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Category Archives: Creativity Guest Posts

89 Andrew J Chamberlain

Creative Truths
By Andrew J Chamberlain

About a year ago I launched a podcast called The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt. My aim was to provide some practical, accessible advice to writers, using short teaching episodes interspersed with an occasional longer interview with a writer, an editor, or a creative writing tutor. This has been the pattern for all of the thirty or so episodes I’ve released so far, except one. That one exception was an interview with visual development artist and illustrator, Claire Keane.
The reason I chose to talk to someone who is not a writer is quite simple; there are creative truths that apply across the artistic disciplines, and seeing them applied in a different art form can help us to understand how these truths work.
Three of these fundamental truths that I’ve learnt are:

Be authentic
Say what you mean
Be specific

Be authentic
Authenticity is an absolute requirement of art. So for example writers will understand the need to create ‘authentic’ characters; that is characters who have an inherent truth about them, a reality that readers can identify with and believe in. When we start to talk to people from other artistic disciplines – artists, sculptors, illustrators, composers and musicians, actors and dancers – we find the same quest for authenticity. For these other artists that quest is mediated through physical performance, or musical composition, or lines on the page. But whatever artistic medium we are working in, all of us are striving to bring our audience to the point where they say: “I am prepared to believe in the truth of your art.” It might not be the literal truth in the sense of something that actually happened, but it is about persuading your audience that what you are showing is a truth, a truth about life, about how we are as people and how the world is.

Say what you mean
The best way to achieve this level of authenticity in our art is to have the courage to present what is in our hearts, whether it is from our own personal experience, or an honest perspective on the world. The artist must present things as they are, not as we would wish them to be. Presenting our art is not an exercise in civility and politeness, we need to present things as they are. Neither can we afford to be lazy and lapse into familiar clichés, and worldviews. Saying what you mean requires the courage to take the difficult route. Of course, authentic art can expose us, it can threaten how others perceive us. But the artist must set that aside and be honest with the audience. This does not mean they have to be rude or shocking for the sake of it, because that is as false as pretending the world is not as it is. But we have to do the simple, hard thing – and say what we mean.

Be specific
Finally, and by way of a practical application, we must be specific. We must observe and present precisely what we experience. By doing so we stand the best chance of persuading our audience that we are telling them something worth attending to. It requires intense attention to detail, and relentless honesty. The end result of this quest for specificity can be something very brief, and simple. It might leave your audience saying “you make it look so easy”. Let them. Deep down they’ll know how damn hard it is achieve that.
This kind of brevity can only work if we are precise, sometimes obsessively precise. The writer who spends a day on six words, the composer who spends a week on a few bars of music, the artist who practices and practices to create a few lines of sketch – these people are not being precious about their art, they are working to achieve the precision required to create something authentic.
It is this mix of honesty, precision, and hard work that gives us our best work. It persuades the audience that what they are experiencing is a truth; a truth from which we can learn something, feel something. As artists our quest for these truths can be aided by seeing them manifest in different forms; and so when I interviewed Claire Keane, I knew that talking to an artist about her perspective on the creative process would benefit writers as they see the parallels in their own work.
This is the immensely hard challenge that all creative artists face, but all art forms have these creative imperatives; and if we are to present art that is worthy of our audience, and ourselves, then nothing less will do.
©Andrew J Chamberlain 2015

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2015 in Creativity Guest Posts

 

88 Marianne Paul

The Woman in the Moon

The moon is brimming this evening. It is a Van Gogh moon, framed by my writing room window, and hanging in the uppermost corner of my personal “Starry Night”. Granted, it is a star-less night outside my window; but the spirit of Van Gogh swirls in it, in the darkness, the haziness around the edges of the moon, the black lines of the trees, the fingertips of the branches. 

There will be a moment when the moon can hold no more, its arms full. I love that image, the moon’s arms full.

Instead of a man in the moon, I imagine a Woman in the Moon. She is full of breast, and large of hip and thigh and belly, like those tiny clay goddesses that archaeologists unearth in remote places. 

In my night-sky, the Woman in the Moon holds her arms out from her body in a perfect arc. The circle of her arms forms a womb, and within this fullness, within this curvature, is held the night secrets – the promises and whispers, the waxing and waning, how time began and how time ends.  Around her, the celestial currents and eddies swirl, the pull of the tides. It is all there, in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and in this evening, too.

If you look closely at my Woman in the Moon, you’ll see that her skin is smooth as alabaster, and she is as calm as deep sleep, deep space. Her eyes are closed, and you think she dreams. As I grow older, I’m shifting my perspective as a creator, as a wordsmith, working to emulate the quiet calmness of the Woman in the Moon, learning from her wisdom. I no longer focus on my artistic shortcomings, trying to rectify them by creating resolutions, or setting lofty goals, or writing longer or harder, or being a tougher critic of my work and myself.

Instead I’m contemplating what makes me happy, fulfilled, full-filled, what makes me feel “moonish,”  a woman-in-the-moon. I plan to fill my creative life with these things until my arms are full. The list is simple. Story-dreaming, story-crafting. Poetry. The minute details of nature. Rivers, water. Family, friends.

