365 Days: 9 Creative Projects

To shape my amorphous family care-taking, creative entrepreneurial life, I’m using the skillshare.com class, How To Start (And Finish!) Your Very Own 365 Day Project by Cynthia Koo. The categories inspired me to get started. They are:

  1. Learn a skill.
  2. Do more of something or become better at something, ie, create a body of work.
  3. Build something.

I’m doing 2 skills, 2 bodies of work, and 2 to 4 builds, because:

  • A – I’m crazy.
  • B – I can’t not/Gonna do it anyway, so might as well be organized.
  • C – Gun to my head.

While all three may seem correct considering C as metaphorical, you would be right choosing B, as the correct answer in a multiple choice is always the longest one.

Skills I will learn/practice:

  1. Painting
  2. Screenplay coverage, aka being a screenplay reader. [UPDATE: Great program, but not the right time for me. See Hollywood Gatekeepers on facebook. They are wonderful!]

I will build these bodies of work/do more of/get better at:

  1. Drawing
  2. Writing Short Stories
  3. Writing Screenplays

Things I will build:

  1. A novel
  2. A graphic novel
  3. A creative business

And, I will add 1 more category, because why the hell not?

Creative Exploration:

To integrate my writing, drawing, and painting, I want to create companion online diaries by two characters from my screenplay, CARY RIVERS. Teresa and Val are middle school sisters in the 1970’s who believe the messiah for the New Age of Aquarius is a certain down-and-out stand-up comic named Cary Rivers who becomes their drama teacher to make ends meet.

I’ll post process notes and photos and maybe even some finished work somewhere along the way.

How is your creative process going?




My Favorite Creativity Gurus

ifyouwanttowriteBrenda Ueland wrote the book IF YOU WANT TO WRITE: A BOOK ABOUT ART, INDEPENDENCE AND SPIRIT, one of the best works on creative process. I love her book, STRENGTH TO YOUR SWORD ARM, a collection of her astute, funny, short, packed articles from a newspaper column she wrote in her hometown. And I love her biography, ME, a title she used well before Katharine Hepburn did.

Natalie Goldberg wrote WRITING DOWN THE BONES and other great books on writing process and life and creativity.

Jessica Abel is a comics artist and storyteller who is helping lots of folks go down the creative path. Her website is here. Check it out.

Chapter After Chapter

This book is inspiring, fun, and easy to use. I’ve read so many good books on the writing process. At some point I had to stop reading and just write. I know how to write, I’m inspired, I have good habits.
When John Truby’s audio class, STORY FOR NOVELISTS, inspired me to write a novel, I felt lost at first. Truby’s class made me know I could do it (it’s a fantastic amazing class!), but what an undertaking. Where do I begin? How do I begin?
I don’t even remember how I found Sellers’ book, but it was and is the perfect guide for me. All the chapters help me move forward with the writing, but the one called “Wise Guides” is my current favorite. It helped me know I can use other novels and writing books for help. But, Sellers says, pick only six: three novels and three writing guides.
This works for me. Setting limits on creative projects moves them forward. Setting limits enhances creativity.
Plus, it makes it fun. I chose my “wise guides,” and they are serving me well. I go deep into the six books without being distracted by every single novel or writing book I’ve ever loved. These six books are down inside my psyche. I don’t even need to reread them for the choice to help me. I keep the titles on an index card as Sellers suggests.
Recently I reread one of my three novel wise guides, SAINT MAYBE by Anne Tyler. I enjoyed the heck out of it as I do every time I read it. Writing while reading also went well. I was able to let the structure of that novel inform the structure of my novel. I was able to more deeply understand the flaw and need of the main character. I was able to see all the elements of the novel without losing the joy of reading it. I was able to pick and choose which parts were good models for my novel and which parts were not. Clarity of purpose. That’s what that little “Wise Guides” chapter helped me do. I know what I want to write and I know how to proceed.
Thanks, Heather Sellers, for writing CHAPTER AFTER CHAPTER.


Slogging Through With Story Structure & Scenes

When the weather is wet, the ground saturated, the air moldy, and life’s latest transition is taking not three months but three years, I rely on structure and scene to move me forward in the writing process. I slog through almost without thought, because story structure is embedded in my brain from years of study and practice, back during the drought, the crispy brown ten-year drought. Hours slide by as I type handwritten notes into screenwriting software. Print. Read. Make notes. Type into the file. Round and round. On and on. For a little excitement I slip over to the novel files and brainstorm a present time scene that can jump start or enliven the writing for any given chapter. Open file. Pick one. Observe image coming to mind. Write it. Creative spurt spent, draped here on the bed where I write, I sense I’m creeping on slippery, mossy rocks in drizzly rain, all day green-filtered light fading imperceptibly. It’s dark now. I can stop. Or start again. It really doesn’t matter.

Wise Guides

pexels-photo-529924.jpegMy “wise guides” for writing my novel are:

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockton

OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout

SAINT MAYBE by Anne Tyler


John Truby’s audio class called STORY FOR NOVELISTS,



“Wise Guides” is a concept by Heather Sellers, and I will elaborate in the next post.




Hey guys and dolls.

This is my creative process blog.

Want to play along?

All you artists on Medium and my Facebook list, friends and family, acquaintances and clients, writers group buddies, painters, sculptors, musicians, filmmakers, writers, comics artists, collage artists, and you who want to make a daily appointment with your creativity:

You may check in here in the comments. Report what you’re working on and how it’s going. Ask or answer questions. Post an excerpt or synopsis. Or just read along while you do your work.

A while back I started a process blog for drawing, but I wasn’t able to keep it up at the time. Now, I believe I can start today, June 1st, and work on my writing and other creative endeavors at least a little bit every day from now on. For me, that’s huge. I intend to make the most of this opportunity by keeping a daily creative appointment with myself. I always did better making it down to the Town Lake trail to walk when I scheduled it with one of my neat lady bodyworker walking buddies, Cameron, Liz, Kim, or Cheryl. So, I’m inviting others along here, too.

Maybe start your own process blog on Medium or Facebook or other platform and let’s follow each other and link to each other.

I’m working on one screenplay, one novel, and one graphic story. I’d like to focus on these three, create a timeline, and systematically work toward finishing them. They’re interrelated. Each one helps me write the others.[This little paragraph is an example of a possible post, or the beginning of one.]

I imagine the daily posts will be short sometimes and take any number of forms:

“Aha” moments about personal creative process and how to proceed.

An excerpt from the work of the day.

A mini-report on the work of the day.

A drawing or doodle.

A question to readers about your own creative process.

A question to myself about a creative problem.

But I’m open to seeing where the blog wants to go.

Please play along in any way you like.

…in between…

Beautiful sunny cool day in Austin. Inspiring “bro-client” Erik Conn, drummer extraordinaire, swung by the house in a pick-up truck rerouted by the marathon. Called across my big green backyard to say hey as I hung laundry (muddy dog beds, rugs, towels, and sheets). Though I was ensconced in slobarific writer sweats, and hadn’t had a shower yet, I took a brief break to chat.

I was glad to see him. You ever have one of those friends that gets right to what’s real? The day, the weather, his blues and joys, tacos, house-sitting, fans, concerts, art, music, the zone, discussions of ego and other psychological structures and their relationship to the soul. Such was our conversation, as always. Not to mention bro hand-clasping through the wire fence (tall because of escape artist dogs) and words in parting that leave me feeling loved and supported. More than a few times he’s called me one of his favorite Jedi Knights.

Inspired by the familiar discussion with Erik, his dedication to creating art that pays off huge in joy and beauty but not so much in moola, and how difficult that can be, here’s where I am right now on the zig-zag creative path:

  • Motivated.
  • Practicing life-long writing habit.
  • Know what I want to say and saying it.
  • Putting “it” in the work (all angst, problems, arguments go into the writing, not the air).
  • Dividing writing time fairly well between the creative and editing sides.
  • Spending an equal amount of time learning the business, making contacts, and marketing as I do creating the work.
  • Operating as if writing is my main job now.
  • Always have a great guide or teacher (right now, it’s Truby).
  • Not thrown off course by creative peaks and valleys.
  • No writers block, though I do swim through mud often on the business side of things.
  • Setting boundaries, ie, I say no to 90 percent of gatherings, arts, shows, holiday visits, travel, even relationships.
  • Maneuvering through the minefields of life and day job and just keep writing.
And it’s all worth it.

Here’s a shout out to Erik and all the other struggling artists, who’ve dedicated to their art and craft and are still in the in-between world of the day job that pays the bills (which could last forever as far as anyone knows) and are still driven to create. Here’s to you, creators!

As Erik said today, “The sun is on my face. I’m glad to be alive!”

Where are you in your process? Feel free to give a shout out in the comments to the dedicated creator in your life, especially if it’s you! Post links if you feel it.

I got the photos above off Erik’s facebook page, where you, too, can check out Erik’s wonderful way with words. I’ve been known to re-post his status updates.

For now, here are some links to great photos of Erik. Ciao.




Related article featuring Erik Conn

Being in the Same Room with Highly Creative People

Rodrigo García Barcha
Image via Wikipedia

I’m heading to the Austin Film Festival (AFF) tomorrow as a badge-holder, which means I get to go to some of the panels and listen to great, successful screenwriters discuss their experiences writing for film and TV. By many accounts, The Austin Film Festival is the best festival for writers, having been created for the purpose of nurturing and honoring them.

Last January I attended a warm, helpful, inspiring panel sponsored by AFF in which Noah Hawley, creator of THE UNUSUALS and MY GENERATION, and Kyle Killen, creator of TV series, AWAKE and LONE STAR, and screenwriter of the feature film, THE BEAVER, discussed writing and being showrunners for TV. Hawley and Killen were gracious, interesting, funny, smart. I loved being in the same room with them. Enjoying music, books, painting, sculpture, movies, TV shows, beautiful buildings, dance, plays are all great ways of communing with the artist. We all do it when we enjoy the arts. We can have direct experience of the creative mind when we view art. But listening to them discuss their creative process in the same room, days in a row, and going to films at night (or at least next week as the festival continues), I imagine will be even more rarefied.

During the conference and festival, which run tonight through next Thursday, I plan to write shorter blogposts more often about my experiences there. I hope to hit most of these panels:

  1. Opening Remarks
  2. How to Work the Conference: For Writers
  3. Sustaining a Writing Career Outside of L.A.
  4. Roundtable: The Business Side
  5. Based on a True Story
  6. The Creative Career: What You Need to Know
  7. Agents and Managers
  8. A Conversation with 2011 Outstanding Television Writer Awardee Hart Hanson
  9. The Heroine’s Journey: Writing and Selling the Female Driven Screenplay
  10. A Conversation With Jay and Mark Duplass
  11. In the TV Writers’ Room
  12. A Conversation with 2011 Distinguished Screenwriter Awardee Caroline Thompson
  13. Showrunners
  14. On the Level Staffing TV
  15. The Art of Storytelling with the 2011 Awardees
  16. Producing Outside the Norm: A Conversation with Elizabeth Avellan
I’ll have to choose between a couple of these as they occur at the same time. There are many more panels, too, some aimed at filmmakers rather than writers. I’d like to go to some of those just to see what they’re like. There are also films, luncheons, awards. I haven’t even looked at the film schedule; yet, I know the new film by the Duplass Brothers called JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME will be screened, and I plan to see it. I first heard about them when they were living here in Austin, and I just love their movies. Rodrigo Garcia who wrote NINE LIVES and many other movies I love will be part of the Showrunners panel. I always enjoy what he has to say about the creative process. I’ve heard him speak in a moving way of his love and respect for the creativity of the artists he works with.

I’ll keep you posted. Are you going to the Austin Film Festival? Want to meet up at any of the panels? Do you want me to ask anything in particular of the panelists?

Faulkner’s Flames Light the Way


Since Texas is burning, and our friends and neighbors are evacuating and losing their homes, this morning I was drawn to William Faulkner’s short story, “Barn Burning.” As you may know or imagine, the story is not so much about a barn burning as it is about relationships, power, conflict, identity and “the terrible handicap of being young.” Nevertheless, I feel drawn to the element of fire in the story. Faulkner was too. It’s a stunning tale, not of heated passion, but the blazing effects of cold methodical rage.

I recommend the story for it’s rich detailed rendering of a life of despair, not only due to economic and class oppression, but due to the particular suffering one ruined person inflicts on everyone else, all the time, without end. For my narrower purposes of learning to write from one of the greats, I want to mention one small device Faulkner used that helps me solve a problem in the writing of one of my stories.

