Category Archives: writinglife

Writer’s Block: Fact or Fiction

So many of the books written on the creative process try to convince you that there really isn’t such a thing as “writer’s block”. They’ll quote established writers from Ernest Hemingway to Stephen King, Agatha Christie to Joan Didion. All you need to do is show up every day, and just start writing. Sometimes it’s just crap and ends up in the trash, and sometimes there is some good in there that’s worth mining and exploring further. And I believe this to be absolutely true. Louis L’Amour advises “The water doesn’t flow until the tap is turned on.”

And there are many things you can do to stimulate the creative juices…establish a routine, take a walk, switch to a different medium, or read the work of others you admire. I’ve written previous posts about how to get that creative spark lit, about reinspiring yourself and training your brain to know when it’s time to get going.

But sometimes you hit that wall. And you hit it hard. You stare at that blank screen or page, you’ve tried all the tricks, you’ve rearranged and poked and prodded, you’ve begged for cooperation, you’ve paced and squeezed, and nothing. You can type words on the page. They’re flat and uninspired. There is no flow. You have no interest in what you’re writing, and neither will your readers.

I call this condition “creative constipation”. Forgive the analogy, but no matter how hard you squeeze, nothing is coming out. It can be traumatic when you write original content for a living, but there are times when you cause more harm than good by digging for gold in a mud puddle. It can also be tricky knowing the difference between “I don’t feel like working today” and “I can’t find the words”. Only you can tell the difference. When you’ve tried your best, when you’ve reached down to your very soul, when you’ve pushed yourself to your limits, and still nothing, it’s ok to just admit it’s not working right now and go do something that makes you feel good.

Taking the pressure off and walking away from the performance anxiety relaxes those overworked creative muscles and allows them to loosen up and recuperate. Writing every day without a doubt strengthens those muscles, and I’m a firm believer in pushing through most blocks. But just like any kind of exercise, knowing when you are doing more damage by pushing too hard can cause irreparable harm. It can make you avoid it because of fear and anxiety. It can keep you away for too long. It can make you question your abilities and your strengths.

Sometimes journaling (for your eyes only) can help you discover an underlying reason why things aren’t working. Are there distractions you need to attend to or feelings that you’re not addressing? Are you just feeling burned out?

Let the light back in and give yourself permission to take time for yourself. Fill that creative well back up again. Relax your brain. Read magazines. Plant something. Watch a funny movie. Take a day off from social media, which I highly recommend doing anyway, at least one day a week. Don’t waste precious time feeling guilty. Creativity is a fragile beast. It can be whiny and fickle and uncooperative. Show it some love, some attention, and some appreciation. Realize how lucky you are to have it. That wall you’re hitting is only right in front of you. You can keep trying to smash through it, you can try and scale it, or you can simply take a few steps back, give it the finger, and walk around it.

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You Are Your Greatest Work Of Art

You are free to do whatever you want. You need only face the consequences.”

-Sheldon Kopp, American Psychotherapist

How do you define yourself? Are you a Writer? A Photographer? A Sculptor, a Poet, a Painter, a Potter, a Yoga Master, a Chef? All too often, we describe ourselves awkwardly and tentatively, with a combination of explanations and disclaimers. It’s as if we don’t feel we deserve to use those labels. Our experiences have shown us that using them usually leads to being questioned with “Oh, have you written a book?” or “Have you had a show?” or “Do you have a YouTube Channel?” As if these were the milestones we need to reach in order to be considered worthy of the title. Imposter syndrome kicks in, and we suck those words right back up.

You have to want it, believe it, and own it. Who do you really want to be? Who are you now compared to that? What steps can you take to bridge that gap? What’s holding you back from being that person? You certainly don’t need anyone else’s permission or validation to be anything you want to be. There are obvious things that we cannot change, but we can change how we react to them. There are some changes that may take some time, but are you moving in the right direction? Can you envision yourself being that person and living that life?

