Homemade Calendar – December

december 2014 calendar 2I’m pretty pleased with how December turned out considering I was way behind and had no idea what I was going to do for my monthly artwork until the eve of the 31st! Since this is the last month in my 2014 homemade calendar series, I want to take a moment to observe some things I’ve learned in the course of doing it.

  1. The project began as simply a more colorful way to mark off the days– I thought it’d be an excuse to air out my art supplies. But as the months went on, it evolved from basic colored squares to full out compositions. Which was awesome! But very time consuming.
  2. I never regret the time I spend on my art projects. But I did, as the bar was raised, begin to feel a certain pressure each month to produce something at least as good or better. Which meant ALWAYS putting in solid time and effort. That part made it stressful when I had to cast about for subject ideas.
  3. But at the same time, I’m glad I had this sort of structure in place– it meant I was making at least one physical art work each month.

In conclusion: It’s been fun but also somewhat obligatory– which I suppose is normal of any pursuit one commits oneself to. It’s like showing up for a class or a job you enjoy: As much as you love the work and the content, it comes with pressure and deadlines and sometimes burnout. But you have to show up and turn in your stuff anyway, regardless of whether or not you want to. This is how progress is made, how projects are finished. I’m going to try to take that lesson forward as I set my priorities for 2015. Look for elaboration soon! And finally…

Happy New Year! 🙂

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Homemade Calendar – November

nov 2014 calendar

Ok, I admit it: It’s become more about the art than crossing off the days. Which is great for getting in a minimum of one art project a month, but not for observing the date. I think next year I’ll go with a more practical calendar.

December is always a variable time of year– lots going on, people visiting, normal processes interrupted. I can say with certainty there will be reading, revising, guitar, and French for me, though it is difficult to say how much. I also recently bought a deck of tarot cards (I’ve been interested in learning more about them ever since some research I did for a story) and hope to start acquainting myself with reading basics in the coming weeks.

In other news: as of last month I completed one of my biggest goals for the year, which was to read 52 books, or roughly one a week! And there’s still several weeks to go…(Here I come, Landline and Thieves of Manhattan.)

What will your end of year activities look like?

Story ideas: Don’t scrabble for them. Dig.

It’s been a weird month, creatively speaking.

At the end of September, I was in serious doubt about the new book I was outlining. I had planned so much, could see certain scenes so clearly, and was so devilishly excited by them– but I had concerns, too. Big ones. Not only questions of POV and first or third person, but ones like: “Does this too closely resemble X?” and “Does too much of this ride on a hackneyed trope?” Instincts mean a lot in the arts, and these questions were enough to give me pause.

So I decided to let the story go. Or at least put it away for a while.

I went into October, then, with no project in progress– nothing I was actively working on, either writing or putting my head to. It was the first time I’ve experienced that since I started pursuing a career as an author.

It felt like this:

via Emily McDowell. And minus the “genius” part.

It was awful.

I racked my brain. I turned to old documents and file folders for interesting nuggets. I freewrote, made mind maps, compiled lists in search of a spark. I studied concepts, picked up books like Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway, tried to jumpstart my subconscious.  I preoccupied myself, got out and away from the pressure; I deconstructed books hoping to learn something. But I had nothing.

I began to feel bleak, frustrated. Maybe even panicked.

Then, one day near the middle of the month, I had a REALLY COOL IDEA. Boom. Out of nowhere. I spent the morning and afternoon daydreaming about it, letting it run wild, taking notes. It had merit. I had something, and it felt good.

But by the end of the day, I recognized a familiar problem: though the premise was fresh (as far as I knew, anyway), the setup reminded me too much of other books.

I sighed and I put it away.

As a writer, you’re told everything’s been done before. Still, you burn to be original– or at the very least, not derivative (or anything that feels derivative, even if it isn’t). So I kept going.

Another week of creative purgatory– then, without warning, I found myself latched to an old idea I’d scribbled down months, maybe a year ago, but written off as bland, underdeveloped. But this time was different. This time it fused with another idea, and click– there was the spark.

