Creativity: How it Works

Globe atop the Turler Cosmos Clock
Globe atop the Turler Cosmos Clock

 

 

 

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I have a partial manuscript I call The Chronos Project that I plan to revise.

The story is about Anna Wassar, a young ethics enforcer who works at a time-shifting facility, where historians of all sort shift to other time periods to do research in their particular field of interest.

Anna becomes aware that someone is bringing treasures from the past into the future, and that if she doesn’t stop them, the Temporal Ethics Commission will shut down the Chronos Project.

Anna shifts to 1940s Germany in pursuit of her suspect, and things do not go well.

Okay, not a bad premise. Maybe a bit Timecop, but the theme is different and I like it.

A number of years have past since I wrote the first version. Hey, I even tried a second version, and one hundred and twenty thousand words into it I still couldn’t make it work. Time has passed and I am ready to give it another try.

I printed the whole thing and  began to read it back to front. To my surprised I have many excellent scenes, and surely I can…but Anna, Anna doesn’t have enough agency, and what about the murder bus and the children at Görden at Brandenburg an der Havel? How am I going to make that all fit?

Never mind. I’ll be systematic. I will separate the story into point of view sections (there are five–OMG, way to many?) and then I will read each section and see if I have a decent character arc for that character and we’ll go from there. Right. That’s a plan.

Days pass and I don’t work. “Nope, will not,” says that recalcitrant brat in my head. “Can’t, can’t, can’t. Won’t! You know what? I don’t really like writing. I don’t want to write, anymore. Heck, I’m retired. I don’t have to do hard work and I won’t. Done. I’m done.”

Except that I begin to wake up dreaming writing. Yes, thoughts in another characters head, third person.

Then this morning in my journal:

Sunday, 3 June, 2018

(ping)

It was the third of June another sleepy, dusty, delta day

I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was bailin’ hay*

And I’m there. Yes, in the Mississippi delta, but no, not only there, but where ever the work is hard, where the air smells of fresh-mown hay, where dust lifts off a roadway and hangs in the air, where heat shimmers in the distance of—my daddy’s farm. I’m home.

(ping)

In an instant I remember others who catch me like that. Stephen King is one. Always, his words make me feel as though I’ve lived them myself. I’m two-hundred and eighty pound, gay Julianne Vernon,  in my pickup truck, horse trailer behind, driving down a quiet highway. In the distance I see a car stopped on the roadside, and I know what to do. I’ll stop and lend a hand. It’s what I do, what I’ve always done. It will be my undoing, but I don’t know it yet.

Synchronicity

I look over my Facebook feed and I see a post by a printing company. It’s a link to a blog post by Meribeth Deen. Meribeth talks about writing mentors and how we all need one, and maybe if we copy their words they’ll bring us to our words, and—ding, ding, ding.

I know what to do: Read Stephen King’s words, write Stephen’s words, and then write Anna Wassar, just a little, not much, not a great long thesis, just as much as I can see in a one inch frame.

That’s how it works, creativity. One small thing leads to another thing, and still another and these things spiral and gather, swarm, swoop and excite and suddenly you can’t wait to write, to paint, to dance your dance and sing your song.

 

*In 1967 Bobby Gentry wrote and performed Ode to Billy Joe and I loved that song. Bobby sang it beautifully, but what I loved most was the story. A whole and complete story in the lyrics of a 4 minutes song (it was longer in the original writing). It had everything necessary for story, including a mystery. What were Billy Joe and that girl throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

 

So, This Happened

Why am I so Tired

My first real comic. I’ve wanted to learn to make comics and cartoons for a long time, but the amount of knowledge I don’t have is overwhelming.

Finding myself without a blog topic—AGAIN—I decided to give it a try, knowledge or not. In this case the story is one that happened to me about a week ago.

Heart Attack!

Honestly, I don’t often think I have a catastrophic health issue, but hey, age makes these things likelier. I’d been feeling so tired for a number of days. Along with the tiredness I had dizzyiness and a feeling of heaviness in my chest—a feeling as though I wasn’t getting enough air.