Our capitalistic society is always pushing us to be more productive, accomplish more tasks, buy more material possessions, and fit in. The result is often anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and low self-esteem. Just maybe our to-do lists should include being authentic, being kinder and more supportive of other people, and respecting and valuing our own self-worth instead of just getting more tasks done.

You are the greatest piece of art that you’ll make in your lifetime. And each of us will always be a work in progress. Life changes and changes us in the process. Priorities shift, lessons are learned, goals are adjusted. Be careful not to lose yourself in the waves. Stay true to yourself, and it will show in your work. Create the person you want to be.

I’ll wrap this up with one of my favorite quotes from my mother, who always encouraged us to be whomever and whatever we wanted to be…

“Don’t be normal…normal is so boring.” -Selma Bersin

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Top 10 Newsletters For Writers and Everyone Needing Some Creative Inspiration

Here’s a list I’ve compiled of some of my favorite inspiring, informative, and encouraging newsletters for writers and everyone interested in a little creative inspiration. All are free, and 1 or 2 offer paid subscriptions for more posts.  Greater input means greater output. Or they just make great fodder for further procrastination.

1. The Paris Review has been in existence since 1953 and showcases the best the literary world has to offer. It’s filled with short stories, interviews, and poetry, both current as well as from the last century, that are both inspiring and enlightening. Subscriptions to the newsletter are free, and there are several options to choose from. Well worth the time to read both the latest and those from the archives.

2. 10 Things Worth Sharing is a weekly newsletter from Austin Kleon, best-selling author of Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work, and Keep Going. His blog, which he adds to almost daily, is just one of the most interesting and thought-provoking collections of information, book reviews, music, movies, ideas, and ruminations on life. I’ve learned so much from his work, and the info he provides has led me to so many new people and ideas to research further.

3. The Imperfectionist is from Oliver Burkeman, the author of Four Thousand Weeks. He is a productivity guru with a fantastic insight into just what productivity is, understanding our limits, and explaining how to accomplish the truly important goals in our lives. His newsletter is a reminder of how to keep things in perspective and stop spinning our wheels trying to do the impossible.

4. Craft Talk comes by way of Jami Attenberg, author and essayist. She also promotes the writing challenge #1000words of summer, and several more random writing challenges throughout the year. Her newsletter is an honest, open window into the everyday life of a best-selling author and the challenges, hard work, and rewards it offers. She also provides advice to authors at every stage of their work.

5. The Art of Noticing from the book of the same name, is by Rob Walker. One of the most important parts of exercising creativity comes from our ability to use all our senses to notice what most people overlook, and his newsletter provides all the prompts that will inspire and challenge you to do just that. He has a very relaxed, easy-to-read style of writing.

6. Internet Archive is a digital, non-profit library of free books, movies, music, videos, software, and more. Their archive is beyond extensive; they are the largest digital library in the world. The newsletter highlights some of their accomplishments, new additions, and progress in their journey to digitizing basically everything.

7. Subtle Maneuvers is a twice-monthly newsletter from Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals. In it, he shares his thoughts, advice, and insight on how well-known individuals have overcome struggles, challenges, and time constraints and gone on to produce great creative works, and how you can too.

8. The Honest Broker is an interesting and informative weekly insight from music critic, author, and musician Ted Gioia. In it he shares little known information about music and culture, sharing stories and research collected over many years, and writes eloquently and honestly about subjects you can feel his passion for. I’ve made some great Spotify playlists based on his recommendations.

9. Iridescent Ordinary is a recent find for me. It’s by Rubi McGrory, and it’s a fun, lighthearted, and gentle approach to maintaining a daily practice. Delivered twice a week, it offers tips, workshops, playlists, meditations, and other reminders to step back and breathe. Good nudge for anyone trying to establish any type of daily routine, whether it be writing, exercising, or meditating.

10. Total Annarchy is a twice-monthly newsletter from author and marketing expert Ann Handley. It’s loaded with info on both writing and marketing. She’s got a great writing style, a great sense of humor, and a great reservoir of information.

