Posts Tagged 'creativity'

Trivial and Urgent vs Important but not Urgent

Another bit from the John Cleese video I posted yesterday. I found this to speak directly to one of the things that has most bedeviled me:

“It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent, than it is to do important things that are not urgent (like pondering) and it’s easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.”  ~ John Cleese in his talk The Origins of Creativity

Game of Hot and Cold

Some time back in one of the messages I listened to about living in your spiritual gift, Pastor Farley described his own experiences in developing a sermon. He said that when he starts a message, he’s often stone cold. The Holy Spirit plays a game with him of hot and cold.

That immediately made me think of something I learned back during the time I was writing The Light of Eidon: if you’re bored and don’t want to go forward with a certain plotline or situation, that’s very often a “COLD”.

I remember planning out an entire sequence involving a fire in Southdock, and then could not make myself write it. Just could not. Finally it dawned on me that maybe this was not the way to go. Once I did that, and began to think of other ways to proceed. Sometimes in fiction, there’s an event you only want to “have happened” not actually portray dramatically and it can be difficult to figure that out. Sometimes, you’re just, flat headed in the wrong direction altogether and the event is either one you’ll never use, or something to be saved for another place in the book, or even another book.

I think that’s what’s been happening with Sky. I’ve been trying to take the story in a direction that seemed interesting and just is not where I want to go.

Quote: Recover and Recharge

I can only give thanks to our God that He has allowed me to have a case of shingles almost “in name only.” Its physical impacts have been so minimal, that except for the fact that two doctors have made confident diagnoses that I do in fact have it, I would feel embarrassed to even claim I did. The medications have worked flawlessly so far, their side effects also minimal.

The rash is nearly gone, and my eye looks and mostly feels back to normal, except for occasional zings of nerve pain in the left corner now and then.

But in spite of all that, things have conspired to keep me from the blog and the book. More on that in another post. For now, it’s late, so I’m doing another reprise from my old blog, this quote relevant to my current creative situation:

“Creativity comes in cycles. One month you’re churning out piece after piece, everything you put your hand to comes out fabulous. It seems like it’ll go on forever. You are the Productivity Queen! Next month you crash and burn. You can’t even bear to look at your studio, let alone make something. This is when you need to recognize the signs your body is sending. After a time of great creative work, your brain, spirit and body need a break. You’ve spent your creative energies and your well is dry. It’s time to recharge.”      ~ from Alexia Petrakos’s “How to Recover and Recharge from Creative Burnouton Collective Creatives – a cooperative artisan blog

Incubation

“Mulling over the problem in a sort of chaos of ideas and knowledge, letting go of certainties… entertaining widely differing or incongruous ideas so they can coexist long enough conceptually in order to be considered as a new composition.”

That’s “incubation.”

So when I am having a day like I described in the nonstops of yesterday’s post (Walking in Fog) or looking at the note cards spread across my desk and each one is an item that has little to do with any of the others, or there are clumps that relate, but no sequence that is emerging… they just are all there, like jigsaw puzzle pieces… I am in the process of entertaining differing or incongruous ideas together.

Incongruous: lacking congruity; not harmonious;  INCOMPATIBLE (not compatible: as a) incapable of association or harmonious coexistence; b) not conforming. DISAGREEING “conduct incongruous with principle”,  c) inconsistent within itself: “an incongruous story” d)  lacking propriety : UNSUITABLE “incongruous manners”

So if you have two ideas, say, “Abramm plans his way” and “He thinks about Blackwell…” those don’t, on the surface, have anything to do with each other. Nor does, “Trinley and Rolland argue about Abramm’s reign.” They are all three incongruous and when I think about it, I feel this frustration. Because I can form no connections.

Not that I’ve consciously tried to form connections, just that I survey the stuff and there aren’t any. So I’ve lately been just collecting it all into a chapter. Then I read the chapter and it jumps all over the place. Because there is no sequence, no organization. It’s chaotic, it’s a collection of different things, ideas, actions, feelings… sometimes they contradict each other. They can’t both happen, but I don’t know which one I want to happen. And it is very uncomfortable.

