How to be Creative

I am an artist you know … it is my right to be odd.” (E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly)
As writers, we, like to think of ourselves as creative beings. But what does it mean?  Basically, it means we make things up. Creating=making.  Of course, being creative is part of the DNA of all human beings, so we’re not special. Children make worlds out of plastic blocks or sand. Writers make worlds out of words. As writers, we’re a curious lot.  We ask, We’re also ambitious. We want to create stories that resonate with readers. Being curious and ambitious are good traits…although sometimes dangerous. We all know what happened to the cat! And ambition can cause disappointment.what if?

RAMillu / Pixabay

Which brings me to another side of creativity. Being creative, living outside the box, has its costs.  It can affect our financial stability, our relationships and our health.  More likely than not, we can’t count on a steady income from our word play…our stories. Instead, we need a day-job, or a supportive family…and they have to be prepared for the precarious nature of our literary ambition.

As creative-types we’re often insecure and anxious. It’s the nature of the beast. We’re also easily distracted—sensitive to stuff all around us—except to the ticking of the clock. Like children, creative types lose all concept of time when immersed in a project. It’s a good thing someone invented deadlines. They help keep us on track.

Our biggest enemy is fear. That fear comes from inside us…not from any outer enemy. We’re afraid of being judged—of being criticized as not good enough. This usually happens when we compare. So stop comparing yourself and your art to the others. Have fun.


Here are more than 2 dozen ways to be more creative. Surely you have your own favourites. Care to share?

  1. Change your position, your view, your perspective. (write with crayons, wear mittens, sit cross-legged on floors, write in a treehouse, wear rose-colored glasses).
    JordanStimpson / Pixabay
  2. Slow down – smell the roses, or the melting snow. (aka: mindfulness)
  3. Brainstorm. Let yourself come up with forty-three solutions to a problem. (No editing out the silly ones!)
  4. Imitate. Find what you admire and copy it. (This is not cheating, it’s learning!)
  5. Surround yourself with the colour blue—according to a U of BC study. (Not sure if teal counts.)
  6. Play a musical instrument and strum for ideas (Einstein played the violin).
  7. Use mind-altering drugs (Supposedly Steve Jobs tried LSD, but coffee or wine work too).
  8. Make mistakes (yes, even the ‘greats’ created less than perfect art).
  9. Play (in a sandbox, with playdough, in a stage-play, or make snow angels, etc.)
  10. Avoid negative thinking (your cup is half full).
  11. Spend time alone (solitude is not loneliness).
  12. Spend time with others (connect, laugh, share).
  13. Steal and borrow (read and watch).
  14. Fake it ‘til you make it (aka, play pretend).
  15. Do what YOU want (forget the rules).
  16. Be physical (ride a bike, go for a walk).
  17. Sing – in the car, on your hike, in the shower.
  18. Share – making someone happy with your art empowers you as the artist.
  19. Spend time in nature – all year long.
  20. Write ideas down when they hit you (don’t wait).
  21. Take naps (with your notebook!)
  22. Live in a rainy climate.
  23. Live in a cold climate.
  24. Drink tea (in a fancy cup).
  25. Curl up in front of a fireplace—with a pen and paper.
  26. Travel—keeps you vulnerable, open and childlike.

More suggestions?

Elizabeth Gilbert said this about creativity: “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”

Gabe writes the books she wished she could have read while growing up as an awkward immigrant in Winnipeg. Her Katya stories are set in pre-war Soviet Union and East Prussia.

Soccer Lessons for Writers

Years of being a soccer mom have enriched my life. Here’s some of what I’ve learned. To be a good soccer player you must practice, practice, practice. Same thing applies to being a good writer. But a good soccer player does more than just kick a ball into a net. That soccer player must also be agile, flexible, possess stamina, be willing to learn and develop team skills. These requirements also apply to a good writer. Let me explain.

Agility. You’re nimble and able to change direction as needed whether on a soccer field or shifting words around on a page. This skill involves quick thinking and shows that you have good control of the ball or the words.

Flexibility. In soccer, good players can switch positions when needed. They can play defense, even if they’ve trained as forward strikers. In writing, when you have a solid grasp of your material, you can re-shape it depending on your potential market. You’re versatile.

Stamina. This involves discipline. An athlete builds endurance through training. Athletes can’t perform if they haven’t practiced. As writers we train by putting in regular sessions at the keyboard or the notebook. We know that even writing that doesn’t get published is never wasted because it strengthens our writing muscles.

