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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott [Book]

April 29th, 2017 No comments

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

I first read Bird by Bird a long time ago and often recommend it to people who have a desire to write. After talking with a friend about the book recently, I thought it time to revisit and re-read the book and see what new things I might take away from it.

Unlike Big Magic, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, Bird by Bird is more of a traditional book on writing — offering direct advice, exercises and support to help you write and write better. That said, Lamott has a great way of interjecting the realities of being a writer along with a strong dose of humor to help you cope with the ups, downs, sideways and convolutions of writing a being a writer.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

On the concrete side of the writing equation, Lamott details her advice on writing using “Short Assignments” — committing to only a few hundred words detailing a particular character or scene. Just enough to get your writing — something — which can often be the most difficult part of any project.

Next is allowing yourself to write, in her words, “Shitty First Drafts. This is Lamott’s way of saying that sometimes you just have to write. We can all get tied up in trying to make every word we write perfect — the first time. Almost anyone who has ever written will tell you that this is a sure road to madness, writer’s block and worse.

An entire essay on Perfectionism follows to give some reasons and some tools to combat it and continue writing, no matter how bad you might think your project is right now.

Lamott then follows with chapters on other important aspects of writing including Set Design, Plot, Dialogue and more.

Part II of Bird by Bird, The Writing Frame of Mind is a series of in-depth essays on “Looking Around” or how better to see the world around you and use it in your writing, “The Moral Point of View” which explains how it is very difficult to complete any writing project that you don’t care passionately about — at least in some small way. You have to have the thread that drives you through your project. Something important you want to say. There is also an important section on “Jealousy” that I think is required reading for any writer. Jealousy is something we must all learn to deal with if we want to have a happy life and a successful (or at least, fun) writing career. Otherwise the “green-eyed dragon” will gobble you up with a moment’s thought.

In Part III, an essay on “Calling Around” explains how important it is for a writer to find sources for their writing — those people who can call on with specific information about world’s you may not move in, but still want to use as a setting in your writing. Lamott also details why it is so very important to find a trusted friend to read your early drafts and how you may go about finding them. Writing groups might be one solution and Lamott shares her thoughts on how important a good (and functional) group like this might be for you.

Part IV deals with the nasty bits of being a “professional”, “published” writer. It isn’t an easy life and there are a few things you need to know before you head down that road. It can be unforgiving. It can be crushing to your ego. It can also be exhilarating and dramatic and a host of other feelings.

I read Bird by Bird essay by essay in most cases. Taking time to think and digest the lesson in each section before moving on. You might also turn to (or return to) individual sections were you need a bit more support and a bit more thinking to use the lessons in your own writing.

After this re-read of Bird by Bird, I still think this is one of the foremost books for writers of all levels, but especially for those just beginning their writing journey. There is a lot of great advice, guidance, and truth in this book that can benefit everyone.

Categories: Books, Creativity, Education, Writing Tags:

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert [Book]

April 21st, 2017 No comments

I first saw mention of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear in some magazine I was reading. There were several writing and creativity books mentioned and I quickly requested those I hadn’t previously read from my local library. What I hadn’t noticed, until I started reading the book was that it was written by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. This often happens to me. I don’t recognize famous people out in public or important people in a company or government. It is just not something I am attuned to. In this case, I might not even have started to the read the book had I known more about the author. Sometimes coming to a new resource “cold” allow you to take in important lessons without any preconceptions.

One big thing I agree with Gilbert on is that writing — like many creative pursuits — is indeed magic. Whether I have been writing, performing music, singing with a choir, performing solo or walking onstage in the play or musical, there is something amazingly magical in what results. Thinking that creativity is magic doesn’t mean that it is unattainable for everyone, though, only that we have to treat creativity as something that is special and — most importantly — something that everyone should experience, as often as possible, in their lives. 

Big Magic isn’t a book about writing, with special exercises, meditations, or prescriptions. Rather it is a book about having and coping with a creative life. Creativity is always seen as something special — found only in select others — and this can lead to our own denial of its power and rewards and our own abilities. In a section entitled Permission, Gilbert says that we should all be “entitled”. This is a loaded word these days, but the fact is, we should all feel entitled to engage in creativity throughout our lives, regardless of what others might say or do or how much they try to dissuade us. Creativity is a certain, inalienable right, like those others laid out in the Declaration of Independence. In fact, I consider it one large part of “the pursuit of happiness” that Jefferson gave such importance.

One of the most important lessons Gilbert imparts is one that many creatives might not want to hear. She says that, in most cases, you shouldn’t depend on or expect your creativity to support you financially. In fact, she thinks this is one of the best ways to kill of your creativity entirely. If you expect your music or poetry or photography to support you, you quickly turn the magical into drudgery. What you once loved to do becomes a hateful burden and if allowed to continue, will kill your desire to create. 

