(This is a continuation from previous post: The 4th Muse Tip)

5. BE FOCUSED. I have already discussed in a post why I am not a big fan of multi-tasking. Studies have shown that multi-tasking and multi-focusing are proven to be detrimental to work quality and task performance.  However, how can one be focused on writing when one is busy juggling a job, family and other important personal concerns?

Again, the answer is in the planning. Structure and discipline also play major parts in the creative process for the ‘weekends only’ artist.  Planning may well be the most difficult part of the process but once you are able to go over this hurdle, then the rest is smooth sailing.  Offer your Mondays to Saturdays for work and family while setting aside time every Sunday for yourself and your creative pursuits.  Do this in a quiet room in your house with no distractions.  Explain to your spouse and kids about your need for ‘creativity time.’

The disadvantage of doing this for only once a week though is that the narration or your story flow is continually being put on hold since you have to stop and sleep so you can wake up early tomorrow to go back to your regular work.  In my experience, this was usually accompanied with feelings of irritation and impatience (due to yearnings to go back to your writing) especially when you are already ‘in the zone,’ sometimes even bitterly blaming ‘work’ for temporarily impeding this creative output.  The best that you can do is to post your story plan or timeline next to you while you write so you can track where you were or where you left off.

Don’t overdo or go beyond your ‘creativity time.’ Creativity requires extreme concentration and there is a danger that you may shut out everything else, become oblivious to the time and may overlook things and other details in your life that also matter.  Relationships and job performance may suffer as a result.  In order to efficiently balance it all out (day job, family, and creative work), it would be a good idea to use a planner or a day to day schedule to make sure you won’t forget everything else and so that you can effectively assume your roles and carry out your responsibilities as a full-time worker, full-time parent/spouse, and part-time artist.  Use an alarm clock and set it beforehand so you can be conscious of the time.  Make sure to include in your schedule enough rest–both physically and mentally, as well.

6. BE PATIENT. I mentioned already once that one of my life’s mottoes is “One step at a time.”   If you have your goal in mind and know where you’re going, then rest assured that you will accomplish each step in the story flow until finally, you have reached the very end.  However, as expected, the writing pace will be much slower especially for the ‘weekends only’ writer compared to the one who does this for a living.  As I said, you tend to blame work or familial responsibilities from taking time away from your creative pursuits.  You become snappy and cantankerous. Be careful not to fall prey to this cliché–that artists naturally have this ‘artistic temperament.’  I have personally encountered how these s0-called artists justify their selfish, angry outbursts and childish tantrums with excuses pertaining to this so-called ‘temperament.’  Artist or not–it is unfair for people around you to see you like this because definitely they are also affected by your behavior and may even resent it.  You have to check yourself when this happens.  I advise you to be a human being first before you start considering yourself an artist.

Despite everything that I said, and even if I follow all these tips, I still expect that things may not go as planned.  But definitely, the chance of finishing a novel this way is far greater than someone who did not plan ahead.

For the aspiring writer, good luck! You don’t have to wait for next year’s NaNoMo to start writing that novel.  Why not start now?  Through visualizing, observing, reflecting, planning, discipline, structure, and lots and lots of patience, there may be no need to search for your personal Muse.  She will just show up in the sidelines, cheering you on…

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A continuation from 6 Tips on Finding Your Writing Muse:

4. PLAN IT. PLAN IT. PLAN IT. This is the most important tip of all.  You see, the key to starting any successful endeavor is to start coming up first with the BIG PICTUREYour Plan is the framework, the anchor, the map of your work. Without it, you will drift away to a land of uncertainty, never reaching your desired destination.  And if you do reach something, you hardly know what it means and have a hard time explaining or justifying the mess you’ve made.  With messy work, you’ll get mercilessly attacked for your scattershot effort OR you get lucky OR both.  This is, for me, what happened to the Twilight series of Stephenie Meyer.  She was obviously both.  She started the first story by seeing it in a ‘dream’ (that’s what she recently told Ellen), just typing away in the computer, putting into words what were obviously fantasy ramblings of a bored housewife, without using much of a mental map.  In her books, there were a number of times that she mentioned that she suffered from writer’s block. This was clearly an admission of a lack of a plan.  If a writer has a plan in the first place, then he or she will know what to say–plain and simple.  It was unplanned, hence, her story plots got messier and messier as she reached the final book, Breaking Dawn, which was described as a disappointment and an ‘epic fail’ when it came to story development.  Anyway, as I said, she was lucky that majority of hopeless romantics out there ate her words like cotton candy even if her stories were the result of come-what-may-I’ll-cross-the-bridge-when-i-get-there writing strategy.  You may argue–“Well, who cares if her stories were atrocious, she’s now rich, isn’t she?”  Right.  And instances like that is a good thing to reflect upon in the life of an artist–choosing which path or direction to take.  An artist has to choose–settle for real integrity or plain dumb luck? Which would you prefer to be known for–carefully prepared works but painstakingly slow (as in Van Gogh slow) recognition of your unique, real talent OR be known for churning out average, formulaic, run-of-the-mill outputs yet assured of overnight success and a zillionnaire-lifestyle? I advise you to answer this, and check your values first before you start calling yourself an artist.  Whichever path you choose, it’s fine.  The important thing is you’re fully aware of this decision which you will have to eventually and inevitably own up.

Back to the writing tips… You may start planning using different approaches, depending on your own style when it comes to brainstorming ideas. One may start with one thing or the other:

a) Language. You may determine your level and scope of your unique language first. How do you tell a story? Do you prefer using simple words or sophisticated language; technical language or universal?

b) Audience. Find the audience you know who is comfortable or more suitable with this language that you chose (children, young adults, women or men only, the discriminating sophisticated few or the masa or general public?).  This is important because it will set the tone of your narrative, and the level or depth of the story. (Always bear in mind your audience when you’re writing the story by picturing them in your head, pretending you’re talking to them. Like right now, I’m picturing you, the reader, in my head as I write these series on writing tips.  It helps because the words flow quite easily, and I constantly make sure if I am making sense to you or not, wondering if you can understand well what I’ve been saying so far by going over my words and continuously reflecting as often as possible.)

c) Story Elements (Genre/Plot/Setting/Characters): (Again, these may come in a different order, depending on what you think you could prioritize first) Come up with a genre (romance, comedy, adventure, suspense, tragedy, drama or combination of these; fantasy or reality-based); Construct the gist or the plot or the angle (think of the conflict, a problem, an issue that needs to be resolved–or not, if it’s a tragedy); Decide when (present, past or future) and where this conflict could took place (write what you know–your own hometown, village, city or country is ideal and usually recommended for starting writers); and finally, decide on the characters who will help bring out and realize all these elements (at least finalize on the major characters; other minor characters can be conjured up once you’re in the writing process).  Be sure to take time in planning and finalizing the elements–it is difficult to visualize the story flow if you’re still undecided on these basic elements.

d) Story Flow. This is where organization is required.  Get a piece of paper and make a timeline. Divide the timeline into stages and substages: the start or the introduction (like the opening scene of a movie, you’re setting the stage for the reader, and a lot of descriptive narration happens here); the middle (which includes the beginnings or the gradual revealing of the problem or the building up of the conflict, the resolution or climax, and the events that happened after the conflict was resolved); and the ending or at least an inkling of it.  If you feel your story has the makings of an epic, then consider a series, but still bearing in mind the final phase of the story (which includes the climax or resolution) since that will guide you through the long and arduous writing process like a lighthouse in the night (you know where you’re going).  But even if you have a plan, it is not yet perfect so constantly reflect on all aspects of it–what will work, do away with the trite and the clichéd and the predictable angles, and reflect on how you can make it different as much as possible from other published works that you’ve read.