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We Are The Documenters of History

We, the people, are the documenters of history. It is our stories, our artwork, and our photographs that future generations will look upon to get a true insight into our society. It won’t be Jeff Koons multimillion dollar balloon animals, nor will it be the latest best-selling novel, the current viral tweet or trending tik tok videos that they will seek out.

People are fascinated by the everyday lives and struggles of the “common” people. From the earliest cave drawings and logbooks of the first explorers, to the diaries of Civil War soldiers and a beautiful young soul named Anne Frank. From field sketches on the battlefields and poems scrawled on napkins to photographs tucked away in books. These are the words and windows we study to view what life was truly like.

The greatest artists and writers throughout history created works that have withstood the test of time. But we are just as fascinated by DaVinci’s notebooks and observations on life as we are with his creations. And the words of Charles Dickens are just as relevant today as they were almost 200 years ago. Truly great art survives, and so do the stories behind them.

But to dig even deeper, to see and read and feel what people were experiencing, how they were living and working, how they were reacting to what was going on around them, we turn to the “regular” people. The journals, the sketches, the photographs of everyday objects they put together for us. This is what allows us to get a true vision of their existence.

And that is why what we do today, by creating stories, by making our art, by documenting our experiences and lives and struggles and observations and reactions to what we see and hear, is so important. Document your reality. Your words matter, your art matters. Your journals, your blogs, your photography, your creations, they all matter. Your life matters.

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Find Your People

Putting your work out there can be very intimidating. Chances are, though, if it’s something you’re passionate about, there are other people out there who share that same passion. It’s just a matter of finding them, as well as giving them the opportunity to find you. Whether you join a community already in existence or gather people together and make your own, you’re not alone.

One of the few positives that social media has bestowed upon us is the ability to connect with others who share our passions. Unfortunately, most of the attention has been directed towards those that are harmful, contentious, and misinformed. But there really is good out there, there are good people all over the world, and the challenge we face is seeking them out and connecting with them. And in order to make that happen, you have to share your work.

Carve yourself out a space online, whether it be a blog or a website, and buy yourself a domain name. It’s always the right time to put yourself out there. You don’t have to be perfect, and your work doesn’t have to be either.

Whether you’re a writer, a photographer, a graphic artist, a painter, a musician, a jewelry designer, or anyone else creating something, there are others doing something similar. They’re just waiting for you to show your work, to share your passion and your process, and to offer up their encouragement and stories. One group often leads to another, and you will begin to become part of a community of like-minded creators. The deeper into your niche you explore, the better chance you have of finding your place and finding your people.

Every one of us fears rejection. And you will find those who don’t like your work. Probably tell you all about it too. They carry no weight or importance in your life. That’s not why you do what you do. There is no such thing as universal validation. The only validation you ever need is your own. It’s your life to live, your passions to pursue, your art to create.

Do what you do, always keep making things, and share them with the world. You’ll find your people.

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Creativity is Nonlinear

From Austin Kleon’s
Steal Like An Artist

As I pursue this passion for writing that I’ve had since I was a child, I find myself revisiting many subjects I have written about before, as well as other attempts I’ve made at expressing my creativity. Lately, I’ve gone back to doing graphite drawings of old signs. I’ve always been fascinated by the expressive fonts as well as the old-fashioned art of sign making. Must be tied into my love of words.

All of this has bolstered my deconstruction of the creative process, which is also a favorite subject of mine.

One of the most challenging, as well as exciting parts of pursuing your creative instincts is the nonlinear path it takes. There is no destination point, no moment when you’ve “arrived”. Just an endless stream of loops and twists, usually mirroring our lives in the process. Each project we take on leads us to something else or winds us back to the beginning. That dreaded blank page or canvas. Each harvest leaves us wondering what to plant next, and that we probably should have planted those seeds in the ground already.

It never gets easier. Whether it’s your source of income or your means of creative expression, you still have to make the first move. The muse will not come looking for you, and gently guide you by the hand. Inspiration will not come and hunt you down. In the words of Laurie Anderson, “None of us know what will happen. Don’t spend time worrying about it. Make the most beautiful thing you can. Try to do that every day. That’s it.”

