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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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arts

So, given that it in this life……

…….we have to have an income in order to live (rent, groceries, utilities, children), finding time to be creative may seem like a luxury. It isn’t – it’s vital to our well-being to make time to express ourselves through the creative arts. Stephen King wrote early in the morning and late at night – he did this while teaching English in Maine. So did Mary Higgins Clarke, Danielle Steele, J.K. Rowling, Edward Stratemeyer (creator of the Hardy Boys & Nancy Drew). I know that many other artists do and have done the same thing – they found a way and made time for it.

Even if it’s just for an hour a day, once you’ve got that hour, guard it fiercely. Even if all you do is stare at a blank page, a blank canvas or a blob of clay and make nothing for that entire hour, you are training yourself to be present for that hour. Write a thousand words in that hour, walk away and edit it the next day. Sketch out on a blank piece of paper what you want to paint in bold colors on canvas.

Making deadlines for yourself will help, as well. For example, for the writers out there, set a goal to write a specific word count each day. If you write a thousand words a day, make it a goal to increase the daily word count and give yourself a deadline as to when you want to have the first draft written. If you fall short of your word count one day, make it up the next day, if you can, but keep your eyes on your deadline. A great example of writing to a deadline is National Novel Writing Month, held every year in November.

Deadlines help keep you on track and can give you the bit of inspiration you need to knuckle down and go for the goal. And while Douglas Adams enjoyed hearing his deadlines whoosh past, when you meet yours or even accomplish your goal prior to it, you can take satisfaction that you whooshed past it.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Douglas Adams, author, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Recommended Link:

National Novel Writing Month

Editor’s Note: This blog post is concurrently published on Citizens Journal VC

So, one of the best ways to improve your writing…..

……is to get involved with and work in theater.

As an actor, you learn to develop character – background, secrets, moments before – that lead to a richer performance and the constant discovery of new things. As a director, you learn how each scene works and flows together, with tweaking here and there to create a cohesive narrative. And, of course, there is the playwright, who puts the words in the mouths of the characters.

Building sets gives you a rough sense of how the play’s world looked. Adding props and furniture gives clues to the characters, their histories, their connections. Costumes and make-up show how characters might look in 17th century France, 11th century BCE Greece or Rome or Egypt.

Every aspect of theater can and will carry over into your writing. I’ve always found myself relying on my theater background not just for inspiration, but for ways to forward my story when the way seems blocked.

Also, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

So, one of my favorite creative past times…..

……is theater. I grew up acting in school plays, then college productions and local community theater, with an occasional dabble in building sets, costumes and make-up. I even did extra work on a TV movie, which is another story entirely. Theater, like film and TV, is a collaborative effort. You need each person to fulfill a role or task to make the final product work smoothly (technical, sound, lighting, effects, other actors, writers), even if it’s a one person show.

This is true of every creative endeavor. Granted, you are the only one doing your work (whether it’s learning lines or creating a sculpture or any other artistic expression), but the act itself is a collaboration of all that you had learned up to that point. Look at any acknowledgements page in any book and you will find the word “collaboration” or its sibling “collaborative”. There will then be a list of names or groups the author then gives his or her thanks to – because while the act of writing is solitary, the process of putting a book together (from research to final edits to publication) is not.

There is the stereotype of the writer as being an odd creature, solitary, slightly disheveled and not quite fully present in the moment. They are distracted by their thoughts and scribble madly on a pad of paper, relying on copious amounts of coffee (or, in some cases, alcohol) to keep the pace going, finally producing a perfect manuscript. What no one sees is the relentless edits, the hours of researching a particular historical incident, the mapping out of the plot and the creation and naming of characters.

None of this is done in a vacuum – writers groups, editors, beta readers, other writers are there to help give an objective opinion and offer support when the going gets tough. What theater teaches us is that in order for a production to work smoothly, there has to be teamwork. For an author to create her best work, she has to have the teamwork of her editor and beta readers and groups to encourage necessary changes within her story. The same goes for a photographer, her crew and the model. It is all a team effort.

The more creative endeavors you try, the more you’ll realize that it’s this teamwork is where you gain your greatest strength.

*****
Editor’s note – this blog post is concurrently published on Citizens Journal VC

So, David Bowie once said…….

………“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

I read this quote by David Bowie shortly after his death. It stayed with me, the way things do that make a strong impression. Some of my best creative output came about during the worst times and least secure moments of my life. As long as I was sitting in front of my computer, stringing words together and giving scenes and characters life, I was okay. Whatever was happening outside my little home became easier to handle and navigate. In short, regardless of the uncertainty of my future, my art allowed me to give voice and find strength.
However, as I reflected on Mr. Bowie’s words, I realized that maybe he wasn’t talking about the discomfort of the physical world, but the discomfort of our individual interior and emotional worlds. The analogy of water that Mr. Bowie uses can be interpreted in many ways. Swimming is the most immediate symbol – in order to become a competent swimmer, one needs to learn the basics of swimming. To be a competent or even a competitive swimmer, one had to be willing to push past fear and go into the deep end.
The other image of water that made itself clear to me was the subconscious, as in, “What lies beneath your conscious self?” What, indeed? What we fear the most, about ourselves, our loved ones, our worlds, is generally buried under the busy-ness of every-day living. A lot of times, we make ourselves busy so as not to address that which worries or scares us the most. It’s natural to want to feel safe and secure, but it can also hinder us from making the necessary changes in our lives that would bring us peace.
Embrace that discomfort and that fear. Get out your sketchpad or journal. Just let it all out onto that page, whether it’s haiku or musical notes, oil or watercolors. Let it be what it is. There is no judgement between you and that page – remember, this is for you to express yourself to yourself. Share it only if you want to.
Artistic expression is not just about romance and beautiful landscapes and silly love songs and enchanted cottages. It’s also about the flip side, about the things that scare us, make us angry or sad. The arts can give voice to both our light selves and our darker selves, what Carl Jung would call the Shadow.

Recommended reading:

Man and His Symbols

The Red Book

*****
Editor’s Note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

So, there’s this confounding thing that affects those who create with words…..

………..writer’s block, it’s called – but it has been known to strike in other art forms. Essentially, whether it’s through fear of not getting the final result of your art right on the first go or you’ve found yourself backed into a corner, the Block is a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. How does one get around it? Well, as with creating one’s art, getting un-Blocked is unique to the individual as well. What works for one may not work for anyone else. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try any or all options in order to find the way out of being stuck.
As a writer, I get blocked and stymied on my own creative projects all the time. I’ve used water color paints and a sketch book to find my way out of the corner I’d find myself in. But I also have a background in theater and lately, I’ve been using an actor’s technique when floundering over a stalled chapter – The Moment Before.
What is The Moment Before? Well, as I learned it, The Moment Before is a tool used by an actor or actress to understand who their character is before they walk out onstage. The characters don’t just come into existence because the playwright wrote “So-and-so enters from the kitchen up stage right”. It is the actor’s job to know what the character was doing in the kitchen (cooking? Crying? Arguing over the phone?) prior to their entrance.
This process is internalized by the actors, giving them a rich interior life and insight into the characters they play. It is not shared with anyone else in the cast – it is a discussion between the actor and the director alone.
So is this Moment Before to you, regardless of your art. When your project feels difficult and you’re struggling to make the next sentence or paint the next stroke or write the next lyric, stop and step back. Take a breath, find that rhythm prior to the block.
Find your Moment Before, re-focus and go forward.

*****
Editor’s note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

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