Creativity Boosters for Writers

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As we come to the end of our series on Getting Serious About Writing, I want to share some ideas for ways to enhance our creativity that have nothing to do specifically with writing. The point of creating a writing life is that our everyday choices support and enhance our writing for the long-term. After all, writing is about so much more than words.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry, for publication or for pleasure, these suggestions will boost your creativity on and off the page.

Be willing to fail. By now, most of us know that failure is an inherent part of the creative process, but taking the next step from knowing to allowing ourselves to fail is not always easy, especially for perfectionists. We can start with baby steps that may not even involve writing, such as cooking and serving a new, complex dish that we are bound not to get right the first time or learning a new sport or hobby that requires that we expose ourselves as beginners.

Design a creativity-friendly work space. Within our available budgets and space we can recreate our work areas in ways that inspire rather than hamper our ideas.  Especially important is to have all of our writing tools—books, paper, pens, computers, whatever else we use—within easy reach rather than something we must “get out” each time we decide to write.

View constraints as creativity enhancers. A bare-bones writing environment, on the other hand, can also be good for creativity, as can time constraints. See Ben Chestnut’s video “Creating an Environment for Creativity and Empowerment” for more about the value of subtracting time from the creativity equation.

Learn something new. Dan Pink calls it “symphony” and “border crossing.” Tina Seelig uses the term “cross-pollination.” What they both are referring to is making connections between unrelated fields or topics to come up with something new. If you were an English major, broaden your horizons by reading some physics. If you are a technical writer who usually enjoys non-fiction,  a mystery novel or some poetry.

Dare to be complex. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found that creative people often have complex personalities—they can not easily be pigeonholed as introvert or extrovert, for example, or disciplined or playful. They allow themselves to be whatever they need to be for the creative work at hand. If you normally think of yourself (or others think of you) as being the far end of one of his ten dimensions of complexity, make a point of “tryout out” another way of being.

Make friends with routine. Csikszentmihalyi also reminds us that routine is not the enemy of creativity. Far from it. Having a routine frees our mind from having to make dozens of time-sucking decisions—what to wear, what to eat, when to eat, when to exercise, whether to exercise. Those questions are already answered so that we can use our thoughts for more creative work.

Allow yourself to play. Having a playful attitude helps to loosen inhibitions and drive innovation, not to mention we have more fun! Making time in our day for games, humor, and other forms of play (when was the last time you made homemade playdough—for yourself?) a valuable investment in our writing life.

Pay attention. Tina Seelig, author of inGenius: A Crash Course in Creativity, explains that paying attention—simple but not always easy—gives us valuable knowledge we would otherwise miss and fuels our imagination. We can get better at paying attention “by actively looking at the world with fresh eyes, by seeing the ‘water’ in your environment, and by capturing your observations.”

Believe in your own creativity. Another of Seelig‘s reminders is one that many of us overlook: In order to be creative, we have to believe we can be creative: “Your beliefs are shaped by the language you use, and the language you use is shaped by your beliefs.” What is your personal, internal narrative about your writing and your creativity, and how can you change the words you say to yourself?

Blog posts here will slow down to two or three a week, and, as promised, once Create a Writing Life is ready in a few weeks, subscribers will receive information on how to get a free pre-publication copy. Have a creative start to September, everyone!

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Lisa RiveroCreativity Boosters for Writers
1

In a Blogging Rut? 7 Reasons To Do a Blog Series

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http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Photo credit: By Cortega9 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thank you to everyone who has followed along, shared, and commented on the Get Serious About Writing blog series (one more day to go!). I have done several blog series in my four and one-half years of blogging, and each one teaches me something new. Especially if you are in a blogging rut, a blog series can give you focus, energy, and direction.

Blog Series: A series of blog posts tied together by a theme or purpose

My definition of a blog series is looser than some others because I want it to include “blog marathons” of consecutive blogging days not necessarily tied together by a theme or topic but defined by a purpose. For example, your blog series might just be blogging every day for a month (a “September Blog Series”), with no chosen topic but with the purpose of daily (or some other regular) blogging schedule.

Another difference is that a lot of advice about blog series focuses on marketing—reaching your audience, selling a product, establishing a brand. While all of those things can be important for writers (do a Google search for “How to write a blog series”), I am more interested in what blog series can offer us as writers—what we personally get out of committing to a blog series.

So, without further ado…

7 Reasons To Do a Blog Series

1. To establish a blogging habit.

There is no better way to jump into the discipline and routine of blogging than to plan and commit to a blog series. Set a schedule, announce your intention, and stick to it, no matter what. You will build confidence and find your blogging rhythm. See BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) for some good examples.

2. To practice imperfection.

Blogger extraordinaire Leo Babauta writes that a couple of ways to overcome our self-doubt are to “Stick to a habit, not listening to the negative self-talk that normally holds you back” and “Learn through repeated attempts that it’s okay to fail, that you can be okay in failure.” Actually, all of his other suggestions apply to blog series, too, so be sure to read “How To Get Over Your Self-Doubt.” Blogging is by its nature imperfect. As careful and thorough as we try to be, at some point we have to stop at a convenient point and move on to the next post.

