I thought the Professional Author’s Brain (PAB) would be different. Back when I started down this road to become a published author, I accepted that disparate ideas and motivation would war against my love of story writing. I was an amateur after all, and that creative writing/professional writing degree didn’t really prepare me for reality.
Four years into the real deal, I’m not sure anything could have given me a heads-up about being a professional author. Or what really went on behind the forehead inside a PAB.
True, continual writing and seeking feedback from more skilled writers could equip me with the TOOLS I needed. But there isn’t a book or course that can tame the beast inside my brain.
I know this because I’ve read an endless stream of writing craft and career books from successful authors, and I’m still scratching my head over some aspects of the whole “author gig.” I’ve also taken multiple courses offered online and at conferences from published authors who are also competent teachers (and as an educator, I can tell the difference).
What did I get? More knowledge. More tools.
Nothing to discipline the genius inside my heart, soul and mind.
The part some people call “The Muse,” but I’m inclined to agree with Elizabeth Gilbert’s assessment that we all have a genius at our disposal, and it isn’t subject to the spurious whims of the gods.
What? You didn’t know Muse is actually a Greek goddess, patron of artists everywhere.
Now you do. And that explains her fickle game plans and unpredictable work schedule.
What I’ve learned as a professional author is that you can NOT wait for the Muse to show up before you work. You have to sit your rear in the chair and do the work.
But, the truth is: Muse work reads like poetry and my work affects me like a C-level college essay. So why write the words are going to sound so…average?
Why didn’t my brain shift into a different gear once I decided to go “pro”? Surely professional authors with a string of best sellers and a backlist that fills five Amazon screens don’t have problems tricking their brains into work mode. And their Muse must show up for eighty percent of their writing sessions.
You’d be surprised what best-selling authors do to trick their brain to do its best work. But, I can’t rely on the bag of tricks they share as “writer’s gold” in their blogs, memoirs and books on writing best sellers.
Because most of it is nothing more than fool’s gold to my brain.
My Creative Brain
I come up with ideas for stories quite easily. Too bad that’s NOT the hard part.
I might be standing in the grocery line and here are some things that would grab my creative genius:
The cover of a gossip rag in the magazine stand
A snippet of overheard conversation
The set of the cashier’s shoulders
The look a stranger gives as he passes by
The contents scrolling across the belt about to be purchased by the person in front of me
There’s no shortage of ideas in the world. Anyone with a spark of imagination can come up with hundreds of ideas during a one-hour brainstorming session.
In fact, I never need to brainstorm story ideas. What I need to learn is how to multiply plot points that will compel readers to turn the pages.
Because while the idea pool is deeper than the Mariana Trench and wider than the Pacific Ocean, the number of ideas which will generate an entire, interesting story or novella (forget the gargantuan required for a novel) fit in an espresso cup.
The Other Half of my Brain
And that little puddle is where the other half of my brain refuses to play. It likes the splash of plenty in the ocean of ideas.
Why narrow things down? Won’t it be more fun to play with all the interesting water puppies? No, Brain, it only leads to frustration.
Except for when it causes plot holes. Or there’s an off chance it will peter out in the dreaded middle of the story. Maybe it locks itself in a tower and conveniently misplaces the key.
The left brain has lots of fun, but at some point the right brain (PAB) must approve all the fantasy-babble. It has to contain enough truth to suspend the reader’s disbelief. And this half of the brain is like a wet blanket on the fiery creative half.
So why can’t I convince this half of my brain to “create” like a professional author?
Because it doesn’t tends to cage the fluttering explosion of ideas and the Muse doesn’t survive behind bars.
In other words, professional authors learn to write IN SPITE of the flibbertigibbet whiff of inspiration and genius.
Me? I’m still trying to escape the beast with all my limbs intact. What sort of things do you imagine go through a PAB? Any questions for this full-time author that might light a fire beneath the Muse?
At the suggestion of an author I follow, I checked the audiobook of BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR written by Elizabeth Gilbert. After all, I needed something to listen to while I cleaned the house and logged miles on the pavement.
In case you’re not familiar with authors, Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, so she had a little authority in the are of creativity. As a bonus, she narrated the audiobook.
What’s the Magic?
