Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part I

We all have to face fears in our lives at one time or another.

My daughter drops whatever she’s doing and runs inside at the sight of any flying insect with a stinger (mostly bees, but on occasion she has run from butterflies by mistake). My husband has to put on his iPod and listen to Pink Floyd whenever he goes to the dentist. What can I say? He had a bad experience with a dentist overseas once who didn’t use anesthetic. I don’t really blame him for that one.

I recently faced one of my fears around Halloween. This one had to do with my son, Trevor.

I had been dreading Halloween for weeks. I remembered the year before how Trevor had been so much bigger than most of the kids going around the neighborhood and even though he went out with a family friend who was in grade school – something of a holiday tradition – we still got some puzzled looks. No one said anything mean, but I felt uncomfortable all evening. And I knew this year, with Trevor being even bigger and older, things would only feel more tense. I couldn’t get Trevor to understand that he was too big for Halloween and I’d tried the year before to have him stay home and help me pass out candy, but that didn’t work out.

My fear was that he would be turned away. Shunned. That he would receive hurtful stares or ugly comments – not that he was likely to notice (unless he didn’t get any candy), but I would. And it would hurt. No one wants to see their child be rejected.

So, I thought of a different strategy. I’ve been doing some part-time work for our local autism group and that inspired me to do some outreach of my own.  I’d open up and let our neighbors in. THIS WAS WAY OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE. I am not good at asking for help or reaching out to people, so this step was huge. But then, it wasn’t for me. It was so my neighbors would understand who my son was and welcome him.

Here’s the message I posted on our Neighborhood Association Facebook page:

Trevor Halloween Story

There was such a huge positive response to this post that I was overwhelmed. And even one other family in the neighborhood told about their young child with autism, too. They hoped to have their child be able to leave the comfort of his stroller and go door-to-door this year. (Stretching the boundaries of social difficulties that accompany autism.) How nice was that? Finding another family who shares our same issues?

When we went out trick or treating, Trevor was recognized several times by neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves.  Later people posted how nice it was to meet Trevor and how sweet and polite he was. Now, when we take our dogs for a walk, more of our neighbors say “hello” than before, and more greet Trevor by name. We even met an actual firefighter who invited us to bring Trevor down to his station for a tour. That made Trevor’s night.

One fear conquered.

Fear & Art

When it comes to dealing with fear in our writing or any medium of art, it can have a crippling effect. Even keep us from making art altogether.

Being a writer can be so thrilling when everything is coming out just right. The words are flowing, the characters are bending to my will, I am the master of my imaginary universe!

YES! YES! YES!

And then that tiny little voice of doubt creeps in. This isn’t working. I suck, my writing sucks, my characters suck, nobody will ever want to read this drivel. EVER!

Creative Process Pic

Sound familiar?

During our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat in September, Romney Nesbitt did a workshop on Conquering Procrastination & Self-Sabotage. One of the first things she had us do was name off all the different ways we procrastinate.

Some of the examples tossed out were fairly typical:

The Serial Projects excuse (“Just as soon as…then…”)

The “I don’t have time excuse” (too many responsibilities)

Perfectionism (waiting for the right conditions/right moment)

Social Media (worse than television)

So I voiced my own reason. The one thing that holds me back from moving forward on projects more than anything?

Fear of Failure.

Romney responded that this is actually a “problem with expectancy”.

That answer surprised me.

Expectancy meant it was coming from me. It made me realize I was in control of that fear. And that meant I could change it.

I also knew I wasn’t the only one who grappled with creating art and fear. Not just of failure. But of what others would think of what we created. Even of success.

I wanted to explore this further.

So, this month, I’m doing just that. I’m forcing myself to do some things to push past this fear.

One thing I’m doing is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge and vowing to actually complete the 50,000 words in one month challenge. I’ve participated for a few years now, but I’ve never made it to the finish line.

I’ve also started reading ART & FEAR OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING  by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I’ll be sharing some of my insights from that book later in the month. So far it’s quite enlightening.

How about you? What are you afraid of as far as your art is concerned? What do you do to combat that fear?

Variations of the Mona Lisa – a TGNA Post

 

tgnahead

 

 

It’s Writing Wednesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I am so excited about today’s post! The idea for this craft post came to me a few months ago when yet, again, I was having a discussion about reading and why it was important for writers to be well-read.

Cue the excuses from some novice writer why they didn’t read/couldn’t read.

Cue my head exploding.

How could I get my fellow newbie writers to understand, to maybe see from a different perspective, how reading was not detrimental but essential to their growth?