You’d think I’d have learned by now to get comfortable with it, but I haven’t. Reading files like this one, written as it was back when I was starting Return of the Guardian King is helpful.

As is the realization that this very thing that I find so frustrating is probably a key ingredient to making my books work. If I just laid down a simple sequence, chose a few things and went with them, I wouldn’t have so much to wrestle with. Writing would go more quickly. Unfortunately I would be very bored… which means my readers would also be bored.

And consciously trying to link my incongruous ideas not only won’t given me the final answer, but may lead me off on 100 page rabbit trails. I just have to resign myself to waiting until it falls together on its own, in God’s timing, not mine. Thus this stage will always be here, this mulling stage where I have the incongruous and widely differing elements coming together to form something new. I have no idea what that is, so how can I possibly guide it? I can only play with it.

And pray for guidance. And wait.

Walking in Fog

Last week, in the process of looking for something else, I stumbled upon a documentI created in 2007 called “The Muddled Phase, which is a collection of quotes from various nonstops I had made when I was beginning The Enclave.

Once again, they track dead on with what I’m experiencing now with Sky, and it was such a help for me to read them, again, I thought I’d share.

“Gah!  I hate all this muddled thinking I’m doing!  Just completely mushed up and tangled.  Nothing clear, nothing right.  A mess.  Ideas float in and out.  Who knows if they’re any good?  They sort of fit, but then need modification.  I just don’t know what I’m doing.  It all feels like a stupid idea, I should just give it up and go write something simpler.  But . . .

“I do recall feeling this way about Arena.  And about Eidon, for that matter.  So.  Again, I must walk by faith.  And again I am in the fog.  Where I can’t tell if I’m going forward or backward, where I’m going, if I’m actually going anywhere, or just in a circle.

“In fact, it’s hard to even think about any of it.  As I start to grope for it mentally, it seems to recede and fall into a jumble.  I want to wrest it all into order, and yet there’s nothing to hold onto.  Not even a direction to head in.” 

–Snip questions, possibilities, ideas —

“Hmmm. That could be interesting.  Urk and urk.  Swirling again.  Maybe I should just try and write it.  I don’t know.  Maybe I need to lie down or iron or something.  Something constructive.  Something besides just sitting here staring at the wall having half-formed thoughts flit in and out.  It’s maddening.  Maybe I should just paint.  Or clean or . . . but I don’t want to do any of those.  I want some order.  I want a map.  I want it now.  I have to make it myself.  My brain won’t cooperate. 

“Interesting about …” [and then my mind flits to something that is completely irrelevant but bothering me at the time]

“Where was I?  Trying to distract myself?  Is this avoidance behavior?  I don’t know what to do.  Sit and wait, or try to make something emerge?  Reread the material or . . . sit and wait.  Lie on the couch.  Stare at the penguin mobile.   

“Oh this is a waste.  My brain is dust.  Ash.  Urk and urk.  And urk.  So many distractions.  I am becalmed again.  There seems to be an awful lot of that.  I need to rebound I guess and ask for guidance because there doesn’t seem to be any. 

Oh.  That’s right.  My emotions have been turned off, so I can’t look for much help from them.  I listened to two songs today that usually get me going, and they did hardly anything emotionally.   Maybe I shouldn’t be waiting for some great surge of  “It’s right!”  Maybe I should just look at what I’ve got and go with it, whether I feel good about it, or not.  Just do the plan I have,”

 From another Nonstop, later

 “Okay, I was being frustrated, angry.  I have need of patience.  I need to trust Him to provide and to be content in whatever state I find myself.  And if that is in not finding the lost object — AGAIN — then that is what I will be content with.  Looking for the object in my mind.  Or not finding the answer.  That’s what it is.  It’s not an object, it’s an answer.  An understanding. 

