What’s your Creative Identity?

Think about your creativity and desire to write (or create music, art, etc.). Now, complete this sentence: I am ______________. What do you put in the blank? Writer, author, artist, hobbyist, creative, imaginative? All are acceptable. All provide insight into how seriously you see yourself in regard to the writing occupation. Writers express through the written word. That simple. Period. In this sense, anyone working in business, anyone who needs to send letters or emails, is a writer.

You-are-a-WriterWhen I conducted writing workshops with at risk youth, the first thing I did was to convince them they were writers and readers. Dig down to the root, and everyone IS a reader, a writer, a communicator. We cannot get through the day without reading. Chances are we also have to communicate in writing, whether through notes, emails, or business documents. Getting these struggling students to embrace this fact had significant impact on how they saw themselves as communicators—and as students. For one group of these students, I made press passes for their name tags. They seemed to transform when they slipped into their seats with there “writing badges” on.

So what sets a creative writer apart from everyone else? The creative part. The need to share ideas, stories, worlds with others. Admit it. Few of us pursue this with the hope of sticking our manuscript in a drawer. Somewhere deep inside, we have a need to put these thoughts on paper and share them with others. This doesn’t require publication; we can share through email, blogs, desktop printed books for family and friends.

Conf-BadgesEven achieving this goal, however, will be hindered unless you think of yourself as a writer. If you tell people, “I’m thinking of writing a book” that’s what you’ll do–think about it. Be bold with your goal. Tell people, “I’m a writer.” “I’m writing a novel.” “I’m drafting my family history.” If this feels too bland, or uncomfortable, try these references to your creative identity: “I’m an aspiring author.” “I’m pre-published in children’s fiction.” If you want to show your creativity, tell people, “I’m a Disney-esque Imagineer.” That will get their attention.

I do remember what it feels like to have this desire to be published but to feel I was insulting those who had achieved this goal when I was still working to reach publication. It also felt that speaking my goal aloud was the equivalent of clomping around like a 3-year-old in her mother’s high heels. While searching out potential publishers, I asked to  borrow the recent copies of Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal at the local library. (This was well before the internet.) The reference librarian was quite big-shoes-to-fillsuspicious. I stammered through, “I want to be a writer someday and an author told me I need to read these journals.” Finally I just said, “Look, I’m an aspiring writer. A few mentors from a conference told me I need to know and read current books in my genre.” It changed her reaction. It also forced me to see myself as a “pre-published” author. I was determined and after that, I called myself a writer. When people asked where I’d been published, I’d say, “So far in a few children’s magazines, but I’m working on a book proposal.” Sure, I did feel I had a lot of growing to do to fit into the those “author” shoes I slipped into, but I did grow and they fit nicely now.

This can happen for you, too. Instead of thinking about the story you hope to write, begin thinking of yourself as a writer. You may be amazed at the difference it will make in your creativity — and in how your friends and families view you. Whatever you do, enjoy the writing!

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A Measure of Productivity

measure-success How do you decide–day by day or week by week–whether you’ve been productive? When we work for someone else, the tasks are spelled out one way or another. Meeting deadlines, reaching the bottom of an in box, completing a project, preparing for a presentation. We often spend the day answering phone calls and emails and leave at 5 (or 6) p.m. knowing we’ll be paid for a full day of work.

pieces-add-upPerhaps, as I once did, you spend your evenings and weekends writing (or pursuing some creative project) hoping one day you’ll eventually get to quit your “day job.” Or, perhaps you are now a self-employed or freelance writer (or artist or musician or …) and so your progress fall squarely on your own shoulders.

How do you measure that your time is well spent? Writers often talk of word count. When I coach writers this concern for daily output seems to cause tremendous anxiety. It’s true that a book length project is especially daunting. (Not to mention the misconception that it’s completed in two rounds–draft and revision–when my published projects have taken anywhere from five and up.)

