Sunday, December 23, 2007

Allowing Creativity

Today's post is from Vitor, who keeps an amazing blog called The Fractal Forest, which showcases his thoughts on reality as well as some incredible fractal art.

Creativity used to be such a mystery for me. It just jumped at me in sudden bursts of inspiration, but I was never able to capture its essence, trying to hold onto it but grabbing only air.

But I've realized something; I have started to see myself as an inherently creative being, with the potential to shape the world I'm living in, even if only in a tiny proportion. How could I possibly not be creative? Whenever I make a fractal image, I am just giving expression to a mathematical phenomena that has always been here, patiently waiting for someone to see it's beauty. And that is the point: I never create anything new, I just give something existing an entirely different meaning.

So, I invite you to take a different look at your creativity; it is not something that ocassionally hits you over the head. Creativity is what you are. It's your ability to change the world around you; to imagine things that are not physically in front of your eyes; to see patterns among chaos.

What you believe, how you define yourself, the way you interact with the world - those are the aspects that shape your existence as a human. Every moment when you fully reach out with your senses; when you entertain a new thought; when you dream up your next piece; you are creative ... with your whole being.

Imagine a story and watch the characters play out their roles in your head. You are their god.

Look at the unremarkable and choose to see something special in it. You are creating art.

See the state of your current life and say: Enough! You are taking the brush to paint something new over that old canvas.

Creativity is something we humans were made for. It's as natural as breathing, and no more difficult. All you have to do is open up, and let it into your life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top 10 Blogs for Writers

Over at Writing White Papers, Michael Stelzner has put together a great list of the top 10 blogs for writers. Here's a copy of that list, but please go to his site as well to get some descriptions of each site. Then go to each site and see what there is to learn.

  1. Copyblogger
  2. Freelance Writing Jobs
  3. The Renegade Writer
  4. Web Content Writer Tips
  5. Web Writing Info
  6. The Golden Pencil
  7. Catalystblogger
  8. Freelance Parent
  9. Write from Home
  10. Copywriter Underground

And since Michael can't award his own blog a place on the list of top blogs for writers, I will. Check out Writing White Papers, and check it out often. Michael offers great tips and poses legit questions for writers that stir up a lot of useful discussion.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Coaxing Creativity with Music

Guest post by Vincent Tan of Polymath Programmer.

Creativity is like a breeze: fleeting, invisible and just as hard to catch. Some people relax and let it come to them. Some people work hard to bring it to bear. I’m going to tell you how you can do something enjoyable and effortlessly infuse yourself with creativity.

Listen to music.

First, let me give a bit of background about myself for some relevancy. I am a programmer by profession. I write code for most of my day. Programmers rank in the same category as artists, musicians and poets in terms of creative output. Programmers need to be creative to find ingenious solutions to business requirements and technical issues.

At work, I put on my earphones and listen to music while I crank out code. And it’s not just any particular kind of music. It’s every kind of music. I’ve got new age, instrumental and pop. I’ve got Japanese, Spanish and French vocals. I’ve got music from video games and anime that I’ve played and watched before.

How does this work? By bringing your mind to a “high” place so you can “see” more of everything (part of Getting Things Done). Genius and creative imagination are of high frequencies of vibration (“The mystery of sex transmutation” in Think and Grow Rich). You can think of listening to music to increase your thought frequency, bringing you ever higher to the place where creativity runs freely.

That’s the philosophical and perhaps even spiritual explanation. On the physical side, music charges you up by waking the mind and energising your body. Ever tapped your feet to the beat of a favourite song? Fast paced music gets your heart pumping and every single cell in your body ready to get creative.

Simply relaxing is too passive. Trying hard to force creativity doesn’t work well. Listening to music allows you to actively pursue creativity yet keep a fairly light chase. Once your creativity muse deems you worthy, she’ll come to you.

So what’s the key to selecting music? Variety. You need to have fast paced and slow soothing and everything in between. If you only have fast paced pop/rock songs, your mind will shut down from exhaustion. Intersperse that rapid flow of music with a graceful waltz or relaxing cello solo to give your mind a jig. This prevents your mind from getting stuck into a rut and also provides continuous stimulation. The shuffle function of your favourite music player is your friend here.

