Friday, January 25, 2008

Random Acts of Creativity #2 :: Be The Messenger

In the second installment of the Random Acts of Creativity series, I'd like to talk about the ways we can use little bits of creativity in uplifting ways. Horoscopes are fun because the way they are written can apply to just about anyone. That's because we, as humans, share a common condition. We have needs and desires, fears and heartbreaks. This sameness, however, presents a unique opportunity to exercise our own creativity.

Try this.

Sit down at your computer and write out some messages designed to make people stop their everyday routine and refocus on what is important.

  • Some you love misses you very much. Give that person a call tonight.
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • The answers you seek are out there. Go to a quiet place and try not to think.
After you have written some of these, print them out. Then, cut them into individual messages and secretly place them around town--under windshield wipers, in shopping carts across parking lots, in mailboxes, in public restrooms, or any other location where they will be unexpected.

At times, we can get so wrapped up in our own lives that we don't take time to stop and see how we are really functioning among those around us. In my experience, the things that bring us such stress are not really the most important things in life, though they are sometimes the most immediate. Use your creativity to help another person see that.

Creativity is a gift. Share it.

Be random.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Realizing the Dream :: In Honor of Dr. King

On this day, we Americans celebrate the life of one of our most renown civic leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was not a president, nor did he ever hold any political office. Yet, his life embodied the same fundamentals that this nation was built upon: the belief that, when we come together, we are capable of being something greater than we are separately.

His beliefs were punctuated by some of the most memorable speeches and essays ever brought into the collective conscious of not only America, but the world as a whole. He showed that the power of words can make a difference, that they can leave a legacy long after the person who penned them has left this earth.

His most famous speech, known as the "I Have A Dream" speech is included below. I want you to listen closely to the way it is structured. Listen to the way he brings together the notion of different places, different people, and different beliefs into one unified whole. As a creative person, there is a lesson to be learned here.

When you are tapping creativity, it is important to keep every possibility open, no matter how unlikely it may seem. Those we revere as innovators and forward-thinkers become that way for refusing to believe that the way things have always been is the way things always have to be. They can bring seemingly conflicting ideas into harmony. They can inspire those who follow to try harder, to believe that there can be a new way--a better way--if you have the dream and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it a reality.

Thank you, Dr. King, for sharing your dream.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Random Acts of Creativity #1 :: Sharing a Sestina

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series of short posts that are designed to give your creativity a quick kick in the pants. So, with that, let's get started.

The Sestina.
The Sestina is a type of form poetry that can sound intimidating, but is a great exercise in creativity. Better yet, it gives you an opportunity to share your creativity with others.

Call a friend and ask her to come up with six words that describe the state of her life right now. Write them down. Then read this article on how to write a sestina. Put the two together and give it to your friend.

Of course, if you want even better instructions on how to write a sestina (and sonnets and villanelles and lot of other great stuff), you can also pick up a copy of my eBook: Tapping Creativity.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Talkin' Baseball :: A Tribute to My Grandmother

My grandmother passed away from cancer this Tuesday in the early hours. I've been struggling with it. She was my hero. I owe so much of who I am and who I try to be to her influence in my life.

I wrote this story,
Talkin' Baseball, about 8 years ago. It's a creative non-fiction piece that might help you understand how love doesn't always show itself in hugs and hearts. Sometimes it's in the determination to maintain hope when all seems hopeless.

I don't normally use this blog for editorial pieces, so please forgive. But those of you who read often surely understand.

Talkin' Baseball

I used to spend Friday nights at Grandma's house. Mom would drop me off at six o'clock and she and Dad would head off to their bowling league. Grandma would always have the best dinners: breaded pork chops, pot roast, or lasagna. None of it came from a can or a box like the stuff Mom made. Grandma would ask me about school and I would tell her whatever I was learning: cursive, multiplication tables, or how George Washington Carver invented peanut butter.

After dinner, she would do the dishes, grab a Pabst from the fridge and we'd head out to the living room to watch the Tiger's game. One evening, I told her how Derrick Spivey split his jeans trying to show me a kick he learned in Karate lessons. She told me about her father—about how he worked on the first Model T to come off the line and how he knew Henry Ford personally.

After another Pabst, I told her how Antonius Jones got caught bringing dirty magazines to school. She told me how her mother used to order her one new set of clothes from the Sears & Roebuck catalog every school year, and that she still saves bacon grease in Folgers cans because during The Depression they couldn't afford butter and had to use the grease instead.

I never knew my grandfather. I've seen only one picture of him; it was in a wrinkled brown paper bag in the back of the attic, next to a box of wire hangers and an old wooden rocking horse with the paint faded. Although the picture was only from the chest up, he looked like a short man—maybe five-six. He had a full head of thin hair that parted in the middle and curled at his ears. A low brow shaded his eyes and his moustache was full and light.

Grandma sat at the end of the pink corduroy couch, dragging on a non-filter Pall Mall. She exhaled smoke through her nose and it hung at eye level. No swirls. No rising. Just hanging. The mahogany end table on her left was collecting empty Pabst cans. Every twenty minutes another would join the group; you could set your watch to it.

