Art, I made this, Maker

Art I Love – Knitted Hyperbolic Plane Headband

Years ago, my husband and I attended a panel about living with a writer. One of the participants said he has a writing hat. When he wore the hat, his spouse wasn’t allowed to interrupt him unless she was closely followed by a fireman with an ax and a need to evacuate the building.

Thus began the hat tradition in our house.

  • My writing hat is a purple fedora with a yellow band, saying Police Line Do Not Cross around the crown. The same rules about the fireman apply when I’m wearing this hat.
  • My playwriting hat is a crocheted yellow, orange, and lime green African kufi hat, with crocheted butterflies. Don’t ask why, crochet, butterflies and wild colors seemed appropriate at the time.
  • My maker’s hat is a pink engineer’s cap with Thomas the Engine and Proud to be an Engineer on the front.

Doing the household accounts is my least favorite thing. Going digital has helped, but not much. I decided I needed a hat, or rather a headband a la 1920s style to wear when I was dealing with numbers. A few years ago a mathematician at Cornell University did some work on crocheting hyperbolic planes. Here’s the link. So here’s my hyperbolic headband, designed to concentrate math rays into my brain.

2014-11-07 HyperbolicPlane

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Maker, Writer's life

Level Thinking – Polymaths and Imaginary Worlds

Michelle and Robert Root-Bernstein — he’s a physiologist and she’s an independent scholar in creativity studies — first came to my attention in 2009, when they were part of an interdisciplinary group studying creativity at Michigan State University. This research shed light on children and early creativity.

Who were these people?

  1. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer
  2. Dian Fossey
  3. Leonardo da Vinci

Most people would peg Dr. Oppenheimer as a scientist, or mention his connection with atomic bomb research. But it would be equally correct to say that he was a student of Greek architecture and classic civilization, art, and literature.

Before Dian Fossey studied gorillas, she was an occupational therapist.

Leonardo is hardest to pin down. Scientist? Mathematician? Engineer? Inventor? Anatomist? Painter? Sculptor? Architect? Botanist? Musician? Writer? Let’s call him a polymath, which describes a person knowledgeable in many areas.

What the Root-Bernsteins and their group discovered was that the degree to which children create the details of imaginary worlds can be an early clue to which of them will become polymaths as adults. Polymaths tend to become very, very good at what they do.

All children create imaginary worlds and unseen friends, but not all do it to the degree of J. R. R. Tolkein. He began practicing the creation of Middle Earth as a very young child. He was reading by age four, writing by five, and before he had begun his formal schooling, his mother taught him botany, Latin, and foreign languages. Throughout his childhood he took notes on all the places he visited; drew maps; invented flora, fauna, and languages; and probably spent more time in Middle Earth than he did at home.

Looking back, one thing I value from my childhood is that my mother believed in classes, even if she and I didn’t always agree on what the class should be. I wanted tap-dancing; she put me in ballet because it was more lady-like. China painting was a disaster, we won’t even go there, but I did manage to wangle a few ceramics classes. And no matter how much I pleaded, never, ever music because she’d had a horrible experience taking piano lessons as a child.

What these classes had in common is that I was forced to face the empty dance floor, the pristine china plate, or the amorphous clay lump. I learned at an early age to start anywhere because the first few attempts would go by the wayside as the real work began to emerge.

Those classes also fed the imaginary worlds that constantly spun out of my head. The garden creatures who lived in our back yard, under the fig tree, danced ballets in the moonlight, even if a few of them remained miffed that they weren’t allowed to tap dance. Drawing class turned into maps. Other classes segued—often by very complicated and tortuous journeys— into codes, ciphers, secret messages, puppet-kings, costumes, hand-decorated menus for special celebrations, high drama, and low comedy. Never a hand-painted china set, though. People in my imaginary kingdom were forced to content themselves with lop-sided ceramic bowls.

Later in life I learned I could go back and pick up those missed things from childhood. I took my first music lesson at age 30. I was never accomplished at music, but I had a devil of a good time and even wrote one small original composition, about 3 lines long. The instrument I took up was the bagpipe. Maybe there is something to be said for getting what you want to do out of your system before turning 30 because goodness knows what decisions you’ll make for yourself when you’re old enough to decide for yourself.

