L – Listen, or Not


Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child. anything can be.
Shel Silverstein

This has been a favorite quote of mine for the last year. The very idea that we can choose who we listen to is liberating, isn’t it? It’s our responsibility, of course, to choose wisely and to choose balance, but the choice is still ours.

We can choose to listen to people who talk only of the difficulty of publishing traditionally, of how hard it is to be discovered or build up sales, and all the rest of the doom and gloom. And it may be that the more moderate of those voices will help us.

We can choose to listen to people who honor creativity, believe in effort and and opportunity, and general affirmations of us as a person and as a creator. And it may be that many of those voices will help us.

The important thing is that we choose who and what we listen to.

Who are you listening to? How does it affect your creative work?

K – Write What You Don’t Know

People say to write about what you know. I’m here to tell you, no one wants to read that, cos you don’t know anything. So write about something you don’t know. And don’t be scared, ever.”

–Toni Morrison

I have written before on the idea of writing what I know. I’ve also written on my own fears of not knowing enough. Sometimes I get stuck halfway through a piece because there’s a niggling worry that I’m getting it all wrong or that my world is somehow incomplete.

Worldbuilding is, for me, a true pain. I want everything in place in my work. I want systems upon systems explained, if only in my head. But I don’t even know a fraction of anything about this everyday world outside my own head. Why, then, should I expect myself to know and understand every custom, culture, geographical region, etc, in my fiction?

I recently read an article called “Against Worldbuilding” in Electric Literature by Lincoln Michel about the way the concept of worldbuilding has gone from pertaining to a specific set of fiction (particularly fantasy and science fiction) to being widely applied to all genres, story types, and stories. Michel goes on to say that the concept of worldbuilding itself is a “counterproductive concept for most types of fiction” and offers the term “world conjouring” to use instead.

The idea of world conjouring is not to know everything in order to portray reality, but to give an illusion of a reality that can carry the reader forward. Rather than getting bogged down in the details, the writer instead conjours a world that a reader can believe in—even if not everything can be explained.

My ongoing struggle is finding a way to convince myself to conjour a world without knowing the systems or the build behind the illusion. In other words, I have trouble—in a lot of ways—of letting go of my own reality. But to write well, or to write a believable story, writers need to fall for their own illusions.

I hear characters in my head, so I guess I’m halfway there. Now I simply need to translate that world they see into one the reader can. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find I know more than I thought.

Do you write what you know? What’s your take on worldbuilding?


J – Joy

Whatever I do is done out of sheer joy; I drop my fruits like a ripe tree. What the general reader or the critic makes of them is not my concern.
Henry Miller

Here is a corollary to Heart. This is a two-fold topic; the first part is finding  joy in  your creativity, joy in filling empty pages with words. It should be fulfilling in some way even if we’re frustrated with a project. Immerse yourself in the process and wring from it every last drop of joy and satisfaction.

It’s an inner game. We may need to suspend thinking about our plans for the piece. We may need to shut our minds to the process of publishing (or not). It takes a bit of determination and a bit of courage at the start. Letting yourself feel the joy of creating is allowed. In fact, it’s encouraged! If you don’t enjoy it, why do it?

The second part is letting go. When the project is done to the best of your ability (including beta readers and editors perhaps) it is time to move on to your next project. There’s a saying that a book isn’t finished by the writer. It’s finished by the reader. An artist doesn’t finish a canvas. The viewer does.

Our experience with a piece ends when we’re done. We get to keep the joy and satisfaction of its creation. We get to keep all we learned and all we expressed. Now it’s time to drop it like ripe fruit. Now is the time for your work to live in the world.

It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of it. Not really. The world can’t steal your joy in the creative process. And remember, people interact with books and art based on where they are and what they see. We have no control over their interpretation or experience. There’s no need to pay attention to who examines your fruit, who turns away from it, or who takes a bite. Your job is to keep making those fruits with sheer joy. No one can take that from you.

How much joy are you experiencing in your creative life?  Are you finding fulfillment? If not, what steps could you take to get more?

