As creators, we all dream of being considered professionals. But where is the line that separates the two? Is it definite or arbitrary? Or are these just labels that don’t mean anything? Join me as I look into what it takes to be a professional artist.
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Rainy days always make me feel like doing something creative. I mean, it’s not like I can go fiddle about in the yard or play outside with the dogs. If it’s more than a sprinkle, they won’t do much more than stick their heads out the dog door. I can almost hear them say, “Nope!”.
Of course, I can always watch something on television. I subscribe a coupe of streaming services, plus I own a fair amount of movies and shows from back when people actually purchased physical media. In fact, I still have a handful of VHS tapes. One of these days I’ll have to reconnect the VHS player to the TV and see if they’ll still play.
There’s also the option to read. That’s a nice rainy-day pastime. But for me, the problem is having the sound of falling raindrops and the soft rumble of thunder in the distance makes me sleepy. Oftentimes, my rainy-day reading lasts for about thirty minutes or so before my eyelids grow too heavy. Three hours later I’m woken by a cold dog nose alerting me that either the water bowl is empty or it’s time for dinner.
I usually end up writing, which is good. I’m always up for putting words on the page. Rainy days are perfect for sitting in a room lit only by natural light (the dim gray from outside) with the sound of rain acting as my background noise. It’s almost meditative and helps me get into the zone…meaning, the world slips away and it’s just me and my MacBook and the words appearing on the screen.
I like that scenario. It’s transcendental, trance-like. And don’t get me wrong. Most of my writing sessions are good and I can get into that zone – or something akin to it – when I have just the right setting and time to myself. But those rainy-day sessions, well, there’s nothing quite like them.
The thing is, it’s not like I’m more productive or more creative. Stories written when it’s raining aren’t any better or worse than on dry days, or hot days, or cold days. It’s more about how I feel, how it makes me feel. After writing during a good drenching rain, I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, like I’ve been cleansed. It’s almost as if I stood in the rain myself and let the water wash over me.
If you haven’t guessed, today is one of those days. A tropical depression is passing nearby in the Gulf of Mexico and it’s supposed to rain here most of the day. In fact, it’s also going to rain all day tomorrow. Coincidently, I’m also taking leave from work this week, so things are working out quite nicely for me.
And for what it’s worth, it’s raining right now as I write this.
Yep, it’s that time of year, the time when writers from all over take part in the madness that is National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo (as it’s affectionately referred to) has been around for years and I’ve participated a couple of times. The first time I did I ended up with a 75k rough draft – a VERY rough draft – of a science fiction novel. I had the idea spinning in my head for a few months leading up to November 1st, so I had a decent idea of what I wanted to do with the story. But I played by the rules, so I didn’t outline or make any notes. I went into this challenge with a blank page.
It went well for the first two weeks, but then I got stuck. It was just after a big action scene where my protagonist escapes from some government ships that were tracking him near an asteroid belt. My hero was able to kill power and hide inside a crevasse on one of the spinning boulders. The government ships tried to find him, but no luck, so they sailed off. That’s when I sat and stared at the screen on my laptop, my fingers idly tapping on the keyboard, while I wondered what to do next.
After nearly a day of cluelessness, I decided I’d keep writing but instead focus on some backstory and character development, hoping that it would kick start my imagination and get me back on track. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I spent the next two weeks describing some of the planets in my story, along with some of the ships, where my protagonist grew up, and how he ended up with his ship. None of it was that pertinent to the story.
By the end of the month I had hit the word count goal, but the story wasn’t there. Just random ideas and thoughts about the story. So I sort of completed the challenge because I hit the word count, but I never got a complete story out of the process.
I tried again a few years later, but my job at the time had me working some odd and long hours, so I couldn’t spare enough time to really focus on writing a certain amount every day. I ended up tapping out after a week or so.
I haven’t tried again, although it is enticing. I like to be challenged when I write. I set certain goals for myself, some of them normal – like 500 words in a sitting – and some of them odd – like not allowing myself to use “he said” or “she said” when writing dialogue. A full month of marathon writing is appealing. There’s just the matter of time and whether or not I’m willing to set aside other projects so I can focus on just one.
I’m sitting on the sidelines again this year and enjoying the view as a spectator. I have some writing friends who are participating and it’s fun to see how they’re handling it. Of course, I’m being encouraging and trying to keep them motivated as best I can.
But next year, well, I just may have to dive back in again. I think it’ll be fun to see what I can accomplish. Until then, best of luck to all the writers who are participating this year.
Here in North Florida, the weather if beginning to cool, and with that means my carnivorous plants will be going dormant. It’s sad to see my pitcher plants begin to wither, dry up, turn brown and brittle. My sundews and flytraps will also wither a bit, but they’ll maintain most of their color and simply stop eating and producing new growth. Luckily, most of my carnivorous plants (except for the flytraps) are indigenous to my area, so they’re used to the weather.
But it’s also a good time for some cleanup. Once the plants have dried up, I’ll cut them back some so, come springtime, the new growth will have room to flex. Also, I’ll take some cuttings and get them potted. One of the main things I have to do is replant two of my flytraps. A stupid squirrel got into the pot earlier this summer and decided to dig around like a maniac. I was able to salvage the plants, but the big one needs to be reset and the smaller one needs his (or her) own pot.
Here’s another flytrap that’s beginning to get ready for winter. You can see the browning traps. A trap will die off after a meal or two, then new ones will come up. In this case, traps are dying, but no new growth to speak of…just one little trap that’s trying his best (see the very center of the plant).
The colors are still popping on a couple of my pitcher plants. This little guy is still vibrant, and his partner, the sundew, is still producing dewy drops on its leaves.