Inspiration is the magic behind creativity. There’s tons of noise about listening to your muse and being inspired by certain things.
Gilbert has an interesting view on inspiration. She proposes that ideas are the offspring of inspiration. Ideas float freely through the air around us, buzzing into the hearts and minds of various people, looking for a receptive venue.
When they find an artist that pauses to consider them, they stay awhile. They plant their seedling concept into a ready mind where the willing artist considers it.
If the artist, waters and feeds and otherwise tends the idea, it happily grows and flourishes, until finally it becomes the premise for a novel, theme of a painting or thought behind a symphony. Then it goes fully formed into the wider world to be viewed and appreciated by everyone.
Should the artist give up on the idea, it won’t wait around forever. This is why sometimes when we set aside a project for awhile, when we come back to it, the magic is gone. We can’t get into the flow again. It suddenly feels stale and unimaginative.
Gilbert has proof for her hypothesis regarding ideas. It’s a real eyebrow-raiser, and involves an exchange of ideas with Ann Patchett through nothing more than a touch. That’s all I’ll say about that. Read (or listen to ) the book if you want to know the whole score.
Gilbert’s advice: consider art as a vocation rather than a career. Even if you do it full-time. Once you call it a career, the weight of responsibility (to pay the bills and feed the artist’s family) presses against ideas, stifling them.
She names many fears and addresses her own methods for counteracting them. She debunks the idea of a “suffering artist” and proposes creatives fill their well with love for their art. The art will reciprocate with kindness.
I enjoyed the various anecdotes and personal experiences shared by Gilbert. This will be the only book of hers I have ever read (although I did see the film version of the best-seller mentioned above, but we all know it was NOWHERE as amazing as the book).
Although I’m not entirely convinced of her theory regarding ideas, I can see how she would have made the conclusion she did.
Ideas are inanimate. However, the Creator of all things could very well send them on the air and into the hearts and minds of people He wants to develop them.
I have said, “Inspiration struck. The words poured out of me.” However, this isn’t inspiration in the sense of “God-breathed” scriptures.
Instead, I mean an idea bloomed and was ready for harvest. It responded to my watering with introspection and my feeding through brainstorming or research. It’s growth can no longer be contained in my heart and mind,
Idea explosion makes me adore writing a first draft. Sure, some parts of it might be a struggle, but I’ve learned to skip to the part the muse want to expel. The other parts will fall in line–eventually. Or maybe they will end up being summarized, nothing more than connective tissue for the brain child birthed with a minimum of labor.
A few lines jumped out at me, and I scrawled them down. They’ll be fodder for reflection in the quiet corners of my mind.
It’s true fear dampens creativity, can destroy it altogether. This is why I chose “dauntless” for my word this year. And why I’ve embraced the unexpected opportunities that have flowed my way this year.
BIG MAGIC isn’t an especially long book, so I recommend it if fear is stifling your creativity. It can’t possibly hurt anything, right? And it might invite the Big Magic of Inspiration to drop an idea (or ten) in the fertile soil of your imagination.
If you’ve read this book, what was your takeaway? What fear stifles your creativity?
Legislating away my right to create is criminal. Sometimes its the weather or circumstances that commit the crime which freezes imagination. Might as well hit it with liquid nitrogen.
Creativity holds an artist hostage. It plagues the mind at inopportune moments (like when I should be sleeping). The very element of creating can wind up like a fast-pitched softball and, if released too early, peter out short of the plate (our expectations).
Lately, I’ve been keeping up with one of my betterment goals designed for No Fear this Year. It involves reading an inspirational book before bed at least four nights per week.
The current read looks to link creativity and spirituality. It’s an interesting connection, but I’ve yet to sell myself on its reality.
The Difference between Soul and Spirit
Even though my title mentions the creative spirit, I believe creativity emerges from my soul.
The soul is the part inside me that makes me have the character, personality and world views that distinguish me as an individual. While I strive to grow my character to look like Jesus Christ’s, I’m certain my personality is not a thing like his. Because I’m a woman living in the 21st Century, my world view looks completely different, too.
On the other hand, the spirit in me is what makes me alive. It’s the breath of life that God gave Adam on the day of his formation. It’s the thing that keeps my heart beating and lungs working without any conscious thought on my part. And if the spirit of life leaves, then those automatic functions stop, too.
