Creativity When You’re Lost

I’ve stood consistently by my belief that every human being is creative. We all have different outlets for that creativity – some outlets are more socially recognized than others. But creativity is something so deeply engrained in the human experience that it rests even in states of devastation, loss, betrayal, sadness, guilt, and shame. And actually, sometimes those are the very feelings that prompt us to pull out the most incredible parts of ourselves to give to the world.

I recently read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she argues against the idea that you must be suffering to produce art. And I agree with her. When I was younger, I definitively believe that you had to be in a state of disrepair to create. This is because there were so many representations of the tortured artist in media and historical accounts of famous art figures.

Gilbert says that these tortured souls were able to make art despite their addictions and state of mind, not because of it.  I share this belief with her now. There is no great state of martyrdom that will juice you up to write a bestselling novel. In fact, to be in a state of anguish is fabricating an obstacle for yourself to leap over during your creation process.

That said, there are times in which we may feel lost, or be impacted by other negative feelings. During this time, creativity can be used as a conduit to climb out of those states. Creativity during times of hardship can be disorienting, foreign, unnatural. Your inner critic may take the lead and pummel you with criticisms and doubt. The following are things to remember when you’re lost.

You Will Never Loss Your Creativity

There is nothing anyone can say or do to you that will take away your creativity. There is nothing that can take your creativity away. It has always been within you, and will always be within you. Every human is an incredible channel for raising the collective consciousness to a state of total love. We get muddied by our worldly experiences, which make us question our faith in one another and in ourselves. We may shake and tremble under fear and a sense of non-belonging, but creativity is the well that we can pull from that will prove the irrevocable ties we all have to one another. We share creativity, and we cannot lose it. A few bad days, months, or years will never do so much damage as to even put a dent in your incredible power to create.

Your Value Cannot Be Measured

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that your worth comes from a situation, from the amount of money in your bank account, from your looks, or other sources. It is not. Your value as a human being is not dependent on anything or anyone. If you have no barometer of value that you falsely enforce on yourself, you are able to create freely and without criticizing yourself for the sake of others. Own your value by meeting your own standards, and love yourself regardless of your mistakes, and you will have created a far more loving world.

When You Feel Lost, You Are Not Lost

There are moments in our lives when things don’t seem to be adding up. Maybe there’s a sense of perpetual anticipation, or a sense that you’ve taken the wrong road. If you rearrange your thoughts, you can morph anticipation into wonder, and feeling lost into exploration. The human tendency to want to continuously fast forward to the good parts gives us amnesia for the moment. The moment is where the good stuff is, and if you’re here now, you’re not lost.

You Are The Love of Your Life

I’m not trying to be (vegan) cheesy, but you genuinely are the love of your life. You travel every single winding, curving, looping, upside-down, right side up, backwards, broken, freshly paved, unmarked, toll, dirt, cement road with yourself. You’re not lost! You’re just traveling this bit and maybe your right headlight is out. Maybe you had to pull over to change a flat tire. You’re not lost. The cool thing about being the love of your life is that you can work with your thoughts, habits, and deep inner self to cultivate creativity. You never have to look outside of yourself to do this. All the tools and the inner knowing is there. Maybe you’ll meet others that bring that light to the surface. Nothing can rob you of your journey with yourself, no matter what turn it takes or how many repairs you have to make.

I’m saying every human holds the eternal thing we call creativity. We can cloak it under pain, sadness, and life circumstances, but it’s not going anywhere. We have to shed those old-school, un-useful ideas that creativity must come from anguish. That means taking accountability for loving yourself and nurturing every tiny morsel of your being. It means refusing all ideas that contradict your knowing of the utterly beautiful creative, weird, otherworldly creature you are. There is no lost, you are here.

How to Write a Purpose Statement

I recently watched some material about purpose statements in the context of business and technical writing. Since I’ve been freelancing again lately, I am always looking for ways to streamline my writing and spend less time free-writing (which can cost you some words that you’ll end up deleting from your draft later). After testing out the method of using a purpose statement, I went from taking out approximately four sentences per 1,000 words to taking out no full sentences (just a few words here and there when I get a little carried away).

