Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Where I'm From

If you have had the opportunity James Joyce's Ulysses, or any of Joyce's works for that matter, one thing that comes to the surface is that the city of Dublin takes on its own character persona. Because all stories need an environment in which to take place, the ability create an environment that is as identifiable as any other character in a story is valuable skill indeed.

It's one thing to say this, however, and something all together different to execute. For one, we are trained, as writers, to always be moving the story forward. With characters as a main focus, we learn to make their stories move. The right environment, though, can make that story even better.

One hurdle that young writers face is in thinking that, because they come from a small town, there is nothing exciting to take from that experience. They try to set stories in big cities like New York or Chicago. The reality of this situation is that small towns are teeming with unique characters, dirty laundry, and oddball traditions. Big cities, however, harbor their own sense of anonymity fostered by the impersonal nature that comes with large populations.

To start figuring out how to create an environment that has character depth, start making notes about what makes your town so unique. If you live in a big city, focus on what makes your neighborhood so unique.

Where I'm from:

  • Strangers wave hello as they drive by. The motive is two-fold. Of course, it's just good manners. It also lets you know they are taking notice of who is around.

  • It's okay to close the bar as long as you don't miss the VFW pancake breakfast the next morning. You can bring your hangover; you won't be the only one.

  • You ALWAYS tip the girl scooping your ice cream, because she is 16, her wrist hurts from scooping for the last 7 hours, and she's working hard instead of sitting at home on facebook... and that still matters.

  • The land is so flat that the sunset takes an hour. And for that hour, the sky is painted the most beautiful shades of blue, orange, and pink you have ever seen. In fact, it's so beautiful that sometimes, you watch the sunset for the whole hour.
These are just a few examples. What you can see shaping up here is a pretty consistent backdrop. The way it affects a love story, a mystery, or even a comedy can add a new dimension. It's the invisible character that colors the story, provides calm or tension, and whispers that the story still continues even after the last page is finished.

So go ahead. Start making your list. What's it like where you're from?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

10 Ways to Hurdle Writer's Block

Hi, friends. Been awhile since my last blog post and I thank those of you who waited patiently for my return. While my delay was mainly because of personal reasons, often delays are caused by a much more common and dreaded problem: Writer's Block.

While my book, Tapping Creativity is completely dedicated to helping writers find new ways to stay productive an conquer writer's block, in this post we are going to look at 10 quick and easy ways to work around writer's block now.

  1. Meditate. Often, writer's block is a fueled by overthinking. We want so much for the muse to return, that we start focusing more on our technique and skills and less time on letting a story happen. So go someplace quiet and empty your head. Don't think about anything. Clean the slate. Do it a few times if you have to.

  2. Make Something Else. In my experience, writing is just one of several creative outlets that writers pursue. Some are also painters, graphic designers, or musicians. I am a musician. When the writing is not happening, the music usually is. In fact, some of you may know me as scarecrow in other online venues.

  3. Lean On Other Writers. Writer's groups exist for a reason. Other writer's understand our plight intimately and can share ways to help us get pass the block. Whether it's a technique or reviewing a work in progress and helping you see where you are trying to go ... even when you can't see it yourself.

  4. Just Do It. Ever notice writer's block is rarely a problem when you have a hard deadline. It's because you can't wait for inspiration, you have to write regardless. So why wait for someone else to set a deadline for you? Do it yourself.

  5. Get Inspired. Sometime's writer's block is manifests in a lack of inspiration. After all, it's not like you don't want to write, you just can't up with something to write about. Instead of waiting it out, go to the artists who inspire you. A couple of hours with Wallace Stevens, Diego Rivera, Bjork, or Frank Lloyd Wright and I can usually start rocking the keyboard again.

  6. Work Out. Writer's block is stressful, just like any situation when you can't bring about the results you desire. As mentioned earlier, though, writer's block can also be self-perpetuating where the focus shifts to the block itself. So go run, bike, walk, swim, play hoops, whatever. It will alleviate the stress and help make the block easier to break.

  7. Think Inside The Box. Sometimes it's the seemingly endless ways to get started that is daunting. So slim it down. Force yourself to work within certain parameters. Limit your sentence to 7 words. Implement a rhyme scheme. Whatever you do, just force a new element into the equation. It will change the way you approach the work, and a little change is just what you need.

  8. Big Picture. Getting bogged down in details can bring your writing to screeching halt. You know how it is: you want to get from Point A to Point B, but you can't figure it out. Don't sweat it. Put sections/scenes into big picture blocks. Put a few notes about each on index cards, then organize them. This forces you to back out of "details" mode and look at your work for the bog picture. Looking at the forest instead of the trees is often enough to break the block.

