Where I live in the mountains of Panama, the only change of season we see is from rainy to dry. This begins to take place in November. There’s a shift in the wind and the town braces itself for the Fiestas Patrias (Panama’s Independence Days). Strings of small plastic flags crisscross the streets and flap with a smacking sound as if applauding you whenever you drive beneath them. Grey clouds hover above the town as barjareque, (not quite rain, but heavier than mist) falls on the tourists and marching bands, covering them with a sparkling layer of microscopic droplets.
November also signals National Novel Writing Month, which I first participated in 2012. I had been wanting to write a novel my whole life, and the only thing that forced me to get a book started and finished was NaNoWriMo.
I completed my first ever book, surprising myself and triggering an addiction to finishing books ever since. Now when the winds of November change and I hear the echoes of the marching bands practicing for the Independence Day parades, I feel like a horse at the starting gate ready to race to my word count with all the other bucking writers.
I think anyone who’s participated in National Novel Writing Month start to look forward to it as a yearly tradition. It’s something to get excited about, and you are not alone in your enthusiasm and anxiety. You can connect with other writers who are on the same crazy train. NaNoWriMo helps to stop the usual procrastinating and put writing first for a whole month.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to participate in the last few years. My job consists of mostly writing now and my creative juices and tolerance for sitting at the computer are wiped out by the time I finish my work for the day. I’m often traveling during this time for the holidays, which makes it difficult to scurry off to some quiet place to write.
I also don’t allow myself to participate because have to stop piling up manuscripts. It’s becoming a problem. I wrote three novels in a mad dash and they are still left rumpled up and tossed aside like piles of dirty laundry on the floor. I have no business writing more Nano novels until I clean these up, right?
But I wonder… just because I wrote them, does that mean they should be published? Is it worth salvaging them? These were my first practice novels, before The Sick Series, when I had no idea what I was doing. Hell, I don’t even know if I should’ve released Sick on the world. I can just leave these drafts in some dark corner of my Dropbox and begin something with my new writing experience. Jack Kerouac’s debut novel was lost until 2011, and thank god it was because it was deemed sophomoric and might have barred him from the literary world.
Forest of the Lonely River
I used to want to be a painter more than I wanted to be a writer. As high school graduation approached, my art teacher encouraged me to look at art schools moved me up to portfolio classes, but I gave up before I got started. I didn’t see a future in it. How likely was I to make a living off of painting? I dropped art in my senior year so I could join a program that allowed me to leave school after lunch to go to work. I became an artist all right – a sandwich artist at the Subway. Glamorous, I know.
Now, my main character in The Sculptor of New Hope, Ona Price, has taken on my struggle as the aspiring painter. Me? I haven’t painted in years, but I was inspired by my friend. Her name is Fay Kambos and she is always on some creative endeavor. I decided to make painting this week’s artist date because giving up art is a source of regret for me. I had some potential back then. If only I had believed in myself, I might have done well.
Here is my first humble attempt at watercolors. I didn’t plan on what to paint. I didn’t use anything for reference either. I forced myself to trust my artistic intuition. I forgot the simplest of drawing techniques, but I kept going, curling my nose at it the whole time, trying to relax into some measure of enjoyment. I tried not to dwell on the fifth-graderishness of it. Do you know how difficult that was? You’d be amazed at what your inner voice says when you start taking dictation. Some of the thoughts that went through my head were:
- Ha! You don’t know what you’re doing. This sucks
- It’s watercolor. You’re supposed to leave white space. Duh!
- You should just crumble this up and throw it away.
I don’t even register them most of the time, but they are definitely sneering and sniggering whenever I create something. Now I know the culprit of my creative blockages.
I turned on music to distract me from the annoying voices. Soon, I began to stop thinking. I reached the place where I wanted to be. Not thinking, just doing. In the end, I’m pleased with my little scene. It’s no Van Gogh, but I made something out of nothing.
I did it. I painted.
But I wondered why the scene was so bleak. What did that say about my neglected inner artist?
I decided this forest would not be desolate, but fertile ground for the creative future. At the very last, I painted in the first few leaves as a sign of the new growth to come.
It goes to show you how self-doubt can kill you before you get started, but if you persevere through those negative feelings, you will create something – anything, and it’s yours. No one else could’ve created anything quite the same.
(And it just so happens that I had a breakthrough while writing the last of my SICK series. The artist dates already seem to be working!)
Keep writing, keep painting, keep dancing, keep the creative fires burning. Take your inner artist out on a date and hashtag it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as #myartistdate so we can all share in the positive creative vibes.
I’ve begun reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This book is a workshop to discover and recover your creative self.
All of us lose that dauntless creative spark as we get older, and I wanted to develop a creative lifestyle so that I would get into a better writing routine. I didn’t even feel creatively blocked, but now that I delve into this book, I realized I do have some rusty, old blockages and stale issues with self-doubt that need to be resolved.
