In Your Corner: How Does One Stay Creative in the Midst of the Doldrums?

Have you ever struggled to figure out just how to keep generating good new material, as an author? Have you ever tangled with the doldrums when it comes to dredging up new ideas for marketing your self-publishing book?

Staying creative is hard.

Perhaps this is self-explanatory, or the sort of statement which prompts a “duh” reaction in some of our readers, but it’s worth saying nonetheless. Recognizing and honoring a difficulty like this is paramount in moving forward to address it. Denial is not a friend to productivity, on any level.

In all of my years working alongside self-publishing authors, one of the most common questions I receive is simply: “What else can I try?” The unspoken statement, uttered in the silences between words, is this: “I’ve run out of ideas, but I know I need to try something different since what I’m currently doing is not working or somehow not enough.” And perhaps that’s part of the difficulty; when authors go looking for just “enough,” they are hoping creativity will do what dogged persistence and dedication to craft won’t. They’re hoping creativity will level up their book’s success.

But that’s not strictly true. Creativity is a part of the whole, just as dogged persistence and dedication are. Creativity, however, differs greatly from those other two things, which can be counted on to produce measurable and reliable results. Generally speaking, if you put time and energy into something with persistence and dedication, you’ll be guaranteed to see results. Creativity, on the other hand, is fickle. It’s hard to qualify what it is, much less quantify what it does. I think of it as part of your navigation system; alone, it won’t get you anywhere, but it can certainly help you find your destination … but I don’t know, I think my metaphors tend to break down sooner than I can pin them down in pixels or on paper.

Instead of digging myself a deeper hole to step in, I thought I might shift gears a little bit, and talk about some of the tried-and-true methods to coax creativity out of hiding. What are some ways we can boost our creativity in at least a semi-reliable fashion?*

creativity listening

Ten Starter Tips to Summon Creativity

  1. Sleep (& walk to work) with a notebook and pen. The best ideas crop up when we least expect them, which is why it’s important to … well, expect them. Put yourself in the best possible position to jot down those nuggets of dream-time wisdom (at night) and kinetic inspiration (while you’re on the move) and contemplative excellence (when you’re at work, or eating dinner). And just as important as writing them down is the need to do something with them … so schedule a half hour or more every day to expand one of your jotspirations into something that later might fit into your larger project. Don’t put too much pressure on the individual pieces to become anything; they’ll assemble into something larger or inform your work as you go.
  2. Change your project. This is the scariest item on the list, perhaps. But it’s important to be open to changing directions mid-stream, no matter how far along in your project you are. I’ve known artists to destroy eight or nine of every ten artworks because they weren’t what they wanted, and I’ve known authors to strike one of every two pages during the editing stage, or delete entire drafts and start over from scratch. This might be a bit extreme for you, and there’s no need to go that far if it doesn’t fit your feeling for what’s right, but you should pay attention to your intuition. Is your current manuscript headed where you want it to? Has what you want changed? Should it?
  3. Steal like an artist. Beg, borrow, steal. You know how it goes: we are what we read, what we see, what we witness. Instead of feeling shame or repugnance at stealing from others whose work you admire, consider instead a system by which you acknowledge, pay homage to, honor, and celebrate these influences. I guarantee you that you already have a number of influences that are bleeding into your work; it’s simply a matter of recognizing them and working with them as a feature rather than a distraction.
  4. Get up earlier, don’t stay up later. Quite a few items on this list could have been taken up with “self-care” instructions, but use this item as the lynchpin of a body-friendly, healthy writing strategy. Studies show that getting up earlier (and going to bed earlier to account for the difference) and eating well, getting out and about, and seeking out friendly company are all significant physiological boosters for creativity and productivity both. You won’t be able to pin down your inspiration if you can’t even concentrate, so take the time and set a schedule which allows you to inhabit the best, healthiest possible body–and therefore create the best possible work you can.
  5. Read, read, read. Books are food for the soul, friends for the lonely, and so many other things. They’re also the raw material we chew up in our heads and turn into fuel for inspiration. Don’t shut down the assembly line which delivers this vital ingredient of your work! Spend as much time reading as you do watching television or scrolling through your Facebook timeline, and I guarantee your work will benefit.
  6. Diagram it. Not all brains work the same way, but many brains benefit from branching out and trying out some of the tried-and-true methods of people who might be gifted in other ways. Case in point? I am terrible at math. Or at least, I wasn’t a fond student of the subject. I’m a rather predictable writer in that I love words, words, always words–but once in a great while, when I get stuck, I find I really benefit from posing the question: “What would my friend A. do?” A. is an engineer and gifted mathematician. And what would she do? She’d diagram the thing. She’d figure out how to visually represent the component parts of an ongoing project: inputs, outputs, time and energy budgets, and the architecture of the piece itself. Seeing it laid out in this way helps me grasp where the holes are, and where to spend (or “budget”) my next writing session.
  7. Sing in the shower. No, seriously. Get up out of your chair if you’re struggling and go take a shower. Eat a piece of fruit. Pears are great for this, as are apples. Did you know a single apple contains more caffeine than a shot of espresso? True fact. I heard that one from my family doctor. Kick up your heels; put the radio on for a minute and go for a drive, just because. Belt out one of your favorite songs as if no one was listening. (If they are and don’t like it, well they can go lump it.) Get your blood moving, and vary your activities every fifteen or thirty minutes while writing.
  8. Clean your work space. Ha. Yeah, I know, I’m not doing too good on this front myself right now. But it’s a fact that most people operate best, focus best, when their work spaces are organized and cleared of clutter. Also, the act of cleaning often knocks out some of the cobwebs, maybe even knocks some new ideas loose. Don’t underestimate the power of those bubbling shower cleansers and elbow grease in prompting creativity to scuttle out of some dark corner.
  9. Finish something. And by this I mean: “If you can’t finish the big project, finish a little one.” It can be something related to your piece, as in, a chapter or a paragraph. And reward yourself for this! Or it can be something completely unrelated to your writing, like cleaning the bathroom or writing a thank-you letter to your niece for that lovely Christmas gift you forgot to mention earlier. (Oops.) Some people call this procrastination–but if you recognize the need to vary your tasks, and turn it into a productive deviation, one that you can reward yourself for finishing, your morale will spike. Just make sure you do get back around to writing again afterward.
  10. Count the ways. Count the ways you’re doing well. More than anything, struggling with creativity can sap your self-confidence, your morale, and your sense of your work’s value. But you’ve done so much good work already! Make a list, maybe, but no matter how you count the ways, make sure you celebrate each and every accomplishment!

