Tag Archives: creativity

We’re All Crazy Busy, So I Kept This Short.

394 words, to be precise. Here goes:

We are each pulled in a million different directions. Someone or something is always clamoring for our devotion, our time, our finite energy. How are we to balance our responsibilities, our commitments, and our creative needs? How are we to lay claim to the time and space required for writing?

There is only one hope and it’s not easy—core strength.

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Balance, after all, isn’t the product of stasis. It’s born of movement, moment-to-moment adjustments that maintain equilibrium. The muscles required for physical balance are deep within our bodies, particularly our core. They don’t get truly strong unless we make them strong.

It’s the same with our creative energies. The qualities—determination and commitment come to mind— essential to finding the balance between our busy lives and our creative work are found deep within. They are at our core, and they won’t get strong unless we make them strong.

How? You already know the answer. Practice.

When the world wants us to do literally anything other than write, we need to dig deeply into our core, to what we know matters. We need to assert that creative work is essential for ourselves and, incidentally, the continued progress of humanity. We are the purveyors of story, after all, the Pied Pipers of literacy. Our work is a source— a bubbling, life-giving spring—of connection and challenge, hope and healing. The more that we affirm creative work’s importance to ourselves and others, the stronger it will grow.

But don’t try to force balance, hanging on for dear life until you tip over and chip a tooth. It won’t work. It never works. We have to constantly find and re-find balance. Don’t fear the unexpected shifts. Expect to wobble and make necessary moment-to-moment adjustments.

Go to your creative work when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a treadmill, set yourself a laughably manageable goal, say 5 minutes of focused activity, and see what happens. You may find that 5 turns into 20. You may find that you begin to take this prioritized time seriously, and if you do, others will.

So deliberately engage. Choose the deep muscles of purpose and passion and use them with intention. If this is hard, good! You’re getting stronger.

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Enjoy the day,

Hayley


About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

 

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Finding my balance between promotion and writing

On Thursday, Luke put up an honest, heartfelt post about the realities of being a writer (please go read it right now—all the way to the end!). There are often many years spent waiting—writing, revising, submitting, revising again, submitting again, writing something new, repeat—the quiet, largely unrecognized work behind the scenes. We long for that golden ticket, that recognition, that validation that will make all of that effort worth it.

Then, finally, success: we’re published! We think our new status will make things easier for us somehow, like we discovered the secret formula and can just apply it over and over whenever we need to produce a publishable manuscript. In some ways it does: people do take you more seriously when you’re published. But in many other ways, it actually makes things harder.

I’ve seen writers with a successful first book struggle with the second, fearful that it won’t live up to their previous work. Others want to write something completely different, but feel pigeon-holed in a single genre. An unlucky few are so stung by negative reviews that they have a hard time putting themselves out there for more. Still others spend so much time promoting the first book that they simply don’t have time to write another one!

My challenge was similar to Luke’s: It’s so exciting to check on the status of your book, so compelling to want to nudge it out into the world a bit more, so easy to pop in and do quick, light promotion. And there’s always more you can be doing pre- or post-launch to get the word out. You’re constantly wondering what else you should be doing, who else you should be talking to. It’s easy to completely lose yourself in the world of that first book.

It’s not so much that you don’t have time to write anymore. You really don’t have to do all of those things. It’s more that all of the checking, nudging, and promoting feels necessary. It seems important. In fact, it feels like a betrayal of your first book—and, heaven forbid, of that first publisher who took a chance on you and made all of your big dreams come true!—to do anything less. It’s exceedingly difficult to switch gears and go back to the waiting; back to the quiet, largely unrecognized work behind the scenes; back to the writing.

This was actually one of the scariest and hardest parts of the whole journey for me. For months after Be a Changemaker came out, I worried that I’d never be able to write again, never be able to get myself back into that mindset, back to the focus and discipline needed to dive into writing something new. It was part of the process that I wasn’t at all expecting, and it took me completely off guard. Fortunately, I had other author friends (mostly Emus!) to discuss it with. They all said things like, “Yep, the same thing happened to me. Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.”

And, you know what? I did. I’m back to writing, and I’m loving it. I still do promotion, and I’m loving that, too. But, I’m finally starting to find my balance, discovering ways to foster the creative beginning of the process with one project while at the same time managing the more analytical business end of the process on another.

As I told the kids at the school visit I did last Friday: “Writers write. Period.” And, eventually, we discover that the writing itself is what makes it all worth it. We realize that we can’t NOT write. And we get back to work.

