10 Things That Help Me Unblock Creativity

I’ve been sort of in a funk lately. Not like, depressed. But just feeling like the story I want to tell wasn’t going well.

For me, I’m doing well with everything or nothing. While the writing wasn’t going well, I wasn’t having much success with other things either. I was feeling disorganized, as if any item I put on my “To Do” list went off and died there. I was struggling with eating healthy, and wasn’t taking my dog for regular walks.

It wasn’t that I felt unmotivated; far from it. I wanted to accomplish all those things, but when it came down to it, I found myself reading a book or playing a game on my phone (I love 1010!) or aimlessly surfing the internet. And then the day was gone, and I’d managed to check off one thing.

Two weeks ago, I couldn’t do what I’d planned to, and was sort of forced to steam vac my carpets. (Let’s just say I have lots of pets and leave it at that, okay?) And it felt kind of good to move around and play music really loud and sweat and have something tangible I accomplished.

None of that week went as planned, but I got lots of things done. And then the following week rolled around, and all that motivation I’d stored up but hadn’t used just kind of burst to the surface.

I decided that I needed to clean off my desk and make my workspace a bit more appealing. In the midst of doing that, I saw my kaleidoscope collection and realized that I haven’t looked through them in a while.

In the past, when I’ve been searching for inspiration, I’ve sat down and looked through a kaleidoscope. More recently, I take out my phone and play 1010! It’s not the same.

I found my fountain pen, disassembled and cleaned on my desk, and realized that I haven’t been using that either. I love my fountain pens.

With all the other life clutter going on, I decided it was a good idea to make myself a list of things I love, so that next time I’m in a funk, I can remember to reconnect.

  1. Kaleidoscopes– Looking at the swirling colors is a form of meditation for me. I can slow down for a moment and just concentrate on one thing. If you want to get metaphysical, I can also remember that like life, they’re beautiful and constantly changing.
  2. Fountain pens– I started using a cheap plastic fountain pen when I was in my teens, and I just love them. Actually, I love all pens: gel pens and sharpies and nice ballpoints. But I have a special love of the smooth writing of a good fountain pen. I love to see ink on my fingers.
  3. Journaling– I seem to get away from this just when I need it the most. I’m trying (again) to make it a daily practice. I always use the excuse that it’s hard when life gets busy. But when isn’t life busy?
  4. Doodling– I’m trying to get more into art journaling. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, but am TERRIBLE at it. (No, seriously, visual art is something I’m bad at.) But I’m okay with loving something and being terrible at it. Lucky for me, Pinterest has about a million boards for inspiration on the topic. Right now, I’m mostly working with banners and arrows. Gotta start somewhere, right?
  5. Stickers– I can’t draw, but I can put stickers on everything.
  6. Healthy eating– I really do feel better when I eat better.
  7. Logic puzzles– While just playing random games isn’t all that helpful (and is actually a time waster, I know!), logic puzzles use the logical part of my brain. I guess that makes my whole brain work better? I don’t know; I just know that mindful game playing works for me.
  8. Coloring– For me, coloring is like meditation. I can’t draw, but I can stay inside the lines. The biggest decision I have to make is whether to use the blue or the purple crayon. It helps me turn off my conscious mind for a little while. Sometimes, that’s the space where answers find me, instead of me looking for them. Adult coloring books are a thing now. You can find them anywhere, even Wal-Mart and Amazon.
  9. Taking a Walk– We have a lovely greenbelt near our house. Getting out and listening to the birds sing and the breeze moving through the trees is relaxing, and sometimes helps my brain get moving again.
  10. Candles– There are more and more articles out there about the benefits of aromatherapy. It can help improve mood, help with wakefulness, even help with physical issues like headaches! I love burning candles and filling my office with scent. Because it’s what I do when I write, my brain knows that when it smells vanilla candles burning, it’s time to get to work.

What kinds of things help you unblock creativity?

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Changing Things Up

 

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My goal, in writing this blog, is to keep things interesting and relevant, so I’m constantly assessing what posts people like and respond to.

He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.

-Harold Wilson

With that in mind, I’m changing my weekly updates on book challenge progress and turning them into monthly updates. If anyone was really looking forward to weekly updates, email me and we’ll talk, but I’m not seeing much engagement, and they’re certainly not one of my more popular posts.

Right now, I’m not planning to replace it with a new feature. I’m also changing to a Monday & Thursday blogging schedule.

I appreciate every single person who reads my posts. I love to read comments, and I enjoy opinions and discussion. Therefore, I encourage you to leave a comment or respond to someone else’s comment. But even if you’re just stopping by to read, thank you!

See you on Thursday!

How to Keep a Travel Journal

I have a number of journals: one specifically for quotes, one for general thoughts, one for stories, and one for travel. I find that having multiple journals works for me as a way of staying organized.

