Friday, December 21, 2012

My Letter to Santa: one writer's wish

Tis the season, and seeing as the world did not end as the Mayans might have predicted, we need to look ahead to the new year.  With Santa's help, perhaps this year will shine a little brighter. 

Enjoy!

Dear Santa,

Its been awhile, I know. I have found it difficult to write ever since the Easy Bake Oven incident of 1979, however, I have finally let that go. From what I have gathered through the years, you saved me and my family from many a cake with the consistency of a hockey puck. However, I have to say at times I do feel a little unfulfilled, having never had the "cooking by lightbulb" childhood experience. But despite all of that, I am quite a good baker, as you know because of the milk and cookies I have left you over the years. And we will come back to that later.

I write today with a very specific want...desire...need! Santa, I WANT AN AGENT! I want a literary agent real bad.

There I said it.

To think that I could have that one person who believes in my work as much as I do and who has the professional clout and know-how to launch my career is wonderful!

To be able to say to other social invitations, "No sorry. I am not available Tuesday. I have a lunch meeting with my agent," would be grand!

To be "represented" to the Publishing BIG HOUSES in NYC...priceless. Well, not "priceless"...it'll cost me 15% of any earnings...but STILL! To even imagine having earnings from my writing is unfathomable!

I know what you are going to say. I know you are not in the business of giving people as Christmas gifts. I remember that letter I wrote when I was 10, requesting Rick Springfield to be my boyfriend. You answered that you had found that people did not take kindly to being shoved in your sack and flown around the world only to be delivered under a tree on Christmas, so you gave up the practice. Therefore, I had to be content with a Rick Springfield poster...hardly a substitute.

I know as much as I promise to take good care of my agent and treat my agent well, you are NOT going to shove one down my chimney. That's why I came up with Plan B.

When you arrive at my home on Christmas Eve, instead of the customary milk and cookies, you are going to notice three things: my computer with a window already open to a blank document in Microsoft Word, my printer all ready to go with plenty of paper, and a dictionary (agents do not like to see misspellings or misused words).

I am asking you, dear Santa Claus, to write a Query Letter for me! Who better than someone who supposedly spies on me all year round? You know all about me. You know what I've been writing. So pitch it!

They say to think of it as an elevator speech...or maybe in your case, a chimney speech. For example, if you suddenly ran into Steven Spielberg on someone's roof and had a script you wanted to sell to him, what would you say to Mr. Spielberg on the trip down the chimney? Get it?

Anyway, I will also include a list of guidelines. And Santa, please make sure you follow the appropriate guidelines so that your letter can be seriously considered. If I am interested in using your letter, I will certainly follow up by sending the appropriate milk and cookies. However, if you haven't heard from me within 6 to 8 weeks, please assume that I am passing on your letter and will be seeking help elsewhere.

Thank you in advance for your help. Oh...and Merry Christmas! Let's hope this is the beautiful beginning of the renewal of our friendship.

Sincerely,
Marcie Colleen

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday Writers Weigh In: Beginnings

With every ending there is a beginning....that's what I keep telling myself as my job ends this Friday.
After the holidays I intend to spend the month of January living the "life of a writer" and putting all of my focus on this endeavor...while looking for the next job, of course.

I am calling it "30 Days of Living the Dream".  Not bad, eh?  :)

So I have been spending a lot of time deciding how to organize both my days and my work once 2013 arrives.  In this way, Twyla has been very helpful.

Chapter 5 is all about finding an organizational style that works for you.  It might not be Twyla's box idea...maybe you work better on the computer, in file folders, on Pinterest.  Its personal...but probably pretty important.

But as I look to January my biggest fear is sitting down to work and not knowing how to start.  This happens all of the time.  I stare forever at the blank screen and the blinking cursor and my brilliant idea in my head just won't come out.

However, Twyla brilliantly says, "there's a difference between a work's beginning and starting to work."

Remember, you don't have to start at the beginning.  Once Chekov was asked by a nephew how he knew where to start and he replied, "That your book and tear it in half.  Begin there."

Your exercise from Chapter 5 is just that "Begin!".  Do you have a brilliant character and you just don't know what his full story is?  Do you know a bit of it?  Do you know how it will end?   You have a great climax?  Do you just want to know more about the character? 

How do you "begin"?  Share your ideas here...I could use them!  :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Creative Habit": #5 Start with a Box

As the new year approaches, I feel the need to get organized.  Often I spend the early days of January cleaning out my closets, cabinets and cupboards.  But now that I live in a loft space (meaning one big room, with only one big closet) the need is not as great.  I do find that I stay more organized throughout the year now that there are less nooks and crannies to stuff things.

But, I do wonder if I need a different organizational strategy for my writing projects.

Right now my various projects live in WIPs (Works in Progress) folders on my laptop.  And although these folders are on visible on the desktop, I still feel a tad disconnected from its contents. 

I wonder if a more tactile approach would work better for me.  Twyla Tharp discusses her approach to organization in Chapter 5 of "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life".

"Mine (organizational system) is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot.  I start every dance with a box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance.  This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.  The box documents the active research on every project.  There are separate boxes for everything I have ever done."

