You cannot schedule creativity. You cannot say, today, I will write my book’s finest moment. It will be fabulous. Inspiration strikes when it’s ready. Of course, it helps to nurture it with other inspiring and creative people and ideas.
I recently experienced a spontaneous moment of creativity.
Participating in a teacher-training intensive on arts integration, I joined a team of educators at the end of the week to perform what we’d learned. As we brainstormed possibilities, I beckoned “hang on” and grabbed a sheet of paper. From there, the words and phrases bled from my pen like I’d hit a major poetic artery.
Who knew I had a little rapper in me? The words simply flowed and bounced right out of my mind and onto the paper. The rhythm popped and slipped at the right moments; beats dropped; syntax wagged; my mouth spat out the lushly lyrical lingo as if on cue.
I’d never written a rap. I had certainly penned my share of verse, however. Simple haiku, predictable four stanza rhymes, and a few odes in free form. Never a rap. Certainly nothing Eminem or Snoop Dogg would lay claim to.
Yet, I did. And the ease surprised me. It was easy because I was inspired. I had just spent five days working with a room of incredibly talented and passionate educators, following the lead of several gifted and compassionate artists. I was infected, and my soul’s disease was poetry.
The whole moment got me thinking. You cannot make an appointment with creativity. If someone were to have said to me, “At the end of the week, Ellen, you need to write and perform a rap about what you learned”, I would have froze up. I would have spent the entire week perseverating over this task. By the time the day arrived, I’d have nothing but a bowl of writer’s block.
If you are experiencing some slag in your writing brilliance, consider spending time with those who inspire you. This could be a friend. It could also be time locating and viewing some great Ted Talks or other free online materials that seek to free your inner creative birds.
Here are some of my favorites:
Elizabeth Gilbert tells us “writing is my home”.
Kirby Ferguson says, “everything is a remix”.
Volunteer firefighter Mark Bezos shares why everything matters.
*Image courtesy ponsulak/freedigitalphotos.net
I love to write, so people think it comes easily. It does, and it doesn't. When it doesn't, I rely on the experts. I need guidance and some instructions.
Writing is hard work, but I know why I do it.
Writing fills my heart. Writing allows me to make sense of the voices in my head, the poetry in my soul, the chatter all around me. Still, it is a craft, and it requires instruction. Lucky me, I have two amazing teachers.
Lamott and King. I obsessively absorbing their advice and analyze their style, word choice, structure and rhythm. I have read Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life” over and over. Each time, I find new ideas; each time, something I’ve read becomes clearer.
Writing brings me joy. It’s hard work, but I love it.
If you love to write, then write. Everyday. Every chance you get. But don’t just write, read your writing, study it; read other writing and study that. Buy a book on writing. I suggest buying a live book as opposed to a digital download or library rental because you will want to write in it.
Both my books by King and Lamott have notes in all the margins, words circled, lines underlined, pages starred and dog-eared. They are my instructors, and I heed their words like notes on a treasure map.
Writing is not a 9 to 5 job. It’s 24/7. Make the most of it.
Here are some more recommended readings on writing:
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Page After Page by Heather Sellers
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Something different this Sunday. My first ever young adult writing contest.
June Writing Contest for Teens
School’s out, so now it’s time for your own assignments. When I was a teen, I loved the freedom from homework in the summertime so I could write. I kept a journal for my own wonderings and observations, but summer allowed me to write poetry and short stories. I didn’t submit them to anyone. I wrote them for myself, typed them and glued them into my creative writing journal (which I still have).
The unstructured sunny days allowed me to take the time to ponder, observe, fantasize and dream. My writing blossomed in summer because there wasn’t anyone telling me what to write. It was all me.
I’d like to give you that chance.
Here is the first ThisGirl Summer Writing Contest.
In 200 words or less, describe a best friend. Could be your real BFF, or it could be a fantasy. In prose or poetry. No other restrictions than the word count. Oh, and you must be 13 to 18 years old. Submit your entry by June 28.
Paste your entry or link below. The winner will be featured on this site’s homepage and receive acclaim on Twitter and Facebook. Each monthly summer winner will be in the running for a free signed copy of “This Girl Climbs Trees” in September.
UPDATE: CONGRATULATIONS, EMILY REEVES OF TENNESSEE FOR YOUR BEAUTIFUL ODE NOW FEATURED ON THE EXTRA BITS PAGE.
I have been working on my third YA novel for nearly seven months. About four weeks ago, I reached a pivotal point, just over what I believe is the halfway mark. I’m still there. Okay, maybe I’ve added another 700 words or so.
Basically, I’m stuck (was stuck).
I usually have lots of tricks to unstick myself, but none of those seemed to be helping. Not until I tried something new.
I knew that.
Thing is, there’s no formula that works for every story. So although #8 worked this time, it might not work in my next roadblock. I’ve read some great ideas from fabulous writers that worked on other pieces, but not on this one.
