Yearning to Learn

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Ever since I can remember I’ve always had a strong desire to learn new things.  In the past few years I have been diving deep into learning how to write a novel—structuring plot, building tension, crafting scenes and developing great characters.  Writing, whether a novel, short story or this blog, has been my creative outlet for a while now.

Lately writing alone has not been enough to fill my learning needs.  You’d think with all there is to learn about structure and style, brainstorming ideas, and sitting down to actually write would fulfill my learning needs.

Yet, I still needed something more, something different.  Setting aside any requisite skills and abilities to venture into other creative avenues, I thought about adding one of several options to my creative repertoire.

Music, Guitar?

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I’m no musician but I do love music.  I played the piano when I was young, but was never very good.

When I ventured back into piano lesson in high school, I learned to improvise the rhythm of the left hand by reading chord notation and playing the right hand as written.  This method provided me with the opportunity few of my piano playing fiends every had—to play popular music and make it somewhat recognizable to the listener.

Learning to play guitar seems somewhat similar, but it will need a dedicated regular schedule of lessons and a bit of an investment.  Guitar probably isn’t in my near future.

Drawing, Illustrations, Art?

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My dad’s mother was an artist.  She painted beautiful Michigan forest-scapes generally with a smattering of birch trees.

One day after dinner, I was probably in middle school, she taught me to draw my subject upside-down.  We pulled a Donald Duck rubber magnet off the fridge, turned Donald on his head and she had me replicate it on paper.  The result ended up to be far more accurate than had I drawn it from the correct perspective.

I have since learned that drawing a subject upside-down uses your visual right brain leaving the rational, thinking left brain that keeps telling you “that doesn’t look right” mostly out of the activity.

I need to learn more technical skills to improve my drawing abilities rather than simple practice.  I enjoy doodling, but I think I’ll leave illustrating to trained professionals.

Finding the Right Fit

These are just a couple of choices I considered, choosing two where I would likely have the best chance for success based on my interest level and limited history.  Whatever choice I made would need to fit my style and not be a burden on my other responsibilities and interests.

Although I yearn for another creative activity I feel I already have a lot going on.  If I could learn guitar using headphones, I think I’d pick up the guitar, although I’d prefer to learn acoustic.  I wouldn’t want my family suffer the sounds of my “learning”.

App Development, Coding

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I’m certainly dating myself when I tell you that I learned BASIC programming on my own using a TRS-80.  Then in sixth grade we were taught using Apple II+ and Apple IIe computers.  I still regret not taking more advanced programming courses (do you remember PASCAL and FORTRAN?) when I was in high school.

I’ve always been a math and logic based thinker which is probably why learning to code is so appealing to me.  As with other creative pursuits, I love the idea of creating something tangible from my own idea.  With coding there are loads of resources on-line, and I pretty much already have the software and equipment needed.

With the influx of apps created in basements or dorm rooms, on lunch breaks from work, by friends in bedrooms or a continent away, the flexibility checks another box on my next project evaluation list.

All that remains is coming up with that wonderful, exciting, stupendous idea.  But, isn’t that half the fun?

Choosing Your Next Undertaking

Selecting new skills and abilities to learn can be a tricky task.  In addition to showing an interest, you will need to evaluate whether you can put the time into learning that the new skills deserve.  Weighing your commitments to family, friends and work as well as those you have made to yourself for other pursuits must be done prior to embarking on such a journey.

Sometimes it can be appealing to dive right in, but your success with any new undertaking hinges on whether you can put forth the effort necessary.

I’m all for learning new things to make my own world a more interesting place.  I just want to make sure I’m not cluttering up the place with a bunch of half-baked attempts.

What new skills are you eager to learn?  Do you have any skills you started to learn then pushed them aside?  I’m interested to know what took precedence and whether you think you’ll pick them up again.

Avoiding the Inevitable End

If you are an avid ready, you know the feeling when you find a really good book and can’t put it down?  I’m always excited when I come across one of these gems.

