Tag Archives: writing

My Creativity Toolbox

I was out of town for a few weeks and to be honest, had zero creative spark. Nada. Not even an ember, it was just plain extinguished. Now that I’m home in my little corner of Oregon and back at it, I started thinking about the tools I use to get those ideas burning again.

Here’s what I rely on the most:

  • Music is a HUGE part of my writing. I think more than anything it helps to keep me from getting distracted. And to get very specific here – I love writing to Celtic music. If I’m writing a really intense scene, bring on the Riverdance! I use Pandora (it’s free if you don’t mind the occasional commercial) and I have some very finely tuned stations to fit my “writing mood.”
  • After many years as I handwritten writer, I finally transitioned to writing direct on the computer several years ago. Maybe not as romantic, but a much more effective use of my time. But when I’m stuck, I always default back to scribbling on a piece of paper. Instead of focusing on writing actual prose, I “talk myself” through a block. Such as “Okay, what I am trying to say here. I’m trying to get this character to____.” Before you know it, your story is off and running.
  • Write/draw/compose/create by a window. Even if it’s dark out, it always helps.

I started getting curious about what other artists use as tools to help with creativity. Here’s a few ideas that I might add to my own toolbox that are easily available online:

  • Allow yourself to get lost on Flickr…there’s some amazing photography on there to peruse and you never know, you may find an image that inspires your own project. (If you actually use it, make sure it’s part of Creative Commons!)
  • Many sites recommended using Pinterest for ideas…now, this is a tricky site for me. I tend to get VERY distracted on Pinterest and before I know it, three hours have passed and nothing is accomplished except 30 more pins. But I found searching specifically for “art journal ideas” or “art therapy”  or “writing prompts” came up with some amazing options! So if you tread carefully, I think it is a great creativity sparker.
  • Motivational quotes can be a big, well, motivator. For me, I have a poster with a Margaret Atwood quote hanging right over my computer.
Proof.
Proof.

To be honest, many of the websites that boasted “motivational quotes” were drowned with ads. I’m recommending my go-to for quote finding…which is good ol’ Goodreads. If you search for “quotes” they have a huge selection organized by tags such as love, knowledge, power, etc.

What are some of the tools you use to help “spark” your creativity?

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A Quilt and a Cuppa and a Book

I missed blogging on Monday as I had a rare and true day off, where nothing was expected of me, and it was so much more important to make the most of that, than to sit down and a computer like I do every work day of my life.

Today I was going to write about the depth and whimsy of “On The Jericho Road”, memories of switching the high and low parts,  Merle Haggard, Donald S. McCrossan and the intersection of popular music and hymns, but I think that’s the most I’m going to write about it today.

Instead, I would like to talk about some thoughts that came on that lovely day off as I was wrapped in some quilts with a cup of tea, reading.  My husband bought me the “Time Quintet” of Madeleine L’Engle books for Christmas.  I adore L’Engle.  I love her mannered way of writing and her big concepts and thoughts in children’s books.  Her book “Walking on Water; Reflections of Faith and Art” is a must read in my view.  I did not realize she was so prolific until late in my 20’s, and for some time have wished to read all her books starting with the ones I feel in love with as a child.

I never considered her to be as blatant as Lewis in her theological bent, although she really is.  She just seems to be less pleased with herself about it.  Also, her non-fiction is greatly underrated.  But that’s not what I want to talk about either.

See, when I was a kid, I used to go to the little library in our church and borrow books.  There was  quite a collection of fiction.  Some of them were quite good (Brock and Bodie Thoene) and some of them were abysmal (Janette Oke), but all of them relentlessly moralistic in a way that often literally interrupted the story.  As much as I loved reading Frank Peretti, the Christy Miller Series, and  other perfectly good, wholesome and sometimes well written tomes… I couldn’t tell you what most of them were about.

My mind already had a standard in it for what was Interesting.  Karana on her lonely island eating abalone and taming wolves.  Indians in cupboards.  Bridges and wardrobes to other worlds, and the woods between them. There was Judy Blume to give me a roadmap of how to survive school and siblings.  There was Dickens and Dumas to show me how the world could be cruel or kind and that it was only my heart that I could use as influence.  All of these stories had messages that continue to teach me to this day.

It was bewildering to me when I started to meet fellow homeschooled children who were only allowed to read Christian fiction, and even those books were discouraged because they were fiction.  Although Christian marketed non-fiction was better, it needed a critical mind.  Elizabeth Elliot was a woman of some wisdom and an amazing life story, and yet none of us should have taken her “Passion and Purity” without serious questioning.  Anyway, the idea of someone censoring book reading was so foreign to me.  I don’t think anyone had ever told me “don’t read that”, save for Sweet Valley High books as they were vapid… and I read those and tired of them quickly.  The library was a safe place for me.  I think I was 10 when I read George Harrison’s autobiography and Gone With The Wind, in between The Babysitter’s Club.  I could understand not watching TV, I had no context for a world where one could not read whatever one chose.

When I got to boarding school, some well meaning person had donated entire series of what can only be described as “Christian Romance Novels”.  We read the backs out loud by the fire when we were bored, streaming tears at the copy that tried to convey sexiness but not too much, and promise some sort of redemptive story line.  Nothing was funnier, and yet nothing was more deeply embarrassing to me.  It was the end of the ’90s and the novelty of Christianity as a genre was wearing off as it was shown to be shallow marketing and not lasting in any classical sense.

I feel that I should say that there are vapid, moralistic and shallow books that are not marketed at the Christian sector.  I feel like someone would comment on that right away, or take that to be the bent of my post. Rather, understand that as a person of faith, I weirdly feel responsible for the books that shout “I am a piece of Christian Fiction!” I feel that people will look at my faith from that angle and think it is boring and one note.  So there is something to reading L’Engle and feeling… oh there you are.  There is something to reading fiction where you know the author’s heart beats similarly to your own, even if she hasn’t spelled it out.

