The Creative Process – From Dreaming To Reality

Here’s why people prefer to dream than to do something about their dreams.  The first stage is fabulous, it’s where you let all your ideas go wild.  You don’t censor anything, don’t tell yourself you can’t succeed.  It’s kind of like taking a drug that inhibits all your inhibitions.  I like that phase a lot.

Then you start to organize your thoughts and begin to create something real.  This part is where challenges start.  A lot of people give up at the threshold, and prefer to make excuses – I would if I could, but…  If you can push yourself over the threshold, though, it gets much more exciting than dreaming, and as challenges come up you deal with them.

Momentum builds and pretty soon you’re carried on the wave of your own creativity.  There’s nothing like it.  It’s also where you start to realize “hey, my dream could actually come true.”  It’s a pretty inspiring and energizing thought.

Then you’re done with whatever it is you’ve created and you launch it.  And without realizing it you’re back in the dreaming phase.  You think you’re being practical but actually you can’t help yourself believing you’re going to be an instant success.

You think of all the people who have managed to rise above the seething masses and be noticed by more than family and friends, and you think “this is going to happen for me too.”  It’s true, you have created this possibility, fashioned it out of a dream, worked on it in a real way.  You read and hear about the successes.

You even read about their challenges along the way but somehow it doesn’t sink it that probably you’re going to have them too.  You think, “well, it couldn’t have been so bad for them, because they must have known somewhere in their hearts that it was all going to work out okay.”

Maybe for some people instant success happens, but it hasn’t happened for me yet.  I have to constantly remind myself that that’s the operative word – “yet”.  I’m facing the reality that the challenges of this phase put you in a very lonely and scary place.  It’s the time you want to give up, because you’re swimming in a quagmire of self-doubt about you and what you’ve created.

It’s natural to look to the outside world for affirmation, and when you don’t get it, to believe you don’t deserve it.  It’s easy to want to give up.  But this, I think, is exactly the time when you have to stay and keep on going.   Live on hope.  Be grateful that you can generate it.  Try not to listen to the part of you that laughs, mocks, jeers “who do you think you are?  You’re a lunatic.”

I paper my walls with messages that remind me not to give in to that crap.  Remind me that the idea that I can’t succeed is as much a speculation as the idea that I can.  So why choose to believe the one that destroys my hope and cauterizes my creativity?

This phase of turning a dream into a reality is the hardest of all.  It’s a constant fight to hold onto faith and hope; remember the pleasure I’ve had so far in creating, and keep on reaching for it.  It’s a constant bloody fight to not give up.  But it’s the good fight.

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The Wild Animal of Lust For Venice and Italy

The city of Venice, built on 117 islands.

Venice, built on 117 islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve just spent the last half hour torturing myself looking at photos of Venice, Siena and Florence.  My life is so pedestrian at the moment it’s driving me crazy.  Ever since I lived in Siena, a million years ago, I’ve had a lust for Italy that has never gone away.  It’s been like a wild animal in hibernation, quietly sleeping somewhere in the recesses of my brain, waiting…

I wanted to go back but never managed to.  Too busy ferreting ghosts out of my closet then dealing with them, trying to wade through all the crap to find myself.  Then falling into a pit that seemed bottomless, and learning to crawl out.  I know I’ve had to do it, and if I’d gone back I wouldn’t have been able to have a stable life, so I don’t regret the work I’ve done in facing myself.  I’m very grateful for the help I’ve had and still have.

But I’m so damn sick of survival, and watching other people live adventurous and exciting lives. For heaven’s sake, I’ve ridden a bicycle through East Africa and from New York to Key West.  What’s happened to my courage?  I know I wasn’t born for a pedestrian life.  Today, those gorgeous photos of Venice – outrageously fabulous – woke up my wild animal lust with a start.  Oh, hallo! I remember you.

Well, other people have made it through crises and risen above so I must be able to also.  That’s a reassuring thought.  Need to have a word with God, maybe.  God or the Universe.  Look, I’m willing to apply myself but whatever else it is that I need to learn, or embrace, just send it my way would you.  And yes, yes, I know, I can’t win the lottery unless I buy the ticket.  Speaking metaphorically of course.

On which note I’d better do something practical, like my crime novel and paranormal romance.  Nobody seems to like my ebook And What About Me? Am I Into Him?so far, which doesn’t mean it won’t succeed at some point, I know that.  But maybe I’ll have a better shot with one of these others.  So let me get to them.   I wish somebody would discover me.  I’m sure I’m worth discovering.

