Posts Tagged creative process

A Little Space

It’s August. Summer is rapidly slipping away. How did the time fly by so fast? What about all those things I was going to do this summer? (Looks at 2021 Summer Calendar To-Do List and sees very few things crossed out.) School is either here or just around the corner. Teachers, librarians, readers, and creators of all stripes are answering the call to duty. 

It’s go time!

There’s is excitement in the air with the prospect and potential of a new academic year. But the pangs of summer fading into the sunset settle deep into my gut. (Looks again at the 2021 Summer Calendar To-Do List.) The innocent and once optimistic list of uncompleted writing and drawing tasks screams at me, “HAYS, DID YOU FORGET US?”

The tight-knit ball of creative anxiety in the pit of my stomach rapidly spins with enough orbital angular momentum to force the panic to rise. My heart races. My eyes flitter around the room. My sketchbooks, journals, notebooks, even my own published books gathering dust on the shelf, laugh at me. 

I run outside, look up into the expanse of a beautiful, northcentral blue Kansas sky, take a deep breath, and close my eyes. My heart no longer races. It’s beating with the steady rhythm of rolling down I-70 through the Flint Hills at dusk. 

John P Salvatore, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

I return to my office. The Summer Calendar 2021 To-Do List hangs unchanged on the wall. But it’s just a list again. A suggestion of potential things. A creative direction. The journals and notebooks are raw stories, packed with potential which hopefully someday find their readers. My published books on the shelf remind me I can indeed do this creative thing competently enough to give them a shelf life.

Ah…the beauty of space. The absolute raw power of space to put everything into perspective.

Space. What an awesome word!

Space is a Swiss Army knife word with so many uses and meanings. Space is a word we should celebrate and appreciate. A word we should vault to the top of the toolbox.

I need to make a token to hang on the wall or wear around my neck to remind me of the value and importance of space and creative space. I need the reminder that when stuck, a step back to create space is necessary in order to move forward.

As the season turns and we make fresh To-Do lists, it’s the perfect time to remember and appreciate the spaces in your life. The other night, I sat for a few minutes on the patio and took in the night sky hoping for a glimpse of the conglomeration of planets on the western horizon or spotting a meteor or two from the eastern sky. Unfortunately, cloud cover and poor timing thwarted these efforts but all was not lost. Mesmerized, as always, by the Big Dipper, I stared at the northern sky for a few minutes. 

Beautiful space. 

A reminder we are all impossible beings floating across the universe at 492,126 miles per hour. Insignificant and yet significant in everything we do. 

Amazing space. My relaxed brain started firing off the important “spaces” in my life. I made a list. 

  • Creative space
  • Outer space
  • Inner space
  • Backspace
  • Negative space
  • Garden space
  • Yard space
  • Patio space
  • Deep space
  • Near space
  • Public space
  • Private space
  • Workspace
  • Office space
  • Family space 
  • Spacebar (How about a Space bar?)
  • Writing space
  • Headspace
  • White space
  • Green space
  • Space Jam
  • Spacesuit
  • Open space
  • Wide-open space
  • Tight space
  • My Space
  • Personal space 
  • Closet space
  • Dream space

How about you? Have you ever considered the importance of space in your personal, professional, or creative life? Do you have a go-to space to open the mind or recharge the soul?

Have a great end of summer and enjoy the promise of tomorrow! 

If you find yourself running into creative walls, remember to take a step back, give yourself some space, and identify the best way to move forward. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly,

Space out, y’all!

The original uploader was Triddle at English Wikipedia.(original:Photograph taken by User:Triddle and User:Codedelectron), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

EPIC GARDENING FAILS (And what they’ve taught me about making art)

Growing Food and Writing Fiction

This spring my wife and I decided to stop talking about growing vegetables and actually grow some vegetables. We made this decision without doing much research about the actual business of growing vegetables, and that was mostly thanks to me. Any time my wife opened up a blog or website about growing techniques or climate zones, I’d launch into a lengthy monologue about how vegetables don’t need coddling and if it were really that hard there wouldn’t be gazillions of weeds in our yard. 

It turns out growing an eggplant is not the same thing as growing a weed. I suppose this explains why our front yard is not overrun with perfectly formed eggplants. 