This idea of a box of inspiration for each project really appeals to me.  If working on a particular project meant opening a box, instead of choosing another "folder" on the computer, it seems to me to be a very tactile way of determining the days work to be done.  Its a very visual indication of the various projects I have going on at one time.  Its a bolder depiction of each project that begs attention.

Now I know that most of my work...being creative writing...would not fill a box.  In fact, I can't tell you exactly what would go into the box.  And many of my fellow writers might say that they use Pinterest for this vary reason.  But this box idea is so intriguing to me.  I wonder what my equivalent would be. 

Twyla says that she starts each box with an idex card which states the project's goal.  "Sometimes the goal is nothing more than a personal mantra such as 'keep it simple' or 'something perfect' or 'economy' to remind me of what I was thinking at the beginning if and when I lose my way.  I write it down on a skip of paper and it's the first thing that goes into the box."  How awesome is that?  I can't count how many times I have set out to write a certain story and then I lose my way.  Its important to remind myself WHY I am writing, to state the beginning goal.  After that, anything that inspires or informs the work goes in.

Twyla warns, however, that "sadly, some people never get beyond the box stage of a creative life.  Weeks, months, years pass and they produce nothing.  They have tons of research but it's never enough to nudge them toward the actual process of writing.  My solution for them:  This isn't working.  Free yourself.  Get out of this box.  Put it away for another day and start a new box.  But do so with the faith that nothing is lost, that you haven't put in all this effort for naught.  Everything you've done is in the box.  You can always come back to it."

I am inspired to spend some time this week looking at some different, more tactile and concrete, ways of organizing my various writing projects for the new year.  What do you use?  All suggestions are welcome.

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Creative Habit": Looking Back at 12x12in12 & Weekend Homework

Hopefully, you are looking with anticipation to 2013 with plenty of new memories from 2012 in your pocket.  I can definitely say that this year has been a journey. 

January 2012.  It seems like ages ago. However, I vividly remember sitting down and bringing to life my first manuscript for the 12x12 Challenge.  Since then that manuscript has evolved through critiques at Gotham Writers Workshop, revisions suggested by my Critique Group, suggestions made at WriteOnCon and it has been submitted to an agent.  It to this date is one of my favorites. 

Fast forward almost a year and I have 11 total (I haven't gotten around to my 12th) manuscripts!  Now some of them were first drafts that will probably never see life outside of a file folder on my laptop.  Others are great concepts that need some more TLC before they are considered anything.  One is better suited for a wordless picture book (don't ask!  I don't illustrate!).  But each manuscript represents a step on my creative journey.

In addition to the manuscripts, I have gathered such a wonderful circle of friends on this journey...some of whom I was able to meet in person (all I can say is next time I see Julie we TOTALLY need to go to a karaoke bar!)  I have seen my blog grow from a hand-full of Followers to 128!  And I have even launched my new business creating Teacher's Guides for Picture Books!

So, as I look to 2013 I might not have 12 totally polished masterpieces.  I might not have an agent.  I might not be in Publisher's Marketplace.  But I have grown and I owe a lot of that growth to 12x12 and its amazing community. 

Thank you for the memories, but thank you also for the encouragement, confidence and support that will surely help me take even more steps in the year to come!

Speaking of memories, Twyla's Chapter 4: Harness Your Memory, has some wonderful exercises to help you do just that.  Enjoy!
  • Name that muse. Associate a series of objects with something you are familiar and with similar meaning,e.g. Urania sounds like Uranus, hence associated with astronomy. I often use this method to remember a list of facts.
  • Trust your muscle memory. Learn to train your muscle memory, your ability to retain and repeat motion.  Does "butt in chair" count here?
  • Mining your memory in a photograph. Take a family picture, any picture, and study it. What do you see in it that is indisputably similar to your life today, to the person you’ve become? What is vaguely similar? What bears no resemblance or suggests nothing memorable? The goal is to connect with something old so it becomes new. Look and imagine.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Creative Habit": #4 Harness Your Memory

This past weekend I helped my parents decorate their Christmas tree.  As I lifted the lid off of the dusty box of ornaments I was flooded with memories of Christmases past, of my childhood.  I was instantly transported back to days of macaroni ornaments and construction paper chains.  Jumbled stories and visions filled my heart.  I was suddenly 6 years old.

Memory is powerful and perhaps one of the most useful tools for an artist.  "It's the skill that lets us story away the vital and seemingly trivial data and images and experiences of our lives."  However, Twyla states that creativity is more about taking our memories and finding new ways to connect them.  This is "metaphor".  It "transforms the strange into the familiar."  If all art is metaphor, then all art begins with memory".

In Chapter 4 of "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life" Twyla discusses types of memory:

  • Muscle Memory ~ After diligent practice and repetition of certain physical movements, your body will remember those moves years, even decades after you cease doing them. 
  • Virtual Memory ~ The ability to project yourself into feelings and emotions from your past and let them manifest themselves physically.
  • Sensual Memory ~ When the suddent appearance of a smell or taste or sound or color instantly floods the imagination with images from the past.
  • Ancient Memory ~ A connection to our ancestors, which feeds into our own lives and personalities.
Twyla states that "Once you realize the power of memory, you begin to see how much is at your disposal in previously underappreciated places.  The trick is figuring out how to tap into it.  Somestimes you ahve to be proactive about mining the veins of memory within you."

