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Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Creative Rapport

In Creative Inspiration on February 26, 2013 at 2:52 am

There are weeks when I feel I am accomplishing nothing. This is not simple procrastination (which I wrote about three weeks ago). This instead feels like a loss of vision, a lack of passion, and a straying from, not merely my creative goals, but from my creative self.

I feel like a sleeper agent that has forgotten his mission, as if I’ve grown up in enemy territory and forgotten whose side I’m on. I recognize that being on my own side is an important thing. What this means is that I have to re-establish rapport with myself, reconnect with my mission, my interests, my passion and drives, and break away from the millions of things that, while entertaining, distract me from myself and creative drive.

Here are some of the things I’ve discovered that are essential for re-establishing and maintaining rapport with creative self:

• Cross-pollination: I find this to be the key to my imagination and inspiration. It just means taking in as much stimuli from different sources as your brain and senses can comfortably handle. Read a novel. Go to poetry readings. Attend lectures on interesting subjects or download TED talks. Read interesting non-fiction about history, crime, global politics, or whatever you find interesting that you don’t already know a lot about. I’m not suggesting you choose between these things. I’m suggesting you do all of them at once or at least within the span of a week or two. Keep uploading interesting stuff into your brain and your unconscious will see interesting connections or interpretations that will make for a good story, poem, article, dance routine, or whatever.

• Music: Listen to music that makes you want to dance, or unleash your anger, or want to cry. Any music that helps you get in touch with your emotions is good. Listening to music helps us process our emotions. Why do you think teenagers, who we know are quite emotional, listen to so much music? Maybe listening to music you listened to as a teenager will release some emotions you haven’t let out in a while. Maybe finding some new music will help you cross-pollinate (see above).

• Get Your Blood Pumping: I find that when I’m exercising regularly, I’m also writing regularly. They have always gone hand in hand. Without exception, if I’m not exercising, I’m not writing. Maybe it’s because my brain is getting more oxygen and other nutrients due to increased blood flow. In any case, I’ve found exercise essential to creative output.

• Change of Scenery: When I’m at home, I often spend all day in front of the computer, surfing the web, trying to find amusement and distraction. On those days, it’s best to just find a cafe somewhere and drown my distraction in pastries and chocolate-flavored, caffeinated brain juice. The library is useful too. I often just need a place away from YouTube, my Xbox, my DVD player, cable TV, or any other shiny thing to capture my attention.

• Read a Poem or Short Piece or Excerpt That Inspires You: This serves a purpose that’s similar to music. It helps you process your emotions and reminds you of what has moved you in the past. I suggest reading short pieces so that you can take a little amount of time to grab some inspiration and get back to your creative goal.

• Read Your Own Work: Read something you’ve written that you enjoy. Remind yourself that you’re good and that in the past you have reached your creative goals. If you look at a piece and think it’s not as good as it could be, first, just enjoy that you made the effort and finished something, and, second, possibly use that piece as a jumping off place for a new project (or just give the piece some minor tweaks if that’s all it needs).

• Pay Attention to Your Ideas: This is the oldest bit of creative advice in the world. Keep a notebook and whenever you get an idea for a creative project (poem, story, drawing, etc.) write down, sketch it, capture it quickly, not out of the fear of losing it, as if you must capture this one idea out of fear that other good ones won’t show up. I don’t find fear a good motivator for creativity. This process, instead, is one of welcoming. If you keep paying attention to the ideas as they show up, others will continue to show up. This is why I think I’m going to soon keep a log of story ideas and segments on this blog. More on that later.

• Show Up: Woody Allen is attributed with saying that 80% of success is showing up. Now, I don’t believe this number was produced by any scientific method and I don’t even have a source for the quote, but there’s something to this. If you’ve decided for yourself to meet a goal, don’t stress about whether you can meet the goal. Don’t listen to anxiety before you put pen to paper. The first thing you need to do is show up. In fact, it might help if you act as if that showing up is all that’s required of you. When I decide this and show up at the writing desk (or café – see above), or the poetry slam, or what-have-you, my anxiety disappears into the background.

