Listen Up is a new addition to the blog. I listen to a lot of podcasts as well as recordings of interviews and other tasty tidbits people share around the internet, and I want to share the good stuff I find. The Listen Up posts are going to be short posts with a link recommending something I think is really good, helpful, or simply fascinating. Enjoy!
Odyssey Podcasts are short excerpts from various guest lecturers at the prestigious Odyssey Workshop held every year in New Hampshire. While the workshop is for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, the information shared in these podcasts will benefit any writer.
You get Nancy Kress talking about writing in scenes, Jack Ketchum talking about powerful openings, Patricia McKillip on turning real landscapes into fantasy worlds. And there's so much more! Too much for me to try to pick out a smattering of standouts. Go have a look for yourself instead.
Each episode is nice and short, too, so they're easy to fit in on your commute or while you're doing dishes, etc. Click below to check out the episodes.
Do you take writing classes? Do you do exercises or tutorials from books and websites?
If you've been around the writing life for a while it might seem like you've found all the information you really need. It might feel like a class on dialogue or setting is just going to be repetition of things you've already heard. A class on basic creative writing? You're so far beyond that!
Or maybe not. Taking classes isn't all about learning something new (although that's great, too, so do if if you can). It's about immersing yourself in your writing. It's about setting aside time and attention solely for your writing. It's about getting focused, maybe hearing a new take on an old subject, and building connections with fellow writers.
Why Take Classes:
External deadlines--class assignments will help keep you moving forward
Community--you'll meet other writers, including the teacher, either in person or virtually, and being around other writers is great for motivation
Focus--when you've paid for a class, you're more likely to actually put in the time and focus on your writing, at least during the duration of the course
Fresh ideas--you can always learn new things, even about something you already know a lot about; classes will let you hear ideas from others and maybe spark new ideas of your own
Why Use Tutorials and Exercises:
New ideas--someone else's questions may spark new ideas in you
Break through a block--questions and exercises can give you an entry point into your writing that can help you get past the blank page
New understanding--someone else's phrasing of something you already know can give you clearer understanding of the subject
Build a cushion--doing exercises can help you build up a stash of story ideas, story starters, scenes, and dialogue for later use which is especially helpful when you feel stuck
Obviously I'm a fan of taking classes to keep your writing flowing. It's a great way to keep connected to your writing and to the writing community. And tutorials, exercises, etc. are a great way to get your brain out of your personal grooves and into different thought patterns. So, especially if you're feeling stuck or sluggish in your writing lately, try out a class and see if it gets things going again. I think it will be worth your time.
I have been procrastinating on writing a new blog post. You probably noticed that by the whole month that's passed since the last post. I've been contemplating some big, exciting changes in the website and my coaching, but I wasn't entirely sure how to get started, so I just kept putting off writing about.
Basically the shift is going to be a shift in focus from creativity in general to topics about writers and writing and the writing life. I'm sure I'll still throw in some posts about my other creative projects now and then; it's not like I'm going to stop painting, art journaling, taking photos, all of that because I'm shifting my online focus. Most of that sharing will happen on Instagram and Twitter now, though, so if you like to see what I'm making you might want to follow me there. Just be aware that there will also be lots of pictures of my cats, because they're adorable!
So back to MuseCraft™. If you don't consider yourself a writer, you might still want to stick around. I think writing is for everyone, and I'll probably talk about that fairly often. Think about it. Do you blog? Post on Facebook? Keep a journal? You're writing. Might as well figure out how to do it the best way for you, make it easy, have some fun. And I think it's important for everyone to at least try out some forms of journaling, if only to stretch themselves and their limits and see how it feels, so I'll be talking about that, too.
I'll be writing a lot about journaling and writing practice because I think they are important for every creative. I'll also be writing about things like plotting and story structure, classes and workshops and books I run across, and things like that. And I'm sure I'll be broadening these categories and adding to them as I go along. For now, just know that there's going to be a shift, but I hope you'll stick with me for the next phase.
I love that word, "traveler." It's right up there with "adventure" and "wild" for me, favorite exciting words that make me want to jump up and do something. And of course I love notebooks. I'm pretty sure that's come up before. So last week when I got a glimpse into the world of the Midori Traveler Notebook, I was hooked. Sort of. I didn't like the sizes. I don't want to have to send away for inserts all the time, and I don't want to have to make my own all the time.