Sure, some lucky few might be able to support themselves from their creativity, but most will not. In fact, she says, “with rare exceptions, creative fields make for crap careers. (They make for crap careers, that is, if you define a “career” as something that provides for your financially in a fair and foreseeable manner, which is a pretty reasonable definition of a career.)”

No matter how successful you may become, there will still be aspects of any job that you hate — the bureaucracy, the finances, the constant travel and more. On the other hand, Gilbert says, “Creative living can be an amazing vocation, if you have the love and courage and persistence to see it that way.” For myself, I often say, “Love your creativity, but don’t necessarily expect for it to love you back.” There is much to be gained from creativity, but money not be the most abundant nor important.

Big Magic is divided into short, easily consumable, sections — more like a collection of essays, although unlike some similar books, it holds together well as a complete book, too. You can read it from cover to cover, as I did, or jump from essay to another as your mood — and your creative need — strikes you.

Come to Big Magic to help you understand and better manage your own creative life. Creativity is never an easy path, as either vocation or avocation, but it is amazing and something that everyone should experience in some way. Like most things in life, though, having a guide along a strange and confusing path is always more helpful than we might like to admit. Consider Big Magic one such guide in your creative life. Now, head out on your own creative journey.

Other books by Elizabeth Gilbert

See more of her books on Amazon

* A portion of each sale from Amazon.com directly supports our blogs
** Many of these books may be available from your local library. Check it out! 
** 74 copies of Big Magic are available to check out from the Los Angeles Public Library 


Noted: Podcast: The Assassins Of Creativity (and How To Spot Them)

March 22nd, 2017 Comments off

Do It 2017! #8: Show Your Work by Austin Kleon: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered [Book]

March 6th, 2017 Comments off

From the author of Steal Like An Artist (see my previous blog post) comes Show Your Work, another excellent book for anyone who seeks to gain more visibility for their work — especially those in creative fields.

Do It 2017! #: Show Your Work by Austin Kleon: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered [Book]

My reading copy of this book came from the Los Angeles Public Library in eBook format

Reading Show Your Work was like listening to my own frequent talks on career topics. Much is exactly the same message I have preached to people for years. That is, the only way to get your work noticed is to share it as widely as possible. Music must be heard. Art must be seen. Writing must be read. Otherwise, it is a wasted effort.

Share, Share, Share

One message I share deeply with the author is the utmost importance of sharing your work via blogs and social media. As the author puts it, “It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.” If your work can’t be discovered, stumbled upon, ran into, seen in passing, found in a Google Search, etc, you are severely limiting the exposure and discovery of your work. I don’t frequently use the word “MUST”, but I will in this occasion. You MUST make your creativity discoverable, through social media or other methods, or it simply doesn’t exist. Of course, you can ignore this if you are only creating for yourself, but most who create want their work to be seen, to be cherished, to be sold, to be understood, to be an important impact on the world. Don’t let your work languish. As the Bible says, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.” Show Your Work!

Make them come to you!

Another dream I often talk and write about is the upending of the current job search market. I envision a world where job and life opportunities comes to you instead of you going, hat in hand, begging, for your next job, you next commission, your next opportunity. Imagine what an amazing world that would be/

Kleon says, “Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your résumé because he already reads your blog. Imagine being a student and getting your first gig based on a school project you posted online. Imagine losing your job but having a social network of people familiar with your work and ready to help you find a new one. Imagine turning a side project or a hobby into your profession because you had a following that could support you.

I doubt that I will see this as commonplace within my lifetime, but it is an admirable goal we should all be trying to bring to fruition. We need to move beyond the norm of job search and turn it into a world were people go seeking new collaborators from the huge stockpile of great, interesting, talented people they already know. Of course, it is up to you to share “what you do and how well you do it” so that people clearly know the type and quality of work you do and you can be in the forefront of their mind when they need someone with those talents. If not, they’ll simply — and quickly — find someone else.

Show your work page

What do you have to share?

It might be more than you think. Sharing the process of your work is just as important as sharing the final product. Human beings LOVE to see “behind the curtain.” They love to feel like they are getting a special, closer, deeper, more intimate look into your work. This is something only you can provide. when friends and clients bemoan “What do I have to blog/post/status update/Instagram/Twitter/Tumblr about?”, this is my first recommendation. Share what you are doing. Share your successes. Share your challenges. Share your failures. Both you and those who follow you will both be better for it. Does this mean share everything? Maybe not, but most of us share far less than we might…or should.

If you need a good kick in the seat of your pants, Show Your Work can provide it. You’ll find yourself making notes, lists and todo items continuously as you go through it — I know I did. While your at it, check out Kleon’s other book, Steal Like An Artist (see my previous blog post on this book). I think you’ll find it enjoyable and greatly useful, too.

