Tag Archives: inspiration

The Enemy of Creativity: Self-Censorship

Writing is a creative process, sometimes just randomized brainstorming and fitful starts, sometimes fluid composing that only stops when your fingers or brain cells are too tired to go on. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember–one of my first short stories was composed on a steno notebook belonging to my dad, written in blue highlighter. (Maybe not the best choice, but as a six-year-old, I chose the tools close to hand!)

In childhood, I would hear about “writer’s block” as being this terrible condition that befell all writers at some point. But I used to think I never suffered writer’s block, because ideas for a story always came so easily to me–the words just flowed, and it sounded good to my ears and looked good to my eyes. It was much later, as I grew up and began writing for schoolwork or for other people to read, that I began to experience writer’s block in earnest. For me, that choking, halting sensation of just not knowing what to write next alarmed me. Was I losing my touch?

The Root of Writer’s Block: Self-Censorship

This feeling has come back sometimes while composing my novel, and at first, I was afraid that I was running out of ideas for the story. As I probed the feeling of writer’s block, however, I discovered that it wasn’t simply a lack of ideas–it was a lack of presentable ideas, ideas that other people would like. I was censoring my ideas, trying to make the novel immediately something that “other people” would like, rather than just writing what I felt was best and reviewing it later. Though I’m not sure that self-censoring was the complete source of my earlier writer’s block, I’m pretty sure self-censorship came into the picture at least a little, since I’ve been a perfectionist most of my life (LOL).

This Can Happen to Anyone

Self-censorship can strike at any time–when you have that little tingle of unease in your brain that signals “Ooh, I don’t know how good this is,” or when you are having difficulty producing part of a story because you’re afraid it’s all been done before. This is the enemy of creativity: when you hold yourself back, your writing becomes more stilted than ever, and you end up producing something that reads as if it’s afraid to come off the page. This censoring process, which starts out with good intentions (wanting to produce “good” writing that will be enjoyed and accepted), ends up just hamstringing you.

How to Beat Self-Censorship

Don’t let your personal judgment get in the way of your actual writing process. Write first and judge later. Seriously. You can always edit, erase or backspace if you review your writing and don’t like what you see, but if you don’t produce any writing in the first place, you won’t ever explore your ideas. (Who knows, you might write something that is utterly beautiful and life-changing to someone else, even if you think it’s nothing special!)

Also, don’t be ashamed if you have to go back and rewrite something several times over to get it “right.” Your taking the time to rewrite something that has already been put on paper/typed up in a document is a positive sign of writing development–and that development can’t take place until the original thought is put down in visual form somehow. Writing is not something you produce perfectly the first time (something I’ve had to realize the hard way); it’s something you imagine into existence, shape and sculpt, and then sand and polish until it gleams. Don’t let your desire for the polished finished product keep you from imagining.

Leveling Up in Life

These days, experience-based games like World of Warcraft are very popular. Players of these games generally play through many quests, defeating enemies, dedicating many hours to “leveling up” their character, getting ever closer to the top level, where they no longer have to gain experience, and they are fully powered-up and epic in battle.

Does this sound familiar to people in the modern workforce? To me, it reminds me a lot of the “rat race”–the constant striving for promotions, raises, better hours, more vacation time, more leadership, etc. People play games like WoW to escape work, or so I thought, but instead they seem to be duplicating the same conditions in play as in work.

Life Today = Meeting Goals Rather Than Having Experiences

We generally live our lives, these days, like it’s a goal-oriented game rather than an experience. Stopping and smelling the roses went out of our heads a long time ago, replaced by a drive to get “the most” and “the best”, all in “the fastest” time. Students who take AP classes to get college credits while still in high school are hailed as “go-getters;” collegiates who manage to get through a four-year degree in three years or less by taking classes during the summers (and even winters) are praised for their “academic drive.” And people in the modern workforce who advance rapidly through their chosen field or company are looked on with favor.

This drive even extends down to our children, sad as that sounds. No longer can kids just go outside and play at random games; now, they’ve got to be learning all the time with “educational” games. They’ve practically got to know how to read and write before they hit kindergarten, otherwise they’ll be considered “behind.” (Not knocking educational games, but surely there’s time enough for them to just be children, too?)

