Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

Two crucial skills for the writing life.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Each day, we are bombarded by the tasks we must do, by the things we want to accomplish, and by the demands of tasks and people upon our time. There is only so much time, and so often too many things to do. We necessarily must master the skill of multitasking, of doing more than one thing at a time: answering the phone and emails, scheduling meetings and signings, managing children and pets, managing a household, making time for love, tracking our books and our word count.

Writing & publishing have become a multi-skill career, especially for writers, where we must write, have a business plan, set goals, design covers, write a blog, maintain a website, and market our books. Some of us do all of these things, some of us out-source some of it. And most of us do have other demands placed on our time, like family, friends, favorite past-times, other jobs.

And all of this demands that we multitask, and that is necessary. It’s almost a survival skill.

Lost in all of this multitasking, all of this busyness, is the equally crucial skill of … focus. Being able to focus fully, for long periods, is very important. Lost too is perhaps our best work, our richest and most engaging writing, and our real potential as writers. Without focus, our work suffers, our creativity isn’t as great or as deep. The constant interruptions and distractions mean we not only do not get as much done of what is really important for our dreams (writing, for example), but what we do during those crucial hours isn’t of the quality that we could want.

What can we do to more fully apply that skill of mental focus to our work, our writing. On my blog post about writer’s block (filed under Writer’s Life), I recommend using a timer and freeing up the mind from other things that might intrude. It’s kind of like beginning to practice meditation, where other thoughts and distractions must be kept to a minimum, and where mental discipline must be continually exercised. Once you’ve decided that it is more important that you become more deeply focused when you write, then you will probably think of other ways to accomplish this.

Here are some tips on focusing from that previous blogpost:

1) Before ending the day’s writing time, write a few lines of the next scene or a few ideas for that scene, so that it’s easier to pick up at the next session.

2) As you sit there, take the first 10 to 15 minutes to read a section of a book on craft or articles on craft, to switch your mind from the daily grind to writing and craft.

3) Set up your writing time so that all you have to think about is writing. Since you have other pressing things to do in your day, perhaps schedule your day on the evening before, so that when you begin to write, all of those other things are settled, done, and you’re not thinking about all the other things you have to do that day. Instead you’re thinking about and focused on writing. (see No. 5 & 6)

4) Write in a Journal before you begin your writing time, to dump all the things that are bothering you or distracting you. Assign a maximum time for this (5 minutes), otherwise it could take over much of your writing time.

5) Set a timer for the length of time you want to write and then think of nothing else during that time–that is the time you have for writing–until the timer goes off. This allows you to fully focus on your writing, and to set everything else aside for that hour or for whatever time you’ve allocated.

6) When you sit down to write, if other things occur to you that must be done or that are competing with focusing on writing, then quickly create a list of those things you need to do or think about. And then put it aside, so that they’re all written down and will be less likely to distract you.

7) Plan–an outline or variation of one, but at least a general idea of where you’re going with the novel, whether it’s a general statement, a synopsis with the main plot points, or an outline.

And a quote on the subject:  “…when you are completely open, when on all levels you are in complete communication, completely integrated, then there is joy and you begin to create … creativeness is a sense of total self-forgetfulness, when there is no turmoil, when one is wholly unaware of the movement of thought.” — Krishnamurti.

How do you see yourself applying & balancing these skills in your life?



The Craft Warehouse in Your Head

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

How or where do writers get their ideas? If you asked our loved ones, they might feel like they could swear the ideas were found somewhere just outside a window, or that somehow the idea stork drops another package for us after the appropriate incubation period, or as in The Hunger Games, some avid beneficiary will parachute it down to us in our hour of need. A gift from “your sponsors.”

So, really, where do we get our ideas? In case your loved ones didn’t know, the raw materials of fiction are available at your very own local craft warehouse. Yes, the craft warehouse…of fiction writing. The one in your mind. So, next time you’re found staring out the window, your friends and family can now picture you parking outside that “store,” and perusing for those fiction gems, up and down those mental aisles, pushing your “shopping cart,” checking the shelves for that perfect plot or hero or setting. There we’ll be, filling that “shopping cart” full of ideas, realizing that we might have to come back later for more, that we might have to in fact exchange some things. Or sometimes just wandering around looking and comparing. Now where was I stocking that one thriller plot?

