Category Archives: Creativity

Determined to Be Visible

This month’s post is about a sign from the universe—or a remarkable coincidence, depending on your philosophy. Either way, it’s the story of how the title of my upcoming book came to be.

When I try to explain the organizing principle of my collection of blog posts, I expect to be received like someone speaking Mycenaean Greek. But people seem to “get” it, and almost immediately. First, I tell them I had to come up with a way to group my posts into chapters. Then I ask, “Have you ever heard of archetypes?”

Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, introduced archetypes to the modern world (though the idea dates to Plato). I think of archetypes as characters, which can be found in movies, plays, novels, religions, and myths. Examples include the Goddess, Hermit, King, Rebel, and Warrior. Present-day authority Caroline Myss (pronounced “Mace”) defines archetypes as “psychological patterns derived from historical roles in life.”

According to Myss, twelve archetypes make up who we are. We all share four universal archetypes (Child, Victim, Prostitute, and Saboteur), but the other eight vary from person to person. I decided to figure out my dozen archetypes and use them to categorize my writings. I reasoned that if I truly embodied these “fundamental forces,” my blog posts, which are expressions of me, should reflect them. (With me so far?)

Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards

As I mentioned, everyone has the Child archetype. But in her written materials, Myss identifies variations:

  • Wounded (suffers a traumatic upbringing)
  • Orphan (is excluded from the family circle)
  • Magical (sees beauty in all things)
  • Nature (bonds with natural forces, befriends animals)
  • Eternal (remains young forever)
  • Divine (is united with spirit)
  • Dependent (is needy, self-focused)

Unfortunately, I didn’t identify with any of them.

A neighbor’s newspaper

As I walked my dog one morning, however, I listened to Myss’s archived podcast (she used to have a radio show) about the Invisible Child. When the program ended, I felt I had found my Child archetype. Within seconds of making this observation, I encountered a newspaper at my feet. Just below the fold was a headline in big red letters: “DETERMINED TO BE VISIBLE.” I had never received a more obvious sign—or experienced a more stunning coincidence. (If you’re curious, the article was about Leonard Nimoy’s widow, Susan Bay Nimoy, whose short film was about to debut at Sundance against enormous odds.)

Myss states the following regarding the Invisible Child:

There’s nothing comfortable or pleasant about feeling that, as a child, you were invisible. . . . The positive end of the Invisible Child is that it can bring out in a person the opportunity to create an extraordinary journey toward visibility. Because developed in you is a yearning to become a visible person. And the option is that you can become a visible person through creativity, through clever, clever paths of using your imagination.

I could see that my book was a step in my journey toward visibility. Naturally, I appropriated the newspaper headline for its title.

A Numbers Game

old londonReflecting on the second season of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone, creator Rod Serling observed that a third of the episodes were “good,” a third were “passable,” and a third were “dogs.” I just finished writing synopses for ten short stories in about as many weeks, and I can only hope for a similar breakdown. Fingers crossed, there’s something worthwhile in there! You see, for each story idea, I could have spent more time searching for the characters, plot, and setting that expressed it perfectly. Instead, I latched onto the first scenario that seemed to work.

The bad news, then, is that the stories arising from this initial effort could be better. The good news is that I am in possession of ten fleshed-out story ideas rather than one or two (or maybe zero, the perfectionist in me opines). The even better news is that there’s tremendous room for improvement! According to author Jacob M. Appel, “Profit comes from book number five.” In other words, it’s a long road. And I’m finding comfort in the fact that I’ve left so much material untapped.

In the process of nailing down the parameters for these soon-to-be short stories, unexpected themes emerged: houses, heart conditions, 911 calls, first kisses, small towns, murder, religion, prison, motherhood, empathy, England, technology, and the late 1800s. Perhaps a psychoanalyst could help me figure out why these elements recurred—though I’m not sure I’d want to know the answer. Unsurprisingly, some stories also feature dogs, baked goods, and references to Shakespeare.

synopsis filesStarting September 1, my plan is to write one story per month for the next ten months. This is when the real research happens, the characters are developed, the plot details are filled in, the setting is described, the dialogue is crafted. (I’m using the passive voice here, which probably means I haven’t yet accepted that I will be doing all this work.) My main goals are to entertain and surprise. Correspondingly, my greatest fear is that my writing will be derivative, hackneyed, and predictable.

