Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Write a Bumper Sticker

I am not a big bumper-sticker person. The VW Bug with the daisy brake lights is really a statement all by itself. I did have this on a previous auto, though:

One day, someone pointed out that I was the authority. It's nice when they finally catch on.

The spark for today's exercise was a different bumper sticker, one you don't generally see in the Lexus land where I work: Mess with me and you mess with the whole trailer park. I like it. Right up there with My kid can beat up your honor roll student. I know, I know. It's wrong. But little things amuse little minds.

Your assignment? Pick one:
  1. Write a bumper sticker that makes me laugh.
  2. Write a bumper sticker for my Buggy.
  3. Write a bumper sticker for your car. (This is for those of you who haven't yet caught on that it's all about me.)

    Ready, set, write!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Creativity Tips: Give Up

Want a sure-fire cure for writer's block?

Give up.

That's right. Stop. Walk away. Do something else. Forget about it. Move on. Give up.

It's like finding those dang car keys. Or the cell phone. You remember where they are when you stop searching. Stopping gives your brain the chance to do what it does best unstressed.

So when you can't come up with the right words, remember these: Give up. You'll get there. I guarantee it!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Creativity Exercise: You Rule

In Women, Food and God*, author Geneen Roth spells out her seven eating guidelines. They make a lot of sense to me. And if "eat when you are hungry" seems ridiculously obvious to you, mazel tov. You're not her target audience.

The idea of having seven guidelines, seven rules, inspired a writing exercise I was going to lead at a writers' retreat this past weekend. However, there was wine to drink, and a lake to swim in, and a speedboat, and one of the writers in our group is a professional chef. So ... yeah. We didn't really write that much.

We did, however, follow the eating guidelines -- especially "eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure."

But I digress. Here's the exercise:
  1. Get out a clean sheet of paper.
  2. Make a list of topics where rules could apply. Don't write the rules -- just list topics that could have rules. Rules for eating, drinking, living, writing. Rules for friendship, parenting, whatever. Come up with some fun topics -- but don't take more than a minute.
  3. Choose one of those topics.
  4. Write the rules! At least three rules, no more than seven. Write fast. It's not a manifesto we expect you to follow. It's a quick way to wake up your brain.
  5. Have a great week!
*Thanks, Mo, for the book!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Fun: Be happy

I love this photo of Kate at the entrance to Biltmore. So silly. So happy. So Kate.

I also love writing the blog again. This week, I felt like I got my mojo back. In keeping with that, let's wrap the week up with a little creative inspiration for your weekend, a quote from Guillaume Apollinaire.

"Now and then
it's good to pause
in our pursuit
of happiness
and just
be happy.

I'll see you Monday!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Creativity Tips: See the Possibilities

Most people look at a wire hanger and see a hanger. David Mach sees possibilities.

Most people look at a staple and see a staple. Baptiste Debombourg sees possibilities.

A rose is a rose is a rose. A hanger is a hanger is a hanger. A staple is a staple is a staple.

Unless you see the possibilities. Unless you see the art.

(Thanks to Steve and Leslie for the links!)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Creativity Tips: Fail Forward

You know what the most creative people in the world do all the time?


For example, exceptional photographers are like the best basketball players. They take lots of shots. Many miss the mark, but now and then -- Wow! Those Wow! shots get posted, purchased and prized. But it's all the other shots that make them possible.

Give yourself the freedom to fail. Laugh at the goofs:

Then, learn. Try again.
Practice may not make perfect.
But it sure can make a scarf.

P.S. I spent more than an hour last night trying to write this post. I finally gave up. This morning, it took two minutes. Along with embracing failure, know when to quit. I'm still learning that lesson.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Creativity Tips: Learn Better

The genius behind Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis, recently posted this on his Facebook page. It cracks me up. It also gives me the opportunity to point out that creativity lessons are everywhere. Everywhere. For example, this cartoon. Why does it work?
  1. There are five words. While three is magical, five is better than four. Odd works better than even.
  2. In one sentence, Pastis has the perfect adjective, alliteration and an active verb. English teachers around the world applaud him.
  3. The copy is short, if not sweet: We don't have to work to understand this.
I love Rat. Cory recently told me I am Rat. Could be, but not the point. Here's the point: We're surrounded by opportunities for creative learning, and all too often we ignore them. It's a simple matter of perspective. Look for the lessons and you'll see them.

And this clearly disputes earlier reports of where I might be going ...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Creativity Tips: Take the Creativity Quiz

It pains me to say this, but several CI team members have recently mentioned they enjoy the blog even though they are not creative.