As we continually talk about Art, the subject of quality will always come up, the subject of depth and of intent.  I thought for years that the reason that I could not tell you what a single Janette Oke novel was about was being my mind wanted something more lurid because I am a fallen wicked person… but that can’t be it.

I haven’t read Island of the Blue Dolphins since I was 8, and yet I can probably tell you all of the plot points.  I didn’t have to google “Karana” (and I’m hoping that I got that name right).  It was a transformative piece of literature in my life that has informed my person. I have a feeling the author was just telling a story,  based on a true story incidentally, but with that truth that cold facts can never convey.  I think where “Christian Lit” goes wrong is that most that I’ve read is trying to convey a message instead of telling a story.  The story will convey the message that is in your heart if you let it, I think.  I think Dumas knew that.

That is the challenge, isn’t it?  To write what you need to write instead of what you are supposed to write. May I learn how.

 

Brenda Ueland – the Author & Story

I have to admit, I have a lot of books on writing or creativity in general. They range from “Negotiating the Book Contract” to “Writing Down the Bones.” But one of the most influential books on writing/art I’ve read is Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want To Write.” I was given this book in my late teens as a gift from my aunt, who had a writer-friend that recommended it. And here I am years later, recommending it to you.

If You Want To Write

The full title of the book is “If You Want To Write – A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit” and that truly does capture the essence of this book. I love the style and language of the writing (it was originally published in 1938!) and some of the references will definitely feel dated. But the heart of her message is still very relevant – be true to yourself, no matter what. She’s ferocious about it and anything but being true to the story you want to tell is simply not fair to yourself. She will have you convinced of it by the end of the book, trust me.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re writing a story and you create a character that likes to eat cheese sandwiches with a thick layer of ketchup. (Ugh.) But you hesitate, because your Uncle John Doe also eats those strange cheese/ketchup sandwiches. And if you attribute this characteristic to your fictional character, maybe Uncle John Doe will read your story down the line and think that character is based off him. But it’s not. And then it will be awkward. When truly, probably somewhere in your memory, you remembered that strange little detail about cheese/ketchup sandwiches and it’s resurfaced in this fictional character that is a combination of many, many things that is not Uncle John Doe. Here’s what I’m getting at: per Brenda, you better keep that cheese and ketchup sandwich in your book. Because once you start censoring yourself, even though it’s the smallest, insignificant detail –  you are starting down a very slippery slope. Again, be true to yourself, no matter what.

 

Image via Graywolf Press
Image via Graywolf Press

Brenda was born in 1891 in Minneapolis. When she wrote this book, she was very much a part of the “Greenwich Village bohemian crowd” as her biography calls it. You can sense this in her writing – she’s bold! She’s passionate! She worked as a writer, editor and teacher and did a variety of fascinating things later in life (such as being knighted by the King of Norway) before she passed away in 1985.

I’ve found that there seems to be a mix of opinions on Brenda’s writing practices and theories outlined in “If You Want To Write” – and that’s okay. Because it’s getting a conversation going, which I can’t help but think Brenda would have loved inspiring in the first place.

My So-Called Writing Life

Photo by Horia Varlan
Photo by Horia Varlan

Hello and welcome! I’m League-er Erin and I describe myself as an “Author, Blogger and Mom.” Right now that sums me up pretty well and I’m immensely happy about that.

I’ve been writing since I was around twelve years old (I’m now in my thirties) and it has been a part of me of ever since. Writing is my way of expressing myself and also working through a problem. I can’t (or shouldn’t) go too long without writing or I get a bit jumbled in the head. It can be a string of sentences, a completed story, a journal entry, a letter…as long as it’s words on paper, it’s going to help me process life. Writing has been my shining rope dangling down into deep, dark pits of depression. It’s been my BFF that lives a universe away, where we can see each other once every five years and still be on the same wavelength. It’s how I’ve handled death, sadness, happiness, confusion…the list goes on and on. Basically, I am writing and writing is me.

I’m a Christian and I went to many churches where your “God-given talent” was encouraged to be used to benefit the church. Makes sense, I get it.  But anything other than that was…well…not really considered or encouraged. For example: “Oh, you’re a writer? Here’s the church newsletter!” But from a fairly early age, I took my own interpretation of this and expanded upon it. I can recognize my gift for writing is a blessing I’ve been given (sorry, not trying to sound egotistical here. I’ve written plenty of stuff that has sucked, trust me.) but I’m not limited to just using it “for church.” In other words, if I write a story that does not include themes of Christianity – that’s okay and I’m still a Christian. I’m still recognizing and honoring that I believe my ability to write is a gift from God.

I tend to write very descriptively (whether that’s good or bad, it’s your preference) in my stories. I can get right down to the very last detail of an image in my mind. I want my reader to see, smell, hear and taste what I’m writing. Sometimes my stories have an adult theme. Sometimes they are in the Children’s or Middle Grade genre. Sometimes they are Fantasy or Sci-fi. I want to let my characters speak for themselves, and yes, sometimes there is profanity. But no matter what, I believe I must be truthful. We live in a really beautiful world created for us and if I can portray that (the good and the bad) and connect with just one person, then I’ve done my job.

Well, that’s me. It’s taken me awhile to get to this point and understanding. It hasn’t always been easy and at times, it still isn’t. And I’m still learning. But I do know I’ll never limit myself or my art because that would make me feel like a fraud. It’s been encouraging and inspiring to meet other artists of faith who have similar outlooks on artistic expression and exploring how it is (and isn’t?) connected to our religious beliefs.