I decided I would just make my own Midori Traveler (also called "fauxdori" which is so cute!) in a size that works for me. I spent hours on Pinterest, Etsy, and YouTube (favorite links below) looking at examples and watching how other people made theirs. I came up with a plan, picking my favorite parts from everything I looked at, and I got started.
I decided on red vinyl for the cover because I didn't feel like waiting until I could get to the leather store. I was going to line the vinyl with fabric, but I found this fabulous stuff called Kraft-tex Kraft Paper Fabric. It acts like fabric and paper--its wonderful. I picked some up to paint and collage for my liner. I got turquoise embroidery floss to finish the edges to make sure there's no peeling of the layers, and I got rainbow elastic because I needed elastic, so why not rainbow?
I painted and collaged the liner then glued it to the vinyl. Then I used a five-pronged leather punch to make holes for the embroidery floss all around the edges of the notebook.
I added the rainbow elastic, mostly the magenta and flame orange section (because it's one five-yard piece of elastic, so I picked a section). I decided to put the holes side-by-side rather than one above the other (which is how it's set up in the real Midoris) to give me two same-sized bands on the inside.
Then I added the elastic "belt". In the real Midoris the hole for this is in the middle of the back cover. I saw a few people putting theirs on the spine, so I did that with mine, too. So far so good, although I just finished the notebook about an hour ago so it may be too soon to tell.
I gathered or created my filler books. The first one is a Moleskine Cahier that I worked a few pages in several years ago then let languish. I decided I should go ahead and use it, so I changed the title on the cover and put it into my fauxdori. It's going to be for project plans and notes. The next one is a greeting card that I added some decorations to and then filled with scrapbook paper to make a sort of Smash Book for visual journaling and glue-booking. The third is dot-grid printed paper bound into pretty scrapbook paper. This one will be for writing practice, notes, etc. And the last one is a blank book that came inside an art journaling book I got several years ago (and can't find in my house to tell you the name of). I cut it down a bit so it will fit into my notebook. The journals that I bound are half-sheet size (US 8.5 x 11 inches) while the Moleskine is slightly smaller, but I don't mind the disparity in size. They are all close enough that they work fine together, and I like the idea of making my book a size that lets me pick up refills when I want instead of always having to make them.
Here's the filled book:
I used the elastic to insert the middle books and then large rubber bands to attach each of the outside books.
Last but not least, I added Post-it pockets inside the front and back covers to hold all the little notes and scraps of paper that accumulate.
And now it's ready to use for creative planning, note taking, writing practice, vision collages, and whatever else I think up, all in one place!
Do you have a Midori Notebook story? I'd love to hear how you use yours. And if you have pictures, please link in the comments so we can all enjoy them. Thanks!
My Notebooks board on Pinterest (not all Midori, but there are a lot there)
There's a ton of stuff out there. I still have loads of videos saved to watch later, and every time I open Pinterest there are new posts. So go browse around, see all the cool stuff, and maybe make a Traveler of your own. Have fun!
I'm finding myself really needing to get my body moving. After years--YEARS, for crying out loud!--of inactivity brought on by some injuries, some medical issues, and a lot of laziness I am so very out of shape. I can't do a lot of things I want to do--hiking, walking on the beach, going on photo walks--because of how out of shape I am.
Of course I've started multiple programs of my own devising (and sometimes someone else's) in the seven-ish years this has been going on. But for one reason or another I keep falling off the plan. Now, time to start again. This time, though, I'm going to try to gather a group of like-minded people around me so we can do this together.
I talk about the Kaizen-Muse™ Small Steps around here all the time (you may have noticed). I'm going to put them to use for my health and fitness. Starting Monday, March 16, 2015 I'm going to do a 100 day challenge of just 5 minutes of movement every day. I'm going to make a small list of possible movement options below, but any kind of movement will do.
I'll be tweeting about this with the hashtag #Move5Min. I'm also going to start a Facebook group called Body Pages so we can chat and encourage each other, and after this 100 days we can decide on what other challenges we might want to give ourselves. I might also do a weekly blog post where we can post links to our own blogging if it seems like there's interest in that. Leave me a note and let me know if you'd like that option.
So who's in? Leave a note here, tweet with our new hashtag, join in the fun! I can't wait to see what 100 days of Small Steps will do.
Overwhelm is one of the biggest, most pervasive stumbling blocks we run into in our creative lives. We all suffer from it at least now and then, and if you have multiple creative passions (like me!), you can get hit with it just about every day.
