Art Journal? But I’m Not an Artist

Perhaps you’ve been clicking around on flickr or Pinterest and you’ve seen amazing art journal spreads like this one:


Photo of art journal 8.28 by Lenna Young Andrews via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

Maybe you’d like to liven up your journal with paint and pictures but you say, “I’m not an artist.” Good news! You don’t have to be. It’s your journal, you can do what you want.

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Make Writing Easier With Mind Mapping

These are not my students, but you get the idea. Photo credit.

These are not my students, nor are they CSU students, but you get the idea.

Back when I taught writing to undergrads at Colorado State, I asked them to observe their writing processes. That is— what really happened when they needed to write something? Did they begin by drinking coffee? Watching TV? Cleaning their rooms? (Was there something going underneath these avoidance activities?) Did they settle in at a table in the library or the student center? Or did they head outside to sit under a tree with a notebook?

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What’s a Muse? And Why Do I Need One?

Photo of Marble statue of Isis by Carole Raddato via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

Photo of Marble statue of Isis by Carole Raddato via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

You may have heard Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk about about creativity and inspiration, in which she discussed the idea that writers and other creative people are visited by a Muse while they work. This extraordinary being (angel? daemon? goddess? blithe spirit?) drops by to guide the writer’s hand and leads the writer to produce something beyond what her normal abilities would allow her to produce. This is a very old idea– so old, in fact, that the Muses as we know them date back to the classical period in Greece. If you look around on the web, you can find lists of their names and information about their appearances in classical literature.

It’s an interesting idea, for sure. But Gilbert suggests that this is more than idea. It is the way that you make peace with your creativity. You understand that your part of the deal as an artist is to show up and work hard. The rest is up to the Muse. It’s not up to you, the writer, to be an amazing creative genius. Therefore you don’t need to feel badly if the writing isn’t going as well as you’d like. You just keep going. Sooner or later the Muse will show up.

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Hack Up Your Text

William S. Burroughs reading

Photo of william s. burroughs by duluoz cats via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

Last Thursday I listened to a This American Life podcast that featured an audio documentary about William Burroughs. I was amazed that somebody who was addicted to drugs for most of his life had such a long and productive literary career. I’ll admit right now that I am not that familiar with Beat literature except for some of the poetry, such as Howl and A Coney Island of the Mind. So, although I’ve heard of Naked Lunch, I haven’t read it, nor any other of Burroughs’ novels. Even without reading Burroughs’ work, I’d say the documentary is worth a listen if you want to know more about him or about the Beat writers.

Among other things, the documentary described the cut-up technique, which Burroughs learned from Brion Gysin, a visual artist.

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The Difference Between Poetry and Fiction

Lately I have found myself thinking about poetry and fiction, and why they are different, and how that difference affects the writing process. Some people think the difference is rhyme, or figurative language, or line length. In this view, poetry has these devices, and fiction does not. As for me, I think the difference is conflict.

Dog vs. cat

Photo of Ongoing Conflict by Fiona MacGinty-O’Neill via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

light bulb

Photo of this little light of mine by Michael W. May via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0

I’ve been to a lot of readings: poetry, fiction, memoir, etc. Seems like no matter what, if there’s a Q & A portion of the reading, someone will ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I understand why this always comes up. It comes up because no matter how imaginative we are, when we sit down to write, we are facing the blank page. Or the blank screen. Then, if you’re me, the ideas you’ve had about what to write fly out of your head and you stare at the page in despair. This is why I keep lists of things to write about.

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3 Things That Inspire Me

Full disclosure: sometimes quotations that are supposed to inspire me instead make me gnash my teeth and wish I never, ever, had to hear them again. This is especially true when the words come on a poster with flowers or a sunset or a beach or a little innocent child. I’m talking about stuff like this:

When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.

Bonus grumpy points if the quotation is attributed to someone who never, ever, said or wrote it: Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, or Mark Twain. These people had better things to do than to sit around thinking up pithy quotes about “fall down 9 times, get up 10.”

Now that I’m done ranting, I want to share a few things that inspire me. I hope they don’t make you want to kick a puppy* or start drinking at noon.

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