My head gets overwhelmed at times with too much noise when I’m writing – when that happens, I know it’s time to put down my pen – or close my laptop – and go for a walk.
About a mile in, I’ll start to exercise my writer brain by playing my “Describe the Character” game. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. What it does, is give you something else to focus on, while being a bit fun, easy – and if you’re lucky, you can actually develop the great beginnings of a character or scene out of the exercise. In my first book CANELA, this was how I figured out how to combine characters.
Here’s how to play: simply pick a random item in the area and then, without justifying or qualifying, describe it as thoroughly as possible. In this case, about a mile into my walk, I saw a shadowy figure approaching me…without staring too directly, I took in all that I could. Once I passed the person, I jotted down my thoughts in OneNote:
Tall, black running tights, white stripes, three.
Baseball cap, tight black shirt, pecs. Muscular.
Runner. Walking. Hurt. Long legs. Strong arms.
Smile, lots of teeth, white, capped. Bright blue eyes. Long lashes.
Brown hair, white, corporate, executive, Tesla.
Handsome, scruff, married, kids, forty-two.
Friendly, smirk. Head nod. Kind. Neighborly.
Deep. Fall. Cold. Confidence. Unafraid. Worthy.
Swimmer. Parent. Having a good day anyway. Nice.
When I’m having a tough time writing I see it as an opportunity to change things up a bit. As I mentioned in a past post about writer’s block, I like to think of these moments as opportunities. It’s as if the universe is conspiring to have me try something else to get a different creative result. And I have to say, after doing this, I’m hardly ever disappointed. At the very least, it always gets rid of the noise.
I sometimes practice this at my desk as well. I can’t always just go for a walk, especially if it’s the dead of night, so in this case, there are other ways to exercise the writing jewels (my brain). I’ll close my eyes, take a breath and let it out and whatever lands in my eye-line when I open them, that’s what gets described. Here’s what I wrote in OneNote about an ink cartridge:
Dirty. Complicated and expensive. Hate.
White, black, a mess of sorts.
Necessary. Important. Unavoidable, but useful.
Clear. Colorful. Toxic. Technology – Techy. Easy, home use.
Another way to do this is to put on any random song and describe how you feel immediately after listening… In this case, I listened to Lizzo’s Good As Hell.
Positive. Joyful with an attitude. Walking like a model. Freedom.
Happy. Smiling. Advising. Powerful. Elegant. Class. Proper with a touch of street smarts.
Beautiful. Fabulous. Building someone up. Feeling like you got more to do.
The point is, when you can, use tools available to exercise the creative juices. I know writers who use flash cards or just do free writing exercises. The more ways you can self-motivate your creativity and learn to “unstuck” yourself, the better! Now, with these three descriptive pieces of information, I can start writing a new scene or develop a character. At the very worst, I’ve had a little break and stopped the initial noise I had in my head. I can now get back to what I was working on. Win-win!
What tricks or tools do you use to keep yourself in that creative space?
I was wondering if my day was “normal” compared to other people’s lives. I was feeling guilty the other day about spending time “thinking” that I wondered if others did the same thing, you know, for long periods of time.
I was brought up to believe that “working” is a painful and torturous daily event. The idea of loving what you do for a living, just always seemed like a pipe dream. When I watch celebrities I admire talk about how “hard” they worked to get where they are, I question my effort. Am I working hard enough? How do I work harder? I hate that. When people who are successful decide to impart their wisdom, it always seems to imply that I’m somehow not working hard enough or not doing it right. That must be true, since I’m still struggling for success. Clearly, had I been working hard enough, I’d be a celebrity too, right? Or flush with cash? Gotta work “harder” (the constant mantra in my head).
I watched a video yesterday that someone posted on
LinkedIn. It was a clip of all these well-known wonderful celebrities talking
about how you have to “visualize the life you want and then work towards that…”. The people in the video were celebs like Will
Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carey, Denzel Washington… I mean, these are all
people I admire, but why is it, when I hear what they’re saying, I cringe?
Maybe because on top of clearly “not working hard enough”,
I’m now not “visualizing” correctly?
I think a lot of people work hard. Maybe they don’t work
right or maybe they don’t work smart, but if working hard is defined by doing
what you know to do 150% and doing what you can do 150%, then they’re trying. They’re
working hard. And sure, when people know better, they do better. If someone
came to me and said, “You’d get this job if you wore a red shirt”, I’d be all
over it in a heartbeat! But most people wake up every day and do their best and
want their dreams to manifest too. I visualize damn it! Unless there’s some
other version of visualizing that you’ve all been keeping secret from me, I visualize!
But maybe the truth is, it isn’t just about “visualizing”
or the “hardness” of your try. Maybe it’s
about something else? From my point of
view, doors seem to fling open for some people regularly, but not others, right? And honestly, I don’t believe it’s because
you or I aren’t working hard enough. That just doesn’t make any sense.