I worked at it; began seeing scenes; connected more dots; loved it; came up against challenges; dealt with them. I WAS MOVING AGAIN. There was one point when I hit a wall (a big picture, scaffolding wall), but I couldn’t let the story go this time. Not this one, which I couldn’t stop thinking about and didn’t remind me of anything else. I told myself there was a solution; I just had to find it.

And after a few more days, I did.

There are two points to this post. First, sparks are unpredictable, but ideas are always work. You never know when you’ll get that flash of something bigger– but when you do, it is merely a matter of digging the story out. And digging can be done. Like solutions, stories are there; they have only to be found.

Second, however hopeless or creatively empty or absolutely, irrevocably certain you feel that you will never have another idea again, there are always ideas to be had. In less than a month I have seriously entertained plans for three entirely different novels (even if I ended up dismissing two). That’s a lot for someone feeling creatively frustrated.

Stories are all around us. Our job, when we catch a wink of one, is to write it down– and then come back with a pickaxe.

 

A Subconscious Exercise

IMG

Haven’t done one of these in a while! Lately I’ve been trying to use more creative exercises (not strictly writing; in fact some that are specifically in other creative areas, like art and music) to better and more fully exercise my subconscious. I feel like much of the work of crafting stories happens off the page, when we are in rumination and our minds may wander and jump and connect. Blackout poetry is one such occasion to do so and, being creatively active, engages the mind differently than running or doing the dishes does. And when you’re done, you have a bit of art to show for it!

Homemade Calendar – September

calendar - september 2014-2

Here’s September! Man, I wish my scanner could do all those pinks justice.

Focuses for this month will include manuscript revisions, planning for a November #writetip project, and a new approach I’m excited to try towards brainstorming story ideas. I’m also going to try to get into the habit of freewriting daily, even if it’s only for 10 minutes, just to get the creative juices flowing.

26 Things I’ve Learned So Far

I recently turned 26. Goodbye, quarter life crisis! Hello, glorious new year of awkward transitional 20s. (Don’t listen to me. I love my 20s.)

Taken on my bday. I am not 22.

Taken on my bday. I am not 22.

I don’t feel older, but I do feel more adult. There are still many regards in which I do not, but some things (liking chocolate doughnuts with rainbow sprinkles and YA books, for instance) will never change. I look forward to the next year of growth and experiment, and in the meantime present a handdrawn list of 26 things I have learned in recent years (inspired in equal parts by Laekan Zea Kemp’s traditional bday blog post and the 7 Things I’ve Learned So Far column in Writer’s Digest). Typed list follows for ease of reading.

26 things ive learned so far - 2 doc size

26 Things I’ve Learned So Far

1. Beauty, like humor, is subjective.
2. It’s better to buy one thing you need than two you don’t (even if the two things are cheaper).
3. True motivation can only come from within. You have to want something for yourself.
4. Everything you don’t absolutely need in order to exist is a luxury. Notice it. Appreciate it.
5. No two people, living or deceased, experience the world exactly the same way.
6. Life is a series of choices. You will have to make them.
7. No effort is wasted if we learn from it.
8. Love is free. Give it openly and make the world a better place—one smile, one affirmation, one kindness at a time.
9. People are sponges. You are what you eat, read, watch, do, listen to, associate with.
10. Don’t rely on other people to make your life meaningful. Make your own meaning. (But do let others add to it.)
11. Choose commitments with care.
12. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can anybody else?
13. Stress is a sign of growth. It means you are out of your comfort zone.
14. It is better to fail than to not even try.
15. Kindness can move mountains.
16. A person who shames others for loving something is arrogant and narrow-minded.
17. Confidence is everything.
18. Don’t judge a shirt by the way it looks on the hanger.
19. Small luxuries bring great joy.
20. Surround yourself with people you admire.
21. Remove yourself from negative/draining influences.
22. Pursue the things that energize you.
23. Keep electronics higher than liquids.
24. If you want more time, change how you spend it.
25. The longer you look, the more you see.
26. ENK (Everyone Needs Kindness).