It’s shaping up to be a very goal-oriented year for me. I’m pretty sure I’m trying to make up for how unmotivated and unproductive I felt during 2014! The one thing that’s saving me from feeling overwhelmed by all these things I want to accomplish this year is remembering that most of my goals are things I find fun. Not all of them (exercise comes to mind), but most of them. And that really makes a difference!
Articulating my goals has been helpful, too, especially in terms of keeping me accountable. Yesterday was the first day of the new year, and I did everything I said I’d do! (This is huge for me, by the way – discipline and I are not usually the best of friends, except when it comes to work deadlines.)
I’ve already discussed my bookish/reading goals for 2015. Here are my writing and creativity goals for the new year:
1. Write 1,500 words every day.
Since I’m using SMART goals this year (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely), I decided on a specific number of words, instead of just saying “I’m going to write every day”. At first I picked 2,000 words, but today, as I was sitting down to Scrivener and writing, I thought to myself, “I’m not going to make 2,000 words today” so I went to the word count spreadsheet I’m using and changed my daily goal to 1,500.
Mind you, after all that, I ended up writing 2,220 words today. But still, I want this goal to be doable but not stressful, right? Anyway, even at 1,500 words a day, I’d still end up with 547,500 words at the end of the year, which would be nice.
2. Be #CreativeEveryDay
I’ve signed up for the Creative Every Day challenge in previous years – and failed spectacularly (meaning, I’d sign up and then promptly and conveniently “forget” I’d signed up). This year, though, I’m prepared. I’ve got a stack of books to go to if I need an idea plus a number of inspirational artsy sites bookmarked. And for additional motivation I’m in a Facebook group with a few other book bloggers who are interested in art journaling.
I’ve also set up a Tumblr blog to which I’ll upload a daily photo (I’ll do the same with Instagram, but I’ll be a day behind on there, I think). The Tumblr blog is pretty sparse right now – I haven’t even selected a template! But I figured it was more important to be accountable than it was to have a pretty looking Tumblr, especially since I know myself well enough to know if I made a “pretty little Tumblr” my priority, I wouldn’t have things ready until mid-way through the year!
3. My 365 Day Project
I’ll post more about my 365 day project in a few days, but I’ve decided to do a writing prompt a day. This is my first 365 day project, so I’m a little nervous. But the challenge I’ve set up for myself is small and fun, so hopefully I’ll have some success with it.
4. Daily Brainstorming in My Book of Lists
I haven’t started this yet, but I’ll be adding it to my daily routine once I have everything else on track. The plan is to begin a “Book of Lists” as an idea resource. I decided I wanted to give this a try back in the fall after talking with Suey about the Laini Taylor presentation and writing workshop she attended. Suey got me all excited about starting a book of lists to generate ideas, and then I googled around and found a post Laini Taylor wrote on her Not for Robots site about ideas and brainstorming and got even more excited (she also has a great post on writing a novel here). And I’ve wanted to do this ever since. Just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
One of my plans is to use my brainstorming time to “fill the well” in my Book of Lists. I have stacks and stacks of nonfiction books about all sorts of strange and interesting things, very few of which I’ve actually read. Despite this, I keep accumulating them (but usually when they’re at a discount, thank goodness).
So now’s my chance to put them to good use. I’m going to start collecting tidbits of interesting information from these books in my Book of Lists.
Another plan is to do “100s lists”, where you just sit down and brainstorm a hundred things. I’m thinking it might work well when plotting a story or developing a character, and also for worldbuilding. I’m not much of an outliner, so any way I can get more information down before I start writing will probably be helpful.
5. A Personal Photo a Day
I’d also like to begin documenting my life in photos, mainly because I have this tendency to live a hermit’s life and having to take an interesting photo every day should help me change that. I have a lovely DSLR camera that I still need to learn to use, but for now I’m quite content to use my iPhone. I’ve never been very good about taking daily photos, but that will, hopefully, change this year. Instagram is definitely a good motivator!
So these are my writing and creativity goals for the new year. What about you? Did you set any creative nonbookish goals for 2015?