Everyone has their own unique rituals for waking that inspiration inside. And not one of them is foolproof. My latest one is to sit quietly, drink one complete cup of coffee, and just let my brain wander for 20 minutes or so. I don’t read emails, check social media or the news before I’m done. It seems to allow my brain to clear itself, and go wherever it wants to go right now, but then it’s time to get to work. There’s no guarantee that this will work tomorrow, or next week. As I mentioned in a previous post, Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals is just loaded with the rituals of some of the most creative and inventive minds in history. It’s a fascinating look at how different, yet alike we all are.

Did I mention it never gets easier? There is so much happening around us, so much changing in our lives every day. Things we notice and those we don’t. Jobs change, relationships change, and sometimes the people we count on and believe will always be in our lives are suddenly gone. Finding a way to insulate ourselves from success, from failure, from the bumpy ride we are on, we must rely on our creativity for that beacon of light. It can be the only constant in our lives. Only for today, because tomorrow is never promised, and yesterday is long gone. Make something beautiful today.

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Embracing Creativity in a World Turned Upside Down

It’s been a crazy week of writing, so it got me thinking about how to refuel and add some creativity to daily life in other ways. I’ve discussed the importance of adding input in a previous post about keeping the creative fires burning, and filling the well from which to draw, but here’s a list of ideas for trying out other forms of creative expression. Most don’t even require leaving the house, and little or no financial investment. Just simple ways to inspire your artistic expression.

*Walk around your neighborhood and use your phone to take pictures of ordinary things other people wouldn’t notice. Look for striking shadows, interesting combinations of shapes, objects that usually don’t belong together, and different angles. Then convert them using your greyscale or black and white filter and see how moody you can get them.

* Rearrange some pieces of furniture, or all of it if you’re up for it. Switch around your artwork or add some more. Changing our physical environment, those things we see and use every day but really stopped noticing long ago changes our perspective. Changing what we see in front of us, in turn, changes how we see and what we notice.

* Plant a container garden, as small or as large as you like. Herbs, flowers, a few tomato plants, all will do well. Keep it somewhere you can see it, whether it’s in the kitchen or outside your window. Spend a few moments with it as often as you can, water it, nurture it and watch it grow.

* Draw, doodle, scribble. Allow the right side of your brain to take the reins, and don’t think about it. It’s not for anyone else to see. Draw shapes, random lines, try Zentangling. You just need a pencil and a piece of paper. Relax and have some fun. Doodling while on the phone or watching TV helps distract us from what our hands are doing.

* Try Coloring or a Paint by Number. The simple act of adding color to something, to creating something you made by hand, that empowering of an alternate source of creativity. If you’re feeling good about it, try some abstract art with a small set of watercolors or a few tubes of acrylics.

* Cook it up! If you’re someone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen cooking, baking, or culinary artistry, then dive a little deeper. Try and come up with a signature dish, muffin, or drink. Those ingredients are your medium. Like the decorating part the best? Then let that cookie be your canvas.

* Listen to a completely different genre of music. Spotify has some great playlists, from classical greats, 1940’s Jazz Legends, Reggae, to songs you’d hear in a Parisian café. Let it play in the background as you go about your daily chores, or when you sit down with your favorite book. Take notice of how differently each genre affects your mood and creative thoughts.

* Make lists. Lists of everything you can think of. All the places you’d go if there were no obstacles, the books you want to read, the people (famous and not) that have influenced your life, things that you own and love, things you’d love to have, positive things in your life, things you like about yourself. Again, these are just for you to see. The list of lists is endless.

* Get some fresh air. Take a walk to the end of the block and back, sit on your porch, patio, or front step. Just listen and hear the sounds. Watch the birds, or traffic, or people, and see what’s in front of you. Just let it all soak in, and remember to breathe.

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Every Small Step Is Progress

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What would you like to accomplish by the end of the year? Or the end of the month? What steps will it take to reach those goals? These words echo in my head each and every day.

