Archive for the ‘creativity’ category

Hardcore revisions: a method

August 29, 2011

You already know how fascinated I am by the creative process and how different artists get things done. Over on her blog, Leona Wisoker is in the process of detailing the method she’s using–and the actual practice–of digging back into a story she trunked a long time ago, with the intent of raising it to her current standard. The project has been under way for almost a week, and it’s fun to see what she’s doing with it: not least with the ways she keeps things both fresh and disciplined, remembering to feed the artist at work.

The writers among you will surely find ideas worth stealing. For everyone interested in such things, it’s a cool lens into an artist’s process.

Today’s Dirty Writer Secret

April 10, 2011

A couple days of forward motion at the keyboard does not constitute total immunity to creative malaise. That is a battle we have to fight more days than not. After just one day of derailment by the mundane (in this case, allergies) I am back down at the bottom of the mountain trying to push that damn rock again.

Heave. Ho.

Validation and the courage to keep going

April 27, 2010

Jazz musician Bill McGee posted this on Facebook recently. I picked it up from a friend’s feed. Feel free to skip ahead if you’ve seen this article already; discussion after the jump.

Bill McGee THE SITUATION – In Washington, DC, at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . .
How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?
(Thanks Gregory Branch for forwarding this to me – I understand THIS!)



December 9, 2009

I am becoming a knitting addict. I can tell, because when the person with whom I share knitting experience is around, I am unable to resist the urge to knit. When we’re not knitting, we’re talking about knitting. We shop for knitting paraphernalia together — and if you’re not already a knitting addict, then you are probably not ready to hear about going to the knitting store and petting all the yarns. Oooo, baby.

Further evidence: when I am knitting, I feel calm. In fact just being near my knitting basket, knowing that I could knit if I really wanted to, is calming. I spend too much time knitting, and sometimes neglect other things I should be doing.

But here is why knitting is good: knitting is like writing. When you knit, you learn writing lessons — and writing makes you a better knitter. Possibly my favorite thing about knitting is that, as with writing, you can make mistakes without completely hosing things. When you sew, if you make a mistake, you may be able to rip out the seam and try again — but the place where you ripped it out may be visible. And heaven help you if you’ve made a cutting error! But the worst-case scenario in knitting is ripping out what you’ve done…which just leaves you with all the yarn you started with and a bit more experience at the craft.

This is a miraculous secret, in my view. I knit with abandon; if I hose it, I rip it out and start over. This is just like a good day in the study: if I hose a scene, I try again. I can excise it from the file that holds my current draft, possibly storing it nearby if I think parts of it may prove useful later. Or I can simply dig back in and knit new sentences around the first attempt. A knitted item is really just one long complex knot you tie with needles. It is subject to change without notice, and you don’t have to beat yourself up for trying again. It will be better next time, because you learned from the last attempt.

Writing is like that, too, of course. I have tossed out literally hundreds of thousands of words in the course of my writing practice. But none of them are ruined. I can use them all again, as often as I like.

And I would like to tell you I could stop anytime I wanted to, but…well. Maybe I am a writing addict, too.

What are we to make of this?

January 19, 2009

It’s quite likely that there’s something wrong with me, some Creutzfeld-Jakob of the publishing brain. I turned down a publishable novel this weekend.

Really, there was nothing showstoppingly wrong with it. I yanked it out of the slushpile with lightning speed because the writing was top-notch. It was SF rather than F, which excited me because Mercury Retrograde is so heavily weighted in favor of fantasy. PoV slips were minor, and I felt certain I’d be able to coach the writer through where he was going wrong. And it started in media res, which almost never happens. I had every expectation of falling in love.

So why did I turn it down? Not because of any fault, but because of what it turned out to be: a sort of James-Bond-in-space with a female protag. Sounds like a great concept, right? This is the kind of thing that dominates the upper end of SFF novel sales, and a publisher with a better moneymaking brain would have jumped all over it. I’m sure it will sell quite soon–or within a timeframe that passes for “soon” in the publishing industry. In fact I’m certain the only reason it wound up on my desk is that the path to publication with a big house has grown so very, very long.

