Tag Archives: creativity

The Myth of the Solitary Artist

14 Mar

Though the image of many famous artists is that of the painter or writer slaving away by themselves in their lonely studio or hunched over their antique typewriter high up in a tower somewhere, I have learned the exact opposite about the art of creating art.

Smithsonian castle sepia

Smithsonian ‘castle’

Art is never created in a vacuum. At the very least, artists are inspired and informed by the world around them. For some it is cities, for others: mountains. Or flowers or waterfalls or people. They observe color, light, movement, sound and they translate it onto their canvas, whatever canvas that is. For me, it’s a page and my paint is made of words.

My fellow writers are a treasure trove of stories not only because of their vast imaginations but because they feed their imaginations. Many love to travel, some to the opposite side of the globe, learning about different cultures and traditions; others to the closest subway station, eavesdropping on the conversations around them. The world is their collaborator though it doesn’t always know it.

In my experience writing is a team sport. Beyond gleaning from their interaction with the world, writers actively partner with many, many people most of whom give of their time freely in order to help that writer’s vision come to life. Here’s a short list:

  • Critique partners who give honest and necessary feedback in the earliest stages (love ya OWLS!)
  • Fellow writers in the community and at conferences who give encouragement and support
  • Bloggers who provide information, resources, and sometimes exposure and connections
  • More experienced writers who serve as mentors (thank you Lisa Lewis Tyre!)
  • Beta readers who give even more feedback once the story is complete
  • Industry professionals who attend conferences and contests giving information and sometimes feedback
  • Agents who generously provide feedback even when they’ve decided your work is not a fit for them
  • Agents who say “YES” and agree to represent you who help you get your manuscript into shape to sell and then work their tails off to sell your book on only promise of payment IF they sell it
  • Editors who read your work and provide feedback even if they will not be acquiring it
  • The editor who does agree to acquire it (squee!!) who works with you to polish it into the final product

Okay, so the list isn’t that short. And it doesn’t even include the whole team at the publishing house who helps ensure your book actually hits shelves (physical or electronic) with cover art and a minimum of typos. Which proves my point. Writing is a team sport. Don’t go it alone.

Without my writing “team”, I would not have completed two novel-length manuscripts and I wouldn’t have been able to see my stories with fresh eyes and take them to new levels. Of course, I haven’t yet added an agent or editor to my team. But I hope to soon. I’ve got some fabulous agents reading my work. Keep your fingers crossed that one of them is the right match for me.

 

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Violence, Women, and Art

5 Jun

Note: I drafted this post a few weeks ago, but hadn’t published it yet when events in the news spawned the #Yesallwomen conversation. I wasn’t sure I would publish it because I didn’t want to sound too preachy. But now, I’ve decided to, in the spirit of #Yesallwomen. (If you haven’t read the Twitter feed on that hashtag, do it. You will be amazed, horrified, nodding your head, saying ‘yes, me too’ and more).

 

Here’s my original post:

As someone who values and admires creativity, my ideals include validating and encouraging all art.  But reality has come smack dab up against my ideals.  Here’s the problem: violence against women.

The other day, I was listening to a streaming music station on my iPhone as I worked in the yard.  Happily, I clipped along to the playlist of one of my favorite artists. A song came on with a beat and lyricism that you cannot resist singing along to. It included a collaboration with a rap artist, embedded in the song. I love these collaborations – they’re super cool and interesting musically. I’d heard the song before, but had never really paid close attention to the lyrics. All the lyrics. As I did, they hit me like a ton of bricks. And I thought:

“This guy is calling a woman a b* and literally saying he’s going to eff her up because she isn’t pleasing him. And I’m singing it with him. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?” Yes, I was yelling at myself inside my head.

But then I said to myself, “Self, this isn’t the first song you’ve heard (or sung) with lyrics like this. Why are you freaking out now?”  And, then I freaked out even more at the fact that I hadn’t freaked out about this before. 

WHY hadn’t I freaked out before? WHEN did it become acceptable to glorify beating the stuffing out of a woman?  Are we in the Twilight Zone, people?  If you were to replace gender with race in these songs, people would completely lose it. And rightly so, because it would be wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Where is the outcry when these things are said against women?

In art, we explore many things. But when there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of songs which include lyrics that make it sound okay, normal or that glorify violence toward women, we are sending a message. A horrible message.  Millions of small choices make up our culture.  I, perhaps you, and millions of other men, women, teenagers and even young boys and girls are happily listening to lyrics that imply that women are: beneath men, here only to serve men, deserve to be harmed in some way if the men in their lives are not pleased.  And then we wonder why there is so much violence against women in the world. When we buy, stream and listen to these songs, we are saying it’s okay.  And, it’s NOT okay.