Later in the week I will share some exercises that Twyla shares to help us learn to access and use memory.  But how do you utilize memory in your work?




Friday, December 7, 2012

"Creative Habit": #3 Weekly Homework

The focus of Chapter 3: Your Creative DNA is learning more about yourself and who you are in regards to your art.  Twyla therefore gives us two exercises we can engage in to move us in this direction of self-discovery.

Go on.  Give one or both of them a try this weekend.  I look forward to hearing your experiences.

1)  Go outside and observe.  Pick out a few people to watch and write down everything they do until you get to twenty items.  I am sure it wouldn't be hard to them apply your imagination and come up with a story.  You can do this for an optional exercise.  However, writing a story is not the goal.

Now do it again.  Pick out another few people and this time only note the things that happen that you find interesting ~ things that please you aesthetically or emotionally.  It will take longer, but compile a list of twenty items again.

Now study the two lists.  What appealed to you in the second?  What you included in the second list or left out speaks volumes about how you see the world.  If you do this exercise enough times, patterns will emerge.  The world will not be revealed to you.  YOU will be revealed.

2)  Pick a new name.  Imagine you could change your name.  What would you choose?  Would it be a name that sounded good or belonged to someone you admire?  Would it make a statement about what you believe or how you want the world to approach you?  What would you want it to say about you? This is not just an exercise in "what if."  It's about identity--who you are and aim to be.

Join us next week for exploration of Chapter 4: Harness Your Memory.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday Writers Weigh In: A Blessing or a Curse?

In Chapter 3: Your Creative DNA, Twyla Tharp states that it is important to know your strengths and your weaknesses and commit to ONE.  She is a firm believer that being "good at" several artistic endeavors is actually a curse, rather than a blessing.  For an example, she uses a high school athlete.  If a kid is good at basketball and baseball and football and has desires to play sports professionally, he must CHOOSE and COMMIT to ONE sport to become all he can be.  In this case she states, to achieve the highest possible competency in a particular area requires one to wear only one hat and have a singular focus.

This has been a problem for me.

Basically Twyla is against any kind of dabbling.  She requires total and utter committment.

I, personally, LOVE to dabble.  In my former life I was a teacher, an actress, a director.  I love to noodle around on the guitar and ukulele.  I adore cooking.  I like arts and crafts.  I don't pretend to be an amazing marathon runner, but I do enjoy long distance running.  I am a nanny.  A girlfriend.  A sister.  A daughter.  An aunt.  And a writer.

I feel that dabbling keeps me versatile and allows me to enjoy many aspects of life.  It might even make me a better writer.

Sometimes scheduling can be difficult.  I need to get in a run, go to work, spend time with my boyfriend, make dinner and get some writing in all in 24 hours.  But I do not have the ability to focus ONLY on writing...nor do I really want to.  I kinda like my many hats.

What do you think? 

Writers Weigh In!  Do you dabble in other endeavors?  Do you help or hinder you?  Or both?



Monday, December 3, 2012

"Creative Habit": #3 Your Creative DNA

In Chapter 3 of “Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life”, Twyla, through many examples of creative past (Mozart, Jerome Robbins) hits home the idea that “each of us is hard-wired a certain way.  And that hard-wiring insinuates itself into our work.”  Basically, she is saying that each of us have natural inclinations that become a part of whatever we create.  Perhaps from a writer’s perspective this is your “author voice”. Twyla calls it her Creative DNA.    It’s what comes easy for us. 

She suggests that knowing your own personal DNA through some careful analysis for your work and what your impulses are will help you “see the story you’re trying to tell.”  This knowledge helps you determine 1) why you do the things you do--both productive and self-destructive, 2) where you are strong and where you are weak--which prevents a lot of false starts, and 3) how you see the world and function in it.
To help you get one step closer to understanding your creative DNA, Twyla has provided a questionnaire.  It forces us to "go back to our origins, our earliest memories, our first causes.  We change through life, bue we cannot deny our sources, and this test is one way to recall those roots." 
Knowing who you are, also tells you what you should not be doing, which can save you a lot of heartache and false starts if you catch it early on.
"Take the following questionnaire.  If even one answer tells you something new about yourself, you're one step closer to understanding your creative DNA.  There are no right or wrong answers here.  The exercise is intended for your eyes only, which means no cheating, no answers to impress other people.  It's supposed to be an honest self-appraisal of what matters to you.  Anything less is a distortion. Be instinctive.  Don't dawdle."

Your Creative Autobiography

1)       What is the first creative moment your remember?

2)      Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it?

3)      What is the best idea you’ve ever had?

4)      What make it great in your mind?

5)      What is the dumbest idea?

6)      What made it stupid?

7)      Can you connect the dots that lead you to this idea?

8)      What is your creative ambition?

9)      What are the obstacles to this ambition?

10)   What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition?

11)   How do you begin your day?

12)   What are your habits?  What patterns do you repeat?

13)   Describe your first successful creative act.

14)   Describe your second creative act.

15)   Compare them.

16)   What are your attitudes toward:  money, power, praise, rivals, work, play?

17)   Which artists do you admire most?

18)   Why are they your role models?

19)   What do you and your role models have in common?

20)   Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you?

21)   Who is your muse?

22)   Define muse.

23)   When confronted with superior intelligence or talent, how do you respond?

