Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Favourite Posts of May

Six pencils in pretty colours.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

May has been full of interesting posts. I’ve had to be a bit picky in order to keep the number of links to a manageable amount. They’re all great articles.

  • Eric Maisel, Get a Grip by Karen Caterson (aka Squarepeg Karen) – Squarepeg People has got some great posts on self-care and support. In this post, Karen reviews Eric Maisel’s book Making Your Creative Mark and posts an interesting excerpt.
  • Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer by Nathan Bransford – As Bransford point’s out, ‘writers aren’t generally known as the happiest lot.’ But with these ten tips you can stay positive and enjoy the writing experience.
  • Writing About Emotional and Developmental Disabilities by Lyn Miller-Lachmann – If you’ve ever considered writing a character who has a mental or physical disability, then you must read this post. The author is a woman who knows her subject and highlights principles we should all take into consideration.
  • Overcoming the Impossibility of Amazing by Seth Godin – There’s always plenty of good stuff on Seth’s Blog, but I especially liked this post. It’s an important reminder for those of us who struggle with white page fright and writer’s block. “Not-yet-amazing is a great place to start.”
  • Writers: Beware of Good Books, Unless… by Lisa Cron via Writer Unboxed – We’ve all been told “If you want to learn to write, read good books,” but here’s an explanation as to why that’s almost always bad advice.
  • Putting Passion in the Pages by C.S. Lakin – We all want to be passionate writers, but how can we do that on a regular basis? C.S. Lakin has been considering the subject in this series of posts. It’s an enlightening discuss.

What grabbed your attention in May? Share your favourite posts in the comments section below.


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My 5 Favourite Posts of April

A stressed woman facing her computer. She needs this month's favourite posts.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Usually my pick of posts are a random collection of inspiration and fun, but this month there seems to be a bit of a theme coming together.

The first three posts deal with the anxiety behind being creative and the danger of burnout. These are subjects which aren’t often discussed on writing blogs but are very important points to bear in mind. Please take a couple of moments to have a read. You owe it to yourself as an artist.

So, here are my picks of the month:

  • Should Being Creative Feel Good? by Branden Barnett – This post discusses how to use mindful acceptance and action to help you overcome the anxiety of creating art.
  • Let’s Talk About Anxiety & The Creative Process by Dan Blank – Dan Blank works with writers and so understands the anxiety they can face every day. He lists some practical tips which you can try out right away.
  • Boundaries and Burnout by Barbara O’Neal – As our lives become busier, our work load and the pressure we face becomes more intense. This post contains some questions writers should be asking themselves on a regular basis.
  • Little Darlings & Why They Must Die … For REAL by Kristen Lamb – Okay, the self-love theme is broken with this one and we’re back to more usual writing advice. This post reminds us why our little ‘writing darlings’ are so dangerous.
  • And to end, here’s a link to a quote from Jasper Fforde on the Office of Letter’s and Light Blog. It’s an excerpt from a longer pep talk which you can click through to, but the quote itself is a wonderful description of how a first draft works.

And that’s my pick for the month. Now, what about you? What were the posts that especially resonated with you during April?

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If you’re facing stress and pressure in your writing life, then you need to take some time out for yourself. I cover some helpful tips on how to do that in my free e-book Tips for Those Contemplating Insanity. You can now view it instantly by clicking here.


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Have You Watched Parkinson: Masterclass?

An image from the television show Parkinson: Masterclass

Michael Parkinson and Jamie Cullum

I don’t usually talk about television programs on Creativity’s Workshop, but I couldn’t help myself with this one.

Parkinson: Masterclass has just started airing on Australian TV and I’ve really enjoyed the two episodes I’ve seen so far.

If you haven’t heard of the show, the basic premise is Michael Parkinson interviewing a number of artists who each specialise in a different creative field. During the interview they’re asked to explain their creative process.

It’s a wonderful change from the usual TV interviews because the setup provides artists opportunities to demonstrate how they create, rather than just spouting the usual cookie-cutter answers to questions like ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ There are also questions from the audience which can lead to interesting comments from the interviewees.

So far I’ve seen two interviews: one with Michael Morpurgo (a writer most famous for his novel War Horse) and Jamie Cullum (a singer/songwriter whose speciality is jazz piano).

Here are a few points I found especially interesting.