It's especially easy to fall into overwhelm when we're trying to figure out what to do next, either on a current project or in starting a new one, but it can hit at any stage of the process.
The good news is, you don't have to stay in overwhelm when it comes. In Kaizen-Muse™ Creativity Coaching, we often call ourselves overwhelm busters because this is one of the issues we work on the most with clients. We know you don't have to live with it, and now you know, too.
So how do you get out of overwhelm?
My favorite technique for getting through overwhelm and back into creative fun is taking small steps. I mean tiny! The littlest ever, and if you think it's small try to make it smaller. It sounds kind of silly. It can be, and that's good because having fun helps subdue the overwhelm beast. You can make a game out of finding the littlest step ever. Just break your tasks down, and you'll start moving forward again.
What does it look like to break something down into the smallest steps? It looks like deciding to do a project and making grand plans that are so big they leave you frozen. So you make the steps smaller but still feel overwhelmed. So you make the steps smaller, and so on until you find a step you can actually take without the overwhelm.
Here's an example. Let's say this is you: "I want to write a novel! I need to write 1,000 words a day!" (Cue overwhelm.) You realize you need to break things down. That could look like this:
I'm going to write one scene (that still feels like a lot--stirrings of overwhelm)
I'm going to write one page (still some overwhelm)
I'm going to write one paragraph (feeling better but still not sure about everything to put in there so you still find yourself avoiding it)
I'm going to write one sentence. (Great! Most days this step might be small enough, but some days you might still feel some overwhelm)
I'm going to take out my notebook and pen/open the story document/create a story document (this one is doable)
Do the smallest thing you can find to do for your project. You can do an entire project this way, one teensy, tinsy small step at a time, honest (and you can do one step more than once a day, too, if you feel like it). Often you'll find yourself doing more once you get your toe in the door. But if you don't, if you do just the smallest step, that's progress. Pat yourself on the back and keep doing it!
Life is busy. Sometimes, it feels really hard because there's always so much to do. And then we want to write books or paint pictures or create things on top of everything else! We have to figure out a way to fit it in, and when we do that, then comes the really hard part. We have to get started!
Is getting started really the hardest thing, though? A lot of us have it in our heads that starting is hard (I know I do). I've heard the phrase "getting started is the hardest part" so many times, about so many things--diet, exercise, writing, pretty much everything I might actually want to do--that it's kind of ingrained as truth now.
We've been brainwashed into thinking starting is hard, but it might not actually be so hard after all. Especially if we go out of our way to make it a little bit easier.
If you have a tough time getting started on projects, make a decision that you're going to do everything you can to make this project easy. Deciding up front that it's going to be an easy project, and reminding yourself as you go that this is going to be a smooth-sailing, easy thing, can change how you perceive your project. Deciding that it's going to be easy can make it feel easier.
But back to getting started. A lot of projects seem to have a natural starting place--chapter one, the first quilting stitches, the first strokes of paint on canvas. These are where we begin, right? But do we have to?
Instead of beginning in what seems like the one-and-only starting place, look for easy entries into what you want to do:
Want to write an article? Make a quick list of things you want to put in.
Want to create an outline for your novel? Set up the document first before deciding anything else.
Want to paint a picture? Set out your canvas and brushes and paints (or, if that's a lot right now, just set out your canvas and save the brushes and paints for later).
Then walk away. Save the list or the outline document. Tighten the paint caps. Leave. You have started. And it was easy, right?
Now, keep doing things this way. Every time you're going to work on your project, look for what feels easiest to do. Every time you sit down to work, ask yourself "what can I do to make this easy?" The easy thing might be the next part in the work, or it might be something that you would normally think of doing later in the process. Go by what feels easy and doable, not what "should" come next.
Creativity doesn't have to be hard work. It's okay for things to be easy whenever you can make them that way. Your work won't suffer from making it easier, and you'll enjoy it more if it's not a struggle. Give yourself a break. Take the easy way.
I've been thinking about retreats a lot lately. I've never been on a big group one, although there are some I would love to go on and will get to someday. But I've been thinking about what I'd like in a retreat, why I want to go on one. I'd like to host some. Some one-day retreats, some weekend retreats. Maybe at some point a whole week retreat.
As I'm dreaming about retreats and brainstorming hosting some of my own, I'm wondering about what the rest of you might like, might be interested in, etc. So, if you don't mind, would you take a moment to answer a few questions? I'll keep you posted on what I come up with after getting some feedback. Thanks!
