Managing creativity

Managing your creativity is one of the difficult parts about being a writer. Now this may sound like an odd concept because most people view creativity as something that we react to. We often describe inspiration as something that strikes, is fleeting, it rarely comes when we want it to. There seems to be so much waiting around that It’s no wonder that Greek mythology described inspiration as a bunch of fickle spirits called called muses.

While creativity may seem like a passive process, it really isn’t. When writing is your business, you really can’t wait around for inspiration or else you might be flat broke. It’s the worst feeling in the world to sit down to write and inspiration is nowhere near your computer, but that should never deter you from attempting to write anyway.

Creativity is an active process that needs stimulation and proper direction to surface. To put it another way, the muse does not reward the writer that simply waits around for her. She rewards the writer that seeks her out and wants to put her to work.

Two sides to the Coin

Creativity becomes necessary when we are challenged to do something. We turn to it when there are problems that need to be solved and we create space for it when we are totally focused on finding a solution.

When writing fiction, finding creative solutions to narrative problems both large and small is the biggest challenge. On a small scale the hardest part is writing scenes that are coherent and flow well. That requires me to solve problems that have to do with point of view, believable dialogue and proper description. On a larger level it’s plotting the story so that all these disparate scenes form a coherent narrative.

In both of these cases I’m challenged to find solutions to the many obstacles that get in the way of good writing. In this context, inspiration and being creative is when you are so focused on solving these particular issues that you begin to work through them on instinct. You know exactly what you are doing and how to do it without much thought on the matter

Creativity needs space to operate. It require you to allow room for solutions and new ideas to flow through. Often the challenge is keeping your inner space clear enough to be inspired. If you’re worried or distracted about something, then you are crowding out creativity.

There is such a thing as creating too much space for creativity. I’m the type of writer that gets easily absorbed in my work. When the muse strike, she comes in a flood that won’t ever leave me alone until it’s down on the page. I can get so absorbed in a concept or idea that it consumes all of my focus.

Until that idea is written down and articulated in some way, I can be very distracted and often lose touch with what is going on around me. If I’m not careful, a single piece of writing can take over my life to the point where other important projects can fall by the wayside.

Managing your creativity is essential to being successful. Creativity can become unwieldy when you can’t put down the Muse for a while and focus on things that are equally important to your writing life.

Blogging went on a two week hiatus because an idea for a short story took hold and simply would not let go. It’s now completed and in the editing process, but it made me realize that working this way isn’t efficient.

The flip side of this is not creating enough space for yourself to be creative. There are the people that wait their entire lives for inspiration to come and often never get around to starting a creative project. Or they ride the initial momentum then burn out before they even get to the finish line.

People like this can wait around their entire lives before ever starting that book, poem or painting. Often, they don’t schedule time to do their art and let themselves be swept away by other things that are “more important” than the creative project they hope to finish.

Striking a Balance

Creativity rewards active people. It lends itself to those who seek to use it and becomes most effective for those who know how to manage it.

The first step to doing this is to set the edges of all the projects that you have. You can’t apply your creativity to something if you really don’t know what you are doing. Think about all the steps necessary to accomplish a goal. Be specific, make sure to write them down and review them as much as possible.

Creating space for creativity also means knowing when you’ve started and when you’ve finished. The Muse is more likely to visit if she knows you will be working at 6 a.m. every morning to finish a short story due by Sunday.

The second step is to be aware of all your commitments so you do not neglect any one aspect of your life. Disappearing off the face of the planet for long periods of time simply because a single project took over your life is not a healthy balance.

Know when to put down the pen and work on something else. Make sure that you are still taking the time to properly deal with other issues aside from writing that allow you to be successful like planning, market research and maintaining your social media presence.

Third is to make sure that you are always in the moment. Worry, fear, doubt and distraction are not proper places for creativity to show up. If you were thorough in defining your goals for a project and you’re clear about how you are going to deal with all the other commitments that surround your writing life, then you’ve done much of the work to clear your inner space and allow creativity to come through.

Realize that obsessive focus on the end goal is not a good thing either. If you are constantly thinking about the end of a project rather than the step you are taking at that particular moment then that tends to choke off creativity. Remember that creativity thrives on being active and in the present. If you are worried about something in the past or obsess about the end goal to the point where you neglect the present then you leave no room to be creative.