Interview with Michael Morpurgo

My family enjoyed this interview so much we actually clapped at the end as if we were somehow part of the studio audience. It was an insightful interview with interesting nuggets for both writers and readers alike.

Here are some points I especially liked:

  • As soon as Morpurgo started interacting with the members of the audience you could tell that he understood his readers and connected well with young children. He used to be a school teacher and tell his stories directly to the children. That experience definitely shows through his work and when watching him in person.
  • He didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. The success of telling stories to children that captured their attention eventually lead him into the writing profession. He did, however, fall in love with reading at an early age. It is his love of reading and storytelling that keeps him writing.
  • Being around children (his reading audience) helped him to know what worked and what didn’t.
  • Just because something has been done before, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it again if you feel it serves the story. Because Black Beauty had been written from a horse’s POV, he was hesitant to do the same thing with War Horse. The event that changed his mind (watching a small child interacting with a horse) is so touching I can’t do it justice in this post.
  • He has a wonderful eye for detail and is always open to learning something new. The story of the child talking to the horse impacted him because he was paying attention to his surroundings, even on a dark and rainy evening. You never know when inspiration will hit or where you’ll learn something new. Being open to what’s going on around you can lead to all sorts of amazing experiences.

Interview with Jamie Cullum

I didn’t expect to get as much out of this interview because they focused on musical composition, but I was pleasantly surprised by what Cullum had to say about the creative process.

My favourite points are as follows:

  • Cullum sits at his piano for 45 minutes at a time, playing with chords and lyrics that take his interest. He records the session and then plays it back later. He may only use 10 seconds of what he came up with, but it’s worth the 45 minutes to find that 10 seconds.
  • You have to trust the process. Some days nothing happens, but he still sits at the piano anyway. He says you never know when you’ll get that idea. You have to turn up and play.
  • His enthusiasm for music comes across immediately. He loves jazz especially, but he enjoys music in general – whether it’s old or new. Some of his musical ideas come when he’s listening to recent pop songs while others come from the likes of Cole Porter.
  • When he plays the piano, you can tell he’s spent hours experimenting with the tune and the instrument. During one song he drummed on the wood of the piano and reached into the body of the piano to strum the strings. He’s not shy about experimenting and playing around with his art.

The two interviewees are quite different to each other in age, art and character, but there were some interesting similarities between them.

  • Both have a passion for their art. They enjoy creating and are always looking for ways to make their work better.
  • Both immerse themselves in their chosen field. Morpurgo loves reading and Cullum loves listening to music. They’re not afraid that this exposure will taint their unique voice. In fact, they use the inspiration to create new ideas and drive themselves forward.
  • Both are aware of their environment. Morpurgo was inspired by talking to a man at his local pub and watching a child speaking to a horse. These things turned into the novel War Horse. Cullum was inspired by a new song he heard at a nightclub that lead to his own rendition of it (during which he drummed on the piano as mentioned above).

I’m sure there are other similarities. Have you spotted some? Share them in the comments below.

I’m looking forward to watching the next interview!

What about you? Have you been inspired by a television show recently? Let us know which one.


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Sharing My 4 Favourite Posts of March

Four tulips

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Ark

Last month was so full of exciting stuff that I ran out of time to post this in March. So I’m sneaking it in now because I really want to share these links with you.

Here are my four favourite posts of March:

  • Releasing the Deadwood by Dan James. If you only read one of these posts, read this one. It’s a short but powerful reminder to clear out our ‘deadwood’ from time to time and make space for new creative moments.
  • Start Here: Being Your Own Muse from DIY MFA. Emily Wenstrom makes the list again this month with these five suggestions on how to ‘get your creative juices flowing on your own.’ I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of her suggestions as they’re the same practices I use.
  • Why You Need to Be Excited About Every Single Thing You Write by K.M. Weiland. This is a great reminder that sometimes it’s not good to force yourself to write. There is indeed a line between just plain laziness and an idea that should not be written down yet. Can you tell the difference?
  • NaNoWriMo Survival Guide Day One: Why You Can Do This from The Office of Letters and Light. Okay, this is a cheat because I read this post on April 1st, but I couldn’t wait to share it. A great post to read when you’re starting something new.

Now it’s your turn. What was your favourite post in March? Add a link in the comments.


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Sharing My 4 Favourite Posts of February

Four bottles of writing goodness. Which one will you choose?