24)   When faced with stupidity, hostility, intransigence, laziness, or indifference in others, how do you respond?

25)   When faced with impending success or the threat of failure, how do you respond?

26)   When you work, do you love the process or the result?

27)   At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp?

28)   What is your idea creative activity?

29)   What is your greatest fear?

30)   What is the likelihood of either of the answers to the previous two questions happening?

31)   Which of your answers would you most like to change?

32)   What is your idea of mastery?

33)   What is your greatest dream?
Join us on Wednesday and Friday of this week as we continue the discussion of Creative DNA. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Twyla Tharp, Anne Lamott, Rituals and a sleeve of Saltines

I'm not gonna lie.  Twyla Tharp has been stressing me out this week. Sometimes I wonder how my Type A personality is going to survive 12 weeks studying this book.  I've been obsessing over the need to create a ritualistic routine in my daily life...its not easy. 

Last night I had the amazing opportunity to attend A Conversation with Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird) at Symphony Space in NYC.  I adore Anne Lamott.  She has a way of being so honest.  She doesn't make excuses for who she is.  All the while, she makes me laugh.  I love that. 

I was ready to sit back, relax and relieve some of my "Twyla stress".

Anne entered the stage.  Her first topic of conversation?  The habit of productivity.  No joke.  She said, "I need consistency, discipline and structure.  I have anxieties but thrive with routine."

OK.  I get it.  Routine works. 

Thanks, Anne.  Or should I call you Twyla?

Back home, standing over the sink eating a sleeve of Saltines (I had to skip dinner to see Anne), I got to thinking.  I felt revived.  I felt encouraged.  I felt energized.  Suddenly I wasn't feeling inadequate in regards to my lack of routine, I felt empowered to find what exactly would work for me in my life at this particular time.

What was different?  Why was a empowered by Anne, but overwhelmed by Twyla?

It was the "cosmic banana peel" as Anne calls it. 

"Remember that whenever the world throws rose petals at you, which thrill and seduce the ego, beware. The cosmic banana peel is suddenly going to appear underfoot to make sure that you don't take it all too seriously."

Anne reminds us that even the accomplished have footfalls.  They stumble.  They mess up.  And its ok. She is so open in sharing her own mistakes and laughing at them.  Apparently this works better for me, as I have a lot of "banana peels" to share.  In fact, sometimes I lie awake in bed at night and imagine the amazing blog post I will create for Elizabeth Stevens Omlor's Banana Peelin' once I am published.

So, covered in Saltine crumbs I imagined Twyla hungover, grouchy, not accomplishing a thing in her studio.  I imagined her staring at the blank space and 2 hours later the space is still blank.  I giggled as I saw phone call after phone call interrupt her moments to create.  Its kinda cruel shadenfreude, but it helps me to imagine these things.

You see, even Twyla doesn't get it right everyday.  Its about showing up.  Its about trying.  And once in awhile there will be a banana peel which will make me land on my tush.  Its ok.

So, I hope you aren't as Type A as me.  I hope Twyla hasn't been haunting you at night telling you you aren't doing enough.  Remember, this is a process, a journey.  Take a deep breath.  Try.  And if you slip...laugh.

Homework from Chapter 2:

1)  Pick up your pencil and a notebook and don't leave home without it.  Always be prepared/

2)  "Quietness without Loneliness"  Sit alone in a room and let your thoughts go wherever they will.  Do this for one minute.  Work up to ten minutes a day of this mindless mental wandering.  Then start paying attention to your thoughts to see if a word or goal materializes.  If it doesn't, extend the exercise to eleven minutes then twelve, then thirteen...until you find the length of time you need.  Note that is this the exact opposite of meditation.

3)  Face your fears and speak to them.

4)  Take a day off from the biggest distraction of your creative self.  Once you try one day, add another, or try the whole weekend or every day after 5pm.  You get the idea.  There are a lot of distractions out there--and you can live without them.  At least for a little while.

Have a wonderful weekend!  Happy Writing!

Join us next Monday as we study Chapter 3:  Your Creative DNA from "Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life" by Twyla Tharp.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday Writers Weigh In: Rituals of Preparation

Yesterday we laid out Twyla Tharp's 4 Rituals for Preparation as discussed in Chapter 2 of "Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life".  If you haven't read the post, you might want to.

A recap...

4 Rituals of Preparation:
 
1)  Find the environment that works for you
2)  Develop the start-up ritual that impels you forward every day.
3)  Face down your fears
4)  Put distractions in their proper place

Now that we have had time to digest and perhaps get indigestion from Twyla's suggestions, its time to reflect. 

Of Twyla's 4 Rituals, is there one element you can see yourself adopting?  Is there a way to try one of her methods this week? What spoke to you?  What do you struggle with?

Writers, Weigh In and let us know what your take-away from Chapter 2 is.

And join us on Friday, when I will provide some exercises/homework to help you.  :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Creative Habit": #2) Rituals for Preparation


“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”  Stephen King, On Writing
When I first started my blog and called it “The Write Routine” it was because I wanted to do just that…create a routine in my life that allowed me to practice my art daily.  I was seeking to find a way to allow this creativity to be a part of my everyday life. 