This guy is looking good, too. In the second photo you can see his latest meal. I think it was some sort of wasp. You can also see the fine little hairs that line the mouth of the pitcher. Helps to keep the little critters from crawling back out.
Like all gardens, they have to cycle with the seasons. I’ll be sure to keep them comfortable, cover them if there’s frost, and make sure they stay wet until spring. I’ll post updates over the next few months as I make cuttings, transplant, and prep them for next year.
Oh, and let me know if you have any questions. As you can probably tell, I adore these little buggers. And yes, gardening is just another way to be creative.
Fall is in the air and butternut squash is on the menu. Check out my latest cooking video as I share one of my favorite recipes. Only a few ingredients – the aforementioned squash, onion, apple, and a few odds and ends. Perfect for a cozy night or a chilly morning.
Oh, and this version is also vegan.
Once you try it I guarantee you’ll be hooked.
I’ve loved scary stories since I was a wee lad in South Florida, and one of my favorite things to do on Halloween was break out a vinyl album of mine. The album was Alfred Hitchcock presents Ghost Stories for Young People. It was released back in 1962 and I think I found it in a record store when I was around eight or nine years old.
I listened to it so many times when I was young I had it memorized…but it still gave me the shivers. Unfortunately, the original vinyl was lost to time, but I was lucky enough to find it on CD a few years ago. Of course, nowadays you can find almost anything online, and someone was awesome enough to post the entire album on YouTube.
If you’re looking for some Halloween chills, give it a listen. Hitchcock is a fantastic narrator, and the stories, while creepy, also contain a little bit of dark humor. It may be geared towards children, but this middle-aged man still loves it.
Note – the stories are broken out into separate videos, so be sure to listen to all of them!
Why are horror and fear popular subjects in the art world? For centuries, we’ve continued to seek out ways to scare ourselves and we keep coming back for more. Join me as I explore the reasons behind our obsession with fear and how we explore it in our artistic output.
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I find myself constantly amazed at the creativity shown by people during this pandemic. Yesterday I watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about how people are changing their Halloween plans to make them safer. Some of the adaptations included a long-distance candy dispenser for the trick-or-treaters and drive-through haunted houses.
I think it’s fantastic that people are willing to put in a little effort – and imagination – to keep spirits high in a time when we’re all feeling the pressure.
But the creativity doesn’t stop there. I was talking (online) to a friend who told me that over the past weekend he not only learned how to play bingo via Zoom, but also attended a Zoom-based murder mystery party. I didn’t have a chance to get all the logistics behind it, but I can’t imagine how they set that up. Regardless, it’s still an incredibly creative way to bring people together and interact while still remaining relatively safe.
I know, we hear a lot about people complaining about the lock downs, the social distancing, the mask wearing, but I look at this all as an opportunity. Think about it – we can look at all this as some massive pain in the ass that has turned our lives upside down and created chaos, or we can look at this as an opportunity to try new things, to do things in a different way, and to see just how creative we can be.
Don’t let the situation sour your perspective. Sure, things sort of suck at the moment, but you can still make the best of it. Improve yourself, help others, and most of all, be creative. You may have some hidden talents you didn’t know you had. All you have to do it try something new and see what happens.
Choices are a part of our lives, so deeply ingrained that we usually don’t even realize that we’re making them constantly, every day, without hesitation. Most of these are simple choices, like when to pull the eggs out of the pan, or if the water in the kettle is warm enough for tea. We don’t give it much thought, we just let our instinct guide us.
And if you think about it, you probably don’t spend too much time wondering about what you’re having for dinner. Leftovers in the refrigerator or swing by a fast-food place to pick up something? If it’s the latter, then you look at the drive-thru menu for a couple of moments to decide which combo looks interesting, pay your money, then back home.
But there are other decisions to be made. I know that, when writing, I deal with hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions in each story I create. A lot of them are quick and mindless, like some of the ones I mentioned above. What color car is my protagonist driving? Or is going to drink his coffee black or add creamer? Others will make me pause for a few moments while I consider the possibilities. If my character goes down this path, what happens? Would it be better if they went this other way? Usually, I let the character decide and move on.
Then there are the tough decisions.
The toughest ones are when you know it’s going to change the entire course of your story. I had that happen to me on a yet-to-be-published short story I’ve been working on. I had a basic idea in mind and about three quarters of the way through the story I could see the ending develop. I was excited because I could see the path ahead leading to a solid conclusion.
But then I hesitated. Why? Because my stupid imagination piped up and asked, “what if you killed off this one character?” At first I dismissed the thought. Why try to change anything now when I’m so close to finishing the draft? That would be madness, right? Probably, but I couldn’t help myself.
So I took a few days off from the story so I could give this idea some additional thought. “What if?” is such a powerful question to ask oneself when writing. In fact, it’s a powerful question to ask in life, as well. After some consideration I decided to try that alternative story path. It was sort of a pain in the butt because I had to back up a bit in the narrative and rewrite some sections, but I did what needed to be done. And it was bloody.
And how did it turn out, you ask? Not bad. At least, it feels satisfying to me. It’s not what I was expecting, which in a way is a good thing, but I don’t know if it’s necessary better than what I was shooting for.
When it comes to writing – and art in general – tough decisions are just part of the process. Luckily, they don’t pop up in every story I write. But much like in life, we come to a crossroad and we have to consider the possibilities. In this case, I had to decide what worked best for the story. It wasn’t about what I wanted to do. Sort of like a parent with their child, I had to let my story loose and hope for the best. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t, but I believe we have to take chances as artists. We never know if something will work out unless we try it.