Venice, I have not forgotten you…

To buy my ebook And What About Me? Am I Into Him? on how to get real love and respect and be real in relationships,  Click the title.

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Getting Rejected by Agents, Believing in Yourself and Not. Giving. Up.

Writing can be a lot of fun.  The world of publishing isn’t.  Well, not all the time.  Definitely not while you’re trying to get into it.  I guess any meaningful journey feels significantly lacking in anything vaguely resembling fulfillment now and then.

I’m looking for agents, so my book can be a real live one as well as an ebook.  Finding and  researching them to make sure they’re right for me is laborious and time consuming, but it’s exciting when I hit on one who seems perfect.  Which I did two days ago.  Daniel Lazar works for a New York agency, Writer’s House, and he seems straightforward, has a sense of humor and a big heart.

His bio blurb says “If you think your pages can make me hold my breath or miss my subway stop or even laugh out loud…”  I like that.  So I sent him my proposal – which I’ve worked on for weeks, editing, re-editing, thinking it’s just fine then realizing it’s not, throwing it out, starting again.  If I still worked on a typewriter my room would be littered with crumpled up rejects.

People say don’t invest in outcomes, don’t get attached.  What a lot of crap.  It’s impossible to write a book and not hope that the world will love and respect it and you’ll sell millions of copies and make it to the New York Best Seller list.  People who don’t let themselves have that dream are scared of disappointment so they shut it down.

Today I understand them a little better, although I still think it’s half living.  I got an email from Daniel.  So soon!  All agents say you’ll only hear from them if they’re interested.  My heart leapt – he loved my proposal and me, he wants to read the whole book, this is it, I’m on my way, New York here I come!  Heart thudding I opened the email.

It was from his assistant.  “Daniel asked me to reply…your project does not seem right…”.  Damn.  It’s like a mini-death, there’s no way I could prepare for how heavy my heart feels, and all the crucifyingly criticial crap that comes flooding into my head.  About my book being not good enough for a reputable agency, me being a ridiculously lousy writer, a dreamer without a hope in hell of ever succeeding…

But now I don’t feel so bad.  Daniel, divine as he is, obviously isn’t the right agent for me.  It doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there somewhere.  There must be.  Perhaps we’re moving towards each other already in ways neither of us is aware.  That’s how life works.  All I can do is play my part.  I’ve already sent to a bunch of other agents, and I’ll carry on sending to some every day.

I’m getting together with SEO Afficionado Vernon Chalmers on Friday to discuss my marketing strategy.  I’ve nearly finished the thriller script and I’ve started on the crime novel.  I’m going to carry on, no matter what, and hope like hell my fate isn’t like Van Gogh’s.  I might go mad and end up penniless – but I’m familiar with both those states so it doesn’t bother me too much.  At least I shan’t lose one of my ears.  Ha.

Getting your work into the world can be hard.  Some people are born into an environment that predisposes them to success, but many aren’t and part of the journey is developing a belief in yourself and your work.  The only way that belief can grow is through getting rejected, and learning not to give authority to the messages in your head that say the rejection means you aren’t any good.

The real enemy isn’t the world, or agents or publishers, it’s in your own head.  Conquering it is a fight, it’s one of the hardest things in the world.  But it’s the good fight, and the better you get at it, the more you stand behind yourself deep in your heart.  That’s when the world starts responding to you, duh.  There’s no way past the impasse but through it.  And it’s indisputable that you can only make it onto the list of people who might succeed if you don’t give up.

Life and Writing: Henry Miller’s Eleven Commandments

Cover of "Tropic of Cancer"

Cover of Tropic of Cancer

In the early 1930’s Henry Miller was living in Paris and writing his first novel that would be published, Tropic of Cancer.  He was a law unto himself and wrote what he wanted to the way he wanted to, doggedly pursuing his writing even though it didn’t bring him any money for a long time.  He looked for financial support when he needed it and got it.  A determined rebel with a cause: he wanted to include explicit sex in his books.

Tropic of Cancer was printed in France but banned in the US for being obscene.  Two of his other books followed suit.  But they were smuggled into the US where they had a big influence on writers of the Beat generation.  In the end Miller got his way, although not without a fight.  Tropic of Cancer was published by Grove Press in the US in 1961 and sued for publishing obscenity but in 1964 the Supreme Court over-ruled the findings and declared the book a work of literature.

