Finding Your Voice

After spending a few minutes with me you’ll find that I tell a lot of stories. I come by it naturally, as my dad told stories every night at the dinner table. His daily adventures as a cop were thrilling, hilarious, or absurd. And yes, he did get shot in the line of duty and lived to tell the incredible story.

Even in his death, dying in a mysterious plane crash during a freak storm, he guided me with clues into a life of storytelling. I found myself hunting down every unanswered and mysterious story behind his death. My curiosity grew, as I delved deeper into the 100 out-of-place coincidences that I discovered.

5357__ROlJiMzo6Later in life I’d hear Hannah Brencher share about how our voice, as a writer or filmmaker, is birthed in our experiences and emotions. Brencher said, “Live and then write it down.” It’s such a simple activity that develops our voice, yet it’s all too often overlooked.

The process solidifies our experiential and emotional patterns rising from our soul to our consciousness—the very thing that determines our life passions. Once we see these patterns outside of ourselves, our minds are capable of standing firm in our beliefs and perspectives. The repetitive nature of the process also strengthens our resolve and gives us the tools to help others.

But our value is of little worth to those we inspire, unless it’s coupled with the elements that can seed their life for great results. To bring a sense of fulfillment to our followers, we must find a way to teach, rather than just inspire them. We must transcend the typical story by salting in life elements that can be embraced by those we serve with our words and films.

Brencher shared how she went camping with no more than the idea of camping on her mind. She wasn’t prepared, and had no idea how to build a campfire useful for warmth and cooking. Thankfully a guy one site over lended a hand and built her campfire. He also replenished it later that evening and fueled it again to cook breakfast.

That afternoon he broke camp to continue his travels. She too left, even though she paid for two nights, because she still didn’t know how to make a fire. In that moment she realized that inspiring people is nice, but teaching them how to inspire themselves is better. The experience raised a new passion in her that would permanently alter her voice. She learned that as a writer she needed to give everything she had, not just the inspirational pieces.

Give everything you have “in the moment you are asked to give it all,” became Brencher’s new moto. It’s a moto for those with little to share and those with a lot. The size and strength of our voice is not what’s important, but the value we bring to others.

Brencher’s voice was uniquely hers and couldn’t be copied by anyone else, except through plagiarism. No one is able to create a similar voice that can stand the test of time. It’s only when we dig deep within our personal experiences and emotions will our voice rise and be like none other.

Spending a couple decades listening to my dad share true-life stories, coupled with a rise in my curiosity from the 100 bizarre coincidences associated with his death, sent me on a journey of countless experiences and emotions that forged my voice…. A voice that was like none other. A voice that hopefully inspires and teaches.

Maybe it’s time for you to consider journaling to bring your needed voice to the forefront.

© Copyright 2018 by CJ Powers
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When Your Muse is Missing

doubleyolkThis morning I cracked open a couple of eggs for an omelet and was delighted to find that one of my eggs had a double yolk. I quickly looked up the odds, which I thought would’ve been one in a million, to see why the old tales of good fortune turned the event into a sign of good luck. I was shocked to learn the odds were only 1:1,000. I even saw a man’s picture of 11 double yolk eggs in a frying pan—almost a perfect dozen.

The moment inspired me to write a blog entry referencing this new muse of mine. Oh, it wasn’t stirring enough to write a passionate post, but it was enough to get my gears moving. I decided that if I was able to turn a silly little event into the spark of creative thought, there must be a simple trick to help creatives develop something when his or her muse is missing.

Use A System

“When the creative muse isn’t around, look for systems and strategies to generate good ideas.”
—Jim Jaskol, Ride Control Engineer

I’ll never forget the system I was taught in the Bell Labs Think Tank. The instructor had us look over a new product that was ready for release. He wanted us to brainstorm 100 ways the device could be used. “Once you run out of ideas,” he said. “Think about its use from the perspective of your grandmother. And then from the viewpoint of a child, and so on.” The product released six months later promoted from two perspectives, one of which I had brainstormed. It was a thrilling experience, thanks to the instructor’s system.