And a special little boy-in-the-moon. The child in my life who holds the universe in his eyes. If I can reflect in my creative work even a glimmer of the wonder held in his eyes, then I will have accomplished more in my writing than I could have ever imagined, than I could have ever expected. And that, to me, in the end, is what art is all about – evoking a sense of wonder.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Creativity Guest Posts

 

87 Keith Dugger

Where does she go?
It’s not as though she left me holding a backpack chock full of a single change of clothing, a sundry kit to stay fresh, and a goodbye note from myself. To myself. It’s not as though I stood on those decaying train tracks that would lead me from my many yesterdays already spent and my predetermined and dwindling cache of remaining days left to invest wisely or waste wantonly. Yet it felt like she pushed me onto that platform all alone and walked away for what had to be more than a fair share of eternity.
She is my shadow.

Where does she go?
It’s not as though the goodbye note was written in a language that I’d come to understand with years of practice only to forget in a scant second left to dry up in a lazy sun. It’s not as though the backpack meant to prepare me for tomorrow was just a paper bag full of blank paper, wadded and crushed into fist-sized paper grenades surely meant to destroy the tomorrow I felt so guaranteed to enjoy. Yet there I was holding a paper bag full of promise, the empty papers screaming to be filled, begging to be anything but blank.
She is my shadow.

Where does she go?
It is as though she followed me quietly. She hid within my shadow whispering patiently for me to turn around and see the world abounding around me on a platform waiting on a train from yesterday to catch me up with a destination from tomorrow. Creativity is not a fickle thing; she is always there waiting. Watching. Whispering. Creativity is all around each of us and it’s up to us to use it or ignore it or wait until that perfect time to pounce. Don’t forget to pause and listen and make 2014 another great creative year.
She is my shadow and her name is creativity.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Creativity Guest Posts

 

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86 Jennifer Melzer

Inspiration: At the End of All Things

I always knew what I wanted to be. From the time I was old enough to spit out words, I was telling stories.

But for three years, I couldn’t find my own voice. It was buried under an endless heap of despair, brought on by problems that weren’t even my own. My mother was dying, and though I didn’t want to believe it, I think I knew right up until the moment she took her last breath while sleeping that Death was lurking around the corner, waiting for the right moment to hold out his arms and welcome her home.

Depressing.

Don’t I know it?

It’s only been ten months since she died, and those ten months have been harder than the endless months leading up to it; but there has been so much inspiration during these last ten months, it’s been almost impossible to turn it off at times. Sometimes I don’t even know where to put it so it doesn’t get lost.

Seven years ago, when my mother was still relatively healthy, I wrote 3/4s of a novel during NaNoWriMo about a young woman whose mother died unexpectedly. The event brought her back to her small hometown, and helped her come to terms with some preconceived notions she’d cooked up about the town, the people who lived there and life itself.

I don’t know why I never finished it seven years ago. I have my hunches, of course. I had a lot going on at the time, including finals before graduation from university, and by mid-December the nearly completed novel got shoved onto the back burner and I more or less forgot about it until a few months ago.

I found it on my portable hard drive after my husband and I came back from vacation, started reading through it, and I realized with an emotional gasp that I could actually relate to the main character in ways I hadn’t been able to before. Sure, people in my family had died, and over the years I’ve even lost a few friends, but I hadn’t lost my mother.

And despite our vast collection of issues over the years (and we had so many of them I could probably write about a hundred books about troubled mother/daughter relationships), my mother was a huge part of my world. I don’t think I fully understood how painful it would be for a young woman to lose her mother until my own mother was gone.

Suddenly, that novel needed to be finished, and so it was. I wrote feverishly for almost two weeks, bringing the story to a close with a sigh of relief. Maybe it was strange, but I felt upon completion that I could let go of my sorrow and set my mother free.

Sometimes it feels like I wrote the bulk of that story to prepare me for the things I couldn’t see coming because as I read back through it, it comforted me. My own words helped me come to terms with the way I’d been feeling, and for the first time since my mother’s death, I realized that I have to write.

Not just for her, but for myself, because watching her slip away those last three years made me understand something I still have trouble accepting sometimes.

Inspiration begs to be discovered in every moment we endure, most especially at the end of all things.

Writing is life and my own words will carry me from this life into the next. Those words will linger long after I’m gone; and those I’ve loved will never be forgotten.

Jenny Melzer Heart and Home

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Creativity Guest Posts

 

85 John Anealio

***I received the following in an email and it is posted on John’s blog. It is posted here as well with permission from the writer. Please visit his site to enjoy more of his words and his wonderful songs. ~Sue***

I Quit

I’ve been plugging away at this particular phase of my artistic life for about 7 years now. I’ve spent the majority of this time trying to write good songs and to get people to listen to them.