You’re encouraged to try incorporating music that evokes strong emotions. I’ve got a few songs which greatly cause sadness, intense lightheartedness, lulling calmness or have touching, awe-inspiring lyrics. I get tears sometimes (and discreetly holding them back of course). I smile uncontrollably sometimes. I believe experiencing the many facets of human emotions is part of coaxing creativity, of tapping creativity.

Another key to music selection is familiarity. You should be familiar with most of the songs such that you can hum the tune and still be able to function (like writing code in my case). It’s of lesser importance than variety, since new songs can act as a source of stimuli too. I don’t know many of the lyrics of my songs, but the tune becomes familiar. It might even be better if you don’t know the lyrics, since the words might clutter your mind, particularly if you’re trying to write.

My personal experience is that usually after about 2 or 3 songs, I get into the mood for action. After about maybe 15 minutes, I get into what some people call The Zone. This is where I rapidly process lots of ideas, thinking up graphical user interface designs, producing working algorithms and fingers flying over the keyboard typing out code. The Zone is where you tune out everything and your muse is talking directly to you. If you’ve ever tapped creativity, you’ll know when you’re in The Zone. Everything just flows naturally.

Ok, disclaimer time; It doesn’t always work. Sometimes, I’m just not in the mood to do anything. Sometimes, a favourite song comes up, and I stop everything to just listen and mouth the words (discreetly of course. I’m still in the office). Sometimes, I don’t even want to listen to any music. It’s ok. I take it as a sign to go do some other stuff, like organising my desk or go wash my face. I’ve never found it effective to force creativity. I’ve enjoyed a high rate of success with this method though.

Listening to a variety of music with differing tempo and evokes emotions can help you coax creativity. Sometimes you need a little help. So why not consciously guide an enjoyable activity like listening to music to get creative?

One of the steady recommendations at Tapping Creativity is to try new things. Visit Polymath Programmer and learn something new today.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Shaking the Creativity Tree

Much like shaking a lemon tree to break loose ripened fruits in order for them to fall to the ground for “easy pickings”; we can also use this same concept our creative minds.

Here are a few simple exercises, suggestions, and reminders that anyone can implement into their own lives right now to help get the creative juices flowing again.

Practice Creativity
You can practice creativity by doing simple, yet creative activities. Such things as drawing, doodling, making music, or even playing board games. These really help stimulate the creative side of the brain.

Try Creativity
One of my favorite creative exercises is playing the Google Image Labeling Game. This is a simple website that assists Google in accurately labeling images stored on their servers. This game is not only stimulating to the creative side of your brain, but it is also addictive. I usually play 5-6 rounds per day. This one a real fun “Creative Tree Shaker”.

Crossword Puzzles help your creative mindset flourish. It’s something about working at recalling answers or being forced outside of your normal vocabulary that really seems to stimulate the brain.

Do something new... anything... blogging, podcasting, basket weaving, scuba diving, whatever. Even if you start something new, and quickly find that you are no good at it, keep going! Strive to improve on that skill.

Read anything that interests you. This builds your knowledge and stimulates your imagination. And knowledge + imagination = creativity.

This is a key step in replenishing your creativity. Spend some quiet time outdoors. Take a walk in your own backyard or to the park. If you can’t get outdoors, just stare out a window. Notice the little details of your surroundings. Give attention to the intricacies of life.

Allow yourself the freedom to dig deep within your mind and use your imagination. You will benefit from this immensely. Do not dismiss any ideas or concepts that you come up with. There are no silly ideas.

“Imagination is everything; it is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
–Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading,
Jim Moon

This is Jim's second guest post here at Tapping Creativity. If you liked this one (or even if you didn't), check out his other one: What Color is Your Plane? And then go visit his blog, where he reminds you that if you write like you talk, your readers will listen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tapping Creativity in the Stars

Tapping Creativity: ZodiacRegular readers of Tapping Creativity will know I'm a big proponent of turning to outside sources for inspiration, especially when you are experiencing a creative block. By "outside sources," I mean some sort of writing you wouldn't normally engage in. If you are a fiction writer, try some journalism; if academic reading is you bag, try some poetry, etc. Never consider anything off limits.