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For some reason I have a very strange habit when I get 80% of the way through one of these—I can’t seem to keep going at the same pace.  I start to take in small chunks at a time.  Three pages now, several more pages a few hours later.  The last 20% drags on for another couple of days when I should have been able to plow through in a matter of hours.

I’ve even started the same habit when streaming series on Netflix.  As I reach the final three or four episodes I take in just enough of an episode to get a fix before switching to another activity.

I’ve finally figured out why.  Simply put, I don’t want the story to end.  I fear the feeling it will all be over soon.  I’ve fallen in love with the characters and the story so much, I begin to mourn this loss before it’s reached it’s conclusion.

On a good note, I am almost always satisfied when I finally reach the end and eagerly await more.  What else could any author want but another reader hooked on their characters, story and style.

I resign myself to the fact that I can only wait patiently for the next novel, seek out the author’s other work or hang on for the next season to start.

Do you put off the inevitable when nearing the end of a great book or television series or do you push through at the same “can’t put it down” pace?  Do you have any odd quirks or habits when it comes to finishing books and other series you enjoy?  Let me know in the comments.

More Misses than Hits: My Weekly Update

To keep myself accountable, I have chosen to post about my creative progress each week.  Although you may not be invested in the details of my progress (or lack thereof), I hope you can take from some ideas on developing your own personal accountability method.

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Writing

Blogging

I fell short of my target and only had four posts this week.  This first week of summer activities from outdoor chores to fun after work weekly activities ate in to my writing time.  I’ve taken a look at how these activities impact my writing time and have adjusted my writing schedule to accommodate them.  I know with these adjustments I can hit my goal of six posts this coming week.  I certainly don’t want to miss out on the summer fun!

Next week’s target: Post 6 of 7 days

Fiction

I had little time for my novel but was a able to complete a Flash Fiction piece which I posted on Wednesday.  I’m not sure I’ll be spending much time outside in the 90 degree heat and high humidity this weekend, so my novel will be at the forefront of projects I will work on this weekend.

Next week’s target:  3 hours brainstorming and outlining

Photography

I spent a couple hours rewatching some of the Affinity Photo Video Tutorials.  I want to keep learning and have found that I get more out of each tutorial on a second and third view.  Much of this comes from a better understanding of the overall process and being able to take what I learn from one  tutorial to help me better understand others.

Next week’s target:  1 to 2 hours of tutorials and practice

Coding

I worked through most of the UICollectionView tutorial I wanted to complete this week.  My next step is incorporating what I learned in my own project.

Next week’s target:  3 hours, minimum with the goal of understanding Collection Views

Videography

I’m still working on the script for my Motion project.  I am targeting completion again this week because I am at a stage where I don’t want to put too much work into the Motion project until I have a clear understanding of the storyline.  I’m sure as I dig in to the actual animation I’ll have some story tweaks here and there but what I want to avoid is major structure changes.

Next week’s target:  Complete the script

I hope you are finding success with your own projects.  I’d be interested in knowing how you stay on target to complete your projects.

Superpowers

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Bubbles floated up and settled around the side of the thick edged coffee mug. John watched the steam float up and dissipate.

“Thanks,” he said.

“And I was beginning to think I wouldn’t see you today,” the waitress replied before making rounds to fill coffee at her other tables.

John slipped his superhero comic from beneath the menu where he had shoved it before Maggie took his order.

As he flipped to his place in the comic he mentally made his 1,819th mark on his attendance list and his 763rd mark on Maggie’s witty retort list. He was getting close to his five year anniversary. Sitting in the same booth, drinking the same coffee and enjoying his brief and repetitive conversations with the only waitress he ever had. Only the comic was different each day.

He promised himself he’d splurge and get eggs and a muffin on his quinquennial. John dreamed of Maggie bringing it to him with a candle, but she probably had no clue of the approaching day’s significance.

He gazed back at the few remaining bubbles and watched them pop leaving a perfect black mirror in an off-white frame.

