Celebration of ART

Snowy Day

Today was the celebration of Peninsula Writers‘ Art-A-Day Challenge. The idea was to accept the challenge to be creative each day during the month. Through the use of Google Groups, participants posted their successes and challenges throughout the month. And today we all physically got together at Schuler Bookstore and presented

My Art-A-Day

our efforts.

I almost didn’t go. After all, it was snowy and I didn’t really have a whole lot to show for the month. I’ve been revising every day, but that makes for poor showing. Imagine me saying, “Look, on January 21 I cut out an entire scene!” Yeah, not so exciting. Still, I’d done a little painting and more importantly, I wanted to support my fellow artists. So I harried my children into coming with me and we gathered up any of the “art” we’d done during the month and headed off to Schuler.

Peninsula Writers Art Celebration

I’m glad I went. Not only was it inspiring to see what everyone had created, but it was affirming to me as an artist–and maybe even affirming as to the importance of art in our lives. People painted, glued, tangled, composed, sewed, scrapbooked, cooked gourmet meals, wrote, decorated a cast, created a collage, and thought–a lot–about art.


One of the things that struck me is how often these creative people mentioned the difficulty in finding time for art, and/or the doubts they experienced about their ability, about their creativity. I thought maybe it was just me. When it was my turn to share, I shared what I had learned about creativity from John Cleese. The fact that creative people take time and foster a sense of play was important reminder to me, being the sort of person who doesn’t believe in “wasting time.” I like to feel I have accomplished a lot in the day–and that means having something to show for it.

I also talked about learning that creativity is work. (see post) Not that I didn’t KNOW this,

Chipping Stone

but that someone recognized it and essentially said it was okay–normal even. Just because I don’t have story ideas flowing out of me at every turn doesn’t mean I’m not creative. What a relief! And the fact that sometimes writing feels like chipping away at stone doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write.

A little later one of the participants, Matt Bliton, mentioned listening to NPR’s On Being where Krista Tippett interviewed  Brené Brown about her research on shame and how it affects creativity. Matt shared how often making ART is not seen as valuable. After all, some of us have JOBS. And he mentioned how Brené Brown said that this shame of not “producing” is especially hard on women. I can relate to this. It is hard for me to justify sitting and writing or painting when there are piles of dirty laundry and dinner to be made and kids to get in bed. The tyranny of the now is ever present, but we must remember to feed more than just our bodies.

So now I am home and January will soon come to an end, but the fire has been lit, and I will do my best to keep feeding it.

Fires of Creativity



Better Plotting: 7 Ways Your Characters Can Screw up Their Decisions

See on Scoop.itFeed the Writer

As people, we want to make the right choice, so it’s only natural that those are the choices that first come to us as we write. But doing the right thing doesn’t always cause wonderful conflict (though when it does it’s writing gold).


Characters shouldn’t act like people who’ve had three weeks to consider their options just because the author took that long to write the scene. A decision made in the heat of the moment isn’t the same as one made with weeks to consider.

See on blog.janicehardy.com

Be Inspired

Time to write

“I only write when I am

inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” -William Faulkner

There once was a time when I thought I could only write when I was depressed. This did not bode well for my writing career–or maybe for my future mental health. Thankfully, I have since found I can indeed write in any kind of mood. It is a matter of sitting down and doing it. Granted, sometimes it turns out better than others, sometimes I end out deleting everything the following day, but even that is a sort of priming the pump. As John Cleese mentioned in his speech about creativity, sometimes in order to know what an elephant is, you have to chisel away the non-elephant parts.

For the most part, I have found that inspiration comes AFTER I’ve sat down and started writing. It is the act of writing–or painting or drawing or whatever–that brings about the desired inspiration. As  Michael Michalko says in his post, Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creativity,

3.      You must go through the motions of being creative. When you are producing ideas, you are replenishing neurotransmitters linked to genes that are being turned on and off in response to what your brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When you go through the motions of trying to come up with new ideas, you are energizing your brain by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times you try to get ideas, the more active your brain becomes and the more creative you become. If you want to become an artist and all you did was paint a picture every day, you will become an artist. You may not become another Vincent Van Gogh, but you will become more of an artist than someone who has never tried.

