Creativity on the Brain

Lately, I’ve been encountering discussions about creativity: what it is, how it works, how to be more creative. Some of it was on purpose, some of it was serendipitous. I know that lately, I haven’t felt as creative. I sit at my desk to write and I’m immediately out of the chair, trying to find some reason to not write. And those times that I do force myself to sit in the chair, almost nothing comes out. But yesterday, I spent about five hours at my desk and had a really productive day. I’m really eager to figure out how to even this out so it’s not feast or famine. My guess is this is what has pushed my interest in creativity.

Creativity as Magic

About a month ago, I listened to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I think the title accurately describes the tone of the book: creativity is magic. Ms. Gilbert tells us that the way to receive the magic is to basically get your butt in the chair so that you are available to listen to the creative voices in the universe and can be the conduit for them to manifest. It’s a little New Agey so that can be a little bit of turn off, but much of it resonated with me. The book is definitely more inspirational than instructional.

Creativity as Process

Last week, I listed to the Write Now with Sarah Werner podcast and her guest was Bob Stromberg. During the podcast, Mr. Stromberg detailed his process for creativity he called GIT for Grab things that interest you, Interrogate them, Transform them. The podcast is fascinating and thought-provoking and I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety here.

Creativity as Activity

Last weekend, we spent Saturday with our son and ended up spending time in a bookstore. I picked up Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Home, at Work & in Your Studio by Noah Scalin. This book is exactly what it promises: a series of little exercises that are meant to get you thinking differently (yes, Apple; that’s the grammatically correct way to say that!) and shift your thinking to make you more receptive. I haven’t actually had an opportunity to play with them yet, but the ones I’ve read look interesting and non-threatening. Most of the exercises I’ve read have a very small time commitment, so even if they don’t “work”, you haven’t invested enough time to be invested in the “success”

Which One Is Correct?

I’ve had experiences where I tend to think creativity is magic. For the last several weeks, I’ve been struggling with how to restructure a part of my new novel. I sat here for days and days, just staring at my screen. And then earlier this week while I was taking a shower to get ready for work, the solution became blindly obvious, like a bolt of divine inspiration.

When I was listening to the podcast this weekend, I realized that my first novel followed the GIT process. The thing that grabbed me was “What if Scotty was the primary hero of Star Trek and not Kirk?” I thought about this idea for several months because this was going to be my novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and then I transformed that thought in The Reluctant Captain.

And as far as activities, I participated in a number of them. One common trick is morning pages, an exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way. For morning pages, you write three handwritten pages of whatever is in your head right after you get up in the morning. They are good for getting the crap out of your head. I’ve keep falling in and out of the habit based on when I need to go to work. Natalie Goldberg suggests timed writings of first thoughts (no stopping, no crossing out, just moving forward) in her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. 

I honestly don’t know what the secret is to creativity. I suspect that the real answer is part of all of the above. It is a mysterious thing so I definitely buy into the magical nature. But I’ve seen exercises and process lead to results. I also know that it sometimes happens when you don’t actively try to hunt it down. I honestly think that the way it works is that you have to show up at the desk (or studio, or rehearsal room) and try. Try anything. It could be just writing pages of what a horrible author and person you are and how you’ll end up living in a van down by the river. It could be repetitive scales. It could be an exercise.

My personal thought on creativity is that it’s two parts showing up and listening, two parts work, two parts leaving it alone, and one part coffee.

Until next time, happy journeys!


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Miscellaneous and Sundries

Miscellaneous and Sundries

It’s only been two weeks and I managed to make another blog post! Will wonders never cease?

Writing Updates

I’ve been trying to take the comments of my beta readers to heart and make some changes in the novel. A new character was falling a little flat and was part of a subplot that while important, veered too from the main story. It was cool, but the point I was trying to make was lost because it took a left turn in Albuquerque. My mission was to flesh out the character and reconstruct that section of the novel.