What makes you feel like that, like the thing you want to be?
The usual response to this is: If you want to be a writer, write, then you're a writer. (Same holds true for painting, photography, etc. I'm just going to use "writer" as my example here.) This is good advice. Writers write, so to be a writer, you should write.
I think there's more to it, though. Doing the work will help you feel like what you want to be, but there are things that you can do and be part of that can maginify that belief in yourself. Sometimes you have experiences that plunge you deep into that I AM feeling. It may be for just a moment, but for that little space of time you feel your writerliness down to your bones.
One of these experiences happened for me several years ago. I had the wonderful good fortune to get in on a writing workshop led by Charles de Lint, my favorite author. It was a small workshop, only fifteen of us. And we sat at a table all together and talked about writing and fantasy stories and characters, and later we talked about the business of being a writer. And we spent some time writing and then read our works aloud and Mr. de Lint gave us feedback. And I floated out of there on a cloud, and I knew-- KNEW --that I am a writer. I felt it! I lose that feeling sometimes, but remembering this experience helps me bring it back.
Other things that help me grab hold of that feeling--writing in a coffee shop (actually writing, especially on a story, and not just free writing and not planning or character work or any of that); attending writing conferences; talking shop (plotting, characters, all of that) with a small group of active writers.
So my recommendation? Do your thing, of course. Write, paint, shoot, bake, knit, whatever it is. But also seek out experiences that feel to you like what a "real" writer would do, and do as many of those things as you can. Build up that feeling in yourself of I AM. Carry it with you to help you ride through the dry spells that come to all of us. Take it out into the world and let everyone know what you are.
Happy New Year! Yes, I know we're almost two weeks into it. That's okay--it's still pretty new. And I've been getting things in order in my house (seriously, where's that robot maid?) and in my planning. And now I'm finally feeling together enough to write something up and really get this year rolling.
What do you do for the new year? Do you make resolutions? Pick a word for the year? Skip all of that?
I skip over the resolutions for the most part. For one thing, I'm always making plans, tweaking them, setting new goals. Resolutions just feel redundant. The past couple of years, though, I have been setting experience goals. In 2013 it was to try a new restaurant every month. That one was great fun, and we found a couple of favorite spots that way. Last year the goal was to try at least one new recipe a month, and that was a pretty big success, too, even though I wasn't as on top of keeping a list of what I tried so some of the recipes are off in the ether somewhere. This year, I'm going to go on a photo walk every month. I love doing them, yet I hardly ever make the time. I'm going to go someplace new each month and take photos (I may allow myself to include a couple of favorite spots I haven't been to in years because it's been so long that they're practically new).
Now about that word. I tried it out several years ago when doing it became really popular. I loved the idea of it! I picked a word, wrote it in my journal, forgot about it by January 3. A couple of years later I decided that the problem was that I didn't have any reminders of my word, so I decided to create these fun prayer flags. I picked three words for that year and made flags for each one. I hung them in my study, and occasionally I remembered to pay attention to them, but the exercise still seemed pretty pointless to me. I quit doing the word-of-the-year for a couple of years. But so many people I really like and respect were doing this word-of-the-year thing that I wanted to give it another go. I knew, though, that I needed to do something to keep my word fresh in my mind so it could actually be a guiding light, so I held off until I could figure out something that felt like it would work.
This was four (I think?) years ago. At the same time as deciding to give the yearly word another go, I got an UnCalendar. And a great idea was born. Every week before I fill out plans and dates for the week, I write my word at the top of the left-hand page. It makes me focus on my word each week if even for a moment, plus it keeps the word right there in front of me every time I open my calendar. I won't say that I live by my words constantly, but writing it and seeing it every week does help me keep it in mind and make some decisions with that feeling in mind.
This year my word is "expansive." I have "devotion" and "bigness" alongside it to keep it company, just to see if having multiple words changes anything for me. This word, this idea of expansiveness, feels huge to me. It feels like a stretch. It feels a little scary and like living an expansive life might be something I don't know how to do. It's a good word.
Mostly the things I do to set up the new year are designed to give me a feeling of possibilities, fun, and a clean slate. I think those are great things to start a year with and much lighter than resolutions and plans to give things up and all that.
And you? What are you doing? How are you starting this new year? I'd love to hear all about it.