Molly Crabapple on Art, Writing, and Creative Work

Artist and journalist Molly Crabapple sat down with the folks at Vice recently to talk about her creative habit and her new memoir. She has some interesting, honest things to say about the grind of working in the creative arts day in, day out. The video includes some liberal swearing and a few sketches with nudity, so please use your own discretion regarding viewing it at work or if those sorts of things offend you. Otherwise, I encourage you to check it out for a little creative inspiration. Pardon the link, but it didn’t want to embed for me. Enjoy!

Taking Drawing Lessons from Artist and Journalist Molly Crabapple

Writers on Writing: Ian McEwan on Finding Confidence

Day 20 of the December Writing Challenge, and you’re just about two-thirds of the way through the month. So many of you are still going strong, writing away each day, and I’m so proud and excited that you’ve gotten into the groove. In case you’re feeling a little discouraged or like you’re the only one dragging yourself to your computer on some of these busy December days, I’ve got a short-but-sweet video below to help remind you that all writers face the same challenges. So keep your head up and your fingers on the keyboard or around your pen. Happy writing!

Writing in the Face of Distractions: Day 19 of the Challenge

I am sitting at my parents’ kitchen table. My mother has the New York Times spread out next to me. My father is floating around somewhere. At the moment, all is quiet, and so I’m taking the time to post here for all my December Writing Challenge folks, as well as anyone who has tried to get a little work done in the presence of family members.

Writing with a person or people as a distraction might be the ultimate challenge. I can tune out the radio or the TV, construction noise from outside, ambient sounds from strangers in a coffee shop, and even an annoying bird chirping loudly outside my window. But what do you do when someone starts to talk to you? Your mother or sister, your child, your spouse? They have something important to say. They want your attention for some bit of trivia. Or, as is often the case with my mother reading the paper, they just want “to read this one thing to you.”

Now, my mother knows I’m working right now. I explained to her that I had to post for my blog, and that’s why I showed up at the table with my laptop in tow. I’m not on Twitter or surfing websites. I’m writing. So far this means she hasn’t felt the need to read to me from the paper. The only thing she has said since I started was that it sounds windy outside. Honestly, this, for my mother, is surprising restraint. When I was in high school, she was known to stand in my doorway and tell me things while I was working on homework, and having my nose in a book is an invitation for her to come chat at me. I am fair game at all times.

However, I explained what I needed to do. How much time I needed. And she’s respecting my wishes. So if you need to get a few minutes of writing done today while family is around, try telling them straight up that you need half an hour to get something done. Children may have a harder time with this concept, but try explaining to the older ones and showing them on the clock when you’ll be finished, then stick to that promise. With smaller ones, try finding a small project for them to work on (or, I’m sorry to suggest, a half-hour holiday special to watch) and set them up to do their “work” while you do yours.

Writing with family at home or in town for a visit can be one of the more difficult aspects of creating through the holidays, but it is possible. If you can’t steal the time away to do some writing on your own, explain to the people around you that you just need a little bit of time to finish one important thing. They might surprise you with how cooperative they can be.

Now it’s time for me to let my mom read me that one thing she’s been marking with her finger between two pages of the paper. Have a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!

Flash Fiction: Saying A Lot in a Small Space

There’s an old adage, attributed to many, about the speaker writing a long letter because he lacked the time to make it shorter. This can be said about a number of formats, including fiction. Short work can take more time to craft than something twice as long because each word must be made to work harder, and there’s no room for fluff or filler. Flash fiction, which typically runs under 1,000 words in length, certainly falls into this category to some extent, but if you normally tackle novels, flash fiction might end up feeling like a nice little vacation.

Those of you participating in the December Writing Challenge have reached day 17 (hurray!), and may be looking for a little break. Or perhaps you’ve been switching up your projects all along. But have you given flash fiction a try? Whether you’re part of the challenge or just looking for something to spark your creativity, flash fiction might be worth your time.

If you’re new to flash fiction, consider checking out a few helpful sites to read some examples of these micro works. Keep in mind that different venues impose slightly different word counts to the format, so if you want to write your own, you should investigate before submitting your stories to make sure your particular flash fiction meets a publication’s parameters.

Literary Hub has recently posted A Crash Course in Flash Fiction, providing a list of great short stories to introduce you to what’s out there.