The mirror rippled first before the thin metal silverware and his empty muffin plate bounced around the speckled Formica table. John grabbed the shiny metal edge expecting to stop the shaking but it had no affect. His eyes darted about the diner. The trays of mugs behind the counter rattled toward a destructive fall. The pendant lights swayed above the other surprised patrons. Even the glass in the front picture windows shimmered with the increasing vibrations.

With a boom the front door disintegrated and the shaking stopped. A whoosh pulled all sound from the room which was replaced by slow and deliberate boot steps, each one ending with a distinct “ting” of a metal toe tapping the tile floor.

Black cargo pants stretched tight against the intruder’s powerful legs. His white t-shirt revealed every upper body muscle including some John didn’t know existed.

He tossed a duffle on the counter.

“Valuables and cash!”

No one moved.

“Now!”

Maggie reached the cash register first, but couldn’t seem to get it to open. John could see other patrons fumbling for their wallets and removing jewelry.

John wrapped his hand around his mug and drained it in one swig.

He breathed in expanding his chest to twice its size. The muscles on his arms bulged with veins throbbing.

The intruder tore one of the counter stools from its bolts in the floor and tossed it into the kitchen. He stepped forward and slammed his fist through the counter breaking it in two. He snatched the duffle before the counter collapsed and flung it to a nearby table of four.

“You don’t want me to ask again!”

John slid from his booth and rose.

The intruder pointed at John and said, “Now, there’s a smart guy.”

John rose to full height and still breathing in grew another foot. He strode toward the intruder.

The intruder flipped an empty four-top over his shoulder like a piece of trash where it smashed against the men’s room door.

John stopped within arm’s reach of the monstrous figure who still towered over him. He sucked in one more breath growing enough to look him eye to eye.

“I think I’ve been more than patient,” the intruder bellowed.

Behind him, the few patrons still capable to moving began tossing their cash, jewelry and electronics toward the duffle bag. The intruder ignored the noise of most items bouncing off the table and skidding across the floor. Straightening his posture, the intruder rose an inch above John’s eye line.

John sucked in air through his nose and grew to meet the intruder’s change in height.
The intruder dropped his open hand on John’s shoulder and squeezed the skin and muscles into his fist. He stared deep into John’s eyes. “We don’t want any trouble, now, do we?”

With a sweep of his arm, John lobbed the enormous man across the room where he landed where the counter once had been. In the blink of an eye, John sped to where the intruder lay, grabbed him by the collar and dumped him outside on the sidewalk against a “No Parking” sign. He twisted the pole around the intruder like the stripe on a barber pole.

“Here ya go.” Maggie slipped the check onto the table.

John jerked his head up, snapping him away from his hard stare into the coffee.
“See you tomorrow? Enjoy your superhero comic.” She winked and moved on to her next table.

John flipped over the paper and considered the $7.50 check. He pulled out three twenties, tucked them and the check beneath his mug.

Maggie wiped off the pristine counter as John strolled past. He half raised his hand to wave but Maggie didn’t see him.
Outside, John could see Maggie clearing the booth he had just left. He watched her pick up the two twenties and a huge smile crossed her face. She looked up in time to see John looking in and mouthed “thank you”.

John smiled back. Everyone has a superpower, maybe this was his.

A Don’t Miss Serialized Book Preview

Wondering if you have the gumption to be an artist or if you will remain an amateur  hobbyist?  You may want to check out the books by Steven Pressfield, the author of notable non-fiction bestsellers about writing including The War of Art, Turning Pro, Do The Work and Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t as well as bestselling novels such as The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire.

Hero’s Journey or Artist’s Journey?

If you are a writer, you already know about the hero’s journey, but did you realize the artist makes a similar path of discovery?

Currently, subscribers to Steven Pressfield’s blog, are being treated to an advanced, serialized version of his upcoming and currently titled book “The Artist’s Journey”.  As a person exploring your creative side for personal enjoyment or something to share with the world, you may want to signup and see how Steven’s take on becoming an artist applies to your life’s creative pursuits.

You can find the current post, episode #17, here which provides links to all the previous posts in the series.

