Creative Advice, Pickle Lemonade, Writing Tips

Pickle Lemonade: Getting Blocked

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It was delicious, fyi.

This is a new series of posts that will deal with making the best out of a bad situation. Because when life gives you lemons, you can definitely make lemonade. But when life gives you pickle juice…wtf are you supposed to do with that?

If you’re a creative individual, you have probably run yourself into walls on several occasions. The dreaded ‘block.’ Sometimes it’s a full on creative constipation: nothing comes out no matter how much you try and you’re just stuck in an uncomfortable funk. Other times, you start a piece, get halfway through and then have no clue how to move forward.

No matter which one you’re dealing with, it sucks. Nothing, short of a nasty rejection or an asshole-ish piece of ‘constructive criticism,’ feels worse than just not being able to create when that’s all you want to do. But there is a particularly fresh hell to the latter. You’ve jumped into a new project with all the vim and vigor of a newborn god, you’ve gotten right into the thick of it and then…you have a half-made mess of meat and gunk that it supposed to turn into a life. You stare at it, completely at a loss as to how to breathe air into this amalgam of half-formed gobbledy-gook.

What do you do now?

Here are a few tricks you could try to loosen up and get to that sweet, sweet place of completion.

  • Re-establish the end goal: This works with both writing and visual art. For a story, it can be, “I want this character to die and this character to parade over his corpse.” For a painting, it can be, “I want this red wet wheelbarrow with white chickens.” Sometimes you have to know the end destination before you get on the road.
  • Work backward: Once you have an idea of where you’re ending, think about what needs to lead up to that. This doesn’t have to be fully formed or permanent, but just decide what needs to happen to get to that place you established as the end.
  • Give it some space (but not too much space): Maybe your piece needs to do its own thing for a while. Maybe you’re suffocating it with your constant dialogues about ‘what it should be’ and ‘why don’t you love me enough to finish yourself.’ That’s annoying me just thinking about it. Step back and do something else. Even an hour away can make a big difference. And when you come back, bring chocolate. On that note, though, don’t give it so much room to itself that you never come back. That way leads to tragedy.
  • Get back to your roots: Ultimately, no matter what ‘audience’ you’ve decided you are creating for, your enjoyment and personal fulfillment comes back down to what you would want to consume. Look at books, movies and pieces of art that touch you. Think about what makes you come back to them time and again. Is there an element there that your own work is missing? Build off that. Just make sure you don’t copy. Then you’re being a dick.
  • Write about it: Get out a piece of paper, open up a new Google doc, or just turn on a voice recorder and start talking it out. Be frank and open with yourself about your goals for the piece that’s giving you problems. Ask yourself why you got into it in the first place. What was the ideal scenario for after it was finished? What scenes did you really want to show? Where is your life going? Actually, keep that last one for another project entirely otherwise you might be stuck there all night.

Have you gotten stuck on projects you’ve started? What finally kicked things loose? Did you keep going with it or did it turn into something else entirely?

 

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5 Things, Creative Advice, Self Dare

Writing Against the Bad Tide

Despite how much solitude involved in this kind of craft, writing is also very much plugged into working online. There’s the social media aspect, networking, blogging, posting pieces for people to see, all that good stuff.

And right now, the entire Internet can be quite…

Draining.

And that’s putting it lightly.

Scary shit is happening in the world. We are perpetually bombarded with new Bad News about what certain high-powered individuals are doing to fuck over the population. And as if the news itself wasn’t bad enough, there’s also seeing the reactions and horror stories and opinions, and the responses to that, and…

Now more than ever, it’s important to understand balance and taking care of yourself.

Here are a few tips I’ve been using to help stay productive while also staying informed about current events:

  1. Decide when and how much you are going to expose yourself to the news: I am trying to limit myself to one particular point in the day to get a rundown of my news around the world. I’m also trying to move away from first thing in the morning, because it can easily set the tone for the day.
  2. Recognize when it’s time to unplug: You may need some time completely away from the computer, the phone, etc. Fall back in love with the pen and paper. Or…
  3. Disconnect from the Matrix: Sometimes it can be as simple as losing your Internet for a while. Check out programs like Freedom to allow you to work without the temptation of surfing.
  4. Mind your physical traits: eat, sleep, drink water, meditate. Go outside and stand in the sun. Even if it’s cold. Make yourself exercise (I just got a small fitness stepper for my office and it has been awesome).
  5. Keep creating things: just by putting things out into the world, you are doing a great service to many. People need art right now more than ever. People need to escape. People need to be inspired and to see characters doing the things that they may not be able to. Don’t stop. Don’t give up.
Creative Advice, Goals and Ambitions, Self Dare

Ducks in a Row: Getting Shit Straight

This year, I have been trying to get more organized.

And it’s strange because whenever I think about clearing out clutter or time management or goal-setting or habit-picking-up, it always seems like this daunting task. Like glacial spelunking or digging out your own hobbit hole.

