Differently Creative

I’ve never been the neatest person in the world. My room used to horrify my mom, who is a very neat person.

“Clean your room!” she’d tell me every once in a while, especially when guests were due to arrive. Or she’d say, “Clean that closet.” The closet was where I stowed a number of projects birthed through my imagination.

This is my desk at home.

    

Those of you who are neat might be ready to crawl up a wall at the sight of it. Heh heh. Sorry about that. Whenever I’ve worked full-time in an office—usually at a publisher or book packager—my desk was usually the messiest. Piles of books, files, and knickknacks lived on my desk. Many of my neater coworkers had that crawling-up-the wall reaction whenever they looked at my desk. But whenever a supervisor or coworker asked me for anything—a book for a quote; the address of a writer we hired for a project; whatever—I could produce it just like that.

On the day before important clients were due to visit, one of my supervisors would declare a cleanup day. (Are you sensing a pattern here? Yep? Just like Mom.) I would have to return books to the office library and dump my knickknacks in a convenient drawer—only to pull them back out when the clients left.

There’s a method to my messiness. You see, I’ve often had to work under extremely tight deadlines. Like having to produce a book in a month. All of the resources required for the project needed to be at hand. That way, I could do the job quickly, without having to get up and constantly search for whatever was needed.

As a freelancer, I’ve had to juggle multiple projects also. Which usually means stopping one project and starting another, before returning to the first project. Which also means more and more things get piled up on my desk (like the sharks I’m crocheting [see below], which are on top of my writing journal).

Another aspect to my cluttered desk is my love of color. Cheerful, colorful objects always make me feel better. Which is why I love daisies, especially Gerbera daisies.

   

A number of people have asked me over the years, “Why can’t you keep your desk neat?” My answer to them is, “Does it really have to be?”

A piled-up desk is not the image I usually see in magazine articles featuring a writer’s workspace. I usually see beautiful wooden desks with everything in its place. But what you see in this post is my space. I don’t want to pretend that it’s different from what I’ve shown here.

The bin of DVDs and blu-rays (and the occasional skein of yarn) that sits next to my desk

I don’t think of myself as more or less creative than someone with a pristine desk. I think of myself as “differently creative.”

How about you? What does your creative space look like? Is it messy? Neat? In between?

Photos by L. Marie with the exception of the gerbera daisy image, which came from freeimages.com, and the Tyra Banks finger snap gif, which came from pic2fly.com.

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When Your Mojo Stops Mojoing: A Spa Day L. Marie Style

This has turned out to be one of those weeks when I’ve struggled to write anything of significance. Scenes I’ve written in my story have fallen flatter than the last batch of brownies I attempted. (Who fails at brownies made from a mix? Um, me that’s who.) Sigh. I had to be honest with myself: my mojo wasn’t mojoing.

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Some of this had to do with various points of worry that the week dredged up. The stress of those worries trickled into my writing, which added to the flatness.

Ever feel like that about your writing or other projects?

Some people turn to yoga or take a spa day to recharge. Since the cost of a spa was prohibitive, I had to DIM—do it myself.

Here’s how you do a spa day, L. Marie style:

First, spend a couple of hours with a friend at Ikea enjoying an ultra cheap breakfast, followed by a leisurely look at baby furniture. (Her unborn child will need it soon.)

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This was only 99 cents.

Second, when you return home, watch movies like

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and call it “research.” After wishing you lived in Pixie Hollow and had a lightning bug for a friend, decide to watch something else, since that wish will not be granted. Binge on several episodes of the Pemberly Digital show, Emma Approved, a modern-day retelling of the Jane Austen classic. You can find it on YouTube. It’s like Clueless, except with adults playing adults, rather than adults playing teens. Each episode is around 5½—7 minutes long. If you’re like me, you’ll sigh over Alex Knightley and Frank Churchill for at least an hour, which is almost as bad as wishing you lived in Pixie Hollow.

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But third—and this is very important—procure some viewing snacks like

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These snacks are courtesy of a friend.

Fourth, work off the calories by getting plenty of outdoor time, traipsing among the flowers. Be sure to greet the bees while you’re there. They’re buzzing about, ready for their close-up. But don’t expect them to stay still if you want a photo. None of the bees I greeted did.

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These are blooming in the yard.

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These can be found at my local library.

Fifth, watch more episodes of Emma Approved. Consider whether or not you would want your life to be like the retelling of a Jane Austen novel.

Sixth, after dinner, try again to make that troublesome scene work.

Seventh, believe in yourself. While you’re thinking about how to make that scene work, crochet a flower for a friend’s birthday. Use it to remind yourself that if you can produce this, you can produce a compelling scene.