Journaling – What Your Creativity Needs

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I always thought journaling would be a waste of time. I never understood when I should, could or would want to go back and read prior entries. I resigned myself that journaling longhand would be useless since you would have to have an incredible memory or some intricate method of indexing entries if you ever wanted to find and reread something specific. When I decided to journal it would be on a computer using searchable software.

I am not one who journals daily, going days or even weeks without making an entry, but I have found a love for journaling and this love stems from the complete opposite reasons I listed at the start of this post.

After a while, I realized journaling isn’t about researching past entries. It’s not about finding something specific. Revisiting old entries should be an unplanned journey, albeit one into previously visited territories. These trips back in time can have so many unexpected affects. I’ve reread pieces that have forced me to figure out what the hell I was thinking or feeling at the time. I recalled things that had since slipped my mind. Rereading allowed me to vividly remember the emotions I replicated in words. At times I sparked new ideas for projects where I was stuck or needed a push in the right direction.

When I do write in my journal, the entry kickstarts my creative process. Whether I hit my full 500 word a day goal in an entry or only scribble out a hundred or so words, the act of journaling revs me up enough to continue using my creative juices.

It doesn’t happen for me everyday, but I don’t feel like I need to journal everyday either. Journaling cannot be defined, scheduled, structured. What it can be is useful as an enticement, and a tool for creativity.

Do you journal? What is your journaling goal or process? I’d love to hear more about you in the comments below.

Feedback, For Better or Worse

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I’ve never been afraid of getting feedback.  Perhaps I have had mostly positive experiences (definitely not all positive feedback, I must add), or perhaps I’ve been graced with receiving feedback from people who know the best way to give it.  Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

Receiving feedback can be scary especially when you don’t personally know the people providing it.  Some feedback could be hurtful unless presented in a constructive and encouraging manner.

It takes skill to give well-delivered feedback–start with some positive, offer some constructive, always include specifics and end on a good note.  It’s a pretty simply formula although you’re probably not surprised how many people screw this up.

Start with some positive, offer some constructive, always include specifics and end on a good note.

I recently received the judges feedback from the second writing contest I’ve ever entered.  Receiving feedback directly from the judges is one of the two best features of the writing contests sponsored by The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break.  By the way, if you’re interested in future contests, jump over to either site and sign up for their e-mail list.

The other best feature of these contests is the pre-entry workshop.  All contestants are required to workshop their stories with each other in the week prior to the submission deadline.  My experience workshopping my stories has been extremely positive and some suggestions have been enormously helpful.  I’ve also learn quite a bit reading the other contestants’ stories and providing feedback.  Although some people disappear from the forums after making their final submissions, there are still a number of people who respond to requests for last minute feedback.  What an incredibly supportive community of writers.

If you are interested in reading the entries from the Spring Writing Contest, head over here, or you can link directly to my entry, Stolen Reflection.

Have you had incredible or horrific experiences with feedback?  I’d love you hear about them in the comments.

Why Midlife Creativity

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I started Midlife Creativity because I needed a place to be more creativity than I could be in my career and busy home life. I missed my creative side which I mostly forced to the back of my personality since graduating from college. Recently, I longed to express my creative side which re-emerged through writing, something I never explored much in my younger days. I could feel it growing inside me. It was something I yearned to do.

Beginnings

My creative path through life stemmed from being a child of the 70s, a teen of the 80s and emerging into adulthood in the 90s. As a child creativity was ingrained in me. Parents and teachers encouraged our imaginations, exploration, and questions. They left us to figure out life by being kids. We had some responsibilities, but nothing like what you see with some kids today. We were kids, and we acted like it.
Moving into the teen years, the world changed around us. It became more of a push to discover what career you wanted followed by years of studying to make your career choice a reality. The pressure was on to be more successful than your family before you. I never felt that pressure from my family but in many respects I felt it from my peers, teachers and other grown-ups.
In college, even creative subjects were about turning these skills into a career. As a film/television major it didn’t seem like the best way to develop creativity in society. Luckily this approach has changed in the twenty-five years since I graduated. My focus at the time, from the pressure I felt to build a career, had always been on the business side of film. I used my creative side for the required individual and group projects, but, looking back, I never expressed it to its full potential at the time.