*PLEASE NOTE: These tips are tricky, and the object elusive. If you’re struggling to make any one of them work (that is, you’re struggling to summon that spirit of creativity), there’s nothing at all wrong with you or with your methods, necessarily. There are no failures in the pursuit of creativity, merely delays. And as always, if you’re facing a daunting prospect, remember that we’re here for you, both to commiserate and offer up all of the expertise we collectively have on offer.

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner : Super Bowl 50 Edition

Will you be watching the Denver Broncos go toe-to-toe with the Carolina Panthers this Sunday?  Super Bowl 50 promises to be quite the event, and not just for the teams on the field––or their fans far and wide, or the support teams, or the cities which are represented, or even the disappointed followers of teams that didn’t make it.  The Super Bowl, like many other big sporting events in America and abroad, has the power to bring people together.  And whenever people gather together, whether it’s for Super Bowl 50 or some other occasion, you as an author have a unique opportunity to gather something else: stories.

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My favorite moment in many of the books I read and movies I watch is when a family gets together and the drama ends up spilling into the kitchen.  There’s something special about having all the generations represented, with their conflicting memories and versions of reality and worldviews.  These moments usually lay the foundation for some kind of resolution later in the story––resolution that smacks of reconciliation, and the importance of family (for better or worse).  The Swiss Family Robinson was among my favorite books as a child, and now as an adult I see the same thing happening in Isabel Allende, Kate Morton, Louise Erdrich, and Jonathan Franzen’s books––and the list goes on and on.  Some of my best storytelling memories––both as speaker and listener––revolve around my grandparent’s dinner table.  These are the moments we can’t afford to miss, as authors.

Am I recommending that you bring an exploitative reportorial mind to family gatherings?  No.  As writers we do have some obligation to report on reality––whether through the intimations of fiction or the facts of nonfiction––but we are not reporters.  (Unless, of course, that is your bread and butter profession.)  We do not inhabit those moments as objective observers, but rather intimate witnesses, and participants.  These stories have the potential to mean something to your readers (as inspiration for fiction, or the backbone of a memoir) precisely because you’re not objective.  They mean something to others only because they first mean something to you.