That warehouse is an accumulation of all those things we’ve been exposed to, all our ideas, divided into two not-so-neat departments, nature and nurture. Not to say that we’re using “stock” characters or “stock” anything. For me—for any writer—that warehouse “stores” all the experiences I’ve had personally, all the people I’ve met and known, all the stories I’ve read, characters I’ve met, and more importantly, all the wonderful spaces and possibilities in-between where my ideas or the fragments of ideas to come may be found. And those departments are divided, of course, into other departments, other sections. Everyone’s is the same; yet everyone’s is so different.

So, there we are, trundling our shopping carts through those aisles, row upon row, shelves stacked. Signs overhead pointing to Department of  Plots & Subplots, and Department of Psychology (Character arcs) or Human Resources (heroes, heroines, secondary characters, villains). The World Market (world-building, settings).  Starter Kits (openings, themes, genres).  Department of Communications (dialogue, non-verbals). Research & Development. And in the back corner or perhaps the basement—isn’t it always—there’s… Bed Bath & Be-Erotic (with directions. Insert A into B—in infinitely (we hope) different ways). And so on. Oh, and don’t forget the Open Bin section, for those miscellaneous things—ideas returned or those we might use someday.

Obviously, some writers have more shelves stacked with particular things (in, for example, HR), like vampires and werewolves; others with action figures or hunky romance heroes, or hard-nosed detectives; and still others with female helicopter pilots and CIA operatives; beautiful suspense heroines, duchesses, teachers, wives and girlfriends.

But while you’re cruising those mental aisles, don’t forget about restocking those shelves. Yes, restocking. (Picturing myself struggling with a large box of dialogue, shelving it in Communications after a trip to the University? Or to uh…Craft Warehouse?) But restocking is the other fun part of writing. It’s refreshing your supply of …everything. Getting out and experiencing. Reading, researching. Then reorganizing. Sifting through. And restocking. And it’s all on the conveyor belt of Life.

Then it’s ready for you, the writer, to create something…with those elements of fiction. And like DNA—Recombinant. In this case, Dialogue, Narrative, Action and everything in-between.

The elements or molecules of fiction are the [writing sequences] that result from the use of the craft to bring together the writing material from multiple sources, creating sequences that would not otherwise be found in written “organisms.” Like Recombinant DNA, it is possible because those craft molecules share the same basic structure; they differ only in the sequence of elements within that “identical” overall structure. And of course, the writer’s creativity.

What’s on your list today?


Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Note: (For the last paragraph on Recombinant DNA, I was paraphrasing from Wikipadia’s text on Recombinant DNA, but changing text to apply to writing, so I could “recombine” some metaphors.)


Thoughts on rebirth at Easter

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Whatever one’s religion, and whether one celebrates it or not,  Easter is about rebirth and, I think, has something for everyone.

First,  I want to explore the holiday’s origins, to be inclusive. It’s interesting always that for most or all of what we believe, there are the threads of these stories–some version–through all of our cultures, a commonality that serves to unite all of us.  Its origins date back before the Christian form of the holiday, though the Christian holiday obviously stands on its own—-possible planning, to have the holiday be a part of the spring and the idea of renewal.. 

I’ve included some information about the origins of the holiday (from Wikipedia) in the next few paragraphs (but if you want to skip all of that, just scroll down 6 small paragraphs)**.

The origins of the holiday are linked to the Jewish Passover by its symbolism (See WikiPedia: Easter), and by its position on the calendar.

It’s also a secular holiday with the Easter bunny, egg decoration  and egg hunting. The Easter bunny is a kind of Santa Claus of the holiday, and the egg is a symbol of birth. Egg decorating symbolizes the ability to change and our uniqueness. There’s also the quandary or conundrum of which was first, the egg or the chicken–again implying change (Make of that what you will).

