A Mirror to the Soul?: Creative Work and Personality

Five young people looking astonished on multicolored backgrounds.

Ever have that moment where someone asks you about your writing, art, or other creative work and your insides contract just a little? Ask me about business items, the weather, or my weekend plans and I’m a pretty decent conversationalist. Ask me about the short story I’m working on, the novel idea in the back of my head, or the nonfiction pieces that I fiddle with and I can feel the uncertainty, the doubt, the fear.

Why do we have so much fear when it comes to sharing our creative work and ideas? Instinctively, I think we know—that our creative ideas are parts of who we are. Sharing those ideas or our work is sharing a piece of ourselves.

Sure, that short story has fictional characters and a fictional plot. It’s not technically about me. But, it is, isn’t it? Those ideas and the words and the ways that I put it all together say something about me. If I share it and you don’t like it, it may feel like you’re also saying that you don’t like me.

Research supports this instinctive feeling that every creative has when asked to share our ideas. Not only do we perceive that we’re sharing a piece of ourselves, but other people also think they are seeing our personalities when we share creative ideas with them. “More importantly, other people listen to your ideas and make judgments about you. We found that when people heard another individual’s creative ideas, they became more confident that their judgments about their personality were accurate. People are not just judging your ideas, they are making personal judgments about you based on your ideas.,” Jack Goncalo told Psypost about his research findings.

Yikes, right? Really makes you want to go out and share your creative ideas, doesn’t it? Well, maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. Goncalo also mentions that the jury is still out as to whether this makes us bond or reject with others. It may just be one data point that we use to determine whether we like someone or not. And that odd personality quirk that you think you’re sharing in your work may just help you find people who appreciate that quirk.

But it does make those stomach clenching moments where we have to decide to share our creative ideas and work (and how much to share) understandable. Our personalities and who we are at our cores are on display when we share. It’s a vulnerable position that can leave us a little uncomfortable.

So the next time, you hear someone sharing their creative ideas and work, remember the person behind it. The acceptance of the person, even if you’re not all on-board with the idea, can make all the difference.


Turn Down The Volume: How to Find the Advice You Need

Curly-haired, middle-aged woman with her fingers in her ears and an annoyed expression on her face.

Noise. So much noise.

I had a conversation with someone last week that summed up how I have been feeling as well. She’s working toward some specific goals and finding that everywhere she turns, there’s advice, and “this is what you should do”, and more advice. And then, of course, the internet just knows—knows that you had a thought about that thing—and now, every single ad will be about that thing. So, not only was she getting the information noise, but the ad noise too. All of the noise was just getting overwhelming and she was struggling to make a decision, decide on a direction, and do something.

The noise can be overwhelming in our lives sometimes. Whether it’s looking for answers or advice on the internet or asking friends for advice, there’s so much of it out there. Writers can find 13,976 books and articles on establishing a writing practice or how to write faster or how to market your book.

And, you know what? That advice will be helpful for some people. The catch is that it probably won’t be as helpful for the rest of us. That’s when it turns to noise. It becomes just one more thing that is pulling us in 35 different directions as we try to accomplish whatever it is we’re trying to accomplish (writing the book, selling the book, making a living as a freelancer, etc.) That’s not to say that pieces of that advice won’t be helpful, but if you don’t have strategies for cutting through it all to get to those pieces, you’ll be overwhelmed before you ever get there.

So, what do you do? You’re new, you’re learning, you’re taking things in a new direction, or you’re refining what you do. How do you cut through the noise so that you can make progress toward your goals without getting lost in the noise? (Yes, I’m going to give you advice. I recognize the humor in this.)

Cut the Noise

When you need to cut the noise so you can make some progress, some of the following might work… or not, as you’ll see.

  1. Know Thy Self. Seriously, if you do nothing else, this is perhaps the most valuable thing in cutting the noise. Why? Once you know yourself—your personality, preferences, strengths, motivations, values—you are better able to see what advice might work and what advice clearly will not. Then, you’re better prepared to skim over the advice that doesn’t fit you AND take advantage of the advice that does.

  2. Take a Break. If the noise is getting overwhelming, it’s ok to take a break. Mute sources, unsubscribe for a while, or just turn off the media. Let your mind settle. Once you’re in the calm, you may find that some of the advice will stick with you and you’ll be able to see how it could work for you. Maybe you’ll just rest in the calm. That’s ok too. Giving yourself a break can help you have greater clarity when you do step back and it’s likely that it will be less overwhelming too.

