Thursday, September 3, 2009

Feeding the muse - some thoughts and a contest

On Thursdays throughout September I'll look at feeding the muse, how we can best serve our creative selves. This is entirely selfish. I'm undertaking this blog challenge to give myself a creative boost and I've been developing a workshop on creativity and play, so writing about it once a week gives me a chance to organize my thoughts with the hoped-for side effect of giving you, the reader, something fun to think about or do.

I struggle to remember myself as a creative person. In the midst of work and commuting and day-to-day life it can get really hard. The deeper I get in the struggle the less creative I feel and the more likely I am to forget that it's when I do something, when I stop complaining and just act, that I remember who I am. I remember the writer, the storyteller, the keek, the assemblage artist, the listener, the cook and so on. We are what we do, not what we say we are. We are defined by our actions.

When I get into one of those stuck places I sometimes try radically different things to push me into new territory. I try something new with the mindset that I can't fail, all I'm going to do is play.

I've become a great proponent of creative play. It feeds me in so many ways, helps me feel revitalized and alive when I might otherwise feel lifeless and limp. By approaching a task or activity as play I have permission to go in any direction without judging myself and it's that voice of judgment that so often turns into a creative roadblock.

This is a sampling of some of the things I do for creative play. Note that I try to get away from words when I'm playing, since much of my usual creativity is around language:
  • draw on construction paper with crayons. I deliberately use a medium from childhood so I don't worry about that the medium might drive me to try to be "better." These drawings are terrible - I have the drawing ability of a first grader. It doesn't matter. I'll just play with color and shape. Sometimes I'll draw out story elements and find out something I never knew about the narrative (did you know giants have golden hearts?).
  • creative destruction. I'll take several pages from a magazine, rip them up at the same time, then reassemble them into new pages and try to figure out what the new articles, ads and images might mean. It's been a great leaping off point for stories and collage.
  • write notes on sticky pads and leave them where others might find them. They say positive things like, "Don't worry. You are beautiful." I feel really good about leaving these notes where I'll never know what happens to them.
  • make things to give away. Little things like bookmarks (I cut the blanks out of watercolor paper), snip out an image or two, laminate it and leave it somewhere. Or tiny little alters made from matchboxes or other things I can just leave with a note saying, "free." Since I know it will be claimed by someone I will never meet, presumably by someone who likes it since it's just sitting there and is free, I'm freed from constraints of audience and skill. I can play with the medium knowing it's just something joyful I'm sending out into the world.
This is just a sampling of my creative play. I do these kinds of things when I'm feeling fruitful and especially when I'm not.

So, here's a challenge for you. The first three people who comment on this post with a list of at least four things they do for creative play (ways they get a creative jump-start) and a little bit about how that helps them will receive a tiny present via US Post. It might be an emergency creativity kit or a piece of micro-art or something else entirely. All you need to do is comment with what helps get you out of ruts, how you stretch, how you feed your muse.

I reserve the right to disqualify disingenuous posts, so don't just cut and paste my list or one you find on another website. Make sure I can contact you somehow so I can get your address. And most importantly, have fun. Even if you're not one of the first three, share your ideas. I'd love to see them. I'm sure we'll inspire each other.

Friday we'll take a look at the world around us with a little bit of eavesdropping. Who knows what evil (and humor and love) lurks in the hearts of men (and women)?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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  1. Here are some of what I would translate as creative play ideas that I like to do.

    1 - Often in the evening as my husband watches TV and I do something else, he does much channel surfing. I like to listen to how the words come together as he flips from channel to channel and pick out crazy/funny phrases that result from his surfing and recite them back to him when something really funny comes up.

    2 - When I play video games I like to make up my own rules and goals sometimes. I'll look at the game and figure out how I can do something completely different and see how the game progresses with the rules I put in place. It yields some interesting surprises and gets me thinking of crazy things to do.

    3 - I like to make clothing, so one of my favorite things to do is go to a fabric store and go to the novelty fabrics and try to find the craziest fabrics to make something out of. I love creating clothing that works against the standards, that has a sense of humor. Now this makes me think that finding a way to make my own fabrics would be pretty inspiring too. But I love the ideas that come to mind as I look at nutty fabrics. (I'm wearing a dress right now that is covered with galaxies, who says dresses have to use tiny floral prints!)