3. To find your voice.

One of my informal (unbeknownst to her!) mentors, Joanna Penn, recently talked with Trevor Young about how blogging changed her life and helped her to find her voice:

“It took me quite a long time to get going… I only developed my voice over the years of blogging. So it all just takes time, and I think the best advice for people is just to start, and be aware that it will be crap for the first year, and then you’ll find yourself by trying.” ~ Listen to full interview

In the same interview, Trevor Young agrees that “the sheer act of blogging” helps us to find our “true voice.”

4. To discover themes and passions.

Once again quoting Joanna Penn,  “If you don’t blog or podcast about what you love, it won’t last very long.” However, discovering what we love is often easier said that done. A blog series can help us to know what feels authentic and what doesn’t, what resonates with readers (often a good sign of authenticity), what makes us excited.

5. To learn more about a topic.

Most of the bloggers and other writers I know are life-long learners (aka knowledge nerds). We love to learn, and we never stop asking questions. When our lives get busy, though, as they are apt to do, finding the time to indulge our curiosity can be a challenge. A blog series helps us to set aside time and mental space to indulge our curiosity (for a terrific example, see Katherine Wikoff’s “The Northern Soul Project“).

6. To share knowledge.

Writers also are generous with the knowledge they have, and a blog series is a great way to share that knowledge with others. Whether you are learning while blogging about the topic or writing a series about a topic you’ve already researched, you can free your inner teacher and connect with your audience at the same time (see, for example, the multi-author “Gluten-Free in College” blog series).

7. To kick off a new book or other project.

Finally, you can use a blog series as I have done here to announce and preview a new book or other project. In this case, I’ve been writing the blog series as I’ve been putting the book together, and the posts are meant as a taste-testing of sorts rather than a strict outline, as much to help me to organize my thoughts as to give you an idea of what’s to come, but such a series could also be much more formal and tightly organized.

What is your experience with blog series?


Thank you for reading! This post is part of the “Get Serious About Writing” 50-day blog series, created for anyone who wants to get more serious about his or her writing.

The series is also a preview of and will culminate with the publication of my new book about how to create your writing life. I am very excited about this new project, as it brings together my work as a writer and creative thinking teacher, as well as my interest in psychology.

Anyone subscribed to this blog (either daily or weekly) will receive future information about free preview copies and other promotions, so please pass the word!

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Lisa RiveroIn a Blogging Rut? 7 Reasons To Do a Blog Series
1

Why Write? Because Ordinary Life Matters

The Farmers Wife
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When I get discouraged about my writing, especially the unrelenting everyday-ness of it and its ultimate solitary nature, I think of my great aunt Hattie. Her Great Plains diaries span the years 1920 through part of 1957. During that time, she wrote literally every single day. No exceptions.

For whom was she writing? That is a question that has plagued me as I work to transcribe and write about her life’s words. She raised no children. As far as I know, while she did not keep her diaries a secret, she also did not share them widely.

Not until doing this blog series did the answer—which was there all along—become clear: She wrote for herself. Because ordinary life matters.

whiting_siblings-for-blog.jpg

Harriet (far right) with siblings

For family and friends and anyone interested in history, I post daily excerpts from her diaries at “Hattie’s blog.” This year, I’ve been sharing her entries from 80 years ago, 1934, a year of Depression and the Dust Bowl, a year between a Great War still fresh in people’s memory and a Second World War yet to come. On this otherwise uneventful day (below) we learn about the weather (always the weather), “fixing” plums, dark everyday dresses, the Farmer’s Wife magazine, clothes needed to protect workers from mowing and raking thistles during a dust bowl year, farm machinery, family birthdays, and how long it took for Hattie to begin to recover from having broken her leg 15 month prior.

I am convinced that Hattie wrote to remind herself of the details of everyday, ordinary life that are so easy to forget and take for granted but that can matter more than anything else. Maybe that’s why I write, too.

1934 August 29th, Wednesday

Cool night, a south breeze all night and continued strong this a.m. but bright until towards eve clouded but no rain, only a strong S.W. wind and some dust. I fixed the plums, started to put through colander for butter but too slow so I pitted them and cooked late p.m., also slept in p.m., looked at catalogs a lot as I want dark everyday dresses and read late p.m. the Farmer’s Wife. Maggie got meals, cleaned the kitchen and front room, baked bread and baked a lemon-pie, cleaned kitchen windows, ironed and put curtains up on same also got dinner for Hank (Henry) and George Haukaas who came for the body of Wm Whiting’s car, also Thomas Whiting stopped where they were working. A car passed going to B. J. Wagner’s. Mr. Chauncey, Billie and Fritz mowed and raked thistles. Mr. drove tractor. Fritz on trail mower. Billie raked. Elmer and Will tried stacking with slings but nothing doing so came home for stacker. Elmer and Billie go clothes at home to protect from thistle thorns. It was 15 months today I got my leg broken so walked considerable without crutches, to-day also Louise’s and Papa’s Birthday.