  9. The Remix. Who says remixing is just for musicians? Try taking something you have already written and switch it up. Play with sentence length, tone, chronology, voice. If it is narrative, make it a poem. This forces you to evaluate your writing and see what new things you can bring to it. It will get tehe creative juices flowing again.

  10. Ventriliquism. As writers, our voice is shaped by the voices of writers whom we have grown to love. These are voices we know well. If you are stuck on a part, then, ask yourself: How would Hemingway write this; how would Rushdie write this; etc. By using the voice of a writer you love, you may find the voice you are searching for to keep a piece moving.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. It could, however, be the list you pin up in your work area and come back to when you get writer's block. Remember, these aren't exclusive solution. You can try more than one. You can even combine some of them. The ultimate goal is to change your frame of mind enough to get the words going again.

Hope this helps.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin :: American Icon

George Carlin has passed away of a heart attack at 71-years-old. I mention it here because he was, in my opinion, one of the few creative thinking entertainers to reach such a level of popularity. Here is an example. Caution, some swearing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Karma and Creativity

Karma and Creativity
Sometimes I hear people say, "Karma is going to get that person." Usually it's when someone behaves in an unpleasant or unethical way. The sentiment, of course, is that what you put into something is what will come back to you. Dependant on your motivation, however, that is less like karma and more like a boomerang or a checking account.

In Buddhism, it is recognized that life is suffering. To free yourself from suffering, you must lead a life that eliminates the causes of suffering, such as attachment to material objects, dependence on substances or people, and more. You also must extend compassion to all beings. By extending that compassion, you can help alleviate the suffering of others.

This notion of compassion can be seen paralleled in other religions, such a Christianity, when Jesus even extended love and compassion to those who did him harm. When we practice this love and compassion, we too enrich our own lives, and extend the invitation for compassion and love from others. Be careful, however, the reason to extend compassion should not be in anticipation of receiving it in return, but simply because it is the right thing to do. Often, we realize the benefits of this sort of behavior, but because this life is inherently one of suffering, it is perfectly common to extend compassion in every aspect of your life, yet continue to endure suffering

So what does all of this have to do with creativity? It deals directly with your motivation for creating. If you are writing , painting, composing, or dancing strictly for money and adoration, you are creating for the wrong reasons. When this happens, you invite suffering, because invariably, some people will not like what you have created.

If, however, you create because, as a creative person, it is the right thing to do, you will find your work much more rewarding. I would argue that the artist writes because only he can put those words to the page. The artist paints because his imagination and the blank canvas interact in a way that is uniquely hers. When the artist composes, it is because his song has never been sung before. When the artist dances, it is because her body is led by her spirit.

A funny thing happens when you create for yourself. You will notice that, the more you do it, the more your spirit comes through. The easier it becomes to write your story or sing your song. Compliments will mean more; and your detractors will mean less.

Like compassion, when you practice creativity, you free your spirit. And that is more valuable than any paycheck or critic's praise. And in some respects, that is the true reward of karma in creativity.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Story in Your Hands

As parents, raising our children gives us the opportunity to relive certain parts of our own lives--parts we may have even forgotten about entirely. Last week, I took my daughter to perform (along with the rest of her pre-school class) at her school's talent show. As I held her little hand when we walked into the auditorium, her hand squeezed mine and I could feel that combination of excitement and nervousness.

I took her to join the rest of her classmates. And as my wife and I took our seats, I started to think about the way my daughter squeezed my hand, because it was a sensation my hand had never felt before.

Though I'm only 32, my hands have felt many things. They have felt what it was like to grow up in poverty, taking hand-me-down coats and mittens from local charities so that I did not freeze in bitter cold Detroit winters. They have felt what it was like to ball into a fist, and break the nose of a local bully who was picking on my baby sister. They have felt the turning off hundreds of thousands of pages, as books became not only an escape, but eventually a career. They have felt the blisters growing on fingertips as I labored for hours every day to learn the guitar. And years later they felt the joy of being able to dance across a guitar neck with Satriani-esque precision. They have felt the bite of handlebar rubber as I raced my mountain bike off of cliffs and around hairpin corners. And they have felt several of their fingers broken in a 28 MPH downhill wipeout.