As an author, you have to strike the balance between participant and recorder.  It’s worth noting that some authors do not ask permission of family members and friends before writing about them (claiming that this allows more freedom of expression and less fear of even well-intentioned censorship), while others firmly advocate for asking permission out of respect.  I happen to be one of the latter, but I do recognize that it can be awkward to pull people aside to ask if it’s okay if I write down some of their stories.  A little awkwardness seems worth it to me, however, to know that I’m doing justice to the wishes as well as the words of the people who inspire me.

A couple of years back, when a relative of mine entered the hospital during her final days of struggling with cancer, my whole family came together––far flung cousins and aunts and nephews and great-grandchildren.  People had traveled from the far reaches of the country and in some cases, from abroad.  And something magical happened: the stories began to unspool themselves all around us.  I’ve never learned so much about my family’s history and legacy as I did in those days––and while it was magical, I wish it had been something other than suffering to have brought us together.  This isn’t exactly a recommendation to shout “Carpe Diem!” and add pressure to organize family reunions to all of the other responsibilities you face, but I do hope all of you find a whole host of precious shared moments that are rich with storytelling––whether this weekend watching the Super Bowl, or elsewhere––to enjoy in the coming years.

Always remember: you are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 02/20/15

LOVE CAN TURN HATE ASIDEthe long shadow

 

The month of February is also the celebration of BLACK HISTORY—recognizing the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans from the foundation of America to this very day.  I felt it fitting to highlight this concept of LOVE as stated in the heading, not to dredge up painful events but to demonstrate that WRITERS throughout history can—and have—made a big difference in creating harmony in the lives of millions around the world.

Do you recognize the name Daisy Gatson Bates?  I would have said “no” just a few years ago.  However, this publisher, journalist and lecturer played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957 and is honored for her lifetime accomplishments in the state of Arkansas on February 19th (or the 3rd Monday of every year) right along with remembrances of George Washington’s birthday and Martin Luther King.  As a foster child, Daisy attended the city’s segregated public schools.  In her teens, she learned that her birth mother had been raped and murdered by three local white men. No one was ever arrested and hate festered in her.  Her father told her: “Hate can destroy you, Daisy.  Don’t hate white people just because they’re white.…hate the humiliations we are living under…hate the discrimination that eats away at the South…and at the soul of every black man and woman.…Then try to do something about it.”  And so she did.

As an adult, Daisy and her husband published a local newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, utilizing her writing talents in her chosen field of advocacy journalism.  Stories about Civil Rights ran on the front page as well as the violations of the Supreme Court’s desegregation rulings.  However, the main stories that filled the paper spotlighted achievements of the black community in Arkansas.  Daisy had turned the painful events of her life into actively supporting those who wanted to change the segregated school system and increase opportunities for everyone.  Her clear and organized writing skills and positive attitude eventually led her to a position in the administration of President Johnson, working on anti-poverty programs.

Daisy wrote a memoir in 1962—The Long Shadow of Little Rock—which was banned throughout the South.  However, in 1988 the University of Arkansas Press reprinted it, after which it won an American Book Award.  President Bill Clinton (then Governor) said Daisy Bates is “the most distinguished Arkansas citizen of all time.”  In her later years, Daisy moved back to rural Arkansas, to concentrate on improving the lives of her neighbors (anyone who needed help) by establishing self-help programs that were responsible for new sewer systems, paved streets, a water system and community center.

Highlighting this woman’s life and accomplishments—as a person, journalist, publisher, author and advocate—exemplifies the points made by author Francine Rivers in my blog last week.

  • Tell the TRUTH, no matter how messy it is and get the details right.
  • Bad things happen. Ugly things. Sad and malicious things. There is also the TRUTH that good people make a difference. Their concepts of love, Faith, values, and doing what is right because it is right will make a difference.

Who is the person (or people) in your life demonstrating this element of LOVE?  Can their examples be incorporated into what you’re writing?  Do you need to write a True Story/memoir about their lives?  What is holding you back?  The WORLD needs more examples like this!  Write it! Get it PUBLISHED!

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 01/30/15

SAINTS AND SCIENCE FICTION

Somewhere in my memory I hear someone telling me: Experience is an uncompromising teacher.  She first gives the test then slowly outlines the lesson(s) to be learned from them.  When I shared that thought with one of my writing friends, he immediately agreed.  “Of course!  That is the reason I’m writing my young adult books—so maybe our precious youth can avoid some of the very hard lessons I’ve had to learn.”  He then showed me his Motivation Diary.  Now, I’ve started one for myself.  But before I share a few bullet-points from that list, I’ll offer you the following brief paragraph about “the writer’s motivation.”