I was thinking about all of this sitting at the beach
yesterday. I was taking a break before running
back and I started feeling guilty because I was enjoying the ocean instead of “working”. I was enjoying this moment and it felt
wrong. Because work is supposed to be
hard and torturous…and “thinking at the beach” didn’t seem like work. It didn’t
matter that I had gotten up at 4am, wrote for 3 hours, answered emails,
submitted my resume for three different jobs, sent a client an invoice and
then, went out for a run at 9am. My guilt overwhelmed me. Mind you, in all fairness, this was sort of
my lunch break. I had a list waiting for
me when I returned for a one-time client and had blocked off 10-6 to get it all
done. But sitting there, taking in the ocean
air before heading back, had me in such guilt mode. Why?
Because I’m not flush with cash.
Because I don’t have enough income at the moment for next
Because I’ve gotten so many rejections in the past year
for job opportunities that it’s just normal for me to see the emails when I
receive them from companies, saying thanks but no thanks.
Because I’ve made ends meet this past year only because
of the love of friends who have been amazingly generous and kind – both financially
and emotionally, walking me through.
Because enjoying the ocean air should only be…a treat for
someone who has succeeded?
And then it hit me. It hit me hard as I looked out at the magnificent ocean that always brings me solace… I swear, if it were a movie moment, you would see the slow motion of one tear as it ran down my left cheek and my eyes slightly squinting in that moment of realization:The only thing wrong with my life today is that I don’t have a steady income. That. Is. All.
The fact is I’m healthy. I have friends and loved ones who have more than proven themselves to me this year (not that they needed them too, but amazing nonetheless). I have a roof over my head, food on the table, transportation to get to wherever I need too and yes, I have this ocean. I can run 3 miles, and with a short break, run a little bit more. This is the first year I’m not angry or frustrated with anyone. I’ve eliminated all the toxic people in my life and I wake up every day with the sole purpose of figuring out what’s next…and writing! I write every. single. day. And, in that sense, I love my life!
I write and dream and write some more – and all of that is in process of three separate projects: a second book, an amazing idea for a “dramedy” TV show and I’m even working on a play based on my first book CANELA!
Of courses the money part matters, but the point is, I am okay. And I’m not afraid of anything.
As far as “visualizing” goes – I believe we are all capable of achieving our goals. Instead of “visualizing” I prefer the concept that says we are all born with everything we need to succeed. It’s like the acorn. It really has no other choice but to grow up to be an oak tree. With the right soil, sun and water, it will grow up to be exactly what it was meant to be. And if an acorn has a purpose and everything it needs to succeed; then how can I question that I don’t? Maybe some of us are still in the process of getting all the nutrients we need – maybe we’re just sprouting out of the soil and about to grow and bloom and this is just where we’re at in this moment. At the end of the day, we really have no other choice but to be who we are meant to be. Like the acorn.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not oblivious to all that has happened in this past year since leaving a toxic job with toxic people. There was a huge lawsuit that took too long and emotionally drained me. As I mentioned, I’ve applied to several positions, but nothing has come to fruition YET. I also applied to four separate grants and got rejected by all of them. Many people, some who I’ve known my entire life, have let me down. People I’ve helped generously in the past, people who talked a good game when they needed something, were no where to be found. New contacts who I met “networking” who I thought worthy of my friendship actually turning out to be “wolves in sheep clothing” – a blow to my ego for sure. But in the way that matters, all of this was a good thing (it’s so much easier to eliminate toxic people when you can see them clearly). My point is, a lot of bad things have happened – but I believe all of those things have happened as part of the process of helping me get the right nutrients, sun and soil to grow into who I’m meant to be, not continue being who I’ve had to be…
Perseverance. I believe in the determination of a person, more than their ability to “visualize” correctly or consistently. I also believe perseverance trumps working hard, since most people do try every day to move on through. It’s perseverance that will guide you towards something different.
I know any success I’ve had in my life has been because I
didn’t quit. I didn’t quit as a kid when
I thought there was no hope, I’m sure as hell not gonna quit now when I have so
much more wisdom than ever before!
Every time you fall, bruise, get kicked, bleed and feel like you can’t get up – dig deeper. You can do this because you have a purpose in being here. Just like that damn acorn. Of this, I am absolutely sure! Get on your knees and crawl if you have too, but get back on up, dig your way out and move forward. We’re in the process baby! Don’t give up. I know you’re doing your best. Just keep on, keepin’ on. Your time is coming. I know it is!
Your fellow Oak Tree in process.
*I’ve been working on new website but if any of you have any leads, thoughts or ideas, kind comments or constructive criticism, I’m open to all of it. carmensbusiness.com – also, if we’re not already connected on LinkedIn, please reach out to me there as well. I would love to be connected with my wordpress peeps for sure. And, as always, if I can be of any help or inspiration to any of you – feel free to reach out to me at any time!
A few years ago, I had to go to the doctor’s office because I was experiencing so much wrist pain I had to get it checked out. At that time, I learned everything I needed to know about carpal tunnel syndrome and because it sidelined me for quite a while, I decided to start making some changes quickly to avoid ever going down that road again. I developed some really easy habits that I do every day that I wanted to share with everyone who writes, stares at a computer all day or is on the phone regularly.