Therefore, I believe the soul is the source of my creativity and the spirit the source of my existence.
Can creativity be linked to spirituality then?
The Difference between Heart and Mind
There’s another level of personality that I see as diverse. Decisions I make might originate in the heart but are carried out by the mind.
The heart is the seat of my emotions. This is where I feel the death of the hunting dog in Where the Red Fern Grows. It’s where disgust over political lies or ire about injustice kindle and ignite.
Is this linked with creativity? Is creativity all about emotion?
My mind is where reason holds court. It listens to the exclamations and rhetoric of the heart’s reactions, and it weighs that in my soul’s world view balance. If it deems there is sufficient reason to act, the mind wills my mouth or body to do so.
I hope my mind is engaged when I’m creating. It should be running the show when I’m worshiping, too.
In this case, I believe both the mind and the heart are involved in pursuits of creativity and spirituality. Things that are emotion-driven might seem to come from the heart, but the heart is only a messenger. It can’t act apart from the mind. (Although there are times when I let my heart lead and wished I’d thought things through a little better.)
Creativity or Spirituality?
This brings me back to my original inquiry. Is there a link between my creative self and my spiritual self?
Unless I’m two people, there’s a link. It’s me. My individuality that shines forth through my lifestyle.
Can the spirit operate on it’s own? Or is spirituality tied to every facet of life because it is the seed of life?
If only I had the answer. Perhaps when I finish the book, I’ll know for certain if these two aspects of my being are related. At times, I’ve felt deeply spiritual while being wildly creative. However, there are plenty of instances when I was quite spiritual without a creative thought, and creating like mad without being spiritual.
I believe that means they aren’t mutually exclusive. Perhaps I would be more creative if I focused wholly on strengthening my spiritual side. But am I less spiritual when I set my imagination free?
The truest crime against my creative spirit is giving it a question like this that has no definitive answer.
Do you think creativity and spirituality are linked? What drives your creative spirit into hibernation?
I can’t really do a stay vacation. So instead, we take a short road trip to our “home resort” near Bend, Oregon.
Stay vacations are for people who need to get some projects done at home. But since my office is at home, I have a heard time avoiding the tasks awaiting me. As long as I’m at home.
So, I look forward to even a slight change of location.
Even if I plan to do some work on vacation.
Eagle Crest lies on a plateau in Central Oregon halfway between the yuppy city of Bend, the growing town of Redmond and the tourist site of Sisters.
Two decades ago, we visited there on a “free” pass from my parents. The caveat…we had to listen to a sixty-minute presentation of the vacation timeshare plan.
Since then, the resort was purchased by Trendwest, Worldmark and then Wyndham (or was the Worldmark/Wyndham more of a merger?) and our options have expanded twenty-fold.
Two short golf courses, paved walking trails, and a number of private subdivisions comprise the resort grounds. If the weather isn’t right for golf, there’s an indoor pool and two different recreation centers.
For a person with an unlimited budget, there’s a spa and salon.
I finished my first editing pass of ELEPHANT IN THE TEAROOM before we left for the vacation. That felt good.
No, that novel still isn’t ready for submission. It will get two more editing passes before I let a professional read it.
I carried the rough draft of my romance novella, the narrative portions of my grief memoir outline and an idea notebook over the mountains.
All of it hanging out on my computer hard drive or, more likely, in the virtual storage of One Drive.
My oldest son and his wife are coming down for the weekend. There is an anniversary event that we’re attending on Saturday, so I know I’ll be playing those days.
If I get two or three hours of quality work in on the five weekdays, I’ll be pretty pleased with myself.
Lord knows the change of scenery is sure to inspire my creativity. I know Ms. Muse loves sunshine, fresh air, outdoors and even a day of shopping.
If you’ve followed me for long, you know I’m more of a “I have a vague idea what I want to do” vacation planner.
My husband suggested the High Desert Museum. Several friends asked if we were going to ski Mt. Bachelor because they’ve opened a few new runs there. Bend has an outlet mall, so my inner-shopaholic threw that hat in the ring.