    4 - I make up songs constantly at home, sometimes to the point that my kids will ask me to stop. I have small songs about the kids, our cats, brushing teeth, cleaning up the house. I try to take phrases and ideas that pop up in everyday life and make rhymes and little tunes. I can remember one of my sons remarking - How do you do that? - when he marveled at a sequence of clever rhymes I came up with off the cuff. It's a fun way to play with words and stretch for words on a moments notice.

    Not sure if these all apply as create play, but they are some of the small ways I like to play around and get inspired.


  2. One of the ways I get creative with my weekly blog for my work ( is to find something interesting that happened on that day in history, mention it, then figure out how it ties in to the business. Wikipedia On This Day lists are a great way to get started, pick an event, birthday, or death, research it, then write about it.

    Tied to that, I close each Weekly Update with a suggestion for something sexy and romantic that the reader can do that doesn't cost much (if any) money. I look at the overall theme of the blog that week and search for something tied to that theme without necessarily being exactly what was already covered. Stretch the boundaries and see what might be overlooked.

    For my weekly table-top roleplaying game (GURPS) I need to create NPCs (Non Player Characters) for the players to interact with. I'll pull out the phone book and scan though looking for interesting last names, then look on-line at lists of baby names seeking first names that match those names calling up images of real 'characters'. For example, just using authors names, take the William from William Gibson and combine that with Pournelle from Jerry Pournelle yields William Pournelle - A slightly stuck-up intellectual aristocrat who gets upset at anyone who calls him Bill.

    My last source of inspiration is the headline news. A quick check of shows that the last Manson Family member was denied parole. Twisting that info to fit your needs for your story (or campaign in my case) yields a plot arc of:
    Lord William Pournelle seeks adventures to travel with him to an adjacent kingdom to visit their Prison in order to present his case for why a prisoner should continue to be held. All kinds of ideas now come to mind for how this could play out. Perhaps political pressure will come to bear to have the prisoner released. Or there will be a riot at the prison while they're visiting. Who knows?

  3. 1. One thing I do is stare at things and try to see them in a completely new way. For example if I'm looking at a chair in front of a wall, I try to unfocus long enough to make the wall like like it is in from of the chair--it's easier if I take a section the dark chair and the light wall--and try to see the dark as being recessed. This can be done anywhere anytime with anything.

    2. I relax and let myself not make art for periods of time. During those times I try to soak up inspiration from others. Go to movies read short stories, etc. Gotta feed the beast sometimes. I like the idea of an "artist date" from the Artist's Way. Going somewhere by myself just to feed an interest I have.

    3. One more, what I've done for years is switch mediums. This works so well to keep things flowing that at this point it's now part of my process. For example I just started writing poetry--that's new since all this year I was a sculptor. I find this notion that you have to be one thing and stick with it to be well, BS. At least for me it works better to play at being Jack of all trades. Who cares if I'm master at none, at least I'm doing it!

  4. Ooh. Great post.
    My family attends a performing arts camp each summer, where we get to play and try new things in an encouraging environment. For a writer and storyteller like me, getting a chance to play Balinese gamelan, sing in a rock band, and learn Brazilian capoeira was a refreshing creative recharge. Here are my creative play choices:

    1. Rewriting song lyrics, on the fly. I have the advantage of having two young boys in my family who love to sing songs with their own (often scatological) lyrics. I like to think that I'm modeling rhyme and meter for my kids, but mostly I'm doing it to redirect them to things like brushing their teeth or just to make them laugh. I enjoy improvising song melodies too, but as I have no musical composition talent, this requires a willing accompanist.

    2. I love that my digital camera gives me permission to play, because the cost of making bad pictures and mistakes is negligible. Having lots of toys around the house helps to encourage play, especially the various plastic optical lenses which can lead to some fun images.

    3. I participate in a collaborative journal project through BookMooch. I treat all these journals as artist's journals: even if the theme is literary, I'll create a visual entry. I like to play with folding and cutting paper, to see what I can do to make my entries leap off the horizontal plane, or rethink the edges of a page.

    4. Going outside and using rocks, sticks, and leaves to create visual patterns (a la Andy Goldsworthy) on a small scale I find a great way to recharge: I get to spend time outdoors, and the process is quite meditative, as I direct my attention to the environment.

    Although I'm a storyteller, I feed my muse in a variety of ways: not just listening to stories, but finding ukulele covers of songs on YouTube (pick any song from the 1980s-- there's probably a uke cover on the Web). Other things that feed my muse: Legos, comic book art, and my compost pile.


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