The word motivation is a noun.  It is that something that provides the reason behind the act or actions that accomplishes a specific purpose.  For the writer, it is the internal (and often uncontrollable, overwhelming) impulse that spurs us to create the next blog, magazine article, poem, novel or textbook.  It is the incentive or inducement that arouses and sustains the continuation of a writing career.

My author friend has created quite an extensive list of motivation statements.  Below are a few of his and a couple from other writers.  He often uses quotes from other authors OR anything he reads or hears that inspires his writing goals.

  • I write (and expose) errors I’ve made in decisions/choices SO THAT others can see the fault in them and AVOID them. (first entry)
  • I write to let others know there is HELP and HOPE.
  • I write to develop my own Faith in God—and show others that it is OK to have FAITH.
  • When I get discouraged, I re-read what Saint Francis of Assisi said: “Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
  • I must remember that many very famous writers were “rejected” by editors hundreds of times before their work was accepted. I must keep writing!
  • Science Fiction author, C. J. Cherryh says: It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly. I will become a better self-editor every day!
  • I LOVE to watch Star Trek movies! Their author (an inspiration) is Ray Bradbury, who tells writers to FIRST find out what your hero wants, then just follow him! That is what I hope my young adult readers find in my books—a hero worth following.
  • Today I read quotes from two people I admire. General Omar Bradley (US Army WWII) said: Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. Abraham Maslow (the famous 1960s psychologist) said: The ultimate disease of our time is value-less-ness. This state is more crucially dangerous than ever before in history. I must continue writing to give readers examples of ethical maturity and the certainty that every human being is of great value.

AS YOU’VE read through these entries, were you starting your own Motivation Diary?  I hope so!  My friend and I talked extensively about how his (and my) motivations changed over the years as our writing skills improved.  He feels that reminding himself of the specific reasons for developing his characters and various plots they must traverse KEEP HIM grounded.  They also keep him focused on getting his work published—now, through self-publishing—and not waiting for one person in the haystack of publishing houses to accept his manuscripts.  WRITE ON!

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 01/23/15

ONE PERCENT INSPIRATION

This headline is part of a Thomas Edison quote: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”  I’ve met too many writers who accept that premise for themselves—replacing the word “genius” with the words “a writer” (or their own name), then believing they do not have the “inspiration” to finish their book.  This usually happens when they are in the midst of weaving together the final elements of an intricately woven and/or deeply researched plot and they are teetering on the edge of quitting.  Of course, there is work to be done in creating the writing projects that become noticed and successful.  So it is that I offer my perspective on the division between “inspiration” and “perspiration.”  I believe they are much more equal—45% to 55% on any given day—often re-balancing their positions within each hour that a writer is at the computer.

One of my favorite authors (who happens to be a highly respected American statesman and retired 4-star Army General) Colin Powell said: A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  His life experiences proved this point.  They also inspired him to say: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.  Stay forward looking, focus on solutions…the spirit of possibility is contagious.”

SO MUST the writer be—a dreamer who taps in to the inspiration discovered in their dreams and visions; a hard worker who is not resentful of the work (research); a positive thinker who keeps-on-keepin’-on; and a solution seeker (plot and character developer).

It is my premise that people who are gifted with the desire to be writers are multitaskers who have access to left/right-brain thinking during most of their waking and sleeping hours.  They may not yet recognize that writing is their true vocation.  However, the mental and emotional motivation will come and must be acted upon or those individuals will be most unhappy as their lives progress.

One of my former advanced writing students has been developing her career in the area of social services.  She has received high accolades from professors and coworkers in her intern placements.  Her natural ability to be inspired by what she’s learning combined with her sincere work ethics—being unafraid of the hard work—is giving her a strong foundation for whatever path she chooses.  At the same time, she’s writing!  Yes, most of her writing is class-assignment-related.  However, her emails (sharing life’s adventures) are rich with metaphor and simile.  Her concise yet strikingly unique descriptions of people and places make me want to be there and meet those folks.  Oh, yes, the writer lives within her and will bring her much joy today and into her future!

So, today, I leave you with another Thomas Edison quote—one that I wholeheartedly agree with: “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”  It is, indeed, common sense to build upon one’s strengths and—for the writer—that means taking that step forward to complete the first book and launch their writing career!

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.