Musings: How to Find, Feed, and Keep Your Creativity

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Historically sexist images of the Muse aside, is the personification of creativity a helpful construct? Ray Bradbury seemed to think so in his fourth essay of Zen in the Art of Writing, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse.” The essay continues to unpack his theory that memory and the subconscious are the primary engines of our creativity. Unlike his earlier essays, here he speaks in more practical terms on how a writer, or creative person in general, can find, feed, and keep their Muse. Continue reading

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Human Movement, Illustrations for Chapter One

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Illustrations for chapter one. It’s all about our bones.

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In the introduction to the book, which was also in the sales copy, I had the main teacher/adult show her muscle, nerve, and skeletal systems. I’m running with that trope.

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Coloring takes the longest for me. It’s partially my fault for having such a loose/unclosed line style. I can’t easily use the paint bucket tool to color huge areas, I need to make sure I’ve blocked off all the smaller areas into which it can bleed. I will probably need to change my style in future to get these done faster.

The next six weeks I will be working on Human Movement for Nomad Press. It looks like a fun book for folks who want to know how our bodies move and the study of kinesiology. I will be posting my work as I go. For chapters two and three I will post my line work only, just to change it up.

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Gut-Punched by Pneumonia

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I’ve never felt like I was drowning before last week. Starting Thursday night I had a fever which continued to build into the weekend. I coughed, nothing came with it. I felt dizzy, but no ear or sinus problems. I was getting short of breath. On Monday I thought I was getting better, I thought my fever was lessening, but I would cough until I saw stars and my body was wading in chest-high water. When I breathed out my lungs gurgled like a pot of boiling pasta. I begrudgingly went to urgent care where they gave me a face mask after I hacked my way to check-in. Continue reading

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Your THING: Nouns and the Magic of Memory

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The door. The garage. The clock. The exit. The book. The tear. The secret. The stump. The backwater.

Nouns beg for meaning to be given. My examples probably conjured a variety of images for you, or you wanted more information.

Nouns are loaded guns. Full of potential. Easily used. Deadly effective when used correctly. Disastrous when mishandled.

Lists of nouns jotted down by a half-conscious mind may reveal patterns and textures unknown before. Obsessions become obvious. Mysterious longings take form. Bradbury’s essay Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds explores the creative potential in the most basic words on the page: nouns.

Lynda Barry, probably one of the best creative voices, led a short writing workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies when I was a student. One of her most amazing sessions was free writing that used limited time and lists of nouns to open us up.

We’d only have short times of thirty seconds or so. She’d tell us to write as many nouns down the side of our page as we could in the time allotted.

“Go!”

The timer started and we scribbled madly.

“Stop!”

The time was a blink. I was almost out of breath.

“Now, look back at the page, which noun held the most weight for you? Which one had a momentary hold on your mind? Circle it!

“New page! Write that noun at the top of your new page! You will have one whole minute to write down along the side quick thoughts and memories about that noun.

“Go!”

And we did. Slowly she worked us through our own minds to gold. When it was over we had the beginnings of a story, and some were quite amazing.

“See? You had it in you the whole time. Just didn’t know how to get it out.” She winked and moved on to some other exercise.

I regret not keeping my page of nouns or the story I began from her session. What stuck with me was the very practical magic she used to create something from our own minds. We all started with blank pages. We ended half an hour later with a full page or two of potent material. How come no one taught this stuff in school?

If I had spent more time than a first read of Zen in the Art of Writing I may have learned my lesson seven years earlier. Bradbury knew the power of nouns to unlock our minds and memories. Today we’d probably call them creative triggers. He would keep lists and lists of nouns and revisit them. Doing exactly what Lynda Barry told us to do with ours, finding ones with weight to them.

Time is an important factor in beginning the act of writing. Bradbury thinks of it like a lizard. Moving fast. Getting somewhere. Pause. Look around. Continue! When we write in short bursts or under a tight deadline, our survivor brain can override the higher mind’s apprehension. We get something on the page. We stop. We look at it. We keep going.

Get your noun. Check. Write down somethings about that noun. Check. Find one or two things that really stand out. Check. Write! Stop! Write!

Of course this doesn’t work for everyone and isn’t a universal formula, regardless of what Bradbury may want you to believe. The exercise is still a useful one. Want me to demonstrate?

Ok. It should be said Lynda Barry insisted (and I think Bradbury would too) on using pen and paper…

The following is a real-time attempt to create ex nihilo.


Step One: Nouns 30 seconds

glASS

CAT

CAR

MOTOR

FRIEND

EXCITEMENT

PIPE

DRAWER

MUSEUM

CAR SEAT

VAN DOOR

DESERT

(I hit all caps as I was typing. I won’t change it. It’s real, man.)


Step two: Find your noun. Mine is Car Seat 1 Minute

The fauz leather of my dad’s beatle car seat

the fuzzy warm and sweet seats of our old crystler

the from seat of our old van

the red seats of my grandparent’s La Baron

Whew. Ok. Major misspellings. So which one is grabbing me? OK. Sweet seats of the old Chrysler mini van. Now I need to put myself in that spot and write what is around me.


