Tag Archives: Creativity

We are what we Read

high-school-booksAs a writer or a reader, the types of stories we love reflect something about us: the kind of people we are (or would like to be), eras and places – real or imaginary – that we want to visit, characters we wish we could hang out with. (Book boyfriends, anyone?)

Whether they’re labeled ‘Heist’, ‘Road Trip’, or ‘Redemption’, we all have cherished books and movies that push our personal Like button. Sometimes they’re guilty pleasures, sometimes they’re best sellers, but reading or watching our favorite stories touches a special place in our hearts. They make our world better, even if only for a little while. They inspire us.

Screenwriter/novelist Alexandra Sokoloff believes writers especially should make their own list of story types that resonate with them. Making up our own labels gives each of us a private mental shorthand that tells our brains what to expect from the tale. Also, it’s way more fun.

Here’s a sample of her personal list, cribbed from her extremely helpful book on plotting, Writing Love. (Check out the link below!)

Caper/Heist/Con: Ocean’s 11, Inception (caper structure in a sci fi film)

Mentor Story: Karate Kid, The King’s Speech

Soul Journey: The Razor’s Edge, Eat Pray Love

Mysterious Stranger: High Plains Drifter, Mary Poppins

Note that these types of story cross genres, but they all have recognizable elements, such as ‘assembling the team’ in caper stories or ‘setting out for the special destination’ in road trip stories. Often a book or movie will fall into more than one category. ‘Thelma and Louise’ is a road trip story, but it’s also an ‘On the Run from the Law’ story.

Here are some of my favorite story structures. Naturally, you will find several historical romances. 🙂 :

The Big Makeover: Princess Diaries, Pretty Woman, My Big Fat Greek Wedding I

Master/Mistress of the Game: The Grand Sophy, These Old Shades, Second Season

Rescue/Mission: The Magnificent Seven, The Blues Brothers

Road Trip: The Lady Risks All, It Happened One Night, Angel Rogue

Noble Rogue: The Traitor, All the Ways to Ruin a Rogue

 

So what kind of stories talk to you?

 

Further Reading:

Writing Love, Alexandra Sokoloff

Save the Cat, Blake Snyder

Story Structure Architect, Victoria Lynn Schmidt

The Practice of Inspiration

A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...

Professional artists, whatever their medium, say with good reason that ‘inspiration is for amateurs’. Deadlines, word counts, record companies or editors don’t care if you’re having a good week or not. They just need your product delivered when you promised it.

Nevertheless, even the most organized, disciplined artist (which excludes me!) needs and looks for inspiration to stimulate their process or refresh their brains. If a long-term goal is equivalent to reaching a mountain-top, and motivation is what keeps us on the trail, inspiration is the impulse that started us on the hike to begin with. It could have been something as simple wondering what the view from that particular peak looks like. It’s also the moment when an unexpected vista opens in front of us as we make our way upward. It’s something to savor and take a picture of. You catch your breath and rest, and then get back on your way. Inspiration makes you eager to see what you’ll discover next.

What refreshes you and gives that little zap of energy may not do a thing for your neighbor. Just check out all the different boards on Pinterest if you don’t believe me. What we love is as individual as we are. It could be visiting a botanical garden or window shopping at the local mall. The main thing is to find out what you love and take the time to indulge it. As long as you don’t wait for your Muse to drift down on a golden cloud and sprinkle fairy dust on your head before getting back to work, you should be fine. Maybe something wonderful that you can use right now will come to you. Maybe you’ll get a cool idea that you can’t use at the moment — make a note of it somehow so you don’t lose it. Or you might not see anything that really inspires you. That’s okay, you’ve still got your long-term goal to keep you on track.

One nice thing about looking for inspiration on a scheduled basis is that it opens your heart and mind. It can come from anywhere: spiritual readings, the rock you kept since you found it on the beach at age seven, a science journal. Like anything else, finding inspiration becomes easier with practice. And you find out what things inspire you for different tasks.

Lately, I’ve been looking at a lot of Georgian houses and listening to movie soundtracks. What gets your brain cells off and running? If you don’t know, take a few minutes and see what strikes your fancy!

Make Something of Yourself

Razvan Ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People often ask, “Where do you come up with your ideas?” and “How do you make time to write?” before telling me, “I could never be that creative.” The answers to #1 and #2 are blog posts of their own, but I always feel terrible when I hear the last comment.

