Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Creative Demon Zodiac IV: Realism/ Earth Signs

 Photo by kongsky
Hello, again! It’s Creative Demon Zodiac Time! This week, we take on the Final Three of our signs: the “Realism” quadrant. Those born under these Demons are pressured to “Get Real” and “Get a Life.” Oh, Demons! You’re so practical.
Paycheckarion: Those born under the Paycheckarion sign are very concerned with Making a Living. Whenever they create Art, their demon loves to ask, “How will you earn money from that?” Then it looks at the yarn doll/ flower bouquet/ poem/ painting/ whatever and laughs smugly. For this sign, it all comes down to whether or not they can be shown the money. If no money is shown, better to spend their days as a drudge and passive fan of Dancing with the Stars than to waste time creating something that has zero objective monetary value. They sometimes experience excruciating whiplash when they convince themselves that their novel will be the next Hunger Games, only to despair when it is never even published.
PROS: Paycheckarii always have food to eat and a roof over their heads.
CONS: Paycheckarii are afraid to simply have fun with their work. They can’t see that the work has value in itself. Personal value.
MOTTO: “Show me the money!”
Selfishius: The Demons that rule the Selfishii love to tell them that making art is selfish. “There are starving people in the world!” is the message that tortures the Selfishii. “There are people who are forced to work hard labor—and there you are, making a mini-dinosaur out of polymer clay! Over-privileged and SELFISH!! You should be ashamed!” Those born under this Demon Sign are convinced that art is a bogus pastime, and that they would be better off doing something useful for humanity, like dentistry. They fear that—because they enjoy their work—that means that they are actually horrible people, unworthy to draw breath.
PROS: Selfishii are aware that the world is an often unfair, unjust place, and they want to be sure that the work they do doesn’t feed into iniquity.
CONS: Selfishii don’t realize that art feeds a hunger of the soul, and that—at its best—it is service, not self-service.
MOTTO: “Better to work for a cigarette manufacturer than to knit all day.”
Good-Enoughicorn: Those born under the Good-Enoughicorn tend to be cursed with facility. That is, they do a good enough job on the first time around that their work sells. They often earn a paycheck from their art. But the fact that their work is “good enough” keeps them from pushing themselves to the next level. “You’re earning a living,” their Demons whisper. “That’s the point, isn’t it? You don’t have time to make everything perfect.”
PROS: Good-Enoughicorns have talent, and enough drive to do good work.
CONS: Good-Enoughicorns have to demand criticism in order to take their work from good to great.
MOTTO: “Meh.”
In the coming weeks, look for predictions for each sign! See what the future of your sign holds…and more!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Make Happy: 5 Steps to Creative Success!

Photo by suphakit73

We all love to believe that we live in a just world, a place where effort is rewarded. Certainly, most rich people seem to believe this. They’re always spewing advice like, “Just follow your dreams!” and “I worked hard to get where I am—you just need to work hard, too!”
Okay, fine. But here’s the deal: some people have dreams like, “I want to have the world’s most awesome collection of Star Trek memorabilia!” And some people work hard at things like defusing roadside bombs in Afghanistan. Those people may have vast reserves of knowledge, big dreams, and a crazy work ethic. But they aren’t going to become “successful,” because in our society, “successful” means rich. If you want to hear the awesomest TED talk ever on this subject, follow this link to hear Alain de Botton's thoughts.
But—what the heck? Who says that money equals success? I know a bunch of rich people who are complete jerkboxes. Are they successful people? They think so. But not me. And I don’t think the Creative Universe thinks they’re so successful, either. Here are my Five Steps to Creative Success:
1.    1.  Write down all of your ideas about what a “successful” person has. Personally, my demons like it when I believe that successful people have a shelf full of awards, loads of money, and have their books made into movies.
2.    2. Burn the list. (Or, if there is no safe place to burn them, or you aren’t old enough to use matches by yourself, or maybe you just don’t have any matches around, or whatever, just rip it up.)
3.     3. Come up with a new list of things a successful person has. Things like: Friends, or even just one good friend. Loving family. Happy moments. Respect. Integrity. A creative mind. A good heart. Appreciation for beauty.
4.    4.  Realize you already have those things. Then express gratitude for them. Thank you, Creative Universe, for my beautiful husband and daughter, the ahweesomays, and my brilliant job, which allows me to spend time on a couch on a sunny day writing up lists like this one.
5.    5.  Get back to your life. Now don’t you feel better? 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How To Have An Idea