Engage In Educational Play

“Understand the problem, do the research, play hard looking for the potential options, sleep on it, and let your subconscious do the rest. Great solutions make a wonderful breakfast.”
—Bobby Brooks, Concept Architect

The number of times I have a great idea pop into my brain during my morning shower is too numerous to count. There is something about playful exploration that continues to reside in your brain well into your slumber that activates the right side of the brain. I can attest to how the brain works while you’re asleep to solve the problem playfully pondered that day. But for it to work, the left side of the brain must first understand the problem and what a solution might look like. Then sleeptime gives rise to the right side of the brain with no limitations.

Create An Environment

“You can’t flip a switch and make someone else creative, but you can set up an environment in which the switch is more often on.”
—Alex Wright, Show Designer

The first time I wandered through an animation studio I couldn’t help but notice all the toys and gadgets cluttering the creative’s work space. There was enough unique stimulus to power multiple feature length films. Several years later I was working as a consultant at Kraft Global Foods and found their new office space designed for creatives to be off the charts. The entire environment didn’t have any hint of “office” in it. The space was designed to feel vacation-like, while being broken up by inspirational and motivational designs to stimulate the workforce. Within minutes of being in that space the Vice President and I solved the five-year-old problem.

Originality comes from the juxtaposition of systems, educational play, and environment. While having a muse simplifies the development of an idea, how we address creativity when the muse is missing determines how consistent we are and how professionally we can create on demand.

Can you imagine how this post was inspired by double egg yolks showing up in my omelet this morning? For my logical friends, I’m sorry that you can’t see the connection, or how one led to the other. But you can rest assured that my omelet was very tasty.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

 

I’m Not Lost!

Scarf1I walked downtown this morning to make a bank deposit, return a book to the library, and send a Christmas package to a dear friend. The walk was lovely with old lampposts decorated in garland and red ribbons. But something was a bit different on the next lamppost I approached.

A scarf was wrapped around it with a note attached that read: “I’m not lost! If you find yourself in the cold, take this to keep yourself warm!”

I witnessed Christmas in action. The brand new, warm scarf being made available for someone in need was a great demonstration of unconditional love. The recipient’s finances or lack thereof wouldn’t be judged, nor would the gift leverage a lesson to illuminate their poor choices or lifestyle. The gift was given out of grace alone with no strings attached.

The kind donor deserved to be blessed for such an act of kindness, but the generous gift was anonymous. Joy filled my soul as I thought how fun it would be to determine what I could provide. A spark of imagination flooded my thoughts as I walked further down the street.

Scarf2Then I spotted another scarf, and another. Glancing across the street I noticed others scattered among various lampposts. The Christmas cheer was plentiful and I wondered how long it would be until those in need received comfort and warmth. I turned back to my path and continued toward the library.

A man huddled in the small alley between buildings acknowledged me. He was wearing old, dirty clothes that were dark blue and charcoal in color. His hat looked well worn and grungy, but the bright yellow and green scarf wrapped around his neck was brand new. He had watched me take pictures of the scarfs around the lampposts and smiled as he nodded with his hand patting the new scarf.

Next to the library sat another homeless man. His dark brown clothes were as dirty as one might expect, with the exception of the bright red scarf around his neck. I smiled at him and wished him a Merry Christmas. He returned the greeting as he adjusted his scarf to reveal his huge smile.

I had seen Christmas this morning and I felt compelled to share the experience. While you might not have homeless people in your town, I’m sure there is someone in need this winter that would love to smile from a demonstration of unconditional love. Maybe an elderly woman needs an errand done, or a sick child needs a new stuffed animal for play.

The answers are as numerous as the needs that rise out of the blue. Taking action to demonstrate love not only helps the recipient, but also encourages others to act in a similar manner. This is the season of compassion and only you can do your part in turning someone’s holiday sorrows into a beaming smile.

Let me know what you decide to do to help others this season. I’d love to hear that there are lots of people who care enough to participate in being someone’s Christmas wish.

If I’ve spoken into your life, would you…

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers

NaNoWriMo Turns Crazies into Winners

NaNo-2017-Winner-BadgeNational Novel Writing Month is about a half a million authors writing novels during the month of November worldwide. The organization provided numerous “write-in” locations for the competition. Some provided incentives, while others provided food and caffeine.

