Tag Archive for creativity

Better Writing Through Chemistry

A friend recommended the movie “Just Like Heaven.” Reese and Ruffalo starred; I admired their work. On HBO. DVR set. Off I go.

better writing through chemistryWanted to love this love story about a doctor who dies but isn’t dead yet.  Her spirit haunts her apartment which he rents, and somehow he’s the only one that can see and speak to her.   Hijinks ensue, love blossoms, yada, yada. The story was light, yet interesting enough, but there was one big problem:

The leads had zero chemistry.

It was like R&R met and hated each other, or they signed on, got paid, and checked out. “Just Like Heaven,” sadly, was not.

We’ve all read books that were just so-so. Clear plot, good characters, well edited, but the reading doesn’t incite your passion. Instead of being engrossed in the words, you keep having passing thoughts of other things to do instead.

When you write, you have to create good chemistry with your writing. When you cultivate this relationship, delight in every phase of the process, feel happy with the product, and launch the book into the world with positive expectation, readers sense it. They connect to it. It’s what they want. Their passion and joy connects with the passion and joy you’ve infused in your writing.

Having readers say of your book “I really bonded with that character” or “It swept me up” or “I never wanted it to end,” well, that’s a love story, one you’ve created from dynamite chemistry.

Dance With The Deadline

frank.frankenstein.1931As if Frankenstein himself is busting down the door, many writers are freaked slap out by the deadline.  The writer will cower and bargain with the monster, begging for more time to explore and re-work.  Any argument tempts nature like a rooftop experiment in an electrical storm ultimately making the writer feel crazy-mad, defeated and, well, Abby Normal.  The enraged, unsympathetic beast snatches the writing anyway, then escapes deep into the inky night.

The term ‘deadline’ strikes fear in many, not just writers.  Coined during the Civil War when prison camps were spur-of-the-moment and without fencing, guards simply drew a line in the dirt circling the encampment.  Prisoners knew they would be shot dead if they crossed the ‘dead line.’

frank.9The newspaper industry adopted this powerful language to have the latest news printed and distributed in a timely manner. Editors’ deadlines implied “If you don’t submit your writing on time, printing presses will roll, and your story is dead.”  Consequently, so was your career.

When I work with editorial deadlines, I prefer to avoid last minute pressure by setting a personal deadline about three days in advance of the real one.  In most cases, I am able to submit my copy ahead of deadline.  This gives the client extra time, plus it demonstrates a strong work ethic which brings more assignments to my desk.

So what if you don’t have an editorial deadline or a gun pointed at your head?  You can hire a monster (i.e. me, minus green makeup and bolts in my neck), or you can be creative and do it on your own.

Karen wrote consistently as a member of my Creative Writers Workshop, but struggled to finish a story.  In conjunction with private coaching, she decided to try using a contest deadline as motivation.  The word count added more limitation, yet provided her with a crash course in sharper revision and final editing.  She hit the word count with characters to spare and the deadline on target.

Kirby protects her scheduled writing times on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  To complete and publish her book, she set a firm November deadline so she could have books printed by early December. She factored in time for her completion, my editing and the printer’s process.  Even with snags, all ended well with her wrapping up books as gifts for the holidays.

Cammie quickly discovered the necessity to schedule coaching sessions every other Saturday with a deadline of Wednesday midnight to get her work to me for meeting prep.  Using this system, she completed her ambitious project, a major feat considering she had not written beyond undergrad projects, much less 128 polished pages in a new genre.

Basically, the deadline is a commitment to an amount of time, a certain number of words written, or a project completion date.  Your editor, printer, writing group and coach are counting on you, so count on yourself.  Meet your goal.

If you want to be a successful writer, make nice with the misunderstood monster.   If the term ‘deadline’ frightens you, change it.  Use ‘goal,’ ‘aim,’ ‘target,’ or ‘destination,’ whatever feels good to you. frank.3Embrace the deadline’s positive influence as a vital partner in the dance to complete your writing project.

Affirm:  My deadline is a positive motivator.  I do my best work, and I celebrate meeting my deadlines, the final one, as well as every small step along the way.

So, the dance is over.  What do you do After The Deadline?

Images: Frankenstein (1931) with Colin Clive and Boris Karloff; Young Frankenstein (1974) with Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle.

Catching Creativity

sneeze guard“Oh, have you got the crud that’s going around?” she asked a writer-friend while fearlessly hugging her.

