Skip to content

After over a year of being away from blogging, I've been toying with ideas of what to write about for over a week now. I had it in my head that I needed to write something momentous and deep. Instead, I'm just going to talk about what I've been up to lately.

In 2016, my whole year was about taking classes and workshops to renew my teaching license. I stepped away from coaching and didn't do much writing or much of anything creative. This year, I've started substitute teaching, and I'm making time for my creative play because I really missed it, and I get cranky when I'm not making things.

To start off 2017 and shake off the crankies, I got involved in the 1 Year of Stitches project (#1yearofstitches), and I'm really loving it! I had been away from embroidery for a long while for various reasons, and I didn't realize how much I missed it until I started doing it again. There will probably be lots of embroidery posts and pics around here (the picture at the top of this post is from one of my side projects I did in February because once I started stitching again, a few stitches a day wasn't enough).

My fun with embroidery and Instagram got me thinking that I want to get back into doing some photography. I take pictures, but not the details of life and fun pictures that I used to take. I started poking around for a good way to get back in the habit, and I came across The 100 Day Project. It's not specifically for photography; it's for anything you want to do for 100 days and share on Instagram (#the100dayproject). But it seemed perfect for my photography needs right now, so I'm in. It's starting up next week, so there's plenty of time to join in.

I'm also in the process of finally unpacking all the boxes in my studio after living here for 15 months. Right after we moved in, I found out that my old office was going to be closing, and I jumped into renewing my license and getting back to teaching. My poor studio suffered and has been mostly a storage area this whole time. But now I'm finally changing that, sorting through things, trying to figure out how to organize it all. So you  might see some posts about that.

I don't have any writing projects going, although I'm reading some craft books and feeling some stories stirring. One of these days, you might hear about that, too. For now, it's mostly going to be embroidery and photography, because that's what's holding my creative attention. So what about you? What's holding your creative interest right now? Let me know--maybe there's a new project I need to try.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

In a sense, this is a follow-up to the creative doldrums post and also a little bit of a follow-up the the "not the usual thing" post from a few weeks ago.  It's something I advise people to do all the time.  I haven't actually been following my own advice, though. And oddly enough, if you don't actually do the things, nothing changes!

This week, I'm going to shake things up a bit and see if I notice any difference in my thought patterns or creativity.  At least three times this week, I'm going to veer off my normal path and see what happens.

Some things I might try:

  • Watch a TV show or movie outside my normal interest fields
  • Read a book outside my normal genres
  • Read a magazine or even magazine article outside my normal areas

I decided to pursue this because of something I read last week (and darned if I can find it again!) that suggested things like reading or watching different things.  I "cheated" a bit and started doing this over the weekend.  I watched the movie "Jarhead" on Saturday, and on Sunday I watched a biography of John Travolta.

What new things might you try to change things up a bit?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

We all long for something—a new job, travel, love, adventure—things that are “other,” things that are not our everyday lives. Creatives long maybe a little more than most people. It's in our nature. We are dreamy and live with heads and hearts filled with possibilities and “what ifs.” Longing is part of our makeup.

Sometimes, though, the longing can pull our attention away from the here-and-now. It takes us away from that day-to-day life that could be filled with the things we are longing for if we would let it. Sometimes you have to let go of the longing so you can see where you really are right now.

So how do you find your dreams right where you are now? Start here:

  1. Write about the things you want to see and do. Put in lots of detail. Take “I want to go to Paris” and make it “I want to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower and the colorful flower stalls and visit the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and stroll the countryside picking flowers.”
  2. Write about the feelings you want from the experiences you are longing for. Instead of “I want to have lunch in a Parisian street cafe” write “I want to feel the breeze brushing my hair as I eat creamy brie and a soft, chewy baguette while taking in the colorful street scenes.” Put in the sensations you are longing for and also the emotions you want to feel from the experiences you're dreaming of.
  3. When you have a good, clear idea of the feelings you want to bring in to your life, make a list of things that already give you some of those feelings and also things you think might give you those feelings. If you want the peace and calm and quiet of strolling country lanes, drive yourself to a nearby small town and wander through it's streets and sights.
  4. Find ways to add these things into your life whenever you can. Look around and see where you can fit them in—a little bistro table in your own yard and bread from a local bakery can give you a taste of that Parisian cafe you daydream about.

