Creativity: Habit or Gift?

One of the questions writers hear over and over is: Where do you get your ideas?, often followed by the statement: I’m just not creative. I don’t have a hard time answering the first. I get my ideas from everything I see, read, experience, and bits of the world I discover, often while looking for something else. Like this picture of my grandmother and her best friend.

One day I will tell a story about this photo. I found it looking through a photo album at my mother’s house.  I made a copy of the photo and added it to my flat file where I keep bits and pieces of ideas until I have enough to put together a project. 

The second statement is so hard to hear. I detest the idea that creativity is a gift. I don’t think it is, because there are so many ways to be creative. It is not only writing, drawing, or painting or any of traditional ideas of what being creative means. Being creative is allowing yourself time to think, to do something only you could produce with your thoughts, and hands, and time.

Lack of time is the greatest barrier to creativity. If you want to create you have to set time aside to think, to plan, to play with your ideas, and to experiment. If you want to create make a plan, schedule it into your life. Set aside time to think and discover. Anyone can create. Fine arts are only one aspect of creativity. Do you like to make changes and adapt recipes? That is being creative. Do you spend time decorating your home or planting a garden? That is being creative. Creativity is what happens when you stop and let yourself imagine, and dream. Give yourself permission to look at life sideways. Take the walk, visit the museum, read, and absorb the world around you. Creativity is a habit. It is work. Rewarding, delightful, soul filling work. Do the work. 






Invest in Yourself

This past month I signed a contract for my third novel. And as anxious as I was to start my forth, because starting a new project is the best way for me to deal with the stress/anxiety/freak-out of submitting a manuscript for review. I make it a point to take some time between novels to study my craft, either by attending a conference, taking an online class, reading books about the craft of writing, and/or reading widely in my genre.

Why? Because on one level, writing is about doing that, siting down and putting words on paper. Nothing can replace that practice. There is no way to “hack” becoming better at writing than by writing and practicing your craft. I’m at the journeyman point in my career, with a collection of short stories, two novels published and a contract signed on a third. I’m not a beginner. But I am not seasoned writer with twenty novels to my credit either. I was not an English or Journalism major and I don’t have a MFA, and I want to make it clear: none of the above degrees are necessary to write a novel.

But it is possible to improve your craft with out signing up for formal education. You can invest your time and money to learn new ways to communicate your ideas and entertain your readers. I’m a health professional and educator by training and am all about making plans to achieve your goals. In order to construct an educational plan for your writing career look at reviews of you work. What do readers complain about? And I’m referring to thoughtful reviews here, not troll-type reviews. What problems do your editors point out? Pacing? Structure? Plotting? Character development?

Here are some thoughts on ways to address recurring problems in your manuscripts. Have a problem with pacing? Study screenplays, or take a screen-writing class. Issues with dialogue? Study stage plays, watch movies from the 30’s and 40’s when special effects were limited, and dialogue had to carry the story. Problems with plotting and structure? Read, read, read in your genre, take time to see how the novelist did what they did by making an outline of the novel. Flat characters, or poorly designed character arcs? Read biographies, ethnographies, and memoirs, connect lived experiences with human behavior and character arcs. Struggling with world building and setting? Study filmmaking and photo journalism to see how setting is as much a part of the story as the characters.

Writers conferences offer opportunities to learn about the craft of writing but not every one  has time, money, mental, and physical health required to attend a writing conference. If a writing conference is not on your list of things to do, take advantage of the many low stress, free, or low cost resources for writers. My number one recommendation for resources is the public library. Most libraries are free, or low cost, and once you are a member you can use interlibrary loans to get just about any book or movie you want. Many libraries have a way to provide digital loans, saving you time, and the hassle of remembering to return your books/films/music. If you live near a university or college, check out their library and their theater productions. Creative Live offers courses on screenwriting, ( and no, not I’m not getting paid to recommend them, they often have sales on their courses, so it pays to sign up for their newsletter.

Indie Film Academy ( is free as is Ted Talks ( for interviews and lectures about writing, inspiration, and living a creative life.

Take time to invest in yourself and your writing career. You and your career are worth the effort. 




Finding A Way


So earlier this week a friend shared an article on Facebook that I’m not going to link to here because I don’t want to send any traffic to the article. I generally try to keep my blog posts positive and the article in question was one of the most pathetic excuse filled articles about writing I have ever read. The author was whining because she thought publishing one book that people raved about would mean she could quit her day job and just be a WRITER.  Yep the “W” word in all caps. In other words she believed her own press. She stopped writing when the offers did not come pouring in and she managed to give herself a big old case of writers’s block and in case you are unclear about my opinion, this is my post on writer’s block.

I have a book that will be released on Monday and you know what I’ve been doing while I was waiting for the book to be published? Writing. While I was doing all the things you need to do when you have a book coming out, i.e. revisions, edits, plans for publicity, etc., I have been writing.

Why? Because I know that writer’s write. Even on days when I can not sit down at my computer because of day job/ kids/ other obligations I write in my notebook. I make story notes on scraps of paper, or collect photos of places that inspire stories, or write blog posts like this one. And that is my point. You can’t stop writing and wait for things to happen, you have to keep going.

When you coach T-Ball one of the things you have to work on is getting kids to run after they hit the ball instead of standing there watching to see where the ball is going. Writing one book and not having plans for the next project is like standing at home plate waiting to see what happened to the ball you hit.