But for better or worse–or, more to the point, for richer or poorer–it was the things this very competent novelist didn’t dig into that made my decision for me: character and ideas. For me, it is not enough that a character is well-defined and heroic: I want to see him or her *develop*, deal with conflicts that are deep and defining and change as a result of confronting them. I don’t want the story to turn on an Achilles heel: I want to dig into why Achilles’ sexual orientation changed the course of the Trojan War. And great worldbuilding and gee-whiz-ness don’t do it for me unless they are there in service of ideas the author is exploring. I understand that most readers don’t share my needs: most read to be entertained, to zip through a story that gives them a good ride and maybe some good moments to roll around in their minds later. And that the smart money is in giving people entertaining diversions, not stories that will challenge them, ask them to become emotionally involved or even changed by what they read.

As a reader, though, it’s things in the latter category I want to read. As a writer, that’s what I want to write. As a publisher, I want to create a space where writers can do that sort of work without having to consider themselves failures if their work doesn’t get below the magic Thousand Mark on Amazon. But all I really knew when I decided to decline the offer of that very competent novel was that I didn’t love it. I had to wander around for several hours afteward, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me.

It’s possible that I recognized with my artist-brain, long before my conscious mind caught up, that to start down the path of choosing novels for monetary rather than artistic reasons is to risk artistic ruin. But it’s also possible that I just have Mad Cow.

This might be a manifesto

October 1, 2008

Yeah, I might have to nail this one to the cathedral door when it’s done.

Today is the official release date of Shorn by Larissa N. Niec: the first book published by my brainchild, Mercury Retrograde Press. I’m immeasurably proud of the work we’ve done on this one–and it *has* been a “we”, because in addition to the writer, any book must also have an editor, a proofreader, a typesetter/book designer, a cover designer, one or more artists, and people whose task it is to get the word out so people can fall in love with the creation and make its story part of their personal myth set. Shorn has had–still has–a whole team behind it. Because we’re a new press, and we can’t afford to hire full-time employees yet, I’ve done the majority of the work on this project, and for the most part I find the work fulfilling; but in the race to do this book justice, I have mostly set aside my own writing life. This is a thing I’ve viewed as a temporary necessity; in my mind, once we crossed the finish line on Shorn, things would calm down and I could get back to the study with a clear conscience.

I now understand that was unrealistic. There is still work to be done for Shorn, and the work will continue for a couple months yet: getting the word out, setting up relationships with new sales channels (a task for which I’m hugely grateful, btw), propagating the ebook versions and beginning to figure out the logistics of audio book production. Meanwhile Anointed, the next book on Mercury Retrograde’s menu, is already waiting for me to start doing my share of what it needs; by the time that’s done, I’ll be behind on the next one. (And, oh, you’re going to LOVE the next one, but there are still nagging legal entanglements that must be resolved, so for now I must leave you to fantasize. Two words to start with: Urban Fantasy.)

The bottom line: I am never going to be *caught up* on Mercury Retrograde business, at least not until Mercury Retrograde can afford staff. That’s normal for a start-up business, and I’ve done the whole start-up thing before, so while I’m not uncomfortable with the headlong dash and all the other stuff that goes along with it, now that we’re in a Mercury Retrograde period, my muse is crying for time in the study…and suddenly I remember that I founded Mercury Retrograde because the house I wanted to publish my own fiction didn’t exist yet. It exists now, and I love it; but if I publish six, nine, or twelve books per year that win the hearts of critics and fans alike, earn out and go on to make money for their authors, and yet I am not writing fiction, I will not have done what I set out to do.

It is never going to be a convenient time for me to go back to writing; so long as I am writing, things will move more slowly in the office than they otherwise might. But it occurs to me that, while I refuse to hold other Mercury Retrograde authors to hard deadlines when meeting those deadlines would require them to compromise their art, I’m giving my own work no such respect. That has to stop.