Step Three: Place yourself in the memory. 2 Minutes

In front of me are my parent’s seats. The backs were a sticky blue faux leather. Above me the light blue felt ceiling was sagging in places, I wanted to pull on it. A single light was in the middle. Behind was the backseat where our dogs would travel. To my left was the window with those black nob things to partially open it from the bottom. To my right was the almost impossible to open door. Under me was the fuzzy carpeting with mashed candy and crumbs. It’s summer.

Whew. Ok. Time to write about a memory with those details in my head.


Step Four: Remember a scene. 10 minutes

I had wanted a Wendy’s burger and frosty so badly after the hot day I had playing little league baseball. The uniform was itchy and I was flush from the activity. My brother was in the shotgun seat, smiling.

“Can I have a large frosty?” I asked as we pulled into the drive thru.

“You will have a small.” Her words were final, but I was glad it didn’t get downgraded to a soda. She turned to my brother, “What do you want, AC?”

I didn’t hear my brother’s reply. The heat which built up inside the van from the Texas sun had released all the odors of past food spilled and lost among the cracks and blue carpeting. Like olfactory ghosts each sprang up and swirled together in an unholy mist. I suddenly didn’t feel well.

When our turn to order came my mother rolled down her window and pushed her head out of the car to speak into the little box. Her dark perm floated in the unforgiving summer wind. “We will have two kids meals, one with no pickles, and three small frosties.” A voice of muffled static read it back to her. “Sounds about right.” The price was given. She pulled ahead and handed her purse to my brother to find the right payment.

As home schoolers, my parents always found a way to teach us something during the day. When buying food, we would either find the right change or tell how much change we should get back. My brother found the money and began working on the change needed.

AND SCENE


Whew. Ok. I didn’t promise literary gold. But before I began I wasn’t even thinking about the last time my family ate at Wendy’s for almost a decade (spoiler, there was a dead fly in my brother’s burger when he went to see if the pickles had been removed. He had already bitten into the burger and the pickles were still there). Memories of baseball hit me while writing that piece. How self-conscious I was in my uniform at a young age and worried about my HUGE athletic glasses, all those young emotions floodef back.

All this, from a list of nouns. I guess Barry and Bradbury know a thing or two.

Happy writing. What will your lists produce for you?

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Joyful, Joyful: Writing and Responsibility

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It is disorienting when you feel something newly born within your heart. Falling in love. Finding the rotting zombie of hate in a graveyard of memory. Returning home and being a stranger. Recently, I’ve fallen in love with writing. And I am off balance.

Writing was what I wanted to do in college, but it was born from wanting to be a critically acclaimed “important” writer. I wanted to be the next fill in the blank. I wrote without heart and full of pretension.

It was a chore for me.

It was not vital.

It was disheartening.


I’ve always felt my future career was in the creative world. Cartoonist and illustrator have been titles I can use to make a living in that world. Drawing can feel fun until a project comes along where I need the money and don’t really care about what I am putting on the page.

When I finish a piece of drawing and Kristin tells me it is good, I don’t feel much.

When I finish a piece of writing and she says it is good, I am filled with joy.

I didn’t see this coming. I was shocked to wake up with “writer” in the middle of my mind like a mystical name given in the night.

All I want to do is think, talk, read, and write!

Not for the sake of critics.

Not for fame or glory.

Not to be remembered in textbooks by obsessed researchers and bored students.

I want to write for the sheer joy of it. Seeing words on a screen or a page. Getting thoughts down and wrestling with grammar and structure to make the poor, mediocre, or the mediocre, good. These are what I want to do, all the time.

Kristin will tell you I get obsessed with things easily: running, card games, video games, television shows, etc. I fear I may be obsessing with the joy of writing.

I have responsibilities. I have drawing deadlines. I have old unfinished design projects I need to deliver. I have my day job. I have my family of which to be a part. I can’t throw these things off for an affair with writing.

I need to learn what everyone learns when a new things is born, how to not spoil it. How to give proper space. How to not feel so off-balance all the time with blinding love or expectation.

It’s a difficult task for me as I read Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. He exploded and burned for his writing. The incendiary efforts of his mind and typewriter fueled so many stories and worlds. He understood the place of the “cool” moments of editing, but he described not writing for a day as if his thoughts and ideas would become toxic.

I have to wonder what other things in his life suffered as he chased his love with pen and paper?

What moments of joy or terror were lost by obsessing with stories?

A bit of wisdom comes to me from Ecclesiastes, a truism easily forgotten, “for everything there is a season.”  I can’t give myself, body and mind, to the desire to write. I need to remember my responsibilities and things I value like walking with my family, talking with Kristin, staring at a sunset and the changing color of leaves, or being in a quiet room at rest.

I am in awe of the sheer joy of writing I now possess. Now it is up to me to find a way to father the flame of my joy; a way for it to continue to give warmth and light, not to let it die, and not feed it to the point it burns my life down around me.

Fellow writers, I hope you can find a way too.

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