So, I’m making a small choice. I can only choose for myself, but I hope you’ll consider joining me. I’m not talking about censorship. I don’t believe in the big brother approach. I believe in the power of the market. The power of the people.  If people choose not to buy or otherwise support these songs, fewer of them will get made. Fewer of these hateful messages will be put out there.  And fewer little boys and little girls will grow up thinking that women are nothing but objects that deserve to be used and abused.

From now on, I will not buy songs that have a mysoginist message, I won’t stream them, and I’m removing them from my playlists. I admit I’ll be sad to see some of the songs go, because I do love me a nasty bassline. But it’s gotta be done.

Let Your Little Light SPARKLE

24 Dec
This creative family e-card conceived by hostingthemuse inspired me to do something fun.

This creative family e-card conceived by hostingthemuse inspired me to do something fun.

Once again this year I failed to take a decent family picture and send out holiday cards in the snail mail. So last weekend, inspired by Chick Eva, I realized that my last hope was to do something electronic. Eva is the source of much of the creative mischief in my life, so feel free to blame her for what followed.

Last Friday I got this idea for a song in my head and started fooling around at the piano. As a Florida native, I’ve never seen a white Christmas. Nor have my kids, who listen with wide-eyed amazement as my husband regales vivid tales of playing in snow during his childhood in Chicago. Why not have fun with the juxtaposition of wishing for snow in Florida when we literally were in even the 80’s over the weekend? How cool would that be?

My husband shook his head at me the way he does when he knows I’m taking on something I shouldn’t and he’ll be forced to help me. He covered me with that look that says, “Really? Again? Why?” He pretends I’m forcing him to play along with me, but I know that secretly he likes it.

Grumbling that the chord progression was too hard to remember and that he’d never be able to play it all together, he sat down next to me. We’re two music hacks trying to arrange a song, and it’s a frustrating process. But he kept working, making music from my clunking notes. “This is all I want for Christmas,” I pleaded.

Later that day, while driving my daughter to her roller skating class, I tossed my notebook to the back seat so we could brainstorm ideas for the video. She sighed loudly, as only an almost-thirteen-year-old girl can do, reluctantly scratching pencil to paper as I suggested possible visual shots we might take. She rejected thought after thought I suggested. “That’s a stupid idea,” she hissed after one. “I just don’t see the point of doing it all.”

I clawed the wheel. This was her inner critic lashing out at me, even herself. I felt adrenaline surge in my chest as if a dark hunter were trying to steal my precious bear cub. If we weren’t already late for skating, I might have pulled over.

“Don’t say stupid,” I rebuffed her before proceeding. “And don’t ever…ever call an idea stupid. You have a long time to become fearful and bitter and cynical. You’re only 12. You have a lifetime ahead of the world and experience telling you not to try, that things are too hard, that your creative ideas are stupid, pointless, worthless. Don’t start blocking yourself now, or I promise you, you’ll never feel fully fulfilled. It’s taken me a long time to stop listening to that voice in my head telling me not to be bothered, not to risk being laughed at, or worse yet, ignored. I’m 41; if you can learn from my painful journey, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

“I believe that the God who created the universe gave us the gift of creating, too. It’s a healing gift, maybe the only hope for the world you’ll grow up in, a world that often seems like it’s better suited to hating, tearing down and destroying–even killing–than to loving, building up and creating. Maybe that’s why God came to earth as a baby; maybe it’s the most beautiful literary metaphor of all time. I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know everything, and sometimes I question everything. It’s okay to question, to not know. But please don’t kill your artist now. I love you too much to see it happen to you, too… ” I drifted from my emotional diatribe back into silence.

“Fine,” my daughter finally said. “What if we had our big nutcracker lip sync one of the refrains?”

My five-year-old son was enthusiastic from the start, especially when I promised him he’d get to sing into the “mike-a-phone.” We spent the weekend working as a family, even roping in some of our awesome neighbors. Below is the result of our shared efforts. From our family and community to yours, Merry Christmas!

November Power Word: FLAVOR!

9 Nov

During this kickoff season of notoriously unhealthy eating, focus on FLAVOR in your work as well as your diet. Forgo fatty fillers that add nothing to the content of your creation. Limit the sugary sweetness that in excess dulls the palette and even makes one nauseous. Instead, savor the FLAVOR! Spicy, saucy, tangy or tart; rich, deep, succulent or simmered–that’s the stuff feasts are made of.