Living the life of your dreams isn't all about changing things and adding things into your life, though. It's also about finding things around you that already match your dream life. Look at your life and find what matches up to your dreams. Is your dream to be an artist? That little box of paints and stack of canvases in the corner is part of the artist life. Start there. Build on what you already have and do, add to the parts of your life that connect you to your dream. Start right where you are.

Finally, remember that your dream is a joy. It is meant to add pleasure and magic to your life. So add pleasure and joy and magic and beauty wherever you can. (Add some things like my little dancing flower and let yourself smile and laugh whenever you can.) Let yourself have some joy because joy builds on itself, and your creative dream will grow from joy.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Do you remember the first time you had a great story idea?  Remember how exciting it was imagining character names, daydreaming what would happen next, writing it all down?  Wasn’t it fun?  Are you still having fun with your writing?

Magical Bubbles

 

I love setting goals and keeping track of things, counting my words and pages, having something that shows me I’m making progress.  I think goals and accountability are important in our creative lives.  It’s often hard to let ourselves fit in our creative work when there’s so much else we feel we should be doing, and goals and progress reports can help us give our writing the time it deserves.

Sometimes, though, we can get really caught up in setting goals, meeting goals, reporting our progress.  Our writing becomes another “have to do,” and we can lose the joy.

If you’re finding yourself trudging forward, thinking you have to get to your writing, if you aren’t feeling the thrill of creating your new words, here are some ideas on how to get the fun and joy back:

  • Ask yourself, “How can I make this more fun?”  and “How can I make this easier for myself?”  Write those questions down in your journal or put them on sticky notes where you’ll see them often.  You don’t need answers.  Just let your mind percolate the questions, and you’ll find yourself finding ways to fit in more fun and ease.
  • Write yourself a letter or a list about why you started writing—include what drew you in, what you love most about it, why you want to write.  Keep this someplace where you can see it and read it often to remind yourself that you love this work.
  • Write a scene where your characters go out and have a great time. Take them bowling, surfing, to an amusement park, out dancing.  It doesn’t matter if this will get cut later.  Let your characters have fun and enjoy yourself alongside them.  Let yourself write things that are fun to write.
  • Make a list of the writing activities you love the most (for example, I love writing dialogue), and include at least one of them in your daily writing as often as you can.
  • Get yourself a writing buddy, a little toy or trinket that you keep with you when you write.  It can be an action figure, a stuffed animal—pick something that makes you smile.
  • Try some writing games and toys to liven things up and make it fun.  Try out Story Cubes, tarot cards (Tarot for Writers for example), or I Ching (like I Ching for Writers)
  • Collect writing prompts and links to writing prompt websites (my favorite is Toasted Cheese).  When things are a little to serious and stuffy, make a game of picking a random prompt and working it into your story

Most of all, let yourself relax.  Let your goals and plans guide you, not rule you.  Happy writing!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Do you keep a writer’s notebook?  How about a novel notebook?  And what’s the difference anyhow?

A writer’s notebook is where you keep story ideas, bits of overheard or thought-up dialogue, character sketches, short bits of writing from prompts and exercises, etc.  It’s where you gather all of the fodder for all of your stories, poems, essays—all of your writing.

A novel notebook is where you plan your novel (you could also do something similar for short stories).  It’s where you create the blueprint for your story.   While the writer’s notebook is for bits and pieces of writing and ideas for all of your stories, the novel notebook is specific to just one story.