It seems to be even worse when you’re a creative person (and, in my case, one with a variety of interests and a short attention span), because life is a damn sundae bar of options. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. I feel like the first two weeks of January were essentially spent staring at the wall going, “I can’t do everything. Why can’t I do everything? This is bullshit!”

Then, I tried a different tactic. I dropped the endless list of ‘I Want To’ and instead asked, ‘What do I wish I had done?’ I started breaking down the things that I realized I wanted to do last year and then for whatever reason didn’t do. Then, by narrowing it down, I acknowledged that I wish I had:

  • Gotten more published.
  • Written more original pieces.
  • Finished editing my novel (or at least getting a chunk of it done).

Surprisingly, this one minute of hindsight gave me the guidance I needed to put wheels into motion for the future. And once I had those pieces in mind – that I wanted to especially do those things, among all the others in the Pile of Peculiar Pleasures – opportunities and ideas blossomed.

I’m also going to be continuing to use my blogs to document my work and inspire others. bohemian.on.rye will continue to be where I will post new pieces of writing and writing-related stuff worth sharing. Meanwhile, I will focus SelfDare on creativity, living a fulfilled life and being happy.

I know things may seem crazy out there in the Real World, but we’re all here. This is all happening. We’re in this together. Time to Evolve.

And because it needed to be said on here, if you were out marching this weekend, you are a freaking rock star and I love you.

Creative Advice, NaNoWriMo, Personal

It’s Okay

This time last week, I was on top of my game. I had words running off my fingers like honey from a comb. I was making magic, awesome and fierce and unstoppable. I was a musician working on my self-titled album, music flowing through me. I was a wizard over a cauldron of promising toil and trouble.

And then Tuesday happened. The storm.

And then Wednesday happened. The aftermath.

And it hurt. I want to say that I kept moving. That even though someone increased the gravity inside the chambers of my heart, I said, “Nope. Still going to keep doing what I’m doing.”

But I didn’t.

I got depressed, and basically from Thursday through Sunday I didn’t really write anything. I felt like garbage. I was tense and anxious and no matter how much I wanted to will things into existence, everything just shorted out. And I was so mad at myself because I wanted to continue. I wanted to say that I was bigger than everything that was happening. But I wasn’t.

Now, as I’m finally getting back to a state of normalcy, I want to tell you that it’s okay.

It’s okay to lose your way. It’s okay to get angry and upset. It’s okay to rage quit now and then. It’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up over it. No sane self-help book has been written that says, “Self-flagellation is a sure-fire way to get yourself in the state of mind you want to be in!!” It’s okay to step away from your work and have a good cry.

Know that you won’t feel this way forever. It will pass. Even if it’s something indicative of a larger problem that you’re dealing with and even if it’s something that isn’t just going to go away (it rarely is)…your heart is surprisingly buoyant. You won’t always be at the bottom of the ocean. Eventually, you’re going to float back up to the top.

It’s okay. Get back to work when you’re ready.

And you will be ready again. I promise.

Creative Advice, NaNoWriMo, Writing, Writing Tips

Editing a Monster: Index Card Therapy

I’ve mentioned before that I’m still editing my monster of a novel I did during last year’s NaNoWriMo. And y’all? I do not like editing. I am not good at it. Ask me to write something – anything – any length – and I’ll do it. Ask me to take that mountain and whittle it down into a terrarium, and I lose my damn mind.

As I consider this crazy, meandering thing, I’ve found that I have a lot of characters. So I’m trying a technique that uses a tool I’ve read about many writers employing when they are working on books: index cards.

Here is the process I’m using. For now. Until I get tired of it. But you might find it helpful!

  1. Take an index card. Write the name of your character on the blank side, including possibly a picture if you have one or a brief physical description.
  2. On the back, it’s bullet list time. Write down what part you want that character to play — are they the hero? The villain? Someone’s foil?
  3. Next, write down what they want, ultimately. Their best case scenario. Where they seek to find themselves.
  4. Write down a few of their favorite things and who they are most linked to in the story.
  5. Write down what you like about the character. Maybe it’s their dialogue. Maybe it’s just the fact that they seem like someone you would want to be friends with (or, on the other hand, someone you’d like to be running from).

Now, take the cards and lay them out on a table or flat surface. How does your cast look? Did you struggle to find things to write about them? Are there characters you could put together into one MEGA AWESOME CHARACTER FUSION? If your book was a movie, would you want to see it?

Over the next few weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, I’d like to talk more about my editing process. If there are any aspects to this you would especially be interested in hearing about, leave me a comment here or head over to my Facebook page! Or Twitter! Or homing dolphin!

Creative Advice, Writing, Writing Tips

Woe is You, Maybe, But WHOA is Me!

