Tag Archives: creative process

She Has a Name

Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Creative thinking flows in and out, between thoughts, and feeds more creative thinking. I realized about halfway through this past week that the new character I wrote about last weekend had emerged from an idea that I’d incorporated in the short story I finished (the first draft) last weekend. She’s not a part of that story, though.  She has her own story. But now I understand why I thought she was a Wizard capable of powerful magic.

Parallel universes have been an interest of mine for many years. In science fiction, the notion of them fuels many stories (too many to list here, but there’s a list here).  Sometimes they’re known as alternate reality stories. The story I finished last weekend was about a parallel dimension, i.e. a dimension that existed in the same space as ours, populated with very different kinds of sentient beings. It was this idea that sparked the character I thought was a Wizard. I love the way my mind works.

So, this new character is actually from a parallel dimension and travels freely between our reality and her original one. She is a type of sentient being that has the ability to transform herself into any form, i.e. a shape shifter. They know how to move simply by thinking of the destination. (I’d definitely like that ability to commute to and from my fulltime job!) And she has powers that we humans might regard as magic. She uses her powers for helping others, and has worked as an interstellar diplomat. She’s also worked on earth as a diner waitress. (I have no idea where that came from.)

I had thought that she lived on a desert planet because of the granite wall I saw her eyes in, but I was wrong. She actually lives on a Class M planet in our galaxy, but quite far from earth. I’m actually seeing the landscape as more like northern Minnesota or maybe even northern New York (lots of granite walls there) with forests, lakes, meadows full of wild flowers. I need to know more about this planet, why it’s Class M, why I see it with such a familiar landscape, and why she chose to live there. Is that her story? Or is her story something else? I have a feeling she’s going to get involved with helping someone with something.

Yesterday afternoon, I wrote furiously for several hours, ignoring anything that would distract me from getting the words down. I wrote three scenes, one of which looks like it may be the beginning of the story. I just wrote what I saw in my mind. It’s a good thing I type fast. Right now, I’m thinking that it’s a short story, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it ended up being a novella. I have what could be the end, too. Now the challenge is to find the middle. What happens? What does this character want? What will she do to get it? What are the obstacles in her way?

While it’s exciting to meet a new character, exciting to start something new, I also know that it’s the beginning of a lot of hard work. It’s always a good thing if the character fascinates (yes, she does) and compels me to think about her (she does) and wonder about her and want to know more. She surprised me, too, yesterday — I love it when characters surprise me. She told me her name.



Becoming a Writer: “Whisper of the Heart”

Hayao Miyazaki (from documentary "The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness")

Hayao Miyazaki (from documentary “The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness”)

Life demands and a lack of money have prevented me from going out to movies very often in the last couple of years. I had to end my Netflix subscription also a year ago in order to save money. I hadn’t realized how much I missed movies until a co-worker and I got into a conversation about the brilliant Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. We’re both dedicated fans of his work, and my co-worker offered to loan me an early movie that Miyazaki had done the screenplay and storyboards for and I’d not seen. All he’d say about it was that it was sweet and wonderful, more grounded in reality than Miyazaki’s later work but with touches of magic. I jumped at the opportunity to see a Miyazaki movie I hadn’t seen before.

DVD from Disney

DVD from Disney

In Whisper of the Heart, Shizuku, a young teen, has reached the point when she’s begun to question the direction of her life and what her true talents are. She loves to read and her father works in a library which gives Shizuku easy access to lots of books. She notices that a boy, Seiji, has checked out all the books before her that she’s been reading. This strange fact sparks her curiosity and imagination. One day, as she’s on her way to the library on the train, a cat with one purple ear catches her attention. The cat jumps up onto the seat next to her and studiously ignores her attempts to befriend him.  When the cat gets off the train at her stop, she runs after him, follows him up hills to a lovely residential neighborhood. True to cat behavior, he continues to ignore Shizuku, but seems to point the way to an intriguing antique store where she meets the elderly owner and The Baron, a cat figurine.

By this point, I’m totally hooked into this story, especially as Shizuku keeps running into a mysterious boy, Seiji, who turns out to be the grandson of the antique store’s owner. I don’t want to give away too much of this gentle story revealing the emotional lives of creative teens and how they help, support, and inspire each other. What I want to review about this movie is how Miyazaki reveals the life of the creative artist, and what the creative process is really like.  For Shizuku is a budding writer, and Seiji a budding violin maker who can also play a mean violin.

Shizuku and the Cat (Studio Ghibli/Disney)

Shizuku and the Cat (Studio Ghibli/Disney)

How does someone become creative? More specifically, how does someone become a creative artist?  Every human being on this planet is creative in his or her own way.  For example, problem solving requires creativity and imagination. Relating to each other successfully takes a lot of imagination (for empathy) and creativity. But when it comes to art, this is when the human mind and imagination fuse to bring forth truths of existence in ways that stimulate the imaginations of the people who are experiencing the art. As Miyazaki has done with Whisper of the Heart.