This is the cover of my current novel in progress
This is the cover of my current novel in progress

In this digital age where we have software, apps, and websites for writing, note taking, mind mapping, image capturing, and just about every other thing a writer needs to get a novel written it might seem strange to talk about keeping an analog notebook.  But I think that you develop a different relationship with your novel when you have something tactile to interact with, something to hold in your hand, something physical that represents your story.

Don't get me wrong; I still love my digital apps and widgets and whatnots.  I use Evernote and Pinterest alongside my novel notebook to capture things I want to include in my story.  Still, I believe that sometimes when you’re stuck or your story is sluggish, physically flipping through pages, pasting in sticky notes, touching your story can help the words flow again.  You see things differently and process them differently when you’re looking through a notebook rather than clicking through digital documents.

So what goes in a novel notebook?  Anything at all to do with your novel.  Character sheets, lines of dialogue, ideas for scenes, descriptions of places, poems that remind you of your story, song lyrics (for Ordinary Girl two songs—“Jackie Blue” by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and “Magic Man” by Heart remind me of two of my characters so those lyrics are in my notebook.).  But it doesn't need to be just words.  In fact, I think if you add in images you are giving yourself a much greater depth of fodder to draw from.

 

Here is one of my character pages with a few notes started. The face is blurred out because it’s an image I printed out from online. I will be adding more photos of the actress in different outfits and will probably clip or paste in images of clothes I imagine her wearing, furniture in her apartment, etc. And then I will use the images to help me with my written descriptions when I need them.
Here is one of my character pages with a few notes started. The face is blurred out because it’s an image I printed out from online. I will be adding more photos of the actress in different outfits and will probably clip or paste in images of clothes I imagine her wearing, furniture in her apartment, etc. And then I will use the images to help me with my written descriptions when I need them.

 

What else goes in a novel notebook?

  • Maps—real or ones you create for your fictional places
  • Lists—street and place names, character names, anything you might need several of throughout your novel
  • Snippets of dialogue, action, or description that you might want to use later in the story
  • Outlines and planning notes
  • Short journal entries on what you want to write next (I got this idea from Sue Grafton in her essay “The Use of the Journal in Writing a Novel” in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing. )
  • Freewrites for figuring out what needs to happen next (for example, if you know Sue is at the docks and needs to get to the art museum to confront Adam but you don't know how this happens, set a timer for ten minutes and write anything that comes into your head)
  • Story questions (another favorite tool to help you figure things out—my favorite is “why is Character X doing that?” You don't need to come up with an answer right away, either. Just write the question down and let it simmer.)
  • Collages—I like to make overall collages that evoke the mood I want in my story (see the photo below).  You can make collages for your characters' homes and wardrobes, collages of buildings you imagine your story happening in, etc.

 

 I use collages like this to capture the feelings and moods I want in my story.

I use collages like this to capture the feelings and moods I want in my story.

And, of course, anything else you think of that has to do with your novel will fit in your novel notebook, too.  I hope you'll give a novel notebook a try.  It's a great way to connect with your story and to loosen up your creativity to let your words flow.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

This is a newsletter I wrote a few years ago, with a couple of updates because technology changes all the time.  Some friends and I were talking about technology and how much we use it, and a couple of people I know are talking about taking time away from the internet or at least away from social media.  Now seemed like a good time to repost this.

Technically Speaking
by Kim Switzer

How do you feel about technology? Does it make your day? Drive you nuts? Is it a helper or a distraction or some of each? Do you run out to get the latest gadgets, or are you still using a cell phone from 2003?

Don't worry if you and technology aren't best buds. You don't have to ditch it and go live in a cave—you can make it work for you and maybe even learn to enjoy it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lot of people have something of a love/hate relationship with technology, especially the internet and social media. I see posts and notes from people fairly regularly saying they are taking a break from technology, going on a technology vacation, etc. The main culprits that seem to send them skittering away from the internet are Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, the things that can suck you in and hold you captive way longer than you intended to stay. So these people disconnect themselves for a while, then they show up again later seemingly rested, rejuvenated, and glad to be back.