Or that I’ll go back into the files from the last three months and see, repeated over and over, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Sunny-Side Up


This month, I have explored the connection between synopses and synapses. Though only one letter apart, these words have very different meanings. As you may recall from grade school, a synopsis is a summary of a novel, movie, play, etc. (Another name for this: book report.) A synapse is the small gap across which nerve impulses pass. (Remember the illustration of a neuron in your science textbook, the fried egg with a long tail?) When all your synapses are firing, you’re focused and your mind feels electric.

To write synopses for stories that don’t exist yet requires that your synapses be firing—allowing communication from one brain cell to the next, thereby facilitating the creation of characters, plots, settings, and themes. But synapses are squirrelly. They don’t like pressure. They won’t produce synopses on demand. All you can do is ask them a question (“How does the protagonist get from point A to point B?” “When does he learn to speak German?” “What are good names for conjoined twin sisters?”) and then wait, as patiently as a perfectionist with a self-imposed deadline can, for an answer.

So far, I have written synopses for six short stories in six weeks, and I’m working on the seventh (out of ten). I won’t lie; there has been a fair deal of panic. I choose a new story idea every Thursday. When Saturday rolls around, and the characters, plot, setting, and theme aren’t clear yet, I’m tempted to yell at the synapses, “Think harder!” At this stage, I can be seen staring into space a lot. I know I must commit to something, any direction, and start writing—because it will be next Thursday before I know it.

Each synopsis feels like an experiment: I am discovering something unknown, and it may or may not be viable. I won’t know if it holds together until I flesh it out in 5,000 words. And even then, I won’t know if it’s any good until someone reads it and feels like he or she hasn’t wasted half an hour.

I anticipate further panic.

Taking My Umbrella

ray bradbury square

Ray Bradbury

Lately, I’ve been getting ideas for short stories, from things I see, read, listen to, or just find myself thinking about. Ray Bradbury suggested writing a short story every week. His reasoning was excellent: “It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” But I think a would-be author might find this advice difficult to follow, presuming he or she is employed in some other activity in anticipation of becoming an author. I might be able to write the synopsis for a short story in seven days, however. Extrapolating, I have constructed (concocted?) a 16.5-month time line for penning a 50,000-word compilation of 10 short stories.

poster edgesThere’s a 90 percent chance this is a false start like many others I’ve had. And I’m being generous giving myself a 10 percent possibility of success. (Please, no wagering.) Then again, when a meteorologist predicts a 10 percent chance of rain, you almost always find yourself running to your car with a handbag over your head. I am considering enlisting the support of my creative coach as well as writers at local meetups. And limiting my reading of short stories and my research about short story writing (tempting delay tactics), relying instead on the resources I’ve collected and internalized thus far.

Here are the best intentions paving my road to hell:

  • Week 1: Review the short story form
  • Week 2: Refine my list of story ideas
  • Weeks 3–12: Write synopses for 10 short stories (one per week)
  • Months 4–13: Write 10 5,000-word short stories (one per month)
  • Months 14–16.5: Edit 10 short stories (one per week)

I’m sure I’ll have to make adjustments along the way. Perhaps one story will want to be 2,417 words long. Another might need to be a novella. Maybe I’ve given myself too much time. (Ha. Ha-ha!) If my plan works, I’ll write a book about it. The title will be irresistible, something like, Crafting a Collection of Short Fiction in Just Under 17 Months.

Subtitle: Ray Bradbury Could Have Done It in 10 Weeks.

Is Responsibility the Enemy of Creativity?

fortunes raccoons

Last week, raccoons knocked over one of the trash cans. I had made chicken soup from scratch, and the local nocturnal carnivores couldn’t resist the bones. Among the scattered contents of the clawed-open bag, I came across something intriguing: the little strips of paper from two fortune cookies. There was no sign of the cookies themselves, which I had discarded intact. I imagined the scene that took place the night before: two satiated raccoons leaning back, cracking open the crisp cookies, and comparing the vague prophecies inside.