So, while Mercury Retrograde Press authors and fans may wish I could move a little faster in the office, I trust they will understand that I must go back to carving out regular time in the study. No book will go unedited, un-typeset, or unpromoted; it’s just that schedules will be a bit more fluid than they’ve been. In the long run, I suspect, all of Mercury Retrograde’s books will benefit.

In the mean time, I have to go back to the study.

One of the nicest beatings ever

July 14, 2008

So, yeah, Wynette read my draft of the first two acts of Affairs. Her take:

“This would be a really good book from anybody but you. You can do better.”

Uh, thanks? Uh, uhm…really. How am I supposed to feel?

Let’s be clear: she’s right. The things she bitched about were things that have been troubling me as I’ve been writing: some serious flaws in Deaclan’s motivation which–were I to address them–would derail my trip towards that plot point this novel had to hit; the way plot had to keep giving way to the weight of backstory and worldbuilding this novel was trying to carry. There’s other stuff I would like to improve, too, but those are the things that can’t be addressed within the current framework. The bottom-line problem is that I am a character-driven writer and I’ve been trying to write to a plot point. Which is to say that I’ve been writing a plot-driven novel. Of course I can do better than that.

So, where do we go from here? The headline: this book won’t go to press this year. Oh, it *could*: I’m the publisher, after all. And it wouldn’t be an embarrassment in the scheme of things…but it wouldn’t be my best art. And that would be sorta pointless. Instead I will dig back in and attack this story (which, as those of you who’ve been playing along know, will have numerous volumes by the time it’s done, mostly because the idea is Too Freakin Big) from the other possible angle of entry. Which will obviate (no, who am I kidding? alleviate) the worldbuilding problem I’ve been fighting. I’d actually had a hard time deciding which of these two points of entry to use, and now I have sufficient data to be certain which is the way to go. It’s going to be easier, and probably better, this way.

Why, then, the perpiscacious reader asks, if trying it the other way will be easier and better, didn’t you just damn well do it that way in the first place?

That would be because I had made the mistake of attempting to think like a publisher.

Oh, sure, I’ve got to think like a publisher. But when thinking like a publisher gets in the way of thinking like an artist, I will succeed as neither. I’d chosen Affairs as the starting point for the series because it’s got a better hook. It will probably be easier to sell. All things being equal, that’s better, obviously. The problem is that all things aren’t equal. The other approach, beginning with The Shadow of the Sun, is more art and less hook. Hamlet meets the Tain Bo Cuilagne meets Paradise Lost. How the hell do you soundbyte that? Who besides Irish mythology geeks has even *heard* of the Tain Bo?

Don’t glaze over. It will be a good ride, nay a great one. It just doesn’t have that nice *hook*.

Back to the study for me, right after the launch.

Digging through the creative block: for entrepreneurs, too

January 13, 2008

I am just putting the finishing touches on my part of the task of filing corporate taxes for last year. Thank all the gods everywhere for accountants: this would be so much worse without mine.

Closing out 2007 finances has been a more complicated task than usual: part of the reason for this is the fact that Wynette is leaving Be Mused. By far the bigger part is that, as the business side of my and our creative life grew increasingly undefined, I grew very resistant to keeping up with the financial tracking, which has always been part of my share of the work. Oh, sure, I paid the bills on time and all that stuff — but the filing, the logging, even much of the decision-making for the next year wound up stalled in big piles on my desk in the office. That’s not typical behavior for me: I don’t really *enjoy* that work, but I generally don’t mind it, and I am reassured when I can account for all the mundane stuff.

It wasn’t until last night, when I discovered areas of my desk I haven’t seen in weeks, that I finally began to think about what was up with that. For most entrepreneurs, business life is their creative life. A business about which you care so passionately that you pour yourself into it: that is a creative effort at least as heartfelt as most novels. When a novelist develops resistance to moving forward in her work, we call it being blocked. But as far as I know, there are no such labels to describe the procrastination, anxiety, and avoidance behaviors that manifest in business people when something has gone wrong with their creativity.

