Monday, May 29, 2017

Reads for Writers: inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity by Tina Seelig

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Creativity is essential for writers. In her book inGenious: A Crash Course on Creativity, Tina Seelig gives readers or, as she calls artists of all types, noticers great insights including:

“Mastering the ability to reframe problems is an important tool for increasing your imagination because it unlocks a vast array of solutions.” (page 19)

“You, too, can spark a revolution by looking at the problems you face from different perspectives.” (page 23)

“Connecting unexpected people, places, objects, and ideas provides a huge boost to your imagination. You can practice this skill by using provocative metaphors, interacting with those outside your normal circles, building on existing ideas, and finding inspiration in unlikely places.” (page 46)

“Scientists and artists of all types are the world “noticers.” They are trained to pay attention and to communicate what they see and experience to the rest of us.” (page 75)

“…the most salient thing [the students] learned from this intense experience is that by opening your eyes, paying attention, and asking a lots of questions, there are remarkable things to see around every corner.” (page 76)

“Focused observation is a powerful way to acquire valuable knowledge about the world. That knowledge is the starting point for all your creative endeavors because it provides rich fuel for your imagination.” (page 32-83)

“If you live and work in an environment that is stimulating, then your mind is open to fresh, new ideas.” (page 102)

“I eventually realized I that I putting off writing on purpose. It was creative procrastination!” (page 105)

          However, my favorite part of this book is the opening chapter discussing the “hardest exam in the world. It required both a breadth of knowledge and a healthy dose of imagination.” (page 4)

          It’s a “…‘one-word exam.’ The Essay, as it was called, was both anticipated and feared by applicants. They each flipped over a piece of paper at the same time to reveal a single word...The challenge was to craft an essay in three hours inspired by that single word.”  (page 3)

          “…This challenge reinforces the fact that everything—every single word—provides an opportunity to leverage what you know to stretch your imagination.” (page 3)

          What a great exam—especially for writers! I’m going to randomly open a dictionary with my eyes closed and point to a word. Then I am going to write an essay in three hours. Why not? I’ll be writing for hours this week in my notebook. I may as well use a writing prompt that will challenge me like this one.

          Take the one-word test. See what you know and notice.

Word count for the week of May 21-27 was 11,431.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ideas Out of Nowhere

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I love to watch interviews with writers. In our profession, everyone has a different process. I love to learn about them as it’s comforting to know we all slog through ideas and words until we hit upon the right ones.

          On the PBS show Hamilton’s America, a camera crew followed Lin-Manuel Miranda around while he was researching and writing Hamilton. He went to historical places, wrote while sitting in Aaron Burr’s bedroom, worked with his creative Broadway show team, and lived his life.

          Miranda didn’t know when he picked up Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton to read on vacation that he would be writing a $100+ million musical and book. Miranda’s background included Rap; Hamilton’s did not—yet that’s all Miranda could hear as he read the book. And it’s all people can talk about after they see the show.

Because he’s been listening to all kinds of music and writing for decades, his mind was open to possibilities. He didn't fight the unlikely idea, just went with it. He didn’t lose his enthusiasm even when it took over two years to write it.

          I also watched J. K. Rowling & Harry Potter: Behind Closed Doors on the Reels channel. She wrote her first book about a rabbit at the age of six. Her mother loved it so Jo asked her mother how to get it published. She knew then she was a writer.

Rowling received her idea out of nowhere when she was on a train thinking of nothing. Suddenly, she pictured a little boy who didn’t know he was a wizard on a train heading to a wizard boarding school. Then she worked backwards as to how he got there.

          Turns out trains were a big part of Rowling’s life. Her parents met on a train so she always thought of them as romantic. (Later on, her second husband, knowing this, proposed to her on The Orient Express.)

          Also, Rowling studied the classics in college. Her knowledge certainly played a big part in the Harry Potter series in the names she used and in the spells. Grounded in history, mythology, and literature, they were both a bit familiar and new to readers.

