Friday, January 13, 2012

12 Steps For Fostering Your Creativity: Weekend Workshop 1

SARK isn't exactly a Muse, but she puts mine to shame.
When I was a teenager, I found this poster by SARK in a Toronto mall and immediately fell in love.  I took it home, gave it a place of honor on my bedroom wall, and made it a point to read it from start to finish at least once a day.

Some of the best advice I've ever received for fostering my personal creativity came from "How to be an Artist", and to this day, the words remain with me, even though the poster has long since disappeared.

If I could, I would take every single bit of advice in this poster and turn it into one of the 12 Steps For Fostering Your Creativity this weekend. However, rest assured that you don't need to stop at the 12 steps listed here today.  Find your own copy of this poster, frame it up, and hang it in your writing space - and don't be afraid to open yourself up to being the creative creature that you are.

Are we ready, then?  Grab a notebook and a pen or open up a fresh word processor document, and let's dive right in to this weekend's Mynx Writes Workshop. Let's play!

Step One

Refuse to "be responsible".

That's right.  Blame your creative dry spell on your Muse.

I do it all the time.

My Muse is a flighty little thing that refuses to stay put and help me get my creative juices flowing.  When it is around, it spends most of its time in the closet playing drinking games with my Boogey Man and antagonizing the herd of zombie unicorns that I keep under the bed.  Mostly, though, my Muse is AWOL.  I'm pretty sure it has a standing invitation to hang out with Carmen Sandiego, wherever in the world that might be at any given moment.  I'm also fairly certain my Muse has not only been playing "Where's Waldo?" with me, it's also been dating Waldo on the sly.

In other words, my Muse and I have a long standing love/hate relationship, and I am not to be held responsible when it picks up and blows town again. (Which also means that when it calls me at 3 A.M. looking for me to bail it out of a Mexican jail cell, I refuse to answer the phone.)

Exercise:
It's time to start laying the blame on your Muse.  For this exercise, you are going to compile a list of all the things that your Muse is doing when it is supposed to be helping you be creative.  Did it skip town with mine and now they are both off somewhere on a beach drinking dirty martinis and laughing about how lame we are?  Is it holed up in your closet planning a keg party with your Boogey Man?  Whatever it's doing, it's obviously not concerned about you in the slightest, so don't be afraid to imagine worst case scenarios - maybe it got caught in Vegas with two dead hookers and a briefcase full of blow.
Your list can be as long as you need it to be, but make sure you have at least 12 things that your dickens of a Muse is doing when it should be joined to you at the hip and cracking the creative whip.  Don't spend too much time on the items on this list.  Make this a quick and dirty exercise.  Write down the first things that come to mind and move on.

Step Two

Invite someone dangerous to tea.

That Muse of yours might not be much of a homebody, but it's going to want to be present for this tea party, my friend.

First of all, let's define "dangerous", and how it applies to your tea party.  Are we talking Chuck Norris "dangerous", or are we talking Hannibal Lector "dangerous"?  Or maybe we're nowhere near that kind of "dangerous".  Maybe your type of "dangerous" is Big Bird on roller skates.    

Exercise:
Create a guest list for your tea party. List 12 possible "dangerous" guests, and next to each guest, explain in a sentence or two why they are "dangerous". I sure wouldn't want Big Bird on roller skates anywhere near my antique china tea set.

This is also a quick and dirty list - write down the first things that come to mind and move on.

Now that we have a guest list, we're going to narrow down our possibilities for the guest of honor. For each guest, explain in a sentence or two why you would want to invite them to tea.
Finally, we're going to go back to our list from Step One and determine which guest on the tea party guest list our Muse would most like to have tea with, based on what it is off doing when it's supposed to be helping us be creative.

Exercise:

Write a short story or draw a cartoon depicting your tea party. Who did your Muse decide to invite? Why? What happened at the tea party? What did you talk about? Detail the conversation. Who ended up being more "dangerous" - your guest or your Muse?