It had never occurred to me to keep a travel journal until I saw the ones my sister in law keeps. She explained that she buys her “next” travel journal at her last location.

I loved the idea of keeping a record of my trips, but it’s taken me some time to refine what works for me.

The Journal

Size: You want something big enough that you’re comfortable writing in and large enough that you can stick in tickets, business cards, random bits of paper, but small enough to carry with you.

Paper type: Something thick enough to hold all that ephemera. And if you’re like me, you don’t want the ink to bleed through.

I like 5×8.5 inch Molskine, but there are many other good journals out there. I use one journal until it’s filled, while my sister-in-law uses one per trip. It’s all about what works for you.

The Supplies

My bag of supplies for travel journaling has grown over time. Here’s what I like to keep with me:

Pens: I’m fond of writing in different colored inks, and I prefer high-quality gel pens. My current favorite is the PaperMate Ink Joy Gel. Believe me when I say that I’ve tried a ton of different pens. I also like writing with a fountain pen, but those can be a pain to carry on trips.

Glue stick & washi tape: These are great for attaching things inside the journal. I used to just leave them loose and attach them when I got home, but it’s so much easier to do right away. For one thing, it reduces the chance that you’ll lose something. Just remember that a glue stick can’t go in your carry-on bag.

Scissors: Sometimes I want to cut things out of flyers. On cruise ships, they give daily bulletins, and there’s some things that are fun to cut out, like the daily weather and port. Whenever I try tearing things out, I inevitably rip them. Scissors are my friend. But they also can’t go in the carry-on.

LifePrint: Last Christmas, my husband bought me a LifePrint, and it is one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten. I can print pictures directly from my phone, and it’s tiny, so it travels easily. I always see advice to draw and sketch in travel journals, and while I admire people who can do that, I have to Google “how to draw _____” whenever I want to draw a basic shape. I swear, I’ll take a drawing class one day. For now, there’s LifePrint.

What to Record

First, decide who the travel journal is for. Do you intend to share it with others? Or is it just for you? It may make a difference on what you write down. At first I had the idea that I might share, but as time went on, I realized that it was more fun for me to write down more personal observations rather than to go back and forth between my travel journal and my personal journal.

I also like recording my hotel, airline, and travel information on the first page of that trip. I have a handy place to gather all my necessary information, but it’s also nice to be able to look back and remember if I liked that hotel, cruise ship, etc.

You can record literally anything in a travel journal. The point is to have a fun and memorable trip. I tend to record observations about people and philosophical concepts, as well as what I did and ate on a given day. My sister-in-law tends to record a lot more about the history of places. It all depends on what you personally want to remember.

I’ve also gotten less fussy about keeping it as a “pure” record. I’ll put anything in my journal, even if I just need to use it for scrap paper. Some of those jottings can be fun to see in the future.

The most important thing is to regard it as a fun and to use your imagination. My journals have more stuff interspersed with the writing as time goes on.

Preparing Ahead

In addition to gathering supplies, it can also be fun to get maps or other printed materials. Stickers are always fun, and since scrapbooking has become so popular, there are tons available everywhere.

Do you keep a travel journal? If so, do you have any tips?

#sorrynotsorry 5 Books I Love That Others (Claim To) Hate

I sometimes see people apologize for or defend their entertainment choices and I wonder… why? Unless it involves kicking puppies, why apologize for what entertains you?

You like stupid comedies? Right on. Trashy romance? Enjoy. Snooty literary fiction? Good for you. Books that cause other to become suicidally depressed? Have fun!

The thing is that there are lots of people out there who love to judge. They’ll judge you for what you eat, what you wear, what you watch, who you love, what you read. If someone wants to judge you, they’ll find a reason.

What others think of you is none of your business. Seriously.

As long as you aren’t hurting anyone or inciting violence, you shouldn’t have to defend your choices or explain. I’m tired of the ubiquitousness of judgemental attitudes these days.

One thing I’ll never apologize for is what I like to read.

There are lots of people out there who like to hate on popular books, as if hating something automatically makes you smart. Don’t get me wrong; there are some popular books I’m just not into. But I don’t think it’s because I have better taste or anything like that; it’s just personal taste.

Judging by the sales of these books and the ratings on Goodreads, others like these books too, even though it’s popular to hate on them. Oh well… I’ve never been a cool kid anyway.

The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown (mystery/ thriller): No one ever claimed this was literature, but it’s great fun and a fast read.