  3. Decide Who You Want to Listen To. Here’s the thing. You aren’t obligated to listen to anyone. Find the voices that you resonate with. The people you trust. The advice that makes sense for you. Listen to them (after you filter the advice through what you know about you). Sometimes, we listen to too many people because we’re waiting for THE ONE THING that will make all the difference. We think that if we find that one thing that everything else will magically come together. We look for THE ONE THING that will make the book sell or that will get us through the terrible middle or that will write the book for us. We have such a fear of missing out that we listen to too many things at once trying to find it. Hint: THE ONE THING doesn’t exist. There are definitely things that will move us forward, but no one thing will solve all of our issues. Stay open to the things that resonate for you and turn down the other things.

When the noise happens, you can quiet it. Use that noise overwhelm as a sign that it’s time to evaluate what’s going into your head and keep only what works for you.

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge: Round 1

A clock with 12 am on one flip piece and a blurred number on the second.

48 hours. Three prompts (genre, location, object). 1000 words.

This may sound like a nightmarish weekend of crumpled up story bits, copious amounts of chocolate, and a stream of writer’s tears. Or it may sound like an adrenaline filled rush of ideas, rapid typing fueled by caffeine, and a mad dash to hit the submit button before it disappears.

In reality, the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge is a mix of both.

The Basics

In the Challenge, participants are sorted into groups (and there are 125 of them so lots of writers!). Each group is given three prompts (genre, location, object) to use in a story of 1000 words or less and to complete the story in 48 hours. Every group has different prompts, just to keep life interesting. Everyone participates in both Round 1 and Round 2, and in the same group each time. Judges assign a score to each story for each round and the scores are combined after Round 2. The top five writers in each group move on to Round 3.

For Round 3, those who move on are assigned to new groups. The top three scorers move on to Round 4. There’s a max of 75 writers for Round 4 and the top scorer there takes home the prize.

Jumping In

A person’s legs in red shoes jump over a puddle in an alleyway.

I started seeing advertisements on social media in June for the challenge. I clicked through a couple of times, but the entry fee was steep. Around fifty-bucks-steep. I normally don’t pay to submit my stories to publications or to contests. There are always exceptions though and sometimes the entry fee comes with benefits that seems to outweigh the cost. Still, I waffled back and forth on this one. $50 is $50. The prize amounts were good, but I wasn’t expecting to win so were there enough other benefits?

Two things pushed me forward. One was that a fellow member of the SinC-Guppy chapter posted about participating in the past and having a positive experience. The second was that Midwestern Gothic didn’t seem to be doing their flash fiction contest this summer. I had done theirs last year and loved the experience.

I decided to pay the entry fee and sign up. I LOVE a good challenge. There’s something about pushing myself beyond the comfort zone that I find energizing. It often sparks new ideas and new directions for me. While my fiction pen name doesn’t have many publications behind it, my ghostwriting self has plenty of experience over the years of trying the impossible—whether that’s a ridiculously tight deadline or trying to fit together topics that should not be in the same piece. It all keeps like interesting and I learn something each time. What can I say, I like the mental gymnastics of it all.

“This is the sign you’ve been looking for” in neon against a brick wall.

Round 1: What did I sign up for again?

I did not stay up until 11:59 pm on Friday night to get my prompts. Nor did I wake up early to get them. Perhaps I should have done one or the other, but I like my sleep. After getting up and taking care of the usual items (waiting until Mira decides that this will be the time she’ll come through the door, feeding foster kittens, etc.), I discovered that I had been placed in group 96 with the following prompts: comedy (genre), tree nursery (location), stick of dynamite (object).

Overall, this wasn’t too bad. I don’t write comedy, but I do tend to include a bit of humor in my writing. I was also thanking the powers that be that I did not end up with political satire or romance. My mind tends to think in crime and murder. I once tried to write a romance short story that somehow turned into a hostage situation. Don’t ask me how.

With ideas flowing about how to work comedy, tree nursery, and a stick of dynamite together, I headed off to the monthly Grand Rapids Region Writer’s Group meeting. I probably should have stayed home to write, but the invited speaker was Alex Kourvo, who I always learn something from when she visits (and I did this time too).

That meant that it was late afternoon before I sat down to start writing. I got about 700 words into the first draft before I realized that what I had was clearly not going to work. (Really, I knew it earlier but I kept hoping I could work it out). It was a little mystery at a tree farm that went south. The plot was ok, but it wasn’t a flash fiction story. So, I started draft #2, which involved a revenge plot between two neighbors. I finished 600-700 words Saturday night and then the other 300-400 on Sunday morning.

With a draft in hand, I started looking for critiques. Several people from the SinC-Guppy short story critique group jumped in. I also exchanged with two other writers in the challenge. Finally, I asked my friend, Esther, who is a phenomenal developmental editor, to have a look.