But further than that … before the Christian form of Easter, scholars propose there was a Germanic form, a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, Hausos. ((1) See Wikipedia: Hausos) “The dawn goddess was also the goddess of spring, involved in the mythology of the Indo-European new year, where the dawn goddess is liberated from imprisonment by a god (reflected in the Rigveda as Indra, in Greek mythology as Dionysus and Cronus).” (1)  

References to a dawn goddess also come from “the Sanskrit vanas “loveliness; desire,” in the Rigveda, and from the Latin name Venus and the Norse Vanir. “(1)

“The name indicates that the goddess was imagined as a beautiful nubile woman, who also had aspects of a love goddess. As a consequence, the love goddess aspect was separated from the personification of dawn in a number of traditions, including Roman Venus vs. Aurora, and Greek Aphrodite vs. Eos. ” (1)

“The Italic goddess Mater Matuta “Mother Morning” has been connected to Aurora by Roman authors (Lucretius, Priscianus)”; and the “abduction and imprisonment of the dawn goddess, and her liberation by a heroic god slaying the dragon who imprisons her, is a central myth of Indo-European religion, reflected in numerous traditions. Most notably, it is the central myth of the Rigveda, a collection of hymns surrounding the Soma rituals dedicated to Indra in the new year celebrations of the early Indo-Aryans.”(1)

**So, the common threads in most of the stories are a time of change, the season of spring, represented in previous times by a kind of Dawn Goddess, who is imprisoned but freed, a kind of rebirth. The dawn and spring are times of rebirth, of change, of things that were hidden coming to light, of seeing things that were of yesterday in a new light, of a brief time of fallowness but then new seeds taking root with new life. Of a new day and a new chance. (Some of you may remember Anne of Green Gables (Anne with an “e”  😉  ) who was taught that every new day was a new beginning.)

Change is the thing most stable in life. It is one of those rhythms of life. Easter is a holiday of change–among other things, it symbolizes dying and being reborn, which of course, applies to the creative process and to growing as a writer, as an artist. When we become, we kind of shed a part of our old self and embrace the new–the new as an expression of the potential self, our potential self. And the potential self is a well that never runs dry.

Have a very Happy Easter.

© Document Driven 2012

(1) Wikipedia: Hausos

Spring & the Writer’s Quarterly–a time for review, renewal, growth

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

With Spring here and the end of March approaching, it also means that the first quarter of the New Year is over. It seems a good time to review goals, to take the measure of how we’re doing  and then to renew those goals. The New Year offers a unique opportunity for self-renewal, for setting goals, for setting oneself to achieving old goals and new ones, for hope. With the first quarter of the year coming to an end, let’s reinvest in that opportunity, in what we are, what we want, what we love. And Big Congratulations to all those who have met most or some of their goals!! It takes not only talent but also effort, persistence and focus.

As artists, writers, let’s look at what could be referred to as–what I’m going to refer to as–our writer’s Quarterly Report, of goals & achievements. Remembering that part of what a Quarterly measures is not just whether we’ve met a projected goal, but also growth. Growth. Let’s look at what we’ve done and what we haven’t, but also how we’ve grown as writers. It’s a snapshot of how we are doing so far, of how we’re doing in each “department” of publishing–writing, marketing, ebooks, social networking–and then a reinvestment in those goals.

First congratulate yourselves on having met the goals that you did. In any part of our lives though, there are goals and desires that can be frustrated, for which that Quarterly doesn’t show much growth. For those goals, we don’t want to be like the dieter who eats one brownie, loses perspective because of not winning this one battle, and proceeds to eat 5 more–losing the whole war. While this is just an analogy–eating 5 more brownies may not mean losing the whole war–it illustrates a perspective that is so needed in our writing–the perspective of persistence. And revisiting that saying in publishing, that persistence–in any goal–often counts more than talent.

So, let’s take that Writer’s Quarterly Report and review it, and then renew our commitment to those New Year’s goals. Spring is a time for renewal.

You are your own creation–apply you, your talents to becoming the person/author that you envision, to becoming the writer, the author that you have dreamed about. To make that dream, a reality.