A purpose statement cuts down on the time and amount of words it takes to make clear and valid points.

Not only does it save me time and words, but the purpose statement also instills a sense of respect for the reader. It speaks more directly and concisely to the information that I’m trying to get across (once I’ve established what that information is).

Let’s say I’m going to write an article about time management at work. I’m going to start by formulating my purpose statement, which involves determining the following:

  1. Type of document you are writing
  2. What the document does
  3. The information the audience needs
  4. The audience
  5. What the audience does with this information

So, the type of document I am writing is a 750-1,000 word information article that will be published on a business website blog. The business sells a software that tracks your online activity and shows you how much time you spend on each website every day.

The document that I am writing helps readers determine if they need help with time management at work. The audience needs to know what behaviors on their part they should be aware of that display a lack of organization, or a general anxiety around their productivity. The audience is business professionals who are interested in self-improvement and performance.

And finally, the audience, having determined that they can benefit from learning more about time management, purchases the software that this company is selling. Yep, this is a sales pitch. Did you figure that out when I mentioned what the company sells?

Condensed, then, is the following:

  1. Type of document you are writing: sales article for a business blog
  2. What the document does: guides readers to determine that they will benefit from the software that this company is selling
  3. The information the audience needs: data that will help them determine that they are interested in the software
  4. The audience: business professionals
  5. What the audience does with this information: buys the software

During the first time around, I focused a bit less on the sales aspect of the article, and that let me have a bit more brain space to come up with some “behaviors” that I can list that will convince readers to purchase the software. For example, I can come up with a short list of sections I will include in the article (again, these are resonating behaviors that the reader may engage in that will make them want to purchase the software to modify their time management skills at work): You Find Yourself Scrambling at the End of the Work Day; You Miss Small Details Often Because You’re Overwhelmed; You Find it Hard to Concentrate on Simple Tasks.

If I was focused on the pitch to begin with, the article would have been too heavy handed as a sales letter. With blog articles from businesses, you will want to offer some value to the reader. The pitch is there, but it’s not taking away from the article or distracting the reader. Basically, the article can stand on its own if you take out any of the sales-pitchy sentences.

I’m not a big outliner (okay, I’m not at all an outliner), so trying out this purpose statement method was a bit different for me. But overall, if I am writing a more rigid form like an article that has a clear intention, it’s useful. It’s not such a strict outline that it boxes me in, but it helps me knock out some of the main points I’m going to make so I’m not sitting in front of the screen too long. The purpose statement simply clarifies and brings focus to the writing.

How to Write a Freelance Pitch for Writing

I’m a freelance writer and editor outside of my 9-5. I’ve been doing it for a few years now. I love freelancing because it gives me more opportunity to refine my writing skills. Part of freelancing, unlike a traditional job, is selling yourself over and over again. So I’ve had to construct a cover letter, or freelance pitch, to do so. Generally, I work off of a master template that I have written. It’s short. I kept it that way because I’ve hired freelancers to do work for me before and I didn’t bother to read the long cover letters I received. If you can’t keep it concise, I get the sense that you’re not a very skilled editor (I was looking for an editor for my first novel).

My freelance pitch front loads my credentials to show that I have formal writing education. If you don’t have formal writing education, no problem. Just start with your experience. If you have no experience, get on it. Start a blog and write on it regularly. I’ve landed a good amount of jobs because of my blog. Clients have told me numerous times that they visited my site and read my articles. You don’t have to be a pro blogger or even have many readers. All that matters is that you show consistency and you show that you can write.

After I’ve listed my formal writing education, I jump right into what I do for work. I’m an API technical writer and I highlight this because it shows that I write professionally. I also list my previous experience as a PI: “Previously, I was a private investigator for three firms in California and composed over 500 investigative reports.” I add this because it shows that I have research and analytical skills. It also shows that I handled quite a few cases on my own.

I end with a quick summary of my independent writing achievements: “I’ve also worked as an editorial intern for a news publication, written two fiction books, and maintain a personal blog.” This portion is important because it shows that I write even outside of getting paid! I write because I’m a writer – not always because someone is paying me to write.