This Used to Be My Life, Too

I lived like this, trying to “level up in life,” for a long time. I was one of the “bright” kids in my school, a girl who was going to get out there and be somebody before she was 30. I picked up on things very quickly, was fast, accurate and (usually) neat in my preparations; I got good grades and participated in all sorts of activities, and so I got honors and won awards. I took that same drive into college, obtaining my BA in English with Magna Cum Laude and a slew of other academic honors. I even advanced into my ill-fated teaching career with that same attitude, pushing to get my Masters in Middle-Grades Education in 2 years so I could go out into the world and make money doing what I supposedly loved.

But where did all that drive and ambition get me? I ended up crash-landing back at home, recovering from severe depression and suicidal feelings. All that pushing and stressing and struggling, and it had gotten me no honors this time, no rewards. I couldn’t teach anymore; I just simply wasn’t made for the job, even though I had worked so very hard to achieve it. So I began to question this “most/best/fastest” way of life. What had all my striving been for, in the end? What had I been doing with my life all those years I was working to become something? There are quite literally years of my life I barely remember except for vague memories of working my butt off writing papers or completing tests, all to get “somewhere better”–a better college, a better job, etc. I thought I was doing it right, living a correct life.

My New Life: All About Experiences

In the wake of my capsized teaching career, in which I had faced death at my own hands, “leveling up” in life didn’t seem as important anymore. I began to focus instead on rebuilding my charred inner world, trying to salvage what I could of my life and my interests. And, in fact, I rediscovered myself among the ashes, and began to write my novel as a way to pull myself forward. I began to live life as I had never experienced it before–weeks of just BEING rather than DOING, just writing rather than publishing, just playing the piano rather than performing, just being with friends rather than being constantly “busy.”

Some people might look down on me for this, maybe thinking I’ve become complacent, lazy, and unmotivated. Nobody’s said anything to that effect, of course, but since I spent such a large part of my life driving ahead at 80 mph, it feels very strange to be going suddenly 30. Or maybe I’m still a bit paranoid about what “other people” think of my life, worrying that people will think I’m not as smart as I once was, or that I just don’t care anymore.

But this new speed of life is far from “not caring.” Actually, in a way it feels like I’ve dropped an addiction: an addiction to perfection, to needing to be the absolute best, fastest, and most. Some days I’d like to care about that stuff again, because it felt somehow normal to be addicted to that lifestyle. But I know that if I start caring about it, it’ll be as virulent as any addiction, taking over my life again before I know it. I don’t have to chase after every success if the chase is going to dehumanize me and strip me of joy; I have to chase after the successes that are important to me. And right now, just living is enough of a success, considering I was contemplating suicide not too long ago.

Am I Enjoying This? YES!

Now that I’m not so worried about “leveling up” in life, I find myself able to enjoy my life. Sure, days aren’t as action-packed as they used to be; sure, I’m not doing a whole lot these days beyond writing, singing, blogging, designing, and gaming. But…I’m okay with it. I don’t have to get to the next level of my life soon–I think I’ll just roam around in this game and explore a bit, enjoy the level I’m on right now.

Little Doodles of Life

I’ve never considered myself a visual artist, especially when it comes to drawing people. Most of my drawings of people in early school were of alien visitors, or at least that’s what they looked like. And yet, sometimes, I would do AMAZING drawings of a foot or a hand, for instance; then, I would try to recreate that amazing set of strokes, and fail miserably. The other foot or hand always looked like it was in the process of mutating. Sigh.

This sketch of myself ended up okay, except for the mutated rutabaga of my nose. Oh, and the anime-style eyes didn’t quite turn out like I envisioned, though they match up pretty close.

Generally, I’ve always tried to draw life exactly as I saw it, down to the smallest detail. Perhaps that’s where I fail as a visual artist–I’m too focused on making the shoelaces look right, and I barely spend any time on the face or the rest of the clothing, so to speak. (Either that or I’m too A.D.D./impatient, LOL) I always enjoyed crafting the little details and making them look cool and realistic. Unfortunately, those little details I worked so hard on usually faded into a big-picture backdrop of excrement on paper.

Doodles Can Be Art, Too!

Even though I had no confidence in my drawing ability, I started doodling randomly in late middle school, needing something creative to do with my hands while I listened to a lecture. (For some reason, not having anything to do with my hands while I listen drives me batty.) Little by little, delicate but simple flowers and vines spiraled down the red vertical lines of my notebook paper…and even little faces appeared at the top of the page and spoke volumes with just a pair of eyes, a pair of eyebrows, and a mouth. I found myself enjoying the fruits of my distracted labor, even as I jotted down notes from the class discussions and lecture.