Because my Muse is such a tool, it would have invited Big Bird on roller skates, spiked the tea with roofies, and then sat back and watched the magic happen - meaning - laughed its fool head off while that over-grown canary stumbled around the parlor like a drunk sailor and smashed my antique china tea set to smithereens. Bastard.

Step Three

Read everyday.

Okay, enough with the Muse bashing for now.  Fun as it is, we need to talk about how reading everyday can benefit you creatively.  We already know that reading is a very important part of any writer or blogger's regimen, but that doesn't mean that you should limit yourself to books on writing or skimming other people's blogs.

In fact, that's exactly what you shouldn't do.

Let's face it - for most, if not all writers, it was your love of reading that led to you becoming a writer in the first place. If you aren't taking the time to read for pleasure anymore, you are cutting off your creative nose to spite your creative face. Reading for pleasure keeps your imagination fired up - picturing scenes, characters, and settings from descriptions in the books you read is just the beginning of how your creativity is stimulated by reading.

Long story short, reading is good for your creativity, your writing, and your blogging.  Do it.  Every. Day.

If you do take the time to read for pleasure every day, good for you!  (But you should still do the exercise along with the rest of us.)

Exercise:

Make a list of all of your favorite books.  This means all of the books that you have read in your lifetime.  If you adored "Harold and the Purple Crayon" as a kid, make sure it goes on this list.  If Judy Blume's "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" was a favorite, add it.

Now make a list of all of the books that you want to read.  Pull out your Kindle and add all of the books that you've downloaded but haven't read yet.  If you have a Goodreads profile, grab your list of books that you want to read there.  If you don't have a Goodreads profile, now would be a great time to start one.
Finally, search out reading lists and make it a point to incorporate them into your pleasure reading regimen.  For example, there is an excellent list compiled by Stephen King of the books that "do it" for him at the end of his book, "On Writing". 
Your mission this weekend, and every day from here on out, is to read as much from these lists as possible, starting with your favorite books.  These books are your favorite books for a good reason - they made you think, they got your imagination working, and you enjoyed spending time in the world that they offered.  
Whenever I get stuck, or find myself in a creativity rut, I find that falling back on my favorite books gets me moving forward again.

Step Four

Play with everything.

There is entertainment to be found in even the most mundane situations, and it is your job to find it.  I like to give inanimate objects their own personalities, especially when they frustrate me.  It not only helps me to see the humor in the situation, but it makes a potentially stressful time a shiny happy fun time instead.  Plus, even though I've gotten a few weird looks, most people just laugh along with me. It's probably a safe bet that I won't be committed to a mental institution anytime soon just because I'm an adult who likes to play.

Exercise:

It's time to turn your writing space into a play ground, complete with shiny happy fun time friends. Even if you do most of your writing and blogging on your laptop down at the local coffee house, you can still practice this exercise.
Meet Spike, the all-seeing aloe.
  • Adopt a writing mascot. For example, I've got a tiny green lizard that probably came out of a gumball machine who sits near my monitor and reminds me not to take myself so seriously. Carry your mascot with you so that it can be there where ever you decide to set up shop and write.
  • Turn the local flora into instant imaginary friends. All's it takes is a couple of novelty eyeball straws and you've got potted plants with personality. If you write in a coffee shop, try leaving the straws in the plants and see how long they stay there. Sometimes, when you play, others will decide to play too.
  • Personify your tools. Name your computer. Glue some googly eyes on your stapler and your pen. Turn that paper munching printer that is constantly jamming up its feed into the monster that it is by giving it a face and a ridiculous name. Writing can be lonely business, so why not create some friends to keep you company - with the added benefit that they will only distract you when you want them to.

Step Five

Build a fort with blankets.

If you are going to be playing with everything, you might as well build yourself your own personal Fortress of Doom.  I mean, c'mon! Who doesn't remember stealing the kitchen chairs and turning a corner of the living room into a blanket castle when they were a kid? (And if you never did, isn't it about time you did?)

