Prerequisites of Creativity

For me they are:

1. A thing to write on/with

2. Water

3. Reasonable level of cleanliness and organization around me/in front of my face

4. Completion of urgent basic life chores (groceries, laundry, dog walking)

5. Overall general feeling of health and wellness (accomplished with eating decent, getting up and moving around sometimes, and otherwise taking care of myself)

6. Enough time to finish a thought

That’s it. There is no magical time, no ritual I perform to call down a muse from the heavens. Muses are silly. Inspiration is silly. Basic personal upkeep and happiness works better and makes more sense to me. If I manage that much, then I can write.

Time Off

I need time off from just about every long form piece that I write. Short stories can and should be written in one go (whether that one go takes a few hours or happens in pieces each day over a week). Novels, though, can start getting on my nerves. It’s not going according to the outline, or I’m stuck, or the flow that’s part of being really excited about an idea just isn’t coming.

Sometimes I can and should just force myself to barrel ahead. Other times I need time off. But time off can quickly turn into (or be an excuse for) procrastination. A few tricks to doing time off right:

1. Write. Just not the problem book. Write fanfiction, write an ode to puppies, write something fun and silly and easy.

2. Read. The writer brain needs to take it easy but not totally shut down, so I read things without highlighting and taking notes but with an eye for what’s fun and entertaining and engaging to me.

3. Think. Instead of sitting down and staring at my outline though, I think about the bits and pieces of my book while I’m doing the dishes, or walking to work, or drifting off to sleep. If I think of something good I write it down, but otherwise I let the thoughts come and go and work themselves out. Sometimes by looking at something sideways instead of straight on I can figure it out.

4. Set a limit. Vacations end, and so does time off. I decide how much time I’m taking off and when I’m getting back to it.

5. Give yourself permission to fail. See how I missed that post on Thursday? My brain had hit a wall in all forms of pulling words from my brain and putting them into the world, so rather than beating myself up and forcing something out I said, okay. You don’t have to today. Be vigilant about how much leeway you give yourself, but be sparing with your self-punishment too.

Stranger than Fiction: The Dyatlov Pass Incident

The ever-entertaining Stuff You Missed in History Class has been doing a great series of scary historical events in a lead up to Halloween. The one that stuck with me most, that I had somehow managed to miss despite its permeation into the pop culture ether and those “6 Famous Unsolved Mysteries” lists, etc, was the Dyatlov Pass Incident.

A common question writers get, and I myself got when I used to talk much more about writing with non-writers, was “where do you get your ideas?”

The answer is you steal them. You steal them from things that happened, you steal a piece of a person you know or saw once on the street, and you assemble all these disparate bits until there is a story that you want to tell.

Thanks to SYMiHC and an upcoming short story contest with the theme of “first contact,” I’ve found where I’ll thieve my next story from.

People Who Inspire You

If you want to be a creative person, surround yourself with people who inspire you.

Despite being a devoted introvert and homebody, I went to Kina Grannis‘s concert last Wednesday at Billboard Live in Tokyo.

Kina was beyond amazing. She was so sweet and gracious and genuine, and a real pleasure to hear live. I’ve been a fan of her music since Angry Asian Man tipped me off about her Elements album release, and I find myself more in love with her music and creativity and skill every day.

One of the best things about the concert was hearing Kina talk about her inspiration. Songs that I was familiar with not only gained a face but a context. This creative expression that I had enjoyed in a vacuum, ascribing my own meaning and importance to songs, became more real and grounded in the person and the mind and the life they had emerged from.

It didn’t diminish the meaning the songs personally had for me, but it broadened and deepened the meaning the songs had overall. It also reinforced that inspiration is not a magical thing, that even for this talented artist songs didn’t come fully formedĀ out of the ether. They came from a place and a way of thinking and hard work.

Knowing all that gave me more to think about. And when you’re trying to be a creative person who makes art, thinking is a thing you need to do a lot of and be good at.

Find people whose own creativity makes you think.

Inspiration Comes of Working

The writer with a mug that reads "Get Back to Work."

A friend of mine and I were talking. He said he’d like to write plays, “But I don’t have anything to say.”

“That’s bullshit,” I said, because I have a sweet face and a pottymouth. “That’s got nothing to do with writing.”

I was not, in fact, referring to the wealth of fluff in the world (which has its own place and merits). I just think that having some brilliant idea, some inspiration from on high, some vital important thing that you want to say and everyone needs to hear, has nothing to do with creating.

Lots of days I sit at my computer and I am not inspired. But then I write something anyway. And whatever it is, even if it’s utter garbage, is valuable. Because either it led me to an idea, or it helped me practice my writing, or it was day 101 of being disciplined enough to just sit down and write.

I don’t know if it’s really a trend or just something my brain has made into one, but since the New Year I’ve noticed a flurry of posts about the creative process that boil down to about the same thing: Inspiration is bullshit. Work.

Retrospective Headdesk, by Laini Taylor, covers her own work-breeds-success story in writing Days of Blood and Starlight. With bonus gifs!

Brain Pickings has an interview with painter Chuck Close that includes my new favorite quote, “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Without Doing, Dreaming is Useless is a presentation by Rilla Alexander that’s about the trap of not working even when you do have inspiration. tldw? (but come on, watch it): “Anything, even something that fails to meet my expectations, is better than nothing.”

And finally, today’s Advice to Writers has an apt quote from Tracy Kidder:

That you can learn to write better is one of our fundamental assumptions. No sensible person would deny the mystery of talent, or for that matter the mystery of inspiration. But if it is vain to deny these mysteries, it is useless to depend on them. No other art form is so infinitely mutable. Writing is revision. All prose responds to work.

So listen to the mug.


How Can You Say You’re Passionate?

Two links for the week, both from the always-useful, often-inspirational 99%:

Are You Trapped in a “Shadow Career”? The Artist vs the Addict, which starts off with a pretty excellent (and relevant) little anecdote:

A few months ago, a colleague of mine told me about meeting a young woman who was “passionate” about writing. He asked her what she had written recently, and she said nothing. In recounting the story to me, he said, “How can you say you’re passionate about something if you’re not doing anything about it?”

I mean, pretty much. This is where I am now, and this is where most of us sit for our entire lives. With books unwritten, stories untold, ideas unexpressed. Because having the idea is the fun part, putting it to words is awful. But, too bad. Worse than the effort and disappointment of putting once-marvelous ideas into their often disappointing corporeal form is never doing it at all.

Cheryl Strayed: On “Binge Writing,” Doling Out Advice & Finding Clarity reminded me of all the reasons I like to write, even if I don’t like (and delete, and rework, and delete) all the things that I do.

Short Story Wednesdays

I know, it lacks that specialness of alliteration, but I liked the idea of posting something mid-week to keep me going.

I am publicly committing to you, my imaginary friends, that in addition to my other scheduled posts, every Wednesday I will post something. Maybe it’ll be a full short story draft. Probably it won’t be. It’ll be pieces of a work in progress, or a response to a writing prompt, or something else of a fiction writing persuasion. It might be good. It might be bad. But it’ll be writing and I’ll post it.