A Spring poem for inspiration: “And it’s Oh the wild Spring and his chances and dreams. There’s a lift in the blood. Oh this gracious and thirsting and aching unrest; all life’s at the bud, and my heart, full of April, is breaking my breast.” — Henley.

The Artist Date–creative renewal

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Julie Cameron wrote a book called The Artist’s Way.  In the book, she advocates for what she calls “The Artist Date.”  This is something I’ve tried to incorporate into my weeks. Her idea: a 2-hour (or so) block of time that an artist–writer, designer, painter, musician–sets aside to spend time alone for nurturing their creativity, their inner creative child. (See the book for more information.) Julie Cameron talks about “replenishing our creative resources.”  She also writes that resistance to one’s artist dates is “a fear of intimacy–self-intimacy.”

(Note: According to psychologists, the self is made up of 3 entities: the adult, the parent, and the child. And of course the conscious and subconscious.)

As a past (and present) student of psychology (literally having taken a lot of coursework), I believe these are the kinds of things that help keep an artist fresh, keep the creative wheels turning, and each person is different as to what will be their creative fountain of renewal and ideas. But this need for renewal–for living life so that you as an artist have a full reservoir of creative raw material, and thus more to apply in your creative field–is nothing new. It also helps with writer’s block.

Here are some of my artist’s dates ( which can also serve as research for a book):

A new experience, a new possibility for a setting in a novel.

A walk or run on the beach or along the river, in the woods or mountains.

A visit to the bookstore (or library), to gather magazines (at least some that I don’t usually read) and books for perusal, with hot tea at hand

A visit to the local Art Museum, gallery, historical landmark, or other interesting places.

A drive into the country or elsewhere to visit somewhere that’s loved, somewhere that’s new.

Playing music or doing something else that exercises another talent or creative activity.

                                       *    *     *

Do you like the idea of artist dates? Do you use artist dates in your life? What kinds of things renew you as an artist/writer?

“The most potent muse of all is our own inner child.” — Stephen Nachmanovitch.

Inspirational Women Series

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Who could not be inspired by a 99-year-old woman,  a world-class physicist and a professor renowned for her research, with a 7-decade career in the field of electron microscope technology, who still visited her lab at age 99? 

Anyone, but especially writers. Not only in her accomplishments, and her longevity and productivity later in life, but also in her persistence, through some adversity, in doing what she loved, and for being ahead of her time in her thinking.

That describes Gertrude Rempfer, who died last October, but who did her most prolific work after she retired at age 65. Known as “Gert,” she pioneered in electron optics, and her body of work includes five patents, 36 publications, and her work in developing night-vision goggles. Her most notable contribution was said to be in the improvement of electron microscopes. Her other contributions were taking what were at the time, controversial stands on important issues in our history.

She was born in Seattle, Washington. As a young adult, she enrolled at a University during the Depression, took her first academic position at a prestigious women’s college, but was passed up for tenure when a man was hired. When WWII began, Gert worked at the Naval Research Laboratory.

She and her husband, the late Professor of Mathematics Robert Rempfer, met when she was at Russell Sage, and were wed in 1942. They were part of the team that developed the electron microscope.

After the war, husband and wife encountered backlash from our nations post-war problems, including McCarthyism. They were forced out of Antioch College (1950s) when they tried to prevent the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and then lost their teaching positions at a black institution, Fisk University, when the couple supported racial integration–this was before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was illegal.

Then in 1961, she joined the Portland State University (Oregon) Physics department as faculty, and for 25 years, worked closely with University of Oregon biologist Hayes Griffith doing cutting-edge research and developing applications for photoelectron microscopy.  Her last collaboration was with physicist Rolf Koenenkamp and his research team, to build “the best microscope of its kind” based on her designs.

Described as soft-spoken, unassuming and brilliant, she was dedicated to helping graduate students, and sharing her knowledge.  She continued to work until the last year, taking the bus into Portland and then back in the evenings to her beloved farm in Forest Grove, Oregon, where she still did the heavy chores.

Who,  in history or currently, writer or otherwise, particularly inspires you?