I – The Intersection of Inspiration and Ideas in Writing


“Turning I would to I did is the grammar of growing up.”
― Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno

I just returned from a Tommy Emmanuel concert, so I’m on a bit of an inspiration high. In fact, during his concert, in between managing a solo operation of bass and melodies and rhythms and that constant motion of music, he said: I think life itself is a pretty good source of inspiration. He went on, however, to explain that he gets inspiration from anywhere or anything, and then proceeded to play a song that was inspired by a movie he’d seen—and particularly a character within it.

I find it interesting how artists of all breeds manage to take the everyday idea and craft it into something artistic. This intersection of inspiration and life—of finding our ideas from the lives we live every day—eventually becomes the foundation of our characters’ inner worlds, the words on the page, the stories we long to tell. I also find it interesting that many creative pieces are founded not so much even on general life—but on the people living it.

On another note, I recently read Anthony Marra’s “The Tsar of Love and Techno,” a collection of interconnected short stories that thematically revolve around one painting and the way it and the place it portrays affect a handful of characters’ lives over the course of several decades, primarily in Siberia and Chechnya. The story weaves together time and place and people, binding them though many don’t realize how they’ve been bound, and I remember putting it down after reading the final page, thinking: Wow. We’ve come full circle.

I have a special fascination and appreciation for the connectedness of ideas, especially when an author can craft a story that casts this link like a subtly shifting shadow: it never quite leaves your vision, but when the sun hits it just right, you catch a clear, glimmering fragment of truth. You start to wonder how you never saw it before: the way it holds you still.

Life is like this. We see it all in fragments. Ideas are much the same way. Inspiration, too, is often a ghost. Occasionally seen, but always fleeting. We have to carve our own paths and make our own inspiration, and if by chance, we have one of those moments where the words are clear and the music is alive, we should jump on the chance to complete the process.

Everything comes full circle. We are inspired by life and we find shadows of ideas simply by living it. Hopefully, we write them down, and in doing so we turn our I woulds into I dids, creating pieces we can be proud of, connecting ideas and building systems to complete a concert others will long to return to again and again: for the characters, for the music. For the voice that will hold them still.

What inspires you to write?

H – Heart

Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart. Don’t be concerned about whether people are watching you or criticizing you. The chances are that they aren’t paying attention to you.
Eleanor Roosevelt

There’s so much I could say in respect to this quote, so many directions this quote could take us. Paring down all that could (and perhaps should) be said is no easy task, and most of it is simply restating what Eleanor Roosevelt already said.

From all that I’ve read and all of the people I’ve talked to, hesitation in embracing a creative practice of any kind comes down to fear. There’s fear of the unknown, fear of disappointing ourselves, and most common, fear of judgment . . . especially while we are still learning skills.

It’s such a shame. We don’t allow ourselves to (knowingly) make public mistakes any more. Thus, we don’t develop either the resilience or the freedom to learn the skills we desire, or even to live the life we wish in many cases.

Isn’t that how we become trapped in lives of respectability but no passion?

I have plenty of soap boxes tucked into my closet. This is just one, but a big one. I believe we have a birthright to pursue creativity and other interests that enrich us and bring us joy (as long as we aren’t hurting others, of course). We should all be given the freedom of personal creativity without criticism, including the time we spend developing the necessary skills. It should be inculcated from childhood, prevalent in our school systems, and part of human rights.

If I can convince anyone to follow their hearts and blind oneself to others’ opinions (until they are wanted), I feel I would have given back to the world. Same goes for convincing creative people to choose carefully who they share their work with, because no one needs someone else’s bitterness flavoring what we love. Pouring your heart into your interests is so personally rewarding, it’s worth giving up that fear.

Please pursue your creativity. Painting, dancing, acting, writing, or whatever you love, do it for yourself. Do it for joy. Don’t pay attention to what the rest of the world thinks.

As Eleanor said, they probably aren’t watching anyway.

Would anyone like to share my soap box? There’s plenty of room. 🙂