I recommend that every writer sign up for classes, preferably ones where the students start with a blank something. A empty stage. A clean piece of paper. A length of cloth. A chunk of wood. An untuned instrument. Something where you can start with the most basic of skills and build from there. It will do wonders for your writing. And if you’d like to come to my place for show-and-tell, the garden creatures and I usually have tea about four in the afternoon. Bring your tap shoes.

Michelle Root-Bernstein has a new book out this year, Inventing Imaginary Worlds, from Childhood to Adult Creativity Across the Arts and Sciences. Check out that book and her website about imaginary worlds.

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Art, I made this, My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – The Value of Negative Space

Once upon a time, there was a rhythm to submitting manuscripts and publishing.

Never submit a manuscript or look for an agent in August. Everyone in New York is out of town in August. As for December, close up and go home. Publish in May to catch the summer readers and in October for the Christmas market. Never, ever release a book in January. No one buys a book right after Christmas.

The seasonal rhythm of writing has vanished like the dodo bird. Finish a book on Tuesday; start writing the next book on Wednesday. Come home from a convention; get ready to go to the next convention. Submit a manuscript or hunt for an agent every day of the year, with the possible exception of Christmas Day itself. With electronic publishing, publish even on Christmas Day.

Negative spaces is what surrounds activities and events. An image is seen not only because of the image itself, but because of the space that surrounds it. Good negative space makes an object pop.

There are no negative spaces in writing any more, except the ones we create for ourselves. That makes them even more important.

The first writing negative space I encountered was in a class I took almost thirty years ago. We were required to keep a daily journal, writing down snippets of overheard dialog, descriptions of people or events, news stories that caught our attention; in short, anything that might make a good story. Only, we weren’t to grab our notebook and write these things down as they happened. The instructor asked us to wait a full twenty-four hours before committing them to paper.

He said that beginning writers were often afraid to lose the moment. Fearful of not getting the dialog or the description word perfect and correct, we focused on immediate retrieval. He said that we needed to train our writer’s mind to do two things: first, to develop memory because there would be times that we simply couldn’t get to a notebook. Second, to let the thing we wanted to remember settle; in essence, adding negative space around it so we saw it more clearly.  If we couldn’t remember it after twenty-four hours, chances were what we thought so brilliant in the moment wouldn’t make a terrific story after all.

It wasn’t easy to wait. My fingers had this intense desire to scrabble in my backpack, pull out my journal and write. Sometimes I grieved over forgetting. If I’d only written it down yesterday . . .

Gradually, I came to realize the dimensions of what he was trying to teach us. There was a huge difference between things remembered in exact detail, and things remembered as fiction. For some experiences it mattered that I could recall the exact smell, the sight, the colors. For others, it was more important to remember the—gestalt, for lack of a better word—how I was moved by the thing rather than the exact details of the thing itself. Both had a place in writing, and learning how to do both made me a better writer.

Over the decades, I learned another lesson about negative space. If the business of writing has become a 24/7 occupation — I believe that it has — then we, as writers, have the freedom to set our own seasons. Yes, there will always be deadlines coming at us faster and harder, with none of this nonsense about taking August off or relaxing in December. But I truly believe that it will be the negative spaces with which we surround our work that will enable us to survive.

We have to develop a whole range of negative spaces in order to survive. Five-minute vacations that we take on a moment’s notice. Ways to shut off that nagging “What am I going to do about Elrod’s lack of motivation in Chapter 7?” long enough for Elrod to work out the answer for himself. Entire days off in which we restore, restock, and replenish those creative gifts we have been given.

Recently, I added Jennifer Louden’s Conditions of Enoughness to my tool box. She says that as creative people we tend to over plan, over commit, and over work ourselves. Her COEs are four steps to limit doing that.

Recently, a rather pompous writing expert pontificated to an audience I was in that, “Writing today demands a full-time commitment. If you’re a part-time writer, you’ll never be successful.” Oh, dear, I have a life outside of writing. I love that life. I guess that means I’m not a real writer.

I came home depressed until I caught site of a mini-quilt I did a couple of months ago.

