29 ways to stay creative [Pt. 2]

See Part 1 here!

Collaborate (preferably with creative people), because collaboration opens you up to different points of view. My issue is that I’m sort of a control freak, and I need to learn to let go of the reins sometimes. Taking risks? I am not there. Too lazy. This is something I need to work on, because I’ve realized that whether it works or not trying something new always leaves me feeling revitalized. Getting lots of rest makes my brain feel good. The mornings after I get a good night’s sleep I wake up feeling I could write the world.

Going somewhere new wakes my brain up! It shakes up all my preconceptions and stagnant old ideas and forces me to look at everything like its brand new. Counting my blessings helps to remind me that I am awesome (despite beating myself up sometimes). Dancing stretches my muscles and gets the blood pumping to my brain, plus the sheer movement leaves me feeling electrified all the way to my fingertips.

Don’t force it. Seriously, don’t. Every time I force my writing it ends up sounding strained and unsatisfying. Kinda like how straining on the toilet bowl doesn’t leave you with half as much relief as  when everything flows freely. Not that I’m comparing writing to poop. But there may be hidden connections.

Break the rules. But first you have to know what the rules are, right? People who have bad grammar and spelling because they’re lazy are not being creative. I think having a healthy respect for the rules allows us to use them in novel ways, not necessarily breaking them but bending them a little. Plus the rules are more like guidelines any way.

Except this one: Read a book. Read a book. Read a book. Read more than one. Read them all. A clever Harry Potter fan once told me that the progression of fandom was thus: first you read, then you write [fanfiction] then you RPG. For me, reading was the water to my seed of creativity and the world around me was the nutrients in my soil. The sun is sometimes hot but you can always bring much-needed rainfall by opening a book and disappearing into its world. Reading directed the turn of my thoughts and marshalled the flow of my words; reading taught me to think and speak and write. The act of reading (and reading critically) is indispensable to being a writer.

And while you’re at it, stop trying to be someone else’s perfect. I need to tape this one to my wall too because goodness knows I have pushed myself and pushed myself to be what other people want, and all it leads to is frustration and a whole lot of guilt.  We humans have about 70 years to enjoy this world, try to be happy and somehow leave behind a legacy. Most of the time the perfection we are trying to achieve is a figment of our imagination and that someone would have been just fine with us being ourselves. The important thing is to find what perfection is to you, and be that. Or as close to that as possible. (And if you figure out how to do that, tell me).

Just like making lists, it’s really important to write down your ideas. No matter what you tell yourself, they are not going to stay in your head. This has happened to me several times. What I’d like to try is writing out my ideas as soon as they pop into my head, not just one or two lines but a whole paragraph of novel thought.

Cleaning your workspace works for the simple equation that a clutter-free workspace = a clutter-free mind. When I am surrounded by unnecessary crap, my brain feels surrounded by unnecessary crap and I get this mental image of piles of garbage I have to dig through before I find that one nugget of inspiration. It’s much easier to tidy my desk than it is to go searching through the layers of my mind.

We’re winding now, and finishing something gives you such a boost of confidence that you can harness to start something else. I am at my most prolific when I can finish a good draft in one sitting because it spurs me on to write two or three more. I have learnt not to underestimate the power of feeling accomplished.

And, of course, along the mad, creative journey we’ve all chosen to embark upon it’s important to have fun. I have learnt this time and time again. As long as you’re having fun, you’re not doing badly at all.

The (famous) 29 ways to stay creative [Pt. 1]

Today I was given the always relevant advice to be critical, never accept something because “that’s just how it is” and always form your own opinions. I’m going to apply this advice to these oft-touted 29 Ways.

There are actually two slightly different versions of 29 Ways, for designers and writers. The one I’ve shared is for the aspiring writer. I believe all writers are aspiring, published or not. Like actors, we’re only as good as our last production. I must admit that not all of these Ways strike a chord in me, like. . .

Making lists. Is this really necessary to the creative process? I thought lists were the pinnacle of un-creativity; I thought they were a cop-out in the endless battle to publish or perish. Now you’re telling me they help your creativity? I’ll take that one with a grain of salt. Carrying a notebook, however, is a brilliant and timeless idea. I forget more than half the good ideas that spring into my head, simply because I’ve nowhere to write them down. I’m behind this Way 100%.

Sketch? I can try, but I’m not promising anything magical. I think exercising your creativity in multiple ways is a good idea though. That way when I get bored of words (never!), there’s still pictures. Getting away from the computer deserves an Amen. Too often, I shackle myself to a screen that does nothing but sap me of all my creative energy. As soon as I look around outside, I realize how wonderful the world is again.

I need to post this one on my wall: quit beating yourself up. There is nothing like guilt for ruining your motivation. And taking breaks? I’m against them when I’m waist-deep in working on a project but they are good for you. Our minds need rest and rejuvenation and forcing it to work for hours on end is like slamming it repeatedly against a brick wall. Eventually something’s gonna give (and it’s not likely to be the brick wall). This isn’t to say I haven’t produced some of my best work after working for nine hours straight, but that work probably could have been better.

For singing in the shower, see my thoughts on sketching and being open.

Being open has got to be the best and hardest to follow piece of advice on this list. Openness is the only way we’ll get a reciprocal flow of creativity where you put stuff out there, but stuff also gets to filter in to you and filter through you. I’m sure not everyone will agree with drinking coffee, but I embrace the caffeinated concoction wholeheartedly. Coffee is the blood that fuels a writer’s veins.

And feedback. That hard to come by, hard to swallow, never quite what you want to hear necessity of the writing process. But I prefer hearing that my story is boring and riddled with typos from a friend rather than the unforgiving internet.