To illustrate this point, today we're going to use horoscopes as an example.

In college, I thought I'd take an astronomy course. I figured, you know, I like stars 'n stuff. Turns out that astronomy was like physics with a telescope. After three days of vectors, midpoints, and formulas that Sir Isaac Newton would eat for breakfast, I got my drop card signed and snuck into another writing course (go figure).

Still, my fascination with the stars never ceased. So I every now and again, I parlay that into something more creative: horoscopes.

Indulge me.

ARIES (March 21 - April 19): A close friend has something very important to tell you. Use this trust to build a stronger friendship. Discretely record the conversation and hold it over her head. Real friends should be willing to do anything for you, but a little insurance never hurts.

TAURUS (April 20 - May 20): A money-making opportunity is head your way in the near future. Don't let it slip through your hands. Make sure the ransom contains no misspelling and don't write it on the back of your business card ... again.

GEMINI (May 21 - June 20): Family matters become an issue this week. Stay neutral. Uncle Dad may try to pit you against your wife-sister. Neither is right. By holding an unbiased position, you'll escape unscathed.

CANCER (June 21 - July 22): Distractions, distractions, distractions. This week, you need to stay focused. You need take the phone off the hook. You need to get comfortable. You need to make out a check for $500 to: Tapping Creativity...

LEO (July 23 - Aug. 22): Excitement in your love life abounds this week. So dim those lights, break out the bubbly, put on some Miles, and inflate your date. This is your week.

VIRGO (Aug. 23 - Sept. 22): Virgo, sign of the virgin. Lately, however, there is some doubt as to your purity.Do the responsible thing...get you hands on the damned taped before they wind up on the Internet.

LIBRA (Sept. 23 - Oct. 22): A unique travel opportunity present itself this week. If you don't comply with a Taurus, you may find yourself riding around town in the truck of a '78 Chevy Romulus.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23 - Nov. 21): You're in luck! The tests will come back negative.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22 - Dec. 21): You're not as lucky as Scorpio. Your tests will come back positive.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22 - Jan. 19): Take pride in a job well done. It may not be your idea of a dream job, but other's appreciate the effort you put into it. Keep telling yourself, "I'm the best damned worker they have here." If that doesn't work, just... just... I don't know... quit or something.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20 - Feb. 18): Oh, man! You don't even want to know what's in store for you this week. Just put on your helmet and buckle up.

PISCES (Feb. 10 - March 20): You r stressful ordeal is coming to a close this week. You will feel as if you've been reborn. Remember, the doctor said the hormone shouts would work if you just gave them enough time.

Okay, all humor aside, in addition to being a different type of writing, horoscopes are a great exercise as they force you to come up with 12 unique circumstances. When you are having a difficult idea getting one idea "down on paper," having a dozen very short sketches can be a fantastic places to start.

Go ahead, give it a shot. You know you've got the star power.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Last Supper (The Study)

Two days ago, I posted a short story of mine called The Last Supper. I figured it was a timely post, with the new year approaching. I had something else in mind, however. If you haven't read the story yet, please take a few minutes to do so now. What follows will make more sense if you do.

The following in excerpted from my eBook: Tapping Creativity.

They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. It’s also a good way to kickstart a new piece of writing. Each of us has a small handful of writers we admire. Be it the concise journalistic prose of Hemingway or the winding, subconscious, lengthy sentences of Faulkner, delivery of your story hinges very much on technique.

Too often we get stuck in ruts. We use the same words. We use the same sentence lengths. We become predictable with the parenthetical phrases. Before you know it, you’re rhythm is a lullaby and you can barely stand writing it. Imagine a reader trying to endure it. You’re convinced, though, that if F. Scott Fitzgerald were writing the exact same story, it’d be un-put-down-able.

So why not write your story like one of your favorite writers would?
The following is the opening of a story that started as a poem. I had an awful time, for some reason, trying to shape it into prose. So I put it away and picked up one of my favorite authors, James Joyce, and read his story, The Dead. By adopting his sense of rhythm, syntactical freedom, and tone, I got the following:

Finding a parking space was difficult. We were always the last to arrive and the last to leave. It was my first New Year's Eve outside of Detroit, and although it was only Livonia, there is usually less Happy New Year gunfire.