Times change.  Conservatives always lose out in the end.  People who don’t give up in the face of big challenges eventually succeed. That’s life, although it’s hard to keep going when evidence seems to point to the useless of whatever you’re pursuing, hard not to be controlled by emotions or to just let yourself be distracted, lose focus.

Speaking for myself, when that happens I feel so disempowered.  Because I am!  But it’s a slippery slope that can easily turn into what’s the point of writing anything or even trying.   Having a plan helps; a reminder not to be controlled by external things.  Henry Miller had a great plan when he was writing Tropic of Cancer.   It’s not draconian and there’s room for flexibility, but it’s a pretty good practical guide.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

                                                                                        (Source: Henry Miller on Writing)

I guess it’s about focus and a balance between being disciplined and kind to yourself. Being the boss and the employee.

Fear of Success, Letting the Wild Animal out of its Cage

Attention please..three horses, put on their b...

Attention please..three horses, put on their best face! (Photo credit: jimmedia)

Writing or doing anything creative can be a real challenge, even if you aren’t doing it in the hope of earning fame or fortune or daily bread or any bread, or even just a bit of attention, even if you’re doing it just for yourself.  There’s something about it that’s scary.  Some kind of message in your head that you have to be perfect, you have to live up to an impossible standard that can’t be pinned down.  Pressure!

There’s something else, too.  It doesn’t cost anything materially to write, but the doing of it puts you at the coal face of your existence sometimes.  It defies logic.  The thing is, that part of you that needs to be let out, no matter what the mode of expression, is like a wild animal in a cage.  Keep it imprisoned and it either implodes in a way that impacts on you physically or you go a little or a lot crazy.  Well, let me speak for myself, it’s what happens to me.

I feel powerless, enervated and useless.  I get scared of life and people and I start debating the pointlessness of doing anything.  It’s a slippery slope from there, although the great thing about life is that I always get to a point where it’s unbearable and I’m provoked into crashing through whatever emotional or mental barrier is in the way of expressing myself.  Just do it! finally prevails.

What a relief.  Even if I’m not at all inspired and nothing of much sense comes out because my thoughts are all over the place and my focus is out of focus, the fear goes away once I actually start, get my hands dirty.  The pleasure of the doing is all that matters and my world view shifts in an instant.  Action is always easier to deal with, even if it’s challenging, than the debilitating debate should I shouldn’t I can I can’t I and what’s the point.  I suppose it’s because we only have power when we act.

I think the fear that rises up with non-action is pretty existential and getting beyond it can be a huge challenge. When you’re expressing yourself, even if you’re not doing a brilliant job of it, even if you tell yourself and the world you’re not creative, you have released some part of you that is authentic.  It’s you in the raw.  The first time we’re like that is when we’re babies.

We didn’t know it wasn’t okay to express ourselves.  But for many people their earliest experiences of being in their power were punishing, whether parents meant to punish or not.  Don’t be powerful is the most potent message visited upon children, overtly and covertly, by family members, society, religions.  We take all of that in at the time we’re most receptive.  It registers without our even knowing it, and becomes part of how we operate, how we respond to life.

I believe it turns into an inner, very ingrained expectation of being emotionally brutalized if we let that raw, creative part out and it controls us in adulthood.  Fear of success – If I let myself be powerful will you be threatened and attack me.  Will you leave me, abandon me – it can be hard-wired into every part of our being.  The weirdest thing is how we can be so unaware of it in childhood and adulthood.  All the excuses we make for not being able to do things – excuses that we believe – are a cover up for that immense fear.  But I’ll be annihilated if I let myself out.

Beliefs we’re controlled by are hard to dismantle.  I’ve tried so hard for much of my life to do it using my thinking brain.  It didn’t work.  I guess it’s because our thoughts aren’t what bond us.  Our emotions are.

New York’s Park in the Sky – From Dream to Reality

Image from http://www.thehighline.org

Pretty picture, huh.  No it isn’t some wild overgrown African city, it’s New York 30 feet above street level, part of a project which turned a disused elevated railway running through Manhattan into the city’s elevated park in the sky.  I love the American capacity to think and dream big and turn those dreams into magnificent realities.

In 1847 the City of New York authorized railroad tracks down Manhattan’s West Side.   It was a great idea, but it caused a lot of accidents between traffic and freight trains.  One of the streets it crossed, 10th Avenue, became known as Death Avenue, and men on horses, the West Side Cowboys, had to ride ahead of trains, waving red flags.

It got so bad that in 1929 the New York Central Railroad and the City and State of New York created the West Side Improvement Project, part of which was a 13 mile long High Railway Line 30 feet above street level.  It was designed to go through the center of blocks rather than over avenues.  It connected directly to factories and warehouses, so trains carrying milk, meat, produce and goods could roll right inside buildings without interrupting traffic.

It put the Westside Cowboys out of a job, I guess, but for everybody else it was great until interstate trucking made rail transport redundant.  The last train ran in 1980, pulling three carloads of frozen turkeys.

In the late 1990’s two ordinary guys, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who lived in the area, founded Friends of the High Line to protect it from being demolished.  They had no experience in urban planning or dealing with the City, but they saw how gorgeous the line would be as a  public open space.  They ploughed through bureaucratic red tape and managed to get City support and funding to save a portion of the line and lay out a planning framework over the next three years.  And the project had wings.

In 2003 a design competition was held.  720 teams from 36 countries entered.  By now it had become an international project and Mayor Bloomberg had agreed to City funding for it, and the State of New York had come on board.  The team chosen included a landscape architecture firm, an architecture firm, experts in horticulture, engineering, security, maintenance, public art.

The first phase of construction started in April 2006, and by June last year it was complete.   2.3 km of self-seeded wild sections, others with lush lawns, benches and boardwalks, and others with more formal landscaping.  And a river runs through it.  30 feet above the chaotic traffic in downtown Manhattan.  And all because of two guys with a dream and the gutzpah to do something about it, to start even though they didn’t have any knowledge about how to finish.  And they had the patience stay with the dream until it had become a reality.

What a great way to step out of history.  If you let them, dreams will have their way.  The image below is what the line looked like before it was developed.  To learn more and see some really fabulous pictures on the High Line site, click the link: http://www.thehighline.org or either of the images.

English: New York Central Railroad elevated ra...

Image via Wikipedia

Jerry Seinfeld’s Recipe for Success

Jerry Seinfeld (character)

Image via Wikipedia

Every year Jerry Seinfeld hangs a year calendar up somewhere prominent, and for every day that he writes new material he marks a big red X.  It started out just being fun, but it was also pretty rewarding, so he carried on doing it.  Then he liked the look of the red-X-chain he was creating, so he didn’t want to stop writing something new every day.

And that’s it, that’s his recipe for success.  Make a year calendar, and for every day you do something of whatever you want success in, give yourself a big red X, see how long you can keep the chain going.  Whether you feel like it or not, no matter how scary or daunting it is.  Over time you refine what you’re doing, and you’re really focused on it, so your work has power.

I like his recipe, it makes sense to me.  For myself I’m adding another couple of ingredients – pleasure, and obstinacy/protectiveness. If you’ve found something you enjoy doing, it’s a pleasure to do it most of the time anyway.  You don’t have to discipline yourself.  If you really let yourself feel that pleasure you want to come back to it, and it can help carry you through the rejections and hurdles.  But you have to protect that pleasure.

Yesterday I spoke to Avril Kinsey, who runs a local music college, about taking jazz vocal lessons this year.  I was telling her about how my fear – of being laughed at, mostly – shuts my voice down.  She said she’s had to overcome a lot of fear in her career as a guitarist and vocalist, and she eventually got to a place where she said “nothing and nobody is going to take this away from me”.  “This” being the prize of her music, her life.  Her greatest pleasure.

The obstinate look on her face in that moment was gorgeous and inspiring.  I felt the obstinate, sassy, even laughing part of me kick in and I realized that if I work at it, I can use it to create a fortress around the pleasure I have when I sing.  The pleasure drives me wild, I just love it, so I need to do everything I can to protect it.  It’s where all my power is.  I signed up for those lessons.

I think the part of us that creates, is kind of like an innocent child, hugely powerful in its capacity, but also monumentally fragile.  It needs a ferociously protective lioness-type parent to protect it from anything that inhibits it – criticism, challenges, rejection, being laughed at.  Nobody else can give that to us, we have to find it in ourselves.  And exercise it by putting  ourselves at the coal face, risking – even experiencing – rejection.

Going back to Jerry Seinfeld, talent obviously has a lot to do with his success, but on its own I doubt it would have got him anywhere.  He also had to put the hours into writing, being on stage, promoting himself, plowing through the challenges like a bull in a china shop.  Carrying on when he got rejected, when he was told his material wasn’t any good.  Developing that ferocious inner part of him, doing whatever he needed to do to protect his pleasure of creating.