How To Strike Creative Gold

picture of woman holding gold nugget Last week, your writing seemed fine.

Well, maybe not fine, but at least okay.

The plot and pacing in your story worked well enough. Your poetry flowed. You like where your nonfiction outline was headed.

Then, whammo!

Out of nowhere, your imagination runs dry.

Today, nothing’s right when you write. You struggle with the blank page, clawing for each word. In fact, your entire writing session feels like a complete waste of time.

Is it an off-day…a slump…writer’s block?

Worse, have you lost your gift forever?

No matter what you call it, the truth is…

It’s a problem.

You don’t like it when you can’t write. You feel shaky and abandoned.

 

Why Do Writers Lose Their Creativity?

 

We don’t “lose” our creativity. We can’t just go to the Lost & Found to reclaim our muse.

Life ebbs and flows. No one writes brilliantly all the time. If they say they do, they’re lying.

When you understand what hurts or helps your imagination, you have a better chance of striking creative gold more often.

Sadly, there are endless ways that writers use and abuse themselves. Here are the top five creativity killers.

 

1. Fear 

 

Fear is the #1 killer of creativity. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of 1,000,001 terrifying situations that all end badly.

Fear paralyzes new writers as well as New York Times bestselling authors. That’s fear’s job.

To keep us from writing. To not let our fire burn bright. To keep the status quo.

Yes, it’s intimidating as hell to be on page four of a four-hundred page novel, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

One of my favorite Write to Done blog posts taught me a great trick for dealing with fear.

What’s interesting is that fear is actually a good sign for writers. Self-doubt points to what we want to do. The more something scares you, the more important it is that you write about it.

Let fear guide you to greatness.

 

2. Perfectionism 

 

This is a socially acceptable form of abuse. Seriously.

Most writers suffer from good ol’ feelings of “not good enough.”  Constantly criticizing your work becomes a vicious cycle.

Writing is delicious, but messy. It’s like any other skill – the more you practice, the better you become.

Creativity is not a linear process.

Give yourself room for sucky first drafts. Let yourself make mistakes. Lighten up, and your imagination will thank you with new ideas, stronger prose and more confidence.

 

3. Busyness 

 

Society works 24/7 these days. Overscheduling is almost a way of life.

Many people feel they have to say “yes” to every project, regardless of their schedule, because they don’t live on a guaranteed paycheck.

No matter how much (or little) you write, you need time and space in order to create. We all do. Our minds need downtime to just daydream…ponder…rest.

 

4. Procrastination 

 

This may be the most popular creative killer because it’s so darn easy to rationalize.

Yes, the dishes need washing, the laundry needs folding, and that work email should be sent today. However, most chores and many other time wasters can be done after you write.

Don’t let your list of To Do’s keep you from what you want to do – write.

 

5. Health

 

It’s interesting how we physically hurt our artistic selves, because it’s one of the few areas in our lives over which we have some control.

You’ve heard this before, but going back to the basics will do wonders when you’re struggling.

  • Get enough sleep:  7 – 9 hours is best.
  • Eat nutritious foods:  Lose the fast food. Sugar is the devil! Alcohol is sugar, people. It’s fine to aspire to write like F. Scott Fitzgerald, but don’t drink yourself to death like him.
  • Exercise: You don’t have to go to the gym, just move your body in a way that’s fun for at least 20 minutes a day.

 

Burnout is a horrible combination of any or all of the above.

Either you’ve experienced success and run out of steam, or maybe you want to write a new genre and are afraid of how your audience will respond.

Plus, I’ve seen vicious online reviews scar authors forever.

Equally as depressing is the case for writers who’ve tried for years, with little payoff – neither publication, nor much income from their writing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Strike Creative Gold – In Just Minutes a Day

 

When I first stumbled on this process years ago, I was very much a broken writer. I was devastated at having just parted ways with my literary agent.

I happened to pick up a needlepoint project I’d started, but never finished. I sat on my couch and needlepointed for a few minutes. My mind whirled from pain, then… my thoughts sort of spaced out.

Nothing miraculous happened to me, but during that brief time, I lost myself in the ritual of looping the thread through the canvas over and over.

