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Benefits of November creative writing

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Fundamentally, I want to value the act of noticing and being curious outside of simply being a writer. It is what makes us feel alive, lucid, and present as human beings. Whether you write about it or not, it’s still wonderful that you stopped to look at something – that it stirred up memories, lit up your daydreams.

Raoul Fernandes

The month of November for writers in the world seems a bit like marathon runners preparing for a race after a bit of a hiatus. If you run full out every day, when it comes time for the big race, you may not have enough energy left to get through it. And you will probably experience a cornucopia of injuries, and other physical maladies. So a runner must learn about pacing, about proper rest, nutrition, and the other fine points of marathon race preparation.

Writers also have to learn the mechanics of a sustainable writing practice. For those writing every day with the hopes of achieving a first draft of “something” during the one month period known as NaNoWriMo, those meta cognitive aspects where learning about the how one does such a thing is every bit as important as what one produces. There are hills and valleys to be endured but there is a palpable energy to this process that excites, that ignites some part of our creative selves.

It is this sense of wonder at being alive and being able to fully look at some aspect of life and write about it, that keeps a writer going. It is Day 23 – the month now more than two thirds over and it is worth noticing the impact this has had. Where all the places in your life are lifted a little or feel somewhat different. Have you noticed creativity seeping into new areas of your life as a part of this process. Or are you feeling wrung out but oddly alert at the same time which is itself a curious state.

But best of all, what keeps the writing flowing, is the fact that we are all doing this together. The community of writers around the world provides a sense of direction, or connection that is the most unique part of this month. Whatever I am able to accomplish this month is equal only to the affirmation of identifying myself to this collective where I feel known in some way as a writer.

Happy writing!!

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Taking time for goal reflection

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If you think towards your goal, your energies – and other people’s energies too – will be directed towards it. Every decision you make will contribute towards it. Even if you don’t achieve your ultimate goal, you’ll be further ahead than if you didn’t have the goal in the first place.

Elise Valmorbida

In our work lives, most of us spend at least one time per year to assess goals, evaluate progress, and even determine new ones. This evaluation process is for the most part widely accepted and could be considered simply par for the course. There are a multitude of reasons why we want to continue to grow and develop our knowledge and skills in the work arena.

But other areas of our lives often come up short in the goal setting and evaluation process. It’s like if we don’t have a “boss” to guide the process, it might not happen.

If we don’t focus on our passions, our creative interests in the same manner, they seem to languish and stall. Self-defeating expectations about what our inner artist should be doing are often unrealistic. This often provokes self-criticism leading us to abandon things long before we should.

When we begin something new, such as creative writing, making art, taking photographs etc., we have tons of energy and that beginner’s state of being is almost blissful.

But to continue on with any creative activity, we need to take stock of what we don’t know and find ways to fill those learning gaps. Just like we would do at work. So instead of letting things go prematurely or entering a state of stagnation, it becomes critical that we need to spend some time in goal reflection.

Figuring out what and where we need to go next and accepting that there may be a lot of gaps in our knowledge and skills sets can be uncomfortable. And that is totally fine. In fact, most new learning occurs sequentially where we must develop a skill which we can then build on in order to keep moving forward.

While on one level intuitively, we may know this, it may be difficult to accept that in order to grow our art practice, there is a continual learning curve that requires serious effort. And goal setting may be an important vehicle to take us where we want to go. So just like that yearly evaluation process you do at work, try working through a similar review with yourself to gain a better understanding how you can best grow as a writer, as an artist.

Reflecting on this is also part of the work. And just like in the world of work, this may be easier said than done.

Happy creating!!

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Reflections on writing process

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A writer is someone who writes. You have done it; you have expressed yourself on paper. Getting started is almost always picking up an old dream, an old desire. Getting started is usually getting started again.

Pat Schneider

I have discovered there is no easy way to begin writing. You simply have to sit down and do it. For the past several years, I have been keenly interested in how other writers work. How do they ensure their creativity flows best? Do they choose a particular time of the day to unleash their muse? Or is it the medium they use. A computer, writing longhand, or through dictation. Do they choose to use a writer’s journal to capture random bits of imaginative flotsam throughout the day?