What do you have to share? What should you be showing off to your friends, family and the world? 

* A portion of each sale from Amazon.com directly supports our blogs
** Many of these books may be available from your local library. Check it out! 

Noted: These 7 Books Are Necessary Reading for All Creatives – Product Hunt

February 27th, 2017 Comments off
I’ve read nearly all of these and highly recommend them. I need to read Bird by Bird again and also check out Big Magic and Creative Confidence, which are new to me. — Douglas
 
 
 

* A portion of each sale from Amazon.com directly supports our blogs
** Many of these books may be available from your local library. Check it out! 


An interesting link found among my daily reading

 

Do It 2017!: #7 Give yourself a creativity budget

February 25th, 2017 Comments off

Do It 2017 Do It 2017! #7: Give yourself a creativity budget

So far in this series, I have talked about being creative, making space for your creativity, and making time for your creativity. Today, though, I’ll address one of the more problematic aspects of creativity and your creative pursuits — giving yourself a creativity budget.

It is a sad fact that, even when money is available, we often discount our own creative adventures, deciding that it isn’t worth the monetary investment to pursue our creations. We feel frivolous, silly, wasteful, imprudent and a hundred other things. We might be saying to ourselves, “It is wrong to spend money on paper and paint brushes when there are bills to be paid, children to be fed, etc, etc, etc.” While it may be true that we have other commitments, most of us usually have some discretionary income, too. If you have enough money for a pint of beer, you have enough for a few sketching pencils. If you can eat out once or twice a week, you can also afford a nice set of watercolors or a couple blocks of paper. For most of us, there is money available. We just have to realize that we deserve to spend it on ourselves.

That said, creating art can often be done on a shoestring budget — or no budget at all. How many buskers have you seen that create some amazing music beats using only recycled buckets or crates? Acapella singers on the street can captivate an audience using only the power of their voice. Sometimes constraints can help us to go deeper in our creativity than we might in a fully stocked studio. If you truly have no budget for art, start making collages from newspaper and magazines. Draw with a ballpoint pen on copier paper or Post-It Notes. You can even burn the end of a stick and draw on the cement sidewalk if need be. It is creativity that is important, not the tools you use to express it. Don’t let yourself get caught in the trap of thinking you need hundreds of dollars of supplies to even get started. Do something today, using the supplies at hand. You can always get more or different supplies later once you’ve created a habit of creativity.

Budgeting isn’t just about saving your money, it’s also about deciding where it goes. You can create some space in your budget to support your creative endeavors if you try. I know I can cringe at the price of some art supplies, but I still make space to buy some every now and then. I know that a good brush or good paper can make the difference between great, fun creativity and struggling. Like a student musician who struggles with their first cheap instrument, you can struggle with cheap supplies. Once you allow yourself to dedicate time and attention to creativity, you’ll come to a point where your future growth requires some investment, so you can continue to grow in your art.

Look for sales at your local art stores and haunt them religiously. Recently, our local Aaron Brothers store had an amazing sale on art supplies of all sorts. Papers — for drawing, painting or journaling — were Buy 1, Get 2 Free! I typically see 2-for-1 sales, but this sale was amazing. The same sale was also available on a variety of paintbrushes. Instead of spending $60+ on watercolor paper, I purchased 3 pads for around $20. One paintbrush was priced at $16, but I came away with 2 more brushes for the same price. Buy as much of your supplies as possible during sales like this and you’ll only have to budget them in one or twice a year.

Finally, remember that you yourself are worthy of investment and that is exactly what art supplies are — an investment in you, your creativity and in many cases, your happiness. Don’t shortchange yourself. In most cases, you aren’t going out and buying a ceramics kiln, print presses or other big ticket items for your creativity. You’re buying yarn, paints, glues, polymer clay or papers. You can always add the larger equipment and supplies later, as our skills and needs grow.

Surely you can find some space in your budget to add some supplies to your studio — even if your studio is comprised of your kitchen table or the stoop outside your back door. Go out this weekend to your favorite store and, at least, see what they have to offer. Spend $20 on your creativity and then get creating. You deserve it and the world deserves your creativity!

Show off how you are using your creativity budget this week! What small tool or supply did you add to your studio? Why? What will it help you create?

Previously on Do It!:

Noted: ‘1984’ Tops Best Seller List, but You Can Get the eBook and AudioBook for Free!

January 27th, 2017 Comments off

Why The Monkees Matter by Dr. Rosanne Welch | Douglas E. Welch Gift Guide #32

December 2nd, 2016 Comments off

Dew 2016 gift guide

From 1966-1968 NBC aired The Monkees on Mondays at 7:30pm, opposite Gilligan’s Island on CBS and Iron Horse on ABC.  During that time Raybert Productions, headed by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, produced 58 half-hours of what Time Magazine contributor James Poniewozik recently described as “far better TV than it had to be.