What is Midlife Creativity?

Everyone needs creative outlets. Life cannot be all work and responsibilities. Creativity is fun. It’s new. It’s originating. It’s problem solving. Creativity is too many things to name but emerges through your passions and your interests. It’s vital to a well rounded life regardless of how you personally express your own creativity.
“Midlife” means accepting that no matter your current stage in life, whether you’re twenty-something or ninety-something, you can always reignite your creative spark. Forget that you may have pushed creativity out of your life due to time and other commitments. The time is now to take it back.
I don’t think of “midlife” as a midpoint in time. I think of “midlife” as a turning point, a fork in life’s road. It is here where we make a choice to commit some of the time in our busy schedules to develop, grow and learn new or old creative pursuits, giving them the time they deserve.

Which fork will I take?

I’ve committed myself to the several creative pursuits; probably too many to take on at one time but they have all become my passions—writing, coding, videography and photography. Who knows what I may take up next year.
I have two main goals for this blog. First, to scream to the world that it doesn’t matter when you begin or restart your creative journey. What matters is that you take that first step and every step thereafter to create the best work you can.
Second, to develop a creative community. Creativity can be lonely. We create within ourselves before putting the ideas to canvas, paper, clay, or the pixels of an electronic device. Having a community to support and provide feedback before releasing our work into the world can make all the difference to one’s success. Midlife Creativity can be such a community by helping each other experience the freeing sensation of letting our work out into the world where it can have an impact others.
I want this site to be a beacon of hope for those who need to express their creative side but feel it may be too late. It’s never too late to do what you want in life. Pick up your pen, brush or stylus. Turn to a blank page in a notebook, open a laptop, set up your tripod or place a canvas on an easel. You’re Ready. You’re Set. Now Go! Be creative.

Will you join me on this journey? What creative pursuits ignite your passions and what new ones have you longed to learn?

Resolution Time, Again

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2018 is going to be a new year for me. I’ve said it before (probably even on this blog). You may have said it before, and we all could probably name a few people who we’ve heard say it before. For me, this year is going to be different for a couple of reasons. I have a new attitude and a new approach to making positive changes in my life.

The skeptic in me keeps asking, “how could your attitude transform as simply as the year changes on the calendar?” As I ponder his query (and yes, I’m aware arguing with myself is not always the best use of my time), I realize my attitudue has been evolving over several months now. Due to a very emotionally exhausting experience early this fall, my attitude has fluctuated between investing more time in my creative pursuits or just pluggin through life at my normal job. What the change in year gives us is a powerful line in the sand past which we can fully enact a change. Its a fresh start, a new beginning, or it can even be a do over.

I’m a goal setter and a resolution maker. This year it occurred to me that apparently I am better at establishing personal levels of achievement more than actually fulfilling these goals. I don’t beat myself up when I miss them because I can seemingly rationalize away the defeat by focusing on the other things I have achieved or new goals I have already set in my mind.

I am bound and determined to make a change in this personal process this year so I am taking a new approach. Rather than set very specific goals as I have done in prior years I am taking the lead from Scott Adams’ book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life”. Adams says in his book, “goals are for lossers”, so this year I will establish systems. The difference between goals and systems, Adams explains, is that goals have a very specific outcome or ending while systems are things or processes you carry out every day that could, and in many cases should, go on indefinitely.

For 2018, I choose to focus on three systems – Learning, Organization, Completion. Rather than set a list of highly specific goals at the beginning of a long year bound and determined to morph from month to month, I changing my approach to set up three systems that will allow me to succeed this year even as my ideas, interest and available “me” time adjusts under the influence of external stimuli.

As of today, some of the things I would like to learn this year are Apple’s Motion software, Affinity Photo (an affordable Photoshop alternative), and advanced Swift programming. I’m afraid if I set out specific goals for all three items I would not sufficiently succeed in some of these goals. I might also purposely avoid an opportunity to switch gears should a new interest arise. By focusing on “Learning” I will be successful when I make progress on each and every new task I undertake related to learning.