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Last month I shared 3 posts I wished I’d written.

This month I’ve come across some more great post I want to share with you!

And the winners are:

Pick one and take a look.

I would normally be putting this post up at the end of the month, but I’m hoping to have some interesting stuff to announce next week.

In the meantime, I’m looking for beta readers to check my new e-book. If you’re interested, either leave a comment below or e-mail me directly at jessicaATcreativitysworkshopDOTcom.


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The Life of a Writer – Kate Harrison

In a comment on my previous post, mrkelly2u mentioned he’d recently made an 8 minute documentary. It’s called The Life of a Writer and interviews author Kate Harrison.

It’s beautifully put together and captures some important moments of a writer’s life.

If you haven’t seen it yet, take a few minutes to watch.

I think in some respects the writer’s life is going through a state of change with the rise in self-publishing. It would be interesting to see what a similar documentary would be like in 5 to 10 years.

What are your thoughts on the documentary? Let me know in the comments.


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3 Posts I Wish I’d Written

3 cupcakes representing three the three posts of writerly goodness I'm linking to today.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Today I’m asking you to take a little detour.

Below are three posts I’ve recently read. Each of them is full of writerly goodness and I want to share them with you.

I love each little gem. So instead of me rewriting this info on my blog I figured I’d send you to the source. Pick a link below and have a read.

Any thoughts on these posts? Let me know in the comments.


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8 Things I Learned From Kina Grannis

I recently came across a very interesting post and I have to share it with you. It’s written by Kina Grannis.

For those of you who haven’t heard of her, she’s a singer songwriter. You can visit her website for more information. Her upbeat songs went a long way toward keeping me sane when I was housebound during Beijing’s winter at the beginning of this year.

The post I want to share with you is called Behind the Video: Message From Your Heart in which she describes her journey from making her first YouTube video to having the video played on TV during the Super Bowl.

Once you’ve read the post, come back and read the 8 things I learned from her story.

Bulk Up on Experience

Although this was the first YouTube video Kina ever made, it wasn’t the first time she’d ever sung to an audience. She’d been doing ‘every gig she could’ for some time leading up to this point, which developed her repertoire, confidence and experience.

When she decided to make a video every day to encourage people to vote for her video, she already had the power in her voice and the singing experience to produce videos day in and day out.

What do we learn? If you want to make it ‘big’ one day, expose your art to the locals. Take every local opportunity you can to get feedback from an audience. The confidence and experience are invaluable.

Put Your Work Out Into the World

At some point you have to bite the bullet and upload something – be it a video or a post or an e-book – even if you don’t feel ready. In fact, especially if you don’t feel ready. You could spend the rest of your life tweaking things until they are perfect and miss out on all the opportunities in the meantime.

Look at what you’re working on. Could you put something up for others to see? What medium would work best for you? Written posts, audio podcasts, YouTube videos? Think about it.

Be Creative in Getting Your Message Across

One of the things which really stands out about Kina’s first video is her creative flair. She’s not just another girl playing her guitar in front of a camera. She cuts to other shots of herself, includes a t-shirt and even made a cardboard heart.

When you’re putting your work out there, don’t go with what everyone else is doing. Stop and think how you can find ways to let your Creativity shine through.

Let Go! A.K.A. Sleep

After she put the video up, she didn’t sit there and wait for the response. She went to bed and slept.

Lesson? Once your work is out there, you have to let go and do something else with your life. Sleeping is a really good option.

The Response May Not Come Immediately

Without realising it, Kina had uploaded what was to be a contest-winning video. But she didn’t get responses right away, even though it was her family and friends who were viewing it.

If you’re not getting the response you expect, hang in there. Keep positive and keep producing. It may just need time.

Don’t Do It For the Fame

When the video did actually air on TV to an audience of 97 million and Kina was signed to a record company, she says she was ‘too sleep-deprived and adrenaline-filled to register any of this.’

If you’re doing all of this for the high of getting on TV or getting a contract, you may be too exhausted by that time to actually appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Do it because that’s what you want to do with your life and you enjoy creating.

Be True to Yourself and Your Art

I have great respect for someone who can achieve something just about every person in their field wants (in this case being signed to a record label) and walk away because it’s not going in the direction they felt comfortable with.

