Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Creativity: reading, thinking, and occasionally sunflowers are components of the process

 Since I am often inundated with numerous obligations I cannot put off because they are important aspects of my income-producing job, I need a few tricks to galvanize creativity.  I have already written about several of them, but my most trusted approach to getting off the pot and onto the page is very simple.  I read what I have already written and/or read other writers' work and think.

This post is a definite example of that.  I post every Wednesday pretty reliably (unless life interferes with unreasonable demands I must give in to).  But I don't often come to the page with an idea ready to zoom from my finger tips.

Today I started by diddle daddling around reading my old posts, posts that landed in my mailbox, posts I came across on Twitter, and posts I know my friends have written recently.

Somewhere along my diddling about, I dropped in on a blog or two by other writers (Jane Friedman for one, on ironically "What should authors blog about?"  Seemed rather apropos.)

Reading makes me ask questions.  It also makes me stop and think, and thinking leads me to wandering and wondering, which can on occasion produce a thought worth writing about. 

Of course, this approach does have its downfalls.  I may be planning to write a post and I get curious about sunflowers and then think about My Antonia by Willa Cather. In the book was a long description of the sunflowers which often stretched far into the distance on hills and along road sides in that part of Nebraska. Thinking about this image, will remind me of a neighbor I had in Oregon who grew sunflowers along one side of her house. From across the street and several houses down, I could see those enormous orange/yellow bobbing heads.  They stood in a long narrow line along the garage wall like tall garish soldiers.

They made me want to grow sunflowers one day. Years later when my daughter was about eight years old and wanted to grow a garden, we bought sunflower seeds and planted them along a fence line just the other side of our neighbor's garden. I imagined them leaning over our fence and gazing with smiling sunny faces at his squash and pumpkins and benefiting from his soil preparations.  We had one of the wettest seasons that year and my daughter's foot-tall sunflowers were leaf deep in runoff.  We made numerous attempts at building up berms to hold back the encroaching flow, and dug channels to move the sitting water. But it just kept raining and raining.

We finally moved them to higher ground while rain ran down our necks, and the pooling water spilled over our low boot tops.  Either they never quite recovered or the seeds were only distant cousins to the spritely blooms my neighbor had grown.  We had a rather sickly crop of lean seeds to harvest.

That's the thing about creativity, it's like an unexpected rainy season when you're trying to grow sunflowers: one thing leads to another and you just have to go with the flow.

What flows have you had to ride along that guided you to a writing moment?


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Creativity: one drop, one twist away from completion

My mind is full of words, but none of them are clinging to each other and the few that bump and hold together, however briefly, are whispering, and I can barely hear them over the din of all the phrases sloshing against each other in garbled conversation.

It is not a creative day, not even one to press into a chain gang of little efforts: organize, sort, and summarize.  My thoughts are lethargic and oddly cantankerous when shuffled about in search of meaning.

I am resolved to putting one word in front of the other, simply letting whatever rises to the surface for a spot of air be sacrificed to expression, going down on the page. So be it.

Yes, one of those days.

I don't have them often, maybe once a year. But here one is, planted firmly in my available writing moment.

A stagnant field under a swelling of greasy water.

I try to imagine the kind of flooding river that relieves a serious drought, but my inspiration is not buying it. This is swamp, this is bog, this is puddle, and I did not remember to wear my boots, not even the ones of brilliant pink broken up with splashes of yellow ducks.  My feet are cold.

luck and the trick play equal part
Look at my hands. On one index finger is a puzzle ring.  Such rings are lovely metaphors for writing.  Characterization, description, setting, conflict -- puzzle pieces that when brought together create a story.  Today I slip the ring off and gently separate the four circles of fitted silver shapes, but I don't allow them to drop away fully from the others.

I know how to put it back together.  It will take me anywhere from two minutes to two hours.  Luck and the trick play equal part in the creation of a whole ring.  I have not mastered the trick enough to rely entirely on it. Much like writing, I am still twisting and turning, thinking it through, watching for the sudden drop into place, ease into fitting as if I was in control of the results. 