We pulled up along the curb; three houses down. The snowflakes were dipdancing down to the browned grass. It was pretty. Under the circumstances, it seemed really out of place. Walking to the house, I could see where others' prints were already being filled with newfall.

I felt the heaviness as I walked through the door. Uncle Mike and Aunt Maggie owned a sauna/massage parlor that occupied the front part of the house. Aunt Charlotte, with her nose reddened to match her hair, set down her drink rather clumsily—liquor lapping up the side of her glass. Nabbing our jackets, she swayed around the corner to one of the sauna rooms.
I continued this approach through the entire story, so much so that, in a workshop, one student actually said that the writing reminded him of Joyce’s The Dead. Maybe I was a little heavy-handed in the first draft. After a few rounds of revision, however, I made the story a little more “mine”. I may never have gotten to completion had I not first started by first imitating Joyce.

For a better look at the process, let’s take the above passage and try it like another writer might approach it—say, Hemingway. We’ll need to keep the sentences on the shorter side, use adjectives carefully, and pay close attention to natural details. Hemingway I’m not, but being familiar with his style, this is how I think it might read if he gave it a shot:
Parking spaces were few. We made a habit of arriving last. It was my first New Year’s Eve outside of Detroit. It was only Livonia, but there is less gunfire to greet the New Year.

We parked along the curb, three houses down. Snowflakes fell on brown grass. Pretty. It seemed out of place. Walking to the house, I could see the others’ prints were already filling with new snow.

As I walked in the door, the room felt heavy. Uncle Mike and Aunt Maggie ran a sauna and massage parlor from the front of their house. Red haired and red-nosed Aunt Charlotte plopped her drink down. Liquor slid up the side of the glass. She took our jackets and cut a wide path around the corner to one of the sauna rooms.
Shorter. Tighter. More direct. Better? That’s up to the reader. The important part is that the piece is definitely different and I achieved the difference by trying to use someone else’s words to tell my story. In the end, both versions are distinctly mine.

To get started, take a piece you already have and rewrite it as your favorite writer might. This should get the words moving. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, trying rewriting Barbara Kingsolver as Don Delillo might. How would Gordon Lish present a work of John Cheever’s? There are endless combinations and they all force you to examine your words and achieve a tone. Once you get started, though, the hard part is over.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Last Supper (A Short Story)

Finding a parking space was difficult. We were always the last to arrive and the last to leave. It was my first New Year's Eve outside of Detroit, and although it was only Livonia, there is usually less Happy New Year gunfire.

We pulled up along the curb; three houses down. The snowflakes were dipdancing down to the browned grass. It was pretty. Under the circumstances, it seemed really out of place. Walking to the house, I could see where others' prints were already being filled with newfall.

I felt the heaviness as I walked through the door. Uncle Mike and Aunt Maggie owned a sauna/massage parlor that occupied the front part of the house. Aunt Charlotte, with her nose reddened to match her hair, set down her drink rather clumsily—liquor lapping up the side of her glass. Nabbing our jackets, she swayed around the corner to one of the sauna rooms.

The refreshments were being served in the lobby of the massage parlor. Ritz and cheese and relish trays laid out on a massage table. The Faygo was in one of the sauna rooms. The damp cedar smell settled in my senses. Warm. Old. The bulk of the party was back toward the house. Miles away. I poured a Styrofoam cupful and pushed myself toward the gathering.

The house was full. Kids I didn't know rolling Tonkas across the floor, playing video games and plotting schemes that inadvertently lead to small fires. Unfamiliar faces that were there for the same reason I was. And I know I'm a bastard because of it.

I cut through the crowded kitchen and found a spot in the living room with the few relatives I recognized. Most around my age-old enough to drink or almost there. I put myself in the middle of a foam green couch and suffered through the same small talk that surfaces every time. How much snow do you have in Marquette? How can you go to school 500 miles away? When are ya gonna get married? Blah blah blah blah? Et cetera, Et cetera.