That’s because I needed to do something different.
I plan on getting stuck again. In anticipation of this inevitable event, I decided to make a list of possible unstickers; more importantly, I wanted to share them with you.
1. Introduce a new character – major or minor, doesn’t matter; someone who will interact with your protagonist (or antagonist); could be a store clerk, a cop, long-lost cousin, former teacher, mailman.
2. Change the weather – move in storm clouds or clear them away; feel a sudden gust kick up; notice a funnel cloud in the distance.
3. Hear something – a dog bark, a siren, a scream, a laugh, glass breaking.
4. See something – a child’s bike, scattered playing cards, a woman’s scarf, the back of someone’s head, a red car turn the corner.
5. Smell something – burning, sweet, bitter.
6. Remember something – someone’s birthday, a dental appointment.
7. Forget something – locking the backdoor, charging a cell phone, someone’s birthday, a dental appointment.
8. Have your MC do something ordinary - ring the doorbell or the phone.
9. Have your MC do something unordinary – order a redeye instead of a decaf, stop in the dollar store instead of the usual liquor store.
10. Have your MC do something extraordinary – run in the street to save a kid from being hit, chase a purse-snatcher, scare away a bear.
Once you begin this new event or action, let it unfold. Continue adding detail – sensory detail – and watch where it takes your plot. You might be surprised.
I’m sure your wheels are turning and you’ve already thought of another handful to add to this list. Please do! Add your ideas in the comments section. What works for you?
I am breaking from my traditional Sunday blog posting, to share this.
On June 3, the very dear Teagan Kearney bestowed the prestigious "Versatile Blogger" award upon me. Haha. Well, maybe not prestigious, but it is fun to receive awards.
There are some requirements attached to receiving the award:
1. Thank the giver.
2. Name 15 new recipients.
3. Tell the giver 7 special things about yourself.
First of all, Thanks Teagan!!
I'm not sure how I earned my way onto her list, but I am so grateful I did because I just spent the week culling my own list of 15 (not an easy task). I finally narrowed it down (some I couldn't add because they'd already received the award).
Now I'd like to share with you 15 great writing and reading resources:
Fiona Quinn, http://www.fionaquinnbooks.com/
Kate Tilton, http://katetilton.com/kateblog/
Charli Mills, http://elmirapond.blogspot.com/
Anne Goodwin, http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/
Natalie Sampson, http://www.nataliecorbettsampson.com/
Jenny Bravo, http://blotsandplots.com/
Kate Grubb, http://10minutewriter.com/
Melissa Robles, http://thereaderandthechef.blogspot.com/
Clara Ryanne Heart, http://clara-ryanne-heart.blogspot.com/
http://sportygirlbooks.blogspot.com/ (a collective)
For Teagan, 7 random things about me:
1. I am not afraid of the dark.
2. I prefer only to wear sandals or boots.
3. I am an excellent parallel parker.
4. I have a crush on the entire Oakland A's team.
5. I put my kids inside my heart every night before I go to sleep.
6. Stephen King is my mentor (he doesn't know it).
7. I can make up a poem on the spot - about anything.
Thanks, again, Teagan. Happy blogging everyone!
Kids love to share memories. Nothing beats a 10-year-old saying, "When I was little...". Memory defies time; even though as we age, we define our memories by time.
When I was a kid...
Last year, I remember...
This reminds me of when I was in college, and...
Memory defines us. Memory is experience, emotion, friendship. It is the collection of moments that form who we were and who we have become. There is an importance to memory.
So it shouldn't really surprise me when a young child wants to share her memories. Memories connect us.
This past month, I've been fortunate to spend several hours visiting and reading to elementary students. I have shared various chapters from my middle grade narrative, "This Girl Climbs Trees". In one class, I was moved to laughter and tears as students shared memories of trees in their lives. One girl told of a beautiful lemon tree that sat in the yard, from which they did not remove the fruit but which offered a place of shade and beauty until her father cut it down. Another boy told of a tree at his former home that the neighbor insisted be removed due to its invasive roots and dead leaves on their property. This injustice troubled the boy, and he insisted his family's next home have a tree further from any neighbor's yard. They just planted a Birch.
They have a wide front yard.
The students' stories inspired me. I had no idea that Eliza Mills (the central character) had so much in common with real live kids. I made up Eliza. I made up the entire story. Yet real children (and adults) continue to share with me their memories of a favorite tree.
So I'd like to offer this challenge: In 150 words or less, write a memory of your tree. How did you connect with it? What do you now observe as the importance of this tree, this memory? Post your short passage here or on your own site. Paste a link in the comments below so that we can read it.
You might be surprised what comes up as you explore the importance of memory. I'll post mine this week. You have forever, but I will shout out my favorite on Twitter next Sunday. Please connect with me there and leave your Twitter handle here. If you are under 18, please let me know so you can get your own awesome shout out!
Thanks! Good luck.