168 hours = 1 week

168 hours = 1 week

There are 168 hours a week, so unless we’re writing 168 hours at a time — yes, some weeks seem like that — we’re all part-time writers. And many of us are darn good at working part-time.

“It takes peace of mind and clarity to recognize and reorder meaningful, personal priorities . . . Many of us assume that we can continue to get along just by winging it indefinitely. We can’t. We need an antidote for the hurried and harried lives that threaten to tear us apart.” ~Sarah Ban Breathnach, author

Hope to see you back next Tuesday, September 2, for Write the Novel – Secondary and Tertiary Plots, what are they and how do we use them.

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Art, I made this, My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – Merit Badges 4

Today we conclude our summer series of merit badges for writers.

 

Merit badge Writers of a Certain Age

For those of us who have been around a while

Writers of a Certain Age

This one is for writers who have been around a while. We began our writing careers writing in longhand or using a manual typewriter. We remember how mimeograph ink smelled and the way it turned our fingers purple. We erased on carbon copies with a small brass stencil and a crumbly erasing pencil, which had a white eraser on one end and a stiff blue brush on the other end. We sent a SASE with our submissions and bought International Reply Coupons if our submission was going to another country. We had to look up words in a dictionary and did research by going in person to the library.

We’ve been around for a long time and this badge celebrates our persistence! You go, girls and guys!

Merit Badge Writers of the Purple Page

To celebrate those slightly embarrassing things we’ve written

Writers of the Purple Page

This is for those of us who have written—let’s say anything involving parts of the body or clothing, which throbbed, heaved, ripped, or enlarged, or characters blessed with milk-white skin and raven locks. If we’ve ever written anything that would embarrass an elderly, conservative relative. If we’ve ever written fan fiction, and had a hot date with someone else’s character. If we’ve ever written under our burlesque name.

Burlesque, for those of us who don’t yet qualify for the Writers of a Certain Age badge, was a form of entertainment popular in Britain and the United States from approximately 1880 to 1920. It involved ribald humor and dances that would embarrass an elderly, conservative relative. The women who danced in burlesque theaters worked under pseudonyms, sort of nom-de-danse names.

To find your burlesque name, take the name of your first pet combined with the street you lived on when you were ten years old. My burlesque name is Blackie Freemont, which has a nice ring to it. I may name a character that one day.

Of course, this formula doesn’t work, if we lived on a numbered instead of a named street. In that case, try this alternate formula: combine an object that is either sweet or has a lovely odor with the name of a bird. Rose Nightengale? Robin Cinnamon? Hey, those beat out Bowser 68th Avenue.

What better symbol for writers of the purple page than a Mardi Gras mask? As they say where I come from, Laissez les bon temps roulier—Let the good times roll. If we’re a little hesitant about going public about having written purple prose, you have my permission to keep this badge in a drawer instead of displaying it on a badge sash.

Merit Badge Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again

It’s okay to stop. Right now. Really.

Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again

I don’t have to explain this one. Those of us who have earned it know who we are. Even though our contributions are hugely appreciated it’s okay to stop volunteering! Why not spend the next few months at our word processors instead? Writing a new novel would be hugely appreciated, too.

We can’t burn the candle at both ends forever.

I hope you’ll be back Tuesday, August 19, for Write the Novel: Primary Plots. After all, they are what the book is about.

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Art, I made this, My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking – Merit Badges – Part 3

Today we continue with our series of merit badges for writers and readers because we all need an Atta-a-Girl once in a while.

Series Maven

This is the second in our badges for readers as well as writers.

Sometimes we just have to have it all. Every book in a series, lined up in perfect order on our bookshelf.

 

Merit Badge Series Maven

Waiting for the last one

Award yourself this badge if you will go or have gone to any lengths to own a complete series and/or read it in order. This includes—but is not limited to—bugging librarians, requesting inter-library loans, dropping not so gentle hints to friends and family as to what you want for your birthday or holiday gift, sending out general SOS calls for books on the Internet, driving to another city to buy a copy of the book, or paying an exorbitant amount for the one book needed to complete your series.

Book Tour Survivor

Being a writer isn’t easy. Being a writer on a book tour is a test of humor, stamina, patience, planning skills, and the ability not to trust GPS to get us where we need to go, but rather take out a map and read it.