Coaching: A soccer player needs an outside assessment. Sometimes criticism hurts, but a good player uses that criticism to improve. As writers we need to step away from our game—our writing—and get another’s point of view.  A coach is like an editor. He or she knows our strengths, but also our weaknesses. We must work with our editors because like a good coach, they’re on our side.

Team skills. Soccer players need to communicate. While only one person can score that needed goal, it can take several passes to get there. Writers need to know where to pass their manuscript. They need be aware of what’s happening in the writing field where they play. Incomplete passes don’t mean the game is lost. When you regain possession of the ball or of your project, you find someone else to pass it to.

Goals. In soccer the goal is to shoot the ball into the net. For the writer, that ball is a manuscript and the net is a reader. Soccer, like writing, is a beautiful game, so enjoy the process. Of course you want to win, but when you don’t—just remember to still have fun.

Here’s some wisdom from Pele (one of the greatest soccer players of all time):
                                              Success is no accident.
                                 It is hard work, perseverance, learning,
                                     studying, sacrifice and most of all,

                               love of what you are doing or learning to do.

Peggy_Marco / Pixabay

Peggy_Marco / Pixabay

Gabe writes the books she wished she could have read while growing up as an awkward immigrant in Winnipeg. Her Katya stories are set in pre-war Soviet Union and East Prussia.

Colour—it’s all in how we write it

YeriLee / Pixabay
We discussed colour at our last in-person meeting—our bi-monthly opportunity to connect, critique and share. More specifically, we talked about using colour to edit—to highlight dialogue, description, themes, etc. (It’s an idea we first read in an article by Danyelle Leafty) It sounds like a useful and fun way to discover patterns in our work. Who doesn’t love an excuse to use a highlighter?


I’ve been mulling over the concept of colour ever since last Thursday. Here are ten colourful facts.

1. Blue is the favorite colour amongst adults.
2. Red is, overall, a child’s favorite color. (But it’s been noted that most children’s favorite colours are in a constant state of flux.)
3. Colours match with a range of emotions that are mostly consistent in adults
(for example, black equals anger, yellow equals happy).
4. Colours represent inconsistent emotions in young children.
5. Our taste in colours can be manipulated by society. (Trendy colour right now is greige. Young children love pink—even the boys—until they learn it’s a girl colour.)
6. Colour choice needs to be seen in context. (Just because I prefer red apples to green ones doesn’t necessarily mean I like red better.)
7. Colour needs to be specific to be powerful. Why else are there fifty shades of…blue, or purple or yellow at the local paint store? People spend a lot of time determining the exact shade of a colour.
8. Colour works on a symbolic level. I use red in my book, Red Stone, as a metaphor for communism and for death.
9. Colour becomes invisible when used to draw stereotypes. How about a more laid back red headed child to stir up the plot?
10. Colour is ubiquitous. Let’s put more of it into our books—unless we prefer greige characters inhabiting a greige world.

AJEL / Pixabay

Here’s a question to writers: When you choose a dab of colour at the paint store, how much are you influenced by its name? Here’s another one: When we describe a sunset, how do we colour our scene? Will it be puke pink, mellow melon, or passion peach?

Colour—it’s all in how we write it.

Gabe writes the books she wished she could have read while growing up as an awkward immigrant in Winnipeg. Her Katya stories are set in pre-war Soviet Union and East Prussia.

The Power of Writing Groups

(First presented as part of In Good Company (a writing workshop) at the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, this past September.)

Create your own Writing Group
Why do we need a physical writing group when the internet has so many opportunities for networking? Read on and find out!

Tolkien belonged to “The Inklings.”  Virginia Woolf to “The Bloomsbury Group.” Dorothy Parker to “The Algonquin Round Table.” Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein to the “Shakespeare and Company Writers.” And I’m thrilled to belong to the Winnipeg-based, Anita Factor.

Our group sparked to life almost six years ago during a series of workshops by the dynamic Anita Daher (writer, editor, teacher, and now actress). Attendees connected not only with Anita and her lessons on craft, but also with each other. Friendship underlies our passion to succeed as writers of children’s and YA books. This group experience has become a defining part of my own identity and growth as a writer.

Here are the basics of our Anita Factor Group.

Time and place: We meet every two weeks at a local bookstore (which we’ve pre-arranged). We take turns facilitating the approximately two hour meeting. Other possible venues? Library, cafes, homes. We use homes only for special occasions, like Christmas parties , etc. We don’t want to encourage baking and coffee-making. We’re writers, not Martha Stewarts. During the years we’ve been “in session” we might have only cancelled two or three times.

Membership: There are currently eight active members. (One is in merry England for a couple of years. And we miss her vivacious participation.) We find this number to be at or near its limit. Larger might become awkward. Be warned: as you develop your group and become successful, there’ll be plenty of people wanting to join. Encourage them to form their own groups.

Format: We take turns ‘leading’ our session. The leader is also the time-keeper. We begin each meeting checking to see who has readings. Then the facilitator can keep her eye on the clock to make sure everyone has equal opportunity to share.

Next, the week’s leader shares a writing lesson that they’ve prepared from their readings online or from a workshop they’ve attended or a book they’ve read. Sometimes these lessons include handouts. Other times, they include a short writing exercise. Often they are a hoot! We then share our spontaneous work, and hoot some more. This teaches us to turn off our internal editor and not be afraid of criticism. It’s great exercise to build those creative muscles and our confidence.

We then get down to the sharing of our work, taking turns with our critiques. We close the session with “writers’ news.” In the past two years, there has been some awesome, exciting news, and sharing it with our peers is especially thrilling. Other times, many times, the news is not so good. And commiserating disappointment with peers can be as comforting and satisfying as the sweet desserts we often end the evening with, in our favorite local café.

The Critique: Our group doesn’t print out copies for each member. We focus on developing our listening skills. However, I wouldn’t rule out print copies. It can help. If a member can’t make it, we’ll often email a copy of the work because it’s frustrating to miss a chapter of a work in progress.

Before the reading, we ask the member what we should be looking out for. Sometimes we’re asked to ‘be gentle’ because it’s a rough draft, other times we’re asked for a more specific criticism. Does this move the plot forward? Is this character being consistent? Does this action seem plausible? Does the dialogue sound authentic? Where are the ‘speed bumps’?

Speaking of gentle, we are never not gentle. But giving a shallow thumbs up is also not part of a good critique. We try to be specific with what works and what doesn’t work.

Fun! Yes, we play, we laugh and we relax. We learn to not take ourselves too seriously. I read an article about how the hunter and gatherers discovered the advantages of hunting and gathering in groups. Supposedly, they too used humor. All were equal and all looked out for each other. An image of baboons nit-picking each other comes to mind. Yes, we nit-pick at each other’s words, but it’s done in a friendly way. We get to know each other and we know what we’re trying to do and therefore we can say, it’s working…your novel is moving the way you want it, or it’s not. And if the emperor has no clothes on, we aren’t afraid to say so, because we’re also they’re to help him get dressed. Yes, we definitely stress the fun part. We laugh at ourselves and joke with each other. Who would think that writing could be so enjoyable!

So, you know how when you buy a red car, you suddenly see red cars everywhere? It’s the same with when you prepare a post on writing groups, suddenly you notice the topic cropping up all over the internet.

Here are two online experts talking about the power of a writing group:
Jeff Goins: “Every story of success is really a story of community. Your greatest work is hidden in relationships. You just have to tap into it by putting yourself around the right people who will draw it out of you. The network of your group benefits you by creating opportunities in the literary community (readings, workshops, publishing opportunities).”
I especially connected with Todd Henry’s post about the power of writing groups. He talks about the three M’s. Mirror, Muse and Mentor. “As Mirrors, a good writing group will reflect the unvarnished truth. It will tell you things that you might not want to hear. But because it knows you so well, knows where you’ve been and where you’re trying to go, you can accept that reflected truth.
The second M is The Muse. A good writing group inspires you, helps you connect to resources, helps you restructure your ideas, come up with solutions to plot or character issues in your writing.
The third M is Mentor. This is the handholding part of a writing group. Others can recommend publishers, or give you perspective on how to move forward with your writing career. It’s action-oriented.”

And I think that’s what a writing group does. It brings you into a flesh and blood local world of real books written by real people. It’s a good solid place to be, whether you’re just starting out, or established.

Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones says: “Kill the idea of the lone, suffering artist. We suffer enough as human beings. Don’t make it any harder on yourself.”

Our peers are our first readers. So get thyself out of thy literary attic with thy solitary laptop. Connect with local writers! Nobody said that being a writer would be easy, but together we’re all stronger. We don’t bite. Well, maybe a little. But we give hugs, too!

As the Anitas, we make the rules that work for us. We set the agenda. We are all equals, all empowered with the passion to write. There’s not a right or wrong way to nurture a writers’ group. This is what works for us. Flexibility and adaptability are key. Our Anitas have busy lives, but we’ve made writing a priority and we’re supporting, persevering and succeeding.

“Separate reeds are weak and easily broken; but bound together they are strong and hard to tear apart.” ~The Midrash

Gabe writes the books she wished she could have read while growing up as an awkward immigrant in Winnipeg. Her Katya stories are set in pre-war Soviet Union and East Prussia.
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