The Christmas tree was still up. It was decorated with a medieval motif. Wizards and warriors, sorcerers and swords, crystal balls and castle walls. But Uncle Mike and Aunt Maggie were always that way. Two years prior, they celebrated their 25th anniversary in grand medieval fashion. The whole party in full costume. The cancer was probably just starting then.

My sister and her three-month-old son sat next to me on the couch. She let me hold him. I hugged him to my body and I could feel his heart rumpthumping against mine, its calm easy cadence—rumpthump…rumpthump…rumpthump. Slowly it drowned the sound of a houseful of Catholics motivated to celebration by escaping a sense of impending guilt.

They say Uncle Mike has until March. Rumpthump…Rumpthump. And all of these faces that I've never seen before are dutifully here ringing in the New Year. Rumpthump…Rumpthump. Exchanging phone numbers they know they'll never use. Waiting for Uncle Mike to wake his wearied body and make his grand entrance. Rumpthump…Rumpthump. So they can leave and say they were there. That they loved him.

Finding myself red-faced and swollen-eyed, I hand my nephew off to my sister. I cut through a cloud of cigarette smoke and lies, back to the massage parlor lobby. The Ritz are gone. I need some air. Some quiet.

My shoes chew the new powder lying on the sidewalk. Step, step, broken-back, step, step, broken-back. Ahead of me, a man leaves a party store with a 12-pack in his hand. Twelve lowly, robed apostles with their heads hanging. And he makes thirteen. No, Da Vinci makes thirteen. Everyone who wants to be in the picture, get on this side of the table. Judas took the last Ritz.
I step through door of the party store with a tinkling of the bell overhead. I wander around the store looking for something to buy, not wanting anything. I grab a Baby Ruth and take it to the counter. I slide a five-dollar bill under the bulletproof barrier and it's taken by a small Jewish man who looks afraid of me. He turns to the register. Tapitytapching! I leave without my change. Tinkletinkletink. Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings. The guy outside Wal-Mart has been making angels for two-weeks.

I retrace my reversed treads to the house.

Someone spilled Red Pop on the massage-table cloth. I take it to the sink and rinse the stain out. Its red swirls chase themselves down the drain. I ring it out and put it back on the table. There is quite the ruckus coming from the house. Eleven-thirty and counting.

I slipslide my way through the group of…of…are they relatives? And surprisingly, there is still a space available in the middle of the couch. Some cousins are flipping through a photo album. The picture is worth a thousand words, yet the conversation lives in two dimensions.

The handle to the room in which my Uncle Mike has been sleeping turns and the door creeks open. His deflated frame emerges from behind the door. Everyone gathers for the grand entrance. It's the moment they've been waiting for. So they can go home and not feel guilty.
His black robe hangs from knobby shoulders. Six-foot-three and he can't weigh over one-forty. A few gray hairs wisp around his weathered head. His cheekbones are so big that they bury his dark eyes in their cavernous sockets and his steps are measured and full of effort. He shakes some hands, gives popsiclestick hugs, and finally takes a seat next to me on the couch. My eyes wrap a 1996 banner over his shoulder.

-I'm so glad you could make it, Geoff, he said.
-I wouldn't miss it for anything.
-How long are you down here for?
-A few more days. I have to leave again for school on Friday.
-And today is?
-It's Sunday, Uncle Mike.
-Someday it is? It's been Someday for the last week. That's what happens when you sleep through them.
People are slowly slipping out of the house. I sit here trying to make shallow conversation, being oversensitive to his lack of faculties.

Five minutes until the New Year and someone turns on the TV. Dick Clark is in Times Square and he commands the collective conscience of the room. Somewhere in the house three little boys are chasing a cat they'll never catch catchascatchcan. And outside some gunshots are being fired by people with fast watches.

A few commercials later the clock goes on the screen. Confetti is falling in New York. And at the one-minute mark the ball starts to drop. Tick…Tick…Tick.


5…4…3…2…1…HAPPY NEW YEAR fills the house in one giant chorus.

People gather together and give each other hollow hugs, being careful not to spill their drinks and in unison they all begin:

“Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind.”