This post entitled Variations of the Mona Lisa (Why Studying the Masters is NOT an Exercise in Futility) is my love letter to them, my misguided peers.

Here’s a preview:

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She's smaller because she IS small.)
Mona Lisa by Da Vinci

I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded individual. I understand that mine is not the only opinion on any given subject and that each person brings a different perspective to a discussion, shaped by their own unique life experiences. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have something to teach me or that didn’t have an interesting story to tell.

That being said, there are some hot button topics that will put my strong sense of open-mindedness to its ultimate test. One of those issues is whether or not a writer needs to read books (and read a LOT of books) in order to be a good writer. Want to see me bend over backwards to restrain myself from mentally body-checking someone? Let me hear someone say, “I’m afraid I’ll take on another author’s style if I read too much” or “I don’t have time to read.”

Flames. Flames will shoot out of my eyes.

To demonstrate why these and other asinine arguments just don’t cut it, I thought I’d turn to another art form to demonstrate how studying your craft by studying the masters of your medium – which is what reading IS for writers – can not only lead to you mastering your craft, but it can also lead to you discovering your own artistic voice.

To read the full post, click here.

 

My Favorite Quotes and Some Pics from this Year’s SCBWI LA Summer Conference

scbwi la banner 2014

Things have been moving at a break-neck pace ever since I returned from the SCBWI LA Summer conference earlier this month. My less-than part-time job has picked up substantially and the group blog I participate in is coming back from vacation next week with a bang – all new format, a few changes to the line-up, and one hell of a fabulous contest with a gazillion prizes, including books and critiques! (Details on that coming very soon.) Not to mention squeezing in all the important revising that must continue. And I haven’t even talked about our Fall Retreat that’s (ack!) in just a few weeks.

Despite all of the chaotic activity, I really wanted to get started with my yearly conference-inspired blog posts. To tease you all a bit with what I have in mind, I thought I’d start with some of my favorite quotes from this year’s event.

 

“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

- Meg Rosoff

“Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

-Dinah Stevenson

“Teletubbies, better than a valium.”

-Judy Schachner

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you’re just editing too early.”

-Stephen Chbosky

“When stealing from real life, there’s a process of subtraction.”

-Maggie Stiefvater

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth…Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them across the net.”

- Megan McDonald reciting from famous E.B. White quote

“You never again love a book the way you do as a child.”

-Linda Sue Park

 “I’ve always struggled with my own smallness.”

-Sharon Flake

“Being an artist is the way you live your life.”

-Tomie de Paolo

“I was brave in my writing in a way that I wasn’t in my life.”

-Judy Blume

Yes! Judy freakin’ Blume! Her talk was the perfect way to end the conference, I have to say. I actually teared up just watching her cross the stage to the podium. LOVE HER!!! She’s so freakin’ adorable and moving and everything you imagine that you just want to hug her to pieces and then stuff the pieces into your mouth. Too weird? Sorry. But it’s Judy freakin’ Blume!

Snapping out of my fangirl fog, let’s get back to the quotes for just a second. See if you can guess how these fantastic little tidbits will play out as blog posts in the weeks ahead as I dole out the jewels of wisdom I received on my journey out west. Until then, I leave you with some vacation pics. Enjoy!

 

Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her!
Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell (remember when I did an interview with her on the blog?) at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her! (Probably didn’t hurt that Bonnie Bader used her book as an example during one of her talks. Impressive, no?)

 

Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.
Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.

 

 

The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky's keynote.
The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky’s keynote. I have a sad update for all of  you Jerry fans – he has had a facial hair accident of unknown origin and is currently beardless. It’s shocking to all of us, but we’ll should try to help him through this sad, trying time.

 

And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was accepting an award right after Bill Clinton spoke - "Yeah I wasn't as good."
And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was speaking at an awards show right after Bill Clinton spoke – “Yeah, I wasn’t as good,” he said.

 

 

Me and some more of our Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.
Me and some more of our delightful Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.

 

A beautiful night in LA.
A beautiful night in LA. Can’t wait for next year!

Close your Eyes and Just Listen – An Audio Journey

Do you ever just feel like hopping aboard a plane and leaving for destinations unknown to explore? Want to get a feel for the atmosphere of an Irish pub or a Buddhist temple, but can’t afford the air fare? Maybe you should close your eyes and take a sound journey instead.

I heard this really cool thing on NPR today that could be such a great inspiration spring board for writers, musicians, artists of all kinds really, that I just had to share it. Sound Transit is an audio experience where you travel the world through sound. You book a trip, with up to five stops, and it randomly selects your route and the sounds you’ll hear along the way. With over two thousands sounds in its catalog, your trip will be different every time.

