Here we go again. Our world is changing, in big and little ways. It’s the end of the school year, a new season approaches, and new technologies and troubles are surrounding us. Whether you are a kindergartener or graduate, a leader or a worker, a mom or dad, a singleton, newly coupled, or a long-term pair, change is part of life. Sometimes change comes to you unbidden. You may choose simple changes or hard ones. Sometimes you choose to become your true self.
If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.“
Change is Hard
Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”
Bet you knew that already. Yet most of us hold some level of dread about change. Change is hard.
The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”
The Challenge of Change
You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.”
No matter who you are, how you identify, where you live, how old you are—you will face change. You can try to ignore it. You can try to hold on to your old ways of being. Painfully, change will still happen and you will have missed an opportunity.
We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
You can waste your lives drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them.”
How hurtful it can be to deny one’s true self and live a life of lies just to appease others.”
If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”
Keep an Open-mind
If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.”
If you embrace change as an opportunity, you allow yourself to receive blessings and challenges with grace and strength.
When in doubt, choose change.”
Each moment is perfect and heaven-sent, in that each moment holds the seeds for growth.”
Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.”
Yes, change can be scary. It can hold difficulties and feel overwhelming. If it feels too big, too much, too everything—get help. Help comes in many forms. It can mean journaling, talking to a trusted partner or friend or mentor. Or reading a post like this.
Sometimes, you may need professional help.
If you simply need someone to talk to, click here or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
The changes we dread most may contain our salvation.”
We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
Change Takes Time
Dreams are the seeds of change. Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.”
Change is like a seed. A seed must receive nourishment and time to grow into a seedling, then unfurl leaves, and finally to grow into its full potential. Even adjusting to the change in weather or wardrobe or a new home, change takes time. Give yourself grace. Allow yourself the time you need.
Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing and regrouping.“
Appreciate Where You Are
Each step of your journey through change brings you new joys and fears. Appreciate your flexibility and your strength and the growth that brought you to this new level.
When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you…never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Believe in Yourself
Change will challenge you, maybe shake your belief in yourself. So remember the words of these mentors.
No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.”
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Sometimes in life, we take a leap of faith. Remember, the leap is not about getting from one side to the other. It’s simply about taking the leap…and trusting the air, the universal breath, will support your wings so that you may soar.”
I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”
Please take a moment to congratulate yourself for a change you’ve made in the comments below.
Are you in the camp that believes creativity is a gift or a talent? Perhaps you believe you aren’t creative, or you lost your creativity, or that you have a creative block. All these beliefs can be true…and false.
What Creativity Isn’t
Creativity isn’t like your teeth. You are born without teeth. Baby teeth grow in. Then, at a certain age, you lose your baby teeth. Those baby teeth are gone for good. Sure, adult teeth come in, but even they aren’t permanent. You may lose one or all of your teeth. That is not how creativity works.
What Creativity Is
Creativity is more than a definition. It’s a mindset, a way of thinking. As children, you don’t need to be taught how to be creative. You believe you can, so you try. Sometimes those attempts are successful. Sometimes they are not. As you grew older, and hopefully wiser, you learn that tries that are unsuccessful are failures. Often that’s not an actual lesson in school, but it’s a lesson in attitude. If the authority figures and peers in your life treat your tries as successes, you learn that trying isthe success. If they treat your tries as failures, you learn that trying is failing and failing is bad.
How Your Beliefs Get Twisted
Very few of us ever want to do badly, so those who learned failure is bad stop trying. That mindset requires that you not be creative. But you don’t make that a choice, it is a default. So you stop trying to figure out a different solution or path. And that’s not the only reason some of us stop being creative.
Some of you learn, in the same way, that being creative isn’t sustainable. You learn that you’ll never earn a living unless you do something practical. Others of you have critical life issues that consume your time and emotional and physical energy. For a multitude of reasons, you make the choice to set aside your creativity while you focus on being practical or dealing with life issues.
Beliefs that Weaken Creativity
There is nothing wrong with being practical or not wanting to fail or with spending your time and energy on life issues. But watch out for:
Inaccurate beliefs – It’s not creative unless it’s “original.” That (fill in any form of creativity) is an inborn talent. I am not gifted. I’m not good enough.
Self-critical – I have no talent. I’m not as good as (fill-in-the-blank).