It took her five years to write the first book as she was also working, pregnant, and then raising her daughter after an ugly breakup with her first husband. Even when broke and worried, she wrote not knowing if the book would ever sell. She said, “I just believed in my book.”

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight vampire series who always wanted to be a writer, says her idea out of nowhere came to her in a dream about a teenage girl and boy sitting in a field together. The problem: the boy wanted to kill the girl as much as he wanted to love her. Meyer didn’t know why but wrote until she discovered the answer.

          Ideas from nowhere and yet the prepared minds recognized them and followed through.

For the week of May 14-20, my word count was 8,725. Yes, ideas are coming to me and I'm working on them.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Staying Inspired

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

Everything we see, hear, smell, taste or touch is grist for our writing mills. We can grind it all in our minds and come up with kernels of ideas. Some people also call it filling the well. It’s an essential part of writing so we have material to work with when we need an idea for an essay, blog post, article, etc.

Whatever you want to call it, make sure you are collecting material that you can fall back on by living full lives, reading, watching TV, eavesdropping on public conversations, and observing humans and nature.

What did I put in my well lately?

The lilacs are in bloom so I gathered a vase-full every other day to fill the house with their lovely scent and color.

The chickens are cackling proudly when they lay their eggs. Luckily, they do not cackle all together or the neighbors might complain.

The nearest neighbors just put in a basketball hoop. The dogs do not like the sound of a bouncing ball so they bark at it, but they will get used to it in time, we hope.

Employees at the deli counter, two female and one male, were discussing whether they would ever get Lasik surgery. Two were wearing glasses. One of them couldn’t get contacts. Their consensus was no. I agreed silently while waiting for a pound-and-a-half of American cheese and four chicken breasts.

As I waited, a man came by looking for packaged sandwich wraps made with cheese seats. After he left, I looked at what he bought—wraps made with chia seeds. Hard to hear him over the Lasik conversation.

On the recommendation of a friend, I read Carly Simon’s biography, Boys in the Trees: A Memoir. Her life was often sad and occasionally tragic. There are also some intimate details I wish I didn’t know, but I guess that’s show business.

On the CBS Sunday Morning show, Mother’s Day was celebrated, but unacceptable stats were given for maternity and paternity leave. Only 49% of women received paid leave while 70% of men who have access to paternity leave were paid.

          On the Science channel I learned that three billion years ago the moon had more than one active volcano. Imagine looking up in the sky and seeing lava flowing.

Keep adding material to your writing mill or well. You never know when you’ll need an idea, fact, or memory for a project.

Word count for the week May 7-13 was 8,649.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What's in My Notebooks?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I advocate filling a notebook a month as a great way to keep yourself writing—especially if you don’t have immediate deadlines. But even if you do have deadlines, filling the notebook keeps ideas flowing and gives you a place to vent if you are stuck.

          For about 15 years, I filled a notebook a month, but as I wrote more pieces for publication, I filled a notebook only every two or three months. I loved having a place to jot down thoughts, feelings, happenings, etc., but I wasn’t disciplined about it again until this January when I resolved to go back to filling a notebook a month.

          I started with an 80-page notebook in January—because 100 pages was too daunting—and wrote 21,598 words. I had no daily set amount of pages or word count. With a week left to finish, I had 38 pages to fill. I did it, but it wasn’t fun. I also wrote very sloppily in larger handwriting than usual.

Obviously I stayed with the 80-page notebook in February. I wrote almost every day, but still had 19 pages to fill the last week. Again, I filled it, but wasn’t as helpful because I just jammed stuff in it. Total word count was 25,574. Not being as rushed, I wrote less sloppily so more room for words.

In March, I again went with the 80-page notebook, but this time I tried to fill 2-3 pages every day. This was much more helpful to all my writing projects as I had space to think about topics, come up with ideas, and whine when writing wasn’t going well. I wrote 26,203 words.

Feeling more comfortable with my new habit, I switched to a 100-page notebook in April and wrote 35,006 words. My goal was 1,000 words a day, but I ended up averaging 1,167. I looked forward to writing in my notebook. It wasn’t a chore or a resolution anymore.