Perhaps they use a specific type of app, or a special pen. Leather bound journals, plain paper, or lined notepads? The quest to understand what tools other writers use often mirrors the desire we possess to tap into the writer’s path easily, instantly, or perhaps through a magical manifestation.

But we all have rhythms that influence our ability to work, to write, to rest, and to reflect that we must discover for ourselves. There is no trick to the writing life and what works for other writers may be helpful but won’t transform us. Our way into the words we must bring forth and express seems to require both trial and error and meditative reflection on what works.

Learning to shed fears, worry about judgment from others, self-doubts are as important as routines, writing tools and process. Finding your way into writing what you need to often requires a simple beginning. Pen to paper, fingers on the keyboard, and just start letting the words flow as they need.

And understanding that every day you return to write, requires that you have to get started all over again.

And that’s just fine.

Happy writing!

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It’s time for Flash Nano!!

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Creating with words is our continuing passion. We dream stories; we make up stories, poems, songs, and tell them to ourselves. All alone, we write. We also write with others.

Pat Schneider

Yesterday morning was the first day of Nancy Stohlman’s Flash Nano 2022. I had set the alarm on my phone for an hour earlier than I typically open my eyes. Setting the alarm was a deliberate action that seemed important in my plan to write through the month of November and to celebrate every moment of that.

I’d like to be able to say that as soon as the alarm went off that I bounced up out of bed, heading straight over to my computer. After making coffee, of course. But that would be fiction. When that alarm first went off, I couldn’t remember why I had set it and groggily hit snooze.

When it went off the second time, I literally dragged myself out of bed. After a cup of coffee, I decided to check my emails to see what Nancy had sent as the first prompt for Flash Nano. With a small shiver of anticipation, I experienced a hit of dopamine as I read her message and thought about what the first flash fiction of this month could be about.

The best idea seemed that I should take a walk first to let the prompt roll around in my head and just as I was ready to leave the house an idea rushed into my head. It felt too important to ignore.

I thought I would just open a word document and write some jot notes for the story that beginning to take shape inside my writing mind. But instead I sat down and furiously wrote a first draft of over 650 words that just might be worthy of a sharper pencil. An editing process that I will gladly go through when Flash Nano is over.

I won’t question what this month means as a writer who loves flash fiction. Writing small stories by myself but as part of a much larger whole makes it special in ways that are difficult to define. I have been thinking about linking some of the stories this month together or maybe not. The prompts that come to my mailbox each morning sometimes seem to take on a life of their own.

And that’s the best part of all of this. Paying attention to the process of creativity as it unfolds over the upcoming month. Knowing that perfection has no role to play over the next 30 days because it’s all about putting words on paper. That’s all I can expect from myself. Hearing from other people who are also accompanying me on this journey. Knowing that other writers across the globe are participating in some type of creative adventure for the entire month of November.

At the beginning it is pure, unadulterated fun. But who knows what day 22 or day 27, will bring. Lethargy, resistance, or boredom? Or not.

And that is part of the magic in this process. Going through the ups and down of creativity, not knowing what the road map is or where you might be at the end of it all. But one thing is certain, you will not be in the exact same place as you have started. You will have written words that you might share with the world or that will never see the light of day. You will be able to face your reflection in the mirror and whisper that you are indeed, a writer.

Whether you are trying to write a novel in 30 days, or 30 flash fiction stories, or have other defined writing goals that you will attempt to meet in the course of the month of November – best wishes to all.

Happy writing!!

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Scatter your creative story seeds…

Photo L. Meyer

Let your story surprise you. Lay a place at the table for an unexpected guest. Embrace the unforecasted storm. Allow kind characters to do something cruel. Let the selfish ones sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Be surprised. Be amazed.