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Profiling Professionals- Tricia Peterson

Profiling Professionals is a series of articles that highlights individuals that don’t take the beaten path when it comes to their careers. If you know of anybody that fits this profile email Jose San Mateo at info@jasanmateo.com.

Name Tricia Peterson

Occupation: Artist

Website: http://www.ratgirlproductions.com/

Contact information: support@ratgirlproductions.com

 

It’s fitting that Tricia Peterson’s career as an artist and her website Ratgirl Productions owes part of its launch to a corporate pet supply store’s need to shutter its business.

“I got laid off working a job for six days a week. I was managing a pet supply store and working my bum off,” Peterson said. “One day they set me aside and said the figures were not looking good. It really hit me hard, but I was in an ok place. Then it just clicked and I asked myself ‘why am I not doing art.’”

Ratgirl Productions is now two years old and what started out as an idea has grown into a business with a steady following. She still sets up shop at anime, comic, and furry conventions throughout California, at one point working a pace of three in one month, but now its to the point where she has a group of regular clients and now sells merchandise online.

It usually starts early

Peterson always had an inclination for art. As a young girl growing up in the Napa Valley there was little else to do but spend time drawing up in her room.

“I definitely had a lot of free time and drawing tended to fill that up. When I was young, I’d spend a couple of hours on a doodle,  slaving away to get the perfect shading in. You go into kind of a zone and block out time.”

Her dad was a musician with a penchant for the arts while her mother managed a video store called Video Point in Sacramento. As a kid her family would often watch films together.

“I was born and raised in the Napa Valley; surprisingly not as a wine and dine personality,” she said. “I really had a lot of inspiration from things my parents showed me. My dad would bring home a lot of animated movies especially.”

Peterson hung out with a lot of animals and she often spent her days watching Looney Toons and Disney movies. She said her favorite movie was the Lion King, which had an influence on her style. Visit her website and nearly every page you’ll be greeted by a cute furry creatures that wear human clothes and stand up on two legs.

In the way of formal art classes, Peterson started with art classes and took a video production class at Napa High School during her junior and senior year. She got her hands on studio grade equipment and learned the tools of the trade for an animator. In the summer of 1999, Peterson attended a college level animation course in Valencia, CA at a school called CSSSA (California State Summer School for the Arts. She said that learning techniques like storyboarding and creating scripts were useful for her.

After High School she went to Santa Rosa Junior College and took courses online at Anthem College, but for the most part Peterson taught herself.

Peterson developed her own style through imitation. She would often fall in love with certain characters and stories, try and mimic them then incorporate it into into her own original works.

“I’d watch a movie, see a certain style then try and develop my own sorts of style in genres like anime or disney character types,” she said.

Learning this way allowed her to be flexible when it comes to commissioned works. She can easily adapt to what a client is looking for. Peterson said that clients are often surprised when they look through her portfolio and see all the different styles that she is able to do.

She still learns the same way, often watching animation from countries like France and Russia or exploring animated cartoons from decades past.

Striking it out on your own

Real life was often the most challenging part of pursuing a career in art. Peterson was always a hard worker and after high school she was working 40 hours a week in addition to taking her college courses.

She spent time working retail with a five-year run working at various WalMart’s, but it left her little time to work on her art.  She said, “Certain retail job required a lot of mental focus and my art would definitely take a beating. I wouldn’t draw something for months at a time.”

It wasn’t until she was laid off around Halloween in 2009 that she decided to commit much of her time to Ratgirl productions. She finally took the plunge after she went with her sister to the bank and opened a business account.

The skills she learned from working customer service were useful to her business. She was already saavy with social media and knew how to design a website for herself. It also helped to have strong support from her family.

“I am really thankful from my husband and friends and family who have been supportive of what I’ve been trying to do,” Peteson said. “They would ask  ‘are you sure you want to do just this?’ whereas the average joe will ask ‘how do you make a living?’”

The two most difficult things about starting Ratgirl Productions was time management and marketing. She said that becoming a sole proprietary business was juggling being the boss, production artist, public relations writer and everything else.
A typical day is often a lesson in multitasking.