Recently, when I was reading Twyla Tharp’s fabulous book, The Creative Habit, I stumbled across this line: “…you don’t have a good idea until you combine two little ideas.” And then I realized something: I already knew that! Following is from a talk I gave a few years ago, reproduced with permission from myself:

“Several years ago, I heard Sid Fleishman talk at the New England Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators conference. He talked about how you don’t need an idea to write a book. You need two ideas. He didn’t put it this way, but what he was saying was that, basically, you need a character idea, and then you need an inciting incident idea. Okay, let’s say that we have an accident-prone girl as our main character. That doesn’t get us anywhere until we add an inciting incident—how about ‘falls in love with a vampire.’

My series, Accidentally Fabulous, started because an editor friend of mine took me out to lunch and said, “I want you to write a series based on those funny stories you tell about being in middle school.” And I said, “Funny stories?” I always thought that all of my stories about middle school were gut-wrenching and sad. But she said, “Yeah, like that time you dressed up as fungus.” It was true, I did in fact dress up as fungus once, for National Science Day. And then my best friend told me that the guy I had a crush on was, quote, “staring at me all through chapel.” And when I got home and told my mom that a boy had been staring at me all through chapel, she said, “Don’t you think it might be because you dyed your hair green and are wearing a fungus costume?” And I didn’t speak to her for the rest of the night. But this didn’t really seem like enough of a concept to hang an entire series on. But at least I had the first half of the idea—the character. It was sort of me, so she is a scholarship kid at the ritziest school in Houston, Texas. She has a good sense of humor and makes some questionable fashion choices. But that’s not enough for a book or a series, either. So I had to think of the inciting incident—she makes friends with one of the Queen Bees at the school, and enemies with an even more powerful Queen Bee, and generally upsets the Bee power dynamic. Shenanigans ensue, including getting tricked into dressing up as an amoeba (it’s fiction, after all) for a National Science Day that doesn’t exist. Voila.”
So there you have it. The secret to having a novel idea is to have two ideas: Character, and Problem. Once you have those two things, your novel will write itself.*
*Note: Your novel will totally not write itself. Get to work! 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Creative Demon Zodiac III: Success/ Air Signs!

Welcome back to the Creative Demon Zodiac! Today we'll be discussing those living under the Success Demon signs. This group is the Air group--elusive but important as oxygen to these signs, Success rules their creative minds. So let's get to it!
Competitius: Competitii believe in meritocracy. That is, they believe that the best work is always rewarded, and that if they are really “good” at their art, they will be given accolades, awards, and a big heaping pile of money to roll around in. They are constantly bothered by the idea that other people are more successful than they are. Especially friends. Competitii find it difficult to see movies (if they make movies), read books (if they write books), go to galleries (if they are artists), or watch someone else play the banjo (if banjo players) without thinking, “He/ she is so talented, I want to kill myself!” OR, “He/ she isn’t as good as I am! What the heck? Why is he/ she such a rich and famous banjo player???”
PROS: Competitii believe that good work will bring rewards, and are willing to work hard to receive those rewards.
CONS: Any perception that they aren’t “measuring up” makes the competitii want to throw in the towel.
MOTTO: “If you ain’t winning, you’re losing.”

Shortfallicorn: Shortfallicorns are held back the idea that someone else has already done their idea, and done it better. They believe that they shouldn’t be allowed to create art that tackles subjects which others have already covered, such as but not limited to: death, love, redemption, friendship, cooking, pets, God, and the idea that artists are haunted by demons that prevent them from creating art. “Great artists steal,” is not in their belief system. They are terrified of comparisons because they only want to do work that is the “best.”
PROS: Shortfallicorns are ambitious, and their ideas are Big.
CONS: When the gap between what they had in their mind (ideal) and what they actually created feels too large, they fall into the Pit of Despair.
MOTTO: “Has anyone—living or dead—ever had this thought or feeling before? Yes? Oh, forget it, then.”