I chose organization and completion as two additional systems. To make lifestyle improvements I see these system going together like peanut butter and jelly. I tend to jump around from task to task in both my profesional and personal responsibilities., so improving my organzational abilities will lead to seeing more projects all the way through to completion.

Even though this first post of the year is over a week past that all important calendar change, I have already made strides toward these goals. So far this year, I have been excited everyday to put my new systems to use. The key to my success is execution, continued execution.

Have you set any resolutions this year? I’d love to hear about your approach to success in 2018 in the comments section.

Practice, Practice and More Practice

Lately, I have been spending more time practicing my writing than working on my novel, and I can honestly say it has been for the better.  I am still moving forward on my novel by working through the structure and new ideas in my head.  Sometimes this process muddies the waters but more often it allows me to see clearly all the way down to the riverbed, but my daily practice is the driving force that will help me get through to the end.

I also read (and re-read) Joe Bunting’s book, Let’s Write a Short Story, which can be found at one of Joe’s sites The Write Practice or Let’s Write A Short Story or at Amazon.  I took the approach that I need more practice before I will be able to complete my first novel and what better way than to improve my ability to write a story.  Additionally, the confidence of completing a smaller project that must contain all of the same elements of a story will be worth any time spent away from my novel.

Practice tips are included throughout the book and after every blog post.  A morphing of several tips lead me to develop my own method for daily practice.  I chose to take at least five to ten minutes, once or twice a day, and write a descriptive passage based on an emotion, a feeling, an object, a character or any other single item I imagined.

This method of practicing frees my mind from the constraints of my current project.  These practice passages open my creative mind to new ways of approaching just about any aspect of a great story.  What’s freeing is not having to adhere to or develop a backstory or do extensive world building because these are just snippets.  The thoughts of “my character would never do that” or “that would be impossible in this world” never come into play.

And you know what the most freeing part is?  It doesn’t have to be good.  I write it and can set it aside, never to be read again.  I’ve written a few passages that I am proud of and may choose to develop.  If I can work out a full story that fits with the passage I wrote in practice perhaps I will use the piece in a completed short story or novel.  You never know.

Although I ask myself for only five or ten minutes to complete the practice, by the time I am done fifteen or thirty minutes have usually flown by.  The following passage took just over thirty minutes to write.  Other than correcting some typos and minor errors, the piece has not been edited.

If you have a few minutes I would be interested to hear your thought on my piece or how you practice your own creative pursuits in the comments below.

Dumbfounded described his sudden feelings perfectly.  Perplexed?  No that was too scientific.  Dumb.  Founded.  A wonderful juxtaposition of two words with so little in common, but his thoughts led him down a path designed to distract him.  It worked.  His mind knew him better than he knew himself.  He pulled his mind back to the situation at hand.  The predicament he found himself in could never have been predicted, at least not under the normal laws of physics.

He began to pace the room.  He pictured the great thinking minds of the world pacing or walking through a beautiful campus setting solving their problems.  With such little room to pace, he doubted the same methods would work for him here.

The sea roared below him.  At least that is what he assumed made that sound.  He had never been to the sea, so he pieced together memories of sea noise from movies and decided it matched.

The diamond shaped window sat high in the wall, emitting enough light for him to review his surroundings, but too high and far too small for an escape.  The curved walls began at the deep red wooden door and ended back at its hinges.  The black iron showed no signed of rust, in fact they appeared newly painted.  No handle or latch was visible on his side of the door, only a comically large keyhole, which made him chuckle a bit.  The infrequent yet distinct marching coming faintly through the underside of the door prevented him from peering through the hole.

Moments ago he had been in the gym locker room in Ohio.  Now the ancient stone walls, beastly wooden door and sound of the sea altered his well established understanding of reality.  Had he asked for this?  Perhaps, his mind answered him before going silent.  He was at last alone.  Truly alone.

Metal scrapping metal drew his attention back to the door.  The hinges squeaked as the door inched inward.