The Host, by Stephanie Meyer (science fiction): I LOVE this book. It’s not hardcore science fiction and probably appeals more to readers of romance or YA, but I loved the characters and the relationships. Maybe she’s not the world’s best writer, but when I’m engaged enough in the story, I don’t even notice.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth (YA science fiction): People who criticize this one say things like, “It doesn’t make sense,” or that the world building was sloppy. Many people criticized the idea of breaking people into factions. Maybe I’m just more willing to suspend disbelief than most people, but none of it bothered me. I liked the characters and enjoyed the ride.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (YA science fiction): Critics say the characters were blank, the plot was predictable, and that Peeta was creepy (not romantic). I liked Katniss. I thought the plot was fine… sometimes predictable is good. And the argument that Peeta should have declared himself before, and not doing so, but loving her from a distance all that time is stalkerish… I feel like being a stalker is about action, not inaction. Team Peeta 4-ever.

Fearscape, by Nenia Campbell (YA horror): This is a three book series, and while I have numerous problems with it (more as the series went on), there are things I loved so much about it that I’m willing to deal with it. There’s a creepy stalker “romantic” interest who is actually a stalker. Yes, the main character is attracted to him, but she nopes out once she realizes that he’s crazy. Of course, that doesn’t help, but at least she tries. The book would have benefitted greatly from an editor (and even more as the books go on). But… even though I hate lazy writing, I can’t bring myself to hate this one. Please edit and republish, okay?

What books do you love that others (claim to) hate?

Finalist in the Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest!

Hey everyone, guess what! My manuscript, Not Dead Enough, was a finalist in the young adult category of The Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest! It’s a fancy way of saying I was a runner-up, but I’ll take it!

When Charlotte’s abusive boyfriend starts texting her from beyond the grave, she has to figure out if he’s haunting her, if she’s losing her mind, or if someone else wants her dead. He may be gone, but he’s NOT DEAD ENOUGH.

I got fantastic feedback on how to improve my book, and I’m eager to start working on it. Plus, I got a great compliment. The person who critiqued my manuscript said, “It is reminiscent of older horror books (like Christopher Pike) but the social media and modern voice stops it from feeling dated.”

For a while, I was getting frustrated by the fact that I keep getting close to winning contests and such, but don’t quite get there. I’ve put it in perspective now though, and I wasn’t even getting this kind of feedback before, which means I’ve improved. I only have a little more to go before I’m where I want to be.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that as long as I keep improving, I’m moving forward to reach my goal. Maybe it’s taking longer than I like, but that doesn’t matter, as long as I keep moving forward. And I’m learning so much writing and editing this book that the next one will be a little easier.

On a related topic, for the last two weeks, I blogged about writing groups, and I have proof that my writing group is awesome. My friend from my writer’s group, Mary Osteen, was a finalist in the same contest in the middle-grade category for her book, The Book With No Story.

Have you ever been frustrated by not making progress or reaching a goal as quickly as you wanted to?

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Five Things Friday- May

Yes, I know it’s June, but just barely, so I’m calling this for May. 🙂 I haven’t done one of these since February!

One- What I’m Writing

I’m editing my YA horror novel, Not Dead Enough. I’ve recently gotten some good feedback on it that I’m incorporating.

Two- Random Fact About Me

Dodgeball is the only real (ie. not video game) sport I’ve excelled at. My strategy in dodgeball was to taunt the other players into throwing the ball at me, then someone athletic would attempt to catch it while I fell out of the way. I’m really good at taunting and falling.

Three- What I’m Grateful For This Month

I’m grateful for my peaceful home and my amazing animals. I’ve recently gotten a reminder that peace and quiet aren’t a given. Funny how it can take a reminder before we’re grateful, isn’t it?

Four- When I Wasn’t Reading

I was editing my book and helping a family member with a medical issue.

Five- Favorite Picture This Month

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Ten Things I’ve Learned From My Writing Critique Group

Sorry I didn’t get to finish this series of posts last week, as planned. Life got in the way, as it sometimes does.

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I belong to one online and two in-person writing groups currently. I’ve belonged to others of both types in the past. Some of my experiences with writing groups have been better than others, but I’ve learned a lot from both the more positive and less positive experiences. I will say that both of my current in-person writing groups feel like family, and hanging out with them is the best.

1. Chemistry matters.

Critiquing can be a stressful experience for both the person giving and the person receiving the critique. No matter how much I try to tell myself it’s not personal, it absolutely is. I pour my heart into what I write (as most writers do) and any critique, no matter how well-intentioned, can sting a bit. Critique stings a lot less (and actually can feel good) coming from someone I genuinely like and respect. When everyone in a group respects one another, I can tell, and it makes a huge difference to how the group functions.

2. I always have more to learn.

When I first started the process of being critiqued, I’m not sure what I thought about it. But knowing me, I probably assumed I wouldn’t need someone else to critique me forever, that at some point, I’d “get it.”

I understand now that my learning will constantly evolve, and once I master one skill, it’s time to learn another. At this point, I want my writing to constantly improve, no matter how “good” I get.