Seriously? Are you trying to kill me here? Just twist that knife in my gut, people. So, love you, admire you, need you to focus. Chug some coffee and answer these questions:
  1. Are you choosing your own clothes today?
  2. Have you ever made someone who was sad feel better?
  3. Can you write a sentence that conveys exactly what you want?
  4. Can you cook anything without a recipe? Do you vary the spices now and then?
  5. Can you paint, knit, dance, quilt, do macrame? Do you remember macrame? (OK, that last question isn't really a question. My mind wanders.)
  6. Have you ever suggested an idea in a business meeting?
  7. If you miss a highway exit, do you give up and park on the shoulder? Or do you find another way home?
You may have answered all those questions with, "Jan, you're buggin'." I've heard it before. Hell, I'm thinking of putting UR BUGN on my license plate. But here's the simple fact, folks. We are all creative. And, yes, that includes you.

If you answered even one of those questions with a "yes," mazel tov! You get a gold star for creativity. FYI, questions 3 and 5 are no more important than the others. You may not be a painter or a poet or a photographer. Some of us have talents -- and work damn hard to hone them -- in areas other people lack.

Isn't that wonderful? We're not all the same. But we are all creative. Everyone of us invents new answers, new solutions. We are creating our lives. We're moving forward and, hopefully, making the world better in that creative process.

This week on the Creative Instigation blog, we're going to focus on the heart of creativity, something I wander away from after almost three years of daily blogging. I promise not to nag. You promise to appreciate your own talents!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

My father could slice a hot dog so that it remained one whole piece, but would lay* flat in a frying pan. It was an amazing, creative feat -- and he's the only one I ever saw do it.

Unfortunately, while I always loved the way he did it, I never asked him how he did it. I admired. I didn't learn.

And now, of course, I can't.

Fathers, grandfathers, next-door neighbors, all the men in our lives who matter, have talents that run from cooking to carpentry, from maintenance to magic. This weekend, pay attention to the men. Listen and learn. And Happy Father's Day to Tom, Bud, Neil, Bernie and all the CI dads!

*It's late and I can't find my AP Stylebook. I think it's lay and not lie. I must find my stylebook. My brain can't remember everything. And that's no lie.

Full disclosure: My father was manic-depressive, so I spent most of my life avoiding conversations with him. It was a logical defense mechanism: I never knew which words would come back to haunt me later. Still ... I miss the hot dogs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Creativity Tips: Fork It

Writers are rarely afraid of words. However, I am terrified of Google Ads, and the way it chooses random words out of my posts and then runs corresponding ads on the CI blog.

So, to keep the blog ads relatively clean, I'll just use the word "fork" when I mean, you know ... fork. Hopefully, we'll just get restaurant ads. Anyway ...

I am meeting today with a new client who uses "fork" and "forking" a lot in his conversation. He's totally forking awesome and I like him and think the project is going to be great. However, our first meeting was an interesting experience. The executives I generally work with are older than fork (read that: older than me), and they rarely curse. And they never use that word in front of me.

How did I respond? Take a guess. I'll wait. La-de-da-de da. OK, now I'll tell you. I eventually worked "forking" into my conversation too. Why?
  1. It was a strategic choice: I wanted the client to understand that I can speak his language.
  2. I wanted the client to know he'd been heard -- parroting conversation is a good way to do that.
  3. It wasn't a violation of my ethical code: It's possible I've used the word before. Once. Maybe twice.
Oh, fork it. Let's be honest. I can curse with the best of 'em. I just generally don't do it in a business meeting. But, if I need to, what the fork?

(One of you should be able to come up with a forking good joke re: eating my words later.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Creativity Tips: Blend the New and the Old

I love this. An iPad and a typewriter. Perfection.

And then, of course, I need this. Click, click, clackety, click. Ahhhh. The good old days.

If you ever wonder how important your creative tools are, consider this: When I first started working with computers, I had to type my stories on a typewriter, then come in and transcribe them onto the computer -- the machine was so alien to me, I couldn't think creatively and handle the technology at the same time.

Tools matter. And feeling at home with your creative tools is essential. Now, if I could only figure out how to make SWAK* work on an email the way it did on a letter.

Thanks to Leslie and Deb for the links!

*Don't know what this means? Look it up, young'un. The required creative tool was bright red lipstick.

P.S. Leslie took the photo. Yes, that is one of my typewriters. No, I did not type on it. I am old. I am not ancient.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Creativity Tips: Our Summer Reading List

Good readers make good writers. I'm delighted to see so many magazines and newspapers running summer reading lists now.

Trouble is, I want a different list. Instead of this summer's hot reads, I want to know what books you go back to again and again. What deserves a second reading? Or a third?

The book that calls me home every few years is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I LOVE the characters. I still want to be Jo when I grow up.

I also plan to reread A Prayer for Owen Meany now that I know how brilliantly John Irving uses foreshadowing.

What about you? Share your favorites with the team. If you were making a summer rereading list, what would be on it?

P.S. If you're looking for a list of favorite creativity books, consider Melanie's list!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Take the Proust Questionnaire

Here's a little writing secret -- readers often go first to the P.S. in a letter or the back page of a magazine. Why? I don't know, maybe it's like flipping the Hallmark card over to see how much Aunt Bertha spent on you.