Jealousy – I should have/could have created that, then I’d be just as famous or rich or whatever. Or, he got the lucky breaks I didn’t get.
Comparisonitis – I started at the same time as (fill-in-the-blank), but I can’t sell half what he does. I’ll never produce product as fast as (fill-in-the-blank) does.
Listening to Others – (fill-in-the-blank) says I’m not original enough. My mother says it’s cute that I try.
Fear of imperfection – If I try, I’ll just fall flat on my face. I’m not good enough. I can’t get it right.
Fear of judgment – So & so said it was terrible. Or, what if so and so said it was terrible? My significant other (parent, peer, etc.) laughed at it. I can never show it to anyone else.
Fear of the blank page (or canvas or screen, etc.) – I don’t know where to start.
Feeling empty or a longing for something – I’ve got nothing left. I don’t know if that’s the right thing for me.
Can’t say no – I have an obligation/responsibility/duty to do (fill-in-the-blank). I don’t have time. The PTA, committee, team, etc. needs me.
Too much unproductive time -Too much time watching tv, on social media, on the phone, or other forms of procrastination.
You may tell yourself one or all of those things. All of them have one thing in common: they help you avoid a fear. At least 99% of the time, all of those are a lie you’ve told yourself. Why? Because it protects you from your fear. It’s easy. It’s the path of least resistance.
Overtime, that lie feels like truth. Especially if you “tried” to be creative again, and you “failed.” Obviously, you were correct in thinking you never were, or had become, uncreative.
Retrain Your Brain
Your creativity has grown weak from disuse. Much like a muscle is weak when you haven’t exercised it for a long time, you will need to practice being creative. Practice thinking and trying. Just like weak muscles need training, retrain your brain. How do you do that?
1. Stuck in a misbelief?
Turn that misbelief upside down. Practice saying the opposite of what your misbelief is. For example, if your misbelief is that you aren’t original enough, repeat the phrases: “Nothing is original. Everything is unique. I am unique.” It’s a fake it until you believe it kind of thing.
2. Too Self-critical?
Do you honestly think Shakespeare or Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts never write a wrong word? Or that they never have a bad day? Maybe their bad day means they only wrote 3000 words instead of 5000 or maybe their bad day means the next day they threw away all 5000 words they wrote the day before. But after years of practice, they know how to mine those 5000 words for the gems that are there.
Even Da Vinci painted over paintings. Did he do it to be cheap or because he didn’t like the first painting? Bet he wouldn’t have painted it over if he liked the first one.
It’s difficult to see that other people’s success isn’t a reflection of your own skills or aptitude. Stop exposing yourself to whatever triggers that jealousy (Facebook, Instagram, Art magazines, etc.). Instead of focusing on the other person’s success or your lack of success, focus on learning the skills you need to level up your work.
Remove the trigger for comparisonitis whether that is social media or television or some other source. Focus on yourself. Practice gratitude. Learn to compete only with what you did yesterday, the week before, or the year before. Record your growth and which skill you want to focus on in the future.
5. Listening to Others
You guessed it, remove yourself from the trigger if you can. If you can’t, try letting the ones telling you hurtful things how you feel about what they said. Or tell them you would appreciate them keeping their comments to themselves.
6. Fear of Imperfection
Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Do it out loud if that helps. Sometimes you can trick your brain. For example, while writing my first draft, I tell my inner editor, “Your turn is the next draft. Be patient. You’ll get to fix all the problems soon.” Or trick your brain by telling yourself, “It’s okay, this is just for practice.”
7. Afraid of criticism
Read the 1 star reviews of your favorite book(s) or product that you idealize.. Seriously, some of them may have valid points but you will find many that either missed the point entirely or never read the book. I’ll bet at least one of them makes you laugh out loud. If this is a difficult thing for you, don’t ask for or read criticisms of your work. You can have someone else read them for you and distill them into kind ways to help you grow as a creative. Or simply ignore them. Focus on learning and refining all your skills.
8. Fear of the blank (page, canvas, screen, etc.)
Write or doodle the same thing over and over until your brain can’t stand it and writes something different. Free write about how you feel physically or emotionally. Or write about a passion: how someone pissed you off or how much you love and care for someone. Try setting a timer for 5 or 10 or 15 minutes and write nonstop for that time, then quit for the day. Write a letter to yourself or your hope or your favorite person. Re-write a scene or the end of a book you didn’t like. Copy the words directly out of a book you read and liked. Write about how you’d fix a world problem. The point is to practice a skill. Think of it as practice.