Well, here I am 15 months later and I still do not have a daily routine, or ritual as Twyla Tharp calls it.
The problem is that my “real life” routine keeps changing.  My job duties have changed, my living arrangements changed, my social obligations change, etc.  Yet there is a very deep longing within myself to have a writing routine. 

It’s what I equivocate with “living the life of the writer.”  Sitting down in the same place every day, at the same time and creating.  It’s what makes me wish I could quit my job. 
But what I really need to do is learn how to make room for this ritual in my life AND have my real life, too.  And that is going to take some real soul-searching.

I know many writers get up before the sun to have “their time” before the rest of their world wakes up.  But for some reason, this has been a difficult thing for me.  I like my sleep.  AND, when I am training for a marathon, I have to use that time for running.  Grrrrrr.  But once the rest of the day begins, it slips away and I have not taken that time for my craft that I should have.
In Chapter 2 of “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life”, Twyla Tharp lays out her “Rituals for Preparation”.  She believes the very thing that worries me: ritual is taking your art seriously.
“Doing the same simple act the same way each morning habitualizes it—makes it repeatable, easy to do.  It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently”.

Now, it’s easy to think of Twyla as a machine that cannot be stopped.  But she does admit to sometimes wanting to skip her daily ritual of climbing out of bed a 5:30am every single morning to hail a cab and head to the gym for a 2 hour workout.  “But the quasi-religious power I attach to this ritual keeps me from rolling over and going back to sleep.”  She takes it seriously.
But simply rolling out of bed, although quite a feat on a cold morning is not enough.

Tharp outlines 4 Preparations for Beginning:
1.       Select the environment that works for you

A lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day.  By putting themselves into that environment, they begin their creative day.

Whether it’s at a desk with a cup of hot coffee, on a patio under an umbrella, in a studio with music blaring, it is important to find a space that alerts you that it is time to work.

“There is no one idea condition for creativity.  Make it easy on yourself.  Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down.  When you enter into them, they impel you to get started.  Its Pavlovian: follow the routine, get a creative payoff.”

The key is to have a place where the magic occurs.  Sure, sometimes we may feel the need to venture out to a park or a museum, but we should always return.

Where do you do your work?

2.       Develop the start-up ritual that impels you forward every day.

Kathryn Erskine, YA author of Quaking and Mockingbird, spoke at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC last January and encouraged us to stay focused, to make time for ourselves and our craft. 

She spoke of a candle that she lights at the beginning of her writing session.  For her, this candle was a reminder of her creative spirit.  When it was lit, it was a symbol to start work.  At the end of her writing session she would blow it out.  What a beautiful ritual.

Maybe for you its brewing that cup of tea and then placing on it on the desk.  Maybe its turning on the radio and firing up the computer.  Or simply hitting a certain word count a day.  There is no right or wrong answer, but do you have a ritual that marks your creative time?  Tharp states that it is these rituals that keep us focused on our goals.  When you enter into them, they impel you to get started.  Its Pavlovian: follow the routine, get a creative payoff.”

3.       Face down your fears.

“No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep free-floating fears from paralyzing you before you’ve begun.”

Picture Book author Deb Lund recently blogged for PiBoIdMo and called these fears “Miss Midge”.  Miss Midge is the nasty voice that says miserable things to her.  Lund suggests to “name that beast inside you and move on.”

But how to do that?  Tharp recommends writing down your fears and then creating a pep talk to battle each one.

Tharp's top 5 fears are quite common and you might be able to relate:

1)            People will laugh at me

2)            Someone has done it before.

3)            I have nothing to say.

4)            I will upset someone I love.

5)            Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind.

So she addresses each fear directly. 

One of my biggest fears is “My writing isn’t good.”  To combat this I remember past critiques where people really liked my work.  I remind myself of the growth I have been able to see in my work over the past year and the improvement that is evident. 

Take your top 5 “Miss Midge” naggings and battle them. Write them down.  Remind yourself.  Do this now, don’t wait til she speaks.  Get your fuel to stop her now.

4.       Put your distractions in their proper place.

In addition to your fears, distractions can be just as destructive. 
What is it that keeps you from working?

For me, it used to be the tv.  I would get sucked into some stupid mindless show and waste time.  However, a few years ago I took Stephen King’s advice to “blow up my tv”.  I have never been more free.

But now the distraction is social media.  My blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Its wonderful to be part of such a vibrant community of writers online, but often I find myself talking about writing more than I actually write.  Therein lies a big problem.

And what does Twyla say about this?  I am sure you can guess it.  You need to rid yourself of the distractions.
 
“Subtracting your dependence on some of the things you take for granted increases your independence.  Its liberating, forcing you to rely on your own ability rather than your customary crutches.”

What are your distractions?  Challenge yourself to do without them for a day, or two or a week. 
I don’t know about you…but I realize that I have A LOT of preparation to do.  But remember, this is a journey.  Where we are today will not be where we are tomorrow.  It’s about growth and learning. 
Do not get overwhelmed with the information listed here, but maybe choose one step that you want to utilize or improve upon in your own practice.  Be kind and gentle to yourself.   Its called practice for a reason.

Stay tuned this week as we continue our preparation with activities on Wed and Fri.

Monday, November 26, 2012

To Thine Self Be...Kind

As I prepared for today's post about Chapter 2 in "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life" by Twyla Tharp, I felt the need to pause and address a few other things.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to be kind...to us. 