“And I haven’t found it.  And I feel as if I should be able to find it now.  Immediately.  But I can’t.  I look inside and only incoherent thoughts fly by.  Not even floating anymore, more like whirling, breaking apart, joining with others and breaking apart.  Maybe that’s what’s going on.  I don’t know.  Maybe I should just give it up and iron.  I am impatient.  I feel that I must get busy on this book.  That I must be professional and work.  That I must use my time wisely, when it seems all I do is write endless, worthless nonstops that get me nowhere.”

And then having read all the above, I opened another file, this one titled “Incubation” which justified everything I described above as being a legitimate part of the creative process. But I’ll save that for tomorrow.

Quote: Beginning is Chaos

“For some people, the beginning is a time of complete chaos. You see bits and pieces of what is before you. You have a sense of what it is you must set out to do. But nothing will form yet. When you sit cown to write or paint or form movement, it’s like stepping over a cliff or into a dense fog. All you can do is trust that this impending masterpiece is going to somehow manifest itself as you work. But you do know that there is something specific ahead, and you feel the excitement of that.”  ~  Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story

At first I thought dense fog was the better metaphor for how I tend to feel at this stage, but then decided that stepping off the cliff might be better. Because you’re falling and you have no idea where and it may well be to a very unpleasant end.  And you’re seeing all sorts of things — rocks, trees on the cliff face, birds, but can’t quite get a fix on any of them…

A Potential Delivery Date?

Yes, really. I did write that. I like “Potential Delivery Date” better than “Deadline,” so I’m going to stick with it. And it may be that I have one.

Today’s been another decent day. I worked through some back story on one of my major characters and since he is the father of my female lead and the sponsor of my male lead, that has ramifications for everyone.

Part of my problems with trying to get my head around everything is that over time I have changed the set- up.  Is the person retired military or a government official? Or a successful business man? At one time or another it’s been any or all three. I’d decide one, write a bit and switch to another, forget there was the first, maybe after time forget there was the second and switch to a third. Then, on account of all the interruptions that have taken place in my life, I would forget even the third and go back to the work thinking the second was it, only to discover a reference to the first idea, and then get all caught up in trying to decide which was better…

Today I went through all my versions and distilled what I like best and now have three pages of consistent history for one of my main characters. Since this impacts the chapters I’m currently working on, that’s a good thing.

But… yes, I know: I said something about a potential delivery date.

That’s because, in addition to the Bible messages and personal conviction I wrote about in yesterday’s post, something else happened over the weekend.  On Saturday (two days ago, now) I got an email from my agent, forwarding a request from Bethany House for an update on me and this book. They asked for a delivery estimate. 

In the past I’ve felt like there was no way I could give them one. But this time the email triggered the thought that maybe I could. I’d said in my original synopsis that I could deliver a first draft by May of 2011. Well, clearly that didn’t happen, but now I’m getting the thought… why not May 2013?  Was that from the Holy Spirit, or just pure and simple wishful thinking? I don’t know. Quite possibly the latter, so at first I resisted. How can I say what’s going to happen next? How can I possibly give a date? You remember, I reminded the Lord, how much of  a fiasco the last one was.

Still, it seems to me He’s kept on nudging me with the May date. So I’ve decided to give it a week.  If tomorrow everything crashes back into what it’s been… maybe I’ll say nothing. But if the state I’m in right now continues and the conviction continues… well… maybe I’ll float the suggestion by my agent at least… That’s almost exciting.

But I’ll give it a week …

Flipping Priorities

Lately the Lord has been giving me lots of messages from various sources about the importance of focusing, of having priorities and following them, of knowing where your heart is by looking at where you spend your money and/or time. They’ve all been urging me to get more serious about the book and making me think about priorities.

I thought I’d already gone through all that, and had set up my morning routine to take care of things that had to be done every day or week as my first priority. The routine is always done and there’s no dithering about that. You just get up and do it.

And I have been. The first portions of it have become automatic. The second half, not so much. Plus I would often get distracted or sidetracked with some other project before I finished the second half. Was my morning routine too long? Maybe.

Worse, by the time I got around to writing — say between 10:45 and 11:45 — I was tired from all the other stuff I’d been doing all morning.