Feedbackius: Feedbackius is always ready to hear criticism of his/ her work—but only if it is bad. If he or she gets ten reviews—nine good from reputable sources and one bad one from an anonymous jerk on the internet—the Feedbackius will only remember the one bad review. The soundtrack in feedbackius’s mind is like the famous piece of music “dueling banjos.” Only one of the banjos is not playing. Bad Banjo is turned waaaay up, drowning out Feedbackius’s train of thought, and inhibiting his/ her efforts. No review—not even “This is the best creation ever! Signed, The Lord God”—is ever good enough.
PROS: Feedbackii can take criticism. Maybe too well.
CONS: Feedbackii sometimes get so caught up in addressing other people’s concerns that they lose the thread of what they originally intended. They don’t trust themselves to evaluate the quality of their own work.  
MOTTO: “I haven’t googled myself for a whole five minutes!”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Creativity and Habit

I recently read Henry Miller’s Daily Schedule on one of my favorite websites, I’m copying it here:

If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.
Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections – on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.
Isn’t that wonderful? Not only the schedule itself, but the fact that Henry Miller needed to write it out for himself. I’ve been reading Twyla Tharp’s wonderful book The Creative Habit. In it, she states, “Creativity is a habit. And the best creativity is the result of good work habits.” She goes on to debunk the idea of the genius who has sloppy work habits, but goes on to create great works of art. She cites Mozart as an example, “By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all of the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose.”
I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which asserts basically the same thing. He cites a study of pianists in which it was revealed, somewhat unsurprisingly, that the most successful were those who worked the hardest: “The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any ‘naturals,’ musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any ‘grinds,’ people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break top ranks.” So what Thomas Edison said is true. 1% Inspiration; 99% Perspiration.
But that doesn’t really fit the romantic ideal. We want to think that artists are “inspired;” that they take dictation direct from God. And maybe they do. But they don’t if they fail to sit down at their desks or arrive at the studio ready to work. Here is a great TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on the subject: Don’t let her bad hair distract you—what she says is true.
Remember that the next time you feel the urge to put off your creative work. It is only through the habit of work that your will make your best art.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Creative Demon Zodiac II: Time-Sensitive/ Fire Signs!

Hello and welcome back to the Creative Demon Zodiac! Today we will be exploring Time Signs, also known Pants On Fire Signs. People governed by these houses are influenced by schedules, for better AND for worse. See if these signs sound familiar!

Procrastinatarius: Ah, Procrastinatarius! How deadly is the Internet to thee. Yes, those governed by this Demon sign often find themselves sucked into the vortex of information. Compulsively checking E-mail can derail this sign for hours. The Procrastinatarius is mentally agile and often has many interests. There simply are not enough hours in the day to satisfy this sign’s curiosities, and so he or she wastes time on, or reading the New York Times, watching youtube, or even reorganizing the sock drawer.
PROS: Procrastinatarii often find inspiration in unexpected sources. They also tend to be up on current events and have organized socks.
CONS: Their real work gets shafted.
MOTTO: I’ll do it right after I watch one more cute kitty video/ read this article about Snookie/ understand all aspects of the healthcare debate.

Urgenties: Urgenties secretly believe in doing things that are, well, Urgent. They spend time making doctor’s appointments, washing dishes, writing or freelancing “on assignment/ under deadline.” This sign is often populated by people who have found a way to use their art to make a living. Unfortunately, this art is not the work that uses their highest mind and greatest skill. It is the art that will sell, and that must be Completed At Once. Organized, intelligent, and often highly responsible, Urgenties find it difficult to separate things that are Time-Sensitive from those that are actually Important.
PROS: Urgenties are reliable, hardworking, and pay their bills on time.
CONS: Much of their hard work goes toward art that doesn’t really interest them.
MOTTO: Art finishes last.

Researchus: Researchus is a sign that lives in the Time-Sensitive Quadrant, but often crosses over to the Fear/ Water Quadrant. Researchus is creating something set in the past. Or the future. Or the present. It is science-based, or history-based, or fact-based. Whatever it is, it needs more RESEARCH! No stone can be left unturned, no memo unexamined, no Civil-War-Era bonnet uninspected. It’s all-important, and will someday be assimilated into the ULTIMATE PIECE OF WORK. But he or she will only get to the work later. Not now. Not while there’s still research to do.
PROS: Researchus believes in quality work, and is willing to work hard to create it.
CONS: The research gets done, but the art never does.
MOTTO: Just one more source!

Next week: Demon Zodiac Competition/ Air Signs!