“Pop in movie to get some inspiration and let my mind flow. I’ll definitely try to keep a somewhat rigid schedule so I don’t work on one thing all day,” Peterson said. “I try to  mix it up and work on couple of different things at once so I don’t get restless and fatigued.”

The more difficult task is marketing. With so so many different artists out there, it’s difficult to get yourself noticed so she spends a couple of hours scouring facebook and social media interacting with her fans.

“Regular posting on my site and keeping a good online presence shows people I’m not just a part time artist, but I’m but here to stay,” Peterson said. “It gives them security that they can hire me and I’m not just going to blow them off. I give each project their due time and people appreciate that.”

Not all of her time is spent online though, she also hits the convention circuit working the artist alleys and dealer room. Peterson said that she had been frequenting conventions as a fan for years so it was natural to bring Ratgirl productions to conventions.

“More often I am trying to keep a face to face presence at conventions,” Peterson said. “It’s really major haul getting to every single events. Whenever I’m at conventions it’s usually on a professional level at dealers room or artists alley.”

Selected Works

Ninja Time

This is a parody inspired by The Cartoon Network Show Adventure time and the popular anime series Naruto. She said It’s a fan favorite on her pages and often the kids that see her at conventions recognize the style.

Kitten Vs. Yarn

This started out as a request from friends to build a little bit more artwork in her portfolio. The very flat style is inspired by some of the more recent cartoons on Cartoon Network.

The Watcher

Produced inbetween getting laid off and starting her business. She produced this piece after seeing a contest on Deviant Art. The theme was Dreams and nightmares.

Clarifying values is first step to becoming a writer

There’s a big difference between being a professional writer and being an amateur. The amateur chooses the safe path and gives himself an out when it comes to writing. Often when the moment comes to choose between writing and to do something else he will choose to do something else.

The amateur does not have his heart into his choice to become a writer.

This isn’t an easy choice nor is it one that you make by simply declaring to the world “I am a professional writer.” Really it’s a paradigm shift that may require you to change the way you approach the decisions that you make.

I say this because you don’t make the choice to become a professional writer one time. I make it perhaps hundreds of times in a week. Writing is a choice that I make every day that isn’t motivated by paying the bills or making an honest living for myself. It’s the simple fact that I have something to say and I believe it’s worthwhile to share it with other people.

The reasons I write are important to me and the only way to show that commitment is by doing.
John Wooden, the great UCLA baksetball coach had a saying “Little things done well.” The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the pro makes the right choice on all the little decisions that they have to make.

Consider all the decisions I have to make each day: Sleep in or get up early and read, watch television after breakfast or write this post, plod around on facebook or start writing this short story, Watch a movie after work or spend an hour or two plotting my novel.

Those are all very small decisions, ones that are made every day without much thought, but they are important because they are  choice to act.

The first step in becoming a writer has nothing to do with learning any particular skill or taking a specific class. It comes down to making that choice— are you a professional or an amateur?

The Personality ethic

I’m a big fan of success literature and a big chunk of my reading time is devoted to books on personal development. What I’ve found is that the true mark of a professional is the same whether you want to be an artist, writer or the head of a Fortune 500 company.

Professionals are people that let character dictate personality. To be clear,  character is the way we truly are while personality has to do with perception.  Indecision, regrets and negativity— all the things that hold you back— stem from trying to live based on perception rather than character.

The emphasis these days is on the personality ethic meaning we strive to project a certain image of ourselves based on the way we want people to see us.

The basis of a job search is selling your potential to prospective employers. So you acquire skills and learn specific techniques with the idea of becoming attractive to future employers. Employers looking to hire the type of personality that fits in with their company.

We project that image of ourselves in several ways. The obvious one is our cover letter and resume.  Others include personal websites, blogs and social media. Even certain face-to-face interactions are often done with an air of projecting a certain personality.

When you go in for a job interview or meet with a client there is a certain decorum that is expected that is different from meeting with friends or family. When an employer asks you for an interview what they really want to know is if the person you exhibit on paper is the same one that is standing right in front of them.

The personality ethic does not just apply to your job search.

Marketing campaigns are built on selling you on the fact that their product fits in with the specific image you have of yourself. Social media like Twitter, LinkdIn, Pinterest, Facebook and many others are built on the principle of sharing your personality with others.