How many times do we put limitations on ourselves and our creativity? We can only paint if we are happy, we can only compose if we are “in the mood”, we can only write at night, or in the morning, or when we are drunk. The list goes on. Yup, there is no magic formula on when or how to be creative, but the more we try it, the more chance we have at discovering the elephant and not just the “not-elephant.”

Your World

Number 10 in Michael Michalko‘s post is “You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.” I love this point even though it can be both good and bad. Take the idea that I can only write when I am depressed. This is not true, but if I see it that way and only sit down to write when I am depressed, bingo! Self-fulfilling prophecy. On the flip side, this is what makes each of us creative. I can write a novel about–oh, let’s say a dystopia since that is particularly big right–and yet still make it unique. So go ahead and write, draw, paint, compose the piece that only YOU can create.

Be inspired.



Creativity. Taking something enormously strange and somehow making it strangely familiar.

– from Jim Henson’s Doodle Dreams: Inspiration for Living Life Outside the Lines.


My daughter came to me today and announced that she had to write a historical fiction short story. “I hate writing historical fiction,” she said. “It’s all been done before.” No matter what era I suggested, she declared it “boring” — although she did note that if it involved violence it would then be more interesting to the class.

I found her comments interesting because the previous night I had been paging through the small book, Jim Henson’s Doodle Dreams, and came across the quote written above. It seems that maybe creativity is not only the ability to make the strange familiar, but to also make the familiar new and fresh.

When I sat down to write a post on creativity for today, I was definitely not feeling terribly creative. After all, this subject has been written about in some form or another many, many times. So I did what most writers do when feeling blocked–I went on YouTube. You’re laughing, but you know you do the same thing (although it might be Facebook or Twitter or some other black hole of time.) The funny thing is, I found a fabulous video of John Cleese

John Cleese

talking about creativity — and telling lots of lightbulb jokes too.

The encouraging news (for me) is that creativity is not talent. Nor does it depend on IQ. John Cleese talks about what McKinnon’s research found out about creativity.

  1. Play. Creativity needs an open mind and a spirit of play–of curiosity.
  2. Space. To foster creativity, one must put aside a time and place to be quiet.
  3. Time. McKinnon also found that those who are more creative are also those who are willing to stick with a problem longer. They are willing to put up with the discomfort of not knowing.
  4. Confidence. The fear of making a mistake is the biggest killer of creativity. This is the lousy first draft stage–the play stage–nothing is “wrong” stage.
  5. Humor. One can be serious without being solemn. Play needs the lightness of humor to thrive. Humor is an essential part of creativity.

John Cleese also reminds us that pondering on a subject will help your brain come up with a creative solution. “Keep your mind resting against the subject gently and you will be rewarded.” This might be why listening to a recording of the chapter I want to edit gives me a new perspective.

The last of John Cleese’s advice: If you don’t know how to begin — start generating random connections and let your intuition tell you whether they might lead somewhere interesting. Maybe I’ll see if my daughter wants to give this a try. Vampires and Abraham Lincoln? Oh wait, that’s been done already.

Happy creating.



Brain Pickings

In a random, one-link-to-another kind of way, I came across a site called brain pickings.  One of the posts was about how to break through a creative block–which seemed timely since I had just posted about that topic.

How to Break Through Your Creative Block: Strategies from 90 of Today’s Most Exciting Creators


Refining the machinery of creativity, or what heartbreak and hydraulics have to do with coaxing the muse.

In this post, Maria Popova reviews the book, Breakthrough!: 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination by Alex Cornell. 

Lots of great information in the post (and, no doubt, in the book) as well as on the rest of the site. Check it out.

Unblocking — Lessons From One Medium to Another

Let the battle begin!