So I decided to change it up. For the last couple of days I’ve done only part of the morning routine and then went straight into the office to work on Sky for a bit, until I was hungry for breakfast. At which time I would do the second half of the routine (which includes hanging out clothes and doing tricks with Quigley)

So far that has been working really well, not just because I don’t end up out of gas before I get to the writing, but because once I’ve started working on the book, I tend to want to get back to it, and am thinking about it and not new housework projects I can work on. The other way, the new projects bombarded me.

Monday I alternated home chores and writing all day long. Today (Tuesday) I wasn’t quite as good on that, because after all the progress I had yesterday, today was more of a stalled out day. I spent a good amount of time being distracted, still, and being blank. But toward the end of the day I began to find a way to at least collect and organize my thoughts (which are mostly questions and possible answers) in such a way that I’m hoping tomorrow will see a few more pages added to the total.

One of Orson Scott Card’s recommendations is to always has why.  Why are the bombers in the basement? Why did she ask Lago to bring the ambassador up to the office to see the video? Why would she ask him to make the bombers go away?

The problem with that, is that I open up a world of questions I often don’t have answers to. Hence the distractions and protracted periods of staring out windows.

Wait. Maybe I should rephrase that.  “The problem with that is that I open up a world of questions I don’t have answers to …yet.  🙂

And tomorrow is another day. As it stands, in two days I’ve moved from the end of chapter 1 to almost the end of chapter 2.

A New Writing Book

I ordered a new writing book from Amazon last week. I have no idea why. No one recommended it. I had no real intentions of ordering any book at all, but I saw it on one of those links from something else I was looking at… to tell the truth, I can’t remember exactly how I came upon it, only that I did and for some reason it looked interesting.

It’s called One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft and it’s by Susan M. Tiberghien, an American-born writer, married to a Frenchman, with French-speaking children and living in Geneva Switzerland. Not the sort of person I’d generally choose for writing advice.

“Tiberghien’s advice, encouragement, and wisdom make this an invaluable book for writers at all stages of their writing lives.”

So says Michael Steinberg, founding editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction and author of Still Pitching. I have no idea who he is, and have never heard of Fourth Genre nor Still Pitching.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why I got this book.

I think it might have been God the Holy Spirit prompting me to do so. I say that because the book came a couple of days ago, and when I opened it up, the very first thing I read, on the page immediately following the dedication was this:

“Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

That quote reached off the page, grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me close. It’s exactly what I had been thinking about, remembering what it was like to actually write a first draft, develop a new world, a new set of characters… It’s been awhile. And this just drove right to the heart of it all.

There’s more to this than just that, though —  the part about the work being done “beyond the reach of one’s intelligence” echoes what I wrote in That Nameless Faculty Again about an aspect of ourselves we don’t understand and can’t control.  The part of our souls that brings forth a story. Or a song or a painting…  Mostly without our conscious control or even awareness.

Anyway, I’ve barely started it. Read the Introduction and part of Chapter One. Already I’ve got underlinings and comments in the margin and things I want to think about, ideas being added to things I have already been thinking about. If all those thoughts coalesce into something coherent, I might even blog about them.

And I did all this and still managed to work a bit on Sky — moved on from page 10 to page 14 in Chapter One (covering material that reached to p 17 in the original so I’ve cut another page…).  Hooray!

Fear is a Thief

My Bible Class lessons of late have been on the subject of fear. How it punishes and torments us — even though we do it to ourselves. It is also a thief, stealing the peace that passes all understanding which is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ. A peace that is not as the world gives — through things we can see — but through the things that are invisible. That is, the promises of God and the essence and character of God.

Moreover, not only does fear steal our peace, it steals opportunities for us to glorify God through trusting Him.

These are all familiar concepts, which I learned years ago, and had reinforced countless times since. And still fear gets the best of me far too often. Fear is the province of the sin nature, the weapon of the kingdom of darkness in its quest to pull us out of God’s plan for our lives, and in so doing, to discredit Him and insult Him. Because fear basically says God’s a liar, and impotent.