It felt hypnotic. The hurt was still there, but I needlepointed the next day… and the next…

In the following weeks, I discovered I was recovering from my literary heartbreak. I even thought of a great plot for my fourth novel (which I’ve since completed).

You don’t have to needlepoint. I haven’t done so since then.

 

How to Mine Inspirational Gold

 

Whether you feel crushed like I did, or just want to hit the mother lode more often, try this exercise.

Find a few minutes every day for some creative downtime.

The dictionary describes downtime as “time spent not working.”

  • Pick a solitary, repetitive activity to quiet your thoughts. Think “mindless.”
  • Do your downtime activity around the same time every day for 5 – 15 minutes. Of course, the longer you do it, the more it helps. However, some is better than none.
  • Make it something you don’t typically do. If you’re a jogger, don’t run during your downtime.
  • You do not have to empty your mind. It’s okay if your thoughts wander.
  • Try your downtime activity for two weeks to see results. It may take longer, depending on how weakened you feel creatively. (It took me five weeks of needlepointing each day before I felt better.)

 

So what can you choose as your downtime activity? You could walk through your neighborhood, do yoga, doodle, or dance in your living room.

Or you might prefer to meditate, garden, sing tunes you make up, watch the sun rise or set, draw, paint, crochet, knit, bang on a drum or strum a guitar repetitively.

You might even choose mindless housework like dusting, vacuuming etc. The possibilities are endless.

What you want to avoid are activities that require focus, such as answering emails, writing notes, organizing files and so on.

 

 

Consistency with your downtime activity trains your brain in two important ways:

  1. It gives your mind the time and space to recharge its creative juices.
  2. You give yourself the permission to not produce, to just be present in the moment.

 

Cell phones need recharging each day. Our creativity does, too.

Warning: Don’t be surprised if you resist doing your downtime activity at first, or decide midway that it’s not working, or even stupid.

That’s fear trying to keep you from writing. Don’t let it stop you from pursuing your dreams.

Of course, you can always look for inspiration.

But giving yourself some well-deserved downtime is a surefire way to help you strike creative gold.

What do you do to mine your creativity? Share in the comments!

 

About the author: 

Marcy McKay is the Energizer Bunny of Writers. She’s an award-winning copywriter/freelance journalist who created Mudpie Writing for writers to fight their creative monsters together. Download her free eBook: Write on Fire: Learn 8 Secrets to Overcome Writer’s Block and Pursue Your Dreams.

Image: Woman writing courtesy of Bigstockphoto

 

Stuck for Ideas? 20 Quotes Telling You What To Write About

Picture of woman thinking of ideas

Would You Like to Find Ideas for What to Write About?

You want to write, so you sit down to begin. 

You stare at the blank page or screen. And stare. And stare.

After this happens a few times, you come to the conclusion: “I want to write, but I don’t know what to write about”. You shelve your writing dreams and believe you’ll never be a writer.

Here are some ideas disguised as quotes to banish blank page blues and get you started:

 

Write your truth

 

1. If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. ~ Toni Morrison

2. Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come the most unsought for are commonly the most valuable. ~ Francis Bacon

3. The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. ~ Neil Gaiman

4. I dare you all to write one more thing that you won’t say to my face. ~ Marilyn Manson

5. Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide to anyone. ~ Emile M. Cioran

6. Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. ~ Cyril Connolly

 

Write your experience

 

7. I write for myself things that I’ve gone through. ~ Dolly Parton

8. I write out of my intellectual experience. ~ Tom Stoppard

9. You write about what you know. ~ Larry David

10. And if you don’t live, you have nothing to write about. ~ James Maynard Keenan

11. If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it. ~ Anais Nin

 

Write what gives you pleasure

 

12. Never write anything that does not give you great pleasure. Emotion is easily transferred from the writer to the reader. ~ Joseph Joubert

13. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself. ~ Jack Kerouac

14. Usually, I walk and think about things. When I come across a thought that makes me laugh, I write it down. ~Demetri Martin

15. I like to write when I feel spiteful. It is like having a good sneeze. ~ D. H. Lawrence

16. Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for. ~ Ray Bradbury

 

Write to know more

 