I love art journaling, although I don’t have as much time (read: almost never) for it as I’d like. But while I may not bring out the acrylic paints and paintbrushes as often as I should, I do find myself devouring lots and lots of books about art journaling.
My main complaint about many of the art journaling and mixed media books I’ve read over the years is that there’s often a feeling of sameness to them. The color palettes, the basic styles, the overall look – often one book will mesh into another and in my memory they become one long book, the pages virtually indistinguishable from each other.
Not so with Nichole Rae’s Art Journal Art Journey: Collage and Storytelling for Honoring Your Creative Process. I opened this book and was engrossed from page one. Unlike most other books on art journaling or mixed media, Nichole begins by plunging us right into her journaling process, and it’s a great process on its own, whether or not you decide to take what you’ve written and create an art journal out of it.
Her method of art journaling begins with her journaling process, which she does on the computer. She works with a list-style format of journaling which in her case reads beautifully, like poetry. It’s a very original, organic process, and just reading about it gave me lots of ideas for journaling different themes, which is something else she talks about. I always have so many ideas about various projects I want to work on, and I love how Nichole’s journaling process gives you permission to work on many themes at any given time:
“I often start multiple journal documents on my computer to set the writing process in motion. I save them to my desktop and am able to work on them little by little. Over time I will have a collection to use for my projects. Once I begin these journaling documents, my heart feels content to know they are created and will evolve with time. The simple joy of having them started provides comfort, knowing they are there to visit at any time.”
Once you feel you’re ready to print out one of your journal projects, it’s time to get into the creative process of putting all the pieces into a book. Nichole uses old, hardbound books for this process, and one thing I love is how she also incorporates pages from old books into her journals, in a method that’s a little similar to Austin Kleon’s blackout poetry, but with colour and without having to black most things out.
If you’re not a fan of working with altered books her techniques can definitely be applied to any blank sketchbook. I’ve made a few altered books before but have never really enjoyed the process. I don’t like having to glue pages together, or gesso them either, and I often lost the inspiration while I had to wait for the pages to dry. What I like about Nichole’s method is she doesn’t gesso the pages to give herself a blank canvas. Instead, she covers the page with a page from her printed journal and, in some cases, uses part of the page as her background or as part of the focus of the page.
While the discussion about laying out and assembling the pages is interesting, probably my second favourite part of the book, after the section on the journaling process, is the section on the creative mini projects.
“Working on a mini project while you are in the process of collecting and gathering supplies for your main project is a great way to be creative during this process. … I use mini projects to inspire my creativity and to help jumpstart the creative process.”
The mini project that appeals to me the most is the Inspirational Card Deck. There are just SO many possibilities for this one project. Not just from an art perspective, either. From a writer’s point of view, I can see myself creating writing prompts, mini character sketches, setting cards .. the possibilities are so exciting.
In fact, much of the process Nichole describes will help me with several of my writing projects. I’ve always loved combining my words with art, and Art Journal Art Journey gives me a process I can use without having to worry about my quite amateurish drawing skills.
There is an originality and freshness to Art Journal Art Journey that I really enjoyed. I finished reading it feeling very inspired, and the fact that her journaling process is one I can use for my writing was a huge, unexpected and very wonderful bonus.
I have a lot of dreams, which I usually remember for a little while after I wake up – and then they start fading away. Many mornings I wake up pulled from a really good dream, and then spend some time trying to fall back asleep so I can get back into my dream.
Not that this usually works. But it’s worth a try, and on the odd occasion I do manage to find my way back to the dream, it’s so good.
But one thing I’ve never really done consistently is write down my dreams. I’ve had dreams that were just so epic (and I really mean “epic”, not as in “awesome” but an actual epic) I absolutely had to write them down. But those have been far and few in between.
All this changed early last week, when The Art of Neil Gaiman inspired me to start a dreambook.
I’m nearing the end of this book, a biography of Neil by Hayley Campbell. It’s really good, because it’s based not only on interviews with Neil but also on the trunkloads of papers and notebooks he keeps up in the attic of his house. A real treasure trove for fans (although I must admit to finding his handwriting difficult to decipher!).
