Thursday, September 20, 2012

Living the Creative Life



I think we as human beings crave creativity. We want to do things with our hands, our minds, and our bodies that demand absolute self-expression. The building of something out of nothing. The form we take to create that something, though, is up to the individual. Curiosity plays a huge role in living a creative life because it lights the spark of creativity. Habit is the fuel feeding the spark.

My family has many interests (so many that I’m turning the garage into an art/wood working studio just for them). For me, however, nothing captivates my sense of curiosity and sparks my desire to be creative like writing. If I’m writing everyday, then habit is keeping me aflame. If I yield to self-criticism, doubt, worry over what others think, and fear of failure, then creativity is snuffed out.

Perhaps I’m the only one that is affected by doubt and fear, but if not, here are a few things I’m trying to keep from losing my creative spark:

1.       ACCEPT. A first go at something is never going look perfect but it is going to be perfect because all it has to do is exist outside of your imagination to be what it is supposed to be. Art is handmade and missteps are proof it is a one of a kind (yes, even drafts count here).
2.       SCRAP BOOK. Now, I don’t like scrapbooking, but I do keep efiles of pictures and journals with quotes, notes, research, ticket stubs, and whatever else could potentially ignite ideas. No judging ever takes place in the journals because all it has to do is put my cluttered ideas somewhere other than in my brain where I might forget. They are something visually before me whenever I want them.
3.       DROP IT. Make sure your chosen form of creative expression is interesting to you. If it’s not, drop the project. (For example, I just said I don’t like scrap booking, but I did try it. All those cute little stamps I ended up being donated to my sister to make room for things I do find interesting.) Make space physically and mentally for outlets you truly find fascinating. Life is too short to do otherwise.
4.       USE YOUR FRIENDS/FAMILY. Some of you know my mom has terminal cancer and on bad days there are few things she feels up to doing. But she can type a poem! So we exchange poetry (nearly) every day. The goal is to not edit it but rather send it out to each other as is—first draft—warts and all. Knowing they are rough helps us lower our expectations as to how good the poetry will be. The other benefit? It has been a sweet and strengthening thing we could do together. The miles don’t seem as far between us when we are speaking to each other’s souls with poetry.
5.       FAIL SPECTACULARLY. When learning a new creative craft, there is usually a huge curve. In that curve are dips that look like failure. But we can grow from these “failures”! And if we acknowledge it as par for the course, we can be more lighthearted about it as it comes. (Also, the sting from rejections won’t hurt as bad when we know we are growing from them.)
6.       BUY SUPPLIES. Once you are sure what truly fascinates you, get the supplies. My kiddos love every new unit in their art class because they get to browse the supply store. Make sure, though, you don’t buy things just to buy things. And when you do need to buy supplies, do it right before you start the project. Buying things you don’t end up using will zap your creativity with anxiety because it will be a constant reminder of a project you didn’t follow through with. So buy needful things for creativity only. (I also buy books on the topics and on creativity itself*.)

Living a creative life is so rewarding when we are true to ourselves and what brings us fulfillment. Once we find those special things, building them into our lives habitually keeps them just as fresh as if they were a new-found interest.

Q4U: What kinds of things bring creative fulfillment into your life? Or What are some creative activities you would like to work into your life someday? (Cycling and getting back to the piano and violin top my list!)

*Some great books on creativity:
Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp


Also, we have WINNERS of the signed books!

        Adam Rex’s Cold Cereal goes to Kristi Thom
Robin Brande’s Fat Cat goes to Sharon Mayhew
        Amy Fellner Dominy‘s OyMG goes to Angie Lofthouse

Congrats, ladies!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

THE POWER OF HINDSIGHT


There is great strength in reviewing our recent pasts. Since hindsight is 20/20, we have a clear vision of where we are and where we have been. Here are a few ways I have been using reflection on the past to improve the present.