We drive down Friday night after work, stopping at the Dairy Queen in Sandy for dinner. Our house guests plan to arrive an hour or so later. We talk and play some games.
On Saturday, we head to the anniversary celebration. The kids head in the same direction because her grandfather passed away, so there’s a ton of family around and she has an obituary to write. (I know, it doesn’t sound fun to me either.) We plan to rendezvous back at the condo for a burger dinner and more games.
The kids leave on Monday, but we fill our weekend with plenty of games. They even let me win. That’s a nice change of pace from the usual “Whoever gets Mom on their team will lose.”
The weekdays will be more relaxed. Since Monday is a holiday, I’m in favor of staying at the resort to avoid the craziness.
Then bring on the museum and shopping for the rest of the week.
Except, no. We believed them about a 30-minute owner update. Which we had to drive to Inn of the Seventh Mountain to attend.
Three hours later…
When will we ever learn?
We did manage to do a little shopping. But the museum was out. And my husband didn’t even bring his ski clothes (although we talked about packing them.)
I enjoyed a long overdue pedicure while he checked out a tool store.
I needed something other than gray skies.
The snow was beautiful. It stifled some of our outdoor activities, but most of the time, it melted by noon. And the sun peeked through the clouds.
Sometimes it was sunny, so we’d head out for a walk. And then out of nowhere the wind picked up and rain, sleet or snow added a little adventure to an afternoon power walk.
As they say on the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Are you a fan of a stay-cation? What do you need before you consider time away from home a vacation?
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Things are changing in my world. One of the biggest changes that I’m relishing is being the mother of the groom. Of course, this calls for a scrapbook.
As mother of the groom, I don’t play an integral role in most of the planning. I’m okay with that. I want to be kept in the loop, though. Offering to record the event in a scrapbook gave me a perfect reason.
Life events should be enjoyed while they’re lived. But they should also be documented. This way the joy can be revisited through the years.
When we had our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I enjoyed flipping through the wedding albums I made. The memories rushed back in vivid detail once more.
Time fades our recollections in the same way sun leeches color from our curtains.
We can’t bring our curtains back to full-color. Our recollection of events? It can be revived through visual stimulation.
As for the upcoming wedding, only a few plans have been set solidly in place. One of those – the dress – has been written about before.
Anyone who puts together a scrapbook, realized the paper makes the book. Seriously.
This is why any craft store will have an entire aisle of single-sheet specialty paper. And another aisle loaded with books of assorted papers.
It should have been easy to find a wedding-themed book of paper I loved, right?
Someone isn’t crazy about lace. Since this book is for her, I tried to avoid the books with mostly lacy-looking backgrounds.
Apparently, most brides ADORE lace.
Once I found a book with enough pages, I had to decide which backgrounds fit with which events I’d be documenting. Good thing I can always pick up more papers. After all, a scrapbook is designed two pages at a time.
The shopping excursions and final dress selection is the content shown on the four pages which record the hours days-long search for the perfect dress.
During those escapades, the bride and her mother snapped photos with their phones. (What did we do before our phone could take snapshots?)
After the shopping trips, they forwarded the pictures to me. It was my job to sort through them, deciding which ones represented the overall experience of the day.
Since only one trip involved most of the bridal party, I chose many pictures from that day. After all, bridesmaids are an important piece of the successful wedding pie. (Or would that be cake?)
This bride went through the process of selecting a dress in a methodical manner. I must say, I was truly impressed. What happened to trying on every single dress until you fell in love with one?
If you know what you want, why waste the time and effort?
An assortment of pictures comes from the rejected dresses. Generally, there were parts of the dress that met the criteria. The pictorial rendering points out those sections, in hopes of reminding the bride of her genius.
For the bride, the dress is a HUGE portion of her wedding day. That’s one of the reasons it’s one of the first things my lovely future-daughter and son will see when they open their wedding scrapbook.
Next year when it’s finished – or ten years from now when they want to stroll down memory lane.
Next in this series is The Engagement. Guess I should actually put those pages together before I write about it.
I’m in “The Zone.” Freshly brewed coffee tantalizes my nose. The whir of the espresso machine and drone of conversation fades to background music.
When the muse visits, a writer’s environment becomes inconsequential.