I bought this old copy from Amazon. I like the worn-in magic of used books. I feel they hold some of the residual energy of the previous owner. The book is very spiritual and it’s also superstitious. I love its wide margins peppered with inspirational quotes. I’ve been using the extra space for notes, which is what I’m sure the author intended.
There are many exercises to do each week, but so far, I’ve only been doing what’s called ‘morning pages.’ They are three pages of stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning. I thought this journal writing stuff would take up too much of my time, but I find that after I’ve done my three pages, it’s as if time moves more slowly. My head is less cluttered with aimless ruminations, and I have space to think productive thoughts.
I also started going on the ‘artist date.’ Scandalous, I know! This is a date you have with your inner artist to fill the creative well and trigger inspiration. You must be alone on this date – and it’s not setting aside a few hours to write/paint/create by yourself. It’s inventing some other activity that isn’t directly related to your work.
For instance, one week I watched and reviewed Bitter Moon. The next week, I gutted and refurbished the woman cave – my artistic haven. It can be anything from going to a garage sale to making an exotic recipe you’ve never tried before. I think it’s all about training your brain waves off the usual tasks to allow the unconscious processes time to gel.
I plan to give this copy away when I’m done with my journey. I hope to pass the creative spark and the notes along to another artist. This book has changed the lives of people all across the world. Artists form groups and go through the journey together. I will at least share my experience with you and pay it forward.
So, join me in my journey if you’d like to cultivate your creativity, and hashtag your posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with #myartistdate so we can share in the creative cauldron!
May the artistic force be with you!
As a creative person and one who’s plagued by existential questions, I get trapped into that circle of thinking if what I’m doing matters. Will anyone read my writing? Will anyone care? Will I ever be able to make a living from it? Am I just wasting my time and energy torturing nice people with my substandard prose?
I work with writers and for writers (and this applies to all creative people), and I think we all have that dream of becoming famous (even if you say you don’t, you wouldn’t mind it, would you?). We all have that hope of changing the world with our work. We want to be praised and validated. We want to communicate on a deeper level. We want to be admired, at least just a little bit, and be able to say I told you so to all the haters. Most of all, we want to leave a legacy after our death.
But our dreams deflate each time we see the sheer numbers of other people who have the same exact dream as we do and are pursuing it more efficiently and more fervently. They write better, market better, sell better. We see other artists kicking ass out there, and we wonder how in the world they do it. Maybe we don’t have the resources, the time, or the energy. Maybe we don’t have the savvy or the persistence. Maybe we’re suffering from do-I-suck-a-phobia.
It’s easy to get caught up in the race to the bestsellers list, but let me wrap my arm around your shoulders and guide you into my existential realm here. Although contemplating our place in the ginormous, black Universe can make us feel insignificant and pointless at times, in the same way it frees us from our anguish. Look at it this way…
- You only have one life (as far as we know). If there is anything noble about it, it’s living in the pursuit of creating and appreciating beauty in all its forms. It’s one of the only redeeming qualities of our species.
- Your one life is very short. You could spend it watching TV. You could become a typical consumer, chasing promotion after promotion so you can raise your standard of living. Or you could live a life of passion and do whatever makes your soul sing.
- You have to be yourself. If there’s one thing I learned about being happy in this life, it’s being true to who you are. If you only behave and do what you think you’re supposed to do instead of what you really want to do, you will be a miserable person. Guaranteed.
- Your audience doesn’t matter all that much. Human beings are a very small, messy, and crude part of the universe. Having their mass approval is not necessarily anything special. There is much of existence beyond our little blue sphere that might marvel at your work if they ever got to experience it.
Creativity is a gift. In making something out of nothing, we can be the gods of our own little universes.
I hope you all found this comforting.
Happy Friday and Happy Creating!
Do you ever wonder if what you’re creating matters?
How do you think your work fits into the Universe?
What are you working on right now?
What are you writing for?
I’m now on Instagram! @christawojo
I live in the Chiriquí highlands, a land of eternal spring that bursts with flowers all year long. My yard is full of countless colors and species. There are pinks, yellow, blues, reds, purples, fiery oranges, and blazing whites. There are orchids, daffodils, roses, hibiscus, and many kinds of plants that I can’t identify.
I try to make sure I crawl out of my writing/working cave for a few minutes a day to appreciate the flowers. Not only is it soothing to get away from the glowing screens of my electronics, but I do it for the plant life too. I feel it’s a shame to ignore them as they strain upward to bloom as brightly as they can. I know that all too quickly they will wilt and die. Someone should be there to watch their performance.
On hikes through the cloud forest, I often notice a lone, exotic flower in the mist. It waits there in silence, sparkling with dew, and trembles in the breeze like it’s excited to see me. I think of how easily I might not have been in that spot at that moment to witness it in its pinnacle of existence. What a pity for those countless hidden beauties who go through the trouble of making a such a performance only to be missed!
But I realize that whether I was there or not, the flower would’ve opened in the darkness of the jungle anyway. It would have raised its petals to the moon and folded back into itself again, a marvel never to be seen.
I think of artists like flowers – painters, dancers, singers, and writers. We are designed to bloom and can’t help ourselves from doing so. It doesn’t matter if anyone is there to witness it or appreciate it. It doesn’t matter if it’s practical or not. It’s what we were made to do, and we must do it or we’ll be miserable.
We may get trampled on or devoured by insects. We may be clipped short and put in a vase to be put on a brief display for others and then shrivel before our time. We may be watered and nurtured so that we thrive and mature to our fullest potential, blooming season after season, becoming an attraction for bees and butterflies and hummingbirds.
On the other hand, we may never be noticed or acknowledged by a single soul. We might throw all our energies, passions, and resources into becoming the most spectacular blossom, only to crumple back into the ground without attracting the slightest notice.
The point is this. Don’t write to be seen. Write to become yourself.
No matter what, we must break from the soil, unfurl with determination, and reach for the sun. As flowers bloom, so we must write. We must write. We must write!
So go write!
What are your goals as a writer?
Would you still write if you knew no one would ever read it?
What are you working on right now?
Sculptor, Antoni Azarov
I love to nag people for interviews, and annoying as I may be, some very famous people occasionally indulge me.
This was the case with world renowned sculptor, Antoni Azarov. Even though the press dub him, and I quote, an “asshole,” I’ve discovered once you get used to his intensity, he’s kind of funny in his own dry way.
Let me first tell you, I admire Azarov’s work with the gushing of a sixteen-year-old at a boyband concert. This man’s hands can make clay into a sculpture so striking that you feel uncomfortable being in the same room with it; as if it were a vessel that held a ghost, one that might want to escape its ceramic shell to jump into your living skin.
Not to say Azarov’s a realist. His sculptures are minutely distorted, just slightly exaggerated–preventing them from being exact human replicas. But the distortion is what gives the sculptures souls, their naked bodies adorned by the invisible cloth of their psyches.
Azarov arrived on his Ducati, a big, black machine whose vibrating engine shook my porte cochere, flooding my house with its throbbing sound. He wore dark, indigo jeans and a black racing jacket. His dark hair was overgrown, past his jaw, and blew in tangles around his face after he removed his helmet.
So I have this invention…
This idea for a gizmo has been bouncing off the walls of my skull for over a year now. I thought that surely it was such an obvious idea that someone, somewhere must have come up with it already. I looked for it in stores, but I never found it.
I kept looking and waiting. I asked for it and got weird looks. I searched the internet. Surely, some company in the world would realize the gap and fill it.
Any day now…
I still didn’t see this gizmo. I wanted it and needed it and couldn’t find it anywhere.
Then it occurred to me…
Ding! Maybe I have to invent the damn thing!
I’m still studying Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham. As I said in my first article about the book, great writers are those who write stories that are relevant throughout time. They expose universal truths that apply to our lives no matter what century we live in. Of Human Bondage is full of such enduring revelations.
In the first part of the book, we witness the main character, Phillip, and his crisis of faith in God. At the next crossroad in the story, we see Phillip battling self-doubt when he pursues his wildest dream.
After being fed up with a dreary accounting job, Phillip goes to Paris to become a painter. He does well, but never creates anything extraordinary. After the suicide of a classmate, who for all her passion for art was a lousy painter, Phillip reevaluates his reasons for becoming an artist. He wonders what his future will look like if he continues to pursue his dream.
Phillip finally works up the nerve to end the subject once and for all by asking one of his painting masters to give an honest opinion of his work. The teacher is perplexed by his request.
Monsieur Foinet: “I don’t understand.”
Phillip: “I’m very poor. If I have no talent I would sooner do something else.”
Monsieur Foinet: “Don’t you know if you have talent?”
Phillip: “All my friends know they have talent, but I am aware some of them are mistaken.”
In this world of indie publishing, anyone and everyone is writing a book, but should they be? I might be a jerk for bringing this up, but I’ll say it.
I see a lot of crappy books out there.
There is no other way.
How powerful is your imagination?
As I said in a recent post, when I write I feel like I’m channeling a parallel universe. Sometimes I even feel like by imagining the story, I’ve created a new reality.
Whether one believes in string theory, bubble theory, or traditional religion–most humans sense invisible worlds that exist just beyond our perception.
Could these worlds spring into being just by us imagining them? Is our world one such dimension–a thought in another being’s head?
What do you think Picasso meant?