I notice Faulkner jumped forward in time in a couple of instances by letting the narrator tell us early on how the young boy main character would have responded to certain abuses if he were older. This allows the reader to have a spark of hope the boy can’t possibly have in real time as the story unfolds. The narrator may be omniscient, but the story stays with the boy’s point of view, keeping it intimate, immediate, and terrible. Faulkner’s use of the narrator’s wider scope is small and measured, like the father’s campfires and his spirit. The few tiny sparks from the future indicating the boy’s adult self are brief but significant expansions of awareness needed to keep readers buoyant, even as they feel the despair of the characters.

The takeway for me:  in my story “Heat Wave,” I need my main character to move forward in time and come back to the present, not just in a flight of fancy, or a wish or hope for the future, but as a premonition, a state of being brought on by great exertion during the heat. One member of my writers group pointed out one instance of a premonition in my piece that was distracting, seemingly plunked there from another story. She was right. At first I thought it wasn’t working because it was a premonition. I wondered if it was too new-agey and didn’t fit the story. But I’m trying to blend magical moments with normal experience; that’s what my story is about. In truth it didn’t work, because I hadn’t written it well. There are two other premonitions in the same piece that do work. Keep the premonition, but observe Faulkner:  cut the part that announces it’s a premonition, and simply let the narrator state what is true in the future of the character’s life.

The talk of writing feels like dry tinder near the circle of heat such a story as “Barn Burning” radiates. I hope I catch some of Faulkner’s flames, even as I hope the wild fires around us soon burn out.

What’s your favorite Faulkner story, novel, or screenplay/movie? Or better, yet, what stories catch you on fire?

Divining The Real Deal From Henry James

Portrait of Henry James, the novelist
Image via Wikipedia

“…the figures in any picture, the agents in any drama, are interesting only in proportion as they feel their respective situations…” – Henry James

Before writing in the morning, sometimes I read a short story for inspiration. Today I chose Henry James’The Real Thing.” I’m rewriting a script today, not a short story, but short stories inspire me no matter what I’m writing. It works for me like divination, as someone who picks passages from the Bible or any inspiring written work, and reads them as if they’re messages from God or the muses.

In “The Real Thing,” an illustrator finds a married couple at his door looking for work as models. They have fallen from a higher class and operate not only as a team to find work, but to hide their state from their friends and even from themselves. We watch them through the eyes of the illustrator. They’re “the real thing” in that they really are the upper class people the illustrator is commissioned to render. Furthermore, “the real thing” refers ironically to the shifting nature of identity when human beings are forced to confront their nature and essence. The married couple cling to their past identity in the new situation. It seems to work, much as any big fish in a small pond. Maintaining their posture, literally and figuratively, gets them work. However, they have no sense they may need to adapt to the actual world they now inhabit, the world of art, in order to thrive or even survive. In this world, an immigrant servant who doesn’t speak the language emerges as the best model. Modeling is artistic in itself and requires an openness and malleability of expression. That talent can arise in anyone, thus dismantling the influence of the class system in the couple’s new world.

In a companion piece, “The Mirror of Consciousness,” included by Gioia & Gwynn in their book, The Art of the Short Story,  James writes about the need to tell the stories through a consciousness that feels what is happening. He says the story is weak if it merely recounts facts and is strong when those facts and events filter through the mind of someone who feels them fully. In “The Real Thing” the illustrator is deeply affected by the actions of the married couple over time. At first it helps his work and later hurts it. Through the lens of the illustrator’s struggles and his own feelings for all his models, I was moved by the plight of the fallen couple, rather than merely irritated by their obstinance and classism.

The takeaway for me today:  my main character serves well as the consciousness through which I show the plight of her struggling friends and neighbors, the web of characters around her. And, I meant to underscore her own troubles by doing this. But since the story is about her, I see that I need to make her more alive, more malleable, more feeling. I need to show her struggle more clearly in the beginning, so the changes near the end have more impact. She must feel the full extent of the situation I’ve put her in, or else my audience won’t. It won’t matter how many rewrites I do if I don’t do that.

How do you get inspiration? Who’s your favorite character in books or on screen?