So I’m suited up for fighting dragons, my foot is in the stirrup (or my butt is in the chair in this case) but to be honest, I’m a bit rusty. I’m blocked. Stuck. I opened up my latest novel-in-progress, I Feel For You (IFFY in short form), and I wasn’t even sure where I had left off.

Writer’s Block

What to do, what to do. Well, even though I might be a slow learner, I do eventually get it, and when I do, I even manage to extrapolate to other situations. There are certain lessons I learned in my painting classes that I thought I might be able to use in the writing field, so here we go.

1.  Get a different/broader perspective. This was extremely helpful for me in painting.



I’d come home from painting class not sure if I liked anything at all about what I’d painted. First thing I’d do is prop the painting up on our corner shelf and leave it there for a day or two, looking at it from a distance and in different lighting situations. Seeing the painting from a distance had a way of helping me pinpoint what was working and what wasn’t.

So how does this work for writing? Nope, I’m not talking about putting your computer screen so far away that you can’t read it anymore. Nor am I talking about throwing your pages down the basement steps.

  • Print it out and read through the whole thing WITHOUT a pen in hand. For shorter pieces, chapters, or scenes, carry it with you throughout the day and read it several times. For novels, read it once without a pen and then a second time with the pen in hand.
  • Record your piece of writing and then listen to it in the car (where you can’t jump in and start “fixing” words and sentences.) This is a great way to “hear it different.” I use Audacity to record (there are definitely other audio editor software you can use), then I save it in my iTunes, transfer it to my iPod and listen in my car on the way to and from work.

2.  Use a different medium or tool. In painting that could be a different brush or


switching to a pen or some other type of paint. In writing, just switching from writing on the computer to writing on paper (or vise versa) can make a big difference. I’m older than dirt, so for me, computers feel more… serious, final, published. So sometimes when those dragons are loud and breathing fire down my neck, I find it easier to go back to writing on paper for awhile. After all, no big deal if I mess up there. I’m going to have to type it on the computer at some point anyway.

3.  Don’t go for the masterpiece on the first try. This came about because the first time I took a painting class at Kendall, I had this idea I was going to come home with paintings I would want to hang on our walls. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. My husband noticed my disappointment and reminded me of how many times Monet paintedHaystacks -- Monet haystacks. “You can try it more than one time,” he said. Such a simple thought but oh so freeing. When it doesn’t have to be hang-worthy the first time, I felt free to try new things, to be bold, and to go for it. After all, I could always re-do it. Ironically enough, my painting improved enough I even considered hanging one up this year.

  • Remember Anne Lamott’s advice in her book, Bird by Bird, about the Sh—- First Draft. Sloppy Copy.Bird by BirdWhatever you call it, just go for it. Focus on the story, the character, the action–whatever the skill it is you want to try and remind yourself that this is just your first haystack in the series.
  • Make a mess–clean up later. Definitely works with paint. Works equally well with words.

4.  Don’t get stuck in one area; keep moving around the page.This was a biggie for

Keep Moving

me this past summer. I would be working on a painting and find myself getting really detailed in one area whereas I had pretty much ignored other parts of the picture. (It really, really bites when I find out what I spent all that time on doesn’t fit with the rest of the picture–which I would have known had I roughed in the whole thing first.) My instructor frequently had to come around and remind me to MOVE ON. Great advice for writing too.

  • Keep moving. Don’t get stuck revising and adding all sort of detail on the first chapter (or first line). Move on. You will come back and add more detail after the whole page (manuscript) has been given a nice coat of words. And by then you might even know what those details ought to be.

5.  Start. Anywhere. Now. Just start. As I learned in art class, you have to put paint on the


page. Just dive in and put some color on that white page. Works the same way with writing. Put a word on the page, and then another one. Who cares if it is the right word? Who cares if it is the “beginning” of the story? Just START.

So there you go–and here I go. Happy writing.

All images are from stock.xchng. Check it out.