Here are some more ideas that can help you pitch yourself for freelancing gigs:

Be picky about who you pitch to.

Just like everything else in life, not every client is a match -whether it’s to your skill level, communication methods, or the terms you will agree to – you’re going to have to be a bit picky going in to avoid burning yourself out. In my experience, I’ve had a lot more success sending cover letters for freelance jobs that I felt a connection to. For me, it’s not about sending out as many pitches as possible, but being selective. I read the tone of the job listing. Does this person seem reasonable in their communication and sense of timelines? Do they understand the value of writing or are they looking for filler that’s anything but Lorem Ipsum?

Tweak your pitch/cover letter master template. 

The whole point of the freelance pitch master template is not to throw it out to every job listing that exists on the Internet. It’s to serve as a starting point so that you’re not drawing a blank every time you go to pitch. You’ll save a lot of time by copy and pasting. Then look back at the job posting. What drew you to it? Are there other experiences and interests you have that are relevant to this job? List those. I once wrote 50,000 words for a French cat care website, and I got hired because I’m French and I’ve extensively volunteered with cats. I landed another job by professing my love for philosophy and art history to a Berkeley professor.

Manage your online presence.

If you don’t have one, start a blog. You will at the very least need a personal website, but a blog is better (for a writer!). Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve landed jobs because of my blog. I just toss in a link to a specific article I want potential clients to read. Write about whatever you want. I write on a wide range of topics including issues with the current workplace norms, my ideas about social media, creativity (we are all innately creative), and my writing process. Just show that writing is not just a job for you.

Honor your creativity.

If you’re obsessed with writing like I am, that incredible creature of creativity nags at you to get to your desk, chair, floor, and scribble or type something. It’s a lifelong relationship and I’m infatuated. And because I love writing, I treat it with respect, because I want the relationship to last. So I nurture my writing. I let her have her time. She wants to write an article about freelancing immediately after getting off of work? You bet I’m going to honor her and sit down and type like a furious court transcriber. She wants to write a cringy poem? Hell yeah, I’ll bring that to life. She wants to take a break and sulk about the wire-bound unpublished novel I stick by my desk? Okay, but not too long, there are many more words to get out of this head.

Your freelance pitch is just an introduction to you, so it’s best not to lean too heavily on it. Add your education, credentials, and any other information relevant to the specific job post, but keep it concise. People want to see the work. They want to see that you know how to write – and well.

I always sign off with my full name (because, Google me please) and my website. I encourage potential clients to see for themselves and not to rely on me saying “yeah I went to college and I’m a technical writer”.

If you’re just starting out (or have neglected to display yourself online as a writer), build yourself up. Create a trail of writing around you. Blog. Take an online course. Practice. Assume that rightful identity of writer.

Notes on Ceramics

Today, I attended my third ceramics class. This course is held through the city I live in at our community center. I don’t think a lot of people know that cities offer very reasonably priced classes for adults to continue their educations and start new hobbies. It’s an excellent opportunity to try something new and to surround yourself with others who are lifelong learners.

In the previous class, we made stamps that can be used to adorn our work. In the first photo below, you’ll see that I created two stamps – one of a pumpkin (for the upcoming season), and one of my initials (backwards so they will look correct when stamped on). These have already been fired in the kiln after drying out. I am using a 25 lb. block of sandstone (cone 06-04).

The second and third photo show a box I created today. The lid is set on top of the box for drying, and I put some paper towel between the lid and base to protect my work. For this box, I measured and cut two squares for the lid and the base measuring 4 inches by 4 inches. Then I cut four sides measuring 2 inches by 4 inches.