Who could blame them? It’s hard to resist finding out what a baked good has to say about your life. I dare you not to go to this site and open a virtual fortune cookie for yourself. (It’s gluten-free!) I clicked through a few:

  • “You will be called upon to help a friend in trouble.”
  • “You are cautious in showing your true self to others.”
  • “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”
  • “Love comes quickly, whatever you do.” (Thank you, Pet Shop Boys.)

The predictions, observations, recommendations, and aphorisms found in fortune cookies are ingeniously general; they can be interpreted as applying to almost anyone’s life. Even if we don’t take these messages seriously (with the possible exception of those who have played the “lucky numbers” and won), their allure reflects our desire to understand ourselves and to anticipate the future. Some people may seek this kind of insight through more formal divinatory tools, such as astrology, numerology, and the tarot. I recently had a meaningful experience in this regard.

I have written about Jean Haner before. She is an expert in Chinese face reading, an ancient branch of Chinese medicine. She also has the ability to read the patterns in a person’s birthdate. Several weeks ago, I submitted a written question to her monthly call-in show. As I had done for the previous several months, I asked what my date of birth said about being a creative writer. Unlike in previous months, however, she chose my question! Here is her reading, excerpted for brevity:

You’re talking about writing creatively. There’s a huge part of you that will resist that. It [that part] feels overly responsible; it feels like first you have to pay attention to the practicalities and making sure everything’s in order, so it can kind of block the creative juices. I think that a lot of your focus has been on that up until now, and what I want to do is turn your direction into the second major influence in your life, which is an incredibly creative person. I want you to open to that and allow yourself to do that. There’s some perfectionism here, there’s some issues of self-confidence and worry about—you think you’re not creative.

There’s such a creative person here. In order to let that girl come out, you have to be much more light-hearted about it. You have to allow yourself to goof up. You have to allow things to get messy. You have to be more of a free spirit. That’s a big part of who you are, but I think that you’re such a responsible person that you kind of shoved the creative girl to the side and focus on being responsible. We never have to worry about you being responsible. We always have to worry about you having fun. And you’re meant to have fun with your writing, with your life. The creative process in the beginning and for a long time is messy; you don’t know what’s going to come out of that. And you like things nice and tidy. And so you’re going to have to tell that girl to go stand in the corner.

When I played the full reading for my husband, he asked how long Jean and I had been best friends. Indeed, she had accurately framed my current situation as a conflict between the impulses of responsibility and creativity; specifically, my exaggerated sense of duty to various things in my life is keeping me from accomplishing the writing I know I am meant to do. But there’s no point in marveling at amazingly astute advice—you have to act on it.

I haven’t told the responsible girl to go stand in the corner. But I think I’ve engineered a meeting in the middle with the creative girl: a short-story-writing class that starts tomorrow.

Conservation of Creative Energy

Light Bulb in the Sky

Last week, I calculated that I had written almost 6,500 words of my blog—on top of the 5,000 words I logged on my novel. At first, these statistics gave me a sense of accomplishment. I had met the goal I stated in my first blog post, on October 2, 2012: to put together at least a few paragraphs devoted to my novel on a regular basis, in order to convince it to “take a chance on me.”

Looking at the numbers, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should be devoting more time to my novel and less time to my blog. A session with my coach last week confirmed that I was channeling too much of my writing energy into the blog. Furthermore, my coach, Ziva, sensed that putting attention on myself via the blog was “distracting my energy.”

The objective of the session had been to figure out how I could regain my motivation on my novel. I hadn’t written anything new since November 30. In fact, I had lost 50 words to editing! Ziva advised that I could build momentum by “protecting and concealing the process”—which I think would preclude yacking about it on the World Wide Web.

Ziva provided me with profound insights into how to bring the first draft into form. I will take notes throughout this process and possibly report on it later. In the meantime, I’m not sure if I will continue to maintain this blog (but not talk explicitly about my novel), post less often (again, not about my novel!), or take a break.

Maya Angelou has remarked, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Right now, that sounds like the smartest thing anyone has ever said.