And in one section of the book, there is a spread from a few of his dream diaries:
A few pages later, Neil had this to say about his dream diaries:
When I was writing Sandman I would occasionally steal imagery from my dreams, almost never got plots, but occasionally images were incredibly useful. And to this day if there’s a dream that’s just sort of affecting emotionally, I’ll write it down. Which was something I learned to do while I was doing Sandman.
… I would write them down partly because you’d never know what was going to be useful in retrospect, or what might be important in retrospect. Which isn’t to say that I ever went back and reread them, but it is to say some of the time the action of writing stuff down moves it from this weird box in your head of stuff that will evaporate … it moves it from being written in melting snow, to being written onto paper. In terms of the boxes of your mind things are in, it’s changed. (emphasis added)
This really called out to me. … some of the time the action of writing stuff down moves it from this weird box in your head of stuff that will evaporate it. I’ve experienced that fading of a really good dream so many times, and I really liked the idea of moving my dreams out of that weird box in my head where stuff evaporates.
So the next morning, I woke up from a good dream, and thought to myself, no time like now to start, right? So I popped into my office and grabbed a blank notebook, then sat up in bed and jotted down all the bits of the dream I wanted to remember. I don’t have the book in front of me right now, and despite my writing it down, I couldn’t tell you at all what it was about. But it’s there now, on paper, and if I ever get a moment when I get curious about the first dream I wrote down in my dreambook, I’ll be able to go back and read it.
Not to say the whole writing-down-your-dreams-in-the-morning thing has been going smoothly since I started. For the three or four mornings after I jotted down that first dream, I had such mundane dreams. One of them was about going to a BBQ at my sister’s place (and coincidentally, I was going to a BBQ at my sister’s place later that day). I did jot down a dream in which I was merely an observer, although it wasn’t particularly exciting. It was basically an Anne of Green Gables scene, plotted from beginning to end, set in modern times with a totally different but still sufficiently Anne-ish girl.
And then I had a night when insomnia hit me, and there were no dreams the morning after that!
Still, this feels like a good habit to me, so I’ll keep on doing it for the fun of it.
How about you? Do you remember your dreams? Do you write them down in a dream journal or a notebook?
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Adriane Giberson invited me to participate in a blog tour of creators (writers, artists and poets). I was a little hesitant at first. I’ve been busy with work and all the other must-do’s of life, and my creativity has really taken a backseat lately. But I’ve just finished a couple of big deadlines (like indexing an 1100 page AND a 1500 page book back to back – ouch!) and what better way to help myself dive back into more creative work than blogging about it, right?
What am I working on?
The big project on my desk right now is an urban fantasy with the working title “Sweetness and Dank” (the names of two of my main characters – very creative of me, I know). I’ve already written a chunk of this novel by hand in a Moleskine, and started transcribing it (and rewriting as I went) into Scrivener last week.
I’d started a writing challenge recently – 15 minutes of writing a day, which you’d think would be immensely do-able – so this seemed like the perfect thing for me to tackle. Unfortunately, the deadlines got to me, so my plan is to start anew on my writing challenge today. I have high hopes. We shall see.
I also want to start the edits on “Waverley”, which I’d completed for Nanowrimo a couple of years ago. There are massive changes that need to be made, because I kind of wrote two books in one, and need to separate out the story that I’m really trying to tell from the story that belongs in a book of its own. But look what I recently picked up from the library!
That’s right: Blueprint Your Bestseller, by Stuart Horwitz, which promises to help me “organize and revise any manuscript with the book architecture method”. I don’t know if it will help, but I do have a completed, in-need-of-revision children’s fantasy in “Waverley” and I’ve got really high hopes for this book architecture method, whatever it might turn out to be.