17. I write books to find out about things. ~ Rebecca West

18. Writing a story … is simply an exploration of the nature of behavior: why people do what they do, how it affects others, how we change and grow, and what decisions we make along the way. ~ Lois Lowry

19. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. ~ Joan Didion

 

In a nutshell…

 

20. And by the way, everything in life is writable about, if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt~ Sylvia Plath

 

Each day you sit down (or stand up, or lie down!) to write, you face different challenges to your writing. How do you decide what to write about? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

 

About the author:

Vinita Zutshi is a writer, editor, storyteller and parenting coach. She is also Guest Post Editor at Write to Done and Content Editor at A-List Blogging.

Image: Thinking of ideas courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

 

The One Marketing Tactic That Will Get Your Book Noticed

picture of man holding clapboard

Would You Like to Get Your Book Noticed?

Like you, I don’t have enough time.

Not enough time for my day job, my family and friends, and certainly not enough time to market my new book, Breathing for Two.

Oh, did I mention not enough time to write? That too.

So the last thing I ever wanted to do was make a trailer for my book. Sure, I could record myself talking the book up — not a bad idea if I already had fans, but hardly my concept of compelling video. And if I didn’t want to watch it, why would anyone else who didn’t already know me?

Thinking about the time and money it would take to make a book trailer — or paying someone else to do it — made my stomach churn. Not to mention that I’ve never bought a book based on a trailer, or ever run across a trailer that didn’t bore me to distraction.

 

What’s the problem? 

 

Let me go out on a limb here and say that most trailers are over-produced.

Why is this? The problem is an embarrassment of digital riches. It used to be that only major outfits could make movies. No more. Got an iDevice? You’re a producer.

It’s so easy to produce video that it’s intimidating. Most trailer-makers, including professionals, get carried away and try to do too much. When you throw in everything but the kitchen sink, the result looks cheesy.

The real trick is learning what to leave out.

But I didn’t realize this until I encountered Iris Has Free Time, a brilliant trailer that is so NOT boring I watched it twice again after I first saw it, just to see how it had been stitched together.

In The Creative Confidence Matrix, Mary Jaksch talks about how letting go of ideas and preoccupations will create beginner’s mind. That’s what happened to me when I watched Iris Has Free Time.

That 2-minute video helped me to re-frame the making of a trailer. I forgot it was impossible.

Suddenly, the difficulty was transformed — what had been a time-and-money-sucking beast now appeared as a creative puzzle to solve.

 

A trailer is an ad, a spell

 

Its purpose is to arouse your interest and seduce you to consider a purchase. A lot of trailers involve talking heads—fine if you already love the author. But many last several minutes. I ask you: do you want to spend that long watching a commercial?

The trailer for Iris Has Free Time was plainness itself: a string of still photographs of a young woman (in a tutu!) underscored with a modest piano tune. There was some barely noticeable written text. The sequence took place over a single day, and was utterly captivating.

How much did it cost? Could be the publisher spent a lot hiring professionals. Could be the author herself shot it on a lark with a friend.

Either way, when I saw it I thought: This is thrilling. It’s something I want to try.

Not because book marketers say a trailer is necessary. But because the thought of all that simplicity filled me with enthusiasm.

I couldn’t wait to see what I was going to leave out.

 

Arousing curiosity for an odd bird

 

My book Breathing for Two is an odd bird, and I didn’t think I could fully explain it in a trailer. But now I knew I didn’t have to (simplicity!). All I had to do was get people curious.

I wasn’t going to copy Iris, obviously. But I would go for the same clean lines. I liked that you didn’t even know Iris was a trailer until you saw the book’s cover at the end. That bit of structure I would keep.

Breathing for Two is about my day job, anesthesiology. It’s non-fiction, a short, poetic dissection of life at the head of an operating table, meant for the curious. People are intrigued when I tell them about the book. But what elements would best get them to ask for it? That’s what would go in the trailer.

 

Constraint forces creativity

 

As a filmmaker, I am an amateur. I have no special knowledge or equipment. But I do know something about simplicity—that it comes of limitation. And limitation, far from obstructing creativity, frees it.

Have you ever been to Portland, Maine?