Personality is just the tip of the iceberg though and where people miss the mark is not taking the time to figure out who the real person is underneath all the layers of personality.

Living from the inside out
Personality is easy to fake. The easiest way to lose credibility among your peers is to expose yourself as a phony. The best example of this is Tiger Woods. Think about the way you viewed him 10 years ago then now.

It’s almost like looking at two different people, but really what happened is that his character came to the surface in a very public way. He was an untouchable personality for nearly a decade–at least that was the image fans and the media came to know.

The error was ultimately believing that he actually was untouchable in all aspects of his life.
Woods could not live up to the personality other people created for him and ultimately that wasn’t necessarily the man he was or wanted to be. The results speak for themselves.

Think of character, or the person we really are, as a series of concentric circles much like a dart board. At the heart of it are your values, which is the relative worth you hold for yourself.

The values you regard highly form the core of your character. Love, hard work, perseverance are positive values while on the opposite end are greed, selfishness and laziness. These values in turn drive our beliefs, which is the next ring on the circle.

Beliefs are our opinions and convictions about ourselves and others. If you value hard work, then you will believe that others are hard working as well. If you love yourself then you will believe others are loving as well.

Beliefs lead to the next ring, which are our expectations. If you really believe that you will persevere through anything then you will expect that out of yourself in every situation. Contrast that with the person that believes that they will fail, chances are they will enter a situation with the same expectation.

The outermost ring are our actions, which is the one that we ultimately judge ourselves and others by. What we do is a reflection of our expectations, beliefs and values.

In the end, character is the basis of personality or the image we hold of ourselves and others. Anytime we are dealing with other people, what we are really doing is taking it on good faith that personality and character are one in the same.

When we say one thing and do another then we are violating that basic agreement that who I think you are is the same as who you really are. Once that happens it’s very hard to to get that trust back.

Negative emotions happen when what we are doing is not in line with our core values. When somebody is not happy with their job, what they are really saying is that deep down the work that they are doing does not have much personal value.

Clarify, Clarify, Clarify
The professional strives to be clear about every aspect about their lives. If they don’t know something then they strive to learn about it so they can be clear about what they are getting into. This is what people call being solution oriented.

If you are thinking about switching careers or making a life altering decision, the best place to start is within. Clarify your values and figure out what is really important.

Love, perseverance and hard work are just concepts, but what do they really mean to you? How do they apply to your work?

Choose the values that are important to you then apply them to your own life by working outward on each ring of the character circle. Inevitably you will reach the outmost ring. At that point you will be thinking of actions that will embody the things that are most important to you.

Clarifying your actions is the process of planning and goal setting. If you’ve worked from the inside out then this is the process of constructing a personality that is in line with your true character.

If in the end this means you need to change careers or pursue something different, then you have a decision to make. If not, then at the very least you will feel much better about the job that you are doing right now. Gaining that kind of clarity over your work situation is enough to give you peace of mind and in turn you will do your current job better.

Measuring success

Clarifying your true values is ultimately fruitless if you don’t take the steps necessary to achieve them. The steps you come up with may not be easy and ultimately it’s your decision to do them or not.

Perhaps what you truly want is to pursue a career in writing, but quitting your current job would make it difficult to support your family. That is a difficult choice and one you would have to think very long and hard about.

This is different from choosing not to do something out of fear. This kind of resistance is mental and stems from worrying more about the perceptions of others then what we truly want. If you truly seek to live from the inside out then your actions will be the measure of the values you hold dear.

That might mean standing up to your parents who think that giving up a steady job is foolish, or making the decision to give up a certain lifestyle in order to make room for the career of your dreams.

Sacrifices and change go together, but the professional is an expert at dealing with failure.

Our current culture equates success with winning and that goes hand-in-hand with our obsession with personality and image. If that is what you truly value then in the end you will never be happy or content with your life.

The moment money, fame and glory are gone then what is left for you? Only amateurs strive to hold on to things that that are beyond their control. The real professional measures success by the quality of effort they put into their actions at that moment not by winning or achieving the end goal.