I think time away from the internet, the computer, your cell phone, etc. is a great idea. I'm just not sure doing it in big, sometimes dramatic breaks from the internet is the most useful way to do it. I think incorporating times throughout the week where you aren't on the computer (or the iPhone or Android or tablet or any of that) is extremely important for creatives, and doing it regularly is better for your creative balance than doing technology binge-and-purge cycles.

Don't worry that taking regular time away from technology will put you behind or make you miss something. I do very little on the internet or even the computer in the evenings and on weekends. (Unless I'm sick, in which case I spend way too much time on Facebook reading and commenting on any random thing that comes by to distract myself, but that's a special case.) Most of the time on a work night I might check my e-mail and maybe Facebook once in the early evening. This usually takes about half an hour, and then I put down the computer and pick up some knitting or a journal or a book to read. And a kitty. I almost always pick up a kitty. On the weekends, I usually spend an hour or maybe a little more on Sunday evening doing a quick catch-up, but mostly I fill my weekends with AFK (away from keyboard) activities. I get plenty of non-technology time, and it feels really good to pop back in to my e-mail and Facebook and see what people have been up to. Lots more interesting things get a chance to pile up if I don't check
every 15 minutes.

Of course, when I first signed up for Facebook, I was on there all the time. And I still fall into that now and then—hours frittered away mindlessly scrolling and refreshing, looking for who-knows-what. And that's okay. Sometimes we need mindless distraction to let our brains rest. If you find yourself doing it a lot, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to ditch the technology, though. This sort of behavior is actually an excellent road sign. For me, this behavior lets me know that I'm avoiding something that is feeling too hard or overwhelming. And that lets me know I need to examine whatever it is I'm avoiding and find a way to break it down into smaller steps. Technology becomes a mini-coach, helping me realize that something isn't working and I need to give it some attention.

Quick Exercise: If you find yourself procrastinating or numbing your brain with the internet, social media, other technology, or anything else, try a little journaling. Grab your journal and write down this question: “What in my life needs some time and attention from me right now?” Write about it if you like—just let the words come, don't edit or censor yourself. But you don't need to push for an answer. You can just let this question simmer in the back of your mind and be open to what answers may come up later.

How else can you make technology work for you?

Timers: One of my favorite tools to use. I like to set a timer and write as fast as I can for 10 or 15 minutes. I also set a timer when I want to have a little break and poke around on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet but don't want to get sucked in for half a day. Some of my favorite timers:

  • My iPod Touch timer with its variety of cute sounds (currently, it's set to “trill”).
  • Countdown Timer, a free online timer with a variety of options.
  • Cool Timer, a nifty, free timer to download that lets you play MP3s and all sorts of sounds.
  • Insight Timer, a meditation time available for iPhone, iPad, and Android that uses Tibetan singing bowl sounds; I use it for writing and other things, though, rather than meditation.

 Calendars and To-do Lists: Don't just use these for the normal stuff—deadlines and appointments and anniversaries and such. Get creative! Do you practice The Artist's Way? Put your artist dates on your calendar (one of my friends puts the question “what are you going to do this week?” on her calendar to remind herself to plan an artist date—such a great idea!). Put little questions (like the one from the exercise above) on there so they pop up occasionally and remind you that you want to think about them. Mark off time for working on creative projects, use calendars and lists to remind you that you want to spend time researching a new skill. Put some fun, exciting, creative stuff on there and let your calendars and lists help keep creativity at the forefront of your mind. My faves in this category:

  • Google Calendar--it integrates really well across multiple devices, it's really easy to update, and you can get pop-up or e-mail reminders or both.
  • Remember the Milk--a great to-do list with options; it integrates with Google Calendar, lets you make lists for multiple categories in your life (I have categories for MuseCraft, writing, household stuff, body and exercise stuff, and a few others), and lots of other good stuff.
  • Awesome Note--I love this calendar/to-do list combo! My only complaint about it is that there isn't an Android version.