She sings her siren song. Her whispers spur my fingers to ever higher speeds on the annoying bluetooth keyboard attached to my tablet.
Not a chance I can keep up. Her tempo could challenge an Indy 500 winner. The music floods through me, vibrating in my chest like the deepest notes of a free-standing bass.
Why does she visit me today – in this place? The past few days, she refused to even glance in my direction.
Is she capricious? Did I offend her with my indecision about what project to tackle next?
As much as I’d like to understand her whimsy, there’s no time for interviews. I must capture her warm breeze of inspiration and translate it to words on the page.
My fingers cramp. The low battery warning flashes across my screen. Can I even risk the time it takes to find the power cord? Is there a power outlet nearby?
Ms. Muse laughs with abandon. A quirk of her fingers warns of her intention to move along. I must keep up or lose the creative spark she lends my story.
Ancient Greeks called her genius. I don’t want the responsibility of such a title. I long for a few dabbles of it in the beginning of my latest work. No agent could reject the writing of a genius, could they?
So, I type on until the red bar in the upper right corner fades to black.
Thankfully, there is this thing called auto-save.
And voice recording. But that requires me to leave the sweet-smelling coffee shop behind.
People stare at me, sitting in the front seat of my car and talking. To no one they can see.
It’s not as easy to catch the words when my voice overwhelms the fading chant of the muse. I press on until the spark fades.
With a sigh, I return to the regular press of writing. It’s my job to put words on the page. I love the creative process.
My sadness spurs from the knowledge that my words pale, lacking the genius of what came before.
Perhaps, my inspiration will visit again tomorrow. Either way, I’ll be tapping away at the keys, content to fill the file with my own ideas.
I’m a writer. I write – with genius when she calls – but more often from the well of my own soul.
What helps you call up your muse? Do you feel your words are sub-par when the inspiration isn’t guiding you? What keeps you writing – no matter what?
Do you? Does your daily life take you through your dream landscape?
Since I wasn’t being wowed by the uniqueness of the homes on the Street of Dreams, my writer brain went to town to make a life connection. It doesn’t take much to wind up my creativity.
I found three parallels between my experience with the million-dollar homes and my pursuit of a writing career.
When someone tells me about a million-dollar home, I’m expecting either an enormous lot or unique features.
If you read my post last week, you know I didn’t find either of these at the Street of Dreams. I found million-dollar homes with fantastic fountains and more floor space than I ever want to be responsible for cleaning.
Lot size? Not much considering how big the homes were. In fact, I could see clearly into all the neighbors’ yards from the second story balcony of one of the homes. Not much in the way of a private setting.
I’ll be honest about the writing career. I knew I needed to pen a million words before I could expect to begin to perfect the craft of novel writing. I have penned more than 750,000 (yes, I keep track) in the past two years. I’m still pre-published.
In fact, this writing gig is much harder work than I expected. Some days all the words I write sound trite or infantile. Other days getting the words out feels like an exorcism (not that I know what that feels like, but seeing one thanks to Hollywood – uh, similar screaming and pain quotients).
Comparison: Expectations while traveling the street of your dreams are never met. Bag them.
Staring at the amazing great room, kitchen, dining and outdoor living area of the dream home we most loved dropped my jaw. I could visualize it teeming with the people I love – some of them aren’t even born yet.
An ooey-gooey swell of deliciousness warmed me from the inside out. A stuffed turkey roasted in the professional-grade natural gas oven. Trays of appetizers lined the granite-covered buffet along the wall of the dining room. A fire crackled in the great room and outside on the covered patio.
I wish you could see what I did and feel the emotions swelling like a tidal wave inside me. That’s the awe factor we expect from our dreams.
Writing, the dream of my heart, parallels this experience.
Fingers flying over the keyboard. Words, sentences and paragraphs become pages, scenes and chapters. Characters are born on those pages. Lives explode with love, fear, anger and adventure.
Hours pass and only the movement of the sun from my front window to my back deck signifies it. I’m engulfed in the fantasy of my creativity.
This exceeds what I imagined pursuing my dream and being a full-time writer would be like on a daily basis. No paycheck? That’s what you think. Contentment in the dream feeds a hungry soul and clothes lagging confidence.