When I sit down to write, my goal is to put forth maximum effort in the time allotted. Whether that’s a 15 minute session or six hours of straight writing I am happy and feel successful at the end.

The reward is in the process and in the end that means I never really fail.

Profiling professionals: Writer Nick Mamatas

Writing is hard work that requires you to be in your own head so much that it can be easy to lose perspective on what you are trying to accomplish. I tend to lose myself in the short term goals of trying to finish a particular scene or story that I lose perspective on how it fits into the bigger picture.

I’ve always dabbled in fiction. I usually have a story or two in the works to break up the monotony of doing daily journalism, but never took it very seriously. Without a clear goal in mind none of these stories were ever really completed, but in the past few months I’ve had the urge to really take it seriously.

I took my usual approach when it comes to learning how to do something— read every single book that I could get my hands on. After a while, I felt confident enough to pay the money and take a writing critique class on genre fiction through the Writing Salon in Berkeley.

It was humbling to know that your writing isn’t as good as you think it is, but the critiques also made me reconsider my approach.

My instructor for the class was Nick Mamatas  who was a great teacher in addition to being a talented writer. I encourage you to take his class at the Writing Salon Fabulous Fiction: Thrillers, Romance, Fantasy, Sci Fi & More! available this spring. His lessons were on point and the criticisms were honest and useful.

It dawned on me that reading all the craft books in the world won’t make you a better writer (trust me I’ve read them all these past few months) so I sought a different tact— ask the expert and try to learn from what they did.

I met with Nick again at FogCon, a convention for genre fiction writers  that was held in Walnut Creek. He was kind enough to answer all my questions and even pay for lunch so the least I could do was offer you his insights in the hopes of helping all of you learn what the writing life really looks like.

Taking the Plunge

Take a look at the bibliography on Nick’s website and you’ll see that his writing credits are numerous and far ranging. There are works in fiction, short fiction, feature articles, essays, cultural criticisms, reviews, interviews, peer reviewed articles, comic strips and even a little bit of poetry.

The lesson here is really simple, but often gets lost. In order write well, you have to write a lot. Merely writing reams of pages is not enough though. You need to write with a purpose or you may find you aren’t getting anywhere.

Professionals have ambitions to put their work out there for people to see. There really is no way of getting around the fact that in order to be published you must impress all the people (i.e. editors, publishers and fellow writers) that really matter.

How long that takes is really up to you.

For Nick, it took two years from the moment he decided to make the commitment to write full time to the time his first article made it into a magazine. Up until that point he was working in the film industry.

“Well on some level I always wanted to be a writer. On some level I wanted to work in film. Then I realized that I didn’t want to wake up early and wanted to work from home.”

Nick got his first writing job by responding to an ad in a newspaper. He wrote term papers for college students while working on sets and doing lighting for various indie films.

He lived a rather bare-bones lifestyle in a New Jersey tenement.

Nick said that the term paper work was “feast or famine” and often in the summer months there really wasn’t any work to be had. It was during this time that he would explore the marketplace and really work on his stories.

He stopped doing movies and television in 1996 and switched to strictly term paper work in 1997. His first story “Your Life 15 minutes from Now” was published in Talebones magazine in 2000. His second story came out a year after then his third and fourth stories came out a year after that.
“(Two years) is pretty short. The cliche is it takes six years to teach yourself how to write. What you think in your mind and what ends up on page are two different things. When I first started writing, they were ideas I saw on TV. Slowly I moved to thinking of things only I could write. That’s when the (rejection) letters  started to change.”

Accept the fact that this isn’t easy

Publishing four stories in two years does not necessarily make you a decent living, but building a writing career takes time, patience and perseverance. In my final class at the Writing Salon, one of Nick’s remarks struck a chord with me.

To paraphrase, he said that that writers have something inside of them that they want to say and that if they are truly committed to the work then nothing will really stop them from saying it; not sleep, not your day job and you may even leave your dog alone to piss in the corner.

He put it more succinctly in our interview.

“If you don’t have a love for words then really it’s not worth doing.”

There’s no getting around the fact that your commercial success is dependent on being known and the fastest way to do that is to make sure your writing is in front of as many members of your targeted audience as possible.