It’s rare that I track my word count during each writing session so when asked, “How much do you write each day? Each week?” I have no idea. I write as I always have–allowing sentences and paragraphs and pages to stack up. In the end, you are not “done” when you reach the 70,000 word target for your novel anyway. You simply have your draft and then can begin the real work of shaping it into a finished product.

onestepjpgIt wasn’t until I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November and then CampNaNoWriMo, that I realized why my coaching clients were stuck on this word count thing. For NaNoWriMo the goal is to draft 50,000 words in 30 days. That equates to 1667 words per day. That amounts to 6 or 7 manuscript pages (double-spaced) each day.

onestepattime Now I get how overwhelming a focus on word count can be to new writers. Now I understand why the thought of sitting down to write can be daunting. Now I see how important it is to place output into perspective. Do this: First, sit down to write. Write a scene and note how long it took. One hour? Thirty minutes? Fifteen minutes? Now, look at the output. How many pages? How many words? It’s true that every scene and every writing session will vary. But knowing what you accomplished in whatever time it took will help you see the words adding up. Second, ask yourself how many sessions you can fit into your week. Two? Three? Even one will help you make progress.

During CampNaNoWriMo in April, the word goal is flexible. It’s the end of season for me and very busy so I selected the lowest goal: 10,000 words. I wanted the challenge to make time to work on a new novel idea even in the midst of other commitments. Putting this into perspective, I needed to write 334 words per day to “win.” That’s only 1.5 pages (double-spaced MS format) OR not even a full single-spaced typed page. But, I didn’t plan to write every day. The first weekend, I wrote as I normally did and produced just over 2,000 words in one sitting of several hours. That was 1/5 the month’s goal and the equivalent of writing for 6 days. Setting time aside twice per week, I met my goal. (Actually, I ended up meeting this goal plus wrote scenes for a second work-in-progress for over another 5000 words.)

wordstackI put this into perspective, thinking: If I can write everyday (on this one project), imagine what I’d accomplish in a month! When you do the math and put your productivity into perspective, it’s a lot easier to see what you’re capable of–which makes it easier to commit to writing on a regular basis. In the end, it’s not how many words or pages you write per day or per week; it’s that the paragraphs, scenes, and pages add up. Getting started is the hard part. Once you do, it becomes easier. Until you do, commit to writing just one sentence a day. (I’ll bet you’ll find it hard to write just one.)

File under: Encouragement

SmileI found it, though I hadn’t realized it was lost. It was tucked in the back of an infrequently used file drawer and browned with age at the edges. The label had long ago dried and peeled off. I was weeding and shifting files anyway and tossed the entire thing toward the recycling bin. Luckily, I missed and the contents spilled onto my office floor.

A few greeting cards and photos caught my eye. This was enough for me to paw through the other papers, some still inside the brittle folder: jokes that had circulated around the office I’d worked in (back before we began “spamming” friends on email with such things), MSS with encouraging comments from my crit group, champagne rejection letters, print outs of emailed messages with an author I’d met at a conference, and a copy of my first ever acceptance letter–for two items at once, to appear in different issues of a children’s magazine.

perseverenceI gathered the spilled contents, returning all to the worn folder and placed it in the “keep” pile. This was my “smile file,” as the faded ink indicated, and I’d long ago forgotten about it. I remembered creating it when I was just starting as a freelance writer. I got the idea after reading an article in a writing magazine by an oft-published writer who had created a “warm fuzzies folder.” She placed in it any items that would boost her spirit when repeated rejections got her down.

In my folder, I added whatever would bring a smile to my lips and create a metaphorical flotation device for the storms of publishing.

After I’d shifted the file drawers and thinned their contents, I returned to the smile file to look more closely at the items within. It was interesting to see how they changed over the course of a decade as technology became more a part of our lives. Handwritten notes left by a roommate or co-worker, motivational quotes, an encouraging card from my mother gave way to computer print-outs or flyers for a crit group or book signing to photos and name tags from writing conferences and presentations. Tucked in the bottom near the back was the file label that had fallen off. “Forward File” was neatly typed on it.

what-nextYes, this file had provided the smiles and encouragement to help me continue moving forward as I acquired publishing credits and built my freelance career. The contents kept me going.
I closed the folder and filed it at the front of the two-drawer cabinet next to my desk. I’ll add some recent items to it and make a mental note to flip through the contents occasionally. After all, we can all use a little encouragement now and again, a reminder to keep treading water toward warmer currents.