After cracking open her eighth red, white, and blue can with her shakybone fingers, she pulled deeply from her Pall Mall and told me, Never ever hit a girl, no matter what she does. I asked her if it was okay if the girl hit me first. She said, No, not even then. Guys are stronger than girls and sometimes they don't think they're hitting a girl very hard, but they are. She poured back a swallow or two. She said I should never hit a girl for anything: not for punching me first, not for calling me names, not for making me frustrated, not for dropping one of the only plates left in the cupboard, not for forgetting to pick up the sugar even though it was on the list because, God Damn it, how am I supposed to drink my coffee without sugar, not for forgetting to patch the hole in the elbow of his shirt because two of the kids were sick with the chicken pox and I didn't even get any sleep myself the night before, and not because I just asked why you were home so late because I was worried, that's all. I swear.

I could see her eyes start to water and a tear slip into the creases that defined her face. I told her I had to go to the bathroom, hoping that it would stop things. And she asked if I could bring her another Pabst from the fridge when I came back.

When I returned from the bathroom, pulling my feet through the dry brown carpet, with a cold Pabst in hand, I asked her to tell me about the 1968 Tigers team and her favorite player, Denny McClain. You know, she said, he was the only player to ever win thirty games in one season; these pitchers today don't stay in the game long enough see that kind of success. She told me about the others: Mickey Lolich, Norm Cash, and Al Kaline. Longer gaps of silence grew between the names until she finally nodded off around Willie Horton or Bill Freehan.

I leaned her down on that pink corduroy couch, resting her head on one of the matching pillows, and got a brown wool blanket from the linen closet. Letting her cigarette burn out in the ashtray, I took all the empty cans back to the kitchen and put them into the case.

I climbed on the other couch and went through the 1984 Tigers—my Tigers—in my head. Starting with the outfield: Kirk Gibson, Chet Lemon, and Larry Herndon. Then the infield: Darrell Evans, "Sweet" Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell….

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Gettin' Organazized

So another year brings more resolutions. A big one on my list this year is to do less, but do it better. Like most other creatives I know, the curiosity of a new project can be irresistible, but a lack of organization tends to lead to a stack of half-finished project. Or, worse yet, a stack of finished projects that are only half as good as they could have been.

Most of the time, this blog is dedicated to creative techniques when it comes to tapping creativity. This time, however, we're going to take a quick look at some organizational techniques that should help you see more projects through to completion, while allowing dedicated time that each projects deserves.

The Scenario
If you are like me, at any given time you have a stack of projects of varying sizes/complexities going on all at once. So you end up scrambling from one project to the next, giving little pockets of time to each one. As a result, small projects wind up taking WAY longer to finish than they should, and some larger projects that sounded like excellent ideas (and may still) simply die on the vine, because you don't have the extended periods of time for the concentration that some of those larger projects take to do correctly.

Make The List
Start by making a checklist of your projects. I'm not talking about a mental checklist either. (After all, if we were good at making mental checklists, we probably wouldn't be so far behind in the first place, right?) I'm talking about grabbing a pen and paper or - even better - opening a (gasp) spreadsheet!

Yeah, I said it.

When you have your list together, sort them from smallest to largest.

Starting Small
By starting with smaller projects, you can accomplish three goals:

  • You can spend some time concentrating one these projects to get them done in the time it should take to get them done, rather than having them linger around and clutter up your mindspace.
  • By completing the smallest projects first, you can check them off of your list and actually see the progress you are making. Like a diet, the sooner you see the results from your efforts, the more motivated you become.
  • When you clear the smaller projects from your list, you create more room in your schedule more quickly. If need be, you can more easily begin a new project, as you'll have some room for it. That kind of flexibility is a big advantage for freelancers.
Getting Big
Okay, now that you've moved down your list to the bigger projects, you should already be seeing the benefits of this approach. Rather than spending 30 minutes on a few projects, or a few hours on each project once a week (or more), you get nice, big chunks of time to dedicate to the bigger projects. And you can do it more frequently.

For me, these larger chunks of time are perfect for a couple of reasons:
  • When I'm "in the zone," I can keep going and going without worrying about the mess of little projects that need to be finished.
  • When I'm up against the wall on a project, having extended periods of time to concentrate on the best way keep it moving is very handy. The added time spent on some of the more difficult aspects of executing certain creative ideas is also helpful.
Bring Them Both Together
One more approach I like to take involves breaking larger projects down to smaller parts. Writing a 20,000-word piece can seem like it takes a long time to finish if you are doing 1,000 words a day for 20 days. If you can break it down to 20 chapters, at 1,000 words each, you can "finish a project" every day.

Additionally, breaking a larger project into smaller parts like this can help you pick up where you left off and see the larger scope of the project at every step.

Back to that Resolution
So my main resolution was to do less, but to do it better. Who knows, though, if I'm more stringent about staying organazized, I'll be able to do more and do it better.