Category Archives: Creative ADD

Writing: Landmark Moments

I realized this morning that a landmark moment passed yesterday without nearly as much pomp and circumstance as it deserves. I’m going to try to make up for that now.

Yesterday, I hit The End on my second first draft in the last ten days! No, this doesn’t mean I wrote two full manuscripts in ten days, but I did write the endings to two books and therefore moved two more projects from the “ideas that may or may not ever get finished” pile to the “Yay! It’s done!” pile. In this instance, it just so happens the two books exist in the same universe, so I feel even more accomplished than usual. One of them is the novel Lani and I have been collaborating on, the other is one that I began before my project with Lani–but somewhere in the middle of writing we decided to connect the two stories with a couple of secondary characters. Neither first draft is anywhere near polished (my solo book is missing a subplot and our collaboration went off on a tangent halfway through, so we need to go back and rewrite the first part), but finishing a first draft is still a certain measure of success, one I feel the need to commemorate.

Anyone have any recent writing successes they want to share? Sometimes we don’t have people in our lives who appreciate the thrill of some of our small successes, so share them here and I’ll celebrate with you!

Creativity: Can I Pull This Off?

For a reason unknown to me, my creativity works best when it’s trying to go in five different directions at once. I’m working on at least three major book projects, all my work for the job I actually get paid for, making jewelry (contest winners, I haven’t forgotten about you!), and I just had to add one more thing to the list.

Last night I taught my first classes at my dance studio in an intense three-week session hoping to put together an interpretive production of The Hunger Games. It was a lot of fun, but now I’m kind of thinking I might be a little insane. I have these ideas that seem great when I first think them up, but then I try to actually make them happen and… Well, let’s just say one year I thought it would be cool to climb down a rope from a catwalk during a dance and ended up falling about eight feet onto a hardwood stage. It’s true and also a perfect metaphor for how most of my plans go.

Yet somehow I can’t stop making them!

You’d think I’d learn…

Anywho, one of the girl’s fathers is going to help me build a set piece and the dance itself is actually looking a lot like I pictured it in my head! I’m still kind of amazed by that. Now all I have to do is cast the characters and find costumes and try to figure out how to teach four or six different groups what to do on stage at the same time. Should be easy, right?

…I think I may have gotten myself in over my head again. If it turns out well, though, I’ll record it at competition next year and post it here.

Wish me luck!

Writing: Collaboration

People have this image of writing as this solitary art where a writer is locked away in an office or bedroom or within their own head for weeks or months or years trying to get their ideas down on paper. While this image isn’t exactly wrong, it isn’t always right either. Everyone needs friends; writers are no exception. Sometimes, though, what’s even more awesome is having a partner.

My friend Lani Woodland and I have recently decided to try collaborating on a new project. I have never worked with anyone on a novel and it’s especially difficult in this case because Lani and I live on opposite coasts of the country. We’ve only been working on it for a couple of days, but so far I’m enjoying the change.

With a writing partner you are guaranteed to have someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who will care whether or not you add the main character’s cousin to that one scene in chapter four, someone who won’t think you’re crazy when you start spouting off sections of dialogue to see how it rolls off your tongue. That kind of energy can help spur you forward in your writing, to get through your section so you can pass it off and see what your friend will return to you.

Of course, it’s not all good times. Conflicts can crop up in a myriad of places and unless you have a clearly defined decision-making method, you may get stalled more often than you want. More likely than not, you and your writing partner will argue over style, dialogue, characters, and even punctuation if you’re feeling particularly contentious. However, if you have enough common ground to stand on, the resulting story or novel could be something beautiful neither of you could have created alone.

How will co-writing work for me? So far, it’s fantastic! Now I just have to wait and see how the rest of the story unfolds from here.

More resources:
Write For Your

Creativity: Boundless Possibilities And Directed Goals

I grew up in what I like to call the technologically intermediate era. They taught us how to use computers in elementary school even though few of us had one at home and toys had started to do more than squeak and roll, but most of my toys didn’t do much of anything. Now I don’t know a single person who owns a computer and it’s hard to walk through a toy store and find a toy that doesn’t have eight different tricks and gadgets.

Why am I talking about technology and toys? Because I found an article online talking about current college students and whether they’re getting better or worse. Written by history professor Akim Reinhardt of Townsend University, this article talks about the demographics of the student body at different colleges and the professor’s perception of the change in the student body (and it’s interesting reading, should you be so inclined), but the part that really caught my attention came at the end when he started talking about LEGOS.

“LEGOS?” you may ask. Yes. LEGOS.

When I was little you could buy a huge bucket filled with little color coded building blocks. It came with “instructions” but those usually got tossed aside in the first five minutes and you were left with the endless possibilities of an infinitely solvable puzzle. Now? The only LEGOS I’ve seen in years come in pre-fab, branded kits that basically discourage creative thinking.

Below the break I copied the section of the article about LEGOS (just in case you don’t want to read the entire original post). What intrigued me most is the implications for future generations of writers. What will happen when an entire generation of children is raised around single goal toys and formulaic games? If we don’t exercise our collective imagination, will it slowly deteriorate?