After a devastating fire in 1866, residents rebuilt their town entirely in brick. You might think this would make a dreary, monotonous landscape, but native architects responded to the challenge with a riot of inventiveness that continues today. Portland remains a city full of whimsy and charm, and red brick.

Was there a way I could make my limitations work for me? What I lacked in chops and resources, could I make up for in resourcefulness?

That thought led to more specific questions: What tools did I already have? What elements (voice, music, photography, drawing, etc.) excited me? How could I combine them to make something that was good enough to show?

After a day or two spent pondering, I came up with three ingredients that appealed to me, and that I thought I could work with: a voice-over, music, and a few video shots of my hospital day.

 

I knew the narration already

 

The first paragraph of my book’s prologue is short and a bit mysterious. Why reinvent the wheel? I would employ those words and I would say them myself. I used a free program, Audacity, to record with my computer’s built-in mic and add some reverb. Cost: nothing.

Could I have used written text instead of voice? Sure. It’s easy to add text with video editors such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. Many trailers use text, but I believe it signifies an opportunity lost. Nothing is more resonant or persuasive than the human voice. And everybody has one.

Does your computer lack a built-in microphone? A zillion inexpensive smartphone apps record live voice and music, and send it to your desktop—Retro Recorder ($.99) and HT Professional Recorder ($9.99) are two that work well for the iPhone.

Don’t have an iPhone? I bet you have a friend who does.

 

The visuals

 

Still photos, paintings, sketches make great montage, and it’s easy to add image files into video editors. Just drag and drop. There are myriad low-cost or free sources of stock photos and art on the web such as Wikipedia Commons, Dreamstime, Photobucket, fotolia, Clker, morgueFile.

Better than stock photos and art, though, are photos and art you make yourself. Better because it’s you. Better because it’s free. Better because it’s unique.

You’re not a photographer? Ahem. Is it even possible to take a bad photograph with Instagram and the hundreds of other add-on photo apps?

You’re not an artist? Ditto ahem. Take a look at the cartoon art of James Thurber. Take a look at Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript artwork for Alice in Wonderland, rejected by his publisher in favor of the more “polished” drawings of a professional artist.

 

Lowering video expectations

 

Stills would have worked fine for my trailer, but I wanted motion. Why? Because I got fired up thinking about it, and I’d already thought of a sequence of shots.

I wanted video to match the narration’s tone: mysterious, almost dream-like. The look of an old, black and white film would suit. I found a plugin for Apple Final Cut Pro that would work. Cost? $200 for a video camera, $300 for Final Cut Pro, $1,000 for the plug-in.

Oops.

In 4 Ways to Hack into Your Mind, Ollin Morales argues that lowering your expectations leads to unexpected results. Could I come up with a less expensive solution using tools I had on hand?

On my iPhone, I have a video program called Super 8. It makes camera video shots look like an old, Super 8 movie, complete with glitches—and you can shoot in color, or black and white. Android phones have similar apps.

I arrived at work early one day and walked around the empty operating room, iPhone in hand. Problem solved.

Revised cost? $.99 for Super 8 — much better.

 

Listening for music

 

Voice by itself is often enough of a soundscape, but I thought a touch of background music would add color, if I didn’t overdo it.

Where would I get the music? As it happens, a few years ago I had noodled around with some loops in a friend’s Apple Logic program to create a tonal piece. It now seemed just right for the atmosphere I wanted.

Don’t have $200 for Apple Logic? Use a program like Garage Band (free with a new Mac; otherwise $14.99 in the Mac App Store) or Mixcraft, the Windows equivalent ($10 for a month’s use.) Not a music noodler? Check out the Free Music Archive.

Maybe you play an instrument? Or your friend does? Try recording on an iPhone with the $10 HT Professional Recorder app. Can you tell the difference between that and the sound produced in a million-dollar studio?

I can’t.

 

Editing your trailer

 

You need an editing program to put your elements together. Most everything you want can be found in Windows Movie Maker (free) on a PC, or iMovie on a Mac (free on a new machine, otherwise $14.99 in the Mac App Store). You can find fancier programs for less than $100—make sure to trial before you buy. No need to splurge on Apple Final Cut or Adobe Premier unless you plan to turn pro.