Sophie Anderson

When the writing process becomes routine or even worse, when you get stuck in a bottomless rut, it may be helpful to simply turn your work on its head. Shake everything you are doing up, down, even sideways. At the very least, you may have some fun or discover a few diamonds in the rough worthy of using in some form of prose.

A recent foray while editing a piece of micro fiction left me stymied and ready to permanently hit the delete button. But a stray piece of creative advice from a writing retreat last month about cutting up writing that doesn’t seem to work, must have planted a small seed in my brain. And sprang forth when I least expected it.

I took the piece that I had been wrestling with, enlarged the font, then printed it out. With what felt like a whim, I proceeded to just cut it into pieces. The pieces dropping onto my desk reminded me of ephemera for collage or words cut for found poetry. So it seemed natural to paste them on a sheet of paper. Randomly. Without really looking at the actual text on each piece of paper.

Convinced that this would simply be a transformed word jumble, I left the mess to dry and went to make a cup of coffee.

When I returned to look at what I had done, I was surprised by what I found. Sure, the order of some of the pieces of paper stretched the grammar aspect a wee bit, but overall, I read in those words, the glimmer of a new story. A better story.

It was legible enough that I was able to return to my computer and resurrect a new piece of prose. I was slightly amazed that from that jumble of words pasted haphazardly on a piece of paper, a transformed piece of fiction began to emerge.

This time round this tiny micro fiction story resonated somewhere deep inside of me bringing forth new energy for the editing process. Who knows what this piece may look like when something clicks and lets me know that it is finished. But the reawakening of this prospective prose piece inspires hope and optimism.

Stories living inside of us are at times, weird and wild things. But finding ways to keep working to guide them into the world, brings a sense of satisfaction like none other.

Happy writing!

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Release the pause button on play…

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We do not stop playing because we get old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever found yourself slugging through your day to day life and realized that playfulness is not part of it? Watching two neighbourhood children today, chasing each other while blowing soap bubbles and giggling so hard one of them began to hiccup, I felt like I had an epiphany. Play. That is what seems to be missing from my present “taking everything far too seriously” adult life.

It’s typically something fairly innocuous that alerts you to that dawning sense of something being amiss. But once you figure it out, you can’t unsee it.

Probably the state of mind most helpful during times of stress and strain, is a playful mind. But it is also the hardest state to transition to when everything in your immediate focus is through an intensely serious lens. And when it seems any spare moment should be dedicated to some task or type of work that needs to be completed, or at the very least, doing something “worthwhile”, play seems frivolous and far removed.

Knowing that there are adverse consequences to play deprivation, I have been trying to create a “play” list. (Pun intentional, ha – maybe I will get there after all!). Photography has always been my favourite way to play and I haven’t had my camera out for quite some time. Point of fact, the battery was almost dead. So as I write this, I can glance over at my camera on the charger and see that it still has a ways to go. Just like I do.

There are a multitude of ways to tap into this desired state of mind. A quick web search reveals a plethora of articles, blog posts, research studies on the importance of play to our overall well being and stock ideas about how to incorporate it into our busy adult lives. But it seems trite to assume that by playing video games, doing crossword puzzles, dancing in your kitchen as though no one is watching, could magically counter the impact of stress and burnout.

So where to begin. Reflection on this challenge seems to point to a sort of mind over matter type of thing. So it seems like if I can wrestle with the biggest barrier, attitude, I feel like I might just be on my way. And it also seems important to set goals to play, to do things with absolutely no purpose, to simply seek out moments for mindless enjoyment and fun.

How weird that part of responsible adulting becomes losing touch with that most important aspect of childhood. To be playful. Seems so simple when I write it like that. But I have a sense that I am going to have to work hard at my play goals. Wish me luck!

Stay safe, have fun!

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Growing creativity

Photo L. Meyer

Push yourself to try new things whenever you can. It keeps you growing creatively. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to be creative; there is only the way that allows you to express who you are.

