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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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passion

So, about those creative blocks…..

……you have one.

Or two. Or more.

The project you’re working on that previously seemed to flow with ease and inspiration is now suddenly, inexplicably, choking and sputtering to a halt. You curse the blank page, the blank canvas, the uncluttered sheet music, and attempt to plow through.

But nothing comes out. Or, if it does, it’s only in spurts, like a car lurching forward, eating every last drop of gas and oil.

This happens to me more than I’d care to admit. I still work the story, still write down questions and notes that spring to mind, but the actual writing of it feels like plowing through quick-dry cement – slow, painful, suffocating.

This is where I turn to another creative form, to replenish the artistic side and allow my subconscious to work out the knots in another way.

This is helpful for every creative art form that you pursue – whether you’re a musician, singer/song-writer, painter, potterer, you name it – if the flow is not there, it’s time to rest that muscle and seek some other artistic outlet and let your imagination play.

My favorite thing to do, when the muse refuses to speak, is to do water colors or sketch or just doodle on scraps of paper.

Like this guy:

Pen sketch; note the rather arrogant look in his eye.

That took me about ten minutes or so to sketch out.  Because I’m a writer, I always have a notebook handy, either to write down plot ideas or bits of dialogue.  Most of the time, however, I doodle.

A lot.

The horse to the left is an example of my doodling.  It’s relaxing, takes me out of my logic center and the best part is that I’ve given myself a chance to unhook from the current project I’m working on.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a recognizable figure – a lot of the time, my doodles resemble swirls of…….stuff.

Other times, I simply push aside all projects involving the written word and just do ART.

Lately, I’ve been inspired to create on canvas the worlds I write about.  Not necessarily the people, although I’m sketching out a couple of ideas, but most definitely the locations.  This helps me define the geographical features of the area, as well as give my stories life in a new form.  I always start out with a sketch, just to get the general idea of what I want it to look like out onto paper.  This is something I’ve learned to do – it saves time and energy when painting the images onto the canvas.

Like this:

Rough sketch of Wolf’s Head Bay by J.J. Brown, Wordslinger

What you’re seeing to the right is a rough sketch of my fictional town of Wolf’s Head Bay, as featured in my novel, Secrets & Howls.  I’ve always known that it would be a coastal town, that there would be a lighthouse and a harbor, where the fishing boats were docked.  I also knew that the mountains that loomed over the town had a distinct look to them – wolves howling at the moon above.

The featured image of this post is the final result – only, there is no lighthouse and no harbor.  The sketch is of a more recent view of the Bay, whilst the painting visualizes what the area looked like prior to settling.

Except…..is it unsettled?  Look closely, there might be a fire.

So, the upshot of this post is this – whatever your main medium of creative output, don’t close yourself off from other creative outlets, even if it’s completely the opposite of what you do.  It will give you another way of tapping into your subconscious and allow you to find your connection to your main creative expression.

For me, it’s painting and sketching, with writing as my main creative outlet.  For you, it might be pottery or singing or photography.  Every creative skill you can find will always benefit the one you have passion and drive for.

Go find it.

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So, I’m excited about my Patreon page……

…….and what I have planned there.  A lot of thinking went on behind it, long before I even really understood what Patreon was about.  And the more I learned about it, the more I observed on other pages, the more I realized that this could work for me.

A little over a year ago, I decided that I wanted to write a column, so I contacted a local on-line zine.  They were eager to have me on-board……with one catch.  It was not a paid position.  Still, I was more interested in the process as a challenge than anything else, so I let that slide.  Then, of course, I started seeing stories about writers not getting paid for their work, whether it’s from small publishing houses or Pulitzer prize winning newspapers.

And that got me to re-think the column I was writing.

No one sees the work I put into my writing, except my cat and he’s usually asleep.  If I’m going to write for free, then I’m going to write for myself.  I actually turned down offers of having a by-line from another global news site because they don’t offer compensation, other than ‘exposure to a wider audience’.

If people want my stories, then I need to be paid for the work that went into them.

I know my worth.  Know yours.  Whatever your passion is, whatever you’re creative and artistic form is, know that you deserve to be paid for your time and effort.  Granted, if it’s a volunteer situation, such as community or college theater, that’s one thing.  But don’t ever sign onto a job that expects you to work for free.

You deserve more and better.

And so do I.

So, if you’d like to view my Patreon site, you can follow this link.  I am excited to see how this site develops.  🙂

So, I began writing at a very young age……

……..a practice that I’m continuing to do even now, many years later. In a previous blog, I mentioned that, upon seeing Star Wars: A New Hope at age 7, I had become so enamored of that universe that I wanted to become a part of it. So I wrote myself into it.

This is commonly known as ‘fan-fiction’, a term I didn’t learn until many years later, but even then, I didn’t equate my scribbles with what others were doing. The stories I wrote myself into were for my eyes only, ranging from favorite books to TV shows as well as movies. It was how I learned to develop characters and plot and world building.