I believe that we are each born to certain lives but we each have the choice of whether to fulfill those particular lives or do something else. My father, for example, loved music and art — he played the clarinet and painted oil pictures — but he chose not to fulfill that creative spark; instead he chose to pursue a job in financial services. He allowed the powerful influence of American society to pursue “business” and the making of money to squash whatever creative inclinations he had. Fortunately for me, he supported my creative pursuits from my first forays in elementary school, but only up to a point. He notoriously said to me when I announced my music major in college, “You can’t eat a piano,” and when I told him and my mother that I’d finally recognized my creative spirit in writing, he responded with the pithy, “Writers are prostitutes.”

Shizuku and the Baron

Shizuku and the Baron (Studio Ghibli/Disney)

Which brings me to the crux of Whisper of the Heart. Being a creative artist is extremely difficult even in the best of times or most supportive of conditions. Other people — family, friends, as well as strangers — will pressure the artist to do something more “practical,” to not pursue creative expression, and this pressure can be incredibly strong, often hurtful, and constant. It takes power and a belief in the strength of the soul’s desire to be creative in spite of the pressure not to be. And then there are the self doubts. Both Shizuku and Seiji eloquently show and tell others their doubts about their abilities and talents. But they keep going because they must. And that need is inspired and supported and sustained by each other as well as Seiji’s grandfather. (Not to mention the cat with one purple ear and The Baron!)

My favorite moment in this movie (in addition to the moment Shizuku meets the cat)? It’s when, after Seiji’s grandfather has read her story and told her that it’s a wonderful raw gem that now needs cutting and polishing, Shizuku bursts into tears, wailing that she doesn’t know if she can do it.  Been there, done that!  Many times. So, Whisper of the Heart is not only Miyazaki’s homage to the creative process, but the moving story of a young writer discovering her imagination and the creative process in writing.

I loved this movie! (It’s now on my Amazon wish list.)  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the creative process, in writing, in Japanese animation, or in the early work of Hayao Miyazaki to see how his creative expression was developing.

cute-cat-picture-wallpaper by jasonlefkowitz.net

Thinking About my Creative Process

holly-and-bellsIt’s the holiday season, that time of the year when it’s next to impossible to get away from the noise, activity, crowds, and craziness that accompanies it. When I was a child, I loved this month, loved snow storms, loved the anticipation and school vacation. I read like mad during school vacations. A vivid memory was reading John Hersey’s Hiroshima on New Year’s Day, with only a break for a holiday dinner, and sneaking holiday cookies I’d baked called Berry-Berry Bons Bons (cranberry orange walnut cookies that melted in the mouth). I miss those times.

The holidays are more for extroverts than introverts with all the parties, gift exchanges, Secret Santas, and traveling. They’re not conducive to introspection, solitude, or writing. I find myself feeling frustrated most days because I haven’t been able to even think about the writing project I’m working on. This makes me cranky and snarky, and I’ve caught myself taking it out on people at my part-time job. It’s not their fault. But this time of year is always difficult for me. I recall once searching for a place I could go where Christmas was not celebrated, and never did find one.


Out of all of this Sturm und Drang has emerged the realization that maybe I needed to think about my creative process, i.e. how I actually go about doing my creating. That takes me back to almost 10 years ago when I was working on the first drafts of the 2nd and 3rd books in the Perceval series. I established a work routine: after breakfast, I did my stair exercises to classical music and thought about what I’d write that day. Then I’d go over my notes before plunging right in to writing. I wrote for hours with no break except for lunch. Toward the end of the afternoon, I’d often work on other writing, research, or run errands. I was so very fortunate to have been able to work on my writing fulltime back then. I miss that time now.

The truth of the matter is that I’ve been struggling to find a new work routine, a way to preserve my creative process. When I exercised to classical music, that opened up my mind to my imagination — I resolved so many issues during that prelude to writing. When I sat at my desk, I then found myself already working in my mind and it was only a matter of getting the words on paper (screen). I had the freedom of time before, now I don’t. I write when I can — blog posts, short stories, holiday letters, essays for online publication. But I’m not feeling creative. It feels like drudgery. Although there have been times when a particularly neat word has popped into my head and I’ve felt like dancing.

There’s a saying that you can’t miss what you’ve never had. Well, I’ve had a creative process that worked wonderfully for me, a structure to my writing work day, so now I miss it because it’s gone. That doesn’t mean I can’t find a new writing routine again to enhance my creative process. It just means that during this crazy holiday season when I swear everyone goes a little insane, I am wishing for something that only I can give myself — time.

How do you survive the holidays? Does your creative process suffer during the holidays?  If you work part-time or fulltime, I’d love to hear how you schedule writing time into your days in the comments section below.  Thanks!

Photo: cutewithchris.com

Photo: cutewithchris.com


Writing vs. Talking

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen a new acquaintance asks me what I do, I proudly reply that I’m a writer of fiction and nonfiction, and I’ve published a novel as well as numerous essays both online and in print.  Sometimes, the new acquaintance wants to hear about what I’m currently writing — in detail. This new acquaintance looks so excited about hearing my story, what do I do?  Do I talk about my story before I have it down on paper?  Or do I respect the privacy of my characters and their story?  This new acquaintance could be a new fan/reader…..