As you can see from the comic above, I aced all the heart attack tests. I was not having a heart attack. Thank goodness. The Medic decided that I was likely tired because I’d been working hard and that all those wonderful spring smells, like leaf mold, lilacs, lily-of-the-valley—blossoms of every kind, were giving my lungs a hard time. Hence, difficulty breathing and tiredness.

Yay! It’s all good.

So what do you think? Should I keep on with the cartooning? Did the story come through? Were the drawings interesting?

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Drawing of a young girl looking behind her at a raven.
Whose There? 2016, Ink watercolour sketch

 

 

 

 

I completed the novella, Hannah’s Hearing about a week ago, and this week it was time to chose a new project.

But which one? They’re all clamouring for my attention all the time. Every silly idea, big or small wants prescidence and as I mentioned last week, I’m feeling entirely overwhelmed by all the work there is to do.

Growing Gills, a book on doing your creative work, by Jessica Abel, was recommended to me by someone at the Sketchbook Skool Facebook group.

Jessica’s book is full of good advice on how to narrow down and do one project–ONLY ONE–in order to focus and complete your work.

Can I stick to just ONE Project?

Snort. Of course I can’t. But I can take all those little ideas, write them down and promise them I’ll get to them in time. (Maybe not, but what do they know?) In the meantime, I’ve chosen one project to focus on.

Some years ago, I started a novel I called The Chronos Project. It is a time travel novel that takes place in 2087 and 1940 Germany. It seemed like an excellent idea, but I couldn’t make it work. It got too complicated and I didn’t have the chops for it. I revisited it a while later, but again, I set it aside for another shiny new idea, or was it because I couldn’t figure out how to end the story? At 120,000 words it didn’t feel as though it was coming to an end any time soon.

This week I pulled that story out again, and I’m reading it, back to front. Yes, weirdness. But I wanted to see it in a new way. I’m finding to my surprise that the writing is good, the story is coherent and has tension. And the idea is still exciting.

So, I made a small plan. As per Jessical Abel’s suggestion, I chose this project, and I will break it down to its small parts. This week and part of next week, I will continue to read the story and make a brief note about each chapter. The next project is to read each pov characters pages in order so that I can see their story arc and find out where I can strengthen them and where they’re story needs to go.

That’s all the plan there is for now. I’ll make more as I come to the end of a goal and am ready to move on to the next.

Oh, and while I’m reading I’m listening to Minor Matter. Do yourself a favour and give them a listen.

 

Bear with Me

Drawing of a bear
Bear, digital, May 6, 2018

Spring is truly here! It’s astonishing to have temperatures of +27C so early in the year. With this marvelous weather comes birdsong, budding trees, and a tonne of yard work.

Between bouts of raking and digging, I continue to revise Hannah’s Hearing, a novella featuring a boomer-aged woman (think: Fredrik Bachman’s, A Man Called Ove) and I managed to get out to do at least one urban sketch.

It’s lame, I know, but I couldn’t bring myself to plant a stool on the sidewalk to draw, so I parked my car at a nearby mall and tried sketching a senior’s high-rise. I need to get over my fear of having people watch me do my work.

The bear was a digital practice drawing. I’m trying to expand my abilities and repertoire. Like many people, I gravitate to drawing faces or figures. It’s nice to change it up. For instance, I hate that my ability with perspective drawing is so iffy, that’s why I’ve been going out to draw buildings.

I’ve been listening/watching Youtube videos while I draw. Some on drawing, some on publishing, and many on thinking, philosophy, and psychology. It’s a bit like being back at university—without the writing papers bit—and I love it!

What about you? What do you listen to while you are doing your creative work?

Reading and Writing

Fashion Week, 2017
Fashion Week, 2017 encaustic on panel 24″ x 12″

I write, here, more often about drawing, painting, or some life things, than I do about writing.

I’ve been writing fiction for just over ten years. In that time I’ve learned a great deal. For starters I learned that I hadn’t a clue about writing fiction when I wrote my first novel. I made all the mistakes you’d expect of a first timer. In the second novel I made some of those mistakes and a few more. All during this time I was reading everything I could about the art of writing fiction. I stuffed so many things into my head that I was afraid to hold my pen, for fear of doing it wrong.