Upon discovering creative writing classes, I enrolled as fast as I could, wanting to better my voice and skills. Sometimes, these classes provided exactly what I sought; sometimes, they didn’t. It’s also how I feel about writing groups – the few that I’d attended seemed to provide a great deal of support for many of the people I met there, but I often felt dissatisfied and not given a safe platform to discuss my work.

This is not to say that classes and groups aren’t beneficial – they are, you just have to keep searching until you find one that not only suits your writing needs, but offers a supportive and secure environment. And you may even come to the conclusion that writing groups are not for you, which is fine, especially if writing is for your eyes only. If you want to take your writing a step further and need objective criticism and feedback, a group of fellow writers is a good place to start, thus the importance of finding the right group.

While I’m blessed to live in a highly creative community, the writing groups I’ve attended did not suit my needs. I found myself wanting to be at home and writing rather than participate in any of the exercises provided (1). My creative impulse demanded my attention, pushing me to dive back into my story and immerse myself in its world and characters.

I’m feeling that itch now, as I write this post, to pick up my pen and follow the tale as it winds itself towards its conclusion. To disappear completely within that world, like I did when I was young and exploring the galaxy aboard the Enterprise or learning the ways of the Force with Yoda and Ben Kenobi.

For me, writing is a bit like deep sea diving and archaeology mixed together. Just as you would submerge yourself into the water, I do the same by submerging myself into the psyche of various characters and their world. As one would unearth clues to an ancient civilization’s past as an archaeologist, so do I when finding more details and questions as I write.

As a kid, upon wanting to be a part of the Star Wars universe, I spent hours writing in a white heat. As an adult, it is my job and responsibility to tap into that white heat and bring that focus back to my writing. Each project is like learning how to write all over again, because each one has its own challenges and demands.

More and more, I’m remembering that young me, the one who was so enchanted with the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa. That energy and passion is what I need to bring to every story I sit down to write.

That itch to write is reminding me to do that every day.

*****

(1) This is my experience with groups and is not going to be reflective of yours.

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So, I think my passion went on hiatus……

…….because I am feeling less and less sure of what I want to do. Or where I want to go. It’s an overwhelming weight on my chest, trying to sort out what to do, let alone even coming close to knowing what to do.

I’m pretty sure this is a rut. Why? Because I still want to write. Writing is what I do best. I love sinking into that world I’ve created, taking on multiple characters and locations and basically playing god (or goddess) to make the story come to life.

I also love painting and drawing and acting and theater. I love being around creative people – they are the most exciting, challenging and invigorating people I know. It’s like being on some kind of drug, except instead of destroying your life and the lives around you, the creative energy enriches you, fulfills you, makes life brighter. You are lifted up, not dragged down. Your brain sizzles with ideas that inspires you.

That rut I mentioned? That’s the low – it’s all those doubts and negative thoughts that tell you to not keep going, to just quit while you’re ahead and go do something practical. To hell with the practical – do the art. The practical is only good for one thing – paying bills, building a nest egg for emergencies or that maybe-someday trip.

The art is what makes life magical. It pushes through that dull, gray rut and into to the sparkle and energizes your heart chakra.

Whether it’s art or photography or acting or writing or any creative style I haven’t mentioned, it’s like being around an electrical surge that won’t stop.

Keep doing that art that makes you happy. Even when it feels like the passion packed up and left.

Which reminds me.

I have a violin that I need to learn to play. I have to learn it, even if I suck at it. I’ve had this dream since I was twelve years old. Or maybe I was six, when I discovered Sherlock Holmes. Just the idea of learning the violin makes me happy.

My violin, waiting patiently.
My violin, waiting patiently.

So, I’ve been in an Ireland sort of mood…..

…..which is pretty understandable, since I’m planning to visit the Emerald Isle this year. In honor of this adventure, I’ve been watching the only two movies I own set in Ireland (clearly, I need to get more).

One of them is P.S. I Love You (2007), starring Hillary Swank, Gerard Butler and Kathy Bates. This is not a critique or review of the film (although I do have plenty of opinions about it). It’s more of an observation, I suppose, because from the first time I’d seen it when it was released until the last viewing (which was four days ago, in case you’re curious), I had a hard time figuring out what kind of movie it was.

Was it a meditation on grief and loss? A romantic comedy? A tragedy? A drama? A romantic drama-tragedy? What the hell was it? I enjoyed it, for the most part, but I was never really sure about what kind of movie I was watching. I remember, after the movie came out, trying to read the book, probably hoping to get a better handle on it, but no go.

This probably was one of the reasons why I didn’t quite fully embrace the movie.

But then something interesting happened. Last week, on the most recent viewing, at the part where Gerry (Gerard Butler) is narrating his next to last letter to Holly (Hillary Swank) about the day they met, I heard it.

“I’m not worried about you remembering me,” he tells her, “It’s that girl on the road you keep forgetting.”