All editors are alike, more or less. The interface has three areas:

  1. A timeline at the bottom where your video and audio tracks go, and where it’s easy to rearrange segments or edit out what you don’t want
  2. A preview area where you can watch your movie, and
  3. An area where you keep elements you want to add in — sound files, images, video clips, etc.

Everything works by drag and drop.

I used the Pinnacle Studio editor app ($12.99) to put all the elements together on my iPad. It was up and running in half an hour.

I had three tracks: the video I’d emailed from my iPhone to my desktop and then synced to my iPad through iTunes. And two sound files (music and narration), similar iTunes transfers.

 

How to upload your trailer

 

When your trailer’s ready, open an account on a video service like YouTube or Vimeo. Many editing programs will upload to these directly, or you can export your trailer as a movie file and upload it manually — the sites provide instructions.

If you run into descriptions of technical terms such as codexes or compression, you can forget about them. Your trailer will be too small a file to worry about compressing.

Once your trailer is uploaded, link to it. Better, copy the embed code (click on “Share” — upper right corner of the trailer on Vimeo; underneath the trailer on YouTube). You can paste the code into any blog post, as below.

 

And the winner is . . .

 

Did my trailer adequately summarize my book? Not really, but that wasn’t its purpose (remember: lowered expectations). What I wanted is to make people curious. You be the judge.

Breathing for Two trailer

Intrigued? Ask me about it.

 

The bottom line

 

Total out-of-pocket expense for my little experiment? $13.98.

Total time spent? I won’t kid you. I spent 4-5 hours a day for several days doing what I described above: 2 days figuring out what to do and researching how to do it, another 2 days on the narration and video, and 2 days editing and uploading. On the seventh day, I rested.

I didn’t work every day, so from start to finish it took a few weeks. But still, how did I find the time? I don’t know. I was fired up. I was a filmmaker! Other projects lost their luster and I put them on hold.

Of course, I’m not really a filmmaker. Neither am I a media techie. When I started, I had no idea what I was doing. What I had were my limitations. But that’s the point. If you use the tools you have, your limitations will parent your creativity.

I didn’t get carried away with all the snazzy things you can do in video editing programs. I decided in advance what elements I would use, and how I’d use them. I played to my strengths. Your strengths are different. And your trailer will play to those.

 

But I’m writing sci-fi on another planet, or a fantasy romance in the middle ages!

 

Okay — you probably can’t afford to shoot a large landscape action sequence with professional actors in costume. But why bother? You’re not making a movie. You don’t need to tell the whole story.

Go with your theme. Go with one detail. Why did you write your book? What do you love about your main character? Talk about that. Show it in a single image.

On my wall I’ve taped an old Sister Coreta postcard with the caption: Turn your avoid dance into a void dance. I always liked the words, but never really got it until I attacked the trailer problem.

Maybe, like me, you’ve put a trailer or some other project on hold because it seemed too agonizing to contemplate? Maybe it’s time to let go of your ideas and preconceptions about it and become a beginner. You might find, as I did, that your limitations will ignite you and lead directly to your creative source.

If Iris Has Free Time isn’t your cup of tea, here’s a stack of fantastic trailers. Here’s a collection of the best and worst.  Here are some made by elementary school kids. Take a look to see if anything grabs you—maybe you can do it better, simpler, and for less money.

You might surprise yourself. I surprised myself. I love my trailer, and I love talking about it (can you tell?). Who knows — it might even sell a few books!

Ready to give it a whirl, or do you still have doubts? Tell us about them. Maybe you have some favorite trailers? Share them in the comments, please!

 

About the author: 

Wolf Pascoe is a physician, poet and playwright. He blogs about mindful fatherhood at Just Add Father. His book, Breathing for Two, is available on Amazon.

Image: Man with clapboard courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

The Creative Confidence Matrix: Write With Confidence – Part 2

write with confidence

How to Write With Confidence

Do you want to write with confidence?

I’m sure you do. As writers, we yearn to feel solid ground under our feet – and that’s what confidence promises.

However …

High confidence is the enemy of good writing.