What do you do to keep your spirits up when life’s storms rain down?

Breaking through Blocks

Alcott-sailDuring a recent creativity for writers workshop I presented, it occurred to me that the publishing industry is riddled with negative phrasing and insinuations. Editors send rejections in response to submissions, people talk about “failure,” and both pre-published and published works get critiqued. During writing workshops I often address the anxiety and fear newbie writers experience and discuss the “inner critic” (or “gremlins” as my graduate professors labeled the negative self-talk). Both these gremlins and publishing terms can cause blocks (for writers at all levels) and delays in getting started. Many writers fear what others will think of the finished piece though there is not yet anything to shape into a polished product).

In fact, for this creativity workshop, one of the first activities (which I have adapted successfully with writers from grade 4 through college freshman) was to create a visual representation of that inner critic. (I wrote previously about this activity in “Gag the Inner Critic.”) Later we were to write a letter to that critic, and after more activities and info (at the end of the workshop) I planned to have them write a response to that letter in the voice of the critic. The idea was to work through the blocks to creativity and put a positive spin on the “negative” views we often place on the creative process. We never got there–because one participant didn’t want to do half the activities and another took issue with the “negativity” behind the label critic/gremlin. The idea behind all the activities was to allow inhibitions to drop away and OPEN ourselves up to the ideas and creativity we each possess.

“Learn the craft of knowing how to open your heart & to turn on your creativity.
There’s a light inside you.”
~Judith Jamison

In order to tap into our creativity, most of us need to learn to silence the inner critic (or whatever label you want to place on the editor in your head). During the initial creative stages, we need to be free to play with ideas (without yet deciding whether they are worth pursuing or not). We need to knock down the obstacles in our path, whether they are believing in our own creativity or wrestling with finding time to write (or draw, or paint, or sculpt, or find new solutions to old dilemmas). In the midst of the workshop, I didn’t realize that despite getting stuck on the label I used for one of the biggest obstacles writers face (the inner editor or critic), one participant was mired in “self-limitations” (essentially a block to creativity, perhaps even a gremlin scampering beneath the surface and inhibiting creativity).

“Any little bit of experimenting in self-nurturance
is very frightening for most of us.”
~Julia Cameron

Using a long list of activities, from looking at the world around us with fresh eyes to playing with nouns and verbs and words, the participants worked with tools designed to spark creativity. There are two types of thinking important to creativity and which easily deepen our writing : divergent thinking (in which we see new uses for common objects) and associative thinking (in which we link two thoughts, experiences, items, words, etc to create new ways of seeing something). Associative thinking, especially, is important for writers because this is the type of thinking we use to create analogies and paint vivid pictures using few words (think metaphor, simile, and comparisons for description).

 ducklingsIt’s easier to let go of fears we have about our writing or being “good enough” to get published if we focus on  the joy behind creating and do what’s needed to stifle the gremlins, inner critic, or joy snatchers. (I previously covered this topic in Find Your Writing Joy.) Having writing and creativity exercises on hand to get the juices flowing doesn’t hurt either. Some of my favorite activities come from the following books (dog-eared and within easy reach on my bookshelf):  Writing Done the Bones by Natalie Goldberg;  Pencil Dancing by Mari Messer; and The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron.

May you break through your blocks for happy writing (or creating)!

Looking Back to Move Forward

I’m making my list and checking it twice. Yes, I know Christmas is over. No, I haven’t overindulged in eggnog. And, no, I haven’t bumped my head and now think I’m Saint Nick. But I am creating goals for the coming year.