Author kc dyer has been hosting a Flash Fiction Festival on her blog for the month of December, with a new story going up each day, featuring both her own work and guest writers.

Flash Fiction Online features flash fiction between 500 and 1,000 words long, in any genre.

Brevity features very short nonfiction.

Many other publications include flash fiction along with a range of longer stories, so if you discover you enjoy reading them and/or have a knack for writing them, you’ll find plenty of places to indulge your interest. Good luck, and happy writing!

New Year’s Prep: Writing Goals for 2016

We’re nearly half way through December, and by now I hope many of you have discovered how capable you are of putting your writing high on your list of priorities. No matter how busy you are, you should be able to find the time to do those things that are truly important to you. It can be so easy to fall out of the habit, even with something we want to do, but if you write daily — even for a short while — you keep that momentum going. Not only do you feel good in the moment, but when you reflect back on the year, you’ll see that you’re finishing 2015 in an excellent, productive way.

This week is the perfect time to start reflecting. Did you set writing goals for the year? How did you do? Was there a particular part of the year where you felt you went off track? What things did you accomplish that maybe weren’t on your original to-do list?

Why do we look back? There’s plenty of advice saying you should just look forward and not dwell on that past, but I believe you can only move forward successfully once you’ve assessed your previous actions. That doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up for perceived failures; we all fall down on the job occasionally, or have something that doesn’t turn out the way we imagined it would. The key is to take inventory and see what was in your control, and determine a new plan of attack for the future.

Once you’ve thought about the past year and your accomplishments, you’ll be ready to set goals for 2016. I don’t like the term resolutions. They bring to mind weight loss ambitions that die out by mid-February. Instead I believe in setting goals and then laying out a plan.

So, a few things to think about this week as you go about your business:

What are one or two year-long goals you’d like to achieve pertaining to your writing? These should be sizable and consist of actionable steps that you can break down over the course of the year. If you’re part of the way finished with writing a book, your ultimate goal could be to have it out on submission to agents, something that can be broken down into finishing the draft, revisions, writing a synopsis and pitch letter, etc.

Are there smaller goals you can set deadlines for at different points during the year? For instance, something you plan to complete by the end of January, or the end of March? Aim to send out a specific number of query letters by a set date, or spend a month learning a new-to-you social media platform or useful computer program. Not everything needs to start on January 1st, either. You might want to participate in NaNoWriMo come November, for example.

Don’t make every goal directly related to publication and becoming a professional writer. Allow yourself to set some fun goals, or to learn skills that have other applications as well. Aim to treat yourself to a weekend getaway somewhere you want to visit that might be a setting for a future book. Try your hand at writing in a different genre or format as a side project, just to see if you enjoy it.

Think ahead for bigger goals that might not take place this year but which require some advance planning. Do you want to attend a certain writer’s conference but feel it’s too costly? Put it on your goal list for 2017 and start saving now. Would you like to visit your editor in New York City when you finally get a book deal? Again, that might require you start setting aside a bit of money.

Stay flexible. Remember, these are your goals. You are making them for your own benefit, so you don’t need to answer to anyone or explain yourself if you don’t complete them all in the time you set. Sometimes things take longer, or less time, or you decide that you’d rather do something else entirely. You only have to answer to yourself, and only you can determine if a goal is important to you.

These ideas should just get you started. You’ve got a couple of weeks before the new year kicks in, so spend a few minutes each day considering what you’d like to do with it. Be a little ambitious. Let yourself stretch. Reach for a couple of stars. You can do it.



Play for the Day: Day 13 of the Writing Challenge

Sundays can be hard days on which to motivate, especially during the holidays. Whether or not you prescribe to a religion that considers Sunday a day of rest, it seems to be the one day of the week when things slow down a bit. Depending on where you live, stores might be closed (though less so during the holiday season), banks and municipalities certainly are, and it feels like a perfect time to sleep in, linger over brunch, and ignore your to-do list.

Writing does not need to feel like a work task you have to cross off. Just because you’re attempting to write daily, does not mean you can’t approach writing from a Sunday angle if you’re feeling a bit resentful of the goal of putting down new words. If you read yesterday’s post, you know that this challenge invites you to mix things up, to write on different projects if the spirit moves you. But not everything has to be a project with purpose. Even if you owe something to an editor, it can be refreshing to take a day now and then to write for play instead, just to keep your imagination sparking and to prevent burnout from setting in and throwing you off track.