In the artsy department, after working this past year on several doodle quotes, I’ve been really wanting to practice my lettering. I recently had a look at Creative Lettering, by Jenny Doh, and was just so inspired! I’m not going for a calligraphic look – what I want is to develop a whimsical, slightly quirky, not-quite straight lettering style (I’ve already got the not-quite-straight angle covered, by the way) that will work well with my doodle quotes. The artists featured in Creative Lettering (who all, thankfully, seem to have blogs) are incredibly motivational. So motivational, I decided to pick up some unlined Moleskines the other day when I was at the book store getting a Father’s Day cookbook for my husband. My plan is to start practicing my lettering on a daily basis. Another one of those “we shall see” things.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That’s a tough one to answer. For one thing, when it comes to writing, I tend to write what I like to read, and I’m an eclectic reader, so I’m kind of all over the map when it comes to my writing. But I find that magic does show up in a lot of my writing, even when I’m not writing fantasy. In the past, I’ve clamped down on that (there’s not much place for magic in a murder mystery, right?) but lately I’ve been thinking maybe I should just let the magic show up wherever it wants to.
Why do I write/create what I do?
Ah, an easy question! Because of the ideas I get! I’m not very disciplined about my writing (YET– I’m hoping to change that) but I get ideas all the time and most of them are the germs of stories. I like finding out where each one leads me, although I’m learning that it’s good to let the end point of each one come to me before I sit down to write. I seem to be very good at the whole “two stories in one” thing, and what I need to do is write down one story at a time – mainly, the story that wants to be told in that particular work.
As for the artsy stuff, I’m not very good at it, but it’s very good for my soul, and that’s a good enough reason for me.
How does your writing/creating process work?
I’m just starting to figure this out. Earlier this year, I tried to outline with index cards, and I did get an entire murder mystery down on the cards, but when I sat down to write, I was … bored! So for me, the best way to write is the way E.L. Doctorow described it:
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Except that I need to know where I’m headed, as Neil Gaiman recently said:
“Mostly, the creative process is really, really fast. And when it happens, I have a pretty good idea of what something is. I am much more like somebody driving in the dark. My headlights will illuminate a little bit ahead of me, and I know where I’m going. I’m not just driving randomly. I know if I keep down this road, I will get to New York. But what happens on the way, I will find out.”
You see, when I don’t have a clear idea of how things end, I tend to write two or three stories in one. And then it’s a real mess to pull the real story out, and stash all the bits of the other stories away, for when it’s their turn to be told.
And now, please meet …
I’ve asked two fellow writers to play with me on this blog tour. They’ll both be posting their answers to these very same questions a week from today, on June 23:
Suey J of It’s All About Books. Most of you know Suey – she’s incredibly active in the book blogging community (she cohosts Bloggiesta). She’s also a writer, and the leader of a small, extremely motivating writing group that I’m very proud to be a member of. I’ve had the privilege of reading the YA novel she’s working on right now, and it is so good!
Janel Gradowski. Janel is a writer and an artist, and one of my best writer friends. Janel specializes in foodie fiction, and she’s motivated and inspired me over the past several years with her dedication and commitment to the writing craft, Next month sees the release of her culinary mystery, Pies & Peril.
“Listen – are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
~ Mary Oliver
I worked on a few of these doodle quotes earlier this year, before things got too busy. I’m hoping to get back into the habit of doodling them – they’re so relaxing and meditative! Perfect for when I’m listening to an audiobook.
Here’s my reading stack #2 from the library:
All nonfiction in this stack, in keeping with my reading resolution this year to read more nonfiction. Mind you, my intention is to read more nonfiction as research for my writing, so perhaps this reading stack #2 doesn’t really qualify as helping me to fulfill this particular resolution!
1. Freehand: Sketching Tips and Tricks Drawn from Art, by Helen Birch
Because another one of my resolutions is to “make good art”, as Neil Gaiman says. For me, that would be both writing and art – not that my artwork is any good, mind you. But there was a time when making visual art played a larger role in my life, and I’d like to get back into the habit this year.
2. Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do, edited by Meredith Maran
My writer-self loves reading books like this. For some reason, reading about other writers’ creative processes both motivates me and inspires me to keep on writing.
3. Breakthrough!: Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination, edited by Alex Cornell
An assortment of creative types give their solutions to getting through those creative blocks: “a lively compilation of strategies for combating creative block offered by a who’s who of leading graphic designers, typographers, cartoonists, photographers, illustrators, musicians, writers, and other creative professionals.” Sounds good to me.