But there was no question in my mind, once I looked at my situation in the office with my coach-eyes on: I have been creatively blocked in my business life. Something was wrong, and I was resisting moving forward. In my writing life, I’ve learned to recognize that a block is often a gift from my subconscious: unless there is something external going on, when I begin throwing up roadblocks on a novel, it’s because the muse has spotted something wrong.

I’ve been peripherally aware that something had gone wrong in the business part of my creative life, for months. After all, Wynette and I had individually and collectively informed the universe, as fall began, that we did not want any new clients just then. (The universe complied, of course.) As the year drew to a close, we began shedding pieces of our business strategy that we could see weren’t in line with our as-yet-hazy direction. But it wasn’t until Wynette decided to make the final break with the business that I was able to step back, look at the business as a whole, and begin to figure out why I wasn’t having fun anymore. At the time, of course, I didn’t think that was what I was trying to figure out: I was just trying to figure out how to structure an author services business that didn’t offer graphic services.

But why I wasn’t having fun anymore was actually the more important question. I have been figuring out the answer, lately; Be Mused had represented things Wynette and I are really good at, aid we could give independent writers and publishers in support of an ideal in which we both believe. But those services we offered were not things we love in and of themselves; we do them passionately in pursuit of our own publishing efforts — but that passion arises from our commitment to the novels we publish, not the tasks of editing and typeset and cover design. The part of aiding independent writers and publishers that I do love, the part I kept sneaking in around the edges of other work even when I wasn’t charging for it, is the coaching and creativity work I’ve been doing with writers, entrepreneurs, and other visionaries for lo these many years.

If there is a First Rule of Creativity, it goes something like this:

If you’re not passionate about the work you’re doing, and the job is a creative one, you are wasting your time.

This rule also covers the running of a business. It’s true because work done without passion is inherently not our best work: the person who is passionate will give that extra something that makes whatever they do shine.

I may be a very fine copyeditor, and an even better text editor — but those are not tasks that, in and of themselves, arouse my creative passion. So I will be taking Be Mused in the direction of the things I love: creativity work and development coaching. I’m better at those things, anyway, and they don’t make me want to let things pile up on my desk. And now that I’ve cleaned all the stuff I couldn’t seem to face off my desk, I’m ready to dig in and begin the site redesign that will reflect Be Mused’s new direction. I’ll let you know when it’s up.

If you find yourself letting things pile up, finding excuses not to do tasks you believe you should be doing, I suggest this is likely to be a message from your subconscious. Figuring out exactly what that message means may require some uncomfortable explorations in the territory inside your own head. But figuring it out may mean the difference between spending your days in joyous pursuit of your dreams — and dragging yourself through the motions, wondering who said this business thing was supposed to be fun.

Go have some fun. Be Mused. 🙂

A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations

January 8, 2008

Anyone who’s ever held a phone conversation with me knows I am an inveterate multitasker. I’ve got to be, if I’m going to complete all my self-assigned tasks. While I’m on the phone with somebody– clients, friends, and family alike — if the conversation lasts longer than three minutes, chances are I’m doing something else at the same time. I’ve talked to clients while weeding my garden, driving to school to pick up my daughter, making dinner, and performing myriad other tasks that require half my attention or less. EVERYONE has held phone conversations with me while I did the dishes: I am the mother of two teenagers, a scratch cook, and wholly committed to organic food, and the dishes just never stop piling up.

However, I can’t hold the really intense conversations with clients that our creativity work necessitates while doing much of anything else: all of me goes into those conversations, and I am very nearly as oblivious to the outside world as I am when I’m writing. I probably shouldn’t even drive — and I generally don’t. Usually these conversations are scheduled, and I’m able to be safely ensconced in my office while we talk.