Catherine Anderson

Last year in the midst of a prolonged heat wave and subsequent drought, I decided that if gardening stopped being a source of joy, that I would either give it up or do things differently. Well not digging in the dirt and growing things simply wasn’t an option this year when spring finally rolled around. So instead, I chose to shake up some of my “go to” plants that I have grown for years, like castor beans, which no longer possess the same magic they used to.

So trying to grow a Kangaroo Apple Tree seemed like a good idea at the time I bought a small, strange looking green plant with spiky little leaves. The garden centre clerk warned me it could grow as tall as 6-8 feet and produce both flowers and fruit which sounded intriguing. This bushy plant is now blooming with delicate purple flowers, which sadly our harsh prairie wind at times, blows to smithereens.

But this adventure has provided a surprising element of daily excitement as I come to understand what this new plant requires in order to flourish. And the fascination of watching this aspect of nature adapt and transform to whatever conditions it grows in, doesn’t get old either.

Thriving, not just surviving, this plant now three feet tall, is a daily reminder that we can be creative in all aspects of our lives. Growing this unique plant native to New Zealand, provides me with an ongoing lesson about the importance of taking risks, being playful in any situation, and allowing the process of discovery to unfold as it should.

All of these serve as reminders that creation in any form, is one of the most amazing activities we can undertake. Our creative paths are unique to who we are and require open hearts and open minds. Being present to experimentation, brings a multitude of benefits. Not the least of which is an opportunity to start thinking and seeing in new ways.

There are many unexpected teachers available to us to share the process of creative discovery. We just need to take advantage of them when they appear in our lives.

Stay safe, be creative!!

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Focus for a restless creative spirit

Photo credit L. Meyer

Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes…and somehow the activity of writing changes everything

Joyce Carol Oates

What do you do when those tried and true tricks to jolt your writing heart to begin ticking again, falter, and then fails to beat with any sort of rhythm. Those horrible times when it doesn’t seem likely you can resuscitate your writing practice. Maybe never again.

You try journaling – going with the admonition to never lift your pen off the page. Free write in longhand, not on the computer. Go for a walk. Take photographs of random things on said walk. You seek out graffiti art hoping the creative spirits of youth in your community will somehow be contagious. Perhaps flipping through your well worn copies of craft books could help. Not today.

So you give up and start listlessly wandering around the internet until your hips hurt from sitting and your eyes get so dry you have to squeeze drops into them. But you still are searching for that spark. Something to light that fire that normally burns throughout your days and some nights and has allowed you to create stories. And those random pieces of writing that you just know have potential to become something.

And just when you have given up, you read an email from a dear friend. A suggestion about a book of essays with a couple of stories thrown in for good measure. Written by Jo Ann Beard, titled, Festival of Days (2021). So you find it at the library on the e-book catalogue, download it and read the first essay. Her writing is wonderful.

It seems like a justifiable use of your time since you just read that part of the writing process is reading. But reading like a writer. Still thinking on that one so for now it will be reading like a reader.

Suddenly you have to run to the computer, and low and behold a story just spills out. There it is on the screen. A sh*tty first draft, as Anne Lamott would say. And you review and read it over again one hour later. Whoa – not bad for the first outing after a dry spell that had you worried you would never write again.

The craft of writing seems to be a process that is in part mysterious, even mystical. There is a spiritual side to the muse and when it takes you on a journey it isn’t necessarily a straight ride. You can be down, feel flat, and suddenly it lifts you up, and re-opens your heart.

Creativity may be a fickle friend but is a friend indeed.

Happy writing!

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Braving the publication journey

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I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.

Anne Lamott

Have you ever finally gotten up enough nerve to send out pieces of your creative writing to literary magazines only to receive a declined notice in Submittable so fast it gives you whiplash?

Or maybe you have a secret list of favoured publications that you dream will one day accept a piece of your best work. So you finally get enough nerve to take the plunge, hit submit but then wait for weeks and weeks. When you are just about to give up, you decide to send a query about the status of your submission. And receive a warp speed response that is a combination apology/rejection note.