The trick is to find things that energize you, not simply distract you. Find things that engage the best parts of you and get those pieces strong enough to counter the arguments from the voices that are trying to prevent you from any action that causes your ego to flinch. Those voices are scared and are trying to drag you away from the risky behavior of creating. Instead, take a moment get back in touch with your creative self. Exercise it and make it strong enough to shrug off the fear.

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Creation and Fear

In Creative Inspiration on February 18, 2013 at 8:51 pm

There are some weeks I feel I engage in procrastination more than any other activity, which is ironic since procrastination is the postponing of activity. However, I hear this paradoxical activity/non-activity is fairly common for writers. For example, TV-writer Dan Harmon was supposed to deliver two pilot scripts to Fox and CBS by the end of last year but instead took his podcast Harmontown on a nationwide tour for a month, at his own financial expense. Me, I just clean my desk or watch YouTube videos of the Harlem Shake when I’m procrastinating. But Harmon has a reputation for being a zealous perfectionist in his writing, so why should putting off writing be any different?

But why do we do it? As writers, writing is supposedly what we long to do the most, right? Why would we go to such lengths to avoid it? Instead of chastising myself for being lazy, which is my usual stance, I’ve been giving this behavior some serious thought.

The question comes down to this: Is avoiding making art ever worth it? If so, what would be the point of it? It is essentially the avoidance of making meaning. Why would it ever be beneficial to avoid the process of taking in the random events of the world around you, weaving together the strands of those events, and spinning them into a golden fiber of wonder and significance? What would be the point of avoiding that?

Well, according to Neil Fiore, we avoid this process because it’s stressful. We procrastinate basically to avoid the pain that accompanies the process. Ironically, procrastination is a strategy that helps us accomplish tasks. Eventually it forces us to work when the fear of not completing a task becomes stronger than the pain of engaging the task, a fear that increases as the deadline looms. It’s akin to refusing to leave a building until it is on fire.

But while this may work, most of us don’t enjoy this strategy. In fact, it seems to create more stress than just strapping in and getting the job done. So what are our reasons for doing this, and are any of them valid?

I believe that the major stress of artistic creation comes from facing our vulnerability, whether it is from facing the limits of our skill, the limits of our vision, or the aspects of our character that we feel shame about that block our connection with the rest of the world. The expert on vulnerability and shame is Brené Brown. It’s through her lectures and books that I began to understand this aspect of my procrastination. It became apparent that through revealing my vulnerability, I felt I was placing myself at risk.

Another fear is that, despite the effort to create meaning, we will fail. Regardless of our effort, we fear our lives will be as meaningless and insignificant as before. Our efforts will only exhaust us and move us no further to truth than if we had just sat and watched YouTube kitten videos all day.

Yet another fear is that we won’t like what we find. The truth will be revealed to us and it will be a truth that we have feared our whole lives: We are worthless. We are talentless. We have nothing to contribute to the world. We are frauds and imposters, trying to fool everyone that we are worthwhile.

Are these fears reasonable? Let’s look at them.

Fearing that we expose ourselves to vulnerability is missing the point. The point is that this process is how we become powerful. It’s the same logic about why we avoid exercises that will make us stronger. We may feel exhausted and uncomfortable while going through it, but it is inevitable that we will be stronger at the end of it. This is how we become powerful. I again direct you to Brené Brown. She has a much more specific and detailed explanation of how this process works.

Will we find our lives are meaningless by engaging in a process designed to produce meaning? That’s simply irrational. You can see the inherent contradiction. I think this fear is really about the impatience of not seeing a meaningful payoff immediately. To curb this impatience, we need to breathe and realize we’re taking in a lifelong process of creating meaning. The exercise analogy works here as well. This isn’t a quick weight-loss scheme. This is about how to remain healthy your whole life.

But what if the meaning that is discovered is an unpleasant one? If we acknowledge it, then no matter how unpleasant it may be, facing the truth is still the only way to lead ourselves to our power, because everything else that we may believe is powerful can only be an illusion and temporary.

But here’s the real truth. When I fail to create, I am often depressed and feel out of touch with my own mind, my own feelings, and I become disassociated from my own sense of joy. Ignoring and postponing creating art is definitely the easiest way to do this. It is the simplest way to alienate you from yourself.