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What do you usually do when your mojo stops mojoing?

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Sad man from goodgeorgialawyer.com. Breakfast plate from ikea.com. Emma Approved logo from tvtropes.org. Other photos by L. Marie.

The Gift You Can Give

Recently, my good friend Pamela, a fellow blogger, sent this to me, which caused me great delight.

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If you’ve never read my blog before, you’re probably shrugging now and wondering (a) why yarn—and various textures of yarn at that—were sent to me and (b) why you should care. What does this have to do with your life as the post title implies? Let me address (b) first. Far be it for me to demand that you care. But perhaps if you knew what this gift means to me, and how you could do the same for someone, even without spending money, you might care. So, I will now address (a).

The Power to Create
I knit and crochet—mostly crochet. My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was a kid. I picked up knitting by looking at a how-to-knit book when I was 11. I love working with my hands—taking yarn and needles and making something out of them. I love flowers and other plants, but I manage to kill them. So for someone like me, the textile arts are the next best thing. After all, you can’t murder a flower made of yarn. That’s why I love anything that inspires me to create: yarn, a journal with blank pages, felt, pens, pencils, and markers. (Um, yes, I also write on the computer.) They remind me that I have the power to create.

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Believe it or not, this “poodle” is a flower.

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The same flower, only with less fuzzy yarn

The Power of Implied Competence
The gift of yarn is meaningful because of the implied competence factor. My friend believed I had the ability to make something beautiful from it. She didn’t send a craft book with it, telling me how to improve or announcing that others are more competent at needlework than me. She just sent the yarn.

By now you’re wondering what this has to do with you. Here’s the punch line you’ve been waiting for: you can use your words to stimulate the power to create in someone or to remind that person of the power of implied competence. Just by telling someone, “Your story (or blog post) meant so much to me,” “I appreciated your efforts the other day,” or “You can do this” can work wonders.

A paradigm shift might be necessary for those of us with a tendency to criticize first and admire second. 🙂 While constructive criticism can be a good tool, it doesn’t have to be the first tool we take out of the box.

If you’re a parent with young children, you can encourage their creativity by reading to them (or letting them read to you), drawing or painting with them, or working with them on a building project with Legos® (and that’s the only time I’m adding that registered trademark symbol). Give them the wings to fly. The great thing about Legos is that they provide the power to create and imply competence. Anything a kid (or you) makes is awesome. For inspiration, check out this Lego event post by another good friend and fellow blogger, Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Or, watch The Lego Movie (2014) with your kids. Creativity is a theme of the movie. (“Everything is awesome!”) 

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Maybe the person whose creativity needs to be encouraged is you. We all know about the inner critic—the discouraging voice that tells us we suck or that we’ll never finish what we’re working on. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that we have the power to create and that we’re more than competent at it.

Well, I’ve got a gift box full of lovely yarn and a cup of coffee at my elbow. I think I’ll go make somethin’.

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The “Sole” of the Matter

converse-all-star-hi-tops-red-pic33374For the past week or so, in addition to revising my young adult fantasy novel, I’ve been crocheting shoes that look like Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. No, I haven’t gone crazy, and yes, you read that right. I found a pattern online, and the shoes are for a two-year-old’s upcoming birthday party. The shoes make nice treat bags for kids.

Okay. I can see your eyes glazing over. There’s a point beyond this, so please be patient.

In case you’re wondering, you make this shoe from the bottom up. First, you start with the sole.

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The sole.
If you’re a fan of Monty Python, perhaps you remember a sketch involving a larch and are thinking right now as I am, “The Larch.” If you’re not a fan, you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Second, you crochet the tongue separately (below left). The tongue is one the of the most important parts, because it helps anchor the sole to the sides of the shoe. You can’t start the sides (third) until you connect the tongue to the shoe. You build the sides from the last stitch you used when you connected the tongue. 

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Fourth, crochet the shoestring (below left). The shoestring gives the shoe character. Fifth, make the little logo thingie. My embroidered stars need work, however.

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The pattern is very specific. I had to constantly count stitches. Since all of the parts fit together, I needed to be exact. If the stitch count on the sole is off, the whole shoe falls apart. After all, the sole is the foundation. (If you’d like the pattern, please comment below and I’ll email it to you.)

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Crocheting these shoes reminded me of aspects of novel writing. You start with the soul (rather than the sole). The soul of a work of fiction is the main character and his or desires—hidden or overt. Without a compelling character and a desire line, the novel (in my opinion of course) can’t stand.