But recent students also have their weaknesses and blind spots.  And one of the they ways in which they can frustrate faculty and undermine their own performance and development has to do with LEGOS.

Yes, LEGOS, that classic toy of colorful, plastic, interlocking blocks invented by a Danish carpenter.

The carpenter in question, one Ole Kirk Christiansen (1891-1958), named his invention for the Danish phrase leg godt, meaning “play well.”  And indeed, I and millions of other children of the Baby Boom and Generation X eras played well with them, along with their earlier American counterparts: Lincoln Logs (invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son) and Tinker Toys (from the same company that brought you the Erector Set).

Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and the like were all early 20th century versions of classically minimalist children’s toys.  Featuring new colors, shapes, and materials made possible by the industrial revolution, they were not complex.  They were just a just slightly more sophisticated version of simplicity.

After all, what is a box of LEGOS? Well, really it’s whatever you want it to be, or perhaps more accurately, whatever you can make of it.  It’s just a bunch of blocks, waiting for you to create something.  Anything.  Or nothing at all.  It’s up to you.

But not anymore.  Now LEGOS come with specific plans and goals.  LEGOS have transformed into pre-determined set pieces.  Some of them are crass cross-promotional tie-ins with other child-oriented, entertainment business brands such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Sponge Bob Square Pants.  Others are more generic in their design.  But make no mistake.  The family-owned LEGO Group of Billund, Denmark is no longer offering the world a simple, inexpensive toy with which children might challenge themselves by finding creative ways to “play well.”  Instead it is pushing pricier set-pieces in which children are given clear directions.

Here are your instructions.  Do it this way.  Here is your goal.  Achieve what has been carefully laid out for you.  Your success or failure will be defined by these very clear and rigid parameters.

And this prescribed version of LEGOS, metaphorically speaking, has been very detrimental to the newer generation of college students.  Growing up in a highly structured world of play-dates, organized activities, and adult-monitored “fun,” on the whole they thrive in an environment that presents them with detailed directions and clearly stated, narrowly defined goals.

What they tend to lack is creativity and initiative.

In college this often translates into a generation of students who want the answers but are less interested in asking questions.  But it’s not just about grades.  Of course most students have always wanted to do well, the system has often emphasized correct answers, and so many students have always placed a premium on them.  Rather, the issue is that many students do not trust the educational process unless it is clearly delineated and points directly to the A+ at the end of the rainbow. 

If the process is more open, then they are often confused and worried.  If they are challenged to forge their own path, to find their own answers, or god forbid to ask questions that have no clear answers, then they are apt to panic or stare at you blankly.  That kind of process either scares or confuses them.

In the end, it seems to me, the reason they do not trust an abstract process of education is because they do not trust themselves.  They have not been given ample opportunity to find things on their own.  They haven’t spent enough time discovering, wondering, and inventing.  Instead, too often they have been given detailed blueprints about what their LEGO world should look like.

As a Historian, this is very troubling.  History is a field that straddles the Social Sciences and the Humanities.  Abstraction is a big part of what we do.  And in a discipline with ever-expanding borders, and source material (or “data”) that is at once horribly inadequate yet far too voluminous to use comprehensively, initiative and self-direction are at a premium.
If you’re going to write a 25 page research paper, it really would be for the best if you picked your own topic, found and selected your own sources, constructed your own narrative, and drew your own conclusions.  Yes, of course the professor is here to help, and rightly so.  But the professor’s job in that situation is not to pick a topic and sources for you, but rather to guide you in a more subtle way.

We can talk about why you have more short blocks than long ones, what the blue blocks might mean as opposed to the red ones, and interesting places where you might find some other blocks that may prove helpful.  But in the end, I can’t tell you what to build.  Hell, I can’t even give you detailed directions on how to build it, only general ones.  You have to do that for yourself.

Self-Determination is an odd little concept, and whatever it is, certainly some people have more of it than others.  But that’s one of the reasons why parents send their kids to college.  Lest we forget, two-thirds of Americans do not have a college degree.  Higher education is still a sign of privilege and opportunity to some degree, pun intended.  It’s the chance to take the blocks of your life and build something that approximates your dreams, without the daunting challenges and fantastic odds of a Horatio Alger story or a Lotto ticket.
Come Thursday, I will begin the 15 week-long process, conducted twice yearly, in which I try to drive that home to my students.  Along the way I will show them some things that other people have built.  And then I will pour a bunch of strange new blocks onto the floor, in the form of lectures and assigned readings, and ask them to build something relevant through discussions, exams, and papers.

The opportunity is theirs to pursue as they see fit.

Writing: Getting Unstuck

Sometimes you’re not blocked so much as stuck. For example, I have about twenty-five different novel projects because random bits of dialogue and setting pop into my head, but only seven of them contain more than a couple scenes. Sometimes these incomplete ideas are because I haven’t invested time in plotting the story, but sometimes I just get stuck. This isn’t always the same as writer’s block (the difference for me is when I’m blocked I can’t write ANYTHING, but when I’m stuck I just can’t write anything for a particular project), but how do you get unstuck?

