Arts

6 Ways to Feed Your Creative Spirit

Posted on Updated on

Sometimes life is a rabid wood chipper chewing you up and spitting you out the other side.

Okay, that was a bit extreme. But you get it. Life can get messy and manic and leave you blinking, wondering where all your time went.

This month has been insanity on a plate. A 102.5 degree plate. That’s the same temp as my kiddo’s fever. Bleayah. The flu paid us a visit. Thankfully, I only had the roll of nurse this time around, and not patient. Regardless, looking after my daughter while holding down the fort has been exhausting.

I have a lot of compassion for people trying to pursue creative dreams on top of their everyday responsibilities (jobs, families, bills, recovering from the flu, etc.).

How can we nourish our creativity when we’re running from one responsibility to the next?

Here are few things that have been working for me over the last couple of weeks. Most of them easily fit into everyday life. Some take extra time and effort. All of them require mindfulness, instead of letting life carry us along.

When life gets hectic, feed your spirit with…

1. Music

Almost every creative I know holds music dear. For some it’s screaming guitars, for others concert piano. Music is soul food. It has a profound effect on me, and I’m guessing it does you as well. There are songs that can set my writing brain into overdrive. and there are artists I can’t listen to without plunging into a deep pit. I’ve learned that when life gets hectic, I need to be aware of what music I’m listening to and the effect it’s having on me. Whether it’s in the car or at home, too much time with the wrong music, and I’m likely to crawl into a corner and cry. No, when life gets hard, I keep the music inspiring, hopeful, beautiful. It feeds my soul, gives me energy, keeps me going.

2. Beauty

Every spring, the Phoenix Art Museum puts on a special event for one weekend only. Arts & Flowers. It’s a beautiful, museum-wide exhibit in which local florists create arrangements in response to particular pieces of art. I’ve made a point of attending the event for a few years now, and every year I am pleasantly surprised by the florists’ creations. They are sumptuous. They make me see familiar paintings with new eyes. But most of all, the event is beautiful. And beauty, like music, feeds my creativity. If you’re feeling down or dried up, surround yourself with beauty — buy yourself flowers, visit a museum, watch the sunset — and see if your spirit isn’t rejuvenated.

3. New Experiences

Sometimes we just get stale. Day after day, the same thing, the same routine, over and over and ugh. When that feeling sets in, I know it’s time to mix it up. Try something new. This month, it was pottery. A friend and I had bought a Groupon a while back for a wheel pottery class, and the timing of the class couldn’t have been more perfect. I spent two hours out of my normal routine, getting my hands dirty and expanding my creative horizons. A perfect remedy for stagnant creativity.

4. Daydreaming

Daydreaming leads to creative breakthroughs. That next scene. That new painting. That shiny invention. But who has time for daydreaming when life gets crazy? You do, of course. And I do, too. Waiting at the grocery store or preschool pick up line. Stopped in rush hour traffic. It doesn’t take a lot of time, it just takes a little redirecting of your thoughts. The best thing about daydreaming, I’ve found, is that it allows me to keep my writing brain going while I’m away from the page. I’m driving my kids to school, but I’m also noodling on that new scene, visualizing it in such detail that when I get back to my desk, it’s there waiting for me to write. Daydreaming: free, fun and necessary for your creativity.

5. Good Food

We’ve been undergoing a food revolution in our house. It started with the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Since then, our family has been cutting out processed food and replacing it with fresh fruit and veggies. We even cut out coffee. *gasp* I know! But I feel great! No more blood sugar rollercoasters. No more afternoon lull. Finally, I understand the concept of garbage in/garbage out. I feel better — I feel more creative — when I’m feeding my body good things.

6. Joy

My dogs teach me so much about joy. This morning I watched Hannah roll around in the grass, her mouth open and the sun shining down on her. Pure joy. Best five minutes of my day. And Hobbes wiggles every time he sees me. Wiggles! Who else but your dog greets you in such a way? My dogs remind me what it means to be alive and to be joyful. And I’m grateful for them. Joy is such an important part of the creative process. There is joy in the spark of an idea. There is joy in the creating. There is so much joy when you stand back and see what you’ve made. One thing life is really good at is robbing us of our joy. Sometimes it takes simple things — like rolling in the grass and sunshine — to remember what it means to be joyful, to be creative, to be alive.

Under the Influence

Posted on

This week over at The Parking Lot Confessional, we’re talking about the authors who influence us. Due to my being a doofus, I double-booked our guest authors this week, and rather than try to reschedule either (especially since they both worked so hard writing awesome guests posts), we decided to go ahead and run both of them.

Did I mention I’m a doofus?

Anyway, my mistake ended up having kind of a cool twist. See, today is the day I normally blog at The PLC, but instead, today Tom Leveen’s guest post is up. And it’s awesome. So go read it if you haven’t. The cool-ironic-twisty part is, Tom’s novel, PARTY, has influenced the stuff I’m working on right now.

You need to go read it, too, if you haven’t.

Most authors tackle one narrative voice in their novels. Some tackle two or three. Tom took on eleven. Let’s say that again together: eleven.