A lot of writers, and creative people in general, tend to
overwork themselves especially when they’re in that zone or experiencing that
ever elusive “light bulb” moment. We’ll write
for hours without stopping — we’re also prone to over-due it when we’re
experiencing some sort of block – we’ll keep grinding and pushing, not realizing
the possible physical toll we may be putting on ourselves, not to mention the
mental one, by hunching over our laptops and staring at the computer screen for
I believe that keeping ourselves physically healthy is
just as important as keeping our mental and emotional state in check. As artists, sometimes we faulter on all of
these in the hopes of creating that next masterpiece. But I’d like to offer the idea that if you
can implement some really simple habits now, it may help prevent you from unnecessary
injury and pain later. If you start now,
it will also become a seamless part of your everyday way of working and will not
impose on your creativity, but actually may help it!
So, what am I talking about? Well, please watch the video for a visual
explanation. But simply, start learning
to take 1-minute breaks throughout your day to do some small stretches with
your fingers, your wrists, neck and shoulders to give yourself a break from
sitting in a static position. Staying in
the same position for long periods of time can lead to cramping, stiffness and
in some cases, possible carpal tunnel syndrome.
Give yourself 30 seconds to a minute break every hour at least, to reassess your
body and stretch for just a bit.
I use the alarm on my phone for just this purpose. I set
it up to chime in one hour increments and the “ring” I use is a very subtle
soothing chime. The type of “ring” you use IS important – I learned this the
hard way – because sometimes you really are in that creative zone and you
don’t want something to jar you out completely.
But a soft notification is just a reminder to finish the thought and do
your quick stretches to take care of your fingers, shoulders, neck and overall
Please note: I’m not a doctor – so understand these ideas
are what work for me and I’m sharing them with you in hopes that it will help
you. I also think it’s important to
state that I don’t think these tiny stretches throughout your day should take
the place of what we all should be doing to have good and healthy lives – eat right,
work-out/be active, mediate, walk and make sure you hydrate with water regularly.
But adding these small moments
throughout your day will definitely help with taking care of the physical part
of you, the writer, the artist, the worker, so you can continue creating all those
beautiful stories the world needs to hear.
I hope this has been helpful. I’m curious what other people
do to prevent from getting stiff or cramping while writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This post is also part of a great group of writers called
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop – please click on
this hashtag or the pic to find other great sources of tips and tricks that
other great writers use to keep on creating…
The only thing we are guaranteed the day we are born is
that inevitably we will die. We don’t know how or why or when, but eventually
we all do stop having “TIME” to do, to be, to live. It is an undeniable truth we all have in common.
I’m not going to say what you think next – I’m not going
to encourage you or try to inspire or motivate you to live your best life. I’m not.
I have faith that you try to do that every day. We all do the best we
can with what we have in front of us. And yeah, I’m tired of the constant
cheering on, the pushing and the loud screaming about all the ways for you to
succeed. As if you’re not already doing
your best to be better every day…
No, today, on this day of remembrance, this day that
reminds me of how precious life is – how we can lose a college friend like Cesar
Murillo, in a moment, for no reason at all except that he was in the twin towers
going to work – on this day when I reflect on time, on birth, on death – on this
thing we call life, the only thing I’m going to encourage you to do, is to take
a deep breath. Exhale. Take a moment to be grateful for all of it.
For the process, for whatever all of THIS is. Existence, possibility,
If you’re reading this be grateful for the good, the bad,
the mundane, the joyful, the sad. Reflect on this moment as a powerful one. As
a quiet one. Acknowledge that you are
here, you are worthy, lovely, and perfect just as you are.
Appreciate this moment in a time of grace. And never forget…
Somebody posted a comment the other day about “power”. It had me thinking about people who have real power.
When I think about power, I consider people like Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey or someone like JK Rowling – there are others in different industries of course, like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates… we can go down the list of people, but the point is, I doubt these people ever walk around telling others how powerful they are…
That’s what I saw on this post on social media yesterday
that got me thinking about what is real power?
Simply, if you have to tell people how powerful you are, then
you probably aren’t that powerful.
People who have real power or authentic power are people
who understand their influence and realize the responsibility that comes with
being someone who can impact others so easily.
I doubt very much that their goal was ever to be powerful. I feel that being powerful is most likely a byproduct
of who someone is in the world and can never be an actual goal. People with REAL power tend to be people who
inspire and uplift others. They know who THEY are, they know their strengths
and most likely understand their weaknesses and therefore always open to
learning something new.
To me, real power is a very elusive thing. It’s different
from being a leader or wealthy. It actually has nothing to do with your title
or standing. Real power has everything
to do with how others view YOU and nothing to do with what you can
Hmmm. Just something I’ve been thinking about. Here’s the
video I made before my run yesterday that got me thinking….