Posts Tagged: creativity

My Characters

Writing

I thought it might be time to add another post about my writing process. Not that anybody’s asked for it, but I think it’s interesting to know how other writers go about putting their stories down on paper. So, I figured someone else might be, too.

First things first: At this point I am totally hung up on short story writing. I like a story I can get down on paper (I write my first drafts in a handy-dandy composition book) in just one sitting; two if it’s on the longish side. I don’t have a great attention span, either, so short stories suit me that way, too. Mostly, though, I’m gonna blame it on my main characters. They never seem to need more than a couple of thousand words to tell their tales.

Which is probably the main point of this post in the first place. When I write a story, the days or hours before I sit down to it always go something like this: I’ll think of a really good opening line for a story. Maybe I’m in bed about to fall asleep, or in the shower, rinsing my hair. Once I read a non-fiction story and was so struck by an observation in it I immediately knew I had to use that line.

Having that opening line is crucial, for me, because it’s how I find my characters for the story. Who would say something like that? Why? Who would she say it to – another person, or maybe to herself?

Sometimes I have a vague idea of how the story will go, but usually not. Most days, I sit down and start writing and the character tells me what to write next.  Not in a I hear voices in my head sort of way, though. The story just comes out of my pen.

My most recent story, about a fourteen year-old drug addict, happened this way. I knew she was a cocky kid named Darla when I sat down to write her story, but that’s about it. Turns out she has a big purple birthmark on the right side of her face and found herself in a rehab group for adults. Who knew?

Darla did. I learned it yesterday, and now you know it, too.

My question, at this point is: Are you interested in reading the story? I don’t like to technically publish my stories here because if I’m able to publish them anywhere for pay, it needs to be previously unpublished. However, if you’re interested in reading Darla’s story, leave a comment below. You’ll have to sign in with an email address, but then I can send you a link 🙂 Sweet!

Don’t get me wrong. I love to write, LOVE IT, but eventually I’d LOVE IT even better if I could make a living from it. While I’m working on that part, I sure would like your support and to start to grow a following. I’m not looking to get famous, really. I don’t think I’d like it, honestly. But a hardcore group of people who like reading my stuff as much as I like writing it? That would be awesome!

Scones, and other scary foods

cranscone2Recipes intimidate me. Or some of them do, anyway. Here’s one silly example: I never attempted to make pie crust until I was almost 50. My Grandma used to make the thinnest, crispiest, most delicious pie crust and I always figure I wouldn’t come close to measuring up to hers, so why bother. Until one Thanksgiving a few years ago, that is. I had a hankering for homemade pumpkin pie and nobody else was planning to bake one, so I did. And surprise of all surprises, pie crust wasn’t hard to make at all! Huh.

This morning, I decided to make scones. I’d never tried to make scones, either.Because? Well, because I am very picky about my scones. I they must be crumbly – not bready or cakey. They must be sweetened, but not sweet. And they should be flavorful, but not over-the-top bold. That’s a tall order, right? Especially for someone who doesn’t have a great understanding of how to experiment with baking recipes. I generally love to experiment in the kitchen, but baking is different. If you mess up in baking you may just end up with soup or something… Not that I have anything against soup, I love soup. But, if you’re expecting a pretty bundt cake and you end up with soup? It’s a little disappointing.

Anyway, today I made scones. I actually did do a little experimenting. The recipe called for orange zest and I’m not a big fan of orange-flavored baked goods, so I used apple cider instead. Now hold on a second before you go yelling at your screen. I know apple cider is nothing like orange zest. But I did look up substitutes for orange zest and the page listed orange juice or lemon juice, so I figured apple cider might work. Plus, the scones I made were cranberry and I like apples and cranberries together, so I gave it a shot.

I’m not sure if it was the little bit of extra fluid (just a big T of apple cider), but my scones turned out much too cakey 🙁 And while the cranberries were bold, I wish I’d chopped up some dried cranberries instead of using the whole, fresh ones the recipe called for. Plus, salt — there was no salt in the recipe! I’m not a huge user of the stuff, but it goes so far by way of sprucing up other flavors. I think a little salt would have been a good thing in this instance.