I am convinced that all of us were put on this earth to make something of ourselves. Not in the usual meaning of the phrase, which means a person establishes her- or himself in a prestigious job, or becomes a celebrity or earns a big income. Say ‘make something of yourself’ aloud, but emphasize the last word.

‘To make something of yourself‘ implies that you put your heart and soul into creating something you love. For me, it’s making up stories. If I weren’t published, you know what? I’d still think of characters and plots. My stories happen to take the form of books. Other people make stories in the form of movies via screenplays, or acting. Some people love to tell stories to their grandchildren.

My mom always says she’s not creative. This from the woman who took a shoebox of broken rhinestone jewelry, cleaned it up, and glued the pieces onto colored felt in the shape of marvelous, sparkly Christmas trees to give to her friends as gifts one year. I would never have thought of finding such a cool use for junk jewelry! And she does stuff like this all the time.

As in the worldly meaning of the phrase, it’s not easy to make something of yourself. Society approves of some goals more than others. For example, Warren Buffett is usually admired for doing what he loves, namely making sound investments. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. If you like making up characters and stories about them, people say you’re a daydreamer. If you like to paint, people tell you to stop fooling around with watercolors and get a job. Even if you already have one.

To make something of yourself, here are some things you’ll need:

1.  Something you love to do or have always wanted to try.

2. Teachers or mentors: Instinct only goes so far. You’re not going to know how to compose a picture, dry flowers or develop a character right off the bat. If you can’t find someone in person, look online for help, or in the library. Julia Child still inspires budding chefs thanks to her cookbooks, for example.

3. Time alone to explore what you love: This one is a bear, especially if you’ve always tried to be there for others. That makes you a wonderful person, and means you’re entitled to schedule a bit of time once a week or so for *you*. Schedule your time, and fight for it. You’re allowed to be less wonderful for that hour or two.

5. Permission to Fail: We all suck the first time we try something. This is normal. If you’re feeling terribly ashamed of how much you suck at whatever it is you tried (which you shouldn’t because you’re still a wonderful person, right?), you don’t have to show it to anyone. It was just an idea that didn’t work. You will get better next time.

6. Permission to Succeed: Use part of your creative time to think about your definition of success. Work backwards from there to where you are now. This way, you’ll know what you need to do next. Then, when a painting is accepted for the show, or a manuscript is requested, you’ll know what you want to happen, where you are on your road to *your* success. Other people will have a hard time talking you into what they think you should want. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for every stepping stone you land on, even if others say, “Are you sure you should waste time doing this?” If it’s still fun and you can put your heart into it, the answer is ‘yes’.

For more photos from Razvan Ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net, click here.

Being Here

Dry.  Blocked.  Stuck.  Staring at the screen.

One of a writer’s many nightmares is sitting down, putting her fingers on the keyboard and…nothing.  No words, no idea, no clue comes on how to finish this wretched story.  She has to write the scene — she wants to write the scene — and her mind says ‘beeeeeeeeeeeep’, like those old ‘end of the programing day’ screens before television was on 24/7.

I think every writer deals with this syndrome at some point.  Most of us call it ‘writer’s block’ though my mentor, S. J. Walker, calls it ‘writer’s procrastination’ with some justification.  When the words don’t come it is too easy to turn off the computer or set aside the notebook and say “It’s just not working today.  I’ll do something else.”  Don’t get me wrong, everybody needs mental breaks, even from work  they love.  But the biggest secret to accomplishing any creative endeavor?  It ain’t talent or unlimited time or an independent income.  It’s showing up, plain and simple.

If you don’t make it a habit to pick up the needle or the paintbrush or sit down at the computer, then the quilt, the drawing, the story will never get done.  You gotta set a schedule to give yourself creative time, whether it’s your full-time job or weekend projects, and you gotta show up on the schedule you set for yourself, be it daily or weekly.

My goal is to write for a set number of hours, six days a week.  Even though I’ve been spinning my creative wheels for the last month, I am still here.  I haven’t felt so unproductive in years, but I am following my friend Sally’s dicate: “Write anyway.”  My frustration shows in stilted dialogue and entire scenes that have nothing to do with my story.  (Another important part of writing is accepting that the first thing I come up with is usually crap.)  I groan, hit ‘delete’ and try to remember that one point the chance to write these characters and their story thrilled me.

I’ve lived long enough to learn that creativity, like the rest of life, goes in cycles.  I’m in a dry spell where the right words are as scarce as water in the desert.  But if I show up and keep stringing one word after another, I will find my way back to the story I hope to write.  And then the words, like rain, will come again.

Then I’ll probably whine about drowning.