I consider the tongue to be the voice in which you write. Voice is not only narrative voice (point of view), it also involves your own writing style. Here are some posts with good advice on voice:
http://www.novel-writing-help.com/writing-voice.html
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/voice-in-writing-developing-a-unique-writing-voice
http://nybookeditors.com/book-editing-copy-editing-proofreading-self-publishing-blog/2013/8/4/point-of-view#axzz2v6kvEldW

The sides of the shoe remind me of the plot of a book. The plot gives a book its shape. But without the soul of the book and the voice, the plot seems empty—like the sides of a shoe without a sole or a suit without a body. After all, stories are about people.

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For a long time, I didn’t realize that character drives plot. I concentrated on plot rather than character. I thought I could plunk any old person into whatever plot I devised. I had a lot to learn.

The shoestring is the dialogue, which adds flair to your novel. Here is where character counts. The words your character says and the way he or she says them (and don’t forget subtext—what your character doesn’t say, but what we can infer based on his or her mood), add to the compelling nature of your book.

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The logo circle? That’s the genre of your book or your series. These are the details that help readers know your book belongs to a specific genre or genre hybrid. Converse’s star logo is instantly recognizable. You know you’re looking at a Converse shoe, as opposed to Adidas. In the same way, you can readily tell a historical fantasy book from one that’s contemporary realistic.

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Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the stitches themselves. They represent the words in your novel. With each word, each description, you build the novel from the ground up. Having a compelling character is great. But a novel also can stand or fall based on word choices.

You might have a completely different interpretation of these aspects. But that’s the way I see how they add up. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have three and a half more shoes to make and another chapter to revise in my novel.

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A Touch of Spring

When the sky looks like this,

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churning out sleet that turns to ground-hugging ice, and the rose bush looks like this,

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I long for a touch of spring, especially since I just watched the last episode of the final season of Teen Titans, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the season; I’m just mourning the fact that there are no more episodes.

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The Teen Titans

I’ve got the midwinter blahs. Ever get those? Everything in my neck of the woods is gray, gray, gray, and the tree branches bare and brittle. On days like this, I crave a bit of color, a bit of cheer. But please note the lack of sunshine in the first photo. . . . No sun? No problem. I know just what to do.

First, I started with these

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and this

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and then made these.

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Sometimes crocheting can be an act of defiance. Ha! Take that, winter weather! Crocheted items are as colorful and cheerful as a daisy and last longer. On days like this, I’m thankful that my grandmother took the time to teach me to crochet.

Today was one of those days when I needed not only spring, but a spring in my step. One discouraging thing after another happened. And everything I wrote seemed to land like lead on the page. But you know what? Each time I glanced at the flowers I crocheted, I felt a lift in my spirit.

This has been a good reminder for me to avoid taking flowers for granted when they come in the spring. There’s something to be said for flower (floral?) therapy.

When was the last time a flower or something else in nature deeply touched you? Ever have the midwinter blahs? What do you do when that happens?

Teen Titans image from latourdesheros.com.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

The phrase keeping up with the Joneses usually means having a lawn or house as nice as your neighbor’s. But for a writer, keeping up with the Joneses can mean having an Internet presence like other writers. Blog, Twitter, Linked-in, Pinterest—whatever.

If you’re like me (and if you are, you have a bag of soy sauce packets from years back and a floor that desperately needs vacuuming), the thought of making your presence known is daunting. I’m almost mole-like when it comes to networking. I even find a dark corner to burrow in when I’m at my own birthday party. But after my younger brother suggested that I blog, and then repeated that suggestion because I still hadn’t done anything a year later, I decided to go for it. This is the fruit of “going for it.” But sometimes I feel like I’m driving a Model T while my neighbors race about in sleek Camaros with their cool widgets, websites, and multiple Tweets.

But that’s okay. As they say, you gotta learn to crawl before you can walk. And since I just figured out how to turn on my webcam, I’m cruising at least. Now if I can figure out when I replaced the filter in my Brita pitcher (having lost the little sticker they give you to note these things), I’d be golden.

One of my classmates from VCFA encouraged me to learn to use this blog better. She’s right. I need to do that. On the flip side, she also suggested that I keep working on my novel. Another great point. And I’ve got to finish crocheting some hats for a birthday party. And there’s another half season of Doctor Who to catch up on. So many activities. So little time.

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Two dreaded words come to mind as I think about how to juggle everything: time management. I have to make time for the necessities. I was never good at budgeting time (or money for that matter). But practice makes perfect as the old saying goes.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to keep this post short. Gotta keep revising my novel and finish my seventh hat. And change the filter on my Brita.