Thursday, January 24, 2013

Feed your Creativity - A List

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  

I've been going through a bit of a slow patch the last week. I still managed some free writing and wrote a short story (it received rave reviews from my readers - hooray!), but I've not worked on The Beast (AKA WiP1) in a week. The creativity impulse has been wavering, wilted, waning (Yes, already...funny how these things go).

I saw this list, 33 Ways to Stay Creative, on Google+ (thanks, Girl Writer) and it made me think about how we creative types need to take care of ourselves and protect our creativity from perfectionism, insecurity, boredom, isolation, negativity, burn-out and fear.

The list has some good ideas ("carry a notebook everywhere"), some ideas I subscribe to but that are not as universal ("drink tea or coffee"), and then there are some ones I'm not sure what to do with ("be otherworldly"). The list made me ask myself: how can I do a better job of nurturing my creativity and protecting this still-fragile writer identity?

So, without further ado, I present to you (I've borrowed a few suggestions from the above linked list where noted with an *) my version of the list:

Feed Your Creativity - A List
  1. Carry a notebook everywhere.* (I have tiny notepads with tiny pens. They fit in the tiniest of bags or pockets. I record: overheard conversation snippets, funny signs, random thoughts, etc.)
  2. Take a daily walk outdoors. (Preferably somewhere pretty or inspiring and filled with nature.)
  3. Write badly, boldly - just write. (or draw or paint or whatever you do)
  4. Experiment with various hobbies/activities (I took boxing lessons for a while, for example, and I want to learn to pick locks.)
  5. Take up a creative hobby different than your main passion. (For example: if you're a writer, do something wordless, like knitting or painting or photography.)
  6. Create a pleasant, healthy ritual around your work. (Sit down to your workstation with a cup of nice tea or cocoa, start your day with your favorite song, or light a candle or incense. Don't start your creative sessions with a cigarette (or something addictive and bad for you) - trust me.)
  7. Collect "found objects" and keep them in a box for inspiration. (This came from a writing teacher. I collect pine cones and dried leaves/seeds, bits of fabric or buttons, weird items from thrift shops, toys, old pictures and postcards, etc. and keep them in a nice tin or box.)
  8. Take breaks and get plenty of rest.*
  9. Learn how to accept criticism graciously. (Don't take it personally - you are not your art. Also, recognize when criticism doesn't feel true for you. Which leads to...)
  10. Trust your gut.
  11. Meditate daily. (Seems like creative types have a lot going on upstairs - ten minutes of quiet every day does wonders). 
  12. Drink your water. (Hydration - it's important)
  13. Take a class or join a group. (A lot of art work is solitary work. Being with others who share your passion can be invigorating.)
  14. Read books, watch plays, see a film, go to a museum. Travel if you can.*
  15. Study a foreign language.
  16. Learn to like yourself. 
  17. Don't always wait on the Muse. (Sometimes you just have to make things happen. )
  18. Have goals you can control, and know how you're going to make them happen.
  19. Put yourself out there: be vulnerable.  (Go ahead and create a blog, submit a story, tell your friends you wrote a book, etc.)
  20. Finish something.* (Nothing feels as good as finishing a project. It will keep you going for quite some time.)
  21. Cut negative people out of your life. (If someone is sucking the life out of you - take a hard look at their place in your life. Some people are vampires.)
  22. Make note cards with creative, inspirational or funny quotes or images and hang them around your work station.
  23. Laugh daily. 
  24. Don't take yourself (or your art) too seriously. If you can laugh at yourself or your work every once in a while, it takes the edge off.
  25. Share your work with others. 
  26. If you can, change your work setting once a week. (For writers, it is easy: grab pen and notepad and go to the local coffee shop, park or library.)
  27. Take care of your health. (Go to the dentist, already!)
  28. Let yourself cry.
  29. Love a pet. 
  30. Enjoy the small things: a sunset, a sleeping cat, holding hands, quiet mornings, the smell of a flower, dark chocolate.
  31. Be content with now, enjoy where you're at in your artistic journey. 
  32. Don't expect to master your craft immediately.  (Goes along with #31)
  33. Accept that there will be bad days.
  34. Create a space dedicated to your art. (My "writing space" is the corner of the guest room/sewing room/exercise room/storage room, but that corner is organized with all my "tools" and decorated with stuff that inspires me.)
  35. Respect your art. (Dedicate time to it, study "the masters," have your work critiqued, commit yourself to your work, finish your projects.)
  36. Enjoy what you do. (If you don't, do something else.)