The girl with artistic fire and passion for something she didn’t know about yet. The one who got buried under the weight of life, responsibilities, marriage and sensibility. The girl who put her dreams on a shelf. She had become apathetic to her own creative nature and buried it with the need for her comfort zone.

That resonated with me, because over the last year, I’ve been fighting that same battle. I’ve been searching for that fire, to find meaning in my own life that serves me and allows me to fulfill my own best potential. If you put yourself second, there is no reason for others to put you first. It’s selfish, in a way, but by putting your needs and your dreams first, you’re better able to support and take care of others.

So, let’s go back to that first meeting with Gerry and Holly – she’s talking about creating art, whatever that may be for her or for him or for anyone. Even if it includes painting socks. Her passion, we learn at the beginning of the film, is designer shoes. By the end of the film, by chance or fate or accident, she has combined her love for designer shoes with her creative nature into a successful marketable business – shoes as wearable art. Of course, this is Hollywood fantasy, but there is truth there and it does happen. We only need to look at JK Rowling and Stephen King to recognize that it is possible.

So it got me thinking, that little bit at the end with Gerry and his next to last letter. He is reminding his wife, whom he loves, about that fire for creating. What passion did I have as a twenty-year old that I’ve forgotten? I still write, still dabble in sketching and painting, still hang with my homies, er, horsies.

The only thing that left was theater. I’d been acting in community theater since the age of three. I quit acting ten years ago because I felt that I had outgrown it and I didn’t need it. I’d performed in three plays in the last six and I felt alive each time I stepped onstage. And I remembered how it felt to be on stage, to command an audience’s attention through my passion, the words I spoke written by playwrights many years or centuries dead.

And now I know how to re-kindle that passion again, that fire. Do I need to pursue it professionally to feel legitimate as an actor? Not at all – I prefer it this way, as an amateur.

As for P.S. I Love You, I still don’t know what kind of movie it’s trying to be, but I guess it doesn’t really matter, in the long run. I got something out of it.

The Irish landscape doesn’t hurt, either. 🙂

So, Julia Child once said…….

……..in reference to making an omelet, “When you flip anything, you really….you just have to have the courage of your convictions.”
While she was talking in terms of cooking, her words can apply to any part of your life, professionally, personally, and artistically. Opening yourself up to being creative is just as hard and terrifying as it is to open up to another person, which is why you need that courage of your convictions to take that leap of faith.
So, what now? How do you start? Well, what makes you smile? What makes your heart feel light and your feet want to dance? Is it poetry or sketching? Is it music or pottery? Trust your instinct enough to follow it. This is your time, your gift to yourself. Take a pen and a pad of paper, write down the first creative thing you enjoy that comes to mind. Then the next and the next. Make a list of creative, artistic things. Then go forth and create, whether it’s baking a cake or writing four lines of poetry.
Be prepared to do badly at first, but if you find your smile in the act, then keep pursuing it, whether it’s singing in the shower or strumming two chords on a guitar. If one doesn’t work for you, give yourself permission to try something else on your list.
Julia Child went to college with the intention of becoming a writer, but although she enjoyed the process, none of her writings were ever published. She developed a passion for French cuisine after moving to France and it was this that began her journey into French cooking, which resulted in the cookbook masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
This was not an overnight success story – first, she discovered a passion, then, with trial and error and persistence, she pursued the process and then she found success.
That’s a fairly simplistic analysis, but it has its own truth. Julia Child pursued French cooking because it made her happy. That’s the important take-away. To find the spark that makes you happy means listening to that inner voice, the one that whispers with excitement, “I want to do that”.
There is no right or wrong way to the process – everyone has their own method for their artistic self. Remember that this is your gift for you alone. What you choose to do with it is up to you. And, to continue this cooking theme, remember that in order to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs.

 

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

So, I was contemplating………

………my earlier post about the ease and/or difficulty of writing in a genre outside one’s comfort zone (whether it’s erotica or something else entirely, it’s all the same). To challenge myself as a writer is to better myself at the craft of putting words together and coming up with magic.

Most of my stories reflect my life, as I’ve mentioned in at least one other post. When I mention to friends that I’ve taken on erotica, to a one, the response has been only positive. So, I know this story will be received with a lot of love and support.

But there is a huge amount of fear attached to this.

I have a tremendous fear of letting go of my intellect and embracing my passions.

In short, I have to go from icy logical Vulcan to fiery impulsive Romulan.

Because, you see, I’ve been saying over and over for awhile now that I want passion in my life. Passion for what I do, in the creative sense. Passion for what I want, in the professional sense. Passion in all of its glorious and beautiful and frightening and positive glory.

What is erotica but a tale of two adult people surrendering to fiery, impulsive passion?

“To create out of logic rather than emotion is not logical.”

I think Spock would have said something like this. Whether or not he agreed with it, he would have seen its truth.

To create something, it must be born out of emotion by way of passion.

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