Red squirrel looking at the camera in front of black background.

“You should add some squirrels.” I can’t remember Esther’s exact phrasing. She may have just said to stick some animals in the story. My brain heard squirrels. The other critiques had also noted that I could tighten by axing a character. Between the two things, I knew I’d be better off starting from almost-scratch again. I used a few lines of dialog and a couple of general plot ideas from draft #2, but #3 was almost a complete rewrite.

I finished draft #3 by 9 or 10 pm on Sunday night. Too late to send out for more critiques and I was mentally exhausted anyway. I did one more read through and hit the submit button.

Lessons Learned

With Round 2 approaching next weekend, I’ve been reflecting on Round 1 and what I could learn from it.

I felt about how Mira looks here on Monday morning.  (image: reddish dog sleeping with face covered by a gray blanket)

I felt about how Mira looks here on Monday morning.

(image: reddish dog sleeping with face covered by a gray blanket)

  • Be ready for exhaustion. I expected to be tired. I did not expect the bone weary fog that enveloped me for days. Perhaps it’s because I’m not twenty anymore or that I’m a slow writer who was forced to think and write quickly. Either way, I’m expecting it this time and making sure that my post-Round 2 schedule is light and easy.

  • Choose a title before 10 pm. I could not get a title to click for the story and by the time I finished, I was just tired. “Dynamite and Squirrels” was not my best use of a title. Descriptive, maybe, but not a very good title.

  • Start early. I don’t know if I’ll stay up for the prompts or wake up early, but I do know that I need to try to get some writing in before late afternoon on Saturday. I’m going to have a similar GRRWG meeting conflict so it’ll be a challenge.

  • Forget about making it perfect. 48 hours is not a lot of time to create a written flash fic masterpiece. There are probably people who can do it. I am not one of them. I’m sticking with my plan to aim for a solid story. I’ll probably have some plot holes and things I could fix, but that’s just the way it is.

  • Plan for multiple drafts. Given my wild pantsing self, I suspect that I’ll be doing drafts and not just revisions again. It’s less than ideal given the short time frame, but it often takes me a draft or two to really find the story.

The Outcome

Ha! That’s a bit of a tease, isn’t it?

Well, the scores for Round 1 are coming out this week so I don’t know yet. I’ll post them here either later this week or next week once I have them.

If you’re interested in reading my Round 1 entry, you can get it by signing up for my newsletter. (Hint: there’s a sign up on the home page at the bottom, if you missed the pop-up). I’ll be sending it out, along with the results, before I post them here. So, you’ll get to be first, read about squirrels, and give me the incentive to actually get the newsletter going! The story’ll be in all it’s unedited, 48-hour, chaotic beauty. It’s comedy, a tree nursery, and a stick of dynamite.

Oh, and squirrels. Don’t forget the squirrels.

Results

My quest for flash fiction greatness fell flat. lol. I landed in the second half of my group, so I didn’t receive a score for challenge 1. Feedback from the judges was mixed. There were aspects they liked (characters, etc.), but they seemed to have questions and wanted more information about some of the plot points. All of which is a little problematic in a 1000 word flash story.

Overall, though, I’m still happy I gave it a go. Challenge 2 went much smoother so we’ll see if the result reflects that. It’s been fun to push the boundaries a bit and get out of my comfort zone. Maybe that Challenge 1 story will morph into a longer story with more information, or maybe it’ll stay in the drawer and I’ll just take the learning experience of writing fast and short on to other opportunities. Either way, still a win in my book.

Photo Prompt Friday 8.30.19

Write…..or Look at Puppies?

Three puppies lean their heads over the edge of the basket they are in, with a blurred background.

It’s Friday, it’s Labor Day Weekend, and there’s kayaking and Michigan hard cider in my future. Not gonna lie…. I sort of just want to look at puppy pictures instead of write today. Or maybe take a nap surrounded by sleeping puppies. Or just hang out in a yard full of puppies for a while, watching the antics.

But, it’s Photo Prompt Friday so I’ll suck it up for ten more minutes and think of some ideas (that have to do with puppies!) Maybe it’s a sweet meet-cute as two people adopt puppies from the same litter, but they don’t know it until the puppies meet in the street and then they fall in love. Maybe it’s a cute picture book all about a littler of puppies who escape their basket and go for a romp in the field. And, because you know my brain has to include at least one crime/mystery, maybe the MC goes to the shelter to adopt one of those adorable little brindles and finds the shelter manager dead. (Shhh…..don’t tell the shelter I volunteer with, but at some point, it’s getting used as inspiration in a mystery.)

Happy long writing weekend!