So I’ve learned a few things about vegetable gardening. And as is often the case, the things I learn in one pursuit inevitably influence the way I think about others. In this case, I’ve noticed a few parallels between my questionable attempts at growing food and my questionable attempts at writing fiction for children. I’m sharing them here because whether you’re writing, teaching, parenting, or growing eggplants, it never hurts to glean a little extra information as you go (which I now humbly acknowledge).

Not everything develops as planned.

Radishes are deceptive little devils. They sprout fast and grow bright, promising leaves. You fawn over them and marvel at how they’ve been so easy to grow and why don’t more people grow radishes? Then you pull them out of the ground after the prescribed 28-day period and realize you’ve been duped. At least that was my experience. We harvested those little liars and I couldn’t believe that after 4 weeks I had nothing to show for all my efforts (and yes, all my bragging), but a few marble-sized nuggets of crunchy vermillion failure. 

The radish project looked promising. It all had the signs of a successful enterprise, but under the surface things weren’t developing the way they were supposed to. I have no idea why. Maybe it was the soil. Maybe I watered them too much. Or too little. I may never know. Just like I may never know why the first hundred thousand words I put into middle grade books didn’t develop into huge publishing contracts. But in both cases – my radishes and my writing – I have an opportunity to examine the finished project, no matter how disappointing, and try to figure out what went wrong. I think with the radishes it was the soil. I’m not sure what the writerly equivalent to that would be (stronger coffee during my drafting sessions?). But I’m going to keep exploring, keep dissecting those underdeveloped projects and trade the frustration of an unrealized goal for the promise of a new, and hopefully better crop next season.

 

Things get bitter when they drag on for too long.

A few people warned us that we’d eventually lose control of our zucchini plants. I shrugged at this, because how could you lose track of a zucchini? They’re bright green and quite large, and those people who lose track of them are probably not as committed to the art of home gardening as I am. But then summer happened – days of busy children and travel and sometimes way too much rain. One day I went out to make sure there wasn’t anything to harvest and found a zucchini the size of my arm snugged up against the wall of the garden. Without giving it much thought (I was still shunning research at this point) I paraded it around the house and then chopped it up for the grill. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it was terrible. The skin was tough, the flesh was mealy and bitter, and the seeds were gigantic and totally inedible. That zucchini had been growing for way too long.

I don’t know about you, but I have a few ongoing personal projects that have also reached “zucchini monstrosity” status. They’re the sort of things that never seem finished, and rather than harvesting what I have or simply moving on, I’ve let these projects remain connected to the vine of my creative brain and sap resources from other, more promising ideas.

After chewing my way through that thoroughly unappetizing zucchini, I resolved to never let anything grow that long again, and so far I’m doing better. I hope I can say the same for my creative pursuits – nothing is meant in to go on forever, and as many creatives have noted throughout history, art is never finished, but only abandoned.

 

Sometimes the most useful part of a project is the seed of something new.

Before I tossed that colossal zucchini in the compost pile, I finally broke down and looked up an online article about harvesting seeds. It turns out that in most cases you can only harvest the seeds of overripe, inedible fruit. So I left some uncooked seeds out to dry, then bagged them in an envelope and now have what I hope will be the beginnings of my zucchini crop next year. 

Something similar happened with the second book I ever wrote. It was quite a dud – full of tropes and predictable plot twists. It was long, too.  Much too wordy for the middle grade market. And that of course means I spent way too much time writing, editing, and rewriting what would ultimately be a book not even my mom would read (although she did ask several times). 

But out of that project came a system of developing characters that I still use now, three books and many short stories later. It was a seed born out of an overripe project that itself would never see the light of day. Most failed endeavors have something like that if you look for it – a seed of something new, pure potential packed into a tiny morsel of nearly overlooked insight. 

I think next year our garden will run a little more smoothly. Maybe the corn won’t fall over and the squash won’t vine its way to the top of our evergreen tree. Or maybe next season will be just as chaotic and I’ll have more lessons to learn. Either way, I’ll do my best to be thankful for the parallels and cultivate the garden of my writing with a bit more efficiency and skill. 

And I suppose reading a few extra articles wouldn’t hurt, either.