Take a Breath, Get Inspired

If you’ve found yourself in a creative slump and are coming up short on ideas, or at least any worthy of pursuit, this is the post for you! In these situations, I recommend curating a space to recharge and be inspired. Here are some essays, albums, podcasts, and more that have been getting me ramped up to create so far this year!

The Day Job series
In this essay series on Medium, writers run down the details of toiling to make ends meet while writing books in their off time. These are must reads for anyone working a day job to support a dream!
https://medium.com/s/day-job?fbclid=IwAR3KrvfR1vb29DAS9eZ2UaSp0GhDlW7_krLtLIiv9SCCfmfc7lbDTy7MFX8

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Daily Routine
“Some of us are Norman Mailer, but others of us are middle-aged Portland housewives.” Here’s an opportunity for those who can dedicate full days to creative work to try out the writing schedule of a master! Personally, I see it as both aspiration and inspiration.
http://www.openculture.com/2019/01/ursula-k-le-guins-daily-routine-the-discipline-that-fueled-her-imagination.html

Ditch Diggers – Drinks with an Agent
On the latest episode of my favorite lit-adjacent podcast, Mur Lafferty sits down and, you guessed it, has drinks with her agent, Jen Udden! I’m always up for any insights a literary agent is willing to share, and this episode does not disappoint!
https://murverse.com/ditch-diggers-74-drinks-with-an-agent/

Yugen Blakrok – Anima Mysterium
I read the Bandcamp Daily feature about this album and, while intrigued, I was in no way prepared for how much I’d enjoy it. It delivers on the promise of a sprawling sci-fi excursion, but it’s so much more. Tripped out, down-tempo sonic atmospheres swirl around cosmic but truthful, potent, and (just like the best sci-fi) relevant lyrics, weaving an engaging listen that I can’t stop going back to. And that closing track? Read the lyrics while listening and try not to visualize the perfect scene to kick off your next masterpiece!

So I wear this cloak of raven feathers, holding a scepter
As letters from the ether fall like rain when I rip deserts
Welcome to the land of gray
Where troubles never cease, and man’s awakening is accompanied by grief

From “Land of Gray”

Stream Anima Mysterium on Spotify or Apple Music, or buy the album on Bandcamp!

Voyage to the Stars
Here’s a completely different take on the cosmos! This new podcast with Colton Dunn, Felicia Day, Janet Varney, and Steve Berg is an interstellar comedy about a group of underdogs stumbling into unfathomable situations. Not only is it hilarious and absurd in all the best ways, but all of the dialogue is improvised! The framework of the storyline is in place, but it’s on the actors to keep it progressing and make it fun. Though it feels like a nice escape, it’s also a great study in character creation and dialogue. This is an Earwolf show, so you’ll find it on the podcast app of your choice.
https://www.earwolf.com/show/voyage-to-the-stars/

Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
While the news cycle can feel inescapable, Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix show focuses more on the often obscured issues and root causes behind the big news stories. New episodes premier weekly, but due to the format you won’t feel behind if you don’t watch as soon as they drop. Minhaj is a sharp host and undeniable comic force, which alone would make for a great show, but he also manages to break down complex situations with a dose of humanity. Even if your work is not overtly sociopolitical, you will certainly benefit from the show’s fresh perspectives and investigative nature, not to mention the plethora of ideas on how to torture your characters from the governments and corporations who do it best! Check out a preview and watch on Netflix.
https://www.netflix.com/title/80239931

Low – Double Negative
This album sounds like nuclear winter. Like everything’s changed. It sounds like the last swarm of bees. It sounds like breaking down. Structures and infrastructures, industries and societies, emotions and mental faculties, all breaking down. Collapse. It sounds like the collapse. Like the Doomsday Clock melting. All precedents are annihilated and you don’t know what’s coming next. It sounds like a warp through time and space, but feels distinctly present.

Low – Double Negative

Double Negative came out last year, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything quite like it and it continues to bloom, each listen dusting me in a new sensation of panic or discomfort or uncertainty or serenity. While it doesn’t stray far from the slow, deliberate movements that Low has come to embody, it also takes new compositional risks and melds them with bold production to construct something larger and far more affecting than just a collection of songs. This record is nothing short of striking, and if you’re in need of something new to shake you out of old cycles, this is that something. Low has been around for over twenty-five years, so for them to create something this unique and potent at this stage is itself inspirational. If nothing else, listen and try writing a description of what you’re hearing and feeling—that’s a writing exercise in itself!
Stream it on Spotify or Apple Music, buy it on Bandcamp!

Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
Can you tell music is my go-to when I need some direction? Stranger Fruit is another release from last year, but I just can’t shake it. Zeal & Ardor is the brainchild of Manuel Gagneux, and seeks to answer an odd, genre-crunching question: what would slave spirituals sound like in the context of black metal? The answer, under Gagneux’s capable guidance, is, well … fucking incredible. While the previous two releases were eye-opening and enjoyable, Stranger Fruit is the most fully-realized yet. It’s the perfect soundtrack for you genre-hopping, interstitial types looking for new ways to blend seemingly disparate elements into something fresh, using tropes as pole vaults instead of borders.
Stream the album with your preferred service or purchase here!

Wondering why there are no books on this list? Check out my previous post, “Reading for Writing!” Additionally, I’ve found I’m too easily influenced by other writers when I’m struggling with ideas, and prefer to reach outside the medium. If you need to read to write (not uncommon!), I suggest starting outside of your preferred genres. Keep your expectations tempered and your mind open, you just might discover new ways to tell stories that you’d never considered!

Has something helped you get out of a funk recently? I want to hear about it!

(Note: We do not benefit from sharing links to purchase any of the works mentioned here, I just think they’re worth buying!)