Various and Sundry Other Bits of Goodness:  you can use technology to inspire you.  Sign up for newsletters, poem-a-day e-mails, quote-a-day e-mails, travel photos, cute animal photos--whatever makes you feel happier and more ready to get back to your creativity.  Use your tech to capture things you want to read later, recipes or tutorials you want to try, classes you want to take, things you want to remember.  Use music playlists (on your MP3 player or on a service like Pandora) to set your mood, podcasts to keep up with topics you like, funny websites to cheer you out of a slump.  Use your technology, then set it aside and go outside and play!  Some of my favorite technology bits:

  • Evernote--a great place to capture notes, pictures, whole websites, whatever you want; you can make notebooks, notebook stacks, use tags to make it easy to find your stuff, web clippers that load right in your browser.  And it integrates across all the devices.
  • Pocket--you can put all sorts of things in your pocket to read later, and most of the stuff is available offline!  And you can set it up on multiple devices and browsers, plus it's really easy to use.
  • Bloglovin--If you aren't already using a blog reader, try this one (it's my favorite since the old Google Reader went away).  Or try one in general.  You can filter the blogs you follow into categories, so if you feel like reading things about embroidery right now you can open up your reader, click your "embroidery" category, and not have to sift through things you don't want to look at right now.  I strongly suggest that you make yourself a "daily" category (or weekly if that's better for you) for the blogs you especially want to keep up with.
  • Diigo--An excellent bookmare device, complete with a "diigolet" you can load in your browser to make bookmarking sites ultra-easy.  And, as with many of my favorite things, it lets you use tags, and it integrates across multiple devices, plus it has room for notes on each bookmark you create.

I could go on, but I won't.  My point is that technology doesn't need to be a burden or some form of enslavement that we need to get away from.  Experiment.  Don't be afraid to ditch things someone said you "need" (three Facebook accounts, one for personal, one for your business, one for your creative stuff?  No way!  Not for me.)  Don't follow any rules about using technology or social media that don't feel good for you or don't leave you time and space to just be you.  Do the techy thing your way, have fun with it, and don't forget to go outside and play in the sun sometimes.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

The face of "I want that!"
The face of "I want that!"

I'm reading Danielle LaPorte's The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul with two of my artsy friends.  We meet on Saturday mornings over Spreecast to talk about it.  I sit in my studio in my big, comfy chair with coffee and my journal and chat with my friends and feel very girly and artsy and modern.

We're still reading--I think I'm about half-way through the book--so I don't have a fully formed opinion, but it's been a really interesting and thought-stirring experience, so I wanted to write about now rather than wait until I've finished the book.

I've been a strong believer in Charles Kingsley's idea: “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”  The Desire Map talks about deciding how you want to feel and using that desire to choose your path (wildly inadequate paraphrased description, but I hope you get the idea).

To me, I want to feel enthusiastic.  I want to be interested in the things around me and the things I'm doing, so this work on desire keeps bringing this quote to mind. I hope I find my enthusiasms. I hope I figure out how to live this enthusiastic life.

What are you enthusiastic about?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Entry Door

I've been thrown off my writing game in the past six weeks.  I'm off track, rusty and stiff.  I've been renovating a house, packing up the house we lived in for twelve years, and moving to the new place.  Writing didn't just take a back seat--it wasn't even in the car with me for a while there.

Now, although I'm still living mostly out of boxes, I'm feeling my writing calling to me again.  Blogging, newsletters, journals, stories.  I need to restart.  It's feeling like a bit much right now, though.  I'm still trying to sort things out after the move, so I hit overwhelm very easily.

So I did what I usually do when I'm overwhelmed.  I made a list.  Here, for anyone else needing to re-enter their writing life, is my list of small steps to help you get going again.