Getting published requires you to finish stories and then put those stories in front of editors that will decide if they are worthy to be published. The lead time between how long it takes to hone your craft enough to get the attention of editors is the barrier that stops people.

Although it isn’t for everybody, writing short fiction is the fastest way to do this because they can be turned around pretty quickly and allows you to practice all the skills necessary to produce much larger work.

Nick says that he likes to write short stories because they don’t take hours and hours to churn out. He said that by 2006, 40 to 50 of his short stories have been published.

These days, Nick doesn’t have to solicit people to publish his works anymore. Many times publications come to him asking him for stories and he gets to pick which ones he gets to do. He said that the big breakthrough came when his first novel was published in 2004, but really the foundation was built long before that with the reams of pages he wrote that were never published.

He also wrote other things aside from fiction to pay the bills. In addition to writing term papers, he also did service journalism writing features on technology during the height of the .com boom in the late 1990’s.

He moved from Jersey City to the Bay Area the first time in 2004, moved back to the east coast then later moved back to the Bay Area where he now lives in Berkeley.

Often the most difficult part of the writing life is balancing writing with real life. Right now Nick has a job with Viz Media, which affords him healthcare and a regular 9-to-5 job, but he finds the time to write all the things that he wants to.

He said that for a while there wasn’t a real good balance between writing and real life as he struggled through health and money problems that caused him anxiety.

“This was the hardest way to do it. I had to struggle.  When you have no choice; it’s either write or starve then you have to write. I love working at home,” Nick said. “I enjoy my job at Viz, but I always think I should be at home.”

Successful writers read A LOT

For all the craft books that I’ve read about writing, being successfull really comes down to doing two things— reading and writing. All other things are really just ancillary and if you don’t do both of things then it’s impossible to be good.

Nick said that what stops people from being successful writers are the quality of work, which stems from the fact that they don’t read enough.

The reasons people don’t read are far ranging. Maybe they don’t have the time or patience for it. Perhaps they feel resentful about reading rather than spending time writing, but in the end all of those things are excuses. Watching television and movies or playing video games with a critical eye aren’t a substitute for reading.

Writers read a lot and there isn’t any way around it.

The way you read is also important. Read your books on multiple levels as a writer, reader and also a critic. In an ideal world you would reread your books on multiple times with those three perspectives in mind.

Nick says that he doesn’t read books multiple times, but he does keep those three perspectives in mind when he does read. He admits that he does miss some things by not rereading books.

“You look for a  story that makes sense and works together, whether all the facts are together,  whether it’s persuasive or not, whether it shows the limits of language.”

Don’t put any limits on the things that you read. Read anything and everything that you think is good. If you are a fiction writer then read some non-fiction books. Read features in magazines and articles on the internet. As long as it’s good writing then it’s worthwhile to take a look at.

“I read tons of non-fiction, political science and tons of articles. I read features and all the hard news. There are  some great feature writers out there and it’s good to know how the world works.”

Some notes on habit and parting advice

Being a successful writer really comes down to the choices you make each day. Every successful writer differs in the way that they produce their work, but they all make the decision to write something and follow through.

Being selective about the things what you do aside from writing is often the thing that either holds you back or ensures your success. Just remember that time spent watching TV, movies and going out with friends is taking away from the time you could otherwise be using to write.

The key is being able to balance those things with the two things you have to do— read and write. If it’s getting in the way of doing enough of both those things to be successful then maybe you need to reorganize your priorities.

Here are a few tidbits from Nick on various subjects.

• On copying the style of your favorite authors:

“I do it purposefully. I’m a  pretty talented mimic and I’ve done stories in the voice of Jack Keruac. I like mimicking other people’s voices, but they are still  Nick story.”

• What a typical day looks like.

“Back when I was freelancing, I’d wake up goof around looking at email, read the new, have lunch, walk my dog, and mess around online. I’d do everything aside from writing, but while doing all this procrastination, I’d be thinking in the back of my brain about my story. When I write novels I try to make myself write a page a day if it’s going great then I’ll go until I get tired.”

• On writing toward a certain market.

“I have firm idea in mind of what I want and I don’t care if it’s commercial or not. I just do what I like to do. It’s very destructive (to write to what the market wants.) It’s all about the gap between in knowledge between that is produced and what is not.”