Merit Badge Book Tour Survivor

What do you mean, you think we’re in the wrong state?

 

Award yourself, and any traveling companions, this badge if you have done at least 2 of the following:

  • Laughed until you cried listening to other authors describe the machinations of their book tour, only to find out later that everything they said was true and then some.
  • Spent three hours making conversation with two bookstore employees and the store cat because you scheduled your signing opposite a major local sporting event, the Rolling Stones return tour, and/or the worse weather the town has had in 50 years. “We never have hail in October, honest!”
  • Added an extra stop on your tour at the last minute, but without checking a map. Then you found out that the Springfield you thought you were signing in—the one only 30 minutes from your last stop—isn’t the right Springfield. The one you’re committed to is half-way across the state, but not to worry. You can still make it if you drive all night.
  • Eaten the most incredible meals, in the most bizarre circumstances and laughed yourself silly while eating it because you know what a great story this will make at the next convention you attend.

Extreme Researcher

It’s not easy being a writer’s family member. There are questions significant others learn not to ask. Do I smell gunpowder? Why is there a raw chicken in the sink with knitting needles stuck in it? The Poison Lady returned your call. She’ll be home tonight if you want to call her back.

They also learn to adopt a nonchalant stance and fix their eyes on the horizon as we ask police officers if we can hold their tazers; airport baggage security checkers what’s the weirdest thing they’ve ever found in a suitcase; and construction workers how long it would take a body to sink into freshly poured concrete.

Merit Badge Extreme Researcher

Does this or doesn’t this look like a poison blow fish?

Award yourself this badge when you have done at least one activity from each category listed below in order to research a book:

Research in extreme places

You’ve done any of the following activities for a book: snake or other wild animal handling, skydiving; scuba diving; mountain climbing; rappelling; skateboarding, break dancing, in-line skating over the age of 55, or cave exploration. Going with a guide through Carlsbad Caverns doesn’t count for the last one. We’re talking the light-on-your-helmet, wedging yourself through tiny holes kind of cave exploration.

Danger pay research

Gone on a ride-along with a police officer or taken a civilian police course; learned to fire a gun or fight with a knife, taken up a martial art, or attended a para-military basic training course. Give yourself full credit, and award yourself the badge, if you served in the military.

Researching the law

Done something slightly illegal. If you’ve done something blatantly illegal, I don’t want to hear about it. I’m putting my hands over my ears. I’m not listening. La-la-la-la-la-la-la.

As often as not our whole self…engages itself in the most trivial of things, the shape of a particular hill, a road in the town in which we lived as children, the movement of wind in grass. The things we shall take with us when we die will nearly all be small things.

~Storm Jameson, That Was Yesterday, 1932

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Art, I made this, My point of view, Writer's life, Writing

Level Thinking: Merit Badges for Writers – Part 2

Last week, I began a series of merit badges for writers. I’ve expanded this week to include a merit badge for readers as well.

First Aid for Writers Badge

First Aid for Writers

First Aid For Writers

This is not a badge for ordinary events, like printer jams or sightly missed deadlines. We should award ourselves this badge when we’ve survived those worst days of days. We’ve lost an entire manuscript and the last time we can remember making a backup was three months ago. Our publisher declared bankruptcy and didn’t tell us. We found out about it on Facebook. The agent we love sent an e-mail saying she’s re-evaluated her life and is changing careers. Real life has dealt us such a blow that we’re not sure we’ll ever be able to write again.

Here’s how we can render first aid to ourselves

  • Stop.
  • Sit down.
  • Say, “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.” ~Sylvia Boorstein, Zen teacher, author, and psychotherapist
  • Breathe slowly and steadily.
  • We are all part of a strong writers’ community. Trust other writers. We will be there to help.
Extreme Reader Badge

Readers need merit badges, too

Extreme Reader

Readers deserve merit badges as well as writers. Any reader can award herself this badge when she has completed at least 4 of these requirements.