During an era of formulaic domestic sitcoms and wacky comedies, it was a stylistically ambitious show, with a distinctive visual style, absurdist sense of humor, and unusual story structure that was commercial, wholesome, and yet impressively weird.”

Originally, the producers conceived The Monkees as a response to the youth and music movement of the early 60s, a time when every young person seemed to be slinging a guitar on their back and hoping to change the world.  In the shadow of Hard Day’s Night the producers cast four relative unknowns who could act, sing and play instruments – Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith – and hired Jim Frawley to teach them improvisation and become their in-house director. Beyond mere fame, The Monkees deserves ranking as a TV Cultural and Comedy Classic because, according to Micky Dolenz, “It brought long hair into the living room and changed the way teenagers were portrayed on television.  It made it okay to have long hair in the same way Henry Winkler as the Fonz late made it okay to wear a black leather jacket and Will Smith in Fresh Prince of Bel Air made it okay to be to be young, black and like rap.”

From an artistic standpoint the show introduced a new generation of viewers to the kind of fourth-wall-breaking, slapstick comedy created by Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers as well as to the idea of friends in their late teens living on their own without adult advice or supervision, a powerful idea at the height of the Vietnam war.

While there is continued controversy over the fact that the musical group has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, time has shown that the television show deserves the accolades it earned.  Now it deserves a deeper reading and that is exactly what Why The Monkees Matter will provide.

Go beyond the fandom and delve deeply into what The Monkees meant to “the young generation” and to our current world.

 

Why The Monkees Matter by Dr. Rosanne Welch

 

Why The Monkees Matter by Dr. Rosanne Welch | Douglas E. Welch Gift Guide #32

Order a signed copy directly from the author

Also Available from McFarland (Direct from Publisher) | Amazon | Kindle Edition | Nook Edition

* A portion of each sale from Amazon.com directly supports our blogs

Previously in the Douglas E. Welch 2016 Gift Guide…

The Promise by Dawn Comer Jefferson and Rosanne Welch | Douglas E. Welch Gift Guide #27

November 27th, 2016 Comments off

Dew 2016 gift guide

Yes, I am completely biased about this entry in the gift guide, as it was co-written by my wife and I photographed and designed the cover, but I do really think it is a great book, with a great story to share with your kids.

Based on a true story, The Promise follows Mary, the 9 year old daughter in a family of slaves in Louisiana in the 1850s. Because Mary and her father can read and write, Mary’s family is promised freedom if they travel with their master on the treacherous Oregon Trail.

When they reach Oregon, the master frees the parents but keeps Mary and her brother as slaves. Mary’s parents take the master to court to sue for custody of their children, and with Mary’s brave testimony, they set in motion a law which helps determine if Oregon will come into the Union as a free state or a slave state.+

The Promise is a historical chapter book for children ages 7-9.

 

The Promise by Dawn Comer Jefferson and Rosanne Welch

Print Edition

The Promise by Dawn Comer Jefferson and Rosanne Welch

Kindle Edition

* A portion of each sale from Amazon.com directly supports our blogs

Previously in the Douglas E. Welch 2016 Gift Guide…

Worrying about the right things [Essay]

July 16th, 2016 Comments off

Worrying about the right things

There are so many things to worry about these days. It used to be we worried about running out of gas or milk or making a mistake at work or missing our train. These days, though, we wake up each morning to more and more horrific disasters, both natural and — ever more frequently — man made. How are you supposed to cope?

As we head off to Europe this week, I found myself trying to get my head around all the big worries that confront us from, dealing with airport security to being caught up in political turmoil to making sure we make it home one piece. You know what? I will worry, but I have decided to worry about the right things on this trip.

Family festa at Casa Rinaldi House

I’ll worry about having a mind-expanding trip that takes me back to visit far flung family, new people, new cultural adventures and understanding.

I’ll worry about having a great time with great people — many who I don’t even know yet.

I’ll worry about helping my son better understand the world that surrounds him and how, through directly experiencing it, he can make it a better place.

I’ll worry about whether I am living the happiest, most accomplished, most impactful, most meaningful life I can live.

I’ll worry about meeting new acquaintances, making good friends, having amazing experiences, eating great food and simply enjoying life day-by-day.

I’ll worry about learning something new about the world, its people and myself every single day of our trip — and beyond.

I’ll worry about treating everyone as an individual and not some stereotype sold to us by mass media and politicians.

I’ll worry about how I can carry the lessons of our trip with each day we are gone and every day after we return.

We can’t always control the world around us, but we can do our best to control what we experience, how we experience it and what we make of it.

The next time you find yourself worrying, make sure you are worrying about the right things.

At Sperlinga with Orazio and Maria Conchetta and Filippo Montalto and family

Categories: Friends and Family, Opinion, Writing Tags:
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