Although Chapter 2 is filled with "you shoulds" about living the creative life, the truth is that not everything works for everyone.  And as I read it I started to feel a little overwhelmed at all that I was "doing wrong".  The last thing I want is for YOU to feel the same way.

Of course, there is a certain amount of striving and determination that is need to truly see our goals through.  But I want you to think for a moment.  If you were GUARANTEED that your end goal was going to happen, wouldn't you ease up a tad?  Wouldn't you be a little more forgiving about missteps and taking time to just breathe?

This time of year is so very hectic.  In fact, the month of November is chock full of so many challenges (literally) for writers.  There's NaNoWriMo for those novelists trying to complete an entire first draft in one month.  There's 12x12 for picture book writers who need to complete a mansucript a month for the entire year.  There's PiBoIdMo in which writers create 30 picture book ideas.  Its a tough month.

Add to that the impending holiday stress, end of the year stress, illnesses, day jobs, family obligations, etc.  Oy, November!

So, instead of adding to the stress with my post today, I wanted to kick off the week with an oath to be gentler to yourself.  I know I need a reminder.

It's ok to not be all things to all people and to once in awhile fall short.

Visualize your end goal.  I bet its a vivid visualization because you have spent so much time thinking about it.  Well, right now tell yourself that it WILL happen.  You have the drive and the determination.  Now relax.  Breathe.

Does it help? I know it does for me.  It will happen, so today I just need to make a little step.  No need to get frustrated.  No need to feel overwhelmed or not good enough.

Be gentle.  Be kind.  Believe.



I, _________________, do solemnly swear to be kind to myself.
I vow to treat my creative self gently and with love.
I choose to value my non-writer life, knowing that the experiences that I have in other areas help make me a well-rounded individual and might, indeed, spark a story somewhere down the road.  So, I will not despise or get frustrated with other commitments but choose to be present and observant instead.
I will take time daily to focus on what I have done and not what I haven't. 
I will find ways to relish the process and have fun along the way.  Knowing that each word I write is a gift to be savored. 
I will fight hard to abolish the spirit of not doing enough! 
I will allow myself seasons to relax and not write, even if that means I am not fulfilling an online challenge or a submission to my critique group.
I relinquish the clock that seems to be ticking and telling me that I am moving too slowly.
I will surround myself with individuals and community who feed my creative spirit. 
I will stop comparing my journey to the journey of others.  I will celebrate other's accomplishments knowing that my accomplishments will be unique to me and me alone.
I will stop judging my writing pursuits with harshness, instead looking at what can be learned along the way.
I acknowledge that not every single piece of "writerly advice" fits my particular situation and might not work for me. Therefore, there is no need to wear it all...just the bits that fit.
I will ease up on the trying and just do...as only I can. 
 
 

Join The Write Routine tomorrow, Tuesday November 27th as we continue "The Creative Habit" with Chapter 2: Rituals of Preparation.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Creative Habit": #1) I Walk into a White Room

"Creative Habit" is a 12 week series based on "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life" by Twyla Tharp (Simon & Schuster, 2005).  This book is out of print. 

Picture this:  A blank computer screen.  An empty canvas.  An untouched notebook.

What emotions come up when you think of staring at this white space?

For some it is scary.  Others, paralyzing.  For some, exhilarating.
Twyla Tharp describes this as “the moment before creativity begins.”

But, what makes someone creative? How does someone face the empty page, the empty stage and making something where nothing existed before? It is not just a dilemma for the artist, it is something everyone faces everyday. What will I cook that isn't boring? How can I make that memo persuasive? What sales pitch will increase the order, get me the job, lock in that bonus? These too, are creative acts, and they all share a common need: proper preparation. For Twyla Tharp, creativity is no mystery; it's the product of hard work and preparation, of knowing one's aims and one's subject, of learning from approaches taken in the past. It's a process undertaken every day. It's a habit. “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life” (Simon & Schuster, 2005) is not merely a look inside the mind of a remarkable woman with remarkable skills, but a programmatic, inspiring, encouraging guide to help each of us achieve our fullest creative potential.
How?
1)       Establish a routine.

2)       Set a daily/weekly goal.

3)       Be disciplined.

“Over time, as the daily routine becomes second nature, discipline morphs into habit, “ states Tharp.
I met Twyla Tharp in 2005 while working on some educational initiatives for her Billy Joel-inspired Broadway musical, Movin’ Out.  Although some read her serious exterior as gruff, I quickly learned that Twyla Tharp was both brilliant and an incredibly hard worker.

She opens her book by describing her own daily routine, starting at 5:30am in a cab on the way to a studio for 2 hours of working out and dancing.  She never deviates from this routine, and it shows in her success.  Tharp is a woman who has gotten where she is, not by sheer talent, but by hard work and determination.

And “The Creative Habit” is a book about that hard work.  Its about building skill.  It’s a book about preparation.  “In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative.”  Throughout the book, Tharp gives exercises to make us stretch, get stronger and lasts longer.  It is her belief that this hard work is what pays off…not just being naturally good.
“It takes skill to bring something you’ve imagined into the world.  No one is born with that skill.  It is developed through exercise, through repetition, through a blend of learning and reflection that’s both painstaking and rewarding.  And it takes time.”

