Tags: creativity

The Problem with “Butt in the Chair”

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2015
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I’ve heard at least dozen writers talking about overcoming writers’ block with one simple rule: Sit your butt in the chair.

I have two problems with this advice. First of all, I don’t really get writers’ block, I get writers’ inertia. Writers’ block is when you don’t know what to write…you don’t have any ideas or any direction. Writers’ Inertia is MUCH worse. You  have ideas, you know what you want to do, you know the direction you want to take…but you just can’t get started during a given writing day or session. Putting my butt in the chair does not solve my Writers’ Inertia.

 

 

That’s because when I get my butt in the chair with my computer on and ready to go in front of me, I can do SOOOO many things other than write or revise!  I can:

Check my email.

Check facebook.

Check twitter.

Post on facebook and twitter.

Research lodging, flights, car rentals, and things to do for upcoming schedule trips OR trips I would like to take some day…

Answer some emails.

Check to see if an article of clothing I want has gone off-season and on-sale yet.

Clear out my email.

Check the weather.

Check the hourly forecast.

Check the forecast in someplace I’m visiting in the future or hope to visit in the future.

And now, look!, I found another one! I can write a Scriva post!

Writing this post kind of counts as writing — and it serves another purpose, too. For me the only way to overcome writers’ block or writers’ inertia is to write.

Thanks for the warm up. I’m going back to what I SHOULD be doing, which is revising my novel. Chapter 11 is next.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

The Wonder Cupboard of Amy Baskin, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: February 12, 2015
Categories: Creativity
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The creative process is endlessly fascinating. Get a bunch of writers together and they end up talking about how it works for them. I was lucky enough to become partners in midnight, low-tide wanderings with the Mudflat Heathens, a group of writers in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to editor Andrew Karre’s inspiration, we got to talking about the flesh and bones from which we work.

We’ve launched this occasional series to give you a peek into our secret stash of inspiration–our Wonder Cupboards. May I present to you Amy Baskin:

The Wonder Cupboard of Amy Baskin

view from a caveAmy Baskin’s Wonder Cupboard includes a rickety fire escape balcony, the view from inside of a cave, moss, heart-shaped rocks, Tuck Everlasting, Gilead, The Snow Child, mustard seeds, sock monkeys, and a quote from Lyle Lovett: “Well God does, but I don’t. God will, but I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.”

Amy reads to escape or help interpret reality. She writes for the same reasons. Her limited concept of home decorating involves stacks of books- in corners, on tables, where the TV used to be. Her work has appeared in various publications including Stories for Children Magazine and Reading Local: Portland. In September, she won the Pacific Northwest Plein Air Writers People’s Choice award for her poem, Snowbound: Day 6, Imagined. She enjoys collaborating, particularly with Jason Baskin, her husband and in-house illustrator.

The Wonder Cupboard of Cora Goss-Grubbs, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 12, 2015
Categories: Creativity
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Creativity–it’s the core of our process as writers and artists. The raw materials for the creative process are gathered in every corner of our lives. Memory, images, experiences, the work of other artists, dreams… The brilliant William Gibson said that he had a kind of dumpster attached to the back of his head. He through all that raw material in there and after it had been tossed around in the mess, what came out were ideas, ideas, ideas.

Gibson had a dumpster. The Mudflat Heathens have a Wonder Cupboard (thanks to Andrew Karre’s inspiration). In this occasional series, we share its contents, the raw materials from which we work. Let me present Cora Goss-Grubbs.

 

The Wonder Cupboard of Cora Goss-Grubbs

Cora’s wonder cupboard includes Eucalyptus trees, the Pacific Ocean, long seaside drives (feet out the window, ocean breeze wafting through), Santa Cruz (CA), the unintentional killer, adolescent trauma, the Sex Pistols, the Thompson Twins, car sex, nostalgic romance, drag queens, Swallowing Stones (Joyce McDonald), Magic Words (a short story by Jill McCorkle), and this quote—don’t know the author—“Hard work in the service of your dream is deliverance. It delivers you from meaningless, and into the hands of your highest abilities.”

 

Cora Goss-Grubbs writes young adult novels, short stories, poetry and essays. Her essays can be found in She’s Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out and fighting back by Tightrope Books; Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women; and online at Literary Mama. Her poetry has been published in Here, There and Everywhere; Pontoon 10, an anthology of Washington state poets; and online at The Far Field, the Washington state Poet Laureate’s website.

 

 

The Wonder Cupboard of Brent Swartz, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: December 17, 2014
Categories: Creativity
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Recently I attended the SCBWI-Western Washington Novel Retreat at Dumas Bay in Federal Way. There were crisp skies and sea smells and autumn leaves and all the good things a retreat entails. I blogged here about the kindness of book people at the retreat. In one presentation, Andrew Karre asked as to consider what was in our Wonder Cupboard. What have we as creative people secreted away for inspiration, for solace, for nourishment, for stories?

