Tag Archives: creativity

Comfort Zones And The Writer

by Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

As I settled into my favorite writing spot this morning to check e-mail I began thinking about the idea of having a “comfort zone” and how much easier that can make things…

The way I’m defining comfort zone for the purposes of this post is: “a place the writer feels comfortable and is likely to have little chance of getting distracted from the task at hand–writing.” Mine is the couch. For some writers, it’s the desk. For others, the local coffee house.

The couch elicits an almost Pavlovian response from me in that I can get to work quickly. I’m extremely efficient, aware of time (and maximizing my use of it), and can hammer at tasks I need to do every day–such as answer e-mails, file things and do initial research. I’m lightning fast.

But I’ve learned something else about my comfort zone.

It’s a lousy place for me to be creative. The same things that enable me to work well when sitting on the sofa are the very things that seem to inhibit my ability to tap into my imagination. For that I have to go elsewhere – and that works quite well for me. A new environment opens up those creative pathways and allows me to explore new ideas and directions.

It has taken me a long time to discover this about myself, and I’m not sure it works the same for everyone…but I have a hunch it will ring true for many people when they stop to think about it. So I thought I’d put it out there to perhaps save others a bit of time and effort if I can–and to hear from writers who may work the same way.

So tell me–who else out there has a “comfort zone” and how does it work for you?

Christmas Letters for Writers

by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

The Pressure’s On

santa judgesIt’s one thing for mere mortals to throw together a family Christmas letter using colorful Santa stationary and a dutiful recounting of the year.

But for writers, our families and friends expect more.

As “jedikaiti”   pointed out in an Etiquette Hell discussion,

“I have a friend who writes WONDERFUL Christmas newsletters. Yes, a newsletter. About one person’s year. About 4 pages, and I looooove getting it every year.

She’s a professional writer, so she does have a distinct advantage there….”

(Even Santa gets all judgy and up in our grill.) 

So here are a few tips to help you win the Pulitzer of Christmas Letters.

Start With A Hook

Hook A: Honesty

It is our pleasure to bring you the 2010 edition of the Brutally Honest Dashwood Family Christmas letter.

As an aside, this letter includes a phrase I’d love to steal:

Margaret is a heaping helping of crazy.

Hook B: It’s a very Redneck Christmas

Jeff Ward has given some thought to Christmas letters he’d like to see.

We did it! We finally got those indoor facilities installed in the doublewide.

Create a Relationship With Your Reader

You can count on Cracked to understand the delicate thread between author and reader, in their inspired Upper Class Christmas letter:

Dear Relations and House Staff,

As I do every year, let me start by saying, "You’re welcome."

Get To the Good Stuff Fast

Brandy understands the brilliance of netting it all out so you can “get that over with.”

  • No I am not married yet.
  • I don’t know why I’m not married yet.
  • No really, there’s nobody who’s interested in me.
  • Yes, really. Nobody.
  • Yup, I’m almost thirty.
  • Yes, that is my biological clock you hear ticking.
  • It does sound like a time bomb, doesn’t it?
  • Yes, I would love a bottle/glass of wine. Thank you.
  • Invite the Reader Into Your World

    Joey, The Childless Mom, allows her readers to see the real-life, blunt version of “The Funniest Christmas Letter I’ll Never Send.”

    In March, Hubby has his MESA surgery and I sent out the infamous, "WE HAVE SPERM" texts to our friends.

    (I bet there’s a hashtag for that.)

    Don’t Be Overly Impressed With Yourself (Humble is the New Black)

    At PensFatales, Laurie Perry shares her Christmas Letter in a way that ensures we’re more impressed with her year than she is.

    “The cats were cute and pooped a lot this year. I wrote a book, it’s OK. It comes out next year and is just a longer version of this letter with more complaining, but there is a great recipe for fried zucchini and some knitting patterns.”

    Or Avoid Reality Altogether, Because Fiction is Oh-So-Much-Better

    Hey, you could be anyone.  Any Situation.  Perhaps a woman receiving a gift from an admirer, as in, “12 Days of Christmas Correspondence.”

    Dearest John:

    I went to the door today and the postman delivered a partridge in a pear tree. What a delightful gift. I couldn’t have been more surprised.

    With dearest love and affection, Agnes

    December 23rd

    You Creep!

    Now there’s ten ladies dancing –

    So, to sum up. 

    People expect a lot out of “real” writers.  Go with your strengths.  Write a Christmas letter that must be shared on blogs everywhere.

    I just may quote you.

    clip_image001[4]Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.

    Today’s Writing Tip: Establishing Authority

    If You Hate Rough Drafts….

    by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

    Some writers dread starting a project. 