I cringed; I’d just hugged her and hadn’t noticed her having any flu symptoms.  I closely watched the interaction and told myself that she was tired, and yes, stuffy, but no, not the creeping crud.  Not submitting to the crud, I defiantly declared to myself.

The writers’ group was energizing.  After reminding myself not to put my fingers in my eyes or chew on my pen, I relaxed into the interaction, and the time flew.  Honesty, support and creative ideas were exchanged igniting others.  Even those who were tired from a full day of corporate life, home duties or a purposeful focus on personal care looked refreshed.

At home, however, I felt my throat tickle.  True, I’d been congested for weeks with the rapid exchange of spring-like and midwinter weather combined with rain and humidity.  And also true, I was trained to be a bit of a hypochondriac by a well-meaning grandmother and mother.  I felt my head; no fever.  I vigorously washed my hands in antibacterial soap and took some preventative herbs.  I nestled in bed with the cherry sore throat spray stationed within reach.

Morning dawned with no sore throat, but the stuffiness remained.  As I replayed the negative version of ‘what’s going around?’ I considered why I never ask positively about the creativity going around.

Inspiration spreads from person to person faster than the common cold.  Sure, we can feel excitement in a good writers’ group, but what about catching a bit of inspiration and aiming it onto the page?  Open to the frame of mind to observe and receive.

It’s easy.  Watch and listen as some kids scamper and scream on a playground; maybe join in, even if just vocally.  Eavesdrop on a gathering of friends having laughs over lunch; feel your humor lift.  Share a smile and a quick question with the cashier at the grocery store; connection often brings fascinating results, even when in the express lane.

A big part of keeping yourself healthy is feeling alive in life itself, and you can do this through exercising your creative muscle.  Whereas a cold or the flu can mire you in the muck, catching inspiration boosts your spirits, a natural prescription for healthy expression with zero negative side effects.

Affirm:  I choose to think positively.  I recognize creativity all around me, feel the positive energy, join the synergy, and act upon it to lift my writing experience.

Baby Present

babySo here I am…a man who never had younger siblings, a man without a child, a man who’s never changed a diaper and gets paranoid around babies…and I’m having lunch with a dear friend and meeting her five-month old son.  I said the standard things — “he’s so cute,” “what a good baby,” “are you getting any sleep?” — yet I felt my heart begin to open up to him.

As my friend and I discussed our lives over the past months beginning with the heavy adult stuff, mostly the changes, the difficulties, the newness, I kept being pulled in by the baby.  I turned back to my friend and shared about my Mom’s passing, felt heartfelt, tearful, then he would catch my eye, and I’d suddenly communicate with him in a silly voice with a rubbery facial expression somewhat surprising myself.  His whole face beamed gleefully, his delight just spilling over.  There was absolutely no way my mood could stay down for long because he kept pulling me into the magic moment alive in the present.

The world was brand new to him – the noise made when swirling a straw in a glass of water and crushed ice; the taste of the ear of the teddy bear I’d brought him, one that fit so perfectly into his teeny mouth; his soulful chocolate-colored eyes exploring my face as I explored his.

All this felt strangely familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it.  Then it hit me the next day when I was leading a writing seminar and I spoke of that moment when a writer puts her work out to a friend, a writing group or the whole wide world.  It’s like putting their infant on the table for discussion, scrutiny, perhaps ridicule.  And like a good parent, she wonders if it will be healthy.  Will it be safe?

I’ve had the honor of cradling and nurturing many writers’ cherished works, their babies, in my hands, transferring new ideas and skills as I placed the baby back into the loving arms of their birth parent.  I’ve midwifed many into creation, encouraging the writer to breathe into the process, then at the ideal moment to push.  And I’ve received the gift of witnessing as they send their completed work, grown but still their child, out into the world.  I assured them it was time for the offspring to live its own life before gently nurturing that writer back to the blank page to coax another idea into being.

As I ate and my friend fed the baby boy a bottle, I dreamed he will have a long life of interweaving plots, solid growth through manageable conflict and lessons bringing resolution while existing in safe settings and meeting vibrant characters along the way.

I am eager to be a part of this.  And the next time I see him, just like I do with my writing, I will get over my inexperience, try something brand new, and move beyond simply stroking his amazing hair while he lies in the baby seat.  I will get my hands on him and hold him, and encourage his story…and mine.

Affirm:  I see the world anew and move beyond fear into the innocent possibility of the moment.  I try something fresh.  I encourage my growth, my own story, by writing.