My hands have felt their knuckles whiten as they clenched the phone, trying desperately to talk a friend off the ledge of suicide...and failing. And they have felt their other selves the first time I held my wife's hands in my own. They have also held my daughter, minutes after her birth, with her head badly bruised and her body bloody from a very difficult delivery. And those same hands have held her fevered body close to mine, rocking until we both fell asleep.

Last week, though, my hands experienced something new. They felt the sensation of my daughter as she readied herself to perform in front of others for the first time in her life. They clapped fervently and with immeasurable pride as she performed so well. And they hugged her so close when she was done, letting her know that, on that stage and every other stage she will encounter in her life, I love her and will always be there for her.

And as she hugged me back, her little hands were creating another story.

What about you? What is the story in your hands?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Clearly, I'm Unemployed.

I had a unique experience today. For the first time in my entire working life (16 years to date), I was let go. While I'm still unclear as to the reason, I refuse the let the change get me down. Whenever I've moved from one position to another, I've always been thankful for the opportunities I've been given, appreciative of the new things I've been able to learn, and eager to begin moving forward at doing my best in the next adventure. This is no exception.

In many respects, this change will allow me to move forward with other interests I have put on hold out of a basic respect for my former employer. Because that is no longer and issue, I'm putting myself out there.

As of now, I'm available on a freelance basis for those who would like the benefit of a writer (both copywriting and creative writing) with no shortage of ideas, a crazy good work ethic, and an ability to get along swimmingly with anyone. I'm also available for speaking engagements regarding the nature of creativity and how to harness it. And because my creativity knows no bounds, I'm also available for audio production/scoring engagements as I have my own studio and more than 10 years of production experience.

Moving forward, I do have some plans that might interest all of you. I'm currently working on the second edition of my book, Tapping Creativity. I'll be updating sections on blogging and others, as well as including my free eBook "The Lonely Writer". That said, if there are topics that you would like to see covered in the book and on this blog, please feel free to comment.

Also, if you purchase the first edition of Tapping Creativity now, I will send you a copy of the second edition for free when it is completed (and before it is available for sale). You can purchase Tapping Creativity here or contact at tappingcreativity@gmail.com to purchase that way...or, you know, because you want to see a fantastic resume.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Clearly I'm Mistaken

Clearly I'm MistakenToday's post is a short one, but one that should pay off over and over again. It's about mistakes. We all make them, especially typos. Oh, the typos!

One of the most difficult disciplines for a writer to master is to turn off the internal editor until a draft is written. If we start to edit before we finish writing, it makes the whole process last so much longer. Why, oh why, then, do we leave that spell check on while we write? It's a constant reminder that we have made a mistake.

But so what?

Of course I make mistakes. If I'm going to wait to until a draft is done before I go back and fix it up, however, then why would I want to stop my creative flow to fix the typos while I am writing. I think this constant fixing of typos really breaks the creative flow. For the next week, I challenge you to turn off your spelling and grammar check while you are writing. Or you could use a basic text editor such as Notepad or Textpad. See if it makes a difference in your ability to get ideas on the page.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The MacGyver Guide to Creativity

The MacGyver Guide to Creativity
If you are old enough to remember MacGyver, the first thing that comes to mind is his amazing ability to fashion new devices from just about anything. (Okay, maybe the amazing hair is the first thing that comes to mind, but that device thing is a very close second.) It's this ability that made the character of MacGyver a television legend.

At the core of every conflict was MacGyver's ability to use his creativity to solve a problem. Really, the guy could make a detonation device from a shoelace, some nail polish, and a can of green beans. One of the points I talk about a lot on this blog being able see everyday objects in a new way. MacGyver had an innate ability to see those everyday objects and create new relationships between with them.

What Would MacGyver Do?
As writers, relationships are the foundation upon which everything we write is build. Because characters exist in real world scenarios, the potential for the unexpected relationship exists in every environment in which a story is taking place.

If you were given seemingly unrelated items, could you fashion a coherent narrative from them? For instance, what would you do with a firefighter, a case of candy canes, and an impending tornado? Could you create a story from these three elements? I bet you could. And what's more is that the story I create from those three elements would be very different from the story that Kimberly might. And those would both be very different from the one that Kathryn would create.

This is the difference that is established by the inner creativity we bring to each relationships. Going beyond our normal patterns of perception and looking for relationships in everything is the first step in tapping creativity. And it doesn't matter if you are a writer, musician, painter, interior decorator, or programmer. It's when you find new meaning in relationships that your creativity flourishes.

Next time you find yourself in a creative rut, ask yourself: What Would MacGyver Do?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Co-Creating :: The Power of Two

In my last post, I presented an eBook that dealt with ways to stay focused when writing, because writing is, for the most part, a solitary endeavor. In this post, we are going to look at the power of tapping creativity with others.