Reflecting on where you’ve been in order to make plans for where you’d like to be is something I learned to do right out of college. I landed a job at a mid-sized corporation that was rapidly growing (and have management in their early thirties), and every year we had “Make It Happen” days to plan corporate, department, and personal goals.

An article I wrote based on what I learned at those "Make It Happen" corporate events.

An article I wrote based on what I learned at those “Make It Happen” corporate events.

I learned to begin by making four lists: accomplishments, failures/misses, big dreams, SAM goals (that last stands for specific, achievable, and measurable). Over the decades I have adapted this “process” to include a fifth list. It’s my first list.

1) Begin with gratitude. List everything you can think of–great and small. Challenge yourself to make this as long as possible. Aim for 25 items. For example, I list:

  • the silence of the early morning on a dew-covered golf course (I can see Tee 3 from my lanai)
  • an abundance of westerly sunshine in my living room every afternoon
  • books in every room
  • my health (no meds)
  • watching wildlife on my walks
  • listening to birdsong in the mornings
  • listening to frogs and crickets in the evenings

Once you have a few things on paper it becomes easier to think of things and add items.

Think of all the "victories" great and small you achieved this year. Challenge yourself to think of several dozen.

Think of all the “victories” great and small you achieved this year. Challenge yourself to think of several dozen.

2) Make an accomplishments list. Again, list any size achievement (and you can look at goals lists from other years to do this). And, I get silly–listing minor events just for the fun of it. For example, I have a variety for my list:

  • interviewed about The Right To Counsel for CitiesTour program on BookTV/CSPAN2 (a highlight of my year)
  • getting involved in Marco Island Writers group
  • conducting seven summer reading program library visits
  • reorganizing my office
  • finally recycling my dad’s cellphones
  • finding a new venue for writing workshops

These two lists alone can go far in setting a positive mind frame for the next steps. Making these lists are quick ways to reflect on the past year. They also help in jogging memory, especially small items from early in the year. (Of course, I have the benefit of reading these items in my journal and planner.)

3) Make a Dream Big list. Spend time thinking of and listing what you’d like to accomplish in the new year. Think of this as a preliminary goals list. This is for your eyes only, so dream big. Write each as if it has happened, (as if this IS your accomplishments list for 2015.) Don’t allow the inner critic to tell you your dream is impractical, unattainable, a pipe dream. (This IS the dream big list.) For these second and third lists, I challenge myself to come up with more than 15 items on each. In fact, I try to outdo the year before, so this year I’m aiming for 25.

4) Disappointments List. Now you’ll make a list of the goals you didn’t reach. While this may not be as fun as the previous lists, it should be enlightening. Just do yourself a favor and do not judge. (Gag that inner critic.) This list is easy for me since I have a journal ornament which has become a tradition. Each year when I take down the tree, I list my hopes for the new year. Sadly, a few of the SAME goals have been listed for the past four years. Don’t dwell on the negative–this list is to help you gain perspective. The point of all these lists combined is to help you reflect on the past year–the ups and the downs. The misses and disappointments can help you create both realistic goals and the desire to follow through.
Since I have done the above for several years, I have the benefit of looking at past lists to see that I have made progress–a LOT of progress n fact.

5) Create New Year’s Goals. Now that you’ve made all four lists, from the fanciful (dreams) and fun (accomplishments) to the misses and disappointments, you should now set five goals. But this is key: not only will you get a goal, you will also decide what steps are needed to achieve each goal. And you will then create an action plan for each step. It helps to think of this as creating short-term and long-term goals. The action steps help make each goal achievable. (If you can’t figure how you will take steps to meet a goal, it is probably not attainable–at this point.)

Dream

The difference between a dream and goal is the ACTION you take to make it so. (Advice shared with my college FYE students.)