Long story, short: Will I try the recipe again? I think so. But I’ll make some of the changes I mentioned above and also research why the texture was off. T tablespoon of extra fluid doesn’t seem like it would make that much difference. I dunno.

Why did I want to bake scones this morning in the first place? Remember yesterday’s post about being frugal? Well, I had extra cranberries in the fridge from a delicious cranberry cake I for Christmas and I didn’t want them to go to waste. Pinterest to the rescue! Although, now, sitting here, eating my scone with a nice cup of coffee? Now I wish I’d make muffins.

Frugal McDougle and the month of saving

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As a family, we decided that January 2016 will be a month of cutting out excess expenses. Why? Uh, to be honest, we’re not the most frugal of people. Actually, we are much too loose with our wallets much too much of the time. So we decided to cut out the crap and see what we have, in the way of extra money in savings, by the end of the month.

We definitely have challenges facing us, though. For one, we have friends who will be in town later this week for the Consumer Electronics Show. We don’t technically “host” them while they’re here (sometimes they stay with us other times not), but we always go out for dinner once or twice. In case you couldn’t guess, a dinner out in Las Vegas can get pricey before you’ve even finished ordering appetizers. Also, we have an anniversary coming up toward the end of the month and that usually warrants a date night. Then we have a cleaner scheduled to come clean, dogs who need grooming, and my Starbucks latte habit to feed. (Side note: See? I told you we tend toward the frivolous rather than the frugal.)

It’s true, we’ve come to be in the habit of free spending. All that means, though, is that we can come to be in the habit of tight-fisted spending. Mostly we need to change the way we look at money and what are appropriate ways to spend it. For example, during the past several months I have been feeding my latte habit almost on a daily basis. I would go, every day, notebook in hand, order a latte, and sit for four or five hours and write. I got in the habit of writing at Starbucks and also in the habit of spending $5 everyday for fancy coffee.

This year (all five days of it, thus far) I have been writing at home. I drink the coffee that’s in the pot in my own kitchen. Am I less inspired to write? Not so far, but I haven’t sat down to a writing spree of 5 hours yet either. So far, I’ve saved myself $25, though I have to admit, because complete transparency is the thing to do these days, that I bought myself a latte during my writers group last night. We’ll see what happens next week. I might decide that a latte once a week is okay with me and my budget goals.

That’s the thing, though, right? My budget, my priorities. A weekly latte would have sounded too decadent 20-some years ago, but my life was very different back then. I’m not willing to give up my writers group meetings; improving my writing is a top priority for me. However, I don’t need a latte to join the group, so…. I obviously have some more prioritizing to do.

Putting all the challenges aside, I can say I have planned out a few strategies:

  1. Cook all the food stuffs in the house before I buy more food. It’ll require some creativity, but I’m always up for that. Plus, Pinterest is everybody’s new best friend in the way of new and interesting recipes!
  2. Eat my leftovers!!! I’m not so great about that all the time. And sometimes, even, I’ll buy some unusual veggie with plans to cook it, then get unmotivated for that particular experiment and it ends up going bad in the crisper drawer. I know, I know. I’m a bastard of a wasteful American.
  3. List my expenditures every week. That way I can review what I’ve spent and decide what still feels too frivolous.
  4. Pinterest (again!) ideas for a fun and free anniversary date. Date night doesn’t have to mean spending lots of money. Plus, I love making my own cards 🙂
  5. Clean my own damn house. House cleaning is not my favorite thing to do, by far. But it’s a nice chunk of change to add to the + column. I won’t even try to guarantee it’ll be a consistent life change, but I’ll give it a shot.

I think that’s a good start. I’ll update here with my weekly expenditures as well as new ideas.

What about you? Have you ever purposely made plans to save more money? What worked? Did you feel deprived? What did you do with the extra windfall at the end of the month? Please share!

How to Splurge (when you’re not)

Sometimes I drift into the mindset that splurging means to spend money on myself or the people I love. What a narrow definition, when the reality is that we can splurge in all sorts of ways. They’re all special and important, for different reasons. Besides, it’s important to splurge on ourselves and it shouldn’t cost us months of wages to do it.