A small group of retreat participants and I (who call ourselves the mudflat heathens for reasons I can’t divulge) decided to start this occasional series, in which we open up our Wonder Cupboards. Today’s post is from Brent Swartz:

 

Why I Write, and the Wonder-Cupboard Run Down

They say the only pure moment of memory is the instant of an experience. Everything that follows is painted and altered by memory bias, expectation, and cognitive physiology.  As each memory drifts deeper into the past it is further muddled by how it fits into the broader experience, how the broader experience fits into the bigger picture of your life, and finally, it is completely jumbled as we attach meaning.  It is a process of distortion because, being human, we are not a catalogue of events.  We are rather a catalogue of poignant moments which we hang meaning upon like overburdened hooks and hangers.  We use our imagination to envision our own history, a process akin to writing, where we imagine memories that make up a story.

I did not arrange my wonder-cupboard with any particular theme in mind and I have no idea who put in the those tacky, chevron shelf-liners, but if they are tied together it’s that they represent the most intriguing stories I don’t know.

The Ship in my Living Room, sails tattered and drifting among the ice-flows and an otherworldly sky, makes me want to scream, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ Although I don’t have a precise understanding of ‘teeth gnashing’, I like to think of myself as gnashing teeth as I scream this.

The Calaveras of Jose Guadalupe Posada, the Mexican folk artist, are a satire of wealth, elegance, and life itself.  His art is both hopeful and sobering, and a reminder that life is fleeting.

The lyrics of Carmina Burana (you know the tune) capture a certain intensity to the waxing and waning of love, the seasons, and fortune… ‘O Fortune, empress of all’ (spoiler alert: Fortune’s a real bitch.)

If you’ve ever flown into the Denver International Airport, then you may be familiar with the Devil Horse From Denver, the blue mustang whose devilish, red eyes follow you as you drive by.  What you may not know is that this sculpture killed it’s own creator, a tragic if not parabolic story of intensity and art.

As with Cemeteries, an epilogue never feels like the continuation of a story.  At their best cemeteries and epilogues are sorts of echoes.  After spending Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico I have a new appreciation for cemeteries and the act of remembering the dead and their stories.  Dying is a drag and a lonely affair, and the tradition of Dia De Los Muertos is the kindest thing people can do for the living; a coat against the chill of loneliness.

Don Quijote is the original maniac, and his character honestly helps me to understand mental illness, the wild type that lands you in jail or the emergency department, where I come across these souls.

Now for Ducks: Wildflowers, birds of paradise, lake symphonies of croaking frogs, and dung beetles competing for mates by rolling up the biggest ball of shit.  If it has to do with sex, it’s probably awesome.  But when it comes to love, there’s nothing like a duck.  Remarkable little creatures who travel on the wind, the water, and the ground, crossing entire continents just to get laid.

Finally Tidal Zones, places I’ve always been infatuated with, made fucking magical by the mudflat heathens.

As the moments of our lives fall from the present they fall further into something like fiction.  For the life of me, I cannot remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but on August 25th, 2013, I had pie and milk.  The historian and data analyst in me simply notates the dates and the facts of my life and they sink into a sea of forgetfulness.

But the storyteller knows what to hold on to, what is indelible.  Where time dispenses with the facts of life the storyteller is collecting the pieces, looking them over, and either setting them back adrift or burning them into memory.  What sticks and what drifts?  I don’t think it even matters why, but this question is what compels me to write and something that gives life a sense of mystery, constantly asking yourself: am I going to remember this?  And if so, how… and why?

Gas and Brakes

How long does it take you to write a book? How fast do you work? I get asked these questions a lot, especially the first one by school-aged kids.  The answer is that it varies – dramatically.

My fastest book was a school library title on tennis (draft in a month, final in a few months) because that was how long the publisher gave me.  Next fastest was The Planet Hunter: The Story behind What Happened to Pluto which went from proposal to final approved manuscript ready to be illustrated in a handful of months. (My editor and I wanted to get that book out as fast as possible to explain the fascinating story behind why Pluto was no longer considered a planet.)

Typically, my books take much longer. I am working on a book now called Mario and the Hole in the Sky that will be published by Charlesbridge in 2016. I started working on it in 2007. That’s nine years for a picture book.  My graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek which comes out this year (YAY!) began as a middle grade novel in 2006. That’s eight years. My book The Mighty Mars Rovers took a similar amount of time. I’m working on picture book now that I literally started a decade ago.

The reasons for these long periods of time can vary. Many times, I am writing multiple, completely different drafts of the same book – and that takes a long time. (Thank you Scrivas, for reading version after version after version!) Other times I get discouraged after submitting something that doesn’t sell and I put it aside for a while.