I sketched the original, small drawing of this flower drawing on the back of my church bulletin one day. I re-sketched it later, expanding it to a larger size (with limited success), and scanned it in, rendering this picture.

Now, many years after middle school, I am a well-practiced doodler. Any scrap of paper that’s lying around close to a pencil or pen is fair game when I’m bored or having to be still and listen–the backs of church bulletins, for instance, end up being doodle pads as well as note space. (Yes, I admit it, I’m an adult and I STILL doodle during church sometimes…) Through this and other absent-minded doodling sessions, I’ve slowly started expressing myself through the art of the tiny drawing–the itty-bitty scene or teeny little face that speaks more than a huge picture of mine ever could. Since I’m good at the tiny details, why not capitalize on that, right? (Also, tiny pictures don’t take forever, LOL)

This itty-bitty tree was part of a design I did for my dad’s Father’s Day card this year…turned out pretty well!

These doodles have lately gotten some positive feedback–people comment on my little drawings, saying “Oh wow! That tree is just perfect!” or “Ha ha, that stick figure guy looks funny!” I never realized how artistic doodling could be–not when I’m just puttering about with a pencil and drawing stuff that makes me giggle. It is a great way to relieve stress, comment about what’s going on, or just make myself or others laugh, and I don’t have to be exactly perfect (which is good for my blood pressure :P). But that, in itself, makes it art; it communicates with others about the world I see.

Do You Doodle?

Have you ever tried your hand at doodling as an art form? Tell me in the comments!

Melodies from Dreams

I often dream music, or at least melodies. Many a night I’ve woken up and charged sleepily to the piano keyboard, to bang out a quick melody so I don’t forget it before the morning really comes. (Many a night I’ve also rolled over and gone back to sleep on a melody, thinking “Oh, this is too cool, I won’t forget it!”, only to struggle to recall even the smallest rhythm later that morning. Fail!) Either way it happens, it’s a wonderful way to wake up, with your brain bathing in song!

Once I wake up for the day, especially if the melody is still very fresh, I’ll usually end up putting chords or words with it so that I can more easily remember the melody. If I’m struggling to recall the melody, I’ll muse around at the keyboard instead, playing as much of it as I can remember until something triggers my brain to remember the rest of it. (Occasionally I’ve had the same melody appear twice in dreams, or a snippet of a dream will remind me of the melody–always a blessing!) And once I have the melody, or at least as much as I remember of it, I can then begin to craft more of the piece of music, sometimes weaving in other chord progressions I’ve created while awake, or sometimes pulling in other dreamed melodies as appropriate.

I find that the music I dream of, whether it becomes a fully-fledged piece of music immediately or remains an itty-bitty melody for a few weeks, is often more ethereal and beautiful than stuff I come up with while awake. I like to think my brain explores my dreams while I’m asleep and brings back a shred of those dreamed realms, in snatches of melody that float back with me as I wake. Or maybe that’s just my random imaginings… But wherever they come from, they are delightful inspiration, all too rare these days.

What about you, fellow musicians? Have you ever dreamed of a piece of music, or a melody?

Coming Up With “Novel” Ideas

I am several years into the process of writing my first novel, and it’s a lot slower and more methodical than I planned. But it’s also much easier than I thought it would be, especially when the Muse grabs me by the back of the neck and hauls me merrily along a new plot pathway. I find myself making stories and sub-stories, tying details back together and intertwining plotlines, almost without being fully conscious of it.

Question: Where Do I Get My Ideas?

I haven’t let a lot of people read the novel right now, mainly because I don’t want it stolen from me and I don’t want to show many people an unfinished product. But the people who have read it ask me sometimes, “Where do you get the ideas for your novel? This is a really unique and interesting plot, and the characters are really cool!”

Answer: My Real Life (in Bits and Pieces)!

I know this will probably sound flippant, but it’s true: My real life and the people I’ve met fund the basis of my novel’s varying stories and characters.

For instance, when something absolutely silly or sad or awesome or tragic happens to me, I tend to remember it, and I find myself drawing on that later for plots or subplots. I also draw on old family stories, especially for funny character anecdotes or certain phrases that pop out of various characters’ mouths while I’m writing. This, I feel, is a way to honor my past and my present, as well as make my characters more human.