It also alerts you to a goal that is dependent upon other people for you to achieve it. For example, getting an agent and receiving a huge publishing contract is dependent on a lot of factors out of your control. When you create the actions steps to meet this “goal” you’ll realize that you can do a lot of things that will move you toward achieving publication (polishing your manuscript, researching agents who rep your type of book), but they have no guaranteed results. NOTE here that these “unrealistic” goals can remain on the dreams list. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming of getting a great agent and a huge contract (and according to The Secret, daydreaming about it creates the positive vibrations to help it manifest). But the point of setting clear and attainable goals is so you can take action to achieving them.

Once you’ve created action steps, your goals list will be longer than 5 items (another reason I aim for a smaller list of goals). They will also likely be specific, attainable, and measurable because you’ve used your four lists to reflect on the past year to ensure your make progress in the new year.

Have fun, happy writing, and best wishes for productive and prosperous 2015!

Shifting Perspective

“We accept the verdict of the past until the need for change cries out loudly enough to force
upon us a choice between the comforts of further inertia and the irksomeness of action.”
~ Louis L’Amour

I’m celebrating the start of a new month. Though the south may herald in springtime with the snowbirds heading north at the close of “Season,” I am grateful for the change. Like sprouting flowers, new hope is alive in the air. I’ve always enjoyed the change in season or the start of a new school year. It’s a time for new routines. While I’m a creature of habit, a key part of my habits is to make changes at intervals, to switch things around. So, I believe this is why I look forward to the changes that new seasons or other regular transitions bring with them. With new routines come new perspectives.

Like changing the channel on the TV, I’m glad to have a shift in perspective. It’s been challenging so far this year but the summer shows hope and promise. I’ve set goals for projects and look forward to creating the routines that will make them happen. What might you do to shift your perspective and welcome the changes ahead?

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.”
~Dr. Wayne Dyer

 

Find Your Joy Writing

“You are what you believe yourself to be.”
~ Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello

This idea has been floating through my mind a lot this month. It led to Buddha’s wisdom:  “We are shaped by our thoughts. We become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” 

I translate this to my life: Take joy in every moment. Do what you love. Writing is not “work,” it is bliss. (That is, when I allow myself to get lost in the creativity and don’t allow clients to mess with my scheduling.)

Joy, talent, inspiring others. These are what is important to me. Success truly does come down to personal beliefs and positive self-speak. These ideas have been in my thoughts during March for several reasons. First, it’s the height of season which means teaching numerous writing workshops. Second, I dedicated March to rethinking the business side of my writing. And, third, I have listened to workshop participants lament finding time for writing yet not making it important in their lives. Do you believe you’re a writer? Do you refer to yourself as a writer? Though I couldn’t quote Buddha at these moments during writing workshops, I recall saying, “You are a writer. Call yourself a writer. You are what you believe you are.”

Negative self-talk is hard to overcome but it’s easier to spin it into positives if you think of yourself as a writer. One site that helps me stay positive and inspired is MayYouBloom.com. I’ve received Lia’s weekly messages for a couple years now. (Actually, I’m thrilled to use her planner this year because it’s filled with motivational quotes and ideas that have helped me keep my goals in line.)

Joy Snatcher in Jail from www.MayYouBloom.com

Joy Snatcher in Jail from http://www.MayYouBloom.com

She has a blog about believing in yourself on her site with a fun activity for “jailing” the joy snatchers in our lives. I’ve heard many writers (and life coaches) refer to the “gremlins” that cause negative self-speak but I like this Joy Snatcher idea much more. During some of my workshops I’ve guided the participants through “gagging their inner critic” complete with drawing a picture of this negative ninny and visualizing hauling it to the attic to free the mind while writing drafts. (You’ll use that critic later during revision.) But at May You Bloom, Lia created a “Wanted” poster to help us identify the things (and people) that snatch away our joy. It forces you to consider why and how these negative thoughts are blocking your creativity. It’s helped me and aligns with the progress I’ve been trying to make this month.

Whether you visit her site or not, take time to find your joy, love your work, and believe you are the best writer, or poet, or artist, or [fill in the blank] you can be. Now go find your joy in writing/creating!