But, I digress. Vanity Fair is one of my favorite mags, and the back page features the Proust Questionnaire. Now, you can take it online, and compare your results to the celebrities.

The top three I matched? Joan Collins, David Mamet and Arnold Schwarzenegger. That cannot be good ...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Fun: Bring Vacation Home

I put a good deal of creative energy into gardening this week -- planting flowers, rearranging the outdoor furniture, decorating the patio. Why? Because I want to bring vacation home.

One of the things I enjoy most on any vacation is finding a peaceful outside nook where I can sip coffee and read. I also enjoy the luxurious bedding and linens in good hotels.

So, now I have my own daisy-filled nook and a cozy, cushy down pillow. Mmmmmmm. I feel more relaxed already.

This weekend, consider what makes a vacation fun and relaxing for you. Then, bring it home!

Random P.S. All I need is an iPad, and I could write these blogs outside on my lovely patio. I was in a meeting Thursday with a guy who had an iPad and I have serious computer lust.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Creativity Exercise: Ungratitude Journal

Is there such a word as ungratitude? There is now. Here's today's exercise: Forget about keeping a gratitude journal, unless that really, really helps your mood. Instead, start an ungratitude journal.

Once a week (heck, every Thursday, since you're starting today), get out a clean sheet of paper. You have to write this by hand. For at least one minute and no more than two, scribble your frustrations, anger, fear, anxiety. You don't need punctuation or grammar. I don't even leave spaces between words. I just scrawl.

Then, immediately rip your sheet into teeny, tiny shreds and throw them away. Why? Destruction is therapeutic. And, from my perspective, it's an essential part of the purge: Since I know no one will ever read a word of what I'm writing, I can say whatever I want.*

Ready, set, vent!

*Yes, this could also describe much of my poetry ...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Creativity Tips: Regrets? I have a few ...

... but then again, too few to mention. Sigh. Frank Sinatra. But, I digress ... Frankie isn't the purpose of this post. Or, maybe he is. Because the purpose of this post is to remind you to doodle it your way. It's summer. Get out the sidewalk chalk and leave your mark!

(And if you doodle something you love, send me a photo and I'll post it! I found this art in my neighborhood park. I've decided the kid knows the spelling rules and chose to break them. Right? Please, tell me I'm right ... or I'll have to go buy red chalk and start editing.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Creativity Tips: What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

During our trip to Tennessee, we toured the arts and crafts loop in Gatlinburg. I quickly started calling it the "marts and crap" loop.

Why? Two words sum it up: production pottery. Handmade pottery, made the same way cup after cup after cup, vase after vase after vase.

It wasn't like that when we visited 20 years ago, and it doesn't need to be like that now. For example, one shop pressed leaves into the clay before the firing; the leaves burn off and create a beautiful impression. Cool idea. BUT ... and this is a big BUT ... one cool idea isn't art. It isn't art without craft.

The pots were poorly thrown -- one wall thin, another thick. The glazes were beautiful, but flawed. They oozed. They bubbled. They ran over the leaf impressions, and not in a purposeful way. I'm guessing it was literal carelessness. The potters couldn't care less.

Nonetheless, people were buying the pots. And that's the danger. Those of us who make a living through creativity know that people will buy crap. People either don't know better or don't have time to find better.

That's no excuse for creating crap. It's our responsibility to do our best. Every day. With every pot. Every photo. Every word.

And that's what I learned on my summer vacation.

(I learned something else the day we got back: One of my favorite places in the universe is my own living room on a sunny afternoon when we're all home, doing our own thing. Separate but together. In sunshine.)

Monday, June 7, 2010


What do you think? Do I look like Pa Cartwright? Kate could be Adam and Mary's horse was named Little Joe. No Hoss, but that's because he was irreplaceable. (And the reason I watched Bonanza every week.)

So, you want to know what we did on vacation?
  1. We rode horses in the Great Smoky Mountains.
  2. We stayed in a fabulous condo with a huge whirlpool tub in the master suite.
  3. We saw bear tracks.
  1. The girls said this was the last family vacation. Ever.
  2. I lost my temper, my sense of humor and my patience during the freaking 2,000 mile car trip.
  3. We went the wrong way. Several times. Because some men (I'm not naming any names, Tom) won't ask directions even from a GPS unit.
It's all true, so it's like everything else in life -- it comes down to perspective. And, while I won't ignore reality, I choose to remember the fun. We had time together as a family; we laughed; we saw Biltmore, the biggest home in America; and we made it back to our little home safe, sound and relatively sane.

And we have some great memories of Paducah ... a place we never would have visited if Tom had listened to the GPS.

Thanks to everyone who posted last week and to all of you who checked to see what was posted! Here's to a fun week ahead and a summer filled with directions ignored.