Tagged: Writers

Creative Habit: Write it! (Don’t Type It)

I may be a little partial to the art of writing for obvious reasons, but even if you’re not a writer, there are creative benefits to writing. If you really want to get your imaginative juices flowing, the key is to write it! Don’t type it.

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Photo by Angie Webb

With the evolution of the digital landscape, people have gotten away from turning to pen and paper to write. There are notes in our phones for list making and blog platforms to help us tell our stories. Those of you who know me recognize that I’m pretty old-school when it comes to writing – I have a physical planner as opposed to a digital one, I handwrite my to-do lists on post-its, and I have at least one journal on my person at all times. In fact, it took me a long time to move away from handwriting everything. I vividly remember when we transitioned from handwriting to typing papers in school. For a long time, I continued to handwrite my first drafts, then type them. I believe that ideas free flow more organically from the brain to the hand to the pencil and finally to the page and that writing with pen and paper is crucial to the creative process of writing.

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Photo by Angie Webb

There’s another less obvious difference between handwriting and typing: privacy. The digital landscape has made it almost too easy for us to share everything. With a couple clicks you can send a note in your phone via text or email, in seconds you can publish your writing on a blog, and much of our days are spent sharing status updates on social media. However, when you handwrite a note and place it in your planner, no one will see it unless you physically pass it along. If you write in a journal, no one will read your entries unless you want them to. So, why is this important to the creative process? Judgement is the enemy of creativity. Most artists and creatives would be called crazy if they shared every idea that came to their minds. The creative process is filled with outlandish and seemingly illogical notions, but when executed properly, they’re brilliant. If you allow judgement to interfere, you’ll never reach the point of carrying out the concept.

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Photo by Angie Webb

For the month of December, turn to a pen and paper not the computer. Set the scene, buy yourself a cool new notebook, light a candle, steep a cup of tea, and enjoy a private moment with your thoughts without judgement. It’s that time of year when you may be thinking about ideas, goals, and plans for the New Year. There’s no better way to spark your creativity than setting aside some time to write with pen and paper.

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Photo by Angie Webb

If you’re just joining the creative habit series, be sure to look back at the challenges for the past three months for more creative inspiration and learn about the book that sparked the series, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. Finally, don’t forget to share your experience making a habit of handwriting using the hashtag #AOCBlogCreativeHabit.

Creative Habit: Color (A Verb)

When I went to college, my mom gave me an adult coloring book and a box crayons. At first, I chalked this up to a final attempt to salvage my childhood as I was heading out of the house and toward young adulthood. I tucked the book and crayons on a shelf between textbooks and framed photos and didn’t give them much thought. When people came to my room, they would notice the big yellow Crayola box, then look beside it. And they started to ask if they could color.

I ended up toting around that coloring book and box of crayons for the next four years of college. Pages got ripped out when people wanted to keep their work and others enjoyed making a contribution to the book. When I couldn’t pour any more words into my journal or my creative writing classes, I would turn to the coloring book. It evolved into this amazing tool and creative outlet for me and my friends whether we needed a mindless escape or to express ourselves.

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I still have this book today, and surprisingly there are still a few blank pages left to be explored. Now, it mostly serves as a colorful walk down memory lane. But most importantly, my mom’s simple gift taught me the power of color (a verb).

So, for November’s creative habit, I challenge you to channel your inner child and color. If you want some guidance, purchase a coloring book (here’s the one I have), or simply get some crayons, markers, colored pens or pencils, highlighters, sharpies, pastels, and some plan paper. Just start coloring! It’s not just for kids anymore.

If you’re just joining the creative habit series, be sure to look back at the challenges for the past two months for more creative inspiration and learn about the book that sparked the series, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. Finally, don’t forget to share your experience making a habit of coloring using the hashtag #AOCBlogCreativeHabit.

Creative Habit: Work with Your Hands

Last month I kicked off a new series called the Creative Habit, inspired by Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit (which I highly recommend reading). For September’s Creative Habit challenge, I encouraged you to embrace the last few weeks of summer weather and go outside every day. However, I really urged you to take it a step further, be present in the outdoors, appreciate your natural surroundings, and remove the extraneous technology, noise, and distractions to better connect with your environment.

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Now that fall is in full swing, we’re slowly but surely beginning to spend more time inside. Sometimes these cooler months and increased confinement indoors can really stifle our creativity. We may start to feel more lethargic and less inspired to be creative. That’s why it’s more important than ever to develop and maintain a creative routine!

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As we get older and as technology advances, we begin to work with our hands less and less. Instead of writing with pen and paper, we type on a keyboard or tap on a touchscreen. Instead of making cookies from scratch we buy dough at the store or order a batch on Seamless. When was the last time you gardened or painted or did any type of work with your hands?

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I recently had an experience that reminded me of the value in working with your hands and experiencing the sensation of touch. I attended a Salsa/Burlesque class, and the instructor encouraged us to touch and feel the movement of our bodies as we danced and use our hands as an extension of movement through our arms. It was here I remembered how the hands can be used as a mode to express and communicate. I realized what a powerful tool we have available to us.