What do you do to protect your creativity?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sometimes I don't brush my teeth at night...

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Mental Game"

...nor wash my face. I know, you're judging me, probably thinking, "My God, the plaque!" It's okay, I judge me, too. But, there are some nights, when I am cozied-up in bed, reading a book and the room is already cold because we've turned off the radiators - and it is too easy to reach over and turn off the reading lamp and snuggle down to sleep. I don't want to throw back the duvet and brave five minutes of exposure to get clean teeth and face. Hell, I'll only clean them again in the morning. 

If only it were just my teeth I neglected.

I have this back injury due to a car accident, a dysfunctional sacroiliac joint to be precise, and it took me years of pain and ever-more-limited movement to finally get it sorted with the help of a phenomenol physiotherapist. It happened seven years ago, and I have only made progress on resolving the issue in the last year. Before the accident, I was a very fit runner. In fact, I was training for a marathon when the accident occurred. Today? I'm still battling to get back to where I was, but it took me six years of misery to even get here.

What in the name of all that is holy, is my point?

My point is, sometimes I'm a bit lax about taking care of myself. I've been throwing myself into my writing all year (all fifteen days of it), which is great, but I've gone a little overboard. I'm supposed to get in my 2 mile walk, some yoga, my physio exercises and strength training every day. I'm supposed to take a break from sitting in front of my computer every half hour.

At first I was vigilant, setting a timer on my computer to remind me to get up, walk a bit on the treadmill and stretch my upper body and arms. But, then there was the day I was so into my scene, I forgot to set the timer. A few days later and the timer was already a memory, and I've been working very long days.

My back began to ache, but I ignored it. Flash forward a week, and I was back in my PT's office, barely able to sleep because of the pain. You'd think I'd know better about office injuries. Remember the girl with tendinitis in both wrists?

It's all about moderation

My back was killing me, but I didn't get up and move. I wasn't listening to my body. It wasn't until I went to yoga class this morning that I got a clue. My teacher read a quote about having moderation in your life. Ah yes, then it hit me: my back being out-of-whack again was the symptom; I was being too extreme. I like extreme. Extreme is exhilarating, but it usually has some sort of repercussions you have to face up to.

Um...what does this have to do with writing?
We creative types can be a bit...obsessive, focused, determined, extreme, etc. But, we have to remember to take care of ourselves while following our passions. We can't let everything else fall apart because it will kill our creativity in the end.

I know it's not sexy. I've been seduced down the road to extreme too many times. What is less sexy than the word moderation? Extreme is a lacy black thong and moderation always seems so...granny pantie.

However, I've got to stop letting myself be seduced by the dark side. If my body falls apart, my mind follows and then where does that get me? Plus sixty pounds and depressed, that's where. Very difficult to write anything when you're back hurts so much you can't think and you're too depressed to get out of bed.
Time to check in with reality

I can't sit for hours on end, without a break, and expect to be able to walk when quittin' time rolls around. I know this. Plus, I've been wearing myself out with long days without breaks. I need to be more focused, get my work done earlier and take care of my body throughout the day. This means less time futzing around the forums and blogs (thanks JeffO for the reminder) and more regular breaks for activity and movement. Simple.

What about you? Anyone else out there go to extremes in pursuit of their passions (or just because it's Tuesday)? Have a good story to share? Leave a comment so I know I'm not the only crazy artist out there.

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon

Sunday, January 13, 2013

SFF Links to cure Sunday "Blahs"

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Sunday Paper: SFF Links"

Storm Troopers invade London
It is Sunday, and I'm "sharpening pencils." Over on Google+, +Jeremy Menefee made a comment about a phrase his dad used to indicate when one is wasting time preparing instead of doing - sharpening pencils. I love it, it's my new euphemism for procrastination.