  1. Someone has said to her at least once, “Turn off that light and go to sleep. Don’t make me come in there.”
  2. She finished a book sitting in the bathroom because she didn’t want the light to bother a significant other.
  3. She owns more than one book light. [I think our household’s current count is 7, but only 3 have working batteries.]
  4. She left clothes home in order to take more books on vacation.
  5. Her TBR (to-be-read) pile doubles as a piece of furniture.
  6. She’s left a bookstore or library thinking her collection is more extensive, and better organized.
  7. The first thing she does when moving to a new town is to find the library. Then she worries about non-essentials like schools, grocery stores, gas stations, and fire, police, and ambulance.
  8. The first gift she buys for a newborn is a book.
  9. When the clerk asks for her debit card, she automatically hand them her library card because it’s the most accessible one in her wallet.

Books are like lobster shells. We surround ourselves with them, then we grow out of them and leave them behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development. ~Dorothy L. Sayers, mystery writer

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Level Thinking – Merit Badges for Writers, Part 1

1950s Girl Scout Handbook

My old friend

For those of you who don’t remember the dim mists of time, the 1953 edition of the U. S. Girl Scout Handbook was the last edition published before there were Juniors and Cadettes, each with her own handbook. Daisies and Ambassadors weren’t even a gleam of a thought. Nope, back in 1953 you were a Brownie, then a Scout, then a Senior Scout.

I bought a second-hand copy of this book because I’d unearthed a denim jacket on which I’d sewn my badges and other awards; I blush to say I couldn’t remember what all of them were.

I loved merit badges. Not only was earning them fun, but it was neat, at the end of the school year, to hear my name called and receive the badges, a smile, and a Scout handshake from my leader. Then came the fun of sewing them on my sash. Long before there were sewing machines that embroidered for you while you did something else, these 1 1/2” green circles were miniature art.

A few designs, like Adventurer, were ambitious, the entire badge covered with pale blue thread over which a tent and two green trees were embroidered. Most were a colorful symbol on a green background: a telephone for Clerk, a winged ballet shoe for Dancer, or a tea cup for Hospitality. Since the tiny line drawings in the handbook were black-and-white, it was always a surprise to see what color the real badge would turn out to be.

Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas reclaimed the merit badge idea for adults. She began writing what would become the You-Can-Do-It!: The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls. Her idea was that women, particularly middle-aged women, should continue to explore the world in the same way girls explored it by earning merit badges. Lauren died in a plane crash before she finished the book; her two sisters collected her notes and got the book published.

They also founded the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation to provide funding toward activities benefitting women and children’s health, education, and welfare.

I think Lauren was on to something. Goodness knows writers, who labor long hours in solitude, could use a few atta-girls. So this summer, I’m issuing a series of Merit Badges for Writers. My badges will have a purple background in honor of purple prose. Feel free to design and make yours any way you want. If you want some suggestions and instructions, go to the Merit Badge Page on my website.

Writers’ Merit Badge #1: Creativity

Merit Badge for Writers: Creativity

Let’s reward ourselves for our creativity

Award ourselves this badge when we’ve learned to think about writing in a new way.

  • Try keeping an idea journal with images instead of words.
  • Take a creative class, maybe dance or  pottery; make something that relates to the story we’re working on now.
  • Play in water or with colors.
  • Create an inspiration board.
  • Hold a tea tasting.
  • Do all we can to wake up our senses so we’re writing with our whole body, not just part of our brain.

Badge creation should be a fun, community effort. If you design your own badge or have an idea for one, get in touch with me. If we can work out a design, I’ll display your badge on my web site.

Next Thursday, July 31, Part 2 of Merit Badges for Writers: First Aid for Writers and Extreme Reader

But first, on Tuesday, July 29, we’ll continue our critique series with VSOP – Very Special Old Port. This one isn’t as obvious as the three we have done before, so come back next week to find out what that’s all about.

______

Writing quote for the week:

Ours is a circle of friends united by ideals.

~Juliette Gordon Low, who brought scouting to the United States from Great Britain

 

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Art, I made this

Art I Love – Cowgirl Shrine

Yesterday morning we started our annual descent into western madness with the opening parade of the Calgary Stampede — The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

For the next ten days it’s non-stop partying, shows, midways, agricultural displays, rodeos, and some of the strangest food going. Here’s the new and (so they say) exciting foods offered this year on the midway.  Personally, I might have to sample the bacon wrapped corn-on-the-cob, but hold the maple syrup, please.