To cross the finish line each author had to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which takes a lot of encouragement from others. A little over 4,000 people in my general area attempted the daunting task. In my specific local area 440 writers went after the win. With only a day or so left to go, only 15 writers have crossed the finish line so far with about 20 positioned to do so if all continues as planned.

Right now I have the third highest number of words completed at 56,352 with hopes of crossing the 60,000 mark on Thursday. The first highest has 120,144 words and the second highest has 76,285 words. Or, a better way to view the stats is to consider the number of total words written by local authors in this area, which are 7,846,619 words written so far—The equivalent of 100 novels.

I remember back to November 6th, the day I started. I was six days behind schedule and that white sheet of blank paper was looking up at me wondering if I had enough creativity to toss 50,000 words onto the page in the remaining 24 days. The sensation I felt when I made that mental leap to move forward was intoxicating and a bit foolish.

Once reduced enough ideas to writing and the numbers got up to around 18,000 words, I wanted to quit. There was no reason to continue the exercise since I had no way of finishing, let alone find an audience to buy my finished book. But, I received encouragement from strangers who were also participating. To honor their words of encouragement, I put one foot in front of the other and pushed through.

When I hit around 24,000 words life was pressing against me and everything was falling apart. I had to quit, but my new friends cheered me on and I broke through the 25,000 word barrier. By the time I hit 26,000 words, I found myself captivated by the story and had to continue writing to see what happened next.

I received a winner’s t-shirt after hitting 50,000 words (Yes, I had won!) and found myself compelled to forgo my breaks and keep writing. I had to tweak the words and polish the story. Everything was working in the plot points and the character development was far better than I had expected. The adventure was exciting and the romance … let’s just say women are going to love it.

NaNoWriMoCoverBOOM! The explosion and raging flames licked up toward the crashed Cessna dangling in the tall trees over the level six rapids … A few guys might enjoy the action scenes. Oops, am I saying too much?

Hmm, do I share which of the two men win Brianna’s heart? Nah.

I couldn’t have written an entire novel in one month (first draft only—lots of rewrites ahead) without the encouragement of my new friends. Thank you! And, for those of you who might be interested in reading The Tree Jumper, I’ll have more details in a future post.

In the meantime, if you see an author who wrote a novel in November, do take time to congratulate them on a job well done. It’s an impossible task for normal people, but us crazy creatives are foolish enough to entertain the masses. Oh, and for those of you who think it’s easy, I’ll see you next November.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

NaNoWriMo Spurs On Creativity

Spiderman_NotebookThis month I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo along with over 400,000 other creative people across the world. Within a 10-15 mile radius of where I live 4,068 people are participating in National Novel Writing Month. Each writer is committed to pen a 50,000 word first draft novel by the end of November.

This national event was founded in 1999 and has since gone international. It is a great way to stretch one’s creativity and dream up an adventure that future fans would be interested in reading. My novel is titled: Tree Jumper. It’s a young adult novel that carries a conservative theme about unconditional love.

During the process, numerous area libraries have supported NaNoWriMo with Write-Ins. Last Friday after the library in a nearby town closed for the night, NaNoWriMo authors got to sneak back in and write until we dropped. For me it was about 2,400 words. We had three writing competitions of which I took first place during the last heat. My prize was a Spiderman journal and pen.

We celebrated everyone’s success and the library provided free pizza to keep us fueled for the three-hour evening. We even had virtual authors show up via an Internet connection that allowed us to communicate and track each other’s efforts. The coolest part was supporting each other’s achievements.

Writing a novel is no small task. To hit the first draft writing goal of 50,000 words, we each have to write an average of about 1,700 words a day. That works out to two hours of writing a day for topics familiar to the author. Any research or story structure work requires more hours. Character development is also additional time spent. Not to mention all the rewrites necessary to make a title sales worthy.

The goal for most of us participating is to refine and expand our creativity. In fact, after talking with several of the authors, I felt like my story was the least creative. That’s right, Mr. Creativity was the least creative. But don’t let that idea fool you, as my story will surprise you at least seven or eight times. Being the least creative in the room didn’t stop me from creating a great adventure ride for my readers.