Setting goals is a major part of becoming who we want to be, but they can just as easily set us up for failure. Finding that middle ground, those attainable steps that push us forward, without burning us out in a month or leaving us too much time for doom scrolling and binge-watching. Not reaching that goal you set of 2500 words a day will not make you work harder. It will just stall out whatever progress you are making. Be kind to yourself and set goals that may stretch you, but you know you can do. Success fuels us to continued success and accomplishments to more accomplishments.

Many self-help books and articles will tell you to take your goals, break them down monthly, then weekly, then daily. Sounds simple enough. It’s a very defined, organized, check it off the list and move to the next item approach. Just one task after another. It’s structured, it’s orderly, and there’s not a lot of decision-making or creativity involved. Seems very logical. I, however, am not. I’m just not that deliberate. I sit down Monday morning, look at the list, and instantly decide I want to paint today (even though I had hours I could have done that the day before). Or clean the grout in the shower. Or take my car in for an oil change or do anything at all that’s not on that list, even if it’s something I’ve been putting off for years. It feels like someone is telling me what to do and I don’t want to do it, whatever it is.

I’ll be the first to admit, this is still a learning process for me. Right now, setting up my goals for the week has been the best method for me. I like to work on multiple projects at a time, and this allows me the freedom to do that. On Friday afternoon, I set up my list of what I need to accomplish the following week. That way, I do have some structure and deadlines, but it’s not so forced. When I’m not so “task oriented” I also remember to pay attention to what’s happening around me and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Spontaneous lunch with an old friend-absolutely! Although it’s not on my list, it’s creative input, and generates ideas for that next article about the challenges we are all facing these days. Knowing my goals for the next week also gives me the weekend to think about those projects, keep them floating around in my subconscious, and get excited about them. Taking notes of course because I inevitably forgot that great idea character name I just had an hour ago.

Reevaluating our aspirations regularly reinforces our motivation and helps us to see what is and isn’t working. It also offers insight into what is truly important to us.

Goals can make or break us. It just depends on how willing you are to be honest with yourself. What you think you should be able to do versus what you know you can do. Remember to keep your eye on the prize, whether it’s fame, fortune, artistic expression, or just making a nice life for yourself. One step at a time, however small it may seem, gets us that much closer. Just keep moving forward.

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Top 10 Books For Writers and Everyone Trying to Live a More Creative Life

Here’s my list of the top 10 books for writers, for those needing some inspiration, and for everyone who is just trying to add a little creativity to their life. There are many others that are worthy of your time, but I’ve scaled back my list to just 10. I’ve included links to amazon.com for consistency, and to make it easier to see more information on each title. As always, please support your local bookseller and independent bookstores like powells.com or bookpeople.com whenever possible.

On Writing ~ Stephen King

Part memoir, part master class, this is by far one of the most definitive books on the art of writing. Full of inspiration and practical advice from one of the true masters. Every writer should have this on their bookshelf.

Daily Rituals ~ Mason Currey

One of my favorite books to pick up and browse through, Daily Rituals is Mason Currey’s massive collection of habits, quirks, routines and rituals of individual writers, artists, scientists, inventors, and a host of other creative minds. Fascinating insight into the creative process.

Bird By Bird ~ Anne Lamott

Already in its 25th Anniversary edition, this classic is also a must read. Filled with advice, humor and wit, and layered with honest and personal stories of her life and journey as an author. You’ll find this on most Writing Top 10 lists.

Steal Like An Artist ~ Austin Kleon

I’ve included Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work, and Keep Going all by Austin Kleon as a trilogy, but each book is worthy in its own right. Each contains honest, straight forward advice and solutions for everyone trying to make their way in the creative world. I refer back to all 3 frequently for motivation, inspiration, and help in resetting my goals and priorities.

The Elements of Style ~ Strunk and White

Included in many college writing curriculums, this classic guide covers everything from grammar and style to usage. A handy reference guide to have on hand.

On Writing Well ~ William Zinsser

Another fundamental classic that should be in every writer’s arsenal, this one focuses on writing clear, concise nonfiction. A must read for content writers, copywriters, grant writers and anyone who just wants to learn how to tighten up their writing.