    They’re a perfectionistic lot, refusing to be pleased with the  imperfect efforts known as DRAFTS.

    Somehow, drafts feel like failure.

    its all bad

    Is This You?

    Real Life Artist, Chloe, has an idea book.  That’s better than a rough-draft book, don’t you think?

    Rough Draft Book = WRONG BAD EVIL WRITING (that is blood-smeared from my valiant and noble efforts to craft worthy prose)

    Idea Book = BRILLIANT NOODLING AND GENIUS LEAPS OF GREATNESS (that are effortless, feel like recess, and taste like lollipops)

    And this got me thinking about Catherine Tully’s write-from-the-gut first draft.

    Writing in an all-out passion is the dream.  Some writers even do it on an on-going basis.

    But many writers wrestle with first drafts and every draft after that:  the imperfect, necessary drafts.

    So I’m going to suggest some solutions.

    1)  Stop Failing.

    Don’t continue to follow your writing process if it never works for you. (Or if it only worked for you once, 10 years ago.)

    2)  What You Tell Yourself About Your Process Matters.

    Figure out what you believe about your writing process and first drafts.  Make a list.  When you run out of ideas for your list, ask what you assume about your writing, what you fear, and what you want to force to be true.

    Trust me, you’ve got some hinky ideas that are holding you back.  Some writers actually believe they are bad at writing first drafts.  Or can’t write more than 2 pages a day. Or can only write at home, in the evening, if no one else is home.

    What you believe becomes true (and yet unhelpful) and will stop you from finding a solution.

    3)  Speed Liberates.

    Look at the speed of your writing.  Many writers write better when they’re forced to write fast (timed speed-sprints).  Better means easier, happier writing, and also all-around better writing.

    4) Be a Detective.

    Keeps tabs on your  process.

    Watch for times when you start bogging down, when you hate what you’re writing, when you start resisting writing altogether.  What specifically is happening?  What course corrections work to turn it around?

    • Sometimes, when you start slowing down, hating the draft , you’re headed in the wrong direction.  It’s your gut instinct speaking up. 
    • Or maybe your creativity benefits from background music. 
    • Or maybe you just don’t write well after 45-minutes of hard focus, and you need a break.

    5) Project vs. Process.

    Not all projects are worth spending your life on.  They don’t keep your attention, much less engage your passion.  And working on a project you hate stops you from working on something that sings to you.

    When you are hating a first draft, it’s crucial to know the difference between Wrong Project and Broken Process.  (PS  If your writing process is broken, all projects become the Wrong Project.)

    BONUS:  Learn to be Imperfect.

    Seriously.  If the problem is perfectionism, then learn how and when to be imperfect.  And learn why this is beneficial.

    Here’s why I think it’s absolutely essential:

    Trying things out is how you find your genius. 

    That’s all drafting is.  Exploring the universe of what you could write.  Trying something, then something else.

    Just to  see what’s possible. 

    So instead of perfect, try to be possible.  Pretty much all great  inventions happened because someone tried something to see what was possible.

    Possible is the new Black.

    clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

    A Creativity Vitamin

    by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

    stay creative

    I was recently challenged to find 5 YouTube videos that make me laugh.  (Not just once.  But over and over.)

    Now, don’t be asking why.

    That only muddies my point, which is that it’s hard to find 5 reliably funny videos so that you can create a “funny library” that makes you laugh.

    (A lot of stuff is only funny once.  Know what I mean?)

    So, as a writer, I find myself wondering if there’s a “funny library” for creativity.  Could I create a go-to resource for genius, insight, and inspiration?

    (Instantly, I realize want one, baaaaad.)

    Anywho, here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

    10 Awesome Videos On Idea Execution & The Creative Process

    The folks at 99U have a pretty awesome Creativity Mission:

    We focus on what happens after inspiration — researching the forces that truly push ideas to fruition.

    Our profiles of proven idea makers, action-oriented tips, and annual conference are all designed to help you transform ideas from vision to reality.

    Watch the videos and let me know your favorites!  Pretty good start, eh?

    My Challenge to You

    Start collecting your own sources of creative B12, articles or videos that you can go to over and over to put the zing in your mental chain reaction.

    clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

    Find A New Dream

    by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

    dream bigYour dream is about writing.  I already know that.  But what I want to know is if you’re living your big writing dream today? 

    Because I’m not.

    And, in a way, I’m farther away than ever.

    (How in the world 20 years of hard work can lead you farther away, I have no idea!  But reality is like that.  It’s illogical and ill-behaved and apt to squash your hopes and dreams.)

    Now, some of you are getting close to your dreams, so this article won’t help much.  But if you have worked hard every waking moment and still aren’t “there,” then this article might help you ask The Big Questions.

