A to Z Challenge: Z is for In the Zone

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Not in the zone.

Do you ever have that moment when the creative work just flows? When it’s easy, and effortless, and the words seem to show up on the screen all on their own? And they’re beautiful words, too. No toiling to craft the perfect sentence–it just appears.

In positive psychology,  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi asserts that flow is the sweet spot between boredom and anxiety. You’re fully present, in the space between autopilot and overthinking.

In those moments, we know pure joy. We feel fully alive. We recognize the truth: that we are creative beings, meant to be doing this work. Those moments make the frustration and confusion of the creative process all worth it. When you’re involved in a creative endeavor and you’re in the zone, everything seems easy and perfect.

But it isn’t always like that, is it? In fact, I’d wager that most of the time, it isn’t like that.

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A to Z Challenge: Y is for Your WHY

create heartWHY do we do what we do? What is it that drives us to write, or draw, or dance, or cook? When you decide to make a living off of something that brings you joy, you’re inevitably going to have moments of frustration and doubt, where you forget what made you even want to do this crazy thing in the first place.

Those moments are when you need to reconnect to your WHY, to the reason you love doing the thing, so you can keep going when the going gets tough. Have methods in place to help you reconnect. Re-read things you wrote in the past, or look at good reviews or comments. Take a break to do something fun and silly. Whatever works (and is healthy), do it!

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A to Z Challenge: D is for Dear Diary

IMG_1759Today I want to talk about the impact of journaling on the creative process.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, advises writing “morning pages” — 3 handwritten journal pages — every day upon waking. I’ve done them faithfully in the past. They’re great. They get your thoughts out of your head and onto the paper, where you can either examine them or forget all about them. The pages allow ideas to flow, and epiphanies to appear. Sometimes you just write about how you don’t know what to write about. Other times, I found myself thinking, Oh, so THAT’S how I feel about that thing. Journaling is an incredibly helpful life practice.

I’d argue that anyone can benefit from journaling, but for writers it’s useful on multiple levels. The journal allows you the freedom to write without the mysterious future phantom reader looking over your shoulder. Writing by hand with a pen elicits different thoughts and sentences than typing does.  Continue reading

Shiny New Ideas and the Edge of the Comfort Zone

IMG_0185I have a Shiny New Idea. A few of them, actually. I’m allowing myself to jot down notes and brainstorm during idle moments, but I’m holding back from diving right in. I’m so close to being done with Venus and having it ready to query. The query and synopsis are just about done. The manuscript is just about polished. So of course I’m beset by a multitude of plot bunnies. Continue reading

The Anxiety Between Here and There

Be here nowIn February, while planning a huge plot overhaul on a WIP, I started to feel antsy. Restless. I wanted the novel finished yesterday. I described it as “feeling impatient with myself,” but a well-timed Twitter chat with Amy Oscar nailed the feeling as anxiety.

 

Oh, yes, my old frenemy. So we meet again.

 

I realized the anxiety arose from the tension between feeling like I was here, in a place far behind where I should have been, and not there, an imaginary place where I felt I should have been already. In reality, I was now, in the moment, exactly where I was. If I could have been anywhere else, I would have been there. Those here and there places only existed in a story I was making up about myself in my head. Embracing the idea of be here now allowed me to rise above the story and make better choices for myself and my writing. Staying present has been a recurring theme for me this year, and sometimes staying present with a writing project requires reminders like this one.

 

A few years ago I heard Gabrielle Bernstein speak live. I only remember one line: “Hold your dreams lightly.” Yes, I visualize and journal about dreams I hardly dare speak out loud. But staying present with the work, allowing creative flow, is the only way I truly get anything done. (This is something my coach Kirra Sherman keeps reminding me).

 

Visualize the outcome. Say, “I ask for this or something better.” And then release it. Don’t choke your dreams, and be open to their manifestation looking different from how you’d originally imagined. Be here now.

A pep talk for writers #2

Bird By Bird by Anne LamottThis week I’m reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I have to share this gem from the section on dialogue:

“You write a sh**ty first draft of it and you sound it out, and you leave in those lines that ring true and take out the rest. I wish there were an easier, softer way, a shortcut, but this is the nature of most good writing: that you find out things as you go along. Then you go back and rewrite. Remember: no one is reading your first drafts.”

You can’t edit a blank page. And unlike real life, the lives and worlds we create with our words can be revised, edited, even completely rewritten. That’s part of the creative process. The biggest part, actually. A coworker once told me, “Writing is 10% first draft and 90% revision.” He probably got it from somewhere else, but 10 years later I still remember him sharing that in the break room, so I attribute it to him.

Takeaway: Get out of your own way, get the words down, then go back and fix them. You got this.

A pep talk for writers #1

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This morning I read a passage in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield that I found helpful for where I am in my writing process. (I’m revising, and this week it feels especially daunting.)

“[A pro] understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it. She knows if she thinks about that too much, it will paralyze her. So she concentrates on technique.”

Takeaway: Focus more on the technique, the craft, the practice of writing, and less on the end result, the masterpiece, the goal. Enjoy the journey. Write to be a better writer.

When the muse calls…

write-inCreativity is flow. For me, it comes through when I release resistance and clear out fear. As long as I’m worried about writing or drawing badly, I’m not creating. When I let go of the fear, I open to what comes. And sometimes, that leaves space for flashes of inspiration to appear.

Inspiration is great and all, but you can’t wait for it to strike. Typical writing advice will tell you that the best place to be when your muse hits is in front of your computer. (Or notebook, or whatever.) Confession: I haven’t spent a lot of time at my desk lately. Continue reading

Creative Staycation: The Beginning

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Creative Staycation was born out of a need to prioritize creativity.

Last week I realized that I had been neglecting my creative projects. While I always seemed to have time to check Facebook or Twitter, I hadn’t been making time to draw, or write, or paint, or brainstorm new ideas.

When my cousin canceled her trip to New York this weekend and my boyfriend announced that he was going upstate for four days with his family, I decided that I would use the time to reconnect with my creative energy. Instead of canceling my Friday plans to go upstate with Boyfriend, or telling my friends that I could do all of the things I’d turned down because of my cousin’s visit, I embarked on a Creative Staycation.

The Creative Staycation is a designated block of time to follow creative whims, devote attention to in-progress projects, play with new ideas, and nourish the spirit through self-care. For me, it’s also about taking responsibility and being honest with myself about how I’m prioritizing my activities, and releasing judgment around how I spend my time.

I’m an artist, a writer, and I work with kids every day. I started the personal development and spirituality work almost three years ago, but in March I recommitted to the practice. In other words, I made a hobby of working on myself. I stopped mindlessly playing iPad games, watching crap TV, and binge-reading historical romance novels. I upped my spiritual practice and started journaling again, but my “Quick Art Project of the Day” goal wasn’t fulfilling enough. The Creative Staycation served as a way to jump back into the creativity pool head first.

The Creative Staycation blog is a celebration, a sharing of the creative and spiritual steps I’m taking on this journey of the self. Expect “Quick Art Project of the Day” posts (often with kids involved), updates about in-progress projects, creative inspiration, and written processing of spiritual concepts as I work to deepen my own understanding.

If this resonates with you at all, I invite you to conduct your own Creative Staycation, even if just for an hour. It’s more about a protected block of time than any kind of rigid structure. Within that time, you’re free to create, play, and have fun, by making the conscious choice to do so. Go ahead. Indulge in creativity. But even more, prioritize creativity.