I read a piece in the New York Times today that I found during my nightly looksie of the Twittersphere. It was tucked away between political ramblings, San Diego Comic Con calm down and adorable doodles. It was about writers and their perspective on their body of work, and how there seems to be this constant malaise after pieces are done. According to this writer, at the end of the day, writers can’t even stand to look at what they’ve done, and there is this terrible feeling of disappointment.

And I found myself tipping my head and feeling really, really sad.

During my twenties, I owned the whole image of ‘serious’ writers as these downtrodden, perpetually anxious, sighing lot. “Writers are supposed to be miserable,” I was essentially told. “Happy writers aren’t good writers.” Being a writer meant, if the ‘classic’ examples were to be any indication, hating the process, loathing the words themselves and doing it because it was a calling. For if we did not, then who would? It all came off very masochistic. And not even in the good way.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to the twenty-something me, shake her a little and go, “Yeah, okay, that’s garbage. Stop looking at that shit and go write something you’ll love.”

And I don’t just mean the content itself, but the whole process. Write something you’ll love making. Write something you’ll look forward to looking at. Write something that you can hand off to a friend and be like, “Hey, man, I wrote this thing. All of these words came out of my brainstuffs!” Don’t look at what you’ve written as some sort of reminder of your mortality or some posse of gargoyle antagonists sitting on your shelf, waiting for you to go to sleep so they can whisper thoughts of fear and failure in your ear. Put party hats on your books. Sure, the early stuff probably is ripe with terrible prose, but laugh at it the way you would at baby pictures.

Yeah, dude, we’re all going to die (unless someone is here and willing to give me robot parts, because seriously, sign me the eff up). So if you’re going to take on something as your art and you are going to be spending at least a decent portion of your waking hours doing it, then maybe you ought to at least like it, right?

Creative Advice, How to Have a Day Job, Writing Tips

The Simplicity of Giving Advice with Neil Himself

This weekend, I got to watch something really cool on Twitter.

As a bit of background because you may be new here, I think Neil Gaiman is a pretty cool guy (and the Award for Understatement of the Year goes tooooo…). His fiction is great, the people in his life are awesome and inspiring (I interviewed Cat Mihos for How to Have a Day Job, and she is a really fantastic lady), and he is a wellspring of cool.

On Sunday, while waiting for his plane to take off, Neil took questions on Twitter. About anything: writing, love, publishing, John Hodgman (well, I think John just showed up to the party), etc. And I found myself really moved by the simplicity of his answers. Not even in that ‘you only have a thimble’s worth of words to use on Twitter’ but just how straight to the point it was. It felt like finding little stones at the bottom of a rushing stream. I found myself moved and inspired.

A few of my favorites included:

“I have a lot of ideas, and even more unfinished stories… How do I pick up the pencil from here?”

“When’s the best time to write?”

“And advice to someone who want to start writing?”

“Advice to self-doubting writers-in-training who got extremely rusty after a long time of not writing?”

Notice a theme?

Always write. Even if (especially if) you don’t know what you’re doing. Make it happen. Let the words come out. Make the art. Your hands will learn what to do, but only if you hush up the brain and let them move.

And remember, whether you’re an artist or a human being:

“How do you get over heartbreak?”

 

Creative Advice, Writing

Taking Back Social Media

For a while, I was not liking social media. I didn’t like Facebook, I didn’t like Twitter, I didn’t even like Instagram.

I was burnt out. I had gotten tired of ‘social media’ seeming synonymous with ‘I am going to show you all the worst things about myself.’ There was a tiny percentage of people whose thoughts and opinions I actually cared about, and they were like those tiny clams you see at the beach when the waves are receding. You catch just the quickest glimpse and by the time you leaned down for a closer look, there’s another wave, and they’re gone.

For a while, it was easy to just say ‘no thanks’ and spend my time online on websites that I enjoyed. But then I realized that I missed the feeling of connection and community I had in those spaces online. I missed seeing stuff from writers I liked. I missed getting to keep up with friends who lived far away.

And then I had a bit of a duh-piphany (that’s an epiphany that, at second look, you realize that it’s kind of dumb you didn’t realize it before).

I get to choose the type of experience I have online.

When I started “building my platform” as a writer, I found myself feeling like I had to be consistently following everyone. As if I was going to regret it someday if I didn’t follow them and they were suddenly looking for me. Or, in the case of my more familiar crowd like on Facebook, I thought that somehow I would be compromising my integrity unfollowing people just because I didn’t agree with them.

Now, I’m unfollowing with reckless abandon! I’m kicking people out of my feeds like it’s going out of style! I’m finding artists and writers and creative people and I’m filling in the gaps with stuff that makes me smile.

I’ve heard it said at writer’s conferences that when you deal with social media, you should focus on the ones that work for you. But the other part of that is also focusing on what works for you within the ones you choose. You don’t owe it to anyone to be miserable when you’re online. Keep joy close and the people who are watching will feel that warmth come from you.

And limit how many news sources you follow. Damn, the news is depressing.