So in case you are struggling with my sports analogy or if  you publish a book to critical acclaim and you think that is enough, here is the advice the woman should have gotten.


because you are a writer and writers write. We write when we are sad, overwhelmed, overworked, anxious, happy, frisky, exhausted, hungry, frustrated, angry, sick, or convinced that no one but our Aunt Edna will ever read our work. We write because we are writers and writers write. Don’t quit. Find a way to write and do it.


The Deep End of the Pool


My kids have been swimming in this pool since they were twelve months old.  The first time we came to visit their grandparents we would all take turns with them in the water. We used tiny life jacket and floats to help them learn to navigate the pool.  Back home we spent hours at the YMCA pool with swim classes and family swim time. Beside the fact that I think that everyone should know how to swim as a matter of personal safety,  I wanted my kids to be comfortable in the water. Notice I said comfortable not cocky. I wanted them to respect the process of swimming and to understand that not everything in life can be “hacked”.

Work, practice, and more work are the keys to getting better and experiencing success at anything. And work means that, doing the thing you want to be better at, swimming, cooking, writing, whatever,  not reading about it, or talking about the thing. You have to do the thing. Short cuts are for road trips, not skills. There is no substitute for time and practice.

 I am constantly amazed by the people I meet who expect overnight success as a writer. Writing, just like swimming requires time and commitment and overcoming your fear. Submitting a  short story, or poem, or novel, or play, or whatever it is that you write is like jumping into the deep end of the pool.  

 Don’t expect the first time you submit your work to go smoothly.  You will freak out and stew and worry before you press the send button or drop the package in the mail.  You will most likely be rejected and flail and struggle to get to yourself to submit again. Don’t quit, be fearless, jump in with both feet, honor the process of learning and practice.  


Do the work, hit the send button, then get back to work so you can jump again.

Starting from Scratch

My kids think I can build or fix anything and this past weekend they asked for a pirate ship.  So after carefully surveying the collection of scrap wood and various other bits and pieces of raw materials in the basement, garage and recycle bin. This is what we ended up with:

It won’t win any prizes but they had a lot of fun helping me build it and making decisions about how they wanted the ship to look, and what amenities would be included. We had some things that didn’t work, we experimented, we were creative, and most of all we had fun.

I didn’t start out trying to teach them anything, but when they tell people the story of how they built their pirate ship, they are very proud of their contributions, and glory in the telling of how we problem solved.
Listening to them, I realized that beside being a really fun day, they had also learned a little bit about being resourceful, using what you have, and starting where you are.

I feel the same why every time I start a writing project. I inventory my lists of story ideas, found objects, interesting news bits,  and old story files to create something. Any creative project starts with an idea, a whim, a scrap of thought, a problem to be solved, or a request.

Many people say to me that they want to write but don’t know what to write about. This is my answer: Use what you have, start where you are, and don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Just like our pirate ship, it needs the rough edges smoothed, and a coat of paint. That is what editing is all about, but you can’t edit a blank sheet of paper.

Even if you don’t have little pirates in your life asking for ships, take time to build /create/ write /draw/ photograph something. Quit staring at life waiting for something to happen, and make something happen.

Happy Sailing!




The Books that made an Outliner Out of a Pantser

As a reformed pantser, I outline the hell out of whatever I have to write. Short story? Yep. Essay? Yep. Novel? Oh yeah. Blog posts? Yes.  I gave you the reasons why last post. So how did it happen? What miracle occurred? I found a system that worked, for me, it may work for you too

The Books that made an Outliner Out of a Pantser

These two books are responsible.  They present systems that are easy, adaptable, and usable. Other books on the craft of writing assume that you have basic organizing skills, something that I, along with most people with attention issues lack. (If you want to know how bad it is, I label the shelves in my refrigerator.) Using these two books, I have been able to finish projects large and small without getting lost, distracted, or derailed.

Outlining your Novel by K.M. Weiland ( presents compelling arguments for using an outline, along with step by step instructions in eleven concise chapters.  The usefulness of this book lies in the end of chapter checklists. If you follow them you will stay on track while you outline. If you choose to use this book, buy a hard copy so you can mark the checklists, underline and make your own notes.
If you are like me, I was overwhelmed creating a coherent storyline, and struggled with keeping track of my character names, their physical features, and motivations. The chapters  devoted to story structure will help you wrangle your ideas into a workable form. The two chapters that K. M. Weiland devotes to character outlining and development will help you keep track of your compelling characters.

I used this book to outline my NaNoWriMo project, and I can say that if I had not I would not have been able to crank out 50,000 words in a month.

If you only have room for one book about outlining in your library, buy this one.

If you can spare the space in your library for two books, invest in The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd (  This book is about finding the why and how of your story by creating a story map. This is the book to read and re-read when you feel like you are just banging your head on the wall trying to write with a job, kids, partner, attention issues, etc. If you have had a long lay off for whatever reason, The Writer’s Compass  will help get you back to writing.
As a visual learner the story maps work well for me to start, but I needed more structure to in order to keep my stories on track and keep track of my characters.

For people who are wondering if they really can write, or want to and can not figure out how to go from thinking about writing to doing it, this book is wonderful.
If you all ready have the writing habit, and have scribbled stories since you could hold a crayon, or were an English major this book may seem simple.  As someone who has spent most of my life scribbling, but lacked direction this book was truly helpful.
Still looking for a way to organize your writing? If you don’t have one, give one of these try. Do you have a favorite outlining book or system that you would recommend?


Oahu 2013
Next post: The Black Hole of Research- Are We There Yet?