Perhaps you have worked hard to complete your edits, have carefully reviewed the submission guidelines, and crossed your fingers (arms and legs) as you hit submit. Then a few days later you take a peak in your Submittable account and discover your work is “In progress”. And you have read somewhere that the longer it takes to be reviewed the better the odds are that you are going to have your work accepted. So having your prized piece of work linger in that state must mean something is going to happen. Right?

You just know that this is it. This has to be your moment.

And then, it happens, the rejection that reads like a form letter. Or worse yet, a hastily written personal email that actually has a typo in it!

So you decide then and there, that you are writing only for yourself, to learn the craft, to honour and express what resides deep in your heart and soul. You will learn to become content to leave the publication racket for those who have more gumption than you have. You know you should have gratitude that you were published some time ago so resign yourself to this uneasy state of acceptance.

And you carry on, writing often but at the same time growing uncertain about what you will do with all of the work that now languishes in draft Word folders.

As time passes by, you forget the sting of rejection and the emotional roller coaster that accompanies the submission process. You have read that all writers go through this and that it should be considered part and parcel of becoming a published writer. A real writer would face the risk of rejection head on, leaning into the idea that this is growth oriented and actually a positive.

So you submit three pieces of flash fiction to a magazine that you respect but you aren’t convinced will result in publication success. But it is part of learning so you treat this as an educational opportunity. You have read that collecting rejections can be an important aspect of the writing process.

Some time passes and then, suddenly in your list of new emails, you receive a notice of acceptance. Unbelievable! Your work will be published in a print literary magazine and you may agree to read your work at the launch. A launch, what!

So you go through a new process, working with an editor to prepare and ready your work to shine in the best possible light in a print publication. Along with the work of so many amazing writers.

And then the day comes, you open the mail and find two complimentary copies of the literary magazine, spring, Volume 13 which contains two of your flash fiction stories. You sit down to flip through the magazine, admiring the beauty of the cover art and the layout, breathing in that new print smell. You close your eyes in order to fully capture this moment. Then you quickly scan through the table of contents and find your name. Twice.

You do that smiling and crying thing at the same time. And a single thought occurs to you – this risk/reward publication thing in the field of writing – it is really worth the journey!

happy writing!

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Priming the Creativity Pump

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Creativity researchers have identified an effective strategy, known as priming, which is a way to jump-start our creative thoughts and feelings.

Trish Osler

Your mind is truly a fascinating space. The relationship between neuroscience and creativity seems both intriguing and worthy of further exploration. Indeed, becoming more mindful of the role that my brain plays in the creation of art could allow me to create distance from that harsh critical voice that chastises me for not writing well or even worse, anything at all.

Often I find myself wondering why it is that some days words flow like a steady stream from my fingertips to the computer keyboard and on others, they remain stalled in mid pose. And why is it that random things like washing the dishes or pulling weeds can precipitate ideas that are startling in their intensity and vibrance.

How is it possible that the mundane aspects of daily living can precipitate the creation of a piece of artwork?

Really, have you ever wondered why some art projects flow like snow melt in the spring and at other times the whole thing just becomes mired in mud.

Fortunately, neuroscientists have a term for this process. Priming. Just like priming a pump, seemingly innocuous events and activities can push your creative stalls into the right place by the introduction of new stimuli. Simple sensory activities like creating an image journal, or listening to music, and mindfulness meditation have been found to function as primers that increase the connections that the brain makes.

And strangely enough, the content and focus of your priming activities do not need to have any relationship to whatever creative problem you might be struggling with. In fact, research has found that allowing your mind to wander afar is more beneficial than intensifying your focus on what you are stuck on.

So being more unfocused allows your mind to do what it needs to do, to wander and play with new ideas, images and sensory snippets in order to move through any blockages to your creative path. If we can stop our tendency to self-shame or blame when we our creative drive veers off course, it seems important to learn which priming activities may help us move forward.

So the next time I feel stuck or unable to write, I am going to try and discover how this aspect of research from the field of neuroscience might “prime” my next creative block and free my brain to move forward in its own unique way.

happy writing!