9. Feeling Empty
This can be difficult. If this feeling is interfering with your daily life, with taking care of yourself, seek professional help.
Sometimes, feeling empty is because you’ve exhausted yourself. Sometimes you have a creative slump — your creative mind needs a refill. Consume quality creativity. Go to a museum or gallery or library. Walk in the footsteps of a creator you admire. Read a biography about that person. Listen to inspiring music. Take a walk and appreciate nature. Explore your why. Why do you feel empty? What triggers that feeling? What would the opposite feel like?
Read a good book, listen to great music, or get outside. Work in the garden or go to the nearest creek and dip your toes in. Study a master of your craft. Practice a basic skill. Do the easiest thing you can in your craft. Think of it as a warmup exercise before a marathon or like a singer running the scales to warm up her voice. Try something different — if you’re a sculptor, try writing a poem. If you’re a computer programmer, try moving to music. (Dance if you can, but if you can’t just let your body move in response to how the music makes you feel.)
10. Can’t say no.
You’ve got a good heart. You want to help everyone, be there for everyone. But you need to be there for yourself, too. Sometimes that 5 minute task or 30 minute visit can ruin your whole day. You worry about it beforehand, prepare for it, then worry about it afterwards. Just say no.
Manage your commitments. Choose the ones you can do well within a limited time frame. Set a time to work on your creative project and protect that time. Let family and friends know this is your time and you won’t let non-emergencies interfere with that time.
11. Too much unproductive time.
Think you don’t have unproductive time? Log how much time you spend on what activities for a two- to four-week period. Then look at how you spent the time. If social media or computer games are sucking up your time, there are apps for that. They can “lock access” to programs for a time. You can also give yourself a time of day or number of hours per day you can enjoy those activities. Start small and increase it as you can. If that doesn’t work, try cold turkey. Remove the temptation for an hour, a day, a week. It might surprise you how much more productive you can be without that distraction.
It’s Your Creativity, Do it Your Way
We romanticize what being creative means. As if being creative comes from Hollywood, we think of creativity as breakthrough ideas, blockbuster movies, and Pulitzer Prize work. By doing that, we rob ourselves of the joy of smaller creative moments.
Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.
It’s your story. You have the power to change your beliefs, to be creative. Make a time and place to think about creativity. Appreciate the skills you’ve got and the ones you learn. Improve your skills. Observe. Practice. Dream. Do it the only right way — your way.
What is one misbelief you have or have had? What will you do to overcome it or if you’ve beat it, how did you do that?
Have you been told you have “flat characters” in your story? Reel in your emotions and re-examine your characters. Does your character have little to no internal life? As your character moves through the story, does she overcome nearly every obstacle? Does she have a crystal-clear need? Is she unchanged at the end of the story? If even a few of your answers are yes, you probably have a flat character. Is that a problem? Probably. Flat characters are usually uninteresting and unmemorable. Got flat characters? Don’t worry. You can take your flat characters to genuine in 8 (sort of) easy steps.
1. Diagnosis: Flat vs Round Characters
What Does Flat Mean?
If you guess flat characters are the opposite of round characters, you’re right. But let’s take it a step farther. Typically, when a reader says your characters are flat, they mean the characters don’t feel real. They want to read about realistic characters, people like themselves or people they know. Writers often call realistic characters round characters. A round character is a character who has multiple-dimensions to their personality.
In real life, we humans are a complicated bag of emotions, contradictions, and quirky bits. Our relationships with others are just as complicated as we are. We often make a whole range of mistakes in relationships, jobs, and every other aspect of our lives. In order to write a “simple” story, authors must be certain their characters come across the page as just as complicated, even if not all those bits show up on the page. So the first step in diagnosing flat characters is to see what IS on the page.
What’s On the Page?
To fix a flat character, you must re-examine how that character appears on the page. Re-examining your character is harder than it sounds. You created these characters. You likely know them as well as yourself. Unfortunately, that may be part of the problem. As the creator, you read things into the story and character that may not be on the page.
If you don’t see why readers say your characters are flat, print your manuscript. Mark your primary character’s internal thoughts, emotions, dialogue, and descriptions. (Hat tip to Margie Lawson’s excellent courses.) Then take a step back and look at your pages. Missing one area? That’s a definite area of flatness. If one color dominates the page, lack of balance may be part of what makes your characters flat. Don’t despair. You can fix flat characters.
You can have interesting characters in a striking setting and have a boring book. Plot structure can create tension that keeps the reader engaged and eager to finish your book. But learning how to plot is confusing. Many writers have their own theory on how to create an interesting plot. Some argue the number of types of plot structure and they name anywhere between one (man against man) to seven. Others talk about the elements of or the stages of plot. Those folk teach five, six, seven, nine, or more elements they call stages, or doors, or plot points. They say to use a diagram or an outline or to write freely and figure it out as you go. What’s a writer to do? Learn as much as you can. A good place to start is 7 Plot Structures for Pantsers by John Peragine. If you’re looking for a simple and effective tool for creating a cause-effect, can’t-stop-reading plot use the WHAT-BUT-THEREFORE method.
What is Plot?
At its most basic level, plot is the chain of events that make up a story. But a basic chain of events does not make a story. Consider this pared-down version of Rumplestiltskin by the Brothers Grimm:
The miller says his daughter can spin straw into gold.
The king gave the girl a room of straw to spin into gold.
The girl made a bargain with a droll little man.
The girl spins the straw into gold.
The king marries the girl and she becomes queen.
The queen gives birth to a little girl.
The droll little man wants his end of the bargain.
The queen guesses his name, and he goes away empty-handed.
As a plain chain of events, this classic story has no tension. It’s boring.
A more complex definition of plot is the sequence of events which causes a character to react in a way that affects the next event through the principle of cause-and-effect. With this definition, you can still create an unexciting story. The tension must rise.
The way I make certain story tension grips the reader is to use a What-But-Therefore outline of each scene.
Read how the What-But-Therefore sentences work for Rumplestiltskin on the Writers in the Storm blog. (Sorry, I had the link wrong but it’s fixed now.)
A Note to My Readers
Thank you for your patience. I’m consumed with the packing up of nearly thirty years of furniture and life accumulations so my floors can be refinished. For readers of my newsletter, I am moved into the basement and a little less than halfway through the huge task of having my floors refinished. Next month you’ll get a glimpse of the before, life in the basement, and (I hope) a few of newly painted rooms and my beautifully refinished floors. I estimate the move back in will finish near the end of August. I plan to return to my usual blogging and writing schedule then. In the meantime, enjoy this post on WITS or stay here and search for similar how-to write posts.
This is the beginning of my contribution to The Writers in the Storm blog this month. I share my understanding of Robert McKee’s Forces of Antagonism and how I use those forces as the frame of a story.
In constructing a story, I am both a pantser and a planner. I plan the frame of a story, then place the characters in that frame and discover what they will do in that situation. It’s taken years for me to figure out a method that works for me. I share it here, not so you have a blueprint to borrow, but to illustrate one way to build your own frame. As I explained last month, the first step in building a story’s framework is the story sentence. The next step I take is to decide on the Forces of Antagonism that will best express my story.
I first came across the idea of forces of antagonism in Robert McKee’s book, Story. No disrespect to Mr. McKee, but I didn’t get it at all. I had a more narrow definition of antagonist that I conflated with the word antagonism. Plus, his terminology didn’t resonate with me. In fact, I barely understood what he was saying. Then a friend reintroduced me to the concept.
Forces of Antagonism
… the principle of antagonism is the most important and least understood precept in story design.”Story, by Robert McKee
The first part of the principle is easy. It’s about people. Humans conserve energy, all kinds of energy. It’s part of our DNA. If we see two choices ahead of us and one seems easier than the other, most of us will do the easier thing. We avoid taking risks, if we can.
Mr. McKee explains “the principle of antagonism is that a protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotional compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.” He says the more powerful and complex these forces are, the more completely realized the character and story must become.
If you’re like me, you read antagonism and think antagonist. Most likely you are thinking of a single person or group who will oppose your protagonist. But that’s not quite right.
The Frame of a Story
Read the rest of this post and learn about the principle of Antagonism, how I interpret the four forces, and how I use them as the frame of a story so I can be both a planner and a pantser on The Writers in the Storm.