It was a brilliant, sunny morning for a change, and I watched the sun slide along its near horizontal path, low in the sky, through my office window. I thought the solar charge might make me extra-productive, but not so.

It isn't even mid-month and the enthusiasm over goal setting and manifesto writing is starting to wane as I get down to what writing is really all about: hard work. But, I've been chugging along, keeping to my minimum daily writing goals. I've even submitted two short stories. Still moving forward. I just need to be more efficient with my time in order to keep it all together.

But, this is a link post, so on to the links (only if you've finished your work).
A few links related (sometimes loosely) to the world of science fiction and fantasy writing, reading and viewing 

I've been following Jay Lake's blog for quite some time. He is a speculative fiction author, in case you aren't familiar with his work, but he has also been fighting cancer since 2008. There is a fundraising effort underway to help with the costs of his treatments. For anyone who's interested or a fan, check out the links to his blog and the fundraising site. It is nice to see the writing community coming together in support of Mr. Lake.

Here's a great article from io9, which gives great tips for how You, the consumer/viewer of science fiction films, can help to improve the quality of the films that get produced. Great ideas in here for the SciFi fan.

There is a scam going round, targeting science fiction authors and speakers. Over at the Skepticblog, they have a little fun trying to out-scam the scammer. Hilarious. I had tears.

More about films. What goodness can we expect on the superheroes and science fiction front in 2013?

Found this link via Jay Lake: Barnes and Noble bookstores closing- the end of bookstores? Or, the end of books?

Brain parasites - we all have them. Gah! Zombie apocalypse, this is how it starts.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Snapshot Saturday

Wow, I haven't participated in a Snapshot Saturday in over a year! Glad to see it is still going strong over at Alyce's blog, At Home with Books. Visit her page if you would like to participate.

In celebration of my two cats surviving severe health woes in 2012, I'm posting their pictures. (Plus, I'm a writer - writer's love cats!) I was inspired by the joy in Alyce's pictures of her son playing so happily with dominoes. Here are my beasts at their happiest.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ludic Poetry as Writing Exercise

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  

Sunflower field: Provence

In my writing class this week, we started off with a little ludic poetry. This poetry is more like a word game, and it is great for getting you to think about word selection. 

I particularly liked this exercise as I've been writing a lot of flash fiction lately. With flash fiction, you are forced to distill your story to its core and choose your language carefully in order to maximize your story writing potential.

Are you ready?

The exercise I'm starting with is the univocalic poem. It is simply a poem in which you use only one vowel (let's begin with the letter 'o'). To start, I wrote a list of o-words, divided by noun/verb/adjective/conjunction/etc.  The exercise was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Now, for some really odd/bad poetry!

Only Sorrow 

No moon, no glow
Sorrow won't go
Tomorrow blows cold
Comfort grows old 

 Top Show

Stop to pop corn
Hot dogs, top notch
Won't borrow no flops 
Only mock crock plots     

Storm's Doom

Gloomy snows follow storms
Downtown grows cold
Comfort fools forlorn folks
Rooftops won't hold. 

Bloody socks do no good
Footsteps grow slow
Sorrow knocks sorry moods 
Only doom to sow

Poor Frogs

Horned frogs slowly hop
Onto stools or rocks.
Soon flocks boldly drop,
Down to scoop frogs off.  

Before you laugh at my efforts, give it a go yourself. Post your own poems and link back to them in the comments - I'd love to read someone else's poems. Someone has to be better at this than I. Anyone have some good two and three syllable words with only 'o' as its vowels?


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Linkity-Link: Fantasy Reading Lists

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Sunday Paper: SFF Links"

Everyone says that to be a good writer, you have to be a great reader. As it happens, I've always loved to read. I've read so many books, I can't keep track of what I have and have not read.

However, this is not to say that I couldn't use a good reading list or two, or that my reading is sufficiently varied. Like everyone (presumably), I get into reading ruts.

I'm particularly bad about finding new authors of the up-and-coming sort, usually being the last person to read that new book everyone is raving about. What can I say, I like authors who have been out for a while and thoroughly vetted, like, say Dickens or Shakespeare. 

I'm only kidding. Sort of.