And, until today, I was not very successful. My attempts turned into sessions at staring at the screen, knowing I needed to do something, but not sure what. This past Friday night, I tried just writing a mostly useless backstory for the character…that is when I wasn’t falling asleep at the computer. Today I sat down this afternoon and with the power of coffee (the true source of many writers’ superpowers. Some writers will tell you it’s inspiration and creativity. Bullshit. It’s the caffeine!), I made substantial progress. I kept filling out useless backstory until he started to come into focus and the solution to fix the subplot came to me as well. I still actually have to write it, but at least I have a vision of where I’m going.

Genre Bending and A Wave of Nostalgia

Last Sunday, my wife and I went to see Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox in concert; the tickets were one of my Christmas presents. Here’s an action shot from the concert:

Postmodern Jukebox takes current pop hits by Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and even Justin Bieber and transforms them into songs that could have been played from the 20’s to the 60’s; from jazz to swing to Motown to gospel. The musicians were absolutely AMAZING – even my wife liked it and she’s been only moderately interested in the group. If you get the chance to see them, I totally recommend it!

But what does this have to do with…anything on your blog?

My love of PMJ is similar to my love of steampunk: in both cases, they are genre-bending. Where PMJ takes music and transforms it into something that could be from another era, steampunk does the same thing with science fiction. It creates an alternate reality where we have major technological advances in a society we recognize. I know that some people like to keep their genre’s pure, but I love a good mashup. Often times, taking two things and putting them together can create something totally new that isn’t really the child of either parent. It can be good or atrocious, but it’s something new.

The other parallel is that they both thrive on nostalgia and the conceit that things were so much better in the past. In truth, that’s not true in the slightest. The styles of music that PMJ uses were often developed by musicians that couldn’t play “white” concert venues. While we view the Victorian/Edwardian era as a time of manners and class, it was also a time where women weren’t allowed to vote and colonialism was at its height. Nostalgia can be a good thing: it is important to remember and honor the past. But it’s important to note that the “good old days” were often not good old days for every one. However, I have to say, I don’t think it’s possible to leave a PMJ concert and not be in a good mood. If you want to catch them on tour, check them out here or you can watch many of their videos on YouTube.

What’s Up Next?

I’m going to be struggling to fit in writing in the next few months. This coming weekend we head to Canada to spend the weekend with our son and next month, I’m playing in the orchestra in three high school musicals, so the writing time will be a little harder to find. But later this spring, I hope to have more exciting news

Until next time, Happy Journeys!


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In Praise of Beta Readers

Back in November, I asked several of my friends to be beta readers for The Reluctant Agent and this weekend, I received their feedback.

What Is a Beta Reader?

A beta reader is a beta tester for a piece of writing.  The beta reader can do a number of things; check spelling and grammar, spot typos, identify plot holes and continuity problems, evaluate characters, and adjudicate the overall quality of the story.

Why Would You Need a Beta Reader?

I can tell you why I needed beta readers more for this book than my previous book. “The Reluctant Captain” was written in a short period – just over three months. This book has been two years in the making. And for whatever reason, it was a slog. There were times when I was really busy and didn’t have time to write, but when I did, the words struggled to come out. I try to adopt the Dory model of writing “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” But the whole time I was writing, all I could hear was the Evil Editor in my head telling me, “This is crap. No one would ever want to read this screwed up pile of words.”

For me, having beta readers was the test to see if I was or right (it was a good story and interesting) or if the evil editor in my head was right. And because I’ve read it over and over and over, I’ve lost all objectivity. Part of me was starting to believe the Evil Editor.

I’m happy to report that for the most part, I was right and the Evil Editor was just a nagging voice. That’s not to say it was a perfect book. I received excellent feedback which corresponded to my own suspicions (but not those of the Evil Editor) and I’m going to tear into it and try to shore up some areas.

What I Look For in a Beta Reader

  • It’s someone whose judgment and opinion I trust –  The people I asked to read my book are people who I’ve known for a long time and I respect their opinions. If one of them recommends a book, I am very likely to read it (and probably enjoy it very much).
  • They will be honest, but not in a brutal way – They will tell me if it’s bad, but they won’t make me feel like a failure in the process. Trust me, the Evil Editor in my head is very good at his job and he needs no help whatsoever.
  • They are the potential audience for my book – I try to write the kind of book that I want to read. My beta readers fall into that audience as well.