I brought the four sides of the box together by cutting the adjoining edges of my side pieces at 45 degree angles so that they would appear more seamless. You’ll see that I also smoothed out the square corners and made them a bit more rounded. To bring clay together, I used scoring. This means cutting small lines into the clay on both pieces that you are bringing together. I did not use a slip (wet clay used as glue) through any of the process.

ceramic stamps     

This ceramics class has been exceedingly fun so far. It has required me to buckle down and give full attention to reconfiguring the piece of clay before me. It’s a great break away from my phone and I found that my head cleared sufficiently and I was able to enjoy the process of creating without anxiety. Like I mentioned in my recent previous blog post, it’s sometimes difficult in this society to invest in hobbies that we don’t expect to have monetary return on. We’ve been taught to invest in continued education – but only if it has something to do with our line of work, we’re retired, or it seems to hold some returned value (popularly weight loss or career transition).

I have always invested in continued education. After college, I signed up for improv classes in Sacramento and performed in front of audiences. Then I enrolled in a six month coding bootcamp also in Sacramento (although this was partly for the purpose of monetary return). After that, I attended a writer’s workshop in Pasadena. Now I’m taking ceramics. And next weekend, I’ll be learning Reiki.

I’m enjoying a life of exploration. If I can’t travel across Europe, at least I can make it to the local community center and play with some clay. If I feel like I need more mental stimulation, I can take a new course or try a new hobby. These things keep me interested in the world around me because they encourage me to pay attention to a bit more than my professional and daily mundane life. So I’ll continue to be a lifelong learner.

The Intertwine of Music and Writing

As I wrote my first two horror novels in 2016 and 2017, I was creating a playlist of music to go alongside them. The music was instrumental (aside from a few peeking words, since I added some songs from movie soundtracks). The music carried some of the movement of writing and put me into the world of my novels rather quickly. My brain recognized the repetition of the playlist and adjusted accordingly to the task. I do the same for running. I have a playlist that gets me there every time. Whenever I delete it and create it again, it shares a lot of the same songs.

When I say that this playlist is the soundtrack of my novels, I speak to the mood I was fabricating and letting flow onto the page. Words slipped out of my fingers at an alarming rate as the tempo of the music quickened. Every time, I would reach a feverish state in which I was under the utter influence of the beauty that these composers and musicians created. My art is a shared one. I used this music as a collaboration tool.

For writing, I prefer contemporary composers like Danny Elfman, who have a clearer instrumental narrative. I steer away from exaggerations generated by wind instruments as they can sometimes be harsh. Since novels are a marathon feat, I aim for smoother compositions that play more gently with the ups and downs. And those ups and downs are very necessary. I didn’t add music that remained level. I wanted the hills and valleys, for they whipped my sentences into more exciting forms. At a meeker segment, I described the landscape and when the music stirred more vigorously, I intensified and played with the less controlled human elements of the story.

The playlist is ordered intentionally. I wanted to train my brain to get into a particular state of consciousness that would allow me to break out of the mundane world for the two hours I spent at my desk each night to complete the novels. When I look back at my process, I see that it was heavily reliant on consistency. I got home from work and waited for it to get dark and cool out. Then I went out for a four mile run to the state capital (I lived in Sacramento at the time). After that, I immediately sat at my desk and did not get up until I had written 2,000 words. But back to music.

Music is a remembrance tool. It has associative quality. It moves about your brain and forms connections in memory and movement. That’s why there’s such an emotional resonance around it. And I’ve just used music for an alternative, that of forging consistency in my writing practice by moving my neural connections in sync with the playlist narrative to put myself into the state of writing.

Maybe you want to try playing a particularly captivating song and letting the words move freely from your fingertips?

Perfection Neurosis

I started a ceramics class two weeks ago. In our first class, we went over the supplies we would need. But in the second class, we made a pebble bowl. A pebble bowl is created by taking an already made bowl and lining it with plastic. After that, you take a clump of clay and rip it into small pieces. Then, you place the pieces down on the plastic lining side by side. Now this is just the first step.

But as soon the instructor gave us these instructions, there was a murmur. Myself and the six other women in my class leaned towards the teacher. The comments and questions rolled in steadily and strongly. Trepidation.

“Am I doing this right?”

“What shape should the pieces be?”

“Are these pieces too big?”

“There are gaps! Will I be able to eat cereal out of this bowl?” (That was me.)

