Archive for the 'On Creativity' Category
We all know how important the first page of any piece of writing is. The first page must contain a strong opening, establish the setting, foster an emotional investment in the characters, use language creatively, set up a problem or conflict (tension), be organized and flow smoothly, and contain a “wow” factor that keeps readers reading on. First pages are not for the faint of heart.
But neither are endings. The last page is just as important as the first, because it has to bring together all the disparate pieces of the work into a satisfying conclusion, while referring back to the issues raised on that scary first page. It’s a full-circle kind of thing, like the snake of eternity that coils around and devours its own tail. (Even the visuals take courage to face!) Click here for more…1 comment
It has always been my belief and contention that writers have an obligation not only to entertain readers, but also to educate them. That premise is obvious in non-fiction, which by its very nature is based on facts, most of which are not known to the reading audience—else why bother to write the piece in the first place? But in fiction, entertaining the reader seems to have taken precedence over educating them, especially in this short-attention-span, digital age.
There are many ways to educate readers while still telling a fascinating and gripping story. One of the more overt is to make sure that your technical skills in the English language are, as the British would say, spot on. A so-so writer can tell a readable story even when unknowingly killing some of the basic rules of sentence structure and punctuation (though discerning readers might have some trouble getting all the way through the story). A good writer can do the same while adhering to all the rules, which makes it a better read. A great writer lifts the story to the next plateau by using some judicious and creative manipulation of the language; ie, still breaking a few rules, but at least knowing why they need to be broken. And inspired writers make their prose sing while still adhering to all the rules, actually using the rules to slingshot their work out into the stratosphere.
But one of my favorite ways to educate readers is to sprinkle a few “big words” into the body of my work, words that may not be familiar to most readers. I like to think I’m helping to stretch their vocabulary and add depth to their life experience. Maybe it’s my own little quirk—I am a self-professed word-monger with an extensive vocabulary of my own—but I love to come away from a wonderful story knowing I’ve gotten more than enjoyment from it, more even than a better understanding of people and life. I’ve learned a new word that someday I may be able to attach to an event or feeling in my own life. My experience of living has expanded. I feel broadened, more open. Heck, I feel smart! It’s absolutely exhilarating.
Often writers will be told not to use words readers don’t already know, but if a writer has a fairly comprehensive vocabulary why should he or she have to “dumb down” in order to write for the public? Huntington Beach, California, resident Elizabeth George, writes the very successful British Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley series. She has a vocabulary of awesome scope; I found thirteen words I didn’t know in Missing Joseph, that run the gamut from acclivity to tenebrous.
Part of the tingle I get when I read her well-crafted, expertly-written mystery novels comes from knowing I will need to have a dictionary at my side (and not an abridged one!). As I read I learn new ways of looking at people, places, things and events, because synonyms do not have identical meanings any more than all grapes taste the same. Each new synonym adds its own piquant nuance to the total essence of a description, a scene, a character’s outlook, the meaning of life itself. And Ms. George sprinkles these little iridescent nuggets into her narrative like priceless pearls, for the titillation and edification of the discerning reader. And, hopefully, to increase discernment in the average reader. To lift the reader a little higher.
Don’t ever be afraid to ask your reading audience to scale the mountain with you. Most of them will come along for the ride, as long as you tell a compelling, inspiring story that takes hold and won’t let go. And if they learn a few new words along the way, they’ll be all the better for it.No comments
An act of faith. When we step out into any arena, no matter how familiar or uncomfortable, we commit an act of faith.
When I moved out here to California, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I’ve never been an especially brave person, but somehow packing up my possessions, hopping in the car and driving to an unknown destination had the feel of urgency about it. I called my mother and asked her if she’d like to venture across the country with me. We had a wonderful two weeks of following where our hearts led, stopping wherever the road widened, and re-establishing our relationship. We hit the Central Coast in late June, with nowhere for me to stay, no job and no prospects. An act of faith.
It occurs to me now that most of the things we do in life, whether we know it or not, are acts of faith. The big, really scary ones we recognize. But the little everyday risks we often don’t acknowledge as true acts of faith. They’re just something that we do because, for some reason or another, we must.
Think about writing, for example. The entire process, from inception to completion, is a series of small acts of faith that culminate in a product that is larger than its component parts. What else but an act of faith would convince anyone that a tiny seed of an idea could sprout and grow into an article, a story, a novel, a memoir or non-fiction volume? What other than acts of faith that build one upon another could sustain a writer through the torturous process of ideating, writing, revising, researching and rewriting again and again?