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During the month of October, make a creative habit of working with your hands. Find a fun DIY project or pottery class and build something. Pick up an instrument or take a sign language class. Get festive and carve a pumpkin or craft a handmade Halloween costume. The opportunities are endless! How are you going to take on this month’s Creative Habit challenge? Please share your experience making a habit of working with your hands using the hashtag #AOCBlogCreativeHabit

Creative Habit: (Don’t Just) Go Outside

Today I’m kicking off a monthly series, the Creative Habit, inspired by Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit (which I highly recommend reading). The focus of the book and this new monthly series is best summarized in a passage from Tharp’s practical guide:

“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt    of inspiration, maybe more. And this routine is available to everyone. Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for new ways to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way… Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. That’s it in a nutshell.”

Since leaving college and the cushion of being surrounded by countless peers, professors, and mentors all of whom were writers or dancers or artists, I’ve struggled to maintain my creative self. In my experience, the older you get, the more you lose that youthful abandonment and in turn, begin to lose your creativity. In addition to outside forces impacting our creative selves, we’re at greater risk of inhibiting our own creativity as adults. We allow the left brain to kick in with logic, analysis, and judgement, and we become quick to extinguish or abandon our natural creative impulses. Slowly but surely, over the past five years, I’ve fought to maintain my creative self. It’s challenging, and that’s why I believe in forming a creative habit.

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For this Creative Habit series, I’ll present you with a creative assignment toward the end of each month. Then, for the thirty days that follow, I challenge you to incorporate the creative habit into your routine. The tasks will start out very basic so that you can discover what creative habit works best for your lifestyle and your creative self. September’s challenge is to simply embrace the last several weeks of summer weather and go outside every day. I don’t just mean walk from your car to your office or step in the backyard to let out your dog – really go outside! When was the last time you sprawled out in the grass and gazed at the sky? Do you ever go on a walk or run without your headphones and let your surroundings speak to you?

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So many of us are confined indoors for 80-90% of the day. As a freelance writer who typically works from a home office, there have been periods where I didn’t leave my apartment for three to four days at a time! This is an extremely unhealthy work practice, and I can definitely say my creativity was at an all-time low during these stints. Now, living in New York City without a car, I’m forced to spend time outside almost anytime I need to go somewhere, but that doesn’t always mean I’m engaged with my surroundings. Most people who are going from Point A to Point B on the streets of NYC are in their own worlds – talking on the phone, listening to their headphones, or even reading a book or newspaper. Remove the extraneous technology, noise, and distractions! Don’t just go outside, be present in the outdoors and appreciate your natural surroundings.

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Over the next month please share your experience making a habit of going outside with the hashtag #AOCBlogCreativeHabit

Pitching for the Digital Space Recap

I didn’t attend Columbia, but when I stepped out of the cab and onto the campus, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Nothing compares to the energy of a buzzing college campus.

I walked into the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and took a seat next to my friend Alyssa. My youthful feelings faded as I quickly realized we were two of the only non-students at the lecture. At the front of the room sat a long, lanky lady with fitted jeans, a black tee, brown lace-up ankle boots, hair in an effortlessly coiffed topknot, and bright red lips: Ann Friedman.

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Photographed by Jason Travis c/o Ann Friedman

You may think you don’t know Ann Friedman, when in fact, you probably know Ann Friedman. She writes regularly for New York magazine and the Columbia Journalism Review in addition to contributing to publications like The New Yorker, Elle, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Guardian, and countless others. Still not sure if you’re familiar with Ann Friedman’s work? Then maybe you know her by her famous pie charts regularly featured on The Hairpin.

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Ann Friedman is a full-time freelance writer. No, she’s not secretly unemployed. No, she does not live a life of non-office-regulated luxury. No, she’s not flaky or a weird loner or any of the other all too common freelance stereotypes. If you’re wondering exactly what a freelance writer is, look to Ann Friedman. She’s a pretty successful one.

Without further ado, here are three takeaways from Ann’s lecture on Pitching for the Digital Space:

  1. Kissing Sideways: Don’t kiss up. You should always be kissing down and sideways, to the people who are going to be working alongside you and coming up behind you. Create a strong support group of colleagues rather than seeking out one powerful person to shape your career.
  1. Writing Something You’re Excited About: It’s a privilege to write something you’re excited about. It took Ann ten years to reach this point in her career. Working with difficult clients, being published in less-prominent publications, writing on subject matter that is of little or no interest to you, getting paid abysmally or *gasp* not at all are all part of the process. Do something on the side (might I suggest a blog?) that represents the work you want to do.
  1. Breaking the Story: In today’s digital writing world, it’s no longer about breaking the story and being the first person to write on a particular subject matter. It’s about writing on a topic in a new way, with a distinct voice, or for a particular audience that makes a great story.

The backbone of each of these three takeaways is that freelance writing is a marathon, not a sprint. The right person, a particular publication, or a single story will not “make you.” Relentless perseverance, unfading passion, and above all, time are the keys to a successful freelance writing career and ultimately making a name for yourself as a writer.