In this post, we’ll look at confidence from a Zen point of view, and I’ll introduce you to Beginner’s Mind, which is the ultimate creative state of mind.

 

Where are you on the Confidence Continuum?

 

Confidence is the belief in one’s powers or abilities.~ Oxford Dictionary

The word ‘belief’ implies that confidence is a subjective idea, the sum of thoughts and stories about our ability.

But it’s not only our thoughts and stories that determine confidence. We are social animals and confidence doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

We are all somewhere on a continuum between being dependent on the opinion of others at one end, and being independent of the opinion of others at the other end of the spectrum.

write with confidence

Where are *you* on this continuum?

Some people need a lot of outward indicators of success to feel confident, whereas others may feel certain of their ability, despite few markers of success.

For example, as writers we might want to take feedback from readers,  or reviews, or book sales, or blog comments as indicators of our ability as writers. But this kind of confidence is built upon shaky ground, as it’s dependent on the reaction of others.

In contrast, here is a different stance:

I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.  ~ Anna Freud

How can you find this inner strength? Read on to find the answer.

Keep in mind that there’s more than one kind of confidence. There are two distinct types: performance confidence and creative confidence – and it’s important to understand the difference between them.

 

What do gymnasts, musicians, brain surgeons, and pilots have in common?

 

All performers need to develop a high level of performance confidence. 

Performance confidence means mastery gained through practice and repetition.

Whether you’re a musician, an athlete or a pilot, or any other kind of performer,  the training requires that each move is practiced over and over until it becomes automatic.

The more you practice as a performer, the more your confidence grows.

Unfortunately, this kind of confidence doesn’t apply to writers. 

Each piece we write has to be unique and we can’t use repetition as the foundation for confidence.

 

What writers, composers, and painters need

 

Creators need creative confidence.

Creative confidence means that you trust in the creative process. This kind of confidence can’t be reached through repetition; it comes through learning to access a creative state of mind.

In order to show exactly how confidence and creativity interact, I designed the Creative Confidence Matrix below.

 

The Creative Confidence Matrix

 

Matrix (noun)
1. An environment or material in which something develops.
2. A mass of fine-grained rock in which gems, crystals, or fossils are embedded.

The Creative Confidence Matrix is a framework for understanding the interplay between confidence and creativity.  It can help maximize your creative confidence.

martix image4.001

As you can see, the Creative Confidence Matrix is divided into four quadrants. The two on the left-hand side, Doubt and Arrogance, are harmful to the creative process, whereas the two on the right-hand side, Beginner’s Mind and Confidence are helpful.

Let’s take a look at each quadrant in turn.

 

The problem with ARROGANCE

 

Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas. ~ Donatella Versace

Creativity is our brain’s way of solving problems. It’s triggered through disconnects, and springs into action when we see some dots – but can’t quite connect them. That’s when the creative brain kicks in and finds a solution.

The mind-state of arrogance sends a signal to the brain that you have all the answers. Because of this message, the creative brain isn’t triggered; there is no conflict of ideas.

When people feel arrogant, they dismiss any ideas that might conflict with what they believe is right. This is why arrogance kills creativity.

 

How DOUBT affects creativity

 

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~ Sylvia Plath

Doubt puts a damper on creativity. It’s a self-absorbed state of mind which generates anxious questions. Like these …

Am I good enough?

Have I got anything to say?

Will people laugh at me?

Can I do it?

Do these questions seem familiar?

Doubt means that the mind is consumed with negative personal stories and memories.

When the mind is consumed with personal stories, creativity takes a break. The reason is simple: to be creative, the mind needs to be open to receiving new ideas.

 

Why CONFIDENCE isn’t always helpful

 

When you know something well, you feel confident, right?

Imagine for a moment that you are a runner and want to write about running.

You know about running, about the grind of training, the highs that come with pushing yourself beyond your limits. You know about technique, and about gear.

You are confident because you know about the topic.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

And it is. It’s good for utilitarian writing. With this kind of confidence, you can crank out article after article quite quickly. But that’s all it’s going to be: utilitarian writing.

The reason why confidence hinders you from writing something out of the ordinary, is that when you ‘know’ something, your brain goes to sleep and your creativity doesn’t even get off the sofa to greet you.