Are you ready to put in the hard work? 
Throughout the next 11 weeks, I will be reflecting on and providing exercises from “The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life” each Monday.  If you want to establish a routine, set goals and therefore be disciplined about your work as a writer, please feel free to join me. 

Together we will learn to embrace the empty white space.  Together we can develop the Creative Habit.

 Favorite Quotes from Chapter One:
“The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. It’s also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity."

“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.  And this routine is available to everyone.  Creativity is not just for artists.”

“Creativity augmented by routine and habit.”

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.  That’s it in a nutshell.”
“If art is the bridge between what you see in your mind and what the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge.”

“Everything is raw material.  Everything is relevant.  Everything is usable.  Everything feeds into my creativity.  But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.  Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll leave you stunned.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tying up Ends and Making Bows PLUS A Winner!

Well, its Friday.  I don't know where the week went.

I realize that I have a few housekeeping bits to settle.

First, I never took a moment to thank the amazing authors who shared their stories during WriWOPi in October!  What a fabulous series!  I am truly honored to have hosted Ame Dyckman, Tammi Sauer, Amy Dixon, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Deborah Underwood. Thank you for sharing your stories.

I also want to thank everyone for your support as I embarked on a new journey of creating Teacher's Guides for Picture Books.  I launched this business by sharing the guides that I recently developed for Corey Rosen Schwartz's THE THREE NINJA PIGS and Amy Dixon's MARATHON MOUSE.  The response has been wonderful and I have booked 4 guides for other authors.  If YOU are interested, please feel free to email me at marciecolleen@gmail.com for more information on a Common Teacher's Guide for your book.

And because of your incredible support, I was contacted this week by Dianne de Las Casas (Picture Book Month) and asked to be the Education Consultant for PBM and create a special reference guide for the website.  Wow!  How exciting! 

Lastly, I have been quite vocal on the blog over the last few weeks about my doubts and struggles.  To help me through this, I will be starting a new series on Monday based on "The Creative Habit" by Twyla Tharp. 

All it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit. It is the product of preparation and effort, and is within reach of everyone. Whether you are a painter, musician, businessperson, or simply an individual yearning to put your creativity to use, The Creative Habit provides you with thirty-two practical exercises based on the lessons Twyla Tharp has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career. In "Where's Your Pencil?" Tharp reminds you to observe the world -- and get it down on paper. In "Coins and Chaos," she gives you an easy way to restore order and peace. In "Do a Verb," she turns your mind and body into coworkers. In "Build a Bridge to the Next Day," she shows you how to clean the clutter from your mind overnight. Tharp leads you through the painful first steps of scratching for ideas, finding the spine of your work, and getting out of ruts and into productive grooves. The wide-open realm of possibilities can be energizing, and Twyla Tharp explains how to take a deep breath and begin...

This book is out of print, however, I will be sharing its wisdom and leading YOU through the exercises.  May the next 12 weeks offer us time to creatively grow.

Lastly, I forgot to announced the winner of the signed copy of MARATHON MOUSE by Amy Dixon!  Thank you to all who commented and tweeted. 

The winner is...

(drumroll)

CATHY MEALEY!!!!!!!!

Have a wonderful weekend, folks!  See you on Monday!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday Writers Weigh In: My 2 Published Books...kinda

It is often said that there are only a few stories out there, a few ideas and they keep getting recycled over and over.  This is said mainly by editors, agents, and writing teachers who claim that originality is hard to come by.  Its usually used as a battle cry to find something unique.  Something fresh.

But its true.  And here is my "story"...which I am sure you all have experienced, too.

My first published book came out in 2010 and was published by Greenwillow Books...which is crazy because I don't have an agent and never sent in a query.  It was just published.

I came up with the idea while participating in PiBoIdMo 2011.  Yes, my book that was published in 2010 was an idea that I didn't come up with til 2011.  What's the confusion?

My 3rd idea for PiBoIdMo last year says, "A porcupine desperately wants a balloon.  Everyone else at birthday parties gets a balloon...except porcupines...for obvious reasons.  But Milford (the procupine) is determined to find a way!"

You guessed it!  My book has the EXACT same premise at the uber-talented Deborah Underwood's A BALLOON FOR ISABEL.  Wow, right?  Guess I won't be spending any time on that idea. 

Next!

As a participant in 12x12 this year, I came up with my August manuscript and was feeling quite pleased.  In fact, its gone through a lot of revisions.  And I'll admit that I am not incredibly happy with the climax and resolution....but I truly felt, up until last night, that I was getting closer.

Last night I had some time to kill and I decided to feed my writer's soul by browsing the shelves at Books of Wonder. 

While browsing the Picture Book section I spotted a book on the bottom shelf that caught my eye.  I had never seen it or heard of it before and just by the title I could tell that it was "similar" to my August 12x12 manuscript.
Internal Spread from the Stan Wackarrino book in question.
I said to myself, "Self, you probably shouldn't pick that up and read it...in case you get influenced by it."  However, I was curious and I opened up the book.  To my dismay it had the EXACT climax and resolution to my August manuscript!!!  I couldn't believe it!

Now I don't want to give too much away, but it was published in 2001 by a highly-respected and often-published author/illustrator who's name rhymes with Stan Wackarrino. 