So, I went digging through the Internet, looking for some inspiring fantasy novel reading lists and came up with the links, below. I may go through and compile my own master list, and if I do, I'll add it to the blog.

The Best of 2012 and Most Anticipated in 2013 

 From io9: Their best sf&f books of 2012. At the bottom of the article are links to their lists for previous years. I haven't read a single book on this list, but I have read some of the authors. 

This site has a list of the "most anticipated fantasy books of 2013." Some very interesting looking offerings. I don't think I've read any of the authors on this list, so definitely will be checking out at least a few of these titles.

Fantasy Books Every Author Should Read

Again, from io9, their list of ten books every fantasy author should read is here. I've read a couple of these, and some are reference books for fantasy fans and authors rather than novels. Reference books for fantasy authors - that's a whole other post.

This list of books for fantasy authors comes from Viable Paradise and has contributions from some well loved authors. It also has a link at the bottom to suggested non-fiction for the fantasy author or fan.

Another page I came across here, has a list of the twenty best fantasy writers, ever, from I've read a lot of these, so you probably have, too. Still, it is worth a look. I'm not sure I agree that some of these authors are in the top twenty, but I haven't read others on the list, so what do I know?

Fantasy Books Written by Women

Here is a great list of eleven books by female fantasy authors from a great little site I used to read (she no longer posts, but the blog is still there). I have read quite a few of these books and authors and it is a good list.

Over at Worlds Without End, they have a Women of Genre Fiction challenge starting, which asks that you write reviews of what you read. I've signed up and started to read my first book (science fiction, though). Still, they have a lot of reading lists you can peruse with plenty of fantasy books.

Other Fantasy Novel Reading Lists

I've been writing a lot of urban fantasy (and reading, too), so here's a little list I found of the best urban fantasy at Best Fantasy Books. Actually, this site has a lot of fantasy reading lists at your disposal.

Back in 2011, NPR compiled this list of their readers' top 100 science fiction and fantasy books. A good list to gauge how well-read you are compared to your average speculative fiction fan. 

Finally, there is this list from a blog of the same name: 101 fantasy challenge book list. If you click through the tabs, there is a mammoth list of 813 fantasy books compiled from a reader poll conducted by several book bloggers. Just in case these other lists leave you with spare time in 2013. 

Okay - who's got some good links or reading lists?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Setting Goals: Anyone can do it

Shah Jahan met his goals.
 Setting Goals is Child's Play

Setting a goal (or announcing a resolution) is very easy. All it takes is a whim and a moment’s thought, maybe some time putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. Even if you spend quite a lot of time thinking about and analyzing what you want to do, it is only the first step and let's face it,  the easiest step. I can set goals and make lists all damned day. (See, I've done it, here.)

Making Dreams a Reality is a lot of Hard Work
Meeting goals, now that is a whole different kettle of fish. This is where I fall down. Perfectionism usually rears its head in this phase, that’s my kryptonite. I have a dream, I create a goal, then I go completely insane and make schedules and lists and plans that very few humans could endure until I’ve strangled any ounce of drive or passion out of whatever it is I’m in pursuit of.

 But, this time is different! Again

Given my above confession, I’m  a little hesitant to make sweeping, bold proclamations, but here goes: This year will be different! Go ahead and picture me pumping my fist triumphantly into the air as I say this. Maybe I’m even wearing a viking helm or something, hair blowing in the wind as I stand on top of a mountain, proclaiming my intentions, grandly for all to hear.

Flexibility, not just for my yoga mat

There is this little thing called flexibility; I’m going to try it. Hell, I’ll even give "realistic" and "sane" a go, too. I don't have a magic formula, but get this: I’m going to expect to struggle and find myself in need of a rethink or revision of my plans. I will look at my goals for the year and  figure out how to meet them, one day at a time. At the end of the month, I’m going to see how I progress and adjust my goals accordingly. See, no failure in 2013 here. I’ve got a plan, and it’s flexible.