Yesterday, however, I had an Idiot Moment. I was on my way from Point A to Point B, in fact just pulling into the gas station to fill up, when my phone rang; the caller was a person I have just begun working with, who is working on the most challenging project anyone I know has had the guts to take on. The project is esoteric by anyone’s standards (yes, even mine) and my caller has taken on the challenge of communicating some mind-blowing ideas even though not a writer by nature or training. Last week we had an intense, wonderful session that led to a fantastic breakthrough in the structure of the project — but it was one of those breakthroughs in which you can see why your approach isn’t working, and maybe you have an idea of how to proceed instead, but that idea taps into challenging and scary territory. After a session like that, it’s normal to need to sit with one’s own ideas and feelings for a while before even attempting to move forward — and equally normal to feel the need to talk to one’s coach when the moving-forward begins again. Suffice it to say that I was eager for the next conversation, because I hate the feeling of leaving someone I’m working with at sea, even when I understand it’s a necessary part of the process.

Even though I shouldn’t even attempt to drive during such conversations, and even though every instinct I possessed shouted for me to just park the car while we talked, I was on a mission that was pretty important in the mundane sector of my life, and I knew if I didn’t keep moving forward I’d miss a deadline. So I decided to just get through the situation on force of will, pump my gas while holding this important and demanding conversation, and drive on to my next destination. My caller graciously offered to call back another time; but I didn’t want to leave the conversation hanging. I pumped my gas while talking and drove to my next destination, finishing our call in the parking lot before going inside.

But while I did successfully pump my gas, I failed to contain my wallet. I was too locked into the conversation. Because I was working without a headset and attempting to pump gas one-handed, I set my wallet on the roof of my car while I pulled out the credit card for the pump, and — wait for it — drove off with the wallet still on the roof.

Of course it’s gone. I should have known better. I should have understood and respected my own limitations. I can do two things at once, but I can’t do three — and I really can’t do anything else when engaged in intense creative work, whether it’s mine or someone else’s.

So, today’s lesson: understand and respect your needs and limitations. Creative work is not like the other sorts of work we do: it demands everything we’ve got. To give it less is to guarantee failure of some sort. All things considered, I’m lucky that my wallet was all I lost.

The Society for Free Range Muses: lessons learned

January 8, 2008

I touched on this in the previous post, but my keyboard runneth over as usual. Wynette and I founded the Society last year — and have decided that, for the time being, it should go dormant.

We both feel passionately about the importance of writers and artists of every flavor honoring their creative needs and taking control of their creative lives, and we founded the society with the nurturance of those ideals in mind. We can see so many good uses for a cooperative of artists who prefer creative control and blazing their own trails to the pressure and seemingly-unending heartbreak of trying to work within a faltering paradigm. More than anything else, however, it turned out to be a venue for a group blog in which a bunch of writers participated for a couple months. It very nearly morphed into a small press consortium, but in the nick of time we realized we really didn’t have time to run one more organization no matter how much everybody at MileHiCon loved the idea.

We are ending the group blog: we both felt it fulfilled an important need in some ways but derailed us from our responsibilities in others, and we have both finally understood the necessity of applying our energies (which are, sadly, limited by Universal Law) in the most effective ways possible. And for the time being the Society will be quiet, as Wynette and I make other adjustments in our professional and creative lives. But, like the Terminator, it will be back.

One of the most important things I learned from what we did with the Society was precisely what it is that’s so difficult about maintaining one’s own blog. I also gained a sense of how to begin correcting the problem. In essence, blogging is hard because it usually boils down to solo writing, when it’s supposed to be a social activity. Like all writers, I spend hours every day writing alone; regular blogging, done properly, fills the same slot in a writer’s social life as did the epic emails we all used to send one another before blogs became a Requirement. Or it attempts to, and that’s the problem: all too often it’s like shouting into a canyon. One blogs, and no one writes back. The emails I used to get from my writer friends were so much more satisfying.

The group blog we had on the Society site was different; it was truly social. We all posted in a common thread, talked about our writing lives, and discussed one another’s thoughts. It was no wonder Wynette’s and my private blogs languished.

So one of my goals for blogging this year is to do more in the way of starting discussions — and one of my great hopes is that you (yes, YOU) will chime in. Let’s talk about writing, publishing, creativity, and whatever else comes up. That’s why there’s a comments function. Please come by & toss ideas around with me!