Fear paralyzes us, cripples us and stifles creativity.  Yes, he said creativity. And yes, I am very much aware of the fact that it chokes off creativity. But… sigh…I tend to forget… (Which is why I need Bible class every day.)

I love the story of the Israelites as they left Egypt in the Exodus, led by the pillar of cloud right up to the waters of the Red Sea, mountains to the right, mountains to the left, nowhere to go and Pharaoh’s army churning up a huge dust cloud as it rumbled toward them. None of the Israelites knew how to fight, none of them had any weapons, there was nowhere for them to go except back the way they’d come and that’s where the soldiers were.

But of course, this is the group of people who had just seen 10 amazing miracles performed by their God in His plan to persuade Pharoah to let them go. They’d just seen the deaths of all the first-born in Egypt, people and cattle, except in the land of Goshen where the Jews lived, where those who believed had marked the sign of the cross in blood on the lintels and door posts of their homes so that when the Lord came to smite the Egyptians he passed over them.

They’d gone out with a high hand after that, and now only a few days later … here was Pharoah’s army. So what did they do?  Forgetting all about the things they’d just learned, they focused on the Egyptians who were marching after them, stared hard at them, maybe trying to figure out how many they were, maybe seeing the glint of armor or spear or chariot wheel through the dust. They thought about them, and all their prowess on the battlefield. Thought about how fast the chariots could go, and imagined how they would plow into the company of Israelites, men, women and children, most of them afoot. They struggled to think of a way of escape and as they looped through all these thoughts, became completely terrified. Soon the sons of Israel were screaming in panic and terror to the Lord.  Then they blamed Moses for having brought them out there just to die, and bitterly longed to have been left alone as slaves in Egypt.

Did I mention that fear also makes us completely stupid?

Moses commanded the people to get a grip.  He told them to stop freaking out and,

“…stand still and see the deliverance of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you, while you keep silent.”

And I think keep silent not only means stop screaming and whining and blaming and moaning, but stop all the frantic thinking as well. Instead of focusing on the problem and trying fifty ways from seven to come up with a solution, STOP. Quiet your brain and relax. Step back and watch Him solve it. Think about who He is, what He’s done, what He’s promised.

“And God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with him freely give us all things.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created things shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  ~ Romans 8:28 – 31

“For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” so that we may confidently say, “The Lord is my Helper, I will not be afraid. What shall mere man do to me?”  ~ Heb 13:5-6

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jer 29:11

“Call upon me and I will show you great and mighty things which you do not know.”  ~ Jer 33:3

“The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” ~ Ps 84:11

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” ~ Ps 27:1

“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” ~Ps 62:5

“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” ~Ro 9:16

I realized, in the midst of Friday’s lesson that I was letting fear stop me on Sky, letting it paralyze me three pages in because I didn’t know where I was going. What if I chose the wrong sequence? What if it led me off on a goose chase? I could spend months writing useless words. I don’t have months to waste like that!

Fear.

Recognizing it was immensely freeing. It’s a first draft, after all. It’s supposed to be provisional, and I was assuming that God was unable to guide me. Further, one of my guiding verses has long been this passage from Hebrews 11:8:

“By faith, Abraham, when he was called obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance;  and he went out not knowing where he was going.”

To “go out” he had to take steps — had to get up and leave his tent and walk in a direction. And he did so, not knowing where he was going. If he didn’t know where he was going, how did he know which way to go? He didn’t. And yet he went.

The parallel to my situation is almost exact. To go out, I have to write a certain line of action and conflict. How do I know which one to choose? I don’t. I just have to choose one and go forward. Write it out, don’t look back and just keep on keeping on, trusting that God can lead me. Even if it doesn’t look like He is.

After that I returned to Sky and worked through to page 12, but since I cut 2 pages in the process, I’m actually on page 10. That’s 9 pages from where I started out, the biggest jump in pages I’m made in a long, long time. I’m quite pleased. 🙂

 


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