Songs like George R.R. Martin Is Not Your Bitch, The Millennium Falcon For Christmas, Summer Glau & Steampunk Girl found niche audiences and helped me to obtain whatever notoriety that I have. It’s been great. Those songs are the reason that I’m able to communicate with you right now, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

But there’s a dark side…

For every song that got a lot of attention, for every write-up on Tor.com or io9, for every opportunity to open for Paul & Storm and Molly Lewis, it left me wanting more. It left me feeling like I deserved more. That’s a dark place to be.

So, after months of consideration, I’ve come to a conclusion:

I’m quitting.

Let me clarify. I’m not going to stop composing and performing music. I’m quitting the race. I’m getting off the nerd music ladder. I just don’t want to be in that head space anymore.

I’ve come to the realization that in regards to my artistic life, there are only two things that matter to me:

1. Enjoying the act of making new music

2. Talking to you about the creative process

That’s it. I’ve gotten so much out of all of the little conversations that we’ve had via e-mail/Twitter/Facebook. I want to focus on that as much as my music. I’m almost more proud of the fact that I’ve helped to facilitate conversations about creativity in this community, then I am about my music.

With that being said…

Where are you at in your own creative life?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2013 in Creativity Guest Posts

 

84 Susie Murph

Opening Up Through Podcasting

Creativity, to me, is a way to connect with the world and to find my place within it.

I’m one of those weird folks who is introverted while also being a total chatterbox. I really enjoy talking with people who interest or inspire me, but too much contact with people (even ones that I like!) wears me out after a while, and I need to do something that allows me to recharge my batteries. I channel that energy and need into doing something creative, sometimes just for myself.

I started podcasting for just that reason – as a way to open up and share my thoughts and feelings, even if no one was listening. I’ve always been better at expressing myself out loud than in writing, and podcasting really allowed me to have freedom from expectations, social norms and creative limits. Since there are no real “rules” to podcasting, I was able to take my “show” and do whatever I wanted with it!

I found that the less I tried to follow a plan or structure, the easier the words flowed, and the more genuine I could be as a person. I could open up and discuss things that interested me or made an important statement. I’m nowhere near the best podcaster out there – but I never set out to come across as any kind of “expert” on my topics. I just wanted to be another parent, sharing her point of view and experiences being a geek and raising children. And I was delighted to be welcomed into the podcasting community, and found support, encouragement, and relationships with amazing people.

Ultimately, because I was brave enough to start podcasting myself, what started as a way to “recharge” became an important part of my life, and has resulted in some of the best friendships and experiences I’ve ever had.

So the lesson from this story? Don’t be afraid to try out those creative endeavors! Take the plunge, and try something new and different. Write that story. Record that song. Paint that image. Whatever it is, you might be surprised by the far-reaching effects, even if you aren’t the best at that activity. You will never know what will happen if you don’t give it a try, and you might be very surprised by the results – even if your first attempt doesn’t soar, your life is richer for trying.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2013 in Creativity Guest Posts

 

83 Eric Bahle

Here’s the thing about creativity. Everybody has it. At least a little bit. All you have to do is watch a bunch of little kids play to see the truth of this. We’re all born with a creative spark.

Most people think creativity should be encouraged in children, but somewhere along the line (I’m not sure where) we set up a double standard. We admire creativity in others, actors, musicians, writers, but it’s from afar. I could never do that, we tell ourselves. I’m not creative, I’m an adult with a real job (whatever that is) and responsibilities.

I tend to think those lines of thought are excuses or defense mechanisms as much as anything. Because even though we’re all born with the creative spark, a spark needs to be nurtured into flame if it’s to endure. We’re each responsible for tending our own flame, and if we let it go out it’s our own fault. It’s easy to blame job or other responsibilities, and it’s true that there seems to be no end of forces trying to smother that flame. But in the end it’s our own fault if it goes out.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it never really goes out.

It might be a tiny ember, barely glowing, but that’s enough to start a fire. You’ll have to fan it a bit, and feed it with some good fuel, but it’ll catch. There’s more good news. You get to decide how big a blaze, and a campfire can be as cheery as a bonfire.

Being an actor is great, but so is making up stories with your kids. There are some truly amazing musicians to admire, but I’ve seen amateurs with a few beers and a couple guitars having a hell of a good time. Any value judgment on creativity is purely arbitrary and not really meaningful. Whether you write poetry or do needlepoint, play cello for an orchestra or play Elvis songs on a fifty dollar ukulele, improv, flash mobs, chainsaw carving, it’s all feeding that creative fire.

There’s one more thing. This is another thing that scares people. You need to put yourself out there. You need to share it. Even if you don’t quit your day job, share your creativity with other people. Don’t be the guy huddled in a little room, building ships in bottles, and then hiding them away. True, he might be feeding his own creative spark, but he’s hogging all the light and warmth for himself. Campfires are always better with a few people sitting around them. Creativity flourishes in environments already rich with creativity. It feeds on itself and it spreads, you’ll get as many ideas as you give, because creativity, like enthusiasm and passion, is contagious. When you share, it makes it a little easier for someone else to share. When you’re sharing, you’re feeding not just your fire, but everyone else’s.

So go start some fires.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in Creativity Guest Posts