You can also use their search feature to look up individual sounds or search for sounds by country. It’s just fascinating.

Here’s a trip I booked:

I departed from Skaftafell, Iceland, and was greeted by the sounds of  “A simple mountain stream, nothing more, which flows down a moss-covered hillside, falls into a small rocky hollow and continues on its way to the sea.”

Grey Lines by antgirl courtesy of cc via Flickr
Grey Lines by antgirl courtesy of cc via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

next, via Cabo Ortegal, Galicia, Spain, I experienced a “storm in ‘Cabo Ortegal’, Galicia, Spain. november 2003″.

Nubes amenzantes by David Cornejo courtesy of cc via Flickr
Nubes amenzantes by David Cornejo courtesy of cc via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilburg, Netherlands, was next with some urban sounds described only as, “This recording is a part of my Tunnelproject. A noise investigation.”

Tilburg Netherlands by  Victhor Viking courtesy cc via Flickr
Tilburg Netherlands by Victhor Viking courtesy of cc via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to Baracoa, Cuba, where I heard this “insane gathering of crows near a small river, in Alexandro Humbold park on
the lush eastern coast of Cuba, not far from where Cristopher Colombus is
said to have landed in the new world.”

(I love the details given in some of the descriptions. That alone set my imagination wild with ideas.)

A cloud of crows by Vladimir Agafonkin courtesy of cc via Flicker
A cloud of crows by Vladimir Agafonkin courtesy of cc via Flicker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At my next stop, halfway around the world in Kefalonia, Greece, there were different birds singing, “A treeful of finches chirp and flap early one morning.”

Assos by PapaPiper courtesy of cc via Flickr
Assos by PapaPiper courtesy of cc via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I arrived in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, to the sounds of a bustling metropolis, “subway journey underneath copacabana. train drones, whistles, brakes, high pitch, speaker information, automatic doors, ambience. M-Audio microtrack -16bit – 48khz.”

P1000943 by Ed Johnson courtesy of cc via Flickr
P1000943 by Ed Johnson courtesy of cc via Flickr

I played around with this for most of the morning and had many different experiences. One was even unsettling, with bomb sounds in Lebanon. Every trip was unique.

You can listen to my journey described above for yourself here or book your own here.

Have fun with it! Be inspired!

 

Accidental Vacation

While on vacation in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, New Mexico, I took an unintentional, but much needed and extended vacation from my blog. The company was too engaging, the scenery too inspiring, the WIFI too sporadic.

I took it as a sign.

I needed a break.

Then when I came home last week, I found the desire to write had not yet been rekindled. My muse was still lounging in her pjs, dreaming of southwestern skies. To add to my procrastination vacation, my modem died…or so I thought. It was actually playing possum until the repairman showed up to debunk its fakery. (I guess my modem also needed an extended vacation.) With just a few tweaks of some knobs or some such magic, the mighty repairman had my modem working, again.

Now, after a wonderful visit with some writer friends last weekend, all is back normal; writing fire rekindled and modem functioning properly. (My muse is still wearing her pjs, but frankly, most of the time so am I.)

Before we return to our regularly scheduled programming, I thought I’d share some of the beautiful sights from my vacation that inspired me.

Enjoy.

My daughter outside our hotel in Los Alamos one morning.
My daughter outside our hotel in Los Alamos one morning. (Yes, she’s was reading ALLEGIANT.)

 

 

Daughter and husband walking around in a park in Los Alamos.
Daughter and husband walking around in a park in Los Alamos.

 

 

Son greeting an elephant statue in the park.
Son greeting an elephant statue in the park.

 

 

Daughter with Dr. Oppenheimer statue.
Daughter with Dr. Oppenheimer’s statue. They love him in Atomic City.

 

 

Wildflowers on a morning walk.
Wildflowers on a morning walk with the husband. We snuck out while the kids were sleeping and even had breakfast together. That rarely ever happens.

 

 

My husband standing past the barrier to take a picture. Me documenting his possible demise. (He did survive, thankfully.)
My husband, Tim, standing past the barrier to take a picture of the spectacular view just outside of Los Alamos on the stretch of road I came to call Suicide Hill, with me documenting his possible demise. (He did survive, thankfully.)

 

 

Coming into Santa Fe where there are pueblos as far as the eye can see.
Coming into Santa Fe where everything is pueblos as far as the eye can see.