A Crash Course in Time Management

Hands down, my greatest weakness when it comes to creative ventures is time management. I usually have at least two projects underway at any given moment and am always plotting at least one more, but I rarely complete any of them in a timely manner. Yes, I work full time on top of these passion projects, but I should still have some time left over to focus on making stuff, right?

On average, I work eight or nine hours a day and sleep about seven, so that’s sixteen out of twenty-four hours down the drain right from the start. Yes, that’s a lot of lost time, but that still leaves eight hours to carve out time to create. Oh, to have eight full hours a day to work on ANYTHING! You and I both know that’s not a likely scenario. What about making and eating dinner? The dog’s getting restless, time for a walk. Dishes are piling up, laundry needs done, gotta get to the grocery store, have some bills to sort out, oh and how about we avoid alienating everyone important in our lives? Eight hours becomes about an hour divided into inconvenient intervals just like that, and I don’t even have kids! Creative parents, I don’t know how you do it, and I salute you.

Now that we’ve identified how precious and fleeting our time is, we need to make some adjustments and mold an itinerary that works for us. A few years back, my work schedule changed from a 6:00 AM start time to 8:00 AM, and I decided I’d just keep getting up around 5:00 and try to utilize that uncluttered morning-brain to work on writing and editing. I was already on the schedule, so it didn’t feel like a seismic shift in my day to day, but it made a massive impact on my productivity, and I still get up way too early every work day. Well… almost every work day. I’ve never been a morning person, but I was surprised to find out how much I’m able to accomplish in this seemingly insignificant window. I highly recommend adding an hour to your morning routine if you find yourself struggling with deadlines or project completions If not for these morning sessions, I think my LetterWorks associates would’ve kicked me to the curb for not keeping up with the workload!

That’s a little over one hour per day that I’ve wrangled for myself, but I still needed more. I started reading time management tips and blogs, and decided to look into auditing my time. I downloaded the Toggl app and have been dutifully logging my activities for about a week now. It seems strange to record everything you do over the course of the day, but since I always have my phone handy, I can update it as an alternative to checking social media. This comes with the added bonus of sparing myself the shot of existential dread from watching society collapse in real time, so it’s already worth it! I haven’t logged my social media use specifically, but using the Screen Time app, I’ve got a few hours per week that I could at very least use for reading, organizing, or otherwise planning something related to my creative endeavors. If you’re interested in auditing your time but don’t think an app is right for you, here’s a handy printable chart you can use!

As expected, the majority of my pie chart is eaten by work and sleep, but I do have moments here and there to lock into tasks that don’t require the full focus of editing or writing, like catching up on emails. I’ve squeaked in time between getting ready for work and actually leaving (fifteen minutes on Monday!), while dinner is cooking, and then of course in the evening after my other life-essential tasks are done.

You may find as I did, that evenings are not as easy to schedule productivity into as I had assumed. There are the usual day to day activities, but then we also have our loved ones to consider. I have no desire to just abandon my girlfriend between dinner and bedtime, and generally will not unless I have a pressing deadline. I can, however, work on layout, website updates, project promotion, writing emails, or other mission-adjacent tasks when we sit down to watch TV. This doesn’t always happen, but as I continue to monitor my time usage, I get better at spotting windows like this that I can utilize.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that simply scheduling and logging time doesn’t always lead to results. In these cases, I’ve been careful to note what variables are at play so I can try to either plan around them or prepare for them in the event that I can’t reschedule. Sometimes this means skipping an early morning session in favor of sleep after a particularly long or grueling day at work.

Setting goals for each session has been helpful as well. Whether I set a word or page count for a specified period of time, or set a time limit to complete a task, I find that goals are good motivators. This would’ve been utter speculation had I attempted it before keeping track of my productivity, but now I have an idea how long it takes me to write and edit a blog post, or how much of a magazine layout I can get done in an hour. And speaking of motivators, logging milestones and completed projects is a great way to see that you’re making progress and your efforts are paying off!

Here are some helpful links to get you off and running with your own personalized time management regimen!

https://observer.com/2015/06/how-to-be-efficient-dan-arielys-6-new-secrets-to-managing-your-time/
This one is particularly helpful to anyone feeling like society is conspiring to hijack our free time.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2018/05/01/manipulate-time-with-these-powerful-20-time-management-tips/#5f72a4c757ab
This Forbes article caters more to the business-minded than creative types, but still contains some solid points. Plus, most writers are basically one-person businesses!

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/making-time-to-write-time-management-for-screenwriters
Here’s one for screenwriters, but applies to anyone looking to string more words together.

https://toggl.com/time-management-tips/
The aforementioned app, Toggl has some ideas on how it should be done as well.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from the always fantastic Kameron Hurley:

“Time management has been high on my list of things to fix this year, and if I was going to get all the work done that I needed to get done, something had to go. That something was engaging with the internet. When people pop into my Twitter mentions now with a passive-aggressive response or angry point of disagreement, I just mute them. Folks forget that they are talking to a Real Human Being here, with a shitbrick of work to do and no time for their nonsense. I’ve reminded myself over and over this year that the purpose of most abuse you get online for speaking your mind (especially if you don’t present as a Generic White Dude), is done to steal your time. People want to wear you down, to break you, to silence you. And in order to keep working, I’ve had to make some changes to how I interact (or not) in online spaces. Most of the bloviating circle-jerking stuff is just not worth my time. I engage when it matters, not just in reaction to somebody being dumb and wanting me to waste my time bloviating a “response” to something patently ridiculous like “women shouldn’t vote” or “periods make women dumb.” I’m too fucking busy getting shit done over here.”

Source: https://www.kameronhurley.com/the-calm-before-the-storm/