Monday, January 7, 2013

"Creative Habit": #6 Scratching

Happy New Year, everyone!  Its good to be getting back to a more "normal" life after the travel and hub-bub of the holidays.  And of course, for so many the new year means setting new goals and aspirations...or resolutions, if you will.  I hope that 2012 if looked on fondly by you and that 2013 has started off to your liking. 

For me, 2013 is starting off with a little "experiment", shall we say.  After ending my job on December 21st, I have decided to spend at least January...if not longer...being a "fulltime writer".  I figure its the best time to do it seeing as I am in-between jobs. 

Its been interesting so far.  I returned from vacation last Wednesday and started my "new job" on Thursday.  I went to the library for a day of work...and the atmosphere was not what I hoped.  It was hard to get work done.  And then on Friday I was so tired from traveling that I worked a half day at a coffee shop and then went home to "do work" which equated to napping!

There is definitely going to be a learning curve.  In fact, I have joked that I will probably FINALLY figure out what routine works for me and then start a new job the next day.  :)

But hopping back into things, I am pleased to be able to return to Twyla's "The Creative Habit" and be able to further put  into practice some of her advice about living the "creative life". 

The way I look at it, working at being a fulltime writer includes: blogging, my Teacher's Guide business (which is flourishing, btw), creating my website to hopefully launch soon, maintaining presence in online writing communities, and taking some courses.  This stuff I find easy to schedule time for because there are concrete results that I can measure and deadlines to work toward.  What I have a really hard time with is my creative manuscripts. 

I currently have 2 manuscripts that I know are good but not good enough.  I need to revise.  They need some real overhaul and attention.  But I have a hard time figuring out where to begin or how to work on them.

Last night I picked up Twyla once again looking for some direction.  In Chapter 6: Scratching, she talks about this struggle with beginning and developing ideas.  Twyla calls it "scratching". 

"You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you've won?  That's what I'm doing when I begin a piece.  I'm digging through everything to find something.  It's like clawing at a side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward."

She goes on to list the many shapes that "scratching" can take:  reading through books, museums, people watching, etc.  Its all stuff we have heard before...but it really is about allowing even the smallest microcell to inspire us.  Its being hyper-aware. 

But my problem is that I become way too passive in this pursuit.  I expect ideas to just come to me in due time, so I am not actively doing something daily to "scratch".  This is what needs to change.

Twyla refers to improvising as a way to scratch and create new ideas.  I know I have writer friends who sit down to write everyday even if what they write is "I have nothing to write" over and over again.  They say that the act of actually writing and keeping at it helps ease them into creation.

I think my problem lies in the short form that I work in.  As a Picture Book writer I am looking to revise two of my manuscripts that are only 300-500 words each.  I know they need revision (one needs a whole new climax and conclusion, the other needs some cleaning up).  But I really have a hard time understanding how to DAILY work on these pieces.  Maybe I need a daily assignment.  Maybe the size of the projects make them feel too restrictive to me.  I am not sure.

Anyone have any great daily "scratching" ideas that you use to work?  I would especially love to hear how you scratch at those existing pieces which need revising.

Throughout this week I will continue to blog about this idea of "scratching".  Be sure to stop by!


  1. Use a timer. Don't look at the size of the job, focus on the time. I sit at the computer and write for an hour a day. Sometimes I work on something new and sometimes I revise something finished. An hour is "full time" for me. After that, I can blog, hit the bookstore, eat cookies, play with my dog, and live my life, knowing I got something writing-related done that day. For me it's all about the time. At the end of the hour, I stop - even if I'm in the middle of a word. That way, I know I'll be able to sit down again tomorrow and know exactly where to start.

  2. Here's what I have: You have one hour to revise one of those mss. Then send it to to get some feedback in a couple weeks. Next what are the three strengths and weaknesses of your other ms? Try to write a question for each strength/weakness - how can I make this ms more gross? What would really make the reader cry? Each morning focus on that question and make a list on a blank piece of paper of answers - like 7 things for each question. When you're done then you can open your ms and edit with your list in mind.
    Clearly this was do as I say, not do as I do- so I'm going to have to try these too :)

  3. Here's some tips, Marcie!

    I've started to put together my own checklist or to do list when it comes to manuscripts.

    They are little things that I can do even if I don't have a lot of time.
    -read it aloud
    -highlight all the verbs and see if they are strong enough
    -have a phone conversation with your main character to see if anything else comes out.
    -dummy it out
    -write a one sentence blurb about it

    Usually these things will lead me to changing something.
    And the best one?
    Work on something else.

    Also, have you ever used Scrivener?
    I know it's mostly for novelists, but I find it really helpful for PB writing too, to have all my manuscripts in one place (I just treat them as chapters of a larger book)

    So I can just click through, one after another, and then I'm BOUND
    to find something to work on.

    I also dummy them out that way too, leaving little sticky notes as comments where I want the page turns.

    I'm so excited that your teacher guide business is flourishing by the way! Good work!

  4. That's exactly what I need to be doing...scratching. But, like you, I'm not sure how to go about it. I've been in a writing slump, trying to get motivated. Looking forward to your posts!

  5. Wonderful ideas, ladies! Thank you so much for sharing. Now let the scratching commence! :)

  6. I love this post and all its comments. "My problem is that I become way too passive in this pursuit." I'm there.