The Problem with Using Real Life as Inspiration

Of course, the big issue with drawing on one’s real life for inspiration is that you don’t want to make the setting, the events, or anybody’s character too recognizable–otherwise, you may end up like Thomas Wolfe, who wrote Look Homeward, Angel. That novel caused quite a stir in his hometown, and not just a positive stir, either. So much controversy arose because people recognized themselves in the novel that Wolfe was prompted to write a second novel, unsurprisingly entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. Sad.

How I Incorporate Real Life Into My Novel–Sneakily

Instead of porting in someone’s personality directly, I usually combine aspects of three or more people when I am crafting new characters. I may take the looks of one person, the stature of another, the attitude of a third, and maybe with the motivations of a fourth, and blend it up with some imagination to create the character I want. This creates a character in which I can still believe (and more easily visualize), but isn’t recognizable to any of the people unwittingly involved in his or her creation. Doing this forces me to be more detail-oriented and sharp-eyed when I form characters, which in turn makes me better at crafting settings and working the characters into planned plot events.

Also, for story events and plots, I rework real-life stories, rewriting certain parts to fit the characters involved, as well as changing names and rearranging details to make the story even better/more effective. After all, I don’t want someone close to me to recognize a real-life story in the middle of my novel! Plus, with the kind of novel I’m writing (Christian fantasy-based), it wouldn’t quite make sense to have a completely recognizable story sticking like a toothpick in the middle of a cake. (Not to mention that stringing a bunch of random anecdotes together would be a little too A.D.D. to be a novel, LOL!)

These tactics ensure that I’m writing a story that is relatable and understandable, while still being imaginative. After all, if writers aren’t inspired by real life, then what are their stories even based on? Real life is just too full of interest to let inspiration slip by. 🙂

Want to Learn More about My Novel?

Hope you enjoyed this itty-bitty window into my writing process, and if you want to keep up with how my novel is coming along, check out my Novel Progress page!

Warmer Temps, Warmer Mood


It’s amazing how much the coming of spring affects my mood. Even though I know I’ll hate the hot weather when it arrives (usually in late April for us North Carolinians), I can’t help but enjoy the warmer breezes, sunnier days, and slowly leafing and budding plants. It feels like something in my spirit unfreezes–something unfurls and reaches for that first touch of sunlight that bears real warmth.

Could this be Seasonal Affective Disorder? Maybe. But maybe I’m just a springtime creature, reveling in the earth coming back to vibrant life after a long winter of icy weather and a dull outdoor color palette of browns, whites, and grays. When the woods around our house begin to yawn and stretch with birdsong and warm sun rays every year, I awaken with it, and wear my short-sleeved shirts with abandon (and without a coat). Soon, spring will bring waves of pollen blowing into our faces, and later it will leave us with humidity that won’t let even the least bit of sweat evaporate, but till then I will enjoy little buds of color slowly appearing on every bare branch, and the first brave green sprouts dappling across the front yard.

Studying the Songcraft of Others

As a singer-songwriter myself, one would think that I’d thoroughly enjoy listening to others writing and performing their own music as well. But oddly enough, when I listen to other singer-songwriters (like listening to 90% of my boyfriend’s collection of music), I end up feeling a little competitive instead, even though I like the music.

Here’s a small sample of what ends up running through my head:

  • “Hmm, how would I have written these lyrics/this chord progression/this melody differently?”
  • “Ooh, nifty turn of phrase! I like it!”
  • “I think the song could use another verse or two to tell the story…”
  • “The use of the minor chord there really heightens the musical tension!”

Singer-songwriter music is definitely not something I can sit and chill out to like he does–I’m too caught up in thinking about it academically rather than experiencing it. To be honest, I used to think I just didn’t “enjoy” this kind of music the way I enjoy faster-paced, musically dense songs.

And yet, my academic appreciation of music is in itself a form of enjoyment. I can’t really turn off my “Music Major Mode” that makes me dissect songs like this, but I can use it to observe how others write songs…which, in turn, can make me a better songwriter. I can study others’ combinations of melody and chord to set a musical mood, or think over how the choice of words in the lyrics tells the story completely and concisely.