In honor of all things cowgirlish, here’s a shrine I made several years ago after reading Carol Owen’s wonderful book about shrines.

For the makers out there, the base is foam core board, with a mulberry paper covering and lots of Golden® matt gel to hold it in place. The writing was computer generated and printed on tissue paper, then attached with more matt gel.

I had so much fun attaching everything I could find that might relate to a cowgirl theme: western cloth on the roof, miniature white hat (the symbol of the Stampede), milagro charms, deputy’s star, miniature quilt made with Roy Rogers/Dale Evans fabric, beads, cow buttons, stars, letter beads that say “Go west, young woman,” a copper bracelet, a miniature lariat, and an air-dry paper clay face. The really spooky thing is how much the face turned out to look like me. Complete accident.

Cow Girl Shrine Front

Cow Girl Shrine Front

Cow Girl Shrine Back

Cow Girl Shrine Back

Cow Girl Shrine - One Side

Cow Girl Shrine – One Side

Cow Girl Shrine - Other Side

Cow Girl Shrine – Other Side

Detail of cow girl's face

Detail of cow girl’s face

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Art, I made this

Art I Love: Prompt Sticks

A few years ago I made a set of art prompt sticks. Prompts are a way to take a work in a new, often unexpected, direction. When I get stuck, I pull a stick at random and think about using what’s described on the stick in the piece.

For the makers among us:

Container is a plastic vitamin bottle with the top cut off. Cover in air dry clay. Score with a blunt tool to incise a pattern. Paint with acrylics. Add a round of craft felt on the bottom. Sun emblem is also air-dry clay, painted with acrylics.

Sticks are colored craft sticks. Tape a piece of tissue paper to a piece of plain bond paper. Type as many prompts as are wanted, leaving enough space between them so there will be room to cut. Print the prompts on the tissue/bond paper combination by running it through a printer. Cut the prompts apart. Attach one prompt to each stick with gel medium.

By the way the blue stick should read “Add a contrasting color,” though there are ways to add contracting colors to make something look smaller.

This is a project that’s a lot of fun to make and use with children.

2014-06-28 PromptSticks

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Art, I made this, Writer's life

Level Thinking: 168 hours; 15 minutes

Recently, I had the pleasure of taking a course with Melissa Dinwiddie. All of the participants came with unfinished projects. In my case one thing I brought to the course was a project I last worked on in June 2012 – a whole two years ago. The idea was that through a combination of goal-setting sessions, rally calls, and encouraging one another we would complete these projects. It worked.

Everyone finished something, though a lot of people were surprised to discover they really wanted to finish something totally different than they thought they wanted.

One of the biggest topics we talked about was time. Many of our discussions centred around two time time constraints: 168 hours and 15 minutes.

168 hours

This is 24 hours a day x 7 days in a week. No matter how we slice or dice it, it’s all we’ve got and all we’re going to get. We might think of it as the ultimate time constraint.

And no, multi-tasking doesn’t add hours to the week. In fact it subtracts them. We now know from all those peek-a-boo machines that can look at our brain in motion that multi-tasking doesn’t exist. It is really very rapid shifts, sometimes measured in milliseconds, from one project to another. These rapid shifts decrease concentration and memory and rapidly fatigue the brain.

As a reminder, I made a mini-quilt to celebrate the number 168. It’s called 168: butterflies, birds fly and time flies. I’m going to hang in my writing area.

168Quilt

15 minutes

All creative people get behind, and we have a devil of a time getting started again. Those same take-a-peek at the brain machines tell us that fear is the reason restarting is so hard. This isn’t fear that we won’t do the project well; it is fear and guilt about starting. We should have done this earlier. Because we haven’t done it according to some magic time frame we are weak, lazy, bad, and not really worthy of the title artist or writer. The longer we keep from starting, the more fear about not starting builds and the harder it becomes to start.

Here’s the secret to starting again: touch the materials. This is where artists have a  heck of a lot easier time than writers. It’s a lot more tactile to touch fabric or paints or beads than it is to touch paper or keyboards. This is the time that we need to write with a pen in a journal or notebook. Here’s how it works.