It really depends on what you want as a writer.

If all you aspire to is to crank out articles in the shortest possible time, then this kind of confidence will suffice. But if you aspire to grow as a writer and learn to create outstanding fiction or non-fiction, then the confidence that comes from a sense of knowing will be more hindrance than help.

For example, Alan Sillitoe ‘knew’ all about running. But he needed to let go of all ‘knowing’ in order to come up with his inspiring short story, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”  – which is still a bestseller, half a century later.

 

Why BEGINNER’S MIND is the ultimate creative state of mind

 

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. ~ Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Master

There is a state of mind that taps directly into our wellspring of creativity.

In Zen it’s called Beginner’s Mind. It’s a state of total freshness where you experience everything anew in each moment.

Beginner’s Mind is the direct route to creative confidence.

In this state of mind, you have no expectations, no fixed view of yourself, or preconceived ideas about what you are going to create. Your mind is open and receptive.

Beginner’s Mind connects you directly to your wellspring of creativity.

Here is why…

Imagine that you are searching for a particular channel on the radio. But all you can find is a mix of channels where you hear music, an advert, a news report – all at once. There is also a faint voice that seems to be giving an important message, but it’s drowned out in the cacophony.

The ordinary mind is just like this.

As you start to write, there may be many different thoughts going through your mind.

You might be thinking anxiously about whether you can write well enough. At the back of your mind there may be a niggle about an unpaid bill, or you may have some stray thoughts flitting through your brain about what groceries you need to buy, or why you got into an argument yesterday.

And somewhere, in all of this, is the quiet voice of creativity that is offering you ideas on what to write about.

But the voice of creativity is drowned out.

When you access Beginner’s Mind, the chatter in the mind drops away, you become receptive, and your creativity comes into play.

It’s really quite simple:

When the mind is preoccupied, there is no space for creativity.

 

Here’s Zen story about this:

Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor said, “The cup is overflowing!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and ideas. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

It’s the same with creativity.  When the mind is preoccupied, there is no place for creativity. It’s only when we let go of thoughts and stories in the mind that the creative wellspring within us begins to flow.

This is the power of Beginner’s Mind. 

Read on to find out how to access it.

 

How to access Beginner’s Mind

 

You might wonder whether it would take hours of meditation to access Beginner’s Mind. The answer is that it’s simple to access Beginner’s Mind, but difficult to maintain it. That’s where regular meditation practice can be helpful.

There is a lovely way to access Beginner’s Mind. It’s the practice of the half-smile. Lift the corners of your mouth slightly for the space of three full breaths. (You can think of this as ‘lip yoga’).

When you try it, you’ll immediately notice a mind-shift that makes you feel calmer and more receptive. You’ll also feel a surge of creativity.

At first, you may find that the state of Beginner’s Mind is fleeting. But the more you practice it, the more you can sustain this calm, creative state for longer. Try sticking notes saying BEGINNER’S MIND on your computer or your work-station. Every time you notice one of the notes, take three breaths and practice the half-smile.

The more you access Beginner’s Mind, the more you’ll learn to trust the creative process and be able to write with confidence.

What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments …

 

About the author:

Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at WritetoDone.com and Creator of A-List Blogging. After creating two super-successful blogs of her own, Mary has dedicated herself to teaching students to grow profitable blogs that attract attention. Take her fun quiz to see how much you know about what makes a blog successful.

Click here to read part 1 of our Write with Confidence series.

Image: Landscape with book courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

The Secret Fear Of Every Writer – And How To Subdue It Every Time

Would You Like to Subdue Your Writing Fears?

Would You Like to Subdue Your Writing Fears?

Do you sometimes sit in front of a blank screen and wonder why your brain just isn’t working?

I can almost hear your response: “all the time”, “in certain situations”.

I think very few writers could respond to that question with a resounding “no”.

I’ve had two conversations this week with would-be writers. The first believes he could write, with just a little practice, but finds every time he sits down that he just doesn’t know where to begin.

The second would love to write, but believes the craft is reserved for those who are ultra creative and talented, so she doesn’t even try.

Both those attitudes scream fear.