This, I think, is extremely important for anyone who writes music–you HAVE to be willing to listen to what other musicians are doing in your chosen genre, and listen critically, observing what they have done and learning from it so you can make your own original music. (This also helps ward off plagiarism–once you’ve heard what other people have done, you can go and do something different with your own music.) Researching and studying how others write music like yours doesn’t have to be boring–in fact, it can be really rewarding and inspiring!

A Fickle Playmate: My Muse

Writing, for me, has often been as natural as breathing and eating (and other unmentionable bodily activities). I have been known to sit at my computer and produce poetry and short fiction in under an hour sometimes, if I’m gripped by an idea. As a kid, I almost never experienced writer’s block–the Muse was an eager friend. Now…not so much.

My Muse is Jealous of My Real Life

These days, I have writer’s block fairly often, especially with ill health, “real life” concerns, and other obligations usurping my time and energy. There are times when I want to write, but pain blocks me from even thinking straight. Other times, I have a vague idea of where I want the story to go, but the Muse resists me because I’m tired or distracted. (Sometimes it makes me want to reach for the mental Dulcolax, LOL!) Often, when I’m stuck on a creative writing project, it almost feels like my Muse and I are engaged in tug-of-war with my outside life as the rope between us.

My Muse Hates Sad Events/Endings

I also generally have difficulty writing if the particular part of the story is disturbing or sad. I may be weird as an author, but I hate putting my characters through stressful times when there’s no “light at the end of the tunnel,” no hope for a better day at the end of it. Makes me sad to write such things, and it must make my Muse sad, too–I struggle quite a bit with writing those types of scenes. Thus, I usually try to weave in at least a little bit of hope.

But the Muse Isn’t All Bad for My Writing

You might think I have a love/hate relationship with my Muse, and sometimes it seems that way. But over the years, surprisingly, I’ve gotten one particular comment from a lot of people who have read my work–they say that while my works aren’t fairy tales and “happily ever afters” all the time, they like the bits of hope that are scattered throughout the stories. Little did they know, I put those bits in to help my sad little Muse survive the necessary downs in order to get to the ups!

Not to mention that my Muse’s random absences lead me to “strike while the iron is hot” when it does come back around. When the Muse is active, I can edit, revise, add, and delete at record speeds–almost like when I was a kid again. Hey, you gotta use it while it’s there, right? This quickened pace makes me more ruthless with my edits, which usually means a better, more polished finished project.

I can pretty much tell what my particular Muse likes–lots of humor and banter between characters, contemplative scenes of domesticity, and a bit of action and adventure sprinkled like pepper on the top. But I’m trying to stretch my writing muscles, so I’m experimenting with darker miniature dramas included in the middle of contemplation, and shadowy undertones to humorous banter. I guess it’s like hiding a pill in ice cream so a kid will take his or her medicine; I have to wrap the more difficult bits in easier-to-digest plotlines that my Muse enjoys. Either way, if my Muse cooperates, it makes me a MUCH better writer!

Do You Have a Fickle Muse?

What are your thoughts on this tongue-in-cheek post about the “Muse?” Is yours as capricious as mine? Let me know in the comments!

Phases of Songcraft

As a composer and songwriter, I had not thought much about how my works have changed over time, until I began to review and play back through my older songs. Then, I realized that my composing style has shifted, not once, but many times throughout my musical life already.

Shifting from Instrumental to Vocal/Instrumental

For instance, I’m just coming out of a weird phase where I haven’t been writing a lot of instrumental music (piano solos). Piano solos used to be all I did–I’d go to the keyboard and produce these six-minute-long wordless poems, full of soaring melodies and cool chord progressions. Nowadays, though, I find myself focusing on lyric and melody together, much more than I used to do. It used to be that I fought to combine words and melodies together into something that didn’t sound trite and stupid…now, I’m interested in my relationship to God and my personal faith journey, and the songs just keep writing themselves in my head.

This Phase Shift is Normal!

I had worried that perhaps I had “lost my touch” for writing piano solos or purely instrumental music. But I’ve talked to a few of my musician friends about how songcraft seems to come and go in phases–sometimes you feel like writing instrumental music, and sometimes vocal music or combined vocal/instrumental. All have agreed so far that it’s almost like a shifting mood thing, rather than an inability to do it anymore.

So if you’re writing music and find yourself writing in a new style of music, or moving away from an old favorite style, don’t worry–allow your music to grow with you as you explore new territory. Don’t trap yourself into one set way of composing, and you might just find a new favorite style!