If you’re feeling tired, if writing seems like the last thing you want to do, give yourself a break today and find a way to write that refreshes you instead of taxing your creativity. Put on a piece of instrumental music you love and jot down a paragraph or two about how it makes you feel. Take your journal to a café and people watch, and write down bits of their conversations. Doodle a list of rhyming words in a notebook and write a stanza or two of funny poetry using some of the rhymes. Don’t worry if it makes complete sense — just be playful. Write about a holiday feast — realistic or fantastical — and all the wonderful dishes being served. Think Dickens’s Christmas Carol or Harry Potter or Dr. Seuss. Don’t worry about where any of these things fit into the big picture of your writing. Consider them exercises, mental gymnastics, or creative stretching.

Give it a go and see what you come up with. Remember, all the words count. Just spend a few minutes writing and let your imagination roam. And tomorrow, you’ll be ready to tackle the scene that’s giving you trouble or figure out where your plot’s gone off course. Enjoy, and happy writing!

On Writing Multiple Projects: Day 12 of the Challenge

Welcome to day 12 of the December Writing Challenge! Are you looking for a little inspiration? Maybe something new to write about, or just a break from your current work in progress? Remember that ideas are everywhere, all you need to do is ask “What if?”

Maybe you’re on deadline, in which case it’s likely you’re committed to working on the project that’s due. But if not, there’s no reason not to mix it up occasionally. Many of my clients have “secret projects” they’re working on bit by bit, something other than their primary novel. Or maybe you want to try your hand at a different format — essays, articles for publication, poetry. If it keeps you motivated and stretching your creative brain, it will help you turn up to write every day.

The video below includes the oldest known footage taken of New York City. Even if you don’t write anything with an historical setting, you might find something that sparks a fresh idea. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Building on a Streak: Day 10 of the Writing Challenge

For those of you who’ve participated in the December Writing Challenge from the first day, today is day 10 (at least) of your writing streak, but even if you’ve just joined us, you know that each day stands on its own when it comes to making time to write. You might think to yourself, “I’ve managed to write the last nine days, so surely I can write today!” And you’d be correct. But that doesn’t mean each day doesn’t introduce its own challenges and distractions. Those little suckers love to crop up when you least expect them, especially this time of year.

So, at the risk of sounding like a 12-step program, take it one day at a time. Yes, get excited about your streak of writing days, because every day you write should be celebrated and appreciated. But don’t get cocky. That’s asking the gods of fate to send you an emergency project at work or for your kids to get the stomach flu.

Recommit each morning. Remind yourself why you’re doing this. Use your writing streak as motivation — because the longer you maintain your daily writing habit, the more exciting it can be to realize how many days in a row you’ve written. But don’t assume that a great streak can’t be broken. As the saying goes in financial circles, past performance is no indication of future results.

Congratulations on your writing days so far, however many there have been, and good luck keeping up with the challenge. Write daily, at least a little bit. You deserve that time for yourself and your writing goals.

Working Your Way through It: Day 9 of the Challenge

I’ve shared the following video before, but it’s one that stands up to multiple viewings. Keep this in mind when you contemplate not writing on any given day.

Ira Glass on Being Creative

Putting in your time each day helps you advance your skills that much faster. It trains your brain to do the work, and let’s you develop new techniques and a better understanding of your craft. So what are you waiting for? Go write.

Research Is Just Another Word for Procrastination: Day 8 of the Challenge

How do you write a book? One word at a time. The reality is, there’s no one correct way to write. Every writer has their own approach, their own habits, their own tricks to get the ideas flowing or to combat writer’s block. But the one thing pretty much everyone can agree upon is that you need to sit down and do it. Staring into space may be great for idea generation, but it won’t actually get the book written. Research can be helpful, both to inspire story twists and to flesh out details, but spend enough time researching and you’ll never write the book.

So on this eighth day of the December Writing Challenge, I’d like to leave you with this thought. There are many tasks involved in writing a book, including dreaming up the plot, researching the ins and outs of your setting and characters, and perhaps dusting off your keyboard before you start to type. But you don’t need to know every moment of your story to start writing. You can (and should) research many details after you have an initial draft. And cleaning up your workspace beyond gaining access to your computer and your chair can be done once you’ve put in your time for the day.

Writerly procrastination is still procrastination. Go write.