Writers write


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, was published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. Her debut nonfiction picture book, EMMANUEL’S DREAM, was published by Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House in January 2015. MY DOG IS THE BEST, her debut fiction picture book, will be available June 9, 2015, from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Maybe then they’ll finally force her to retire from Emu’s Debuts, unless…

Please visit Laurie at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Colleagues, Creativity, Discipline

Cycles, balance, and making plans

Lately, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the idea of cycles in our lives. Cycles in nature—life cycles, the water cycle, seasons, etc.—keep our physical world in balance. Man-made cycles keep the government running (usually), prevent mechanical failures and medical mistakes (hopefully), even wash our clothes and dishes for us. If you’re an author, you’re probably familiar with the creativity cycle (see below). And as I’ve mentioned before, one of my all-time favorite Emu’s Debuts post was Melanie Crowder’s The Run/Rest Cycle, about sustaining balance as a writer. As creative types, we often have some leeway about how we choose to spend our time each day, so having a cycle in mind can help us manage our activities and maintain balance in our personal and professional lives.

The Creativity Cycle

The Creativity Cycle

One cycle I’ve personally followed for a long time is a year-end review plus goal-setting and planning for the upcoming year. It’s not so much a resolution as a chance to reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the last year, what I hope to achieve in the coming year, and how I plan to make it happen. I don’t necessarily follow this plan, or even look at it throughout the year (cough, cough), but I feel like the act of pausing to reflect on the past combined with setting goals for the future helps me feel more centered and guides my intentions.

This year, though, as I tried to plan for 2014, I got a little stuck trying to figure out how to balance the creative cycle, the production cycle (draft, revise as necessary, submit!), and all of the marketing tasks that a debut author ought to be thinking about (make swag! give talks! do blog tours! press releases! curriculum guides! all the things! and more!). Can I be creative AND treat this as a business? Can I keep working on new projects while promoting the books that are coming out? Can I do either of those activities justice if I’m also doing the other? It was starting to make me feel like I’d need to develop a dual personality (or perhaps create a clone) to even survive the coming year, let alone achieve my goals for it.

When I brought up this dilemma to another creative friend of mine, he mentioned how a co-worker of his seems to cycle through various types of activities, choosing one for a given day and focusing on just that particular activity. Apparently, the co-worker knows he can get a little obsessive about things sometimes, so to maintain balance he consciously cycles between days filled with either programming, researching, or interacting with colleagues, all of which are necessary to his position.

I’ve been thinking about how this might apply to me, and I think I’ve formed some guidelines for a sort of cycle:

  • Create—I must keep making new things, or my career will stall. And let’s not even talk about how grumpy and depressed I’ll become if I don’t have a new project to think about!
  • Consume—I want to read more, observe more, experience more. These are the things that feed our souls, and our art. Yes, consuming other people’s creativity feels like leisure time, but it should still be built into our daily routines in a conscious and thoughtful way.
  • Connect—I need to dedicate time to interact with readers, writers, friends, and family. Despite the fact that I’m an extreme introvert, I crave connection. It keeps me sane, and at the same time is the key to successfully promoting my work in the world.

So, how to work that into an actual “plan” for the year ahead? I’m still not entirely sure. I probably can’t commit to doing each of the three pieces every day. Maybe making sure they each get their due at least once per week will work for me. Or, maybe just asking myself, “Which of the three have I been neglecting lately?” whenever I am deciding what to work on next. My main goal for the year will be trying to find a system that reliably incorporates all three.

In any case, being aware of the need for dedicating time to creating, consuming, and connecting seems like a good place to start. With three upcoming releases to look forward to, this year is bound to be more heavily focused on connecting than on creating and consuming, so the challenge will be to make sure to include the other two whenever possible and not be exclusively focused on promotion.

The Deming Cycle of Plan, Act, Do, Check

The Deming cycle

In case any of you are wondering, I thought I’d conclude with a few of my favorite questions to ask myself at this time of year:

  1. What were my goals and plans for this past year?
  2. What did I actually accomplish? (Note: I usually can’t say I did all—or even most—of the things from the answer to the first question, but answering this question always makes me feel better, because I realize that even though I didn’t necessarily achieve my initial goals, I did do a lot of good stuff instead!)
  3. What did I learn this year?
  4. What do I most want to learn next year?
  5. How will I go about doing that?
  6. What are my goals and plans for next year?
  7. What one word can I use as my theme for the coming year?

Do any of you do any kind of year-end self-review or forward-looking career planning? What do your processes look like? What tricks have you discovered for balancing life, creativity, and business? Are you aware of any cycles that help you things in balance? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

FYI, the Emus are taking a little holiday hiatus, so this will be the last post of 2013. Season’s greetings to all, and a happy new year! See you in 2014.

Happy New Year!


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: EMMANUEL’S DREAM, a picture-book biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House, and MY DOG IS THE BEST, a fiction picture book with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Book Promotion, Creativity, Promotion, Writing and Life