Commit to Your Creativity

There’s a lot of creative people out there hiding behind your non-commitment.

Creativity can be frightening. I get that. When one allows their creative works to be known to others, it can feel like a smack in the face if you hear a rude comment or a flippant laugh.

I work with a lot of students who are afraid to step out and try the unknown. Sometimes, if they let me read their play or their poem, a verbal addendum of apologies and clarifications as long as the train of a Queen’s gown is attached to it in order to down-play their work and lower expectations.

Again, I understand why. Creative artists are fragile beasts.

But if you want to improve, and if you want to move forward in your craft, I am convinced you have to commit to your creativity and just let it fly.

I dealt with an example of this today. I’m working on the ending of my upcoming show, and the final segment of the show is a narrative piece which is set to music. I’ve been toying all week with wanting to add a narrative introduction to the narrative piece as a way of setting the tone and keeping the audience’s attention.

After a couple days of brainstorming which yielded no fruit, I went back to my script and started pulling out phrases. Then I started playing the intro music and trying out different voices to see what I liked.

And then it hit me. My idea is rather weird. I think my actors are going to look at me as if I’m insane if I asked them to do this. I started second-guessing myself until I put my foot down and said, “No, this is my idea and I’m sticking with it.”

I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts and go for it.

Now is my idea really clever? Or is it actually stupid? I have no clue.

But the point is, who cares? It’s the creative idea that I currently have, and in lieu of a better one, I’m committed to it.

And that’s how creativity should work. Push your idea, try, mold, change, adapt, but in the end, let it fly, whatever it is and don’t apologize for it – even if someone chuckles at how silly they thought it was.

Trust yourself, and commit to your creativity. It might actually be better than you think.

 

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Do You Have Writing Goals?

There is no better proof of being a writer than writing, and writing, and writing some more. I’ve met a lot of people in my years who have indicated that they wanted to write a book, or they have ideas for a book, or they have written one book, or they have started a hundred books. All of those are good in and of themselves, but for me, being a writer means producing varied works over a long period of time. It’s a daily task whether or not any digital pages have been written. It’s an all-encompassing passion which you cannot escape, literally, ever single day of your life. Writers do not become writers on a whim or because they finally finished their manuscript from high school. Writing requires discipline but writers don’t need to be disciplined to write because it’s a natural out-flow of who they are.

It took me many years to call myself a writer. I’m an author because I’ve published five novels. I’m a playwright because I write plays and have them produced. All of that has made me a writer. I don’t dare attach other adjectives to that moniker. I don’t consider myself a good writer or a great writer or an average writer or a poor writer. I’m simply a writer. Adjectives get attached to writers by critics and readers. I can’t control which adjective a reader attaches to my name, I can only control what I type on my blank screen. That’s it.

So it’s best not to think in terms of whether something is good or bad or just plain silly. In my view, a writer should think in terms of goals, long-term and short-term, and work towards accomplishing those goals. If you do that and put everything you have into your creativity, you’re a success, regardless of the adjectives plopped in front of your name.

When I just started out pursuing writing as something more than a passing whim, I recall telling myself that I wanted to write a novel a year for seven years and then see where I am at that point.  Well, I’m happy to announce that today, during my afternoon writing session, I completed my seventh novel. Seven novels in seven years. This on top of a regular job, family, and a myriad of other writing projects I’ve taken up over the years. I’ve done what I’ve set out to do and that, in fact, feels good. But achieving this goal is not the end by any means. I can’t wait until I hit double digits in novels written. Where will it end? Could I hit 20 novels written by the end of the next 10 years?

Who knows?

You don’t have to meet every goal, but they help you determine if you are actually serious about this writing gig or not.

I am. I have goals which I’m never going to stop shooting for.

What are yours?

Crazy Ideas

When writing, should you use your ‘crazy ideas’?