  • Write for two minutes.  Alternately, write two sentences.
  • Read through your current project. Don't make notes, do revisions, anything except read.
  • Make a list of the things you want to work on; pick one to start with then work on it for five minutes.
  • Write a backstory scene for your MC--a dream scene, daydream scene, the MC having dinner alone or with family or friends, anything that is interesting and lets you know your character better.
  • Get all of your stuff together. All of your notes and files and notebooks. All of your files and documents on your computer.  Sort and arrange them and get reacquainted.
  • Start something new.  Sometimes a fresh project with no time invested, no weight behind it yet, can help rev your writing engines.
  • Try an online writing site. My faves: One Minute Writer, Daily Page, 750words.com, Oneword.
  • Meet with a writer friend or friends.  Talk about books and movies. Talk about your writing and what you want to do with it.  Be writers together and inspire each other.

Anything to add to the list?  What do you like to do when your writing needs a reboot?  I'd love to hear your ideas.  Let's add to the list!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

NaNo2015

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November?

It's a fun time full of writerly companionship, and if you're on the fence I hope I can convince you to jump on in.  I thought I'd share part of a post (with a link to the rest) I wrote for Willamette Writers this summer to help persuade you.

Have you tried NaNoWriMo? You should—it’s a great way to get your words flowing and get your stories out on the page.

Admittedly I’m biased in favor of NaNo. I’ve been signing up for it since 2003 and actively participating since 2006 (turns out you actually have to write something to get to 50K). I’ve taken part as a writer (and a winner seven times). I’ve been the Portland, OR municipal liaison. I’ve attended and hosted local write-ins and events and participated in the online forums. But most importantly, I have written. I have written in November even in years when writing was a struggle. NaNo did that for me.

(Read the rest of the post here.)

I really do love NaNo.  I'm hoping to participate this year even in the middle of a house renovation and move (which may be completely crazy, but I'm still thinking about it).  I hope you'll give it a try and give your writing a jolt of NaNo energy.

Drop me a line, let me know if you're jumping in, let me know how it's going.  I'll cheer you on and see you at the finish!

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Ladder

That subject line is a lie.  There *is* no hierarchy.  No genre is better than any other.  Literary fiction isn't better than genre fiction.

I am so fed up with writers feeling like they're second class citizens because they write genre fiction. I'm even MORE fed up with literary fiction writers, along with critics and so many people in the publishing industry, treating genre writes as if they actually are lesser than in some way.  As if writing genre is some sort of flaw. It's not!

Even Stephen King said that he spent years and years feeling ashamed about what he wrote, as if it wasn't quite good enough. Stephen King, for Pete's sake!

Recently I was listening to a writing podcast I normally enjoy.  The host used the phrase "just writing genre fiction." I was angry and appalled, and honestly I lost respect for her.  If she is brushing off large bodies of work because they aren't literary or mainstream fiction I find her less trustworthy.

Let me just state up front that literary fiction is not better than genre fiction or mainstream fiction.  And it has a much higher chance of getting dry and pretentious because the first aim of literary fiction is to do art and make some sort of deliberate statement about society, politics, etc.  When you let yourself wander away from good storytelling, your book will probably suffer.

Does this mean you shouldn't try to write literary fiction? Of course not!  But if you are pulled to write literary fiction, don't do it at the expense of your story. Fiction writers are storytellers first. And that means the story is more important than any moral message you want to get across.

And if you find yourself thinking genre fiction is lower class than mainstream or literary, think again. It's about the storytelling. Every category of fiction has good stories and bad stories.  That's not about the genre, that's about the writing.  Focus on the writing, on the story, on building a world and drawing your readers into it.  Don't get hung up on labels.

There are no categories of writing that are superior simply because of their subject matter.  It's about the story.  Dismissing entire genres as less-than is lazy thinking.  It keeps you from having to judge each story on its own merit.  Don't get hung up in that trap. And most importantly don't put yourself down if you love to read and write genre fiction.  You are just as good as any other writer, and don't let the snobbery convince you otherwise.
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail