Secondhand Inspiration

6 Literary Road Trips Across America You Can Actually Take

There are few things more quintessentially American than a road trip. The sheer size of the country, an abundance of connected highways, diverse regions and incredible landscapes of our national parks make a cross-country road trip the ultimate bucket-list experience. Discovery is ingrained in our culture. Recognizing that many Americans are descendants of immigrants who left their home countries, John Steinbeck wrote, “Every American hungers to move.”

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Naturally, it makes sense that so many of us yearn for the open road. One might even say it’s symbolic: the vehicle being the visual representation of freedom, a drivers license the ticket and the route the destination. Road trips go far deeper than simply a travel experience, which is why literary lions like Tom Wolfe, Jack Kerouac, and John Steinbeck documented their adventures by car in the form of novels. 

Inspired by some of the most popular travels in American literature. CarRentals created this guide to literary road trips. Only, instead of living these adventures through the pages of a book, they re-created the author’s routes to give us a list of road trips you can actually take.

https://www.carrentals.com/blog/your-guide-to-literary-road-trips-across-america-infographic/

 

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, which presents a great opportunity to infuse your poetry writing and reading activities with new energy. In case any of you might be wanting to do that, I present the following sources for poetic inspiration:

National Poetry Month Homepage: https://www.poets.org/national-poetry-month/home

2018 Poetic Asides PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge: http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2018-april-pad-challenge-guidelines

30 Days, 30 Poems Challenge: https://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2018/03/17/30-days-30-poems-challenge-national-poetry-month/

10 New Poetry Collections to Read During National Poetry Month: https://lithub.com/10-new-poetry-collections-to-read-during-national-poetry-month/

NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month): http://www.napowrimo.net/

30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month: https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/issues_in_depth/30PoetryIdeas.html

Poetry Super Highway Prompt-A-Day for National Poetry Month: http://poetrysuperhighway.com/psh/ (check the tab for "special projects" and then "a poetry writing prompt a day" to locate the prompts and other info)

Good luck and positive vibes as you celebrate National Poetry Month!

What makes a great writer?

To me, great writers need to be efficient and committed. They force themselves to be productive under time constraints despite the distractions of daily life.

Great writers do good research. Writers often include fictitious details in the tales they create, but they do enough research to make their work believable. They gather enough knowledge to sketch an authentic picture in readers’ minds.

Great writers possess amazing imaginations, They can do exercises to bolster their imaginative prowess, but having the preexisting talent to imagine & invent is a huge benefit.

Finally, great writers have confidence. Putting your creative vision out there for others to criticize can be scary. But writers must be brave and willing to take risks in order for their work be distinctive enough to make a mark.

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Quirks.

Let’s be real - writers are an interesting breed. Creatives are often a little weird. And most of us revel in our own personal version of eccentricity…whatever that may be. I encourage you to accept the quirky preferences you have when you write. Relish them, embrace them, nurture them. Just make sure you keep writing!

Jack Milgram developed an entertaining infographic about 20 famous writers and their most bizarre habits. I think you’ll find it interesting. You can check it out and other infographics by Jack at Custom Writing.

Everyone has something “different” they do when they create. Or maybe it’s something they don’t do. Some oddity that defines their process and influences their art. So…what are your quirky writing habits?

https://custom-writing.org/#famous-writers

Motivation & Writing

My motivation comes from acknowledging my writing has value, making a commitment to write, and making sure I find time to do it. This has culminated in me building good habits that help me write consistently, whether I feel a surge of inspiration or not.

It’s easy to blab about writing you’re going to do someday. I’m guilty of talking about a novel I claim I want to write, but doesn’t exist even in outline form. But if you’re always yapping about writing and never actually doing it, then your goals will never get accomplished. You must sit down and write consistently to build a habit.

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Some experts say you need to write daily. That’s a good idea and one that makes it harder to forget to write, but it isn’t easy. Other habits can also work. Choose to write every other day, on a half day on a weekend, for thirty minutes of weekday nights after everyone else is in bed, or as part of a lunch break at work.

It’s not about following someone else’s concept of when and how much you should write. It’s more about building a routine that works for you and keeps you writing consistently. Once you build this habit, writing gets easier, and you’ll fall into a productive mode more quickly and easily – which is a beautiful thing.

At times motivation arrives with fanfare and magical forces guide my pen or keystrokes. But those times are fleeting and rare. If I waited around for that blessed inspiration, I’d never produce new material or content. My advice is to develop an ongoing habit as a substitute for an emotional flurry, then take advantage of your uber-motivated moments when they do happen. Developing a consistent routine is a practical form of motivation that pays dividends.

What is the most important step in writing?

To me, the most important step is finding your own original voice.

I went for years following the guidance of teachers, blatantly mimicking the cadence of writers I admired, trying to be the next [insert name of cool author or poet]. And don’t get me wrong - studying the work of others and incorporating parts of their style into yours is good for growth. But it cannot replace the spark that happens when you find your own voice as a writer.

Voice in writing blends several factors: word choice, formality, sentence length, the proportion of dialogue versus description. It involves every aspect of writing. These choices all mix together to create both pizazz and substance.

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So developing a writer’s voice - in general and for individual characters - can be a struggle. One thing that helps is reading as much as you can from varied authors. Check out a variety of strong voices - like sampling a bunch of ice cream flavors from a tiny spoon. Identify voices you like, try to reverse engineer their essence, and then sprinkle in your own peculiarities.

Once you have fine-tuned your own voice, you are no longer pretending. You will be confident, free, and authentic. To find your voice, you must shed any fears being different. You want to be different, to be more than another creative writing clone. The literary world needs originals. Originals who dare to produce value. Originals who bring out our better nature. Originals who connect us with something larger than ourselves through the conduit of their wordplay.

Some folks find their voice right away. For others, it takes years of hammering away at their craft. But once you discover your creative voice, you will have taken a huge step towards becoming the writer you’ve always wanted to be.

Need a Spark? Try Using Prompts!

Searching for inspiration? Take a look at these fresh writing prompts posted over at the Submittable blog. These prompts could provide you with a great starting point to spark your creative endeavors, and towards the end of the post, they provide a useful link to other prompts they’ve provided in the past. Check them out, find one that grabs your attention, and get to writing!

https://blog.submittable.com/2018/02/write-right-now-and-savor-it/

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Creativity in 100 Words.

Nowadays creativity has become a grab-bag term, like diversity and hope, that can mean so many things that it runs the risk of meaning nothing at all. To me, creativity is the genesis of original concepts or innovations that relies primarily on our imagination. It’s our subconscious forming a representation of what’s not obvious to the traditional senses. I don’t think creativity starts with a eureka moment; I don’t believe ideas are spontaneously generated inside an intellectual vacuum. We mentally wander down a long and winding road while interacting with the world in order to produce a groundbreaking new idea.

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Is Writer’s Block a Warning Sign?

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I sometimes discover having writer’s block is a caveat that I need to fix some other aspect of my life.

Writer’s block is horrible and unproductive. We all hate it and bitch about it. But part of it could just be that your mind or spirit is in a really bad place at a certain point in life. If you’re in a shitty mental state because of money problems or relationship issues or day-job drama, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into writing or creative endeavors. You have to fix bigger things than your writing and then go back into it with the passion it deserves.

Talking My Way Out of Writers’ Block.

I try to not rely on writer’s block as an excuse. My writing voice is virtually the same as my public speaking voice, and through my consultant work, I do some form of public speaking daily.

So I look at it like this - I’m rarely at a loss for words. I never get speaker’s block. I don’t wake up, discover I have nothing to talk about and sit around silently, for days or weeks or months, until inspiration arrives, until a moment feels perfect, until all the crap life throws at me has somehow died down. Nope, I keep on talking, and I probably talk too much for my own good.

So if I have to, I use my speaking voice to pull me out of writer’s block. I give myself random speaking prompts - much like Table Topics in Toastmasters - and challenge myself to speak for 1 to 2 minutes on a subject. That often sparks an idea verbally that can translate to writing something new. Yeah, I probably look silly talking to myself in a room all alone, but I don’t care. If it gets me writing again, it’s well worth the cost of seeming a little bit crazy.

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So How Can You Improve Your Creativity?

Listen to your inner voice. Grab your markers and create.

Maybe it's silly, but I believe that everyone is born creative. We all get handed a box of markers in pre-school or kindergarten. But then we mature and the world snatches away our markers and replaces them with textbooks, bills, and responsibilities. Ugh. Years later we recall how fun creativity is. It's that little kid inside...and we want our damn markers back.

But we doubt ourselves because that's what adults do. We overthink everything. Can I really write a screenplay? But I don't know anything about sculpting? My recipe for cookies can't be good enough to sell, can it?

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But asking whether you can do something or if there is a pot of gold at the end of the creative rainbow isn't that kid voice begging for markers. That's your adult voice who wants to tediously analyze the situation and find a way to get your inner child to shut the hell up.

The kid inside is not trying to hard sell you on the merits of creativity or trying to calculate the benefit/cost ratio of following your passion. He or she just wants to make something. Something freaking awesome that will amaze anyone who sees it. That voice doesn't care if an idea fails, or if it doesn't fit the needs of some hypothetical market. It wants you to make something honest and real, and it believes you'll succeed if you try. It knows there's something you haven't sketched, or sang, or stitched that needs to be spawned, some match that needs to be struck into a new flame, and that fire needs to burn. Now.

So improve your creativity by listening to that little kid talking inside of you...before he or she loses their voice. That voice will die if you don't listen, and it will take a piece of your soul with it when it does. Reach for your markers. Make something new. Don't second guess the impulse or doubt the merits of trying. Allow yourself a chance to be creative. They're just markers. You weren't scared of them as a kid...so don't fear them now.

What’s Your Biggest Writing Challenge?

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Mine is unclear thinking. Clarity clears a straight path between A and Z. The story, poem, or essay feels consistent and clear. When it seems like one train of thought, and not a mash-up of parts done at different times and moods, a finished work feels cohesive. Some obtain cohesion via many rounds of editing.

Unclear thinking makes messes. Unclear thinking yields awkward, ineffective, meandering trails of ideas that abandon readers in the woods, lost and confused, or in the desert, thirsty and begging for water. These messes are hard to tidy up and are sometimes unfixable.

I need help and hacks to achieve clarity of thought. Sometimes I make mental maps, outlines, index cards, cover walls with post-it notes, or keep journals for specific writing projects with pages of character, setting, and plot developments.

But whatever you do, however you do it, I believe that structure needs to be there to avoid the scourge of unclear thinking in your writing.

So what’s your biggest writing challenge? How do you overcome that obstacle?

Fight Procrastination by "Chunking" Down Goals

The start of the new year is the season of big goals. And with these lofty expectations undoubtedly comes chances for procrastination to occur – especially with writing. “Chunking” down goals is a strategy I’ve used to dead procrastination in my creative life, especially with larger writing projects like manuscripts.

Achievers sometimes bite off more than they can chew. Procrastination is when you look at what's sitting on your plate and think: No way! It's too just big. I can't finish it.

I said plate figuratively, but let’s think about goals as if they are meals. Whenever you have too much to swallow, do what you’d do if you had ordered a large meal at a restaurant. Cut it up. Chop it into smaller portions. Eat it one small appetizing bite at a time, one manageable portion at a time. If needed, take some home to finish later - you don’t have to down the whole meal in one sitting, despite the peer pressure from others. But break that meal down to pieces you can handle.

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Like that meal, take intimidating goals and slice them into smaller chunks. If you look at those portions and they still seem overwhelming, cut them into even smaller chunks. Keep going until you get to a bite-sized morsel where you think, "yes, I can finish that." Then just eat it one chunk at a time. And keep going until you've finished the whole thing.

When you have a project that seems too big and you’re tempted to procrastinate, break it down. Then attack it one bite at a time. Savor each piece and appreciate that portion of the larger meal (goal). Swallow and progress on to the next chunk.

The Extra Mile

My dad used to repeat a hackneyed saying - I’m likely paraphrasing, but it was “it’s never crowded along the extra mile.” And though it’s trite, it’s true. You’ll rarely need to fight through a herd of people who are all willing to go above the minimum of what’s required.

For those pursuing success and personal improvement, the road might be long, but it won’t be crowded. Along the way, you’ll confront the silence of being alone on a lengthy journey. That silence is deafening. It’s so obnoxious and omnipresent that you’ll begin doubting the path you’re taking is the correct one.

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But don’t succumb to that doubt. Sure, double-check your roadmap or GPS to confirm you’re headed in the right direction. But don’t dupe yourself into believing that traveling along an unfamiliar path by yourself is wrong. You’re a trailblazer, creating new routes that others will follow in the future.

Also, realize you’re not alone. There are others going the extra mile. You just don’t always see them because they’re traveling it in a different field, career path, or sport than you are focused on. Yes, there aren’t a plethora of extra mile walkers, but we are here - trudging forward through challenges, sprinting towards a goal whenever conditions are ideal.

I’m traversing that extra mile in several areas in 2018 – creative writing, consulting career, personal fitness, and hobbies/side hustles. I will find out a lot about myself, both positive and negative, and will make improvements and adjustments in my life while doing this. I’m not completely sure it will all work out, but I’m willing to cast aside doubt and ambiguity to try. If you’re still reading my rant, then you’re probably contemplating doing the same. Just do it. Don’t procrastinate. Walk the extra mile in 2018.

In Defense of Laziness

Last week I didn’t do as much for my overall writing practice as I had planned. Not nearly enough freewriting, zero blog posts, just a bit of editing, and I only sent out a handful of submissions to journals. With all the pre-holiday hubbub, I wasn’t feeling a creative spark, so I decided not force it.

Society has sold us this concept that people should always be busy, and that when we’re not busy we should keep ourselves busy preparing for when we will be. We’re told inaction is inherently bad. We’re challenged to prove our worth, and worth is measured by how much we accomplish.

Overachieving employees and students are sleep-deprived workaholics (me included). We feel guilty when we say “no” to social outings & party invitations. We apologize when we can’t take phone calls or make meetings. We act like it’s bad if we sleep in or stay at home - unless we’re organizing or cleaning.

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Bullshit. Laziness is okay at times. Often the problem isn’t that we don’t do enough. It’s that we do too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the right stuff.

Laziness is okay…in moderation, like everything in life. Inactivity can be our default mode. This is where we can remain, contemplating and resting, preparing our minds and energy until the right action becomes obvious. But be mindful of when the next move becomes apparent; cease being lazy and take that action so you don’t miss opportunities.

Just this morning I’ve already pre-written a few blog posts, edited a story I’ve been working on, did some freewriting, and sent out a submission. I am convinced this is because I took a little time to rest and “be lazy” in moderation. My mind has responded in kind, and now I’m poised to seize the opportunities in front of me.

It’s something to think about – maybe your next move shouldn’t be to force things just to keep up the appearance of staying busy. Perhaps you need a little time to be lazy to recover and get yourself back on track.

My Writing Game Plan: Pessimistic Optimism

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to meet many writers, in person and online. Some have been successful following different paths. One thing they all have in common is they are all pessimists. The other thing they all have in common is they are all optimists.

I understand this might be confusing. How can two incongruent viewpoints exist in the same individual simultaneously? But the equation makes complete sense when you consider time as a variable: they have made themselves short-term pessimists and long-term optimists.

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What I mean is this: they expect each and every discrete project they take to fail because the reality is, most things never get completed or published. They are acknowledging reality, and have zero emotional response when a fiction plot gloriously fizzles to nothing, a poem concept just doesn’t work out, or their personal essay fails to ever get published.

Yet they are long-term optimists because they know if they work on enough writing projects, several of them will succeed, making up for all the ones that failed. And yes, that is also reality.

The eternal optimist who thinks everything they write will “work out” is soon ground down by reality. Their beliefs don’t match up with the results, they start to question themselves, and constant disappointment hinders their ability to shake it off and move onto the next project. They become snakebit, and eventually bitter – which is never a positive trait for a creative.

The constant pessimist never takes any action on their writing endeavors because they automatically expect everything they do to fail. And because they never really act, they do fail. They stay loitering on the sidelines moping, never actually getting in the game.

In writing, mindset is very important. But it must be a reality-based mindset, with hard-nosed expectations, not pie in the sky fantasies or pouty tantrums. The more you do, the more you fail, yet paradoxically the more you succeed.

The pessimistic optimist is armored against constant failure and rejection, and it bothers them not.  But they also expect success to occasionally interrupt failure, which is why they write and compete in the first place.  Become the pessimistic optimist writer, and you will evolve into a winner in a literary world full of losers who love losing.

Develop Your New Reading List!

It’s getting toward the end of 2017. December is an awesome time for readers – it’s late enough in the year that all of the “best books of the year” lists start to roll in. I use this time to scan through those lists for books I might find interesting. Then I compile a catalog of books to read in the next year.

Hands down the best list is from Largehearted Boy (David Gutowski). Annually he aggregates all the online year-end book lists and places them in a single post on his blog. As new lists appear, he adds them to this master list, updating it daily.

Add a little energy to your upcoming New Year’s Resolution to read more – survey these lists and develop your own personal list of new books to check out in 2018.

http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2017/11/online_best_of_75.html

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How To Be Creative.

So you want to be more creative in art, writing, work, or whatever. Here are some tips that have worked for me over the years.

  1. Ignore others. The more original your ideas, the less good advice other folks will be able to provide. Plus, people tend to naysay and undermine new ideas, whether out of jealousy or fear. If you truly have a new idea, it’s often best to cultivate it internally before getting the opinions of others.

  2. Your idea doesn’t have to be huge – it just has to invoke a change in the world. The two are not necessarily the same, even though we often assume they are.

  3. Put in the hours and effort. Doing anything worthwhile takes an extra push. What separates the success stories from failed people is time, effort, and stamina.

  4. Everyone is born creative. We all doodled with crayons in kindergarten. We imagined impossible things and were happy doing so. In high school, society stole our markers and construction paper and replaced it with algebra and textbooks….and then our workplaces replaced them with mundane memos and company policies. Blah. Deciding that you want to be creative is just you taking back your crayons – the crayons you should have been able to keep all along.

  5. Don’t stand out from the crowd. Avoid the crowd altogether. Your plan to showcase your creativity needs to be as creative as your work itself. Don’t blindly follow the same methods others follow just because it’s “what you’re supposed to do.” Find your own path, even if it I winding.

  6. If you accept rejection, it cannot hurt you. You will hear “no” often. If you hear it enough, you’ll become numb to it. You might hear no because people don’t understand your ideas, or what you are doing is so different that they think it must fail. Accept rejection as collateral damage. Their rebuffs won’t sting for long if you are certain you’re destined for greater things.

  7. The world is changing. Your creative vision needs to change as well.

  8. Sing in your own voice. People can recognize a knockoff a mile away. Once you’ve been pigeonholed as a bootleg version of someone else, you’ll never crawl out from under that label.

  9. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It will arrive, eventually. You’re better off not pushing the deal. If you really want to write but it’s not coming easy, go read for a while. If you really want to draw but have no ideas, scroll through some artistic photos. Your body requires food to have enough energy to workout. Similarly, reading or studying the creative work of others can fuel your own creativity.

  10. Always create from the heart.

These creative tenets seem to work for me. Maybe one or two of these ideas will ring true for you. Safe travels as you embark on your creative journey!

100 Books a Year? You Can Do It!

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I was proud that I’ve read 25 books so far this year. That was until I read Srinivas Rao’s article “How to Read 100 Books a Year.” Now I feel like an underachiever.

But seriously, this article does contain some solid strategies on how to hit the lofty goal of devouring 100 books in a year…and consequently reap the benefits of becoming a more interested, cultured person. For me, reading the work of others is key to me making strides in my own writing practice, so I will be employing these suggestions to step my reading game up in the future.

https://www.thriveglobal.com/stories/12283-how-to-read-100-books-in-a-year