Does any book, short story, poem, essay, article ever slip into place no longer tricky, just trick.  I hope not. Part of the joy comes in the struggle. This is writing, sifting through the slough, the remnants of both memory and meandering, the slithering together of parts and a bright, shiny unexpected whole that whether seen from the beginning or cobbled together reaches completion.

Do you have such days? Are they in the end successful?


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Time travel: returning to the best of times

Revisit yesterday.
Never mind focusing on what terrible thing would come out of going back in time. Just what if I could? What things would I want to just observe. Imagine being able to cherish an event without worrying about all the other things that drag attention away because of worry or fear or weariness.  This is my list of "If I could go back."
  • definitely hide where I could see my mother painting in the backyard
  • see the day my mom and dad where washing the car and he turned the hose on her and she doused him with  the sudsy water from the tin pail
  • the night my dad brought my mom home from a date and stood beneath her parents' window tossing pebbles until her dad pulled up the sash and demanded to know what they were about.  It was midnight and he had asked her to marry him and she had said yes. Her father said, "About time," pushed down the window and opened a bottle of champagne.
  • my dad coming off a destroyer in Boston Harbor mid WWII for shore leave
  • when my dad was a boy and he and his best friend stole apples from a neighbor's orchard, got caught and had to work the season harvesting those apples
  • my sister and I when she told me my dolls were actually alive. How was she so convincing?
  • the day my dad took us to meet our grandparents who hadn't seen us since we were babies. How did I know Grampy's lap was the best place to take a nap?
  • the day I crawled under the porch to retrieve inner tubes, knowing that dark, web-draped place was infested with spiders, and I returned triumphant with tubes for my sister and myself to go float on the lake with.  She was older than I, but for that one day, I was heroic in her eyes.
  • watch my husband march in Ozzie's Band when he was a clarinet-playing boy
  • the day we drove up to the house with our baby girl for her first day at home
  • my graduation ~ Oh heck, all three of them
  • watch me on skis for the first time tumbling my way down the mountain. Maybe this time I'll laugh.
  • that first dinner date with my husband. I want to know if it was visible how much my legs were shaking
  • the first time my daughter walked all by herself was at the daycare center. I really wanted to see that.
  • see my grandmother on her stone stoop on that tiny island in Sweden: a young woman who couldn't wait to come to America
  • my mom at one of her photo shoots
  • see my face when my dad told me we could just turn around and walk away, and we were in line behind the bridesmaids ready to enter the church where I was about to get married (I stayed ~ 34 years now. One of my best decisions)
  • my father flying search and rescue missions for a Maryland CAP unit
  • lazing around on the shores of Lake Powell or my husband's outrageous skiing technique in the side channels while other campers whooped and yelled their praise
  • hear my daughter's three-year-old version of umbrella just once more
  • the day I walked home from the university clinic with news I was pregnant and didn't realize I was grinning ear to ear until I was halfway to the house
  • that crash landing my father walked away from that curled the tips of his plane's propeller a good foot
  • my father-in-law dancing with my mother-in-law before he knew she would one day be his wife
What would you want to go back and see. Splurge, name three.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Creativity: How do you gather your bits and pieces?

Organize the bits and pieces.
I'm brushing my teeth and an image comes to mind. It's intriguing, and I feel the need to race for my computer, but I have to get ready for work. There is no time to pursue this image and the possibilities it offers.  So I head for the library catalog box I bought on eBay and take a blank index card out, and scribble the image and the beginnings of what I thought it was opening up to. I throw it behind the label marked with an "I" (for "idea": I'm into simple).

Next day I'm putting on makeup.  A conversation begins in my head (no, I'm not crazy. They're characters in a book I'm writing). Another card tossed behind "I." Then I'm getting ready for work again.  Back to the study, the index box, a blank card, scribble, toss behind "I."  Sure there is a pattern showing up here:  I ridiculously creative when I'm getting ready for work.

But you get the picture.  It's getting pretty full behind that letter. When the weekend comes or grading lets up and there isn't a multitude of todo's on my list, I'll rifle through that stack, see who has been partnering up with whom.  I'll work on a story or develop another scene.