Eleven chapters written from eleven different points of view. I know, you’re dubious. But you have to trust me when I say: it works.

Not only that, but Tom’s characters are so real that when I finished the book, I thought, “Man, I wish I could just hang out with them.” (Beckett, especially.)

He nailed the voice of each and every character in that book.

Now, if you’re like me, you know that getting character voice right can be a bit like trying to hold onto a wet cat. Or an octopus. Or a slippery fish. Anyway, it’s hard. Character voices sometimes wiggle and wobble and squirm when you try to pin them down.

Well, Tom makes it look easy. Which goes to show just how important the revision work he discusses in his guest post is. And how much it pays off.

The other thing that really blew me away with Party was how Tom took on all of the “issues” in the book. You know, the issues: peer pressure, underage drinking, sex, swearing, death, racial tension, relationships, annoying parents, God. Tom doesn’t back away from any of those hot potatoes. Which I think, both as a writer and a reader, is pretty brave. He created real characters dealing with real problems. It’s all of those issues that carry the plot of the book, marching each of the characters to their pivotal moment where they face the consequences of their actions. It’s kind of brilliant how all of the stories come together and then disperse. Like…people at a party… (Whoa.)

As a writer, I want to create characters that my readers want to hang with after the book is done. And I want to write stories that don’t shy away from the uglier parts of life. Party has helped me see how it’s possible to do both of those things, and do them well.

Great book.

What Are You Waiting For?

Posted on

It happened again the other night. I’d made a new acquaintance, and in the course of our chatting, the subject of writing came up.

“I have an idea for a story,” she said. “I’ve even written some of it.”

“Why don’t you finish it?”

“Yeah, I should. I will. Someday.”

Someday.

On Monday, a fellow writer and friend of mine passed away after a very brief battle with cancer. Her death was sudden. Shocking. My first thought on hearing the news was, “How is this possible?” My second thought was, “She never finished her novels.”

To my knowledge, she’d written three, but never completed them. I don’t know why, but I suspect it had something to do with Someday.

Not long ago, Laurie Young wrote a guest post at The Parking Lot Confessional called Writing Scared. Please read it. Laurie put a lot of wisdom into that post, wisdom that has hit home for me this week.

Yeah. Writing scares me. Well, not so much the writing part as the sending-out-for-others-to-read part.

But dammit, I don’t want to leave this earth not having tried.

I’ll resist the temptation to post the “carpe diem” clip from Dead Poets Society. But can you stomach a few quotes?

How do these strike you?

To always be intending to live a new life, but never find time to set about it – this is as if a man should put off eating and drinking from one day to another till he be starved and destroyed.  ~Walter Scott

Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite.  Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance.  Everyone is just waiting.  ~Dr. Seuss

As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.  ~Zachary Scott

For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way.  Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  Then life would begin.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.  ~Fr. Alfred D’Souza

You will never find time for anything.  If you want time you must make it.  ~Charles Buxton

Many people die with their music still in them.  Why is this so?  Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live.  Before they know it, time runs out.  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Fear not that life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.  ~John Henry Cardinal Newman

And this one for my friend Derek:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. ~ John Lennon

At the end of my philosophical gnawing, all I’m left with is a question. A simple question that breaks the legs out from under all of my excuses. It’s a question I pose to you here in all seriousness.

What are you waiting for?

Confronting Those Negative Voices

Posted on

If you’re like me (and every other creative I know), you have a negative voice in your head that whispers ugliness to you every time you sit down to do your creative work.

I call mine the You Suck Monster. He sits on my shoulder. Sometimes I have the wherewithal to flick him away. Sometimes, like a fool, I listen to his lies.

Anne Lamott talks about these voices in Bird by Bird. She writes that a friend suggested she put the voices into a jar, like mice, and tighten the lid. Then she can’t hear them while she’s working.

A good idea.

But what about when they’re so loud you can hear them through the glass?

Not long ago I came across an exercise for confronting and quieting these voices. I can’t remember now where I read about it, but after a difficult writing session, I decided to give it a try. The original context for this exercise wasn’t writing, but I’m pretty sure it would work for any goal you’re hoping to achieve.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Open a blank document or turn to a fresh page in your notebook.
  2. Write down what you want to accomplish.
  3. Write the first negative response you hear.
  4. Write down what you want to accomplish again.
  5. Write down the next negative response you hear.
  6. Write down what you want to accomplish.
  7. Write down the negative response.

And so on. Repeat this until the YouSuck Monster runs out of negative things to say.

Here’s an example of how this might look:

  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You don’t know how to write a novel.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You aren’t a strong enough writer.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • It won’t be as good as others’ novels.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • But you suck.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You’ll be rejected.
  • I am going to write a novel.

Etc.

The first time I did this, my YouSuck Monster sent me negative responses for a page and a half before he ran out of things to say. By that page-and-a-half mark, the things he said started to make me laugh. I found myself starting to think, So what? That’s all you’ve got? The things the YouSuck Monster said were ridiculous.

If you have an annoying negative voice in your head whispering negativity to you, try this exercise. It might just help shut up the voice and let you get back to your creativity.