In my experience, the freshness and the wonder in any literary work is directly related to the amount of faith needed to underpin the writing. The newer the territory, the more unfamiliar the genre or subject matter, the more inspiring is the act of faith. It takes less faith to re-create the known past than to step out into the unknown future. That’s why the first in a series of anything, fiction or nonfiction, is often the most compelling to the reader. The joy of discovery, the awe of a newly unfolding process, the wonder of learning permeates every sentence, phrase and word, and carries the reader along on the journey.
So, I challenge you all. Make this your autumn of faith. Step out into the unknown; trust your insight, your skill and your talent to take you to a place you’ve never before visited. Seek the wonder and expand your horizons. Listen to your inner spirit, to the soft whisper urging new exploration. Dare to dream. Spread your wings and fly to new territory, see where the muse leads you. Then write it down. Listen to your inner spirit. It will be scary, and at first you may stumble and fall more often than you soar. But it’s worth it. You’ll be initiating an act of faith that will start a chain reaction within you. It could lift your writing to another level altogether. Or you might discover a talent for an area you’ve never before explored. At the very least you’ll go back to familiar territory with renewed confidence and a sense of pride for taking a risk.
All your dreams for the future begin here, now, with a writing act of faith. It’s the wellspring from which all literary miracles flow.
Step out and write.No comments
Here I go again, talking about change. I guess that’s because it’s such a constant in my life right now. Everywhere I turn, I’m faced with change of some sort: the economy has cut my work hours drastically; my church is re-organizing its service groups, just when I’ve gotten comfortable with the status quo; and circumstances are forcing me into finding a new place to live.
ereHChange is never easy, especially when it’s thrust on us without warning or our consent. That can make us not only frustrated and angry, but also resistant. But change can also be the best – and at times the only – way to keep moving forward toward our goals, be they professional, spiritual or personal.
When I moved out here from the East Coast, I had to pare down. Let’s face it, I’m the quintessential pack rat. My unquenchable imagination allows me to see that yes, I may indeed someday soon – in the next 10 years or so – need that article I haven’t touched in last 10 years. And given the fact that I get bored easily, I do tend to rotate my hobbies ; a year or two on, a year or two off. And now I’m forced to do it again, pare down into a place a quarter the size of the one in which I presently reside.
But a funny thing happened (after I groused and anguished for a few days). I somehow found myself looking forward to solving the problem; how can I pare down and still retain what I need to fulfill myself? How much of me can I fit into that room I will soon call my own? What actually defines the real me? It’s a challenge that’s starting to feel doable, and even a bit exciting.
I’m finding it spilling over into my writing life, too – or perhaps it’s my writing life that’s spilling into my regular life. However it works, I’m finding myself “paring down” when it comes to words: How many words do I really need? How many can I cut and still say what I want to say? Still retain my unique voice? Still capture the reader’s attention, and imagination? Where does the border of “bare essentials” meet the expanse of “more than enough”? That’s where I want my writing to dwell, in the narrow space where I truly come alive.
Where are you in your own “paring down” process? Are your word closets still too cluttered to see exactly what hangs in there? Are your kitchen cabinets so crammed full that willy-nilly words leap out when you open them? Do phrases, similes, clauses and sentences liter the floors and trip you up on your journey to realizing your lettered vision? Perhaps it’s time to open your windows and let the fresh breeze of change blow away the chaff, winnow down your burgeoning supply of literate canned goods to the bare essentials that define you as a writer.
We can’t escape change. We can’t ignore it and continue to grow. The best we can do is help direct it, and enjoy what it reveals to us about ourselves.No comments
I took a trip a couple of weeks ago, to visit my son for his birthday. As he lives in
Under such circumstances, most people would go into high-stress resistance mode, which includes carping, complaining, pacing, sighing, grunting, and even yelling at the poor employees behind airline counters who have no more control over things than passengers do. But going postal isn’t a writer’s style. We’re above all that, right? Being a writer lifts us from mundane reactions, because everything that happens is grist for our story-mill. Every interruption, delay, time crunch or reversal of fortune is not a tragedy in the making, it’s simply an opportunity to add to our “stash” of ideas, another line or six added to the trusty-dusty notebook (traditional or electronic) in which we jot down our triggers for inspiration.
To wit: I am not a morning person. Still, obedient traveler that I am, I arrived at the airport at the airline-advised ungodly hour of 4:00 am, the requisite two hours in advance of flight time, only to discover the terminal hadn’t yet opened for the day! (No joke, this really happened.) Did I get upset? Of course not (not much, anyway). I just imagined what Janet Evanovich or Joan Hess would do with such a situation, and aha! Into my notebook it went, an idea sparker for that humorous story I’ve been contemplating attempting. The fact that the plane then developed mechanical problems and takeoff was delayed for almost two hours past the original 6:00 am departure time only added to the farce.