Exercise:

Scope out a prime piece of real estate to build your fort.  This is going to be your creative retreat, so no kids allowed.  (Although, if you do have kids, you should make it a point to build one with them, too.  It's good practice for yours, and it's just plain fun!) 

Raid the linen closet for blankets, sheets, and extra pillows.  Raid the Christmas decorations for strings of lights.  Raid the garage for unused clothesline or rope if you have it.  Gather up clothespins, thumbtacks, safety pins, hair or binder clips - anything that you can use to secure the blankets and sheets into something resembling a fort. 

Build your fort and leave it up for the weekend, at least.  Leave it up forever.  It's up to you.

Put whatever you would like inside your fort - stacks of books, your iPod, your musical instrument if you play.

Name your fort.  Mine is known as Evil Mynx's Fortress of Doom.  Take a few pictures to commemorate your creation.

Retreat to your fort with your laptop, your notebook or journal and a pen, or a good book from your reading list. Pretend you are on a spaceship en route to a newly discovered planet.  Pretend you are on safari in Africa.  Pretend you are hiding from an army of androids hell-bent on taking over the world.  Pretend you have been exiled to a desert island until you get your creativity flowing again.

Spend at least 45 minutes in your fort everyday, and don't forget to have fun!

Step Six

Draw on the walls.

Drawing on the walls doesn't have to be a no-no!
Why else would Crayola make washable markers if not for us to draw on the walls on purpose?

When I was in college (the first time), the girls in my dorm wing got themselves a hold of a few sets of washable markers and a bottle of Formula 409 and spent an entire weekend turning the hallway into a work of art.  There were the obligatory flowers and hearts, along with inspiring quotes, stick figure drawings, trees, cartoons, names and words graffitied in every color of the rainbow up and down the walls.

For one magical weekend, the plain white walls of the dorm were transformed into a fun and inspiring place to be.  (That is, until the janitors showed up to our floor on Monday and effectively cock-blocked the creative spirit that had possessed the residents.)

Exercise:

Make sure you test the markers on your walls for color-fastness first.  Take out your washable markers and test them in an inconspicuous corner of the room.  Draw a line in every color and leave it to dry for an hour or two.  Come back after that time and use Formula 409 or another cleaning agent safe for your walls.  If the marker washes off completely, you're good to go.  If it doesn't - you can still draw on the walls - just cover them with paper first.

Now, draw on your walls.  Don't let the fact that you're not an artist inhibit you.  Can't draw?  So what.  Do it anyway.  The only person who is going to see this is you, and the point is not to prove to yourself that you are the next Picasso.  The point of this exercise is to free up your inhibitions.

Drawing on the walls is naughty business, so dare to be naughty.  Write swear words on the wall, like "poppycock" and "bloody hell".  Make them stand out.

Going back to Step One and Step Two, draw a picture of your Muse.  Pick an item from the list you made in Step One and draw your Muse doing that.  Draw a picture of your Muse having tea with the dangerous guest from Step Two.

Write your favorite inspirational quotes on the wall.  Doodle on the wall - add stars, pinwheels, curlicues, and nonsensical lines.

Take your time - spread this project out over the weekend, and come back when you have a spare minute to add more.

Leave it up for the weekend, or as long as you like, but take pictures before you wash it off, so that the next time you need to be inspired, you can go back and admire your work.

Step Seven

Swing as high as you can on a swing-set, by moonlight.
moonlight swing by Papkalaci

Have you ever tried this?  It's exhilarating! 

Once, when I lived in the magical pink house in Colorado, my back yard opened up into the local town park, complete with a playground and swings.  Even in the dead of winter, a clear night with the moon shining bright was prime time to sneak off into the park and go swinging.  (And then come home to a nice a mug of hot chocolate, complete with marshmallows and a shot of peppermint schnapps.)

There is something about flying through the darkness with nothing but the light of the moon shining down on you that breaks down the creative barriers and gets you thinking freely again.  Best of all, the moon is still rather full this weekend - so you won't have to miss out on the magic.