NOVEL PLOTTING
I have had a hard time identifying the weakest scenes in a manuscript. This week I put all the scenes on 3x5 cards, color coded the highlight points of my story, and laid them all out in order. Then it was easy! I could see what my chapter outlines weren’t showing me: plot holes, incongruities, and weak scenes. I think I could not see those things in an outline because the scenes psychologically feel so fixed on paper to me. Index cards are things I think my brain knows I can toss, add to, or rework freely. Now I’m working on cutting out those scenes and replacing them with stronger story moments. It has made revision not such the slog it has been so far on this book.

DAILY REVIEW
The biggest crusher of my soul in the day is my tendency to overwhelm myself. Sometimes I go to bed so discouraged I haven’t crossed off all I wanted to accomplish. But if I consistently spend 5 minutes each day recording 3 good things about the day, I am much happier. Sometimes those things are things I have accomplished or am grateful for, others are cute things my kids did or said. The latter may not be an achievement, but indirectly it helps me reaffirm I must be doing something right for them to be such wonderful people. Some days this list comes easy. Some days it’s like pulling out an ingrown hair. But if I look, I always find the bright spots! An additional benefit to this habit is I have a ready-made journal for my children to someday help them remember the beauties of their childhood. (And a way for them to get to know the inner me a little better.)

YEARLY REVIEW
Every January and September I set major goals for myself. Sometimes they get accomplished, sometimes other priorities win out as the year goes on. I get discouraged. Almost every December and August. Until I review my year and write down all I DID accomplish. Often it might not be what I set out to do but it is often what I SHOULD have done.

Life moves forward and sometimes we run to stand still, so the more joy and enlightenment we can squeeze out of the jog, the better. For a Type A personality like me, pondering on the past helps me live with a lighter heart in the present.

Q4U: Do you review your recent pasts? (Or re-map your manuscripts, for you writers out there?) If so, do you think it helps you?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Test of Character

Last week I took a character test

Why? Because a friend and I were discussing how important it is to know what your strengths are to a) cultivate those strengths and b) know how to help and compliment other’s strengths once you know how YOU operate. It was an interesting discussion and since I took the test, I’ve notice the truth of this. For example, one of my top three strengths was “LOVE” (meaning l highly value loving others and being loved by others) while my husband would not have this as his top value because he could care less if he has anyone in his life but me and the kids. Yet my nature strengthens him and our relationship, which makes him more loving towards our little family. And I’m sure if he took the test there would be many of his strengths that help me. (I’m positive his LOVE OF LEARNING would shine through and show how we both encourage each other to cultivate new hobbies and reading. I would never have had the courage to try publishing my writing without his support.)

The second thing the character test did was force me to ask myself:

What are some areas I need to improve?

AND

Do my core values align with my actions?

Some of the answers surprised me. First, I had three things tie for the top spot: LOVE, LOVE OF LEARNING, and SPIRITUALITY. These weren’t too much of a surprise. My weakest strength (ha! Sounds funny….) did, though, but it shouldn’t have: SELF-REGULATION. I have such awful will power and it was eye-opening to see it come out in the test.

Now I’ve decided this is where I need to work the most. I see myself slipping often in little ways that add up to big dips in my contentment. So, my goal this fall is to regulate myself better by focusing on some things I have wanted to improve in my life by:
  1. Email and social networking fasts until afternoon.
  2. Exercise everyday (but Sunday), even if it is only for 10 minutes of stretching.
  3. Drink more water.
  4. Write for 2 hours a day, either 9-11 or 1-3. More than that is gravy.
  5. Only eat meat 3 nights/week.
  6. Pray every morning. Alone in my closet. Without distractions.
  7. Sweets only on the weekends.
  8. Shut down the computer by 9 o’clock pm.
I know that seems like a lot but there were even more I wanted to add to the list. I like goals. I like working towards positive changes. (And extreme goal setting might be just what I need.) This is because when I am in control of myself, I feel good. It makes me happy. When I am not, it affects all aspects of my life.

The character test gave me a window into myself that was so uplifting. Both to see the good and the bad because it helped me know where I am at in developing the ME I want to be and how far I still need to go. The good thing is I never want to stop trying to better myself, though. So I always expect to find out I’m a work in progress. I am a character in the making. And to me that is a good thing.

What about you? Do goals make you happy? Are you working towards any? If so, do you think they strengthen your character?