With this in mind, here’s my short list of the best ways to splurge. None of these ideas require a dime. All of them can inspire how you focus on life:

  1. Redefine what it means to treat yourself. A treat can be anything from a new spatula to a new yacht, depending on your mindset. I got a replacement debit card in the mail the other day. It was so sleek and shiny, and had a chip. I felt a little thrill at its newness. It was nice. And what is a treat but something that gives you a nice little thrill?
  2. Do it just for fun. Every single thing we do anymore seems like it has to have a bonus, preferably a monetary one. How about we do it just because it sounds fun as hell? I want to make my own yogurt. I’d like to give it a try… I wonder if I’ll like the whole process of it, or the finished product. I don’t know. As a child I constantly said, “I wanta see,” and would push my way in so I could. I liked to learn because it was fun, so I pushed in. That sort of describes the person I am now, come to think of it. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
  3. Define your space. Do you have a room or even a little corner that’s set up exactly the way you want it? No matter how tacky or sparse or eclectic, the space is all yours and makes you feel like you can take a deep, easy breath. My space is filled with photos I’ve taken and rocks I’ve collected, nothing fancy or new. The point is, we could all use a private spot rn.
  4. Make it simple. The word count of my first draft of anything is usually high. Then I edit, to simplify my concepts. This doesn’t mean the words I use are simple, but sometimes they are. It does mean that I will find the precisely word that I need. It’s elegant, right? Using the exact word you want. I like simple specifically because it’s elegant. But also because I hate complicated If my brain has to work too hard to follow a train of thought, I lose interest.
  5. Savor things. Food? Yes, of course we savor foods, but what about a beautiful sunset? What about a hug that really means something? I’ve learned to savor my fiancé’s snoring because I know if he’s not snoring, he’s probably not sleeping comfortably. Clearly the things we savor are peculiar sometimes.
  6. Make it an event. Going out to dinner with your honey? Dress a little fancier than usual, even if you’ve been married for 31 years and can’t remember the last time you shared a meal with anyone else. Wrote a paragraph or finished a puzzle you’ve been struggling over? Celebrate it! You deserve the recognition. I think, partly, we focus so much attention on the financial side of life because we completely forgot there are other ways to illustrate value.
  7. Commit to this moment. So much time is spent split between thinking about this when we’re doing that and all the while preparing to do something else. Smart technology is making it easier all the time to successfully concentrate on 2 or 3 or 8 tasks at once. For me, I’m at my most content, my sharpest, my highest level of functioning when I’m concentrating on doing one thing only. It’s very Zen, this concept. Alternately, it’s been described as flow. But they’re just different ways to describe concentrating all your attention on what is right in front of you.

Some might say to challenge yourself to be in the moment. I say design your life so these moments are a natural outcome of living. And what about this? What if the first six steps I listed lead, quite naturally, to the seventh? Wouldn’t that be neat?

And there it is. I don’t know if it will or not, but I sure am prepared to give it a try. Because, why not? There are worse ways to spend my time 🙂

Creative

Creative 600(Day 9 of 30)

This is one trait I actively work on from one day to the next. I write. I photograph. I weave a little bit (which is a hobby I’d like to expand on in the next year). I do some paper cutting. And when I’m feeling fun-ish, I am likely to be involved in some sort of crafting something or another. The last and quite successful crafty project I did was tube sock snowmen. What a fun craft night that was!

But I have a problem with my creativity that I feel makes me a little less than artistic. I am always much too concerned with getting it “right.” Replace the “it” with whatever project I’m currently involved with, but the “right” part? Well, that’s the conundrum. Who’s to say what’s right or wrong when it’s a pure product of my imagination? I suppose that would be me, but I usually feel like there’s some external judge looking over my shoulder saying things like, “Hmmm… That line could be cleaner.” Or “The angle of that photo is not quite right. Should have moved to the right three inches and knelt down on one knee.”