Lisa’s Note: Learn more about The Farmer’s Wife at “Celebrating The Farmer’s Wife Magazine” and “This is YOUR Magazine”: Domesticity, Agrarianism, and The Farmer’s Wife,” and browse a 1932 issue of the magazine below.


Thank you for reading! This post is part of the “Get Serious About Writing” 50-day blog series, created for anyone who wants to get more serious about his or her writing.

The series is also a preview of and will culminate with the publication of my new book about how to create your writing life. I am very excited about this new project, as it brings together my work as a writer and creative thinking teacher, as well as my interest in psychology.

Anyone subscribed to this blog (either daily or weekly) will receive future information about free preview copies and other promotions, so please pass the word!

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Lisa RiveroWhy Write? Because Ordinary Life Matters
2

Your Writer’s Syllabus

Back to School
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I love new beginnings. Love them, love them, love them. We are coming up on a triple home run of new beginnings: The first day of the week, first day of the month, and start of an academic year all rolled into one: September 1.

Perhaps because I have never really left school, I always think of fall rather than January as the new year. The change of seasons is the perfect time to engage in some reflection on our writing life: Where we are, where we’ve been, and where we want to be.

It is also a good time to consider creating your own Writer’s Syllabus, a Do It Yourself guide for furthering your writing education and giving yourself some assignments tailored to your individual goals and purpose (the book that is tied to this blog series will have an entire chapter on creating a Writer’s Syllabus). Possible sections to include in your syllabus would be Course Philosophy, Course Materials, Reading Schedule, and Writing Calendar.

For example, today I am looking forward to watching a free webinar on using Scrivener to format books, hosted by KM Weiland and Joseph Michael. That would make an excellent item to include in a Writer’s Syllabus, perhaps with some follow-up assignments. We can schedule days or times in a Writer’s Syllabus to catch up on podcasts for writers or read short sections of our favorite writing books or do writing prompts and exercises.

Be as creative with formatting as you wish. Include only those sections that are helpful to you. You probably won’t need a section on grading, but it may be good to include one on attendance (“I expect myself to show up on time and to give myself at least 24 hours notice if I must miss a required session or assignment  :) ). Use humor liberally and give yourself permission to make adjustments as necessary along the way.

Because this is your syllabus, there is no way to get it wrong, but if you want some ideas and inspiration, check out these resources:


Thank you for reading! This post is part of the “Get Serious About Writing” 50-day blog series, created for anyone who wants to get more serious about his or her writing.

The series is also a preview of and will culminate with the publication of my new book about how to create your writing life. I am very excited about this new project, as it brings together my work as a writer and creative thinking teacher, as well as my interest in psychology.

Anyone subscribed to this blog (either daily or weekly) will receive future information about free preview copies and other promotions, so please pass the word!

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Lisa RiveroYour Writer’s Syllabus

The Purpose of Your Writing Life

Viktor Frankl
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“[T]he meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for MeaningI first titled this post “The Purpose of A Writing Life,” but that would miss the point entirely.

Why do you write? It’s a question I’ve focused on a lot here recently because figuring out for ourselves what the purpose of our writing is—what meaning it has for us—is a key to writing more, writing better, and writing in a way that brings more satisfaction than frustration.

Your Goals Are Not Your Purpose

Goals are generally a good thing to have, but they are not your purpose. We might have a goal to write a certain number of words a day or finish a story or query agents or even to make our living as a writer.

None of these goals, however, speaks to why we write. Without purpose, we can meet our goals and still feel lost and unsatisfied.

Our Purpose Is Not Our Brand

Our public face as a writer, should we choose to have one, is also not our purpose. A writer’s brand is simply how we hope others view us as a writer, giving readers a better chance of knowing what to expect from us and helping them to find us wherever our words reside.

Our brand, though, rarely gets to the heart and soul of our purpose, which is harder to capture in a memorable tag line or motto.

For example, I have come to see that my purpose of writing is in fact to give my life meaning. Writing helps me to make sense of the often confusing world around me as well as to be a part of that world. Understanding this purpose puts into perspective why I read what I read and even sheds light on feeling an outsider at various points in my life. It’s all of a piece and is very hard to explain to others. It is also my meaning only, not the meaning for all writers.

We often don’t know our purpose as writers until we start writing on a regular basis, and once we do begin to glimpse our individual purpose, our ideas of happiness and success are transformed in the most surprising ways.

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it” ~ Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

See also

Viktor Frankl on the Human Search for Meaning (at Brain Pickings)

In the following interview, Viktor Frankl explains his ideas of freedom, choice, and having something to live for rather than just rules to live by (see more video clips at the Viktor Frankl Institut):


Thank you for reading! This post is part of the “Get Serious About Writing” 50-day blog series, created for anyone who wants to get more serious about his or her writing.

The series is also a preview of and will culminate with the publication of my new book about how to create your writing life. I am very excited about this new project, as it brings together my work as a writer and creative thinking teacher, as well as my interest in psychology.

Anyone subscribed to this blog (either daily or weekly) will receive future information about free preview copies and other promotions, so please pass the word!

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Lisa RiveroThe Purpose of Your Writing Life