I was crushed.  This was not just an "idea" of mine that I found on the shelves.  It was a MANUSCRIPT that I had poured myself...along with Stan Wackarrino apparently...into.

So what is the takeaway?
  • I know firsthand that a truly original idea is hard to come by.
  • There is at least a part of me that is proud to have the same ideas as some of the best in the biz. That must count for something. 
  • Its back to the drawing board.  Time to take my "Stan Wackarrino-esque" story and turn it on its head.  Find a new twist.  Make it fresher.
  • Being a writer is tough.
What about you, writers?  Do you have similar stories?
Weigh In and share.  I bet we find out that even our frustrations are NOT original.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The "Morning After": One Conference Attendee's Struggle

For an SCBWI conference attendee, the "morning after" can pack a lot of emotion.  And believe me, I felt them all during today's coffee time, reflecting back on this past weekend's NJ SCBWI Craft Weekend.

T. Lazar, J, Hedlund, me, A. Raynor and P. Nozell
at the NJ SCBWI conference in June 2012
Happiness that I have such wonderful, talented friends in my life and that we are pursuing the BEST career ever!

Sadness that I have to wait til the next conference to see some of them.

Excitement to get back to work and revise, write, repeat!

Exhaustion from the constant amazing information shared.

And even some doubt. 

Yes, doubt.

Although I try to be realistic, there is always that hope that somehow I will wow an agent and editor and become the buzz at the conference.  There is that hope that this conference will be "the one" when my career will REALLY start. 

And then on the way home, with my folder full of notes and critiques I start to doubt that I even have what it takes to do anything more than party with writers.  I want to be on those bookshelves beside them.  I want  to talk about promoting books and what my school visits have been like.

I start to doubt myself.  My writing.

Pursuing a career as a writer is a struggle.  But what does that mean, exactly?

I heard a report on NPR this morning about the differences between how the East view struggle versus how the West views struggle.  I found it very interesting.

Within this report, Jim Stigler, Professor of Psychology at UCLA states,"I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you're just not very smart," Stigler says. "It's a sign of low ability — people who are smart don't struggle, they just naturally get it, that's our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity."
 
In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it's just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle. 
 
To read the entire transcript or listen to the story, click here.  It really is a fascinating report.
 
But back to my "morning after".  My doubt.
 
Today I choose to embrace my struggle.  To persist.  To look for the joy in the sweat and the hardwork.  To celebrate the process.  To learn from the disappointment and doubt.
 
I might not be a superstar after attending my event this past weekend but I am one step closer.  One day closer. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

MARATHON MOUSE: A Teacher's Guide and a Giveaway!

It is well known that things don't often go as planned and today is a good indication of that.
You see, today I was planning on writing a blog entry about my own experiences of running the NYC Marathon and tie it into Preston Mouse's experiences in the adorable book MARATHON MOUSE by Amy Dixon, illustrated by Sam Denlinger.  However, anyone with access to the news media knows that that particular blog entry is not possible for me to write today. 
But there is a lesson here. 
Just because dreams don't happen as you had planned, you need to keep chasing them.  I think if there is anything that Preston Mouse would like us to take away from his story, it is just that.  Thank you, Amy Dixon for sharing a tale of dreams, struggle and triumph.  Keep on, keepin' on.
And remember...there is ALWAYS a reason to celebrate...
You see, I was given the opportunity to create a Teacher's Guide for MARATHON MOUSE and today you have the opportunity to both read that guide AND enter to win your own signed copy of the book!
AND...if you are interested...

I can develop a guide for you to share with teachers and librarians, as well as tailored lessons and activities that you can use for your Author Visits.
I am a former teacher and I am here to help! I am currently creating Teacher’s Guides for Picture Books, Middle Grade novels and Young Adult novels.

You will receive:

· An initial phone consultation to talk about your wants and needs.
 
· An a la carte menu for your guide. Pick and choose which topics you want covered, or go all the way with a thorough cross-curricular option.
 
· Activities created specifically for your Author Visits.
 
· A guide fully developed to enrich students’ experiences.
 
· Lessons and activities which are "core curriculum standard compliant".

· Options for every budget!
I just love helping students connect and engage with a piece of literature so that it suddenly comes alive for the individual!  
Click here to see the Teacher's Guide for MARATHON MOUSE by Amy Dixon and illustrated by Sam Denlinger.
If you are interested in contacting me about developing a guide for your book, please email me at marciecolleen@gmail.com.
To enter to win the signed copy of MARATHON MOUSE, become a follower of me (MarcieColleen1) on Twitter or be a follower of this blog AND comment below. The winner will be chosen over the weekend and notified next week.  THANK YOU, AMY! 
Credentials:
Marcie Colleen has a bachelor’s degree in Education of English and Language Arts from Oswego State Unversity and a Masters degree in Educational Theater from New York University. She is a former classroom teacher in New York State. She has served as a curriculum creator for the Central New York Institute of Aesthetic Education, Syracuse Stage, Tony Randall’s National Actors Theater, and various Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, as well as the International Lysistrata Project in 2003. She was the Director of Education for TADA! Youth Theater in NYC creating and managing educational programming reaching over 30,000 students and families in the NYC Metro area a year. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and is swiftly chasing the dream to picture book publication for her own stories.