    Should I let go of my dream?

    Should I stop giving it CPR?

    Should I find a new dream to dream?

    The more you fear these questions, the more important it is to ask them.

    And yes, your new dream can be a new writing dream. Or not.  I’m not imposing rules on your dreaming.  Not my job.  But basically you have all of reality to play with, so don’t panic.

    The Importance of Today

    In all my years of hard work and dreaming, what have I been doing?  I’ve been clawing my way toward a future goal.  The Dream.

    I thought that was how it was done.  Everyone said so.  You set your sights on a big dream and then you don’t give up.  You use your fingernails if you have to, as you dig in and keep going. 

    But now, I’m not so sure.

    • What about all the todays on the way to your dream? 
    • What if you don’t reach your big dream, ever? 
    • What if your fingernails break before you get there? 
    • Does that mean you have no dream to live, because you never made it to your dream location?

    What if the future is today?  How would that change things?

    The folks over at The One Question put it this way:

    “…to find your life purpose you have to live your life purpose. You can start living your life purpose immediately.”

    If you don’t live your purpose (or your dream), then you’ll never find it.  And if not today, then when?

    Just For Today

    Instead of a big dream, I wonder if the key isn’t found in what you dream just for today?

    What you live for today

    Maybe all you have to do is find your dream for today.  Or as John December says:

    Find a way to gain some aspects of your dream today.

    The pieces of the dream ARE the dream, just smaller.  To ignore these small pieces is to miss the whole point of having a dream.

    Gain your dream, piece by piece.

    Own your dream, today by today.

    By owning a piece of your dream today, you are eliminating the space between you and your dream.  In fact, you and your dream are one.

    Dreamer and dream.

    Now Back To The Big Questions

    Is it time for a new dream?

    It really comes down to today, doesn’t it?

    Do the small pieces of your dream create a wonderful today?

    That’s the one question this whole article comes down to.

    Until you can answer this question, you can’t ask any of the others. 

    How can you know if you should let go of your dream–if you should stop giving it CPR–unless you ask yourself about the reality of how you live your dream.  Or how you don’t.

    After all, if your dream doesn’t even exist until some dim future, then what are you planning on letting go of?  Something that never existed?

    And what about if you decide to let go?

    There are so many, many changes you can make to your dream and how you experience it.  And beyond that there are a multitude of dreams you can call your own.

    You’re the dreamer.  It’s your call.

    It’s okay to make a change.  It really, really is.  And it’s okay to keep your dream exactly the same.

    I just wish we talked about the small pieces more.  The day-to-day tasks.  the way we tried to move forward.  About how we see these small pieces as “living the writing dream.” 

    I think we might be a lot happier with a dream we live just for today.  A dream we can touch.  A dream that makes us… US.

    clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

    Top 10 Ways To Tell If You’re Creative

    by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto.

    Creative Child Hands

    10. See a problem, brainstorm solutions.

    You can’t help yourself.  It give you happy feet.

    9. See the box, play outside of it.

    Color the box.  Take an object from inside the box on a little trip outside the box.  Remove the box altogether. Cut box up into little pieces to see if they make something better.

    They do.

    8. Every word has a certain feeling to it.

    You want to explain how valuable this is.  Sometimes you even try.  But ultimately it takes a Jedi to feel the Force.

    7.  Mental leaps.  Take them you will.

    Yet each looks totally logical, practical, and the speed of all worthwhile thought.  Everything else is slow and painful.

    6. Stories are essential to mankind.

    Good news:  everything is a story.  (Or would be if you ran the world.)

    5. Real life can always be made more meaningful.

    Especially when seen through the lens of fiction.  Also non-fiction and limericks.

    4. Creative people can be fearless and full of fear at the very same time.

    Certainty and uncertainty.  High gear and the emergency brake.  When people say you should create a balanced life, you think this is exactly what they mean.

    3. The moments when we’re brilliant make everything else worthwhile.

    You don’t even need very many of them. You can go for months on the fumes of one moment of creative genius.  Imagine what you could do with two?

    2. Compliments are currency.

    A fan letter is like an Oscar.  They like us!  They really like us!


    1. Epic idea = writing crack.

    It’s your biggest superpower.  The thing from which everything else flows.  And this feels normal to you.  Totally, 100% normal.

    Ordinary, really.  Like a wheat bran muffin, ordinary.  Except it’s made of sparkles and travels mach10 around 25 billion brain cells, in a world made of only your favorite colors. (Except the bran muffin is really chocolate.  But you knew that.)

    After all, in an ordinary day, there’s always enough time for your mind to be blown.

    And THAT’S how you can tell if you’re creative.

    clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.