 

 

Walking through the Railyard district of Santa Fe with my best friend since childhood.
Daughter walking with her godfather and my best friend since childhood. We walked through the Railyard arts district of Santa Fe and spent the day there seeing the sights. We had lunch at a new local place run by a friend of David’s called Shake Foundation. The Adobe Mud shakes were excellent. Later Tim took the kids to see a movie so David and I could talk without distraction. It’s always good to catch up with him.

 

 

My son and David playing on the slides at the playground in the Railyard.
My son and David playing on the slides at the playground in the Railyard.

 

 

David preparing for his turn down the slide. (You can see why we're friends right here.)
David preparing for his turn down the slide. (You can see why we’re friends right here.)

 

 

Me and my bestie at lunch.
Me and my bestie at lunch.

 

 

Russian sage is everywhere.
Russian sage is everywhere in New Mexico.

 

 

The Plaza district has a mixture of old world culture like this...
The Plaza district has a mixture of old world culture like this, the Santuario de Guadalupe…

 

 

...and fantastic displays of art, like this gallery with, yes, a dragon on the roof.
…and fantastic displays of art, like this gallery with, yes, a dragon on the roof.

 

Art was everywhere in Santa Fe. It was beautiful to see and inspiring to the mind.

Another great thing about the long drive there and back, I had plenty of leisure time to read. I tore through four books in a little over one week, which was such a pleasure.

So tell me about your vacation plans. Have you been anywhere exciting? Read any great books this summer?

My summer traveling isn’t quite over. I leave for the SCBWI LA conference in one week. So much to do before then! And when I get back there will be loads to share. (Maybe even some signed books!)

Changing our Perspective

Last month while I was having a chat with fellow writer, Doug Soulter, I was reminded of a childhood memory.

When I was a kid I used to hang off the end of my bed so I could look at the world upside-down. I would do this for ages. After awhile, something kind of magical would happen; the world would shift and all of a sudden I was living like some kind of upside-down creature, pinned to the ceiling by reversed gravity. My perception of reality changed. I could see a whole different world around me. High hurdles to jump over every doorway, dangerous ceiling fans to dodge, light fixtures to swing on. Outside my window, trees seemed to be dangling into a vast nothingness. I wondered what would happen to me if I ventured out my front door.

I was a weird kid.

With maybe too much time on my hands.

upside-down01

The reason the aforementioned conversation had sparked this particular memory was directly related to the topic of changes in perception. While we were waiting to hear an author speak at a local library, I asked Doug about his current writing project. I’d heard he was reworking one of his novels as a screenplay and this decision fascinated me.

Why would he choose to do this?

He explained that his writing roots were firmly entrenched in screenplay writing and for several years, he’d departed from that format to pursue writing full-length novels. That in itself had been quite an adventure. He was interested to see how much he’d learned from writing novels when he returned to screenwriting. I asked him about some of the differences.

For one thing, he said, screenplay writing really helps you tighten your focus; if you can’t see it, you can’t write it. Meaning, if you can’t visualize something happening, then it can’t be in the script. It can’t happen. The entire story takes place through the eye of the camera – your POV character, as it were. He said that’s why screenplay writing is so great for helping you see things visually.

Talk about a change in perception.

That really got me thinking about how changes in perception can effect our stories, our ability to stretch as writers.

This year, I finished working on a YA project and then switched to revising an old MG project I’d had in a drawer for a few years. The change in perception from YA voice to MG voice was startling. I could see some of my mistakes right away. In some areas, the voice was too old, too adult in tone, in others, too young. I needed to stabilize it, make it consistent. One thing working on the YA novel had helped me find was a strong voice. I could now see where the voice in the MG was going wrong in this story and I was better able to fix it. Once that issue was addressed, the rest of the revision started to move along quite nicely.

Spending time studying and working in a different style, working with a change of perception, helped me see my writing in a clearer light – the good and the bad.

Some of my favorite authors write in different styles and I love when they stretch in unexpected directions. Usually it makes their writing stronger, better. One of my writing mentors, after having 19 young adult novels published, decided she wanted to write a picture book. Even though she was a master craftsman at the young adult historical fiction genre, she started at the beginning with picture books. She read a ton of picture books, went to conference talks about picture books, and studied how to write picture books before delving into this new style of writing. Her first picture book comes out next year and it’s really amazing.

And she’s not done learning.

I never want to be done learning either. How about you? Do you write in more than one style? What have you learned from cross-training your writer’s brain?

