Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity at TED
It’s 1.47am and I can’t sleep. TMoTH is away at a family wedding. The Offspring are asleep. Even the critters are asleep. Only I am still awake – and really I shouldn’t be, since I need to be up in a few hours for boxing training…..
I didn’t intend to still be awake at this time. I watched DVDs with The Offspring then came to bed thinking I would check my email and turn out the light. Then I remembered I hadn’t watched the keynote speech from SXSW . Why would I want to watch that you ask? Well, because the speaker was Bruce Springsteen.
The key note speech is amazing - it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s smart – and so much more. In it Springsteen talks about the things that influenced him, the things that made him want to do what he does. He talks about hearing The Animals and how, when he listened to them, he wanted to do what they did. He wanted to make people feel the way they were making him feel.
I sat here in bed, listening to the wind drive leaves around our front lawn, my mouth open in amazement. You see I’ve heard those words before – except usually I’m the one saying them and I’m talking about Springsteen.
When I was 12 we lived on a farm in a fairly remote area of the east coast of the north Island of New Zealand. My father had died the year before and my mother was working every hour of daylight to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table while lawyers do whatever it is lawyers do with wills and estates.
We had no television and our nearest neighbour was about two miles away. We did however have a radio and every Sunday afternoon I would sit at the table with my ear pressed to the radio listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40.
This particular Sunday, not long before my 13th birthday, Kasem announced a new song from some guy I had never heard of. As the song began to play I remember very clearly being mesmerised and forgetting completely about my French homework.
The singer was Springsteen and the album was The River. Springsteen wasn’t big in New Zealand at the time and I was only 12 – too young to really understand the themes in his music – so it’s not surprising I didn’t really know who he was. But I loved what I was hearing and by the time Fade Away was released I did know two things: a) whoever he was, I was hooked and b)I wanted to do what he did: I wanted to write things that made people see images in their head and feel something they didn’t know they felt.
That was 33 years ago – and today I feel exactly the same way. There is a joke in my family that Springsteen is ‘the other man’ in my life and luckily for me my partner Dennis is as big a fan as I am – although he does have a rule that there are to be no pictures in the bedroom. I have no idea why….
Springsteen’s lyrics inspired me- and still inspire me – to start writing. My dream is to one day interview him – if only to get the chance to thank him for all the joy his music has brought me over the years. So it felt a little surreal to hear him say the very things I’ve been feeling all these years.
Many of Springsteen’s songs have inspired in me ideas for stories – both short and long – but I have never had the courage or the confidence to write them down. They are, afer all, his songs. His stories. I have this weird, unwritten rule that while his music and lyrics are possibly the greatest influence on my creative writing, I can not use them as a spring board for that writing. Why? Who knows?
So, when he went on to not only explain, but demonstrate, how “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Badlands” were (and I quote) “the same fuckin’ riff, listen up, youngsters — this is how successful theft is accomplished.” I, unlike everyone else, did not just laugh.
I got excited.
Not that kind of excited – get your minds out of the gutters. Okay maybe a little but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
I got excited because Bruce Springsteen gave me a green light to use all these characters who have been living in my head all this time; he may not have looked up and said “hey, the loopy red head down there in New Zealand, get over it, it’s just the same fuckin’ riff, write it already” - but he may as well have.
It’s funny, his new album Wrecking Ball makes me feel that same breathless wonder I felt when I was 12 and hearing him for the first time. I sit and listen to it, sometimes (often) in tears, and I wonder “how does he DO that? I want to do that.”
My next thought is invariably “I am so grateful he does that.”
For so many years, his music has held my hand and my heart, and played the background music to my life. Like I say, since the age of 12 I’ve wanted to interview him - partly so I could say thank you for all his music has brought to me.
But maybe the way I say thank you is to use that riff…
The fabulous Sue Fitzmaurice has dropped in to talk about … finishing a writing project. So with no further ado, take it away Sue….
Finishing a Writing Project
There are three especially difficult parts to writing anything – the start, the middle and the end.
Sorry to say.
No-one who writes for a living will tell you different, albeit that there will be different challenges in the different parts. Me, I have no problem finishing. I have a problem starting. Which of course becomes rather a challenge for the finishing…
The biggest writing project I’ve had to complete has been the publication of my first novel. You may think you have finished at a certain point, but the process goes on and on and on; by the end of which one is very lucky if one does not completely hate one’s own work. And therein lies an important key to successful completion: don’t start something unless it’s a project or topic you enjoy, or in the case of something especially large: if you’re not really and truly in love with it.
These are a number of practical things that help me to write and to complete my writing – some of these may be of assistance to you, but we must all experiment with, observe and understand our writing processes to come up with what works for each of us.
- More likely if you’re a woman and you work from home: you WILL do housework instead of writing. Fantastic. Do the housework. It’s similar to being in the shower – you do it without thinking about it, so your mind is free to wander and be creative while you’re vacuuming. And when you’re done you’ll have the proverbial tidy desk to sit down at and start writing.
- Know where you’re going with your project: if you don’t have some kind of idea of the end before you start, then you’ll have a hard time finding your way TO an end. There are different ways to draft a map before you start – one that you update and play around with as you go through. You could write your ‘table of contents’ – I always start a piece of research or report writing that way; or you could do a mind map of some kind. With a fiction piece I start with a large sheet of paper – poster size – and I draw 6 or 8 or so circles evenly across the middle of the page, into which I write the main events or turning points of the story. Leave a gap between the circles so that you can add more circles – smaller ones generally – that match up with the pieces of story you add. This is a little like doing a jigsaw – separate the edge pieces first and get them all joined together… get the idea?
- Immutable deadlines: ones that someone else has imposed and that cannot be changed – thank heavens for deadlines or many of us would never get anything done at all. This is tricky if you’re working to your own rhythm, particularly with a fiction piece; try joining or establishing a writing group, with a commitment to share something new once a fortnight or once a month. I wrote most of my first novel this way; I’m certain it would not have happened otherwise.
- Get feedback: Especially early on, and especially if this is your first work of fiction. An experienced writer will give you constructive criticism that WILL make a difference to your work. Learn from as many reliable reviewers as are available to you.
- When it comes to the actual ending: and especially if you’re stuck – do the unexpected. If the predictable happens then it’s less engaging for your reader. Of course it has to be believable to0, but that is more in the telling than in the plot. A good book leaves its reader wondering…
In the end though, you must trust your instincts:
“If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves.” – Lillian Hellman
Sue Fitzmaurice has been a business owner, business consultant and CEO, working in a range of different industries. She has degrees in philosophy, political science and business; her first novel is Angels in the Architecture. Her blog is at www.tryinggodspatience.com but you can also find her on Facebook at:
Daftest question you’ve heard today? Maybe it’s not as daft as you think – even given that I am the one asking the question.
From time to time, my day job actually requires me to …well…work and yesterday turned out to be one of those times. As luck would have it, I had to interview up and coming young entrepreneur Justin Scott about Christchurch Start Up Weekend. We caught up at the Fabric Room Cafe in Parnell and spend a couple of hours chatting over coffee about technology, entrepreneurship and social media. It was great. During the conversation, Justin repeatedly referred to the importance of ‘our personal brand’ – and it’s got me thinking.
What is my brand, how do I promote that and more importantly – how do I make it work for me?
My first step was to make sure I knew what I actually meant by this – so I turned to our old friend Google which in turn pointed me in the direction of Dan Schawbel. If you have not come across Mr Schawbel or his Personal Branding Blog before, stop reading, click the links and visit the sites. Do it now – I’ll wait for you, promise.
Personal branding is the way in which we present – or market if you like (I don’t but hey that’s me) – ourselves to others. According to Schawbel every one of us is a brand and as such we can leverage the same strategies corporate brands and celebrities use to have as much presence as they do.
The first step was to work out what my brand is – in other words working out what you are passionate about. Ah, now this is something that makes sense to me. I am passionate about….my family and my pets, about Springsteen and movies, Buddhism and faith, technology and creativity, writing, music…okay this is not as easy as it looks. Never fear Schwabel is there to guide:Brand discovery is about figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life, setting goals, writing down a mission, vision and personal brand statement (what you do and who you serve), as well as creating a development plan. Have you ever been called intelligent or humorous by your peers or coworkers? That description is part of your brand, especially if you feel those attributed pertain to you. To know if you’ve discovered your brand, you need to make this equation equal:
Your self-impression = How people perceive you
Ah – that helps. Sort of. After a while I came up with my brand as being: A writer who is passionate about life (see? that covers all the family-faith-Springsteen-et al stuff), who is sometimes funny, sometimes stroppy, and always curious. It’s as good a place as any to start; let’s move on to creating this thing.
You start this with your tool kit – well alright, the techno-geeky-gadget-loving side of me rubbed her hands in glee, a tool kit. Let me at it – gimmee, gimmee, gimee…oh you meant a metaphorical tool kit. Sigh.
1. Business card
2. Resume/cover letter/references document
5. LinkedIn profile
6. Facebook profile
To my great delight, I have everything on that list. Great start. Now I just have to back track and use those tools to set some goals, write down a mission, vision and personal brand statement and create my development plan – hmnmm, maybe I have some work to do yet….stay tuned.
There are just some songs that make you go ‘yeah’ – this, for me is one of those songs. No matter how many times I hear it, that’s my reaction.
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.From: Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (A Far Corner Book) (Paperback) by ~ Naomi Shihab Nye
Romance writer, Sandra Hyatt loved happy endings and believed everyone deserved one. She had a lovely smile and curls I would have killed for. I met her at my first Romance Writers of New Zealand(RWNZ), Auckland Branch meeting and was impressed with how friendly and open she was. During the coffee break she introduced herself to me and mentioned she lived just around the coast in Clevedon and maybe we could carpool for meetings from time to time. I remember being slightly overawed that someone who was everything I was dreaming of being (a successful, published author)would be happy to carpool with me.
In late March Sandra very graciously agreed to be interviewed for my websites and that is how one chilly autumn afternoon found us together at my dining room table, sipping hot drinks and talking about romance.
At the time, I was, for a wide variety of reasons, struggling with the idea of writing romance, so I asked Sandra her thoughts on why people are ambivalent toward the genre. She gave her amazing curls a shake and took time to think a moment before replying.
“You know, I think that ambivalence has always been there and some of it is because romance is usually written by women for women and even today that creates issues I suppose. It’s important to remember to enjoy the spectrum of genres and styles available. One doesn’t have to spoil you for others. I enjoy gourmet cooking for example but I still love pizza. It’s not one or the other.”
She paused a moment and then added “personally I just like a good book.
Sandra, who sold her first book in 2008, didn’t set out to be an author, let alone one who was a USA Today bestseller. In fact, she had a successful career in marketing before taking up writing and was home on maternity leave when boredom drover her to enrol in a writing course.
“When I started writing, this light bulb went off and I thought ‘wow, this is it’,” Sandra told me. “But I still wrote for ten years before selling a manuscript.”
Sandra, as most members of RWNZ know, was in Reno for a Romance Writers of America conference when she won a critique session with Tessa Radley’s editor. That meeting was the turning point.
“I was rooming with Tessa and it was very cool to be in a group of writers who understood the joy I felt. “
The meeting pushed Sandra to take her writing seriously and she soon had a routine of writing every weekday, while her children were at school. It was important to her she said, to show her children you could have a dream and that it wouldn’t always be easy but that you could achieve it all the same.
She admitted, with something of an embarrassed grin, that she usually didn’t plan her work out ahead of time.
“I’m absolutely a pantser,” she said. “Sometimes I have an idea but that’s about all. The details come when my fingers are on the keyboard.”
Once the first book had been sold, she said she simply rolled up her sleeves and “got on with the next one”.
At times, Sandra did write in other genres but felt she wasn’t as good at it, preferring to stay with romance.
“I love a happy ending; I think they’re good for us. I like people falling in love. “
Sandra didn’t mind the solitary nature of writing but admitted she did struggle with the discipline required for meeting her 1,200 word a day target. To help avoid the distraction of email, Twitter, Facebook and the likes, Sandra kept one computer internet free and did most of her writing there. When she forayed online, she usually managed to raise a smile.
“You would think, being a writer, that I could find a pen somewhere in my house,” she once tweeted.
As we began to wind up the interview I asked Sandra what advice she had for new or unpublished writers.
“Take what you want from conferences and meetings and course but always listen to everything. Be careful about who you give your work to, to read. Then write, write, write – don’t write-edit – just get it down on paper. You can come back and fix it up later.”
Sandra died on August 21, 2011 after being taken suddenly ill at the RWNZ conference. I was devastated because although we had met again at my house about six weeks after the interview, we didn’t know each other well enough to be friends yet. I would like to think that perhaps one day we would have become so because on that cold autumn day as I watched Sandra drive away, I knew one thing.
I wanted to be just like her.
and it’s driving me a little crazy. Before anybody points out that this would be an exceptionally short trip, I would just like to say that this idea is really exciting me in a way writing hasn’t excited me in a very long time.
After trying – desperately – to work on a romance for months and finally (hey I”m nothing if not stubborn) deciding that for whatever reason (probably writer error ) it was NOT working I did exactly what you’re not supposed to do: I gave up.
In fact I was fairly keen on the idea of giving up on fiction writing once and for all…
Then yesterday I read Stephen King’s advice on not giving up. Not that it helped me with my romance which I am beginning to suspect has gone permanently pear shaped but I did finish a short story I’d been fooling around with for some time. High five anyone? No didn’t think so.
Anyway, high on the feeling of having finished something I set a swag of determinations about writing all morning and not procrastinating and then working on non fiction in the afternoon, and finally an evening of blogging. Anybody who has seen my FaceBook will know how far that idea got. It got as far as this clip on You Tube and came to a grinding halt.
Several hours and a multitude of Springsteen clips later I still hadn’t written a word. I was smiling but I wasn’t writing. At that point the delightful Coaxial Creature (CC) suggested a write-in. Now CC is a very talented writer and artist and she will go far – anybody who can turn out 1,000 words of the quality she can in just over half an hour is going to tear this world apart, trust me.
I was pumped on Bruce and mushroom soup (don’t knock it if you aint tried it) and before I knew it I had an idea. It’s not a genre or a style I’ve ever tried before, so who knows if it will work, but far more importantly than that is the fact that I’m so excited about it – excited enough to actually write the thing.
And that has to be as good a place as any to start…