This article from Writer’s Digest showed up in my inbox a little while ago and it offers a few different ideas to move you forward. The author specifically talks about research, conflict, and genre switching to help open your mind to possibilities, but these aren’t the only possibilities. Switch POVs and try writing a scene or two from a different character’s eyes. Try writing a scene completely unconnected with the story where your characters have to deal with an extremely odd situation (OMG! Where did all those tiny ninjas come from?!). There’s no wrong answer, but that’s really because there’s no right answer. No solution is guaranteed. On top of that, the solution that gets you unstuck on one project might not work on your next. Also, you should try a few different methods, but don’t let yourself get distracted researching cures for writer’s block. Sometimes a story isn’t working because it doesn’t work. If that’s the case, you might be sitting there forever if you don’t one day realize it’s time to throw in the towel.

Other articles you might find useful:
Advanced Fiction
Cynthia Sally Haggard
Psychology Today

Inspiration: Rory’s Story Cubes

I have heard of countless ways to spark inspiration. Using the images on tarot cards, eavesdropping on public conversations, searching through public photo albums, etc. As many stories as there are in the world, there are ways to think them up. This one, though, is one of my favorites.

Packaged in a small orange box are nine, six-sided dice. Each side contains a different image. Each image could be interpreted in a hundred different ways. The result? Millions of combinations. And almost as many ways for a writer to make use of them.

The inside of the box describes a game-style setup where dice are rolled and then divided up among  group of players. The group comes up with a general theme (“The Beach,” “On an Airplane,” “At School,” etc.) and then take turns adding to the story with something related to the images on the dice they hold. This is a fun game and definitely a good ice breaker (especially at a writer’s conference!), but what if it’s just you? Personally, I look at these as an alternative to writing prompts.

When I feel like writing something new, something unrelated to the stories I’m already working on, I roll the dice. I choose at least three images and try to combine them into a story. Now, as a personal challenge, I limit myself to one handwritten page. I have the tendency to make things overcomplicated and let them develop further and further until I have another novel idea on my hands. It’s good practice and it’s fun, too. Below is an example of one of my prompts. The images I picked were fire, a bee, and a key. I have very little idea what is happening in these characters’ lives outside of this moment, but the moment is very interesting…

The phone call woke me up, but it was the voice on the other end that shook me to the core.

“There’s been a fire.”

I bolted up, the sheets so tangled that they almost choked me. “Where?” I barely breathed. It wasn’t possible. I didn’t have that kind of luck.

“Bee’s place.” Ted’s voice cracked. “She never got out.”

Bless the stars. She’d finally managed to do it. She’d always said she would go out in a blaze of glory, but I hadn’t thought she was speaking literally.

“Jesus Christ.” I heard Ted start sobbing, but I couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t meaningless except, “Do you need me to come down there?”

“No,” he gasped and started coughing. “No. I don’t want you to see this.”

I was already up and getting dressed. “It was a rhetorical question, Theodore.”

He couldn’t even argue with me. I said goodbye as I stepped onto my porch and there it was. As promised. I slowly picked up the envelope and took out a key and a note.

Take care of my Teddy, Beth. He’s a good boy, but he would never understand. I hope this will help.


For only $7.95, I think it’s more than worth it. You can get them at Barnes & Noble in their games department and probably most local bookstores that carry games, or order them online from a variety of places.

Personal: Amusing Yourself in Between Tasks

Stumble your way through the internet.

Writing: Creative ADD

I have had writers block. It sucks, but it’s not an everlasting thing. (Honestly, I think that’s the trick to beating it–seeing it as a finite, manageable event.) But for a long time I’ve had what I consider Creative ADD.

Not including Fallen, I am currently juggling twenty-four separate novels in my head. Some of these are fully formed stories with characters, plot, conflict, motivations, and even pieces of dialogue in place. Others exist only in a vague idea form that may or may not ever turn into a book. The problem right now–for me, at least–is sticking to just one.

The ideas I get are varied, each sparked by something different. Sometimes it’s books I’ve read recently (see my earlier posts about the right way to steal ideas), sometimes it’s something I hear someone say, or a random occurrence of synapse connections that scientists have yet to explain (really, sometimes I have no idea where these ideas come from). A few of these ideas already have a strong hold on me–I love them, they’re my babies, and I will see them completed one day. Others…not so much.

But picking and choosing between the ones I love? (Anyone else hear REM in their head, or is that just me… Just me? Yeah, I was afraid of that…)

I guess I just have to be grateful for the fact that I’m not yet working on a deadline, that I can come and go between stories as inspiration carries me without worrying about how many words I’m writing per day or when the polished draft of a certain book is due to the editors. I write this down so I remember this realization and enjoy it while it lasts.

Does anyone else notice that this is me looking for a bright side to the life of an unpublished writer? 😉