One thing about writers, they write. And when they aren’t writing their preferred genre of fiction or non-fiction they’re writing about writing. There is no shortage of writerly tutelage on the internet or in book stores. I would like to say I read them all, but that’s not possible. A new blog or book on writing pops up every day.

There is a lot to know about writing fiction, just as there is a lot to know about painting figures, but at some point its necessary to quiet down all those words–often competing ‘you should’ words–you’ve read. It’s time to put them on the back burner and figure out what you think. That’s what I’m doing and I have nothing to tell people about writing that someone else hasn’t already said better.

I’m currently revising a novella entitled Hannah’s Hearing. It’s a story of an older woman who beset, as many elderly are with issues of failure, forgets to live large and enjoy life. That is until the man in the red fedora shows up in her bedroom and everything changes.

Reading

Aside from revising and drawing, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. In particular I’ve been trying to read books that will expand my knowledge and help me think. A moment on social media makes you aware that thinking is often left behind.

Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, is an excellent read and very encouraging, whether you agree with all Pinker’s premises or not. Alan Jacob’s, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds wasn’t as much help as I thought it might be, but I did learn that we tend to lump people into camps or tribes. Lumping similar things and experiences is natural and useful, probably even necessary, but we’re often wrong, and in the process we create an ‘us and them’ ethos.

I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci, and I’ve got Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, as well as Gregg Easterbrook’s It’s Better Than it Looks lined up.

In fiction, I’ve somehow missed Michael Connelly’s The Wrong Side of Goodbye, so I’m listening to the audio version of that while I draw.

Though I’m offering Amazon links, I want you to know your local bookstore deserves support and your library is a wonderful place. For instance I borrowed the audio book by Connelly from our local library through an app called Libby. Check it out.

What about you? What are you reading or writing?

Oh, and you’re wondering about the guy in black above? A bit of eye candy, nothing more.

Gasp! You’re Giving up Your Studio?

Studio View 330 Ave G

If you’re going to be a serious artist you’ve got to have a studio!

That is one of the things I learned in art school along with things like theme, balance, architectonic strength and structure. It was by far the easiest thing to understand. If you’re going to do work you need a place to do it, and if you are going to take yourself seriously and expect others to take you seriously you need a place you can call a studio. Ideally, this place is not your parents basement. At least that’s what I thought.

Before I even got my degree I managed somehow to secure a studio spaces–sometimes shared–in various warehouses in my home city. The amenities were often far from optimal when ‘very cheap’ is all you can afford. One of these studio spaces was a shared accommodation over a coat factory. On a cold November day, when a New York critic was scheduled to visit and pass comment on my art, the furnace went out. It was as bitterly cold inside as it was outside. Thank goodness she’d worn her silk socks that day.

There were times when I couldn’t afford even the lowliest space, but whenever I could I tried to have a place outside my home as a studio.

But Do you really Need a Studio Space Outside your Home?

Yes and no. The question is akin to Virginia Wolf’s need for a room of her own. I know of writers who clamp on a pair of noise cancelling headphones, find a corner in their home and write award winning material. I know visual artists who work on the kitchen table in their smallish condo. If you’re doing digital work, do you really need to rent an extra place to house your desk and computer/tablet setup? Probably not, especially if the cost of the studio eats up monies you need for that new graphics tablet.

Still, it is a nice thing to have a place to go that has only one purpose–the place you go to create your art. It’s a physical thing and a mental thing. And if your work is very large, or if you use a medium that it would be unwise to expose your family to, like say welding or encaustic painting, then a space with proper ventilation outside of your home is a must. If you have children who could be harmed by your materials, or who demand your attention at all times, you need an outside studio.

Are you judged on your seriousness as an artist by the studio space you have? Maybe, but I’d say don’t let that worry stop you from creating in whatever circumstances you find yourself. It’s not about where you create, it’s about what you create.

As a writer and a visual artist I do think it’s helpful for you to have a space you can go to to shut out distractions in order to focus. it’s helpful, but by no means a prerequisite. Artists are very good at focusing. They wouldn’t have come to their art if they weren’t. It takes a lot of focus to find your talent and go after it.

So why did I give up my studio this week?