If I’m writing, those criticisms range anywhere from choosiness for what word is right, to whether I really need this comma or that one. Then there’s the structure of the story, not to mention how the story will unfold, etc., etc., etc. It’s all a bit ridiculous. I am a little bit ridiculous, to be particular about the issue. Right?

I know I’m not unique in this struggle for creativity vs. perfection. It’s the cause of writer’s block, yes? It causes some of the most creative people to freeze and keep their amazing work trapped in a notebook tucked away in the bottom of their sweater drawer. It causes heartbreak, misgivings and probably more than a sleepless night or two.

I recently visited a Picasso exhibit which may have cured me (fingers crossed!!) of this unreasonable need for perfection I have. In it was displayed a series of 18 lithographs Picasso created of the same subject “Two Nudes.” Each was dated and named State 1 through State 18. Although each was unique in its way, some were very similar, but the progression was obvious and moved from authentic depictions of two nude women, unusual for my idea of Picasso’s work, but then moved by the last few pieces to his more typical (is typical even a valid description of Pablo Picasso?) stylized vision of the human body.

I spent more time in front of that series than I did the entire rest of the exhibit. Picasso, this master of Modern creativity, was so playful in his work. Gazing from one to the next to the next made me realize that he was not concerned about getting it right as he was about getting it out, then moving on to the next piece.

So what if my next word isn’t quite right? So what if I didn’t get that dialogue perfect? Sometimes the imperfections add the special quirks I love most.

As a result of seeing that series of works by Picasso, I have started a series of my own. I am sticking to 18, like he did, but mine are 18 written pieces based on a single subject. It’s a fun little experiment. And if nothing else, it’s a creative endeavor. I’m not letting those judgey voices pop up inside my head, or whisper in my left ear as they stand over my shoulder or wherever it is those damn judges usually stand. I’m just not allowing it. So there.

Cheating life

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I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating. ~Sophocles

I don’t understand why people cheat, in life. Generally.

Why cheat? Is that how you want others to think of you, as a cheater? As a person so unsure of her value that she has to “enhance” it? Fake it to tip the balance in her favor? I just don’t get it.

Think about this:There’s makeup, plastic surgery, facial peels, implants, rogaine, viagra, all marketed to appeal to our insecurities. American consumerism says we are what we buy. Do you want to be judged on all that stuff? Because in my mind, it paints a picture of weak, silly, and shockingly insecure. We’re a whole damn bunch of sick, sad cheaters.

Because we’re not happy to be ourselves.

Here’s one example: I’m not sure if I consciously go bald faced, but I rarely wear makeup. I only put it on when I want to feel especially fancy. Maybe it’s because I’d rather not spend the extra time in front of the mirror – I can be showered and ready to go in under 30 minutes. Or maybe it’s because I’m lazy. Making up my face takes a lot of effort. The point is it’s fake, all that makeup and stuff; it’s a way to cheat reality, to make us, falsely and temporarily, feel better about ourselves.

In case you’re wondering, I do realize that wearing makeup is also  a means of self-expression, like clothing choices are. But does your makeup (the face you show to others) define you or does your character (the face in the mirror)? Everyone will answer that question differently, and that’s as it should be. But if it makes you uncomfortable to even consider, or you can’t/won’t answer that question, chances are you might need to spend a little time thinking on it.

Because, instead, we could focus on what really matters. Does accentuating my brown eyes have any real bearing on my personhood? Of course not. That’s the reason I don’t wear makeup much. I’d rather be doing things that feed my soul: I’d rather meditate or weave or write a poem, maybe. Those pursuits “create” me into the person I intend to be. I want to be unique and interesting and worthy of others’ attention — I’m no different than anyone else — but I don’t want it because of some makeup hack I learned on Youtube.

All that stuff, the “cheats” we buy, they’re false shortcuts. Focus attention away from the mirror and toward whatever it is that’s making you feel like less than you want to be. You’ll find real answers there. It’s not the quickest way to “look your best”, but I promise you this: eventually you’ll notice a sparkle in your eyes, and that’s a beauty unlike any that comes from your makeup case.