In fact, it would be misleading to suggest that I was working on all these projects all the time in those years. What is much more typical is that there are times in the life of project when I put on the gas and other times I put on the brakes.

A current project in development on the inventor of the piano is a good example. When I got the idea in 2010, I start researching furiously (gas). I worked on it off and on through summer of 2012 (little pumps of gas), when I took a research trip to Florence, Italy (gas, gas, gas). When I got back, I did some writing and thinking (gas). Then I got stuck and I got busy with some other deadlines (SCREEECH! Brakes).

I have to be careful because brakes are easier to sustain than gas (things at rest like to stay at rest.) I didn’t touch this project for almost a year. And that really bothered me because I really loved the idea. So I started to put on the gas – writing, rewriting, problem-solving, polishing. I heard that an editor I wanted to share it with would be going on maternity leave. So I put on the gas big time, getting the book ready to submit.

Alas, she turned it down.

I was disappointed but also a little relieved. I just felt like I need a little more time with the project – to do a few more drafts and try to get it just right. So instead of submitting it elsewhere, I put on the brakes. But only gently. I want to slow down but not stop.

In driving you’re not supposed to put your foot on the gas and brakes at the same time. But for writing, I’m going to try it. I need the gas to keep momentum. But I need the brakes, too, to give me time to get it right.

Elizabeth Rusch

The ULTIMATE Story Checklist

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2013
Comments: 1 Comment

I’m going to keep this short because I don’t want you to waste your time reading this when you could be reading Matt Bird’s AMAZING ULTIMATE STORY CHECKLIST:

http://cockeyedcaravan.blogspot.com/2011/08/ultimate-story-checklist.html

Screenwriter Matt Bird has written a list of questions to ask yourself about the story you are writing. Read them. Print them. Post them near your desk. Let them rock your story and your world.  — Elizabeth Rusch

Make your writers group a place of inspiration and hope in addition to a workshop of craft

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 30, 2012
Comments: 2 Comments

Every year, the Viva Scrivas hold a goal setting meeting.  Scriva Addie usually leads us in a series of activities designed to reflect upon the last year and create a plan for the new year. In the past, we’ve prioritized projects to work on, analyzed work-life balance, or identified strengths and weaknesses in our writer=small business owner activities.

This year, we ended up more like group therapy. There is discouragement among us.  The economic downturn has been hard on many of us – lost day jobs, fewer book sales, fewer school visits, glacially-slow acquisitions.  Many of us have had personal struggles.  We needed to vent, to share, to cry, and to re-focus on why we write when it is hard and hardly pays.

To start us out, Addie handed us each nine little slips of paper with the following words:

I really admire/am inspired by the way you…

The word(s) that come to mind first when I think about your writing are…

If I could wish anything for your writing life this year, it would be…

She asked us to fill one out for each member of our group including ourselves.  We put the slips of paper into envelopes and took them home to read later.

Wow!  Between our conversation yesterday and these slips of paper, I came away more focused, less troubled, and ready to take on the challenges of building a sustainable (both emotionally and financially) writing life.

I thought I’d share the list of words my Scrivas used to describe my writing.  I hope some of them will share their lists as well.

inspirational, on, more, razor-sharp, relevant, precise, powerful, strong, amazing VOICE, empowering, exciting, cutting-edge, passionate, intense, thought-provoking, cinematic, soulful, gut-wrenching (in a good way), visceral, brash, fast-paced, adventurous, edgy, creative, punchy, tight, interesting

 It’s important to remember why we do this AND that we can do it well.  Remember!

 

Law School, Critique, and Creativity

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: May 23, 2011
Comments: 2 Comments

case law

An eon ago in law school I studied the 1929 case of Hawkins v. McGee. Here’s the plot: Hawkins injures his hand and goes to Dr. McGee. McGee says he’ll fix that hand as good as new. He does a skin graft from Hawkins’s chest, resulting in the hairiest palm you ever did see. Hawkins is not a happy camper.

In class that day, my professor let me get nice and comfortable arguing for poor, hairy-palmed Hawkins. Then, bam! He forced me to defend Dr. McGee. Unfair! How could I make the case for such an unscrupulous quack?

Now I see how well my law professor would have fit into Viva Scriva. The Hawkins-McGee flip pushed my brain to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Discomfort puts our brains on alert. It can spark curiosity, if we are lucky—or fear, if we are not. Too much discomfort and we freeze. Too much comfort and we stagnate. The mental gymnastics of a Hawkins-McGee exercise helps us to find the right balance that keeps us moving. It’s a way to shake up the primordial soup that nourishes creativity and sustains a good story.

A critique group session works best for me when it travels into the discomfort zone and then assures me that I’ll somehow manage to turn my discomfort into a better manuscript. So my advice to you: Get comfortable with discomfort. Argue the other side. And watch out for skin grafts.

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