Well, to be honest I didn’t exactly. I gave up a very nice space I had in what used to be the preacher’s office on the second floor of an old church that has been converted to studios. I loved this space, but for various reason (including a long period of creative drought–everything I painted sucked) it made sense. This does not mean I’m giving it ALL up. Another thing most artists have lots of is grit. They just keep on, keeping on.

No, I haven’t given up on painting and writing, but I have decided to convert a space in my own home to a studio.

Here is is.

Studio View 3

Painting area

Studio View 4

Digital Workspace

I don’t have the kind ventilation, here, that I would need to continue with encaustic work, so a shift in materials is in order. All to the good. I loved working in encaustic (beeswax and pigment), but I appeared to be at the end of the line with it.

The nice part of this new studio that it can be do triple duty as analog artist studio, digital workstation and writing office.

But hey you, if you can’t afford an off-site studio space or don’t have a room in your home you can commandeer, use your kitchen table. If it works it’s a worthy place. The important thing is not where you work, but that you do.

Writing in Times of Sorrow

Elenora

I’ll tell you a story. It’s not a long story, and it is mostly not my story. It’s story about my kid sister Elenora who left this plane of existence this week. Above is a sketch I made of her. She was an eighteen-year-old beauty at the time. Her life has been rough and kind as are all our lives.

Elenora loved to come to the big city on day long shopping recursions with her big sister. It was a long day for me, I’d drive for most of an hour to an outlying town, pick her up, drive back into the city, spend the day shopping and lunching and then drive her home again before making my own way home.

On one long driving day we talked sporadically while we listened to the radio.

“Oh cool! Michael Jackson! I love him, don’t you?”

Maybe it was Thriller or Billy Jean, I don’t remember. I made some noises about not liking him all that much.

“Why?” she said.

I stumbled, not really knowing why. “Well, he had all that plastic surgery to change his face,” I said in an off-hand manner. It was a very foolish thing to say and if I didn’t know it then, I did a few minutes later.

Elenora was very quiet for a moment, then she turned to me, her eyebrows drawn together like they sometimes were when she had something important to say and she wasn’t sure how it would be taken.

“Didn’t you ever want to change something about yourself?”

“Ah, erm…I suppose so.” I was still floundering and I already knew how wrong I was, because of course I wished I could change things. Maybe a stronger chin, a less strong nose, maybe some get rid of some quirk that harmed more than it helped.

She picked at the hem of her coat for a moment, and then she said, “If I could change anything about me, I’d change it so I didn’t have Down Syndrome.”

We were both quiet for a long time then. I wanted to say, “you’re fine just the way you are,” but this wasn’t that kind of moment. This was a moment where the big sister had a lot to learn, and just maybe she did.

It is extra hard to write or paint when there is sorrow in your life. To all those struggling, hang in there. Know that you make a difference, and one day soon, you’ll create again. And Michael Jackson? I was wrong. Plain wrong about the music and the man who was trying to live in this world.

Tracking Your Creative Production

Dissatisfaction

Shortly before the end of 2017 I was feeling dissatisfied with my creative output. We, as creatives often make these fuzzy goals in our heads, and then when somehow those fuzzy goals don’t magically become reality we get down on ourselves.

Plan

I decided to do two things.

  • Get a calendar and set more concrete goals.
  • Give myself a red star every time I met a writing goal, and a blue star every time I met a visual art goal.

Now, you can do all this on a Google Calendar–well, if you don’t care about the sparkly stars. I decided I needed both. I use the Google Calendar to set goals. When I’ve done a particular item I cross it off. But even better is my old-timey paper monthly calendar. I don’t set any goals there or write in any appointments. Instead, I write down what I did, and if it’s writing I get a red star and when it’s painting I get a blue star.

Results

Shiny! Shiny! I’m astonished at how many shiny stars appeared on my calendar. Maybe I did more work because I was keeping track of it or maybe I’ve been working hard all along and didn’t give myself credit.

Even last week when I was laid low by that nasty flu, I managed the three digital pieces above and the analog drawing of a “rocker”, as well as revision of four chapters in my comedic boomer novella, entitled Hannah’s Hearing.