Let me know if anyone is interested in reading my novel once it’s finished. I plan to release it in the beginning of 2018. If there is enough of you that would like a copy, I’ll set up a presale program that will keep you up to date. In the meantime, I’ll accept any encouraging words as I endeavor to meet the monstrous goal of completing my first draft by end of month.

Copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers

#NaNoWriMo

Creativity: Gift or Craft

I heard a podcast with stand up comedians Ken Davis and Bob Stromberg talking about creativity. The one thing that stood out worth sharing was that neither man felt creativity was a gift. To clarify, they defined the “gift” as the capacity and desire to create, while they said “creativity” is a learned craft that everyone can practice.

I agree that everyone can be creative especially when following these 5 practical steps that I use:

1. Capture

The first step in being creative is capturing the things that stir the emotions. When I capture in a quick note or sketch the thing that impacted me or moved me, I’m able to remember it and give it my full consideration.

2. Explore

Once I’ve captured the moment, I then explore why it touched me. I ask myself questions in an attempt to learn the truth about why I felt the humorous or dramatic moment.

3. Birth an Idea

When I contemplate or meditate on the very thing that I chose to explore, new creative ideas pop into my mind. The one that makes the greatest impression fuels the fire of passion, giving me an opportunity to flesh out the concept in the form of an artistic expression.

4. Play

People stop being creative when they stop playing. It’s therefore important to play around with variations of the new artistic idea. Rather than searching for the one “right” answer to present, playfulness requires exploring multiple right answers to find the most entertaining one that clarifies the message.

5. Polish

Assessing the presentation or performance with a test audience helps me figure out what worked and what didn’t work. More importantly, I learn what the audience understood or missed. This new gained knowledge gives me a chance to tweak and polish my creative idea for its final and official production.

Being creative is a choice that requires a playful viewpoint while developing the craft. Everyone is capable of being creative, but not everyone chooses to work hard at capturing the emotional elements required to be successful. Fortunately the first step is child’s play, which everyone is capable of because we all know what its like having been a child.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Creatives Are Driven To Live

OklahomaBill Hybels, a legendary spiritual leader, once talked about a “holy discontentment” and how it drives the spiritual to continually look for ways to help others. Choreographer Martha Graham spoke of an artist’s “divine dissatisfaction” that drives all creative work.

Prose writer Rachel Carson also spoke of this unrest that leads to creative activity, “No writer can stand still. He continues to create or he perishes. Each task completed carries its own obligation to go on to something new.”

Dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille, known for her original choreography in Oklahoma!, a musical that generated numerous awards including a record setting 2,212 performances, found herself struggling with her “fairly good work” when critics touted it as a “flamboyant success.”

De Mille received clarity concerning this disconnect in her life when she bumped into Graham and shared her sense of dissatisfaction. De Mille started the conversation with a confession that she had a burning desire to be excellent, but had no faith to achieve it.

Graham: “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

De Mille: “But, when I see my work, I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

Graham: “No artist is pleased.”

De Mille: “But then there is no satisfaction?”

Graham: “No satisfaction whatever at any time, there is only queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Graham and Hybels had hit on something fascinating. Both saw the activity rising from creative discontentment as divinely inspired for the good of others. While artists long for satisfaction with their work, the blessed only receive a drive to move on to another work.

Julia Cameron, known as a artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist and teacher, learned through her studies of the human condition that, “Art is a spiritual transaction. Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.”

When I meditate on what I’ve observed, whether information from life or scripture, and many times the combination of both, I receive a divine awareness that helps me to understand a perspective that most have never considered. The excitement contained within the moment drives me to share it with others. But they don’t get it.

The only way for people to understand what I’ve seen is to create art that can demonstrate it or move a person to consider something outside of their reality. It therefore compels me to create art, always hoping it reaches the people it was intended to reach.

This continual drive that most of my friends label as passion, breathes life into me daily. It forces me to try and try again so everyone gets the gift of understanding that I received, but my attempts always fall short. The cycle begins again and again. While I can’t complain because of the life that stirs within me, I am always dissatisfied in my feeble ability to communicate such an important understanding.

And there lies the truth of an artist’s dilemma. Filled with life overflowing, always driven, but never arriving with any form of satisfaction. I’ll call this curse a blessing for it is who I am.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

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