Epiphany: Living the dream is like having Thanksgiving dinner every day.
Imagination is the bedrock of my chosen path. If I can’t visualize, I’m not going to be able to write a story that comes to life either.
My vision of a million-dollar home includes elevators, stoves that cook entire meals without me and a private setting in the middle of the woods.
The Street of Dreams in reality? Stairs I had to climb, even though some of the homes had three levels. Professional quality gas stoves but no automation that would prepare meals at the touch of a button (don’t get sassy about a microwave here, either).
Worst of all, I could see acres of trees in the distance along the ridge of Mt. Scott. Below that were fields of homes, too many to number. So much for tranquility in my million-dollar sanctuary.
Creating a story from nothing but my imagination is what I visualized when I pictured me as a professional writer. I have done that – seven separate times in the past year.
Of course, what I’ve done to take that first novel (well, actually the third; the first two had to be thrown away. They were me writing to find the real story) to a place where it’s ready for public eyes is hardly that glamorous – or enjoyable.
Weeks spent rewriting after reading through the first draft almost felt creative. Revising every sentence to make it sound literary – creative but pushing tedium. Rewriting a third time based on the comments and criticism from my beta readers required a firm hand.
“You will write today. I don’t care if you’re sick of this story. You have a goal to meet.”
Revising the 300 pages to smooth the cadence and perfect the prose rivaled a marathon. I was unsure if there would be enough chocolate to see me through to the end.
Still…not…done. Now, comb over every sentence, looking for grammar, usage and typographical errors. Gladly send the thing to someone else for proofreading.
Time to query agents. Time to fix the dull beginning. Time to rewrite the first fifty pages because a professional finds them flawed beyond redemption – almost.
Nothing like I visualized.
Truth to be learned: real life is nothing like the dream. It can be better, if you’re willing to work on reality conforming it to the reality you want.
My allusions might not resonate with you. Or maybe they do.
How has your dream measured up to your expectations and visualizations? Or how has the awe factor kept you moving forward?
I thought I would try something slightly different for my “wordless Wednesday” posting. The picture I’ve shared here is one of my favorites from my early morning strolls around my neighborhood.
What I’m asking my readers to do today is to help me write a poem based on this photo (I have already written several because it’s a very inspiring picture). I will begin. Add your two lines in the comments. Make sure you read all the comments so you see where the poem is headed and follow the rhyme scheme (which I hope emerges).
Thanks for humoring me today.
The Sun also Rises
Golden rays burn across the blue
Pushing beyond the wind-kissed trees
Muse, Greek goddess of artists, gifted her favored ones with inspiration to create fantastic and original works of art: sculptures, paintings, poetry, songs. Actually, lucky for the Greeks, there were nine goddesses.
Greek city states produces creative art, I’m sure.
Often, we creative types like to blame our personal muse when what we write is subpar. Or if we aren’t feeling especially creative. If the toast burns.
Yeah. Ridiculous. What is a muse anyway? Is it a real or imagined phenomenon?
Aside from the capitalized version referenced above, the noun form of muse means “a source of inspiration; especially a guiding genius” (Merriam-Webster).
With such a broad definition, a muse could be anything. Maybe the sunrise inspires you. It could be a walk that helps your creativity flow. Reading quotes from a literary genius like Shakespeare or a satirist like Mark Twain might incite you to write.
Whatever makes you itch to practice your art becomes your muse.
Real or Imaginary
Artists who depend on the elusive muse to visit them before they can create have made her a crutch. Why cripple yourself? Time to throw away the cane, Tiny Tim, and stand on your own two feet.
Ideas sparkle in the air around us. Open your eyes and ears to the world and you will discover an inexhaustible source of inspiration.
I believe some things I’ve written have been divinely inspired. Other stories emerged from dreams. According to the dictionary definition, whatever inspires us can be a muse.
In my case, my muse defies definition. When a story is fresh, the ideas flow. The story becomes my muse.
Often a walk early in the morning causes poetry to flow. Is it nature or exercise acting as my muse?
When you say, “I’m waiting for inspiration to hit” instead of writing, you harelip your muse. I believe the muse is available as oxygen. We only need to open our artistic lungs and inhale her.