What about you? Do you give yourself the credit you deserve? Go ahead. Give yourself a gold star!

 

What? We Don’t Have Free Speech?

20161028_070048

 

 

The Speaker, mixed media

 

 

The above image is of a construction I made a long time ago. It still hangs in my studio.

 

 

 

 

A studio mate gave me a wonderful piece of wood that he said came from an airplane body. It was thin and delicately curved and it had a beautiful grey patina. On one end were two holes, and it looked as though some metal had at one time held this piece to another.

Rule of thumb if you are a maker. Never throw interesting things out.

At the time I was constructing my paintings–I use the term paintings loosely–by pasting small bits of paper onto a canvas until the whole thing was covered in bits of paper. I’d pour on thin layers of paint, then stick on more bits of paper until I found something that resonated for me. There were many reasons for working in this way, not the least of which was poverty–and a concern for the environment. And I was all about the idea of finding that thin line between order and chaos, and how this line shifts as our perceptions change.

So this piece of wood moved from one studio to the next, and one day I place an old tree root against it…hmm, a face. I set it aside again and went on with other things. But the root stayed where it was, and a couple of pieces of fabric woven to look like tapestry became the colour in the eyes, and a speaker was  a mouth. The Speaker was born. Kitsch? Probably. Most likely, but it I like it.

Free Speech

Lately, I’ve become aware that there is a great deal of worry in some quarters, especially on university campuses that free speech is threatened. Whaaat? At Universities? In Canada and the USA? Isn’t that where you learn to speak, to debate, to be wrong and to be right.

I did a bit of research, and a lot of thinking.

A long time ago, when we lived in smaller cities, towns and villages, you could count on it, that some people with a little clout and a lot to say would ostracize someone who activated their sense of disgust. I’m old enough to have lived in such a small town. I’ve been on both ends of that disgust. Maybe you have too.

Now here’s the thing. We have the interwebz and a global village, and man we can do a lot of damage if we want to. So, what I’m thinking is maybe shut up sometimes and listen. Listen and remember that you’re talking to another person, not a disgusting IT. You might even have an interesting debate. They maybe right and you might be wrong, or perhaps you were right and they were wrong, but you learned something, and that other one? That other one is now a human being and not a disgusting something on the bottom of your shoe.

Goals, have you got ’em?

2017-11-19 11.50.26Okay, we’re moving on into the second week of January. Many of you have set and begun to work toward goals. Lots of goals. You are going to be so much better in 2018. Your friends won’t even recognize you the new you.

It feels as though anything is possible in the New Year. All your old blots have been expunged. You can dump that frayed old you and become…anything, everything.

Some of you are really good at setting goals and working toward them. You write them down in your journals, and you plan for them in you schedules, and when 2018 ends, you’ll have accomplished at least some of what you planned to accomplish. Yay you!

Now, I’m a seriously conscientious person. Not in the orderliness aspect of that trait, but in an industrious way. I’m the person who can’t just sit there. Part of the reason I don’t like parties is that mostly it’s just sitting there making inane conversation. Come on, if we’re going to talk lets talk about really important things.

Yes, I know, I need to learn to chill. Perhaps that should be one of my goals this year. Wait, I’ll write that down.

I have a confession to make. I find it really hard to set goals–the precise written down kind of goals. Oh yes, I have a vague plan in my head. I’m going to begin a new novel, and I’ll finish the revision on the current one. I’ll submit the novel in revision to…and I’ll make digital art at least once a week I’ll work on analog art three times–no four time, maybe…

See, not very specific. So what’s the problem? Why am I so reluctant to make specific goals?

It might have something to do with fear of failure. Or, maybe it has something to do with my tendency to remain open to new things for as long as possible. If I tell you I’m going to do something, I can’t change my mind and do something else instead. My conscientiousness won’t let me. To compensate I make vague goals. It gives me direction, but doesn’t lock me in.

What about you? Do you find it easy to set specific goals? Reasonable goals that you can achieve? What makes it work for you? If you have as much trouble with this as I do, why? I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve been working hard on revising a young adult fantasy novel, called The Spell, and haven’t had much time in the studio. The above is a small sketchbook collage I made in November of 2017