Creativity works best in a safe, accommodating environment where you don’t have to conform too much to other people’s expectations. If your creative freedom is being stifled, sometimes you have to stand up and walk away.

Be Supportive

If Kina’s family or friends had been harsh with their reaction to her video, chances are she would have taken it down and never even contemplated entering it in the competition. Thankfully, they were supportive and made her feel confident enough to take the next step.

They were also there for her at her first gig, which she describes as “really awkward” but her friends turned it into a great success because of their kindness.

So if you’re around someone who is starting out in a creative endeavour, learn from this example. Be supportive. Be positive. Don’t point out the flaws and the awkward parts. Find the points you love and emphasise them. Be a cheerleader for your fellow creatives!

Okay, that’s what I learned. What about you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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Ira Glass on Creativity

I’m afraid I’m still suffering from the flu so instead of struggling to put together a coherent train of thought, I’m going to share a thought brought to you by the hard work of others.

Below is an audio excerpt from an interview with Ira Glass which has been turned into this video by David Shiyang Liu.

The video is mesmerizing and the content liberating.

Watch and then pat yourself on the back. If you’re not happy with your work, it means you have taste! Actually, that doesn’t sound so uplifting when put that way.

Thank goodness Ira Glass does a better job of explaining the concept.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.


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Interview with Cecilia from The Kitchen’s Garden

Photo of Cecilia from The Kitchen's GardenI have the privilege of sharing something extra special today. I’m interviewing Cecilia from The Kitchen’s Garden.

Cecilia writes a magnificent blog filled with gorgeous photographs of her farm, mouth-watering recipes made from her own homegrown ingredients, and episodes of her life recalled with the art of a true storyteller. She writes with such warmth that I’m sure I’m not the only reader who has an overwhelming urge to call her Aunty Celi.

Some of my favourite posts are her descriptions of picking up bees at the post office for use on her farm, teaching drama to troubled students at a high school in New Zealand and her nights as a nurse at an old age home.

So let’s ask her some questions!

Jessica: How many different roles and jobs have you taken on during your life and what are your current roles?

Cecilia: Hmm, well this is an interesting thought. Oh dear. OK I have been a Mother since I was 19. So every single one of my jobs has children attached. While in New Zealand I almost never had only one job so many of these overlapped.  I was a single Mum bringing up children by myself for many many years, so I needed more than one job.

Here are a few of my paid jobs.

New Zealand 

Geriatric Nurse

Apple picker,

Life drawing model,

Waitress

Director of  theatre.

Playwright

Photographer

Drama teacher (also Head of Department, and Dean of Junior Students and Head of the Faculty of the Arts,)

Artistic Director for the National Youth Drama School in NZ.

Teacher of Teachers Teaching Drama

At one point  (once my kids had left home) I took a year off and had a holiday as a Professional Nanny in Italy and England.

London: Personal Assistant to a Film Director, also as a reader (scripts)  and script development.

U.S.: Now I am a writer and farmer.  Though I make absolutely no money doing either (laughter).

The wooden box in Cecilia's barn where she keeps her writing materials.

Jessica: How do you manage to maintain such a creative passion in your life?

Cecilia: Very difficult question. I work very fast. (laughter)  I would have to say honestly that passion is not something  I create or actively maintain. Ideas appear. I do not even see myself as a passionate person. Pig headed maybe. Sometimes driven. Bloody is the word my mother would use to describe me. Thorny would be my fathers description. I have always written. I always have paper and a pen with me. I even have a little wooden box in the barn with writing supplies and a camera as I often get ideas when I am working out there. I have carried a camera everywhere since I was about 12.

I believe absolutely that the modern processed twinkie diet is ruining the mental and physical health of our generation and the next. So I do not eat processed foods. This is actually hard to do, especially when I am travelling.  But those chemically adjusted foods slow me down, they make me sleepy and headachy. I am lucky that I can grow my own food.

I also am solid in my pursuit of independence. I want to be able to feed and warm myself and my people. Draw my own water out of the earth and heat it, ultimately make our own power. Then teach other people how to. It is a simple premise.

In biblical terms I am the Doubting Thomas, I will question everything.  I want to know why and how and who told you and what did they know and where did that information come from. This is not a particularly popular way to be though. I find it very hard to conform. Is that what passion is? Well in that case I don’t need to maintain that. Passion is by its very nature passionate.