This was why JK Rowling’s HP book series were a well deserved success–both commercially and critically.  Unlike Meyer, Rowling had it all planned out right from the start–knowing how it will all end.  From the very beginning, she had a map and a destination in mind by already deciding and mentally constructing the ultimate fate of the major characters, and stuck with it.  That was why the trip albeit extremely long was so much fun–you know that Rowling will not waste your time and money; she made sure you enjoy the wait and the journey to the final place that was already a sure thing.  I felt secure, assured of the fact that she knows where she is taking us and felt sad when it was all over.  I would prefer to have her in charge of the helm than a million uncertain Meyers in the world.  Same goes for Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy, and well…Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, too–all well-thought out, planned out and organized.

To be continued: 5th and 6th Tips on Finding Your Writing Muse.

As I mentioned before, I would like to contribute to National Novel Month (NaNoMo)–not in the form of a written novel but ideas on how to start writing. And as I said in my previous post, I take back what I said about being a weekend artist or writer.

I realized, after much thought, that it IS possible to accomplish something creative while still having a day job…if i just knew how to plan.  Planning is everything. But some artists resist planning, preferring to be spontaneous and their manner of artistic outpouring as unstructured and raw as much as possible, unpredictable spurts of artistic madness.  But the trouble with that is one may end up scratching his head and asking himself: “WTF am i doing?” Nevertheless, I guess that an artist, musician or writer who plans and reflects more may have a better chance of not only starting an artwork, story, poem or song but ultimately ending up with an actual finished piece, and being happy and satisfied with the results.

However, it is the dreaded DAY JOB that prevents one from pursuing artistic endeavors.  So I came up with tips for myself (and for those who may find them helpful) on how I can practice art even ‘during the weekends’ without compromising quality of work.  Sometimes, the Muse doesn’t come to you but nobody said you can’t go searching for her.  I call these tips The 6 MUSE TIPS:

1. DESIRE IT. If you are driven, then anything is possible.  If you’re just forcing yourself, then don’t bother picking up the pen or brush. Visualizing the outcome helps.  Envision yourself looking at the bookshelves with copies of your books being sold.  Imagine making readers stop and stare, pore over your words, getting a reaction from them–a tear, a smile or even a raised eyebrow.

2. SEARCH YOUR FEELINGS and your emotions and experiences–love, hate, anger, frustrations, ordeals and triumphs and be ready to share them.  These are yours and no one can take them away from you.  You cannot be an artist if there is nothing to share.  Otherwise you’re not just fooling yourself but other people as well. Experts can tell, too, if you’re just skilled in a superficial, technical way… or possessing a talent that emanates deep from your heart, soul and mind just by looking at your artwork or literary piece.  If it is impersonal or obviously hackneyed from a trend set by other artists who are more established, they can sense that you’re not just being mediocre, you’re also being insincere.  Find your own unique voice.

3.  BE OBSERVANT. Be a sponge and absorb everything around you.  If you’re stuck or feeling nonchalant about life, then you have to start educating yourself. Listen to people’s stories.  Be curious.  Study and watch people, things, nature, animals, the sky, the weather.  Know other people’s feelings, their problems and how they overcame them (or if they weren’t able to, find out why).  Ask what upsets them and what makes them laugh.  Check the other side of the coin and try to understand. If words are not being spoken, learn to sense them. Stimulate your senses using your sensory perceptions–smell and taste different foods, see a way of life that is foreign to your own, get out of your comfort zone, take nature trips, train yourself to look at the tiniest details, find out what they’re called and describe them in your head.  Or ask yourself how you feel about anything–like the hazy sunset or long dark shadows falling on an adobe wall, etc.  Be amazed at an ordinary thing (or find the irony), then compare or contrast it (a lone tree in the horizon, a smooth pebble glistening in a neglected garden) with people you know.  You can come up with a hundred story angles and themes, fill them up with these unique details that you yourself have discovered; create your own personal meanings, philosophies, and beliefs. This is the unique gift of the artists–to see beyond the ordinary.  And it is their job to help others who lack this special faculty of  ‘seeing’ and bring these out into the open through the arts.  You’re actually showing them the unseen, the unheard, the unnoticed, and the unfelt, thereby with your help, these become real and true.

The next tip is about Planning and Organizing which I consider very important keys in coming up with a work of art.  I figured it deserves to be discussed next time since I have a lot to say about it.

To be continued in the next post.