4. Writers and Their Notebooks, by Diana M. Raab
I have this thing about writers’ notebooks, mainly because I keep trying to make a habit of keeping one. I can’t tell you how many half-finished notebooks I have lying around. I was decluttering earlier this week, and found so many notebooks that are about half-full (better than half-empty, right?) I’m getting much better at it, though. Keeping a writer’s notebook is a habit kind of thing, I’ve discovered.
5. Quotology, by Willis Goth Regier
This one is all about quotes, including how they are collected and organized. Apparently there are fifty-nine types of quotations! One of my creativity resolutions this year involves quotes, so I thought this might be a helpful read.
6. Illustration School: Let’s Draw Cute Animals, by Sachiko Umoto
This one is just too cute for words. Seriously. I couldn’t resist it. See for yourself:
7. A Blueprint for Your Castle in the Clouds: Make the Inside of Your Head Your Favorite Place to Be, by Barbara Sophia Tammes
A self-help book … although there’s also Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace, right?
8. The Collage Workbook, by Randel Plowman
Back to my “make good art” resolution. I’ve always found collage challenging, probably because it’s so playful. I get way too serious about things like this sometimes.
9. Garfield’s Sunday Finest: 35 Years of My Best Sunday Funnies , by Jim Davis
It’s Garfield! I simply couldn’t resist this one.
I’m pleased to say I’ve finished Writers and Their Notebooks. So that’s one down, and eight to go (let’s not mention my reading stack #1 …)
Any plans to read nonfiction this year? Writing this post I realized a lot of the books have something to do with the resolutions I’ve made. Are you reading any books that will help you stick with your New Year’s Resolutions?
This year I’m committing to something a little different from previous years’ reading resolutions. I’d like to read a lot more nonfiction as well as keeping up with all the fiction on my to-read list.
I love reading fiction because good fiction transports me into another world and introduces me to interesting characters and thought-provoking situations. I can become immersed in a good book and it’s that immersion that forms the foundation of the pleasure I get from reading fiction.
Fiction can also fuel my creativity; I’ve gotten many ideas for stories and novels as a result of seeing something in another novel I’m reading. This happens to me with television and movies, too.
But it’s nonfiction that really ups my creative output. Maria Popova talks about combinatorial creativity – how all the bits and pieces of information and memories and knowledge you carry inside your head comes together to form ideas, lots and lots of ideas if you let the process happen – and this has always been the way creativity has worked for me.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about "filling the well". She’s referring to the idea of an inner artistic well that informs all of our creativity. It’s an analogy that I think works well with the idea of combinatorial creativity. While Cameron advocates going on "artist’s dates" – actual physical excursions – in order to keep our inner artistic well maintained, for me such excursions are more appropriate for helping me open up to the present moment, something else that’s required when I’m involved in a creative endeavour.
But the best way for me to keep my inner artistic well pumped and primed and well-maintained is by opening myself up to a flotsam of information. Anything and everything I find interesting has a place in my creativity, and the randomness of the information plays a key role. It’s in reading nonfiction that I most often stumble onto such things – interesting-to-me ideas, facts, concepts, often mere scraps of information, sometimes just a sentence or phrase – that ignite the spark that pulls together other completely unrelated pieces of information to form a shiny new idea.
Myths and legends work that way for me, too. I guess such work is really fiction, but I tend to place myths and legends in a category all its own, not quite nonfiction, not quite fiction – but definitely fertile fuel for the imagination.
So this year, along with tackling my fiction to-read list, I’ll be reading stacks and stacks of nonfiction too, with a stack of blank index cards at my side for jotting down the bits and pieces that interest me. I plan on using the index cards as a tactile, visual aid when playing with my creativity, in much the same way I use archetypal oracle cards.
Here are some of the nonfiction titles I’ll be using to fill my creative well over the next few weeks:
The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson
Finding Arthur, by Adam Ardrey
The Making of Middle Earth, by Christopher Snyder
by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison
by Caspar Henderson
What about you? Do you read nonfiction, or do you mostly stick with fiction? If you’re a writer, what are some ways you use to fill your creative well?