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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Keep It Creative

When I told my high school career guidance counselor that I wanted to be a writer, he suggested that I teach English or become a journalist, since creative writing wasn’t a financially prudent career choice. I’ll admit this was back in the 1970’s, when career options open to women were basically as a wife, secretary, nurse, teacher or beautician. I really wanted to be an archaeologist, but no one I knew in Kansas City was one so I didn’t know how to go about asking for direction or advice.

In the end, I sort of opted to follow both suggestions. I started J-School at the University of Missouri then transferred to Secondary Education/English Literature and finished my B.S. at Boston University. I never actually worked at either job although I did get trained for it. After graduating with zero money in the bank, I took the best paying position I could find as a financial typesetter (my eighth grade typing class finally came through for me, thank you, Mr. Beltrim) and I’ve been earning a living ever since.

Meanwhile, I never stopped writing.

I began with a journal and a handful of poems, learning to weave heartfelt words into meaning before graduating to short stories. I distinctly remember pausing on a Nantucket corner one gray morning and realizing it was time to write a book. Even scarier, a mystery series. The concept filled me with hope and terror. I didn’t know if I could do it. I knew I had to try.

In the following years, life has offered a bushel of blessings and challenges. I didn’t handle the initial challenges well, but I learned from them, which was actually the lesson. I came up with seven guiding rules:

1. Do the work.
2. Follow the directions.
3. Ask for help.
4. Follow up and follow through.
5. Say thank you.
6. Cherish your friends.
7. Keep it real.

These seven rules have guided me for decades. Lately, though, I’ve been noodling around with adding an eighth one:

Keep it creative.

This one is hard and I’m still on the fence about whether it’s truly a rule or a principle. It’s been a struggle staying optimistic in 2020. Change always comes with a cost and it’s easy to fall back into stale thought patterns when meeting challenges in our lives and in our world. Familiarity is our comfort zone, our safety net, but repeating the same action and anticipating a different outcome is the definition of insanity, which is why I think working from home is making me nuts. (Which day is it? Which week?) I’ve decided that no matter what a creative response is the only response that will work.

An artist friend of mine, Michel Tsouris took the COVID-19 quarantine as an opportunity to create The Isolation Series, painting eighty new works while sheltering in place and offering a drive-by art gallery exhibition. That’s thinking outside the box. (Search michel_tsouris on Instagram to see her paintings. They're amazing.)

Realizing that I should also look at quarantine as an opportunity, I committed to editing a chapter a day of my WIP, promising to finish the editing by the end of May. I’m delighted to report that my fourth mystery novel is with my beta readers now.

Dr. Wayne Dyer said: ‘Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.’

What’s been your response to quarantine isolation, good or bad? How are you keeping it creative, and sane?


Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I started with great plans to empty the garage, attic, and closets...but there's no place to donate the stuff. So I wrote the first draft of my next book during April.

Annette said...

My response has been 50/50 good and bad. Some days I think I'VE GOT THIS. Other days, I dissolve into a weepy, terrified puddle with very little provocation.

One thing I've noticed is when I plant myself at my computer and tune out the news feeds and updates, and instead, focus on the writing, I do much better. Whether it's the creativity keeping me sane or simply a case of me hiding in my make-believe world, it's helping me get by.

Great set of rules, by the way!

KM Rockwood said...

A set of rules to be printed out and taped to the shelf next to the computer, near the list of 5 problems a fully-evolved protagonist needs to have.

I remember those days when girls were so limited in what they realistically aspire to. The first time my high school administered an aptitude test, I score the highest in mechanical thinking. What a pity an ability like that should be wasted on a girl! (Privacy of educational records was a concept that never occurred to anyone back then.)

Martha Reed said...

Thankfully opportunities have opened up for us all. My nephew is going to be a forensic linguist. I didn't even know what that was. My mother never got the opportunity, but she would've been a terrific hedge fund manager, and I agree about tuning out the world through writing. I thought about it yesterday and tried to remember what helped me get through the last rough patch and I remembered: journaling! So I opened a new notebook yesterday to write down my thoughts. I feel better already.

Kaye George said...

It's been terribly stressful, worrying about family members--and myself. And so lonely and isolating. But I had a deadline for a couple of months that kept me going. I'm so thankful for that! I have another one now. I'm so thankful for deadlines. I'm a ditherer without them.

I can't say I'm having a good time, but I'm getting by, like everyone else.

Martha Reed said...

Here’s hoping we’re all getting through this, together. Thank goodness for our writer’s community!

Susan said...

I think everyone finds their own way to use this time to either cope or move forward. I took on some new responsibilities that are keeping me busy. My son and two grandchildren came to visit for a few weeks. The silver lining was they were so bored they washed my windows and painted my porch. In younger days, that would have been an argument. We can always manage to find something positive. Remind me of that around February in the Midwest, please.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Editing a chapter a day sounds wonderful!
I do like your rule to keep up the creativity. It's been harder to write since sheltering at home, but I'm really thankful for writer friends who check up on me and encourage me to do the work.

Gingee said...

Isolation has been a time for rediscovering and enjoying all kinds of music for me. Music can change your mood, bring back memories and teach you about other time periods and cultures. Study lyrics as a form of poetry, or just someone's way of communicating their thoughts and feelings; really listen to the various instruments and how magic it is that these two forms of creativity (words and sound) come together to make something special. Your list of rules should be taught as a core curriculum!