Tag Archives: creativity

Getting All Beaded Up

It was a random side trip to Walmart that started it. I found myself in the Fabric and Crafts section, staring down a glittering aisle I’d not bothered to travel before–the bead section. Literally hundreds of cards full of beads hung on the racks, in varying shades and amounts of sparkle and glimmer. How had I never seen this aisle before?

Pretty much out of the blue, I picked up a few cardfuls of beads that interested me, plus a couple of “Instant Necklace” kits, with the appropriate silver clasps already attached to the wire and cut to size. Two necklaces later, I was absolutely hooked on creating my own beaded jewelry.

The following pictures are of necklaces I created using the Instant Necklace wire kits plus my own selection of beads, arranged in self-created patterns. The Instant Necklace kits are cut to size, but some of the beading patterns did not take up all the room on the necklace (mainly because I needed room to handle the wire long enough to thread it through the other side of the clasp). Thus, they might be a little bare in spots, but they wear well once they are on.

Samples of My Work

This was my first necklace, but certainly not my last. I loved alternating the silver and dark blue, denim-patterned beads, and this is still one of my go-to necklaces when wearing blue, black, or white tops, though it can also go with gray and even red on occasion.

This is one of my favorite necklaces I’ve ever done, because it is BLUE and SPARKLY. 😀 It makes me happy. Not to mention that I enjoy the play between pearls and gemstones, managing to create a weightless look without too much effort. Since I wear a lot of teal and white, this necklace sees a lot of wear especially in the summer. (This necklace’s wire was accidentally bent in two places during an aggressive airport baggage check, which accounts for the odd angles in the picture, but it straightens out well when I wear it.)

Even though this one was a bit of a color stretch for me, I’ve found myself wearing it more often than I thought I would. I have some purple tops that go well with it, but it has surprised me how well it wears with other colors–even pink shirts look good with this!

My Personal Beading Style

The trend in beading today may be big, chunky, earth-based necklaces, but I prefer my beaded jewelry to actually look, well, like jewelry: polished, pretty little stones, delicately set together. Thus, I choose small beads over large, and I like to combine sparkly beads with pearlescent ones on the same necklace for pretty variations.

Most of how I put necklaces together is rather instinctive; I look at a selection of beads in a store and think, “Ooh, I have some pearls that will go well with that.” A few minutes of arranging the beads back at home generally brings me to a setup I like, and I run with it.

Along with my idea of pairing a sparkling translucent bead with a pearlescent bead of same or similar color, I also like to vary sizes along the length of the piece I’m making–usually, the beads in the middle of the necklace will be slightly larger than the ones at each end, and that’s deliberate (called “graduating sizes”). If I do change it up and mix in bigger beads earlier in the pattern, I will generally set smaller, clear beads around each large stone to help it not stand out quite so much.

Lastly, I try to use symmetrical patterns for my necklaces. If I have a pattern started on the left side of the necklace that goes “tiny pearl, tiny gem, small pearl, big gem, small pearl, tiny gem, tiny pearl,” then I mimic that when I get to the right side of the necklace in the same place.

It can be hard to keep up with where you are in the necklace, so I recommend laying out your beads first on a beading tray to get your pattern together. Amazon.com has several beading trays (also called “beading boards”) that help corral your beads and even align them into a necklace-like shape so that you can make your patterns and thread the wire through more easily.

I’m certainly not the most skilled beader out there–I’m still not familiar with all the intricate patterns you can use to make bracelets and necklaces out of, like macrame. However, the single-strand necklaces I make are enough for my jewelry needs, and they are simple enough to master even for my clumsy fingers.

Try Beading For Yourself

For those who are veterans in beading, or those who are completely new to the craft, many big-box stores like Walmart have cheap beads that don’t look completely tacky. Choosing solid colors of beads generally gives you a better product–some of the mixed-color beads end up being ill-made, as I’ve unfortunately found out. There are also a lot of online tutorials and articles which can help you out!

You can also find quite a bit of beads and beading supplies online, or go to an actual beading specialty store–I’m lucky enough to have a beading specialty store in my area, called Off The Beaded Path. Beading specialty stores will likely have beads of better quality, but you will often pay a little more for that quality (which is okay).