Exercise:

Find a playground in a safe neighborhood, or, if you are lucky enough, use the swing in your own back yard.

Wait for the moon to rise.

Go swinging!

Step Eight

Cry during movies.

Yes.  Do this.  Even if you are a man, don't be afraid to get so involved in a movie that you invest your emotions and end up bawling your eyes out.  When you do this, you are opening up your mind and connecting to the story in ways that get your brain moving. 

For the record, movies that make you cry aren't always "chick flicks".  I've seen three brothers simultaneously burst into tears while watching "Legends of the Fall" during the war scenes. 

Exercise:

Make a list of movies that never fail to make you cry.  Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Seven Pounds
  • Titanic
  • Forrest Gump
  • Legends of the Fall
  • Schindler's List
  • The Green Mile
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • Brave Heart
  • A.I.

Go to the internet and look for more suggestions.  Try to find movies you've never seen before, and add movies that you remember seeing a long time ago. 

Once you've got a good list, pick out a few for viewing, get yourself a full box of tissues, and pour yourself a nice stiff drink.

Settle in, and don't be afraid to cry yourself silly.

Step Nine

Get wet.

Admittedly, this is not the ideal time of year in most parts of the United States to be playing in water, but hear me out. 

A good soak in a hot bath with some relaxing music, candles, and a nice glass of wine can do wonders for your creative spirit.  And guys, that goes for you, too. 

Alternatively - go out in the snow and play until your clothes are soaked through.  Make snow angels.  Go sledding.  Build a snowman.  Build a snow fort. 

Then come inside and take a nice, hot bath.

Exercise:

All of the following can be done anytime the weather permits.
  • Have a water balloon war with your friends.
  • Dance in the rain.
  • Fill a supersoaker and hide out on your roof. Snipe unsuspecting victims.
  • Go mud puddle jumping.
  • Play Marco Polo in the pool.
  • Dive into a lake fully clothed.
  • Go skinny dipping. (Judiciously, of course. Getting arrested for indecent exposure is counter-productive to creativity.)

Step Ten

Make little signs that say YES! and post them all over your house.

This simple, three letter word can be a powerful weapon.  Use it to remind yourself to be positive, to think positive, and most of all, that yes, you are creative. 

Exercise:

Grab a pad of Post-It notes and a few brightly colored markers and start making your "YES!" signs. Get creative - use multiple colors, draw block lettering and color it in with polka dots or candy cane stripes. Make your letters big and attention getting. Don't forget the exclamation point!

Now, start placing your signs. Stick them to the insides of the kitchen cupboards. Put them on mirrors. Stick them all over the walls of your blanket fort.  Put one on your bedside lampshade. Put one in the refrigerator. Put one on the inside of the toilet lid. The more unlikely the place you put your sign, the more of an impact it will make when you see it.


Leave these up for the weekend, or however long you would like.

Get used to saying YES! to creativity.

Step Eleven

Imagine yourself magic.

The Magic Gateway
You are indeed magical, even when you have to imagine yourself so to be so.  So, fashion yourself a cape out of the nearest bed sheet, consider your pen a magic wand, and put on the silliest hat you own. It's time to become your magical alter ego - and we're about to figure out who that is.

Exercise:

Imagine yourself magic.  Make a quick list of at least 12 magical powers that you possess.

Go back and develop your list.  Answer the following questions for each magical power on your list in one to two sentences: 
  • What does this power enable you to do?
  • Why did you choose this power? 
  • How did you get this power?

What does your magical alter ego do?  What is its name?  Mine is Evil Mynx, of course, and I wrangle zombie unicorns. 
Now, take your magical alter ego and incorporate it into your daily creative routine.  I like to randomly pass out zombie unicorns to my followers on Twitter, but you can do whatever you'd like to do.  Just make sure that you do it.  Being magic is a lot of fun, and finding people who will play along is even more delightful. 

Step Twelve

Drive away fear.

If you've completed the previous eleven steps, you're much closer to succeeding at this final step than you were when you started this Weekend Workshop.  After all, it takes guts to be a grown up and play as hard as we just did, right?