What Does This Have to Do With the Book?

The feedback I’ve received is kind of spot on with some of the nagging voices I had in my head so I’m definitely going to see how I can apply it. I have to say that while I agree with all the feedback, some of it means a minor reworking of the plot that’s been in my head for two years. It’s hard for me to now go back and readjust it because I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

So I have a couple more weeks of tinkering. But that’s a good thing.

Thanks to Keven, Melanie, Bob, and Donna for reading it!

Happy Journeys!





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Where Has The Time Gone?

I can’t believe it’s been four months since I made a blog post! I knew it had been a while, but holy crap!

What’s Up Doc?

I can’t really explain where all of the time went…much of September and October were spent revising The Reluctant Agent. It should be arriving in the Fall of 2018. When I have more news, I’ll let you know.

November was spent traveling and December was all about two things: Music and Christmas. I played five concerts for three different bands and played a Christmas Eve service.

And Here We Are…

And here were looking at the beginning of a brand new year. I’ve given up on making resolutions; instead, I focus on the goals for the coming year. For me, that includes publishing The Reluctant Agent and starting the next book. In the short term, it means finishing a short story I started around Halloween and working on some smaller things while working towards The Reluctant Agent.

Another goal is to do a much better job of posting here and in social media in general. This is one of the hardest things for me to do because I don’t like posting unless I feel strongly about the subject.

That’s all for now. I hope that 2018 is a great year for all of us!

Happy journeys,


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Labor Day, the unofficial transition between summer and fall, is a time of change. Kids go from the carefree days of summer back to the reality of school and the changes that happen every year. For adults, it means the end of vacations and back to the grindstone. If you live here in the north, leaves start changing and slide into winter begins.

This Labor Day has marked a number of changes for me. Right before I left for Labor Day weekend, a reorganization at work has me managing people for the first time in my career. Second, and more importantly, my wife and I took my son to college this past weekend so we are now officially “empty nesters”. This Labor Day has been a clear demarkation between the way things used to be and a different reality.

So What The Hell Does This Have To Do With Your Writing?

It has everything to do with my writing. In The Reluctant Captain, Malcolm has to deal with the change of becoming captain. And in a perverse sense of life imitating art,  I’m beginning that same journey. In the next book, The Reluctant Agent, I think you can deduce from the title that yet another change is in store for Malcolm. This change is not necessarily to his liking and echoes frustrations that I’ve had in my career. My story is going in one direction while Malcolm’s is propelled in the opposite direction. People like to say that when visualize something, you bring it into being. Maybe my work on The Reluctant Captain and now The Reluctant Agent has brought that change into my life. Or maybe it’s just serenedity.

So What’s Up with The New Book?

I’m still revising. I got detoured in August getting ready for my son’s departure. I think I have one or two more passes through before I’ll take it out for others to see. I’m shooting for a Spring 2018 release and I should be able to do it now that I’m an empty nester. Or the new job responsibilites will suck up my time. Time will tell!

Anything Else?

I’m planning on participating in Indie Author Day again this year on Saturday, October 14. I don’t have any definitive plans, but watch for more news here.

And again, please sign up for my email list! There’s a handy dandy sign up just to right over here. I want to keep in touch with anyone who reads my books and blog. So please sign up!

Happy Journeys and Embrace the Change!



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Seeing My Characters

Seeing My Characters

And just like that, three weeks blow by and I didn’t make one single post to the blog! It’s been a whirlwind summer. What with summer band concerts (my last one is this coming Friday) and my son’s imminent departure for college, I’ve haven’t had much time. I’ll try to do better once September starts!