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SOAR! to See More

10 Oct

Do you ever feel like your project is just too big, too difficult for you to handle? I did. Whenever I’d start to work on my novel, or more precisely think about working on it, I’d more often than not culminate in overwhelmed defeat and just give up.

SOAR: Feel free to expand.

SOAR: Feel free to expand.

Then last fall, I received a piece of advice from author Mark Spencer that has changed my perspective: Don’t be afraid to expand. 

This gem came to me while taking an online class through Writer’s Digest University, for which Mark was my amazing instructor. Besides writing the actual submissions each week, which was very motivating, I would whine ventexpress to my Mark how overwhelmed I felt by the whole process of trying to write. He assured me that my despondent, neurotic anxieties were actually ‘normal behavior’ for writers, thereby proving myself to be one.

Still, I complained that I didn’t even know if I could fit my story into one book, which is when he told me to feel free to expand. What a horrifying suggestion, I thought at first, to make it bigger than it already was! In retrospect, my fear was telling me to make the story smaller, simpler, easier. But the story itself was telling me otherwise. Mark told me to listen to the story, and in so doing, to myself.

When you're SOARING, the size of the sky is freeing, not frightening.

When you’re SOARING, the size of the sky is freeing, not frightening.

This fall, I’m taking WDU’s Advanced Novel Writing course. Mark’s helping me through another chunk of my novel, impelling me with insights and encouraging feedback that only an experienced author can give.

It’s still a bit scary to look at it all from up high, seeing how much there is yet to be done.

But with my synopsis providing my birds-eye view, I can soar down to my sharply focused target–crafting one precious scene at a time–without fearing the size of the surrounding sky.

TWIST and BOUNCE to Progress

5 Sep

Attention, OK-Mart shoppers: this month I’m offering a BOGO. Blog One power word, Get One free! Like that multi-tasking TWIST?

Once again this fall, I’ve undertaken a Writer’s Digest online class to force me at gunpoint inspire me to make progress on my historical novel. So August had me twisting to churn out 15,000 words. And by TWIST I mean writhing and squirming on the floor from the pain of an inescapable deadline.

To make it, I had to say ‘no’ to volunteering more at my daughter’s school, which was very hard for me to do. I also put my son in full-day preschool, which was even harder. I thought I would be overridden by guilt. Instead, I was energized and motivated by such a generous gift to myself, a gift that my inner artist deeply appreciates and is returning in kind.

LA InterchangeStill, I struggle with my internal antagonists: insecurity, indecision, imperfection. Once I get going in a scene or section of a scene, I’m happy in the process of actual, you know, writing. To me, crafting dialogue is the icing on the Brussels sprouts. But it takes a lot out of me to get there or decide the exact events within a given scene. I get stalled, even overwhelmed, by the infinite possibilities. It’s like Frost’s The Road Less Traveled but on the twisted East LA Interchange. It’s hard to see where each road will take me, if it will connect to my other roads, and even how to find the right on ramp.

All roads diverged at a point of plot,
And sorry I could not travel each
And be one writer, long I thought
And looked down one longer than I ought
To where it bent in the story line…

This is where the BOUNCE comes in. When I encounter an interchange or detour, my natural inclination is to pull off at the next exit for a Diet Coke and Snickers, maybe catch a movie, flip through my Facebook, alphabetize the cereal boxes in my pantry–anything to avoid driving.  However, I am retraining myself to bounce through it instead.

Taking on a buoyant attitude of BOUNCE propels me from a defeatist all-or-nothing something-is-wrong-with-me mentality to a resilient something-or-something-else whatever-gets-me-to-the-next-sentence outlook. Once through a stressful trouble spot, I can relax again. Even if I’m not exactly sure where I’m going, I took a road to keep traveling. And that has made all the difference.

DIVE! to Your Quiet Place

26 Jun

You’re standing at the deep end, waiting for a clearing, your toes palpating the smooth brick edgers. The pool is packed. Children squeal and splash, whine and wade. Parents chase and cajole. A toddler passes behind you screaming, “Nooo!”

You bend your knees and stretch your arms forward, bringing your hands to a point. You, too, are a parent. You, too, are a child. So you dive.

Gliding below the surface with a gentle break, you slope onward and downward. You open your hold and touch your splayed fingers to the bottom. When you look up through the rippled light, bodies run but their words are muted, distant. At last you can hear your own thoughts, your own words. You realize that you can stay here for as long as you want. You’ve always felt restless, but now you rest contently in your comforting, watery quietude.