One item I touch upon regularly is that much of creativity comes from changing your perspective. If you can see everyday objects in a new way, you can them present them in a way that is more consistent with your unique artistic vision. Sometimes this means finding new details in relationships between different objects, people, opinions, perceptions, or any combination of those. And sometimes, it’s just about looking at a solitary object from a different frame of reference.

The Power of Two
When you co-create with someone, the ability to change your frame of reference and find something unique in relationship is magnified tremendously. Indeed, having another person creating with you means working with a frame of reference that is naturally different from your own. You don’t need to try looking at something differently; your co-creator is doing that.

What develops, then, is two people with different perspectives and views trying to bring them together. Nearly always, the end results of distinctly different than what either could have accomplished as individuals. If you have ever worked at an ad agency, the dynamics between a copywriter and art designer are essential in creating something special and new. It magnifies the creativity.

Take The Beatles, for example. John and Paul were arguably the greatest songwriting team in the history of rock music. Post-Beatles, however, their solo efforts sounded distinctly different from The Beatles. While both were able to go on to successful solo careers, I would argue that John, without Paul’s songwriting sensibilities, was given to sentimentalism. And Paul, without with John’s primal passion, was much more predictable.

It’s the magic in co-creating that makes some works of art timeless.

Beyond Creating
When my grandmother recently passed, I took some time to really reflect on our relationship and why she was so important to me. Beyond her incredible character, my grandmother is the one who sewed the seeds of creativity in me. She was not a writer or a musician. I don’t think “artistic” is a word that was ever used to describe her. What she knew how to do, though, was build relationships.

She would take me to the store and we would get paint-by-number sets and do them together. When I was learning guitar, she would ask me to learn songs she liked. She never made cookies for me, she asked me to help her make cookies. It was the nurturing of relationship and the ability to work together to achieve something new that showed me, beginning at a very young age, how rewarding it was to create…and how special it can be to create something new with someone else.

Your Homework
When you are creative, you likely have creative friends. Call one tonight and pitch an idea. Perhaps you have a photographer friend who has images that will inspire your writing. Perhaps the two of you can go to new location, while one writes and the other snaps pictures; then bring the two together and see how it works. Then figure out how you can make it work even better.

Or you can simply call a friend to come over and bake cookies with you. I bet they’ll taste better that way.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Free eBook :: The Lonely Writer

As a thank you to faithful readers of this blog, I'm offering up a free copy of my eBook, The Lonely Writer.

This eBook was inspired by a set of posts that originally occurred on this blog last year. Being a writer, or any creative type, poses some very common challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the solitary nature of creation when we, as humans, are instinctively social creatures. That is the focus of The Lonely Writer. It looks at these challenges and offers suggestions to help you stay a focused and productive writer...no matter what you write.

People are talking:
"I have been in a funk and The Lonely Writer couldn't have came at a better time for me."
- Yicrosoft Directory Girl

"The Lonely Writer was very informative and inspiring. I am trying to overcome this HUGE mental writer's block right now, and your book could not have come at a better time."
- Jim Moon

So enjoy The Lonely Writer and thanks for reading Tapping Creativity.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Having Goals :: Eyes on the Prize

Having Goals :: Eyes on the PrizeThe nature of creativity is often unpredictable. In some cases, it's easiest to tap creativity when all of the fences are down and your muse has the freedom to roam. At other times, there needs to be a goal or finish line (or deadline) in place to motivate the muse. In this post, we are going to talk about the latter.

For 2008, my sole resolution was to do less, but do it better. This resolution was motivated by my having many half-finished projects lying around. Coming up with great ideas has always been my strength--following through on them, however, well...not so much.

This year, I've taken to making a list of goals. I'm happy to say that so far, I've accomplished two of them. I've released a compilation of indie musicians called Notes From The Underground. And I've put the finishing touches on a free eBook that will be uploaded to this blog in a few days.

Making the list is key, because progress is encouraging. The list keeps me focused. As I make it further into projects, I'm also realizing I'm encountering new challenges that come from the latter stages of idea development. This learning has a snowball effect as solutions in some projects are helpful when applied to other unfinished projects and future projects.

I've made lists with pen and paper. I'm also fond of 43 Things, which allows me to not only create a goal, but write a short entry about it. I can also see others who share my goals, as well as a variety of goals that others are striving toward. These options are also motivating.

Create some goals. Make a list. Channel your creativity.

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.

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.