29 May 2008

Igniting the "Write" Brain

Scientists, in their pristine labs, have proven that there is a difference between right brain and left brain thinking. And although everyone was born with the capacity to use both, most of our right brain functioning was "schooled" out of us by the time we completed our formal education.

So, how then, do writers, artists, and other creative types access the right brain? And, more importantly, how do you ignite it when the muses are being snooty and ignoring your pleas for inspiration?

I've been a technical writer for most of my professional career--and I've also had a lot of creative energy to expend on my artistic adventures. That is, until 2002, when I decided to take a year off from business to pursue fiction writing full time. It was as if my creativity hit the wall going 90mph. Dead, dead, dead. No inspiration, no voices, no ideas. I'd sit at my computer, blankly waiting for new email to pop up. I'd sit at my drawing board, unable to select what color pen to pick up. Within two months, I was as close as I've ever been to clinically depressed. It seemed that everything about me that was me was gone.

It finally occurred to me that my left brain had belligerently taken over because it had nothing to do. With too much time on its hands, it became the neighborhood bully and pummeled my right brain into silence.

For me, my right brain is only free to speak when my left brain is quietly occupied with something else. It's why I was happily and creatively productive while pursuing a more technical career. I could give my left brain the assignment of thinking through a training program for a new application system while my right brain and I would kick back for the weekend and paint.

Everyone is different, but I can't quash, ignore, or outshout my left brain. I have to engage it. However you interact with your right and left brains is unique to you, but take some time to figure it out. The next time you need to ignite your inspiration, you'll be happy you did.

11 May 2008

Developing the "Write" Image

Last Monday, I got one of the worst and most expensive haircuts of my life (Kiva Salon, $100). Not only had this "senior design stylist" cut my hair expressly as I said I didn't want it cut, he then overdried my baby-fine hair to nearly the point of damage. So, on a beautiful, spring morning in Chicago, instead of my hair looking full, shiny, and healthy (like it did when I went into the salon), it laid flat against my scalp and looked like straw poking out of my head.

As I glanced at my reflection in the Macy's window at Water Tower Place, I debated about whether I should just go home and hide out or swallow my hair vanity and press on with all the things I had scheduled on my one day off of the week.

I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other and continue on along Michigan Avenue to my next destination. I had some gift shopping to do for upcoming events and was hoping to get a jump on my list.

Interesting thing. By not looking the part of a well put-together shopper, I found myself practically invisible to sales people. Have you ever been able to walk through a cosmetic department at any major store and not get stopped repeatedly? I went into three major stores and several boutiques and was completely ignored by all salespeople. Literally. I received no assistance at any of the places I went--and in some of the departments I was the only shopper! I can't remember this ever happening before to me. I hate shopping and I sometimes think that this makes me an extra special fun target for the sales associates. They usually approach me in droves. Not last Monday.

Not having the right image is more serious in business than it is along the Mag Mile. And, more particularly, as writers, what we do is difficult to prove to potential clients and employers. How can you portray to someone who's never met you before that you can write his employee training manual or her new system user guide?

Knowing what you're talking about and looking the part are key. Dressing neatly, cleanly, and professionally for the industry in which you're working goes far in building rapport with the people interviewing you. Even if you know that the office has adopted casual attire, bump up your own clothing a notch for a better first impression. After all, you're a guest in their office. Dressing well is a sign of respect.

Appearance won't keep you in a job if you've oversold yourself, and it in no way is more important than your writing qualifications, but the "write" image will set you apart from the pack when all else is equal.

07 May 2008

Just Do It Write

Here's one of my favorite situations. You're at a cocktail party, dinner, or some other social event and someone asks you what you do for a living. When you tell them, the first thing they say is, "Oh, I could write a book, easy."

Been there?

In my younger, less published days, I would not so patiently attempt to explain to the person that writing isn't as easy as it looks. That the best writing entails endless hours of rewriting. That the hardest work begins when the manuscript is finished.

And the response I'd usually get was a smug look and a, "Guess you're not as good a writer as you thought you were."

Now that I'm a mature adult with an established career, I take a more fulfilling, immature conversation route.

"Oh, I could write a book, easy."
"Uh huh."
"Really. Writing's a piece of cake for me."
"Great. Do it."
"I would, but I don't have the time right now."

Short and sweet. No arguments. No explanations. No wasted energy. Makes me smile.

This type of conversation illustrates the critical difference between writers and wannabe writers. The wannabes are all talk. They posture. They discuss their ideas. They lament their hurdles to getting their projects complete. But they don't write.

Writers write. They know that even great ideas require effort to complete. They know that energy spent discussing their writing depletes their stores of energy for actually writing. They don't make excuses, they just do it. They write.

It's great to want to be a writer. That's the first step. But to avoid getting stuck as a wannabe, it takes action. Start a journal. Start a blog. Start a story. Outline a chapter. Get the creative juices flowing. Get the writing process in place. Do it.

Just do it write.