I had a quick realization that these women were mirroring my own insecurities. We are programmed to want (and feel like we have to) do things perfectly, even the first time we try them. This is even if it’s for a hobby and there is nothing major at stake.

This neurosis (and it did really sound like neurosis after it went on for a solid hour), heavily impedes our magical and innate ability to create art. Later on in the class, I heard from a couple women that there were strong mother figures in their lives who created amazing art.

But the neurosis does not stem from being around artists during our childhoods. The neurosis comes from strange ideas that society would have us believe about ourselves. These include the fear of being a beginner and the pressure to perform even outside of a high-stakes settings. No wonder so many of us subject ourselves to menial work that does not feel fulfilling.

If society embraced beginnings and hobbies (without attachment to money-making and performance), we would not be afraid to strike out on our own and create the life we sit and whisper about when we’re alone. 

Perfection is encouraged in our society because it controls us. It’s not even institutions that control us so much as our own learned behaviors. In fact, we are not born with these types of neuroses. Instead, we are socially conditioned to be sick.

In order to be a functioning member of society, we are required to learn how to be neurotic. 

Our day-to-day revolves around neurotic action. We are propelled into a wakened state by a loud alarm set for an arbitrary time designated by our employer (of course, we are the ones accommodating for the day’s preparation, so we can decide the exact waking time to some extent). Our morning routine is timed. We must make ourselves look how our employer wants us to look. We must be on-time after sitting in traffic. Our day must be a certain period of time in duration, regardless of how long our work actually takes to do.

We are made to be neurotic because it helps society to control us. In order for society to run, it requires us to have needs. Those needs are told to us to be material. However, we are often lacking in real needs like a sense of belonging to a community, self-esteem, and a feeling of care and love towards ourselves. Instead, we are often lonely and self-critical (just peek at social media).

Most of our true needs are poorly met by society because they are not allotted for. There is little place in the bustle to sit quietly with ourselves. In fact, it feels at this point to me that the only way that I will be able to gain peace to meet my internal and community needs are to become self-employed. I have come to these strong ideas about the neuroticism of society through observation of the stream of actions that looks to play out in the lives of office workers. To me, the dictated path is off-putting.

The neurosis lives strongly there, where our employers need for us to have needs, in order for us to need them. And the neurosis does not stop once we get off work. We begin senseless toil at home too, weaving in complexities that are unnecessary and time-consuming. We feel the weight of imperfection. We crave the open air and some time to sit in a dark room and quiet our minds. Our souls thrash under the coils we have tangled ourselves in. This is the neurosis of societal belonging. 

Thoughts on Action

The following thoughts are a response to the craze of constant and maddening action we are encouraged to take through our societal programming. There is an intense concentration of orientation and prompt to make continuous moves. Working to force events and banging your head against a wall makes for the sick climate we currently live in. Every time I go on LinkedIn (why do I torture myself), “wise words” are spat at me to keep going, slam my body repeatedly against closed doors, and endlessly, fitfully cram myself into arenas designed by select people who make a lot of money by defining what “success” looks like.

Enough with action. That is, enough with uninspired, outwardly-directed or authorized action. Action is a deeply internal inspiration that lives inside of us, and is unique to each individual. The action of one individual may look utterly stupid, futile, or lazy from the perspective of another. A sick society will have you following online gurus who simply cannot know your entire circumstance, dreams, and trajectory.

Action is a powerful force that can be used for your good, or a misguided attempt at moving along with what society will have you think is good for you. Inspired action is the thing of real power. It comes straight from the highest version of yourself and guides you through your one-of-a-kind life experience. Ignoring my inspired action (which is not so coincidently also the path of least resistance) has led me down some roads that were forced and made me feel unlike myself. Listening to society’s actions for me has landed me in a split identification. There’s the me that interacts on a superficial level in the work arena, and the me that interacts with myself and the people in know personally outside of work.

How can we be sound-minded if we have such disparaging personas that we have to turn on and off multiple times a day? If we let our inspiration guide us, we can reconcile who we show to the professional world and outside of it, and live in unity with ourselves. Let us stop making ourselves sick over others telling us what action looks and feels like.