You are a mermaid, one made for two worlds. For you, breathing the water below the surface is as natural and essential as the air above it. When you stay on land too long, you suffocate. To this peaceful place you long to return, muffling the noises and focusing on your private passion. Here is where you find your flow. Ideas pour out, and time passes unnoticed. Why did you wait so long, you wonder, so long to return to this place you love.

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Have you ever had a dream like this, too, that you could breathe underwater? For us mermaids, going down for creative air is essential. But contrary to common artistic guilt, getting there does not require planning a solo vacation. Instead, we each can slip into it unnoticed amid the chaos by claiming small moments with ourself and our laptop, piano, paints, sewing machine, whatever.

During this season of busy family fun, how do you get to your quiet place? What would you like to do next there?

May Power Word: PADDLE!

1 May

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAImagine yourself in your own personal boat on a long winding river. Like others around you, before you and behind you, you want to move through the waters of your creative project, right?

You could just float on the surface and see what happens. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you might be carried somewhere downstream, where most people end up. Or you might drift sideways back to the bank not far from where you started. Then you could just stay still out in the middle and wait, hoping that those nearby alligators don’t decide you look like lunch.

But NO! You are not like most people, my friend. You are strong. And you are one of my creative Chicks! That’s why this month I, the Muse, want  you to muster your strength and power ahead.  I want you to PADDLE!

Whether the waters are still where you are now or full of currents trying to pull you backwards, I want you to propel yourself forward.  Only then can you view the dramatic waterfall instead of plunge down it. Stroke by stroke, push your creative muscles. Even when you’re tired and soreespecially thenjust keep paddling!

DIG! Gold in the Mountains

20 Mar

beachmound2I am greedy gold digger. And you can be, too. But first, a day trip.

Last Saturday we met up with my husband’s family in nearby Cocoa Beach. As I enjoyed chatting with my sister-in-law from a low lounge chair, I watched Michael help my son build a sandcastle.

“What is that?” I asked my husband when he returned.

“A castle,” he said. “With a mote, see?”

To be clear, this was not a castle. It was a hill of sand with a plastic shovel shoved on top. Slurping the last of my Diet Coke, I prepared to answer the call. I would mold this plain monolith into an architectural triumph truly worthy of its oceanfront real estate. Or so I thought.

beachmoundThat’s how it is at the outset of imagining our creative project. We envision a grand construction, replete with well-hewn walls, arcing steps and majestic spires. Digging around our idea is the easy part. But like my sandy heap, when we dig into itto form it into something more than a moundit can feel like an unmanageable mountain. Parts we thought we were solid start to crumble as we touch them.

That’s how it was with my would-be historical novel. My initial years of staggered research would have never ended either, if it hadn’t been for my Chicks pushing me past it. I’d still be digging myself into a hole, hoping to find new treasure to help my story take shape. I was hiding under the seemingly legitimate cover of research, convinced I needed more to put it all together.

“You have enough,” Eva told me one day as we floated around her pool. “Don’t be afraid to fill in the blanks.” Some time later she gave me a pirate reference book I didn’t have, in which she wrote further assurances:

“Tracey, you fought a good fight, did all the research possible and now is time to walk the plank. Don’t be scared and jump right in. The water will feel warm and calming, and all those ideas will come out flowing.”

While Florida gopher turtles like this one dig holes in my yard for shelter, I want to come out of my safe hole and do a different kind of digging.

While Florida gopher turtles like this one dig holes in my yard for shelter, I want to come out of my safe hole and do a different kind of digging.

Every time I start a new scene, which I’m happy to say I did again this week, I get scared anew. The urge is to dig down into the earth to search for more glittering gems, or worse yet, to simply avoid picking up a shovel altogether.

But in order to actually create something, I need to dig inside. Inside my settings.  Inside my characters’ heads. Inside my plot. Inside my imagination.

“I have enough,” I remind myself. “Fill in the blanks.”

That’s where I’m digging now, onward and upward. I’m proud to be the greedy climber I am today. Inside is where the gold is. And however long it takes, I’m determined to find it, up in these here mountains.

March Power Word: DIG!

28 Feb

It’s almost Spring.  Can you dig it?

I love every season. What I most love about Spring are the buds that begin peeking out, bringing color back to nature’s palette.  Before that can happen, though, seeds must be sown. It’s no different with creativity. As a creative gardener, I dig deep into the soil, or rather, the soul.  There, I bury seeds and trust that my Chicks, and all of you, will water them, give them light, clear the weeds away and usher them into the world.

One of these seeds is already blossoming and will be revealed tomorrow across the web, including on this blog.  I’m soooo excited about it, but that’s all I can say at this point, other than check back here tomorrow!

In the meantime, the power word for March is: DIG!   How will you use it?

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