Tonight, my local library held a “Learn How To Make Your Own Cosplay Costumes” seminar tonight. I went with my family and had a great time. It was a short seminar geared toward illustrating and designing characters. We started with pre-drawn character forms to create our own designs. I took this opportunity to sketch out Saxon and Joan from the novel (DISCLAIMER: In truth, it was really supposed to be Malcolm and not Saxon, but the face definitely came out much more like Saxon than Malcolm). Here they are:



Although the drawing of Joan is stylized, I am happy that I was able to capture some of the images floating around in my cranium. I feel like I’ve finally got to see them in more detail.

When I write, I tend to imagine it as a movie playing in my head, albeit a very fuzzy movie. I usually can’t completely imagine my characters’ faces in any detail whatsoever. If I was better at faces, I’d try to draw Malcolm, but given my design of Saxon, it would likely look exactly the same only with a different name.

In other news, work on The Reluctant Agent continues. I’m in the middle of the second round of revisions. I’m hoping that September sees it ready to show to someone else. And after that, more revisions!

Before I sign off, let me once again encourage you to sign up on my mailing list. I still only have four subscribers – and one of them is my wife. I don’t want to make one of those annoying popups asking you to subscribe, so please consider subscribing. I promise I won’t spam you with tons of email. I’d just like to keep people up to date. And please feel free to interact with my by leaving comments – I try to administrate them as quickly as I can.

Until next time, happy journeys!






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The Relationship Between the Author and the Reader

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, I listen to Sarah Werner’s podcasts Write Now!  and its companion,  Coffee Break regularly and am a big fan. On the most current episode of Coffee Break (available here), she interviewed author Ryan Dalton. In their discussion, Mr. Dalton mentioned that he was disappointed when a writer he followed tweeted about a crappy day at his non-writing day job. He felt that it broke the “brand” of the author and was inconsistent with the image that writer typically portrayed.

What Should the Relation Be Between an Author and Reader?

While I get Mr. Dalton’s point, I don’t share that opinion. I follow a couple of authors on Twitter and on their blogs. I love it when I get to peek behind the curtain and see the big time authors have the same struggles as me: finding time to write, struggling to get words out…the whole topsy-turvy world of writing. As a reader, I think we often put our favorite authors on mental pedestals. I like getting to see the glimpses that they wish to share with their readers.

Building a Community

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I read Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.  The other night, I noticed my copy of Felicia Day’s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): A Memoir and the parallels between the two books really struck me. Both books describe how Ms. Palmer and Ms. Day built communities where they shared their projects. They both interact with their fans and encourage interaction with their fans. I think the only way you can have that kind of community is to share yourself with your community. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I think if I can build a community, that would be my definition of success as a writer.

In The Spirit of Sharing

I just got back from a weeklong vacation in the Adirondacks with my wife’s family. It was the perfect balance between relaxation and activity – something I don’t always achieve. The Great America Road Trip of 2016 was certainly all activity as the goal was to visit the colleges and other attractions in the three weeks we had….Alright, who am I kidding, it was a three-week excuse to do Star Trek activities. We did some of the typical tourist attractions, rode a boat up the lakes. And most importantly to you (I hope), I finished the first revision of The Reluctant Agent, my next book. It still has more work to go, but I have it in a form that has mostly complete sentences and real words (while I’m a writer, I’m a terrible typist). I’ve been back to work and I’m not going to complain about that simply because complaining about work is universal. While work certainly helps define who I am, I don’t let it define me completely. I’m an engineer, but I’m also a musician, a writer, a father, a son, and many other things. There’s a great line in the musical Working (adapted from the novel by Studs Turkel) where one of the characters says:

“Jobs aren’t big enough for people. When you ask most people who they are, they define themselves by their job. I’m a doctor. I’m a radio announcer. I’m a carpenter. If someone asks me, I say, I’m Amanda McKenny. At certain points in time, I do things for a living.”

In the spirit of community, please join my email list. You can do it at the handy dandy signup are on the right. I certainly won’t inundate you with email because right now, I have approximately four people in the list. To the four people who did sign up, thank you! And please feel free to leave comments – I try to approve them as soon as I can, but if you leave a comment during the East Coast workday hours, there’s a good chance I won’t get to it until the evening. But I’d love discussion and feedback, so feel free to leave comments.

Until next time,

Happy Journeys!


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