So, now we're going to finish what we've started by acknowledging our fears, recognizing why we're afraid, and driving that fear off of a cliff and into the old quarry lake, which is rumored to be bottomless - extremely useful in getting rid of things that we never want to see again - such as our fears. 


Exercise:


What are you afraid of?  Make a list of every fear that has ever risen its ugly head and stood in the way of your creative process.  Up until now, the magic number has been 12, but this list needs to be all encompassing.  Make sure you leave no fears behind.  Get them down on this list.

Now - go back and with as much detail as you can possibly manage, explain each fear on your list.  Why do you have this fear?  When did this fear first materialize?  Do you know what caused this fear?  If yes, write it down.  If no, write that down, too. 

Start a new list.  For each item on your list of fears, write down one thing that you would do if you weren't afraid.  Word it in a positive way - "I can write a book, because I'm not afraid to finish what I start."  "I will have a popular blog, because I'm not afraid to share my knowledge with people."

Here comes the fun part.  Now that you've got a list of positive goals which you've extracted from your list of fears, you are going to get rid of those fears.  No, you're not just going to hit delete and send your file to the recycle bin.  Print it out before you delete it!  Rip the list out of your notebook.

Now, destroy your fears.  Rip the list up into confetti and flush it down the toilet.  Take a lighter or a match and burn it away to ash (But be careful not to start anything else on fire. That would be bad.).  Do whatever you would like to destroy this list, but make sure that you destroy it.  The more flamboyant the destruction  process is, the more satisfied you will feel when you are done.

Finally, take your list of positive goals, pick one, and dive in!

Open up.  Dive in.  Be free.

Do it now.

I hope you've enjoyed this Weekend Workshop.  Leave me a comment and let me know how you did!  Also, be sure to sign up for the newsletter for exclusive content and resources from Mynx Writes, and "Like" my page on Facebook. 

Thanks for reading!

13 comments:

  1. I love building Fortresses of Doom -- Step Five is the best! I will bookmark this Post! I like the amount to time you're spending on this creative Workshop: it shows.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Justin. It did take some time to put this together, but I had fun doing it. :)

      Delete
  2. Great post Marie and I have to echo Justin's comment about the effort you spent creating it. You have much more tenacity than you give yourself credit for, it would take me a year to compose such a well thought out and wonderfully written post.

    Love the blog, will be back.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Building a fort with blankies has been appearing more and more the last few weeks. I think its time to hunker down and do it. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you should! :) It's so much fun. Thanks for reading.

      Delete
  4. Great advice! Not sure about drawing on the walls, but other than that I'm game! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Drawing on the walls is a great way to free up your creative inhibitions, but if you've got designer paint on your walls, I can understand why you wouldn't want to do it. ;-)

      Delete
  5. LOL Fabulous post, Marie. You made me laugh out loud. Some great advice in there too!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This post is fantastic!

    My kind of "dangerous" is certainly not Big Bird on roller skates, but I laughed at the thought though. :-)

    I love the drawing on walls idea. In college I used a Q-tip and laundry detergent and painted a mural of Jim Hendrix that could only be viewed under a black light.
    If I did that now, it might be tough explaining to my wife what I was doing to the walls. "Never mind, I'm being creative, honey."

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for a wonderful, thoughtful, positive post. Some of the items really resonated with me - 8,9,12. 9 especially - for some reason being around or in water is really important for me. I also liked the post on the fort - we all need our times of cozy isolation!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for all your valuable hard work on this site. Gloria takes pleasure in making time for investigations and it's easy to see why. All of us know all regarding the dynamic tactic you convey helpful guidance on your website and therefore encourage response from others on that matter plus our child is always learning a lot. Take advantage of the remaining portion of the new year. Your conducting a wonderful job.
    Eastman Outdoors 37225 22-Inch Stainless-Steel Wok Kit with Burner, Spoon, Skimmer, and Spatula

    ReplyDelete