No Plot? No Problem! ~ Chris Baty

Written as a guide to penning a novel in 30 days, this is an adrenaline fueled, kick in the pants push to get you motivated and just get the words out. A fun read, and great for anyone putting off writing that novel.

Things Are What You Make Of Them ~ Adam J. Kurtz

Life Advice for Creatives. A boost of support, motivation, compassion and inspiration on those days when you feel like no one is listening.

The Art of Noticing ~ Rob Walker

131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration and Discover Joy in the Everyday. Through a series of simple exercises, Rob Walker guides us through a reawakening of our senses, helping us to take note of the world around us. Perfect for both writers and artists, it points out all the things we tend to overlook, and teaches us to pay attention in new ways to the world around us.

Four Thousand Weeks ~Oliver Burkeman

This book will be released on August 10th, but I’ve included it in my Top 10 because I’m a huge fan of Oliver Burkeman’s past work. He addresses the entire “Productivity Crush” felt by creative people in all fields, and offers warm, heartfelt advice on time management, and the balance between productivity and creativity.

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It’s Your Life

Giving your creativity room to grow and flourish, both mentally and physically, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. There is room in your home and your life, you just have to claim it. It just means getting rid of the clutter and junk that has been accumulating over the years in your surroundings and mind like the proverbial junk drawer.

Simplifying your life can be done to any degree that you’re comfortable with, from a complete purge and reboot to just getting rid of the trash lying around.

 It’s about living within our space comfortably and with room to move around. It makes our homes easier to clean, it’s easier to get to what you need, causes less anxiety, and eliminates that constant feeling of always needing to be doing something. That chair Aunt Ruth gave you when you got your first apartment, that you now must squeeze by every time you want to sit on the couch can be passed on to someone else. Those utility bills from 6 years ago, or copies of checks the banks used to mail you (remember those?) are taking up valuable real estate in your limited space. And the 10 candles that have to be moved to get to the extra printer paper are really not helping. Clothes that no longer fit and projects we never finished only make us feel bad. Free yourself of the burden of all the physical objects that have attached themselves to you and made you their guardian. I’m not advocating the “only keep it if it sparks joy” method, because frankly the toilet brush and handy little tool to unstick my garbage disposal really just don’t bring me joy. Keep what you love and need.

Cleaning up your finances also allows you more room to breathe and prosper. Take a good look at where your hard-earned dollars are going. Drop the subscriptions, services, and memberships you never use, shop around for the major monthly expenses like car and health insurance, ask your credit card company for a lower rate, or apply for one with better rewards, and please stop paying for long term storage of the lawnmower and yard tools, or bedroom set, until you get that house. Sell them and buy them when you need them. Try to make your banking and bill paying as simple as possible. With those extra few dollars at the end of the month, you can get to that museum, see that film, or have dinner with friends.

Technology can also suck up a huge amount of time if we let it. If we let it. Unsubscribe from those emails you never read, make a file for anything you’d like to read later, and handle or deal with the rest. Check it only as often as you feel you absolutely need to. There’s social media, the ultimate wormhole. It’s not downtime, it’s not creative time, and it’s not helping us to be better people. Time lost falling down the rabbit hole of social media is overwhelming. Arguing with strangers about leash laws or how often to water a cactus consumes so much of our time as well as emotion. Set a time limit, keep scrolling when something annoys you, and stop arguing with strangers that have nothing better to do than irritate others and look for attention.

Our time is one of our most precious assets, and limited in hours as well as in years. If you find yourself unable to take 15 minutes or an hour to do something you love, take a good look at where your time is going. Write down everything you do for a few days. Now be honest with yourself. If it’s important to you, make time for it. Allow yourself time with family and friends, for downtime and daydreaming, for adding input to your creative well, and for practicing your art. Life doesn’t always have to be about crossing things off of your to-do list. Unburden yourself of what you don’t want or need in your life.

Simplify, Simplify

-Henry David Thoreau

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