Most of us recognize and understand this fear. It’s a fear of the unknown. We feel it when we take a new route in life. And if the fear is successful in overpowering us, we back-pedal right away.

But what about those of us who aren’t new to writing and still feel fear?

 

Removing the ‘Fear of Failure’ band-aid

 

Fear is talked about a lot in the writing world.

Often we’ll apply a one-size-fits-all Band-Aid, and blame our fear on a momentary lack of inspiration or writer’s block, which may well be the case on some days. But more often than not, we’re dealing with the kind of fear we won’t admit to, or may not even be aware of.

The fear I’m talking about isn’t to do with writer’s block or lack of creativity.

It’s about believing we have something worthwhile to say.

 

Comparison—the thief of creativity

 

When we doubt the worth of our words, it’s a pretty safe bet that we’re comparing their value to the words of other authors and bloggers. Comparison is deadly, yet it seems to be inherent in human nature.

If we look at what other writers have to say and value it above our own work, we create a barrier between the page and our authentic words. It’s a paralyzing barrier.

The healthiest type of comparison is to compare our work with our previous efforts and try to build on that.

 

Why we don’t talk about it

 

We don’t talk about this hidden fear because if our life is writing, then everything we are is wrapped up in what we have to say. If we doubt what we have to say, don’t we then doubt who we are?

Well, no.

Every writer –every person who shares their art—doubts the value of their work at some point in their career. But doubting what we do is different from doubting who we are.

 

To write is to take risks

 

Every time we sit down to write, we take a risk.

-          We risk our words being rejected.

-          We risk our work being compared to others’.

-          We risk revealing parts of ourselves we may not want others to see.

That’s the nature of creativity; we’re sharing a part of ourselves. And sharing who we are is always risky because it makes us vulnerable.

But we keep going, encouraged by our audience and ignited by our passion.

That doesn’t mean we’ll always deliver according to expectations, be it the reader’s or ours.

 

When an audience is waiting for your words

 

Every artist has off days.

Think of your favorite musician. I bet you can think of a few songs or even albums that haven’t made it to the iTunes popularity bar; the ones that didn’t really inspire you.

Even well-known authors have books that don’t harvest the reviews they may be expecting.

I’ve seen it happen. I’ll pick up a book by an author I like and there’s a certain expectation. But sometimes I feel let down. I think, “This is not good. Not up to their usual standard. How did this even get past an editor?”

Sometimes we can become complacent with our writing. Often the reader will forgive. At other times it may result in a big fat ‘F’.

The scenario we feared actually happens. It’s normal. Not all of our work will be received with open arms.

The question is: how will we take that experience and use it to better ourselves as artists?

 

Connecting with your reader

 

Reaching that place of vulnerability after a setback, or even doubting the value of our words, is a good thing. It puts us back on track and helps us to re-evaluate our goals.

The last thing we want as writers is to be sitting up a tree far out of reach of our audience. In that place, we are unable to hear what they want or need from us.

But when we sit in the fear, ground ourselves, and hang out with the people who scare us the most, we are forced to listen. And then we write what we believe will be valuable for our readers.

If your reader has come to value your words, they will keep valuing them—unless you deliver something completely off the wall that doesn’t align with your voice, style, or who you are.

 

Writing through the fear

 

Writing takes courage.

Of course if you’re writing an article about French cuisine or fitness, it’s not such a courageous feat. But if neither topic is your passion, then that’s not where your fear is going to be either.

If you’re passionate about recycling, you’re going to inspire others to be passionate about recycling. Your best work is where your passion lies.

With passion comes emotion. And with emotion comes vulnerability.

If you embrace openness in your writing you’ve done the best you can do. Your only responsibility is to say what’s in your heart and be true to yourself, your audience, and your subject.

After that the world can do what it likes with your words.

 

Do you sometimes compare yourself to writers you admire? When you doubt the value of your words, what helps you write through the fear? Join the conversation in the comments below!

 

About the author:

Claire De Boer is an author, editor and creative writing mentor living in Vancouver, BC. She blogs at www.clairejdeboer.com and is currently offering a limited time only free critique for writers.

Image: Secret fear courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com