In terms of metallic beading wire, necklace clasps, earring pins, etc. (collectively known as “findings”), you’re better off going to a specialty store or looking online. Walmart had those Instant Necklace kits that got me started, which were great for me because I didn’t have to fool with putting the clasps on the wire myself. But if you want to build the necklace completely from scratch, you will find more variations in color and style going to a specialty store.

I tend to blend my big-box-store finds with my specialty-store finds to make pieces that are at once fairly inexpensive to make and expensive-looking. Try combinations of your favorite colors and favorite textures of beads, and experiment as much as you can!

Beading Links

Beadage.net – projects, instructions, beads available online
BeadingDaily.com – daily ideas, tutorials, and patterns
BeadingTimes.com – every month, a new issue, with articles about how to market your jewelry, how to come up with original designs, and lots of other topics!
Free Patterns @ Beadwork.About.com – free beading patterns
TheBeadCoop.com – patterns to download and print

The Impromptu Writers’ Club

Are you struggling to write? Lacking inspiration? Feeling STUCK? The problem might not be writer’s block–it might be writer’s isolation. At least, this is how I started feeling after being stuck on my novel for several months. And, as you’ll see in the following article, it really took talking over the book with another person to help me get restarted on it.

How I Accidentally Started a Writers’ Club

For a while, one of my best guy friends and I had been hanging out at a local Denny’s on Sunday evenings, getting back in touch after life took us in very separate directions for a few years. It was a time for him to be away from work and away from home, a time where he could relax and we could catch up.  But it slowly became less of a social thing and more focused on writing–I was working (mostly unsuccessfully) on my novel, and he wanted to hear more about it.

Once I started sharing my novel-in-progress with him, seeing what he thought of my ideas so far, I found out that he liked it, and was eager to read more.  Thus, I was inspired to write more, and I found the process to be easier.  (He is now one of my four beta readers, if you will–my parents and my boyfriend have also read or heard most of the novel, and they have all been wonderfully supportive.) Having this support system around me helped me start writing and keep writing–now, I had an audience to write for rather than just myself!

Inspiration is Catching!

I knew I was getting inspired from these informal brainstorming sessions, but admittedly, I didn’t expect for my guy friend to pick up the pen himself after a few months. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though–he’s been working on his own stories since he was 14 years old! I was overjoyed to see him starting to work with his old stories again, and so I encouraged him to keep working at it, to keep writing, and that I would read and help if I could. (Since I was an English major in college and did teach literature and composition for a few months in a middle school, I have a little bit of experience helping people to write.)

A Typical Writers’ Club Meeting

When we get together for our writers’ club meeting, we usually sit at our respective computers, typing away for a few minutes (or 30, LOL). Then, we switch computers, so that each of us can read what the other has written.  We offer each other constructive criticism, ideas for expansion, and express interest–then we switch back, and revise as necessary.

This helps us both at the same time–we are both writer and reader, so we can easily switch back and forth between the two roles. Plus, reading each other’s work helps us both construct better-flowing stories, and the almost-instantaneous time between composition, reading, and revising makes the writing process speedier and more thorough. No more relying on my memory to figure out what to change in my story!

The Benefits So Far

This has certainly helped me make my novel much better, to have people around me who are interested in my novel and who offer their opinions on how the story is progressing.  Only four people in this world besides me know what it’s about, and each of those four I would trust with my life as well as my life’s work. Plus, I’m getting and giving really good feedback; being part of the creative process in a couple of ways gives me new perspective on both of our efforts.

I never realized how much another person’s input would help me write–I have always been shy about showing my work to someone else, fearing their criticism.  But in a way, doing this kind of writers’ club thing helps me brainstorm and not be so stressed about how the novel is going (or sometimes not going). Often, it’s fun to just sit there and talk out an idea over a fried cheese melt and a laptop computer; I get so much brain work done as I form the idea into words, and I also function as a sounding board for my friend’s ideas.

Have You Ever Tried a Writers’ Club?

Let me know in the comments!

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.

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!

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!