rhyming stories to my dolls. At night I often hid a book under the sheets. When the house was quiet I would slip under the covers, straining my eyes to read in the dark. Sometimes I brought a flashlight.
Books delight. Ralph and the Motorcycle Mouse, How to Eat Fried Worms, Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, Tiger Eyes, Deeny, A Wrinkle in Time, Little Women, and the Neverending Story borrowed from the school library. Sweet Valley High, Flowers in the Attic, and Stand by Me purchased at the used bookstore.
Books engage. I read The Great Gatsby on a car trip, The Edible Woman at the cottage, Gone with the Wind in the boat. I read on the floor, at the arena, in the backyard. Not surprisingly, English was my favourite course in high school. I adored studying literature in university.
Books entertain. My reading preferences spiralled through phases. The Robertson Davies Phase. The Bronte Phase. The CanLit Phase. The Historical Romance (set in Italy or England) Phase. The Harry Potter Phase. The Self-Help Phase. The Oprah Phase. The Giller Phase. Continue reading
It is a typical Friday night. I get home from work just before six. The house is empty at first. I turn on the television or the radio to fill the space. I look out the window. I notice the way the last ray of sun reflects off the house across the street. I feel relieved and worried that I have not made any plans. Lately, the weekends I enjoy most are the ones when I am alone.
It is comforting to sit in a quiet house, but not at first. Entering solitude is not as simple as walking through a doorway. It is more like waiting at the station for a train that does not keep to a schedule.
Saturday morning I awake saddened that my home is still empty, overwhelmed by the vastness of a blank day after a busy week. I watch television while I eat breakfast. Around 9:00 am I check in with family via phone or email. Then I tidy the house, make the bed, have a shower, and start the laundry. The idea of writing trails me like a kid sister from room to room.
It is lunch time. The need to write begins to hum a gentle tune as I prepare a salad. After I eat I turn on the kettle. Before the water is boiled my laptop is ready, the writing song is stronger. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, glance at the page, and type.
The words are slow at first, forced. Long pauses sit between words and sentences and paragraphs. I wait patiently for my train of thought to move forward. I breathe into the pauses. I let the words rise onto the page as if they are emerging buds in springtime.
Each pause is like stepping onto a new stone toward solitude. The words do not scroll across my mind’s eye as they do when I am walking. The words bubble up from a place deep within my creative spirit.
As I write this post I am trying to be aware of the meditative journey to solitude through the writing process. I am surprised that when I write from this place I am not aware of logic. I am not conscious of what I have written in the previous sentence or what I will write in the next sentence.
I spend hours writing in solitude. Suddenly, it is night. The afternoon’s sun has faded, dusk has turned to darkness. It is time to prepare dinner. Once I arrive at a state of solitude it is with me until I leave the house for work on Monday morning. I feel peace. It is in this place that I do my best work. Continue reading
Do. You. Sometimes. Break. The. Rules? Avoid delicious adjectives. Use fragments. But sparingly. Double space, include two-inch margins, include name in top right (or was it left?) corner. Number your pages. Send file in PDF or DOC or else. Comedies must have happy endings. Triple check your facts. Do not include voice over in a script. Show, do not tell.
Ensure your writing champions all others in brilliance and brevity, at least as far as this writer is concerned, it is important to connect to your effervescent, colourful, delightful, and intriguing audience using as many tricks as you know how to guarantee that your reader will not be able to take a breath, pause, or reconsider starting your work and leave the page before you have shared all that you need to share. Vary your sentence length. Run-on sentences are not permitted.
Is it possible to write freely? Can I write in a boat floating on a moat, eating oats, wearing haute, and dancing with a goat? Can I tell stories right to left, down to up, out to in? Can I shoot my plot into the air like fireworks at the fair, see where the events dare to land?
She: How did this begin?
He: Poetics. Aristotle.
She: I blame Strunk.
He: White too.
She: And Shakespeare.
He: Muggles! Continue reading
How do you decide which pieces of yourself you will share with your audience? Sometimes when I write I choose superficial topics. I write about a trip to the grocery store or a memory of writing an exam in high school. Sometimes when I write I linger in the comfortable stories of my childhood, of my adolesence, of my every day. Sometimes when I write I think of my mom and dad and friends and coworkers and boss. Sometimes I wish I had an alias.
I have never stood naked in front of a crowd, but some days when I share my writing I feel bare, exposed, open. I feel like everyone stares at me with x-ray vision that pierces through my clothes, through my skin and blood and bones, into my spirit. I feel like a contestant on American Idol stuck in the moment between when the song is finished and when the judges share feedback. The air tastes like saltine crackers. My hands are cold. My breath is short. Tears of anticipation puddle in the corners of my eyes.
A couple of times a week I walk along Lake Ontario. I sit by the water and watch the waves roll in and out. The sun warms my face. I feel connected to God and country and family and life in general. One Saturday morning I realized that being near open water, feeling the sunshine and the breeze and the peace, that I was wholly myself. Expectation and ego, gone. Past and future, irrelevant. This is me, I thought. Right here, right now, I am me. This feels good. I closed my eyes and slipped into the moment. Vulnerability did not exist. I felt safe.
In solitude we connect to our true selves. We write who we are, but we also choose what we write. Why does a state of being that feels so safe in meditation look so frightening when it is translated to the page? Should writers bare their souls? Continue reading