Listening to new music and surrounding yourself with creative people are all about inspiration and avoiding stagnancy. If you can do these regularly, more power to you. As for me, creative people intimidate the hell out of me and give me an inferiority complex the size of Jupiter. But they are still pretty amazing to be around because you pick up all sorts of important, handy stuff.

Practice, and don’t give up. I am bad at this. I give up too easily, and practice bores me. But these are worthy challenges. As a writer, quite frankly, I’m never going to get better if I don’t write. And this includes allowing myself to make mistakes. I have to remember not to beat myself up about them. Making mistakes is the fun part of cooking, painting and many things except probably practising medicine. I really don’t want to make any mistakes there. And yet mistakes are all too inevitable.


My short attention span demands that I continue this post tomorrow! See you then for my thoughts on the next 14 Ways.

Write good.

I obsess a lot about what I should write about. And I obsess over what this blog should be focused on, and how it should look and what the right image is and whether I’m creating my own niche in this vast network of connected computers. I obsess about my originality and uniqueness. And my spelling. Sometimes.

But I really don’t have it all figured out yet. At 21, my prefrontal cortex has barely begun to coalesce. I have no idea who I am, let alone what I should write about. I feel so inadequate when I see other blogs being cohesive and well put together, because the author knows exactly who they are and exactly what they want to tell the world. Their blog names are witty and well thought out, their posts are eloquent and grabbing. They have commenters, universal proof of an online presence. Jealousy and insecurity grapple with me and throw me to the ground in a cringing heap of failure. Rinse. Repeat.

At least that’s how it was in 2012.

In The Library (more on this later), I have the chance to change the way I feel about my blog and blogging in general. I have the chance to exercise a modicum of control about when and what I blog about. The fact is that there’s no way I can blog every day at 9AM but blogging every day is not an impossibility. It all has to do with whether I have the willpower and the motivation to get off my ass and get around the computer.

But this extends to writing in general. I haven’t been doing much of it, and the result is that I feel more and more like the fat kid on the playground who no one wants to be friends with and who gets short of breath every time he runs for more than five seconds (poor kid probably has asthma, too). If I can actually write every time I think about writing, instead of just thinking about it, maybe all that quantity will yield some high-quality work. It’s no P90-X, but I feel like if I exercise my writing muscles I can regain some of the literary fitness I’ve lost amid jargon-filled histories and objective physical examinations (where adjectives are superfluous and frowned upon).

It’s early enough in the year that resolutions still carry a lot of momentum. Let’s see if I can push my new attitudes forward on this wave. I’m going to release myself from the restraints of content, stop worrying about what kind of material would be best for this blog and just write. If I can feel confident that every post is my best piece of writing so far, then I will be happy.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard (and which is eminently applicable here) is from director Peter Farrelly to Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear on the set of Stuck on You, when after a frustrating take he walks a quarter of a mile over to them, looks at his feet, pauses and says simply,

Suck less.

50 for 50

Under the auspices of no one important comes a fresh, bold initiative for literacy in western Jamaica. The 50 for 50 Writing Competition isn’t just a laudable contribution to the Jamaica 50 celebrations, it is a ground-breaking first step to publicizing literature and writing among the youth and young adults of the island.

Kingston has Bookophilia, the Poetry Association, Edna Manley and the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts. Montego Bay has a library. But we are no less literate and no less driven to write than our comrades in the south. Why then is there such a deplorable lack of opportunities for creative self-expression?

50 for 50 attempts to address that lack by creating a forum where writers can grow together, regardless of location or accessibility of communal literary gatherings. Against a background of national pride, these writers will come together to create something bigger than them, and hopefully realize that their talent is just as colourful on the canvas of national achievements as the broad brush strokes of athletics and Usain Bolt.

50 for 50 started a week ago, but we are still looking for new writers. We are all part of the holistic effort to ensure the literary Jamaican does not disappear, does not waver, does not crumble under the heavy weight of book taxes and stereotypes.

If you are interested in being a part of something special (shout out to my Gleeks), then go ahead and sign up at 50 for 50 Jubilee or via email to 50for50jubilee@gmail.com. You don’t have to be young, you don’t even have to be a writer. Just as long as you’re Jamaican, and you have a story you want to tell.

All are welcome to sit at the typewriter and open up a vein.


{24} Project 52 – what the hell is it, and why am I doing this again?

Project 52 was born out of an insane desire to actually make regular blog updates. (Who does that? I don’t know a single person who does that in real life). And like the special cookie I am, I decided that the challenge would be worth a shot. The second purpose behind P52 was to improve my writing skills through the diligence and dedication of consistent updates.

So far?

Near total failure.

Instead of motivating me to write, I’m shirking my duties because the looming deadline is counterproductive to my creative juices. And instead of forcing me to dish out high-calibre work weekly, it’s making me serve crappy, low-quality writing that I wouldn’t even want to read in a tabloid magazine. Project 52 would pretty much be considered a wasted effort, except – what was it Edison said? – I may have failed a thousand times before learning the right way to maintain a blog, but I learned one thousand ways not to maintain one.

Which is basically a ridiculously circuitous way of saying that I learned more from trying and failing and trying and half-assing than I would have from just doing nothing. The mere fact that I pushed myself to get an update out every week – the mind-numbing searches for content, the depressing site statistics, the rare and priceless feedback – has given me so many lessons. What’s that oft used expression?

Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.

I’m nobody’s fool (for very long anyway), but there are some things you have to learn the hard way, and blogging is one of them. For me, at least.

So I’m not quite ready to give up on P52 just yet. Here’s to entry #25 and 27 more weeks of trying to get it right.