Down below all the draft chapters of my new novel in my precious Scrivener writing program, I noticed a folder I entitled “Crazy Ideas.” I had stashed every outlandish plot idea that I had thought of in case I had the courage enough to actually use it. When I originally jotted down these ideas, I had doubted that any of them would ever make it into my manuscript.

I was wrong. All of them made it.

Why? And was it the right choice?

Let me explain the ‘why’ first. As the plot of my book unfolded, I had decisions to make: do I play it safe or do I try to push the envelope on this plot, making it more complex, more intertwined with additional layers of intrigue. Or should I play it safe and forget the crazy stuff because there is a risk to writing using the crazy ideas.

What risk?

Will I be able to make it all work?  Will it make sense? Will I be able to make sense of it? Will it stray out of plausibility and into unbelievable coincidence? Will it make the plot too dense, too heavy with overlapping objectives?

All of these are tangible risks of trying the crazy ideas. But I realized that I couldn’t do it any other way. If my novel is going to burn up under its own weight, it’s going to go down fighting with all its potential visible and apparent to the reader.

And now, as I’m writing the final few chapters of the book, I’m feeling the strain of my decisions. It’s hard making sure all the strands of this book will come together in a tidy and coherent fashion. It will take a lot of thinking, rewriting, revising, and good old-fashioned luck to pull this off. I’m going to try the best I can, which leads us to the final question.

Was using the crazy ideas the correct choice?

This ultimately will be a question for my readers.

 

As 50,000 Loses its Luster …

Every novel accomplishment should be celebrated. That is why 50,000 still has meaning to me. I’ve told the story many times about writing my first novel and scratching and clawing my was to 50,000 words, feeling like I had accomplished the impossible task. I am a concise writer after all. It was a lot of words for me.

50,000 is the standard number that the industry calls a full-length novel. Nowadays, it’s nearly a non-issue for me except for the fact that every novel should be celebrated. Earlier this week, I broke through the 50,000 word barrier (now sitting at about 57k) for my seventh time.

It’s funny how a writer progresses. The count, in the past, became an obsession of mine, and probably still is seeing that I’m writing about it. But I’ve learned that it’s all, 100% about the story you want to tell, regardless of its length. This just so happens to coincide with my ability to write more complex and involving stories which easily produces a work well beyond the 50,000 word range. The book I’m writing now is a continuation of my 6th (yet to be released) novel, and I intend to expand it to be a trilogy which will top out over 200,000 words. That is a prospect I never thought I would be able to do: write a story beyond 200k. Are you crazy?

I guess I am.

Conquering the 50k milestone was a theoretical hurdle I had to become comfortable with if I wanted to be a novelist. That mission is accomplished. Now I’m tasked to write quality stories that engage readers and make them think. This is, of course, still a work in progress, and the struggle to write quality books will never end. One must always be willing to spend more time, revise two more times, and push the limits of one’s satisfaction and patience in order to produce the best book possible. From now on, this is my goal.

You Should Tolerate Bad Writing

I’m not a perfectionist. As a writer, this can be a disadvantage. I’m confident there have been times when I could have improved a piece with one more revision or one more re-write. But I must admit, I become bored and just want it to be over so I can get on to my next creative idea.

On the other hand, not being a perfectionist as a writer has its distinct advantages. One of those has to do with the writing process and that enigmatic term we like to call writer’s block. I’m not completely convinced that writer’s block actually exists. Sure, there may be times of uncertainty where one needs to put in the requisite amount of thinking before it becomes clear where a plot should go or how a character should act. However, I do think that, perhaps, sometimes writer’s block is just not be willing to tolerate bad writing.

We have good days. We have bad days. Sometimes the words are clicking with clarity and ease, the phrasings are coherent and the descriptions vivid. Other times every single sentence is a chore and when you look back over your last paragraph, you realize that a second grader could have sounded so clever. When that happens, it’s precisely the moment that you need to be tolerant of bad writing.

In 2002, I started my first novel. The writing was so bad that I stopped on the second page. It took me 10 more years until I finally finished my first novel.