I decided to gather these bits and pieces of subconscious rendering into something more searchable.  I have two sets of organized ideas in that drawer, those used and those waiting to be used.  My old habit was to write them in notebooks, record them to my memo app, fit scraps of notes in a pocket folder or a manilla file in a rack on my desk, wherever I could find a place to mark down my moment of inspiration.  My ideas were all over the place (some still are).

The new ones and a number of those already noted somewhere are now landing in one place ~ that old library card index box.  I have to admit I did not come up with this idea.  It is Robert A. Heinlein's.  When I read his biography by Patterson, there was mention of how he needed a system to keep track of his ideas and his published works. So he and Ginny Heinlein came up with organizing the index cards he scribbled on. He would wander around with those jottings for his current book on cards stuffed in his pocket. He'd take them out and shuffle through them when he sat down to write.

I thought if it worked for him, I might try it. I am a reasonably organized person and this simple approach fit my style. So far, it seems to be working out.  One description of an end of a story went in to the drawer.  About a week later, I went in search of it and added some details. Then two days later, I was able to sit down and work on the story.  The original note had been residing on my phone on the notepad app for more than two years.  I would recall it now and then, and forget where it was.  Gathering the bits and pieces and writing them onto the cards to place in the box dug up lots of scribbles I had forgotten, mislaid or remembered but had not been able to find. But now they are gathering in one place.

I could have entered them all into a digital organizer, and I am pretty computer savvy, but I like the tactile effort of going through them.  There is something much more intimate about the shuffling of the cards that inspires my creativity so much more than the occasional digital attempts I made to record my creative tidbits.  And my squirreling them away in all manner of places wasn't helping.  My card file seems to be working.

Do you have a way of keeping track of your inspired bits and pieces. If so, please share it.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Creativity: generating with What If? and Why?

What if she was real a moment ago?
It is the What Ifs that writers bring into reality. What if kids had to fight  to the death to earn a position in society? What if everybody was altered to fit into one of five personality types?  Questions and possibilities are what we build our stories on.

Questions make us search for answers, for back stories, for the first domino to fall and the last. And that search creates stories. This is nothing a writer does not know. But it is another way to dive into the creative moment.

  1. Who is the woman who lives in a cave in the earth caring for mushroom gardens and why is she there?
  2. Beneath the fallen roof which leaned precariously against crumbling rock walls, lay a child, clean, unmarked, sleeping peacefully. Who put him there, for whom does he wait, and why does he rest so well, so safely?
  3. When the man crouched down to look into the toddler's eyes, he backed up recklessly and lost his footing, yet still he scrambled away from her, his gaze never leaving her face. Why?
  4. A snuff box lid, engraved with delicate swirls about a blue cabochon, is canted against a plain, smooth gold container. Who does the box belong to?  Why is it here, open, empty?
  5. The house slumps in the dark shadows of a long night. Occasionally, a ghostly glow moves behind the windows as though someone is using their cell phone for a light. What do they search for and why the lack of electricity?
  6. Over there, among the autumn-pruned rose bushes, something glints like a butterfly's wings. Only it is a brightness almost too glaring for one's eyes to stay focused on. What is it?
  7. The mud reveals the outline of footprints, pressed to impart only the front portion of the foot.  Whoever stood here wore heavily shod shoes with a deep tread as if they were cut from tires and reshaped to be the sole of some large man's shoe. Who stepped here uninvited, unwelcome, on tiptoe?
  8. What if a teacup arrived in the mail without any indication who sent it. Who could it be from?
  9. What if over night every single person found that when they closed their eyes, they could still see what was before them.
  10. Today the phone rang and when it was answered the person on the other end said, "Finally. I have been trying for an hour to reach you.  I must talk to you about the absolute worst day I have ever had.  Sit down and just let me talk. You don't have to say a word. I just want you to listen." The voice is unfamiliar.
  11. Dr. Who's tardis showed up in your kitchen blocking the doorway to any other part of your house.
  12. The young woman reached for her water bottle and took a sip. Not water. She sipped again just to be sure. It made her think of pineapples. 

Alright, those are mine. You come up with the last one and write about it.