I need to create because I am a skeptic and I question everything around me. The explanation I’ve been handed about how this world is supposed to work doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t resonate with who I am and what I see as just in this world. I create in order to revise the state of the world, to make it so others see it in ways that jar them out of what is their normal way of seeing. It is a rock thrown through the glass container of conditioning. It is meant to disrupt brainwashing. It is meant to awaken consciousness and conscious choices and acts in the world. It is not a panacea. It is the use of vision and imagination as an added dimension of reality in order to further clarify the rift between the world as it is and the world as we wish it to be, testing one against the other.

I think I’ve pretty well debunked all these fears. This blog post has become yet another reminder to me of the power of creation and the necessity of engaging in it every day. Whenever I feel an emotional inertia that keeps me from writing, I should test my inactivity against these arguments. I hope that this is useful to others as well. Nothing, not even ourselves, should keep us from engaging our imaginations in this powerful and meaningful way.

Story: Nothing Special

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2013 at 2:52 am

No blog this week. Instead of writing, I spent my time typing and editing a story I wrote in college called Nothing Special. It was published back in 1998 in the fourth issue of Glyph, a comics and short story anthology magazine I was the fiction editor for. Honestly, I had forgotten what issue the story was in. I found that info on the Grand Comics Database. The internet is an amazing thing. You can read the story by clicking here. There will be more stories coming soon.

Methods of Procrastination: Chapter 2

In Creative Inspiration, Methods of Procrastination on February 4, 2013 at 11:30 pm

After splicing together freewrites about Tarantino’s Django Unchained and researching other people’s criticism, I realize I don’t really have anything especially new or insightful to say that hasn’t already been said. The movie has been out for over 6 weeks, after all, and everyone has pretty much taken their shot at it. However, I am going back and forth about whether I should write it anyway. While I’m trying to decide, I…

  • Download “The Walking Dead” video game episodes for my xBox 360.
  • Read online articles from David Walker,  Erin Aubry Kaplan, and Jelani Cobb about Django Unchained to see if there’s something there I could riff from, but then feel that merely restating and organizing what they’ve already said is kind of cheating, especially when I can’t think of something new to add.
  • Make breakfast.
  • Read email – which is mostly notices of deals from businesses whose mailing list I’m on.
  • Read Twitter feed, become absorbed in reading Neil Gaiman’s retweets after he says he’ll post 12 questions for his twitter followers to answer, one every hour, each pertaining to a month of the year, each answer a potential seed for 12 stories he plans to write.
  • Write answers for Gaiman’s questions for February (Q: strangest thing that ever happened to you in February? A: I was a high school nerd who got a secret valentine from the most beautiful girl in class. Cliché, but true) and March (Q: What historical figure does March remind you of? A: William Blake. His angels look blown in from March winds.)
  • Laugh at Wil Wheaton’s tweet about his dog’s confusion over their owner dancing to Public Enemy.
  • Clean Bedroom.
  • Sort Laundry.
  • Become obsessed by reading other people’s answers to Gaiman’s questions. Latest question: Where would you spend your perfect June?
  • Become disturbed that I can’t pinpoint the times for the other more nostalgia based questions (weirdest gift in May, happiest memory of April). Am I getting old and my memory is going?
  • Realize I’m hungry and figure out what I should be having for lunch, but instead of making lunch I just sit at my desk listening to my stomach growl.
  • Realize this means the procrastination has crept from writing into more vital areas of my life and wonder if I should be worried about this.
  • Also, realize that I downloaded the “Walking Dead” video game but haven’t bothered to play any of it yet. I’m even procrastinating my procrastination.
  • Continue to be stumped about Gaiman’s June question but wrack my brain for an answer anyway.
  • Become discouraged when Gaiman doesn’t retweet my answers. For a second, I take this to mean I’m a boring writer.
  • Become fearful over my obsession with Gaiman’s exercise because this means I’m screwed for the next 6 hours.
  • Finally admit that I am reacting to Gaiman’s twitter feed for the sake of his writing exercise instead of being proactive with my own writing and finishing today’s damn blog.
  • After answering Gaiman’s question for July (Q: What is the most unusual thing you have ever seen in July? A: I was 8 and visiting my grandparents in Chicago the first time I saw Ultraman, Speed Racer, and Doctor Who), I again realize how heavily mediated my life is. I wonder if this is a good blog topic and realize I already wrote about it last week. At least I was ahead on something.