As to the creative side of my passion. Well that comes from building stuff. Building meals, ideas, sentences. Building my work, my images. Building the barn and gardens. I call it the monster. You start a project, you have an idea, you talk about it, you write it down, you begin to build it, you nurture it and breathe life into it and then it becomes a benevolent monster who rises up and gently but firmly takes the reins and you begin to ride the monster instead of leading it.  It goes faster and faster, the monster breathes life into you, and pulls you along and more ideas come and more building is done because the monster demands it. And you are driven to the finish, often barely holding the reins. Life is that journey.

But it all begins with the notes, on those pieces of paper I have stuffed in my pockets like a boy with old nails jangling about in there. The notes and jottings are the basis of my creativity. They are my baby building blocks. I listen to them.

Also I never worry about where my next idea comes from. Because it always does. Worry causes a block in the entrance. I am not creative when I am worried. Though I am very creative when I am sad.

Photograph of Mama (a sheep) and chickens on Cecilia's farm

Jessica: Your blog shows off your skills in photography, writing, cooking, farming and many other areas. Are these abilities you’ve learned and developed individually, or did they all grow out of having a creative mindset?

Cecilia: Oh, I have to admit to being completely self taught in just about everything and still learning as fast as I am breathing. I call my family, friends and books my resources and ask questions all the time.  I read everything and make notes. The old fashioned way. So I learn what I need to learn to get the job done.  Everything I do, I do because I want to do it. When I say driven it is an inner drive.  The monster and I haul ourselves up the next step then I look around and learn what I need to learn, to consolidate, then I look for the next step.

It drives John crazy. He says, ‘Are you ever satisfied?’ Oh yup. I am always satisfied but look at that. What is that? Can I have one? How do I make it? Here is a piece of paper. Draw me a picture of it.

A sustainable lifestyle accepts that each part is intertwined with the other and always shifting and changing. We have to think of our lives as a whole.  Like the same sky but with different clouds moving and reforming sometimes drifting away. I have never attended a writing class or a photography class or for that matter a class on farming. Is that bad? Maybe that is bad. I am sure I would be way better if I had made the time to do these things. But I see life as a journey, a life that I love to live in. And until recently I always had children to protect, support and raise by myself.

A photograph of Queenie and TonTon on Cecilia's farm

Jessica: Recently you wrote about learning the word ‘alliteration’ at school when you were 11 years old. I was fascinated by the glee you expressed when learning new words at that age. Do you feel there were aspects of your childhood which helped you become a creative adult?

Cecilia: I did have an upbringing surrounded in art and books and beaches. I had great teachers. No one much picked on me. Though I have always been quiet and not prone to heaps of friends. My mother was sick most of my teenage years so I guess I was busy with my brothers and sisters.

But I have always had a soundtrack in my head and it is words. So this busy childhood doing mundane household chores and walking or biking back and forth from school, allowed me time for a lot of thinking  and plotting.

Cecilia's Notebook

Jessica: I hear you’re writing a manual  for parents and nannies. You describe it as ‘a sensible reference book full of guidance for nannies managing other people’s children in other people’s homes and for the parents of those children.’ What kind of advice would you give for raising creative kids?

Cecilia: Encourage your child to paint, draw, cook and play with words. Ask them to tell you about their work. Listen to what they say. Encourage them to fill in all the spaces.  Point out the one small part of their work that you really like. Then they will believe that you have seen them.

Let them get dirty and make a mess and gently teach them how to clean up after. Be involved.

Spend 15 uninterrupted minutes with each of your children each day. On the floor, face to face, with the child driving the conversation or play. Ask him or her what they want to do with you today. You would be amazed at how many people do not do this.

Throw your television out the window and talk to each other at dinner time. Eat good brain food.

Allow your child some time to do nothing. Hang around on the fence watching. Sitting in a tree watching. Lying on the ground looking at the clouds. Dreaming, singing to themselves. Thinking. Playing on the floor with the dog. Reading to themselves at bedtime.

I am at my most creative when I have allowed my brain to be at rest. This is why I get my best ideas when I am driving, or in the bath, or as I am going to sleep. Everyone needs down time. Kids too.

I hope you all enjoyed this interview. Now, are there any questions you’d like to ask Cecilia?

(All photos provided by Cecilia.)