I couldn’t tolerate bad writing. Therefore, I paid for it, languishing away in non-writing pursuits.

Recently, I was working on a section of my new novel and that self-criticism reared its ugly head: this isn’t particularly good. But I made a decision to move on. I didn’t care if it wasn’t good, I told myself, it will eventually BE good.

That’s the key. Bad writing doesn’t necessarily need to remain bad writing. I’ve come across parts of my manuscripts in the past which are terrific and then I’ll reach a section which is quite less than great. I’ve learned to appreciate these sections. For one, I’m happy I can recognize bad writing when I see it. Two, I appreciate the fact that I motored through a bad writing session because it does help further the story. It’s much easier to rewrite and improve a poorly worded section than it is to come up with a completely new section.

Bad writing should be embraced. It’s one of the backbones for good writing. Don’t get discouraged when the words aren’t flowing. Keep moving forward, even if you have to use your 2nd grade vocabulary. On revision day, I’m sure you’ll be glad you have something to work with.

Justify the … Idea. It’s How I Write

In my theatre arts class, we play a game called Justify the Pose. I say ‘go,’ and everyone tears off around the room doing whatever they like. When I call ‘stop,’ they  must freeze in whatever awkward position they find themselves in, whether they are mid-step or standing on a desk. Then I call out a couple people’s names and they have to justify the pose, on the spot they have to think up a situation in which they might find themselves in this position and then act it out. It’s a great game to get the actors thinking creatively about how to understand certain situations.

Recently, I began to realize that this is exactly how I write. I try to justify the idea.

This is a great way to generate ideas and force a writer to think creatively about a certain idea. Here’s how it works. A random image pops in my head and I immediately think what could justify this situation. What would be the back story? Why would this person be in this situation at this time?

My entire second novel was started on a premise like this. One day I had a random thought of a woman from a second story window seeing a man below wearing a red hat. That’s all I needed to write an entire novel. I began thinking why this woman would be interested in a man wearing a red hat. What was his relationship to her?  Was he a bad man? Was he trying to hide something?

I’m currently working on a trilogy which is based on the same time of premise: a strange image which makes no sense, but I forced myself to give it meaning and make it make sense. In doing so, it forced me to think creatively and I ended up with a novel (and soon to be novels) which are beyond what I thought I could ever think of. But I now know that’s not the case. I can make anything work if I give it enough time and brain power.

So give it a try. Take an idea, a random idea, a bizarre idea and try to justify it. It’s fun and you never know what you’ll end up with.

 

Was I Sleeping 4 Times Through This Chapter?

Revision work never seems to surprise and frustrate me. I have been doing some fairly significant re-writes on my next novel up, and each revised chapter had its moments in the grinding machine of my mind, polishing and burnishing each one a little closer to the end result. And then yesterday, I came across a certain chapter that was so poorly written that I had to ask  myself a question: Was I sleeping when I wrote this chapter? And when I revised it three previous times?

It’s bizarre, actually. Were the writing Gremlins having their best inside my Scrivener, choosing just to sabotage one chapter so as to not make it so obvious?

I really don’t have an explanation of such inconsistent writing, especially after this is the fourth revision of this chapter.

It only reinforces what I’ve been doubling down on lately: take your time. That’s the beauty of being an independent author. I don’t have deadlines to meet. Sure, I want to consistently put out work, at least once a year. But don’t stress over fake deadlines and fake writing goals.

There is only one writing goal: write the very best story possible. Period.

To do this, it needs time. A manuscript needs time to simmer, time to aerate, time to reveal its cracks. Obviously, certain cracks can be hidden in plain sight, but they are there, plain as day, they only need to be looked at once more and they will reveal their fatal flaws.

Which is good, because then you can correct them.

So once again I say slow down, Mr. Revisionist. Slow down, Mr. You Are Typing Too Quickly. Slow down and read those words out loud. Here the flaws, listen to the cracks, and boldly insert the solution.

This is going to be a great novel. How do I know? Because I see its flaws and I haven’t turned away yet.