What do I write about in my notebooks?

I rage or regale about my writing projects. Work on titles for current pieces. Consider new projects. I also work on plots. Copy down quotes I love from books I’m reading. Jot down notes whenever I see an author being interviewed on TV as well as any thoughts I want to ponder—and then I ponder.

I write down observations about people, pets, nature, TV, and books as these often lead to posts for this blog or thoughts for my Editor’s Viewpoint column or my Facebook essays for the magazines or sometimes because they are funny. For example, out to dinner with three writing friends, we simultaneously stopped talking to listen to the conversation at the next table. The foursome was getting into a heated discussion about whether an evening can be enchanted or not. I don’t know how the topic came up, but it was fascinating. They got up to leave so we rushed to pay our bill so we could continue to eavesdrop in the parking lot. They were still going at it as they got in their car and left. We stood in the parking lot and laughed at ourselves for being such writers but how could we resist listening to such passion about a description of a night.

Nature gives great copy on walks or even when I look out my office window. There is a 25-foot tall trumpet vine growing up an evergreen tree. Every summer, several Ruby-throated hummingbirds visit to drink their fill of nectar from the dozens and dozens of bright orange blossoms putting on a colorful show. Then there was a black butterfly that played with our puppy for over five minutes fluttering just out of reach back and forth in the side yard. At first I was worried the puppy would hurt the butterfly, but he/she flew up and around over and over again to the pup’s delight only leaving when the adult dogs arrived to see what the commotion was all about.

I’m also very human in my notebooks. I write about my feelings, whether happy, sad, or angry, putting things into perspective.

If you give yourself space and permission, you will find yourself writing pages and pages. None of it goes to waste. Even if nothing appears in other formats (a rare thing), filling these notebooks increases your writing speed, improves your observation skills, and clarifies your thoughts.

This is why I recommend filling a notebook a month and also reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Her essays about the writing life and her life are engaging and full of wonder. The author of ten writing books and novels, her writing practice is filling up a notebook a month for about forty years. This book made me a much better writer because writing begets writing.

Start filling your own notebooks now!

Word count for week of April 30-May 6 was 11,034.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Reads for Writers: The Most Wonderful Books edited by Michael Dorris and Emilie Buchwald

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          The Most Wonderful Books: Writers on Discovering the Pleasures of Reading edited by Michael Dorris and Emilie Buchwald is the most delightful book I’ve read in ages. Not only do you discover the books first loved by other writers, you remember your own. In fact, readers of this book that are also writers will be hard pressed not to write essays about the readers and books in their lives.

[The editors] imagined an anthology that would inspire readers by providing a variety of examples of how well-known and successful writers first encountered the magic of the printed word. (Introduction, pp. xiii-xiv)

Here are some quotes from the 57 essays in the book:

On page 10, Marion Dane Bauer wrote: I turned to books to laugh, to weep, to burn with indignation, to revel in melancholy or silliness, to shiver with fear, and to share all those feelings with another being who felt them, too. I turned to books to know I was alive and connected with the rest of the universe.

On page 56, Barbara Juster Esbensen wrote: I read so that I can experience yet again, the miracle that happens when the paper, the ink, the book itself all seem to disappear, and I am journeying somewhere I have never been before on the wings of those magic words so carefully chosen by someone I will never know.

On page 195, Naomi Shihab Nye wrote: In books I could wander for hours. I sat in the stairwell at my grandmother’s ancestral home, sunken deep into Little Women. I was Jo for three whole years and no one knew. If you know how to read, you could never be lonely.

On pp. 203-204, Katherine Paterson wrote: I read, of course, for information. I want to know more about almost everything—science, religion, philosophy, geography, history, human nature. But I also want to know more about myself. And I have always felt that when it comes to exploring the geography of my inner life, great books are my most effective guide.

I recommend this book to all readers and writers.

For the week of April 23-29, I wrote 7,377 words.