  •  Find a notebook or journal; pen; and timer. Yes, we really need a timer. Don’t try to wing this without one.
  • Promise ourselves we’re going to touch the materials for 15 minutes.
  • Set the timer for 15 minutes.
  • Play with the materials. Run our hand over the notebook. Look at how it’s lined or not lined. Feel the shape of the pen.
  •  Remember back when we wrote our names, or the name of someone special, over and over in our notebooks. Or drew flowers in the margins? I have it on good authority that boys drew tanks, cars, or airplanes. Whatever. Do some doodling. Practice Zentangle.

Two things are going to happen, likely before we write the first word.

Guilt

The first is an outpouring of guilt. We should have done this earlier. We’ve wasted so much precious time. We are bad, bad people. We are crap as writers.

In fact, we are doing what we’re doing at exactly the right time. Every coin toss has a 50% probability of landing on heads; 50% probability of landing on tails. Had we not procrastinated, had we started at some other arbitrary point, what we’re writing would be different, and not necessarily better. There is an even chance that if we’d started on time, what we wrote then would have been a disaster.

Squirrel

The second is an intense, almost obsessive desire to do something else. Anything else. Wash the kitchen floor. Organize a high school reunion. Research the War of 1812 for that book we intend to write some day.

This is like a dog in the park being distracted by every squirrel she sees. It’s where, as writers, we need to exercise our concentration muscles. We promised ourselves 15 minutes. We’re counting on ourselves. We’re learning to trust ourselves. Fifteen minutes is not that long.

If we can ditch the guilt, and ignore the squirrels, and keep touching our tools, the writing will start. Guaranteed, absolutely, 100 %.

When the timer goes off, if we haven’t written much or anything, stop. When the time goes off, if we’re deep into writing, stop.

We promised ourselves fifteen minutes and, today, we have to honor that promise or we won’t trust ourselves next time. “You promised me fifteen minutes, and you’ve been writing two hours. I’m tired and hungry, and we should be in bed, and getting up tomorrow is going to be a real pain. Next time you promise me only fifteen minutes, I’m not going to trust you.”

Baking in the habit

The second step is what we called in Melissa’s course, baking in the habit. Do fifteen minutes at a time until it becomes a habit. For some people three or four sessions will do it. For other people it takes longer. We know the baking is done when the task feel almost second nature. At that point, we have two options:

  • Lengthen the time and keep baking. Move from 15 minutes to 30, or 30 to 45, but still stick with the timer and stop when it goes off.
  • Negotiate with ourselves for a long time period. I’m going start with 15 minutes today. If it’s going well, I plan to continue. Is that okay with me?
  • Keep in mind that Jonathan Fields says in his book Uncertainty, that — here come those sneaky machines again — the most productive length of time to do creative work is 45 to 90 minutes at a time. Longer than that and the brain is too depleted to do good work.

This is an especially hard idea to swallow if we have limited creative time. “The only time I can write is when my son takes a nap.” or “I’m getting up at five in the morning so I can write before I go to work. I have to squeeze in every minutes of writing possible.”

How to squeeze in more creative time

  • Work for 45 minutes.
  • Get up. Stretch. Drink water.
  • If we meditate or do yoga or tai-chi, do a couple of poses or concentrate on breathing.
  • Have a slice of fruit or 12 raisins: this is equivalent to about 3 grams of carbohydrates, not enough to send our blood sugar soaring, but enough to replace the glucose our brain has used.
  • If possible, go outside, even if it’s just stepping out on our balcony or into our back yard. If we lack a balcony or the weather is crappy, look at nature photos. There are plenty on the Internet.
  • Don’t talk.
  • Absolutely don’t check e-mail, look at Pinterest, make phone calls, start a load of laundry, or feed the cat. This is still creative time. It’s just creative time devoted to a different kind of activity.
  • At the end of 15 minutes, we will likely be ready to go for another 45 creative minutes.

There’s a companion 15 minute quilt in progress to go along side the 168 hour quilt. This is how far I’d gotten when my last 15-minute touch-the-work session ended. When It’s finished, I’ll post an updated photo.

15 minute quilt

More art photos this weekend in Art I Love.

Tuesday, June 24th, Write the Novel will be part 3 on book killers. We’ll be looking at those killers lurking at the end of the alphabet, from major flashbacks to wishy-washy.

Hope to see you again soon.

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