January’s Plan to meet Writing Goals:
  • Daily Plan:
    • Improve writing skills - Need to write new words, every day. So, at the very minimum, I will free write in my writing journal (10 minutes timed writing with or without prompt) six days a week. This is my very minimum daily writing goal for January.
    • WiP1 (novel) - To finish the redraft of my first novel by June, I need to write 550 words per day, 6 days per week. I do type and write fast, so in theory, this should be very doable.
  • Weekly Plan:
    • Write 1/ Submit 1 - I have at least 6 completed short stories that I can revise and submit in January. I know where the first story is going. So, there is no reason I can’t submit 2 stories in January. I plan to do it the first two weeks in January, so that the hurdle of hitting “enter” on the keyboard to send off my submission is past, and I start off with a success in January. I may even submit more than 2 stories. I have have to write one 1,000 word story per week for my writing class, which starts next Tuesday, so that should keep me going on producing new short stories. 
      • Need to assemble the submissions folder/binder and get organized.
    • Take a class/workshop - Done! I’ve signed up for the second trimester of a writing class/workshop I started back in September. I’m so glad I did this and wish I had done it earlier. Second trimester starts next week.
    • Critique Group - I’ve joined a few on-line, but I’d like to form one in real life. There is one woman from my writing class with whom I’ve exchanged emails. I will post one story to one of the on-line forums and post one critique - see how it goes.
    • Read books on writing - I have a long list of writing books, and already own half a dozen from said list. I’ve never read any of them. Going to start with “The Making of a Story” by Alice LaPlante. I’ve been on page 165 for over a year. Time to finish this (enjoyable, really) book.
    • Read 52 books -Not a problem. Right now I'm reading "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" by James Tiptree Jr, a compilation of her short stories. Nothing like reading the short stories of a master to intimidate you. 
 For some links to help with goal setting, read here.

How about you? Are your goals just a static list sitting in a file folder on your computer? Do you know how you're going to get there (wherever that may be for you) in 2013? Do you think my plan makes sense?

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Writing 2013 - A Manifesto!

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Writer's Desk"
Taj Mahal: What's your passion?

Happy New Year and welcome to 2013!

Time to post my 2013 writing goals. First off, I'd like to thank Lisa Walker England for her blog post 6 Reasons to Trash Your Creative Resolutions.

What a great post - hit all of my goal-setting issues right on the proverbial head. I highly recommend you read her post before finalizing your own goals for the year. My favorite part was the idea of a writing manifesto. Sounds so grand to say, "My Writing Manifesto." She has great links to creative manifestos to inspire you, too.

So, without further ado, here is my 2013 Writing Manifesto:

I believe that writing is one of the highest callings, and that we, as writers, have the power to help people to laugh, cry, think, or escape. We can make our readers feel empathy, anger, love, hate, wonder and joy. In short, we can shape reality with our words.
In 2013, I will embrace my writing with joy and a sense of responsibility, both to myself and to others. I will respect my projects and finish the stories I begin, then send them promptly out into the world. I will honor my writing time and space by setting and meeting challenging, yet realistic goals, and I will take steps every day to meet those goals. I will take pride in my work, approach it as a professional and share it with others.
Now, keeping in mind my manifesto and all the helpful advice I've received from my fellow writers on the web, I give you my 2013 Writing Goals:

  • I will write what I enjoy and send it out into the world, either by submitting to contests or publications or posting on my blog.
    • Write1/Submit1 - Write two short stories per month and submit to contests and publications. 24 short stories submitted by end of year.
    • Critique Group - find a critique group to join by the end of March.
    • WiP1(First Novel) - I will rewrite my first novel (WIP1) by June 1. Then I will send it to beta readers. By the end of 2013, it will be ready to query or self-publish (or both).
    • Skills development:
      • Free-write, every work day.
      • Read at least two books on writing. 
      • Take a writing class (signed up for one class) or attend a workshop.
      • Read a book or attend a workshop on editing/proofreading.
      • Read blogs and books on self-publishing.
  • I will write a minimum of 100,000 words in 2012. 
  • I will attend at least one writer's conference. (Possibly WFC in Oct.)
  • I will read 52 books. 
  • I will follow Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Freelancer's Survival Guide" and develop my professional writing career (it is not a hobby).
  • I will review these goals at least once per month and re-evaluate and revise as necessary.
  There it is - my high level plan-of-attack for 2013. Anyone else have their goals written down? Anyone looking to finish, self-publish or submit a novel in 2013?