And so it went, for the entire trip. Every setback – missed connections, lost luggage, lack of email access, a minor car accident, my mother ending up in the hospital (she’s fine now) – it’s all fodder to feed my imagination. It’s all part of the “What if…” process: What if my protagonist missed the plane? What if the antagonist lost her luggage? What if the cops had an accident on the way to the 911 call? What if the meeting place hadn’t opened yet? What if, what if?
With the holidays – and the traveling it often entails – coming up, be sure you don’t miss out on opportunities to add to your idea stash. The everyday events of travel – by car, boat, bike, train or plane – that drive most people up the wall offer limitless opportunities to us as writers. Each missed alarm, wrong turn, person encountered, traffic jam, or late arrival can make its appearance – as is or disguised in some form – somewhere in your work, if you remember to jot them down. Each travel event, humorous or serious, can trigger an idea for a solution, a situation, a scene, a character, or even a complete article, story or novel. Fiction may be stranger (and possibly neater) than truth, but it’s life’s messy realities that trigger our story ideas. And if we remember to write it all down, we’ll never run out of ideas.
Notebooks ready? Happy traveling!No comments
Can one be one’s own spirit guide? I ask, but the answer is as the wind, a fleeting sense of motion, caressing fingers of reply glimpsed from the corner of my soul’s-eye.
Silence, my constant companion, hand-mate of isolation as I await the sound, the picture, the word, the touch of the guide with whom my heart longs to connect. In meditation I seek, through the distance of eternity: harmony, joy, peace, fulfillment, balance.
In silence I write, my head filled with the multitudes peopling my imagination: voices unheard knocking at my soul; fingers unfelt stroking through the essence of my life. In isolation, I am never alone. My being is crowded with the stories that layer my existence. Sometimes, I am lost even to myself. My spirit guides, I know not where.
Solitude is only bearable with God. “How still is he who knows the truth of what he speaks.” (A Course in Miracles)
Listen to the silence. Listen to the voice that is without sound. That is where the answers lie.1 comment
The fabric of reality… We create reality, but what exactly is it we create? What, indeed, is reality? Is it matter? It is energy? Are either real?
Quantum physics says that matter is merely a local condensation in the field (the field being an omnipresent entity). Perhaps, then, we are merely Universal Dewdrops, beautiful, insubstantial, ephemeral drops of Cosmic Condensation.
Or ponder this definition of reality: matter is energy reduced to the point of visibility, reduced to limitations, become finite. That would make energy matter expanded to limitlessness, to infinity. Yin and Yang. Equal and Opposite. A flipped coin.
“In the beginning there were no words, yet heaven and earth arose (Tao #1)
It was a vision, a dream, that gave form to energy, that gave matter to reality. Perhaps, then, Reality is Energy focusing on its own Dreams.
Dream Big.No comments
Realization is not a noun; it is a verb – the act of making real.
What is reality? What is it not? How often we think of realization as a noun, as something we have, rather than as a verb, as something we do. How often we limit the limitlessness of our being.
By the very act of being alive, we are realizing – bringing into reality – the world around us. What a disservice it is to realize passively! To let reality evolve without our conscious input, without our conscious direction. What irony to then complain about the end product of our own apathy.
What a world we could have if everyone actively realized their being! Imagine the result of life’s essence brought to fruition through active realization. Could we perhaps create the Biblical “Paradise on Earth”? Could we create everlasting joy and peace and beauty?
Could we dis-create war and hatred and poverty?
Is that not the heart of creativity? Realization … bringing into being that which is not, that which could never be without us.
Heaven is not where we find it. Heaven is where we create it. Where we realize it.
Incorporate your dreams … bring them into being … give them corporeal form.
My muse – my secret self – so lovely and ethereal – life bursting forth in shy glory, reaching for the light, reaching for me. She tends to the miracles that spring from my subconscious, my vibrational energy: witnessing, approving, validating, nurturing. Yet I feel so sad within as the sparks burst in myriad directions. How do I follow them all, keep them safe, experience the joy, the growth, the wonder? So much to do, so many places to be, so much to learn.
“The place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise.”
Where is that place in me, the line where Light and Dark arise, the horizon where miracles arise? If I fear the Dark, keep myself safe in the Light, I will never be a miracle. I will never know my deepest self, never burst forth into true life, never be one who loves and gives and grows and lives.
And writes from the heart, not the mind.
Is this birth into Miracle not a process of purification? The Light bringing purity to the Dark purifying the effervescence of the Light into purity reborn? Where else can that occur expect in the place where miracles begin?
Where do the messages, the stories come from? The Light? The Dark? Emanating from both, caught in their own symmetry, their own purity, they burst forth only where they touch – the place of miracles. Intuition, pure and reborn. Miraculous Life.No comments