Roz Morris at Nail Your Novel reminded me of this with her post “Vow of Silence: how much do you talk about your novel in progress?” She also has a policy of no talking.  I especially liked this quote: “Good writing needs a ruthless mindset; you include only what’s good for the book, not the pieces you like or the crowd-pleasers.”  That is, the crowd-pleasers that you’ve revealed to well-meaning people who’ve asked what your work-in-progress is about and then given you positive feedback about it.

CCY_PercevalsSecretCvr_FNL-960x1280.131107I currently have a series in progress.  The first novel, Perceval’s Secret, was published as an e-book in March 2014.  You can check it out here.  The second novel in the series, Perceval’s Shadow, is a completed first draft that I need to work on…a lot.  I’m not saying anything more about that book until I know that I’ve got all the meat on the bones, so to speak.  The third novel, Perceval in Love, is half-written, that is the first draft is half-written.  I know the outline and how it ends.  I just need to get it all down on paper.  For the fourth novel, I know the general outline of action, many of the new characters and who from the earlier books will participate in this story.  I know what Evan Quinn’s challenge is in this book.  But I haven’t written anything beyond notes and playing with character names.  For the final novel in the series, I also have a general idea of the action, the players, the locations, and especially the ending because the ending of this novel is also the Finale of the series.

You’ll notice that although this blog’s subject matter covers the Perceval novels, I haven’t really said much about any of the novels after the first.  I feel that if I talked about them, about anything regarding them, that it would siphon off the creative energy from the writing of them.  It’s like my imagination, my mind, is an aged oak barrel in which I’ve poured the ingredients for the story and the mixture needs to ferment, to age into the best possible form I can imagine it.  Talking about it is like poking a hole in that barrel.

It can be lonely.  Yes.  It can be isolating not to talk about writing, about my stories and characters.  But how else to honor my own creative process?  How else to respect it?

Gina's Eyes

So, I never talk about a work-in-progress.  I adhere to this policy until the first draft is done, and even then I rarely talk about it.  I do not even pitch agents or editors about a novel before I’m ready.  This policy grew out of my experience taking workshops and classes in the past and talking about being a writer rather than concentrating on writing.  It could be so easy to talk all the time and not actually write.  So, for all my friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. who wonder why I am so tight-lipped, it has nothing to do with you.  It’s about being true to my creativity and my stories.

What do you do — talk or write?


Facing the Blank Page

Whether the blank page is paper or a computer screen, the effect is the same.  It’s blank.  How to get started?

For me, I start long before I sit down to face the blank page.  My rational mind and my imagination have frequent play dates when I’ve gotten an idea for a story, and I let them work out some kinks before I commit anything to paper/computer file.  But sometimes I feel a powerful urge to put words down, to see them in front of me, to make the process more concrete.  Let’s face it, so much of what writers do while developing stories resides in the mind.  Seeing words on paper encourages my mind and imagination that I’m serious about what they’re telling me.

Recently, I’ve had two main ideas banging around in my head.  One is for a science fiction short story, and the other is for a series of essays that draw on my experience with the medical world during the last eleven years.  Neither has emerged as the priority.  Today, for example, I’ve been thinking a LOT about the essay series.  A couple days ago, it was the short story and its structure that preoccupied me.

As hard as I work to make the development process linear, my mind refuses to cooperate.  It’s like riding a bucking horse.  Do I manage to stay on?  Not for long.

I’ve read articles in which writers talk about starting by writing out an outline, or writing character sketches, or writing the ending.  Other writers talk about just putting the behind in the chair and writing.  They figure out what they’ve written later and how it fits into the project they’re working on or not.  Creativity knows no standard process, no linear process.  Creativity flows and all writers can do is encourage the flow, remove any obstacles, be there for the flow.  Allow no room for discouragement.

One of my favorite things to do to get the flow going?  I walk.  If I’m walking inside, I listen to classical music on a personal CD player.  I rarely listen to music when I’m walking outdoors.  There’s too much to look at, smell, and hear.  More often than not, my mind goes off walking too, in its own way, exploring my experience in the last 24 hours, who said what to whom, and then lazily circles back to think about the writing project I’m working on.  By the time I’m actually facing the blank page two things have happened: one, I’m excited; and two, I have enough about setting, time period, characters and action to start putting words on the page.

The medical world essays have been a different mind experience.  I decided weeks ago that I wanted the tone of the essays to be conversational.  My mind and imagination have interpreted that to mean public speaking.  They’ve been working through the various topics for each essay as if I needed to give a speech on each one.  This is weird.  I don’t like public speaking at all.  But for some reason, this idea unlocks the flow.

Because each writer’s mind and imagination differ from every other writer’s, it makes sense that each writer would have his or her own way of encouraging the flow of ideas and words so that when he sits down to put words to paper, there’s something to write.  Have you considered your creative process lately?