 

(FYI, the awesome picture above is from a 2012 French- Canadian romantic science fiction film called Upside Down starring Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess that I stumbled across while mindlessly searching through Google. My daughter and I have vowed we must now see this movie.)

First Impressions from the LA Conference

scbwi2013I love being a part of the SCBWI tribe.

And not just because I get to run away every summer and play with my fellow writers in a celebration of children’s books. I don’t think I could make it through this grueling struggle towards publication without such a crazy-supportive community.

As Lin Oliver stated in her opening address of the SCBWI Summer conference, “Let’s admit that we’re all kind of weirdos”. That’s probably why I feel so at home when I’m there; the place is chock full of kindred spirits.

I always enjoy the parade of the faculty that follows her opening speech. This is when each speaker marches across the stage, introduces themselves and sums up life, the universe, and everything in one word. (Strangely, I have never heard someone use the word forty-two.) As usual, not all writers follow the rules.

Here are some of my favorites from this year:

David Weisner  “Plastics”

Richard Peck  “Surveillance”

Jay Asher  “Subtlety”

Then Jay spoke for his writing partner who couldn’t attend the faculty parade: (in high-pitched voice)”Hi, I’m Carolyn Mackler and my word is Asparagus”.

Matt de la Peña “Honesty” and “Tequila” (I think the tequila helps with the honesty.)

Kristin Clark Venuti “Brain fart”

Ari Lewin “Bacon”

Laurie Halse Anderson made up a word, “Frenergy” which she described as frenzy and energy.

After wracking her brain all night trying to think of a word, Alyn Johnston was inspired by the talking elevator in the hotel : “L-lobby!” (Did I mention that the elevator has a very laid back Californian accent?)

LiveImage.ashxAfter several other inspiring words, the conference got rolling with a great keynote from Laurie Halse Anderson that just made me love her forever. (Okay, I was already a fan of her work, but now it’s permanently carved into my heart: me + LHA = reader love forever and ever.)

I’ve felt an emotional disconnect with my writing lately. It’s all tied up in agent-submission fatigue and self-doubt. Anderson shot straight to the heart of that when she discussed her early writing struggles. At one point she said:

“Your fear is that you are a fraud with no talent.”

I wondered how she could see into my soul from eight rows back. I almost cried. She told us that there was a reason that we could hear dialogue and see in pictures. We have the gift of magic, of ‘Once upon a Time’.

“Books are proof humans can do magic.”

Amen! and Hell, yeah! I almost screamed out. She said that we are NOT like the other grownups; that we defend, protect, and celebrate childhood. We write books with integrity and honesty. In short, she said all of the things that recharged my writer’s heart and reminded me why I loved writing. She reminded me to forget about trends and to write what I love. It was the best way for me to start the conference – letting go of the negative crap and embracing the creative. Throughout the conference, this was the focus for me. I didn’t care this time about how to best market myself or which agents to pursue or what editors were wanting; I looked for things that inspired me.

I spent some quality time with my writing friends and sampled the local cuisine.

Me and most of the Oklahoma gang
Me and most of the Oklahoma gang
Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.
Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.
Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)
Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)

I checked out the art of a billion illustrators – not an original idea.

I think I see Jerry's bald head somewhere in the back.
I think I see Jerry’s bald head somewhere in the back.

I may have even donned a costume and danced a bit.

The Great Catsby and the girls.
The Great Catsby and the girls.
The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?
Jerry, The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?

I met some authors and took some awkward photos – they were all so generous with their time and kind words.

Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open...
Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open…
Joking around with Mac Barnett
Joking around with Mac Barnett
Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.
Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

I may have gone overboard with the books.

too many books

(My bag weighed in at 49.5 lbs at the airport – score!)

I’ll be sharing posts in the weeks ahead about some great talks that helped me find the inspiration that made me excited about writing again. I hope you enjoy them.

As for my writing goals this month, I’ve toned them down a bit. Last month was a little crazy (which may have contributed to my negative state of mind).

Here are my #writemotivation goals for August:

1. Enjoy the SCBWI Summer Conference. DONE!!!
2. Revise, revise, revise. I have tons of critique notes from crit camp to review – not to mention my critique from the conference. I will be very busy with this.
3. Write, write, write. DITTO.
4. Read, read, read. I’ve indulged in this goal for the past few weeks and have read over six books already. More on that to come!
5. Keep that exercise routine going. Blech. Yes, I’m working on it. Stop nagging me. I’m just back from vacation, er, a business trip, whatever.

I hope you’ve all had an enjoyable summer and are rejuvenated from your various adventures. I know I am. Here’s to a productive and inspired fall!