Like most beginning writers, I used to have a love affair with adverbs. I don’t anymore, but I do tend to repeat words. I get a favorite word in a chapter, and that word is repeated 8,375 times. I don’t even notice, no matter how hard I look for it. But my critique group does.

3. Talking to other writers is like taking a mini-vacation.

In all of my groups, we stay and talk after we’re done tearing each other’s work to shreds. (Just kidding. We don’t do that… usually.) The conversations we have are generally the type of things that might make non-writers a little nervous. I speak loudly, and not everyone appreciates flippant comments on murder, the apocalypse, or how we can disagree and still respect one another. Luckily, my group does, and they laugh even louder when they realize we’re scaring people.

4. Good criticism energizes me.

Most of the time, I walk away from my writers’ groups eager to make the changes my fellow writers have suggested. There have been many times when I know something isn’t right about my story, but I can’t pinpoint what. When good critique is offered, I suddenly know exactly what needs to be done (or at least, where to start) and I want to get to it immediately. I wish I could bottle that feeling.

5. Other writers’ successes feel fantastic.

There’s lots of advice out there about how to deal with jealousy when the writers nearest to you are becoming more successful than you. I’m so competitive that I worried this would be a problem for me. But when two members of my group found agents, I waited for the jealousy, and it didn’t happen. All I felt was, “Of course someone recognized how amazing their stories are! I can’t wait to buy them!” Do I want to get an agent and start that path to publication? Obviously. But I want us all to be successful, and it doesn’t matter which of us is first. We’re all going to get there.

6. Everyone works at their own pace.

I can whip out a really good first draft fast, but then I have to spend a long time tinkering with it. I struggle with the editing process because my first draft is so close to being right that I don’t know what to change. (This is not a humble-brag. It really is frustrating and I haven’t learned how to edit my work the way I need to.) As a result, I probably spend more time editing and rewriting than anyone I know. It sometimes frustrates me because I feel like I should be able to get this faster than I do. But if I’m being honest, it can sometimes take me a while to learn a new skill. But once I get it, I get it. I’m frustrated with my “always a bridesmaid” status, in that most of the rejections I get say that I made it to the final round, or that they loved it, “but…” However, I’ve started telling myself that this is just part of my process, and the fact that I’m getting closer to success means that I’m on the right track. There was a time I didn’t even get to be a bridesmaid.

7. Most of us are socially awkward introverts.

We like books! People are… ugh. We’re not unfriendly (well, sometimes we are), it’s just that, as socially awkward introverts, we don’t always want to meet new group members, no matter how great they may turn out to be. It’s hard to be friendly and hard to welcome new group members. After all, we’re going to be putting our hearts on the table, handing out knives, and saying, “Go on, slash at it.” I remember being new to groups and feeling, while not unwelcome, not entirely welcome either. I also remember being wary of new group members, eyeing them suspiciously. I try to be better about it because what I’ve figured out is that no matter how “normal” they pretend to be, they’re just as weird in the same ways as me.

8. You really do have to be willing to put your heart on the table.

This is so hard for me. Most of my group members love my supporting cast of characters but call my narrators “secretive,” “gray,” or “blank.” (Most of them don’t come out and say this, but that’s what their comments boil down to.) It took me a long time to figure out that while my narrators aren’t me, they carry bits of me, and my normal habit of being secretive spills over onto them more strongly than any other trait of mine. People want to know characters; it’s what makes them sympathetic, even when they’re making bad decisions.

I have to keep reminding myself of two things. First off, no one is going to know what bits and pieces of my heart I used to mold and shape my characters unless I tell them. Secondly, even if they did, people love vulnerability. Presenting an impenetrable facade is intimidating. I know this, and I’m still working on it.

 

9. Not everyone wants you to succeed.

There are people join writer’s groups for their ego and they will tear you down if they get the chance. Sometimes those people are harder to recognize than others. But if you more often feel bad about their criticism than energized or good, it may be time to part ways. Writing is hard enough without the discouragers.

10. Some writers have no desire to improve.

Some people will never change, no matter how many times you offer the same feedback. There’s a difference between “I thought about what you said and I disagree” and “I’m not really interested in changing.” Those people can be difficult to deal with because anyone who’s growing and changing will feel dragged down by people who are stuck. Unfortunately, the only thing I’ve found that works long-term with people who don’t want to improve is to leave them alone in their unchanging ways.

I found my current writers’ groups through Meetup.com, but I also use Scribophile for an online critique group. (Feel free to find me on Scribophile as Doree Weller.)

What have you learned from your writers’ groups? Is there anything I’ve covered in this series that you’re interested in learning more about?

Related posts:

8 Things To Remember When Giving Writing Feedback

9 Things To Remember When Receiving Writing Feedback

4 Myths About Critiquing