Posts tagged with: creativity

How To Find Your Magic

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Do you have your green on? Leprechauns, gold and magic surround this holiday, but as writers we must employ a bit of creative “magic” every day to create characters, worlds and emotionally moving stories. Many call this magic their muse.

Originally a Muse was any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences. The term has come to mean “a source of inspiration, especially: a guiding genius.” (Merriam-Webster)

Our muse is our creativity, an internal source we draw upon whenever we need to create something new or solve a problem. Which is very similar to the term, lateral thinking (coined in 1967 by Edward de Bono), which means the solving of problems by an indirect and creative approach, typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.

People are born with creative ability, no more or less than the others around them. It is the tapping into this ability, thinking laterally, that helps the artist create new and inspiring projects.

So, what can we do to tap into our well of creative waters? Lure our muses out of hiding and conjure up our magic for the pages of our manuscripts? Over the years I have developed a few techniques to build the muse-alluring rainbow and follow it to the end to find my pot of gold (okay – yes, that was stretching the metaphor a bit for the sake of the day).

Clear my desk. I can’t think about my WIP when there are bills piled next to my computer or kid permission slips or my list of a million little things that need to happen. The clutter pulls my attention away from the book and my muse refuses to waste her time coming near me.

Make a cup of chai latte. I’ve addicted my muse to hot chai lattes. I make them at home to save on cost and limit them for the calories. But if I’m stuck and trying to immerse myself in my book world, the spicy taste of cinnamon mixed with hot milk, black tea and cardamom pushes me right in.

Find my playlist. At the beginning of a new book I create a musical playlist with songs that represent the time period and songs that help me understand the characters (which is why my iPhone has both Gregorian monks chanting and Eminem). I don’t listen to music every day, but when my muse is playing hard to get, the music lures her in like the Pied Piper.

Cut and paste. I’m very visually oriented, so I like to see what I’m writing about. Consequently, I collage my stories, or at least the characters and settings. At the beginning of a new project, I take a day or two to look up pictures of places and people, print them off and glue them to poster board, manila folders or blank books. I also cut and paste them electronically if I don’t have time to pull out the scissors and glue (using One Note). I actually brainstorm with pictures, discovering backstory and plot details in fun or creative images. I prop them up in my line of sight (on my clean desk) when I write.

Collage for CAPTURED HEART – Scottish Historical Romance

Walk. There is something about fresh air and rushing blood that gets my creative energy sparking. If I dwell on a scene while walking, dialogue pops into my head. It is almost like my muse is skipping along, flicking ideas at me until I grasp one and we run with it. By the time I get home I’m usually itching to start typing.

Free Association. One idea I’ve yet to try is called Word Spit (yes, I came up with the name and I’m sure you could come up with a better one : ). Take a blank piece of paper and a pen. Without thinking, start writing down random words, anything that pops in your mind. Often these words start taking on a pattern or interact with one another as they flow from your subconscious to the paper. Take some of the words and try to apply them to your plot or characters, and see if they spark inspiration or a new direction.

We all have a muse, our inspiration for creating art, expressing our ideas, and molding something beautiful out of lifeless material. She or he is a one-of-a-kind personal guide to finding our pot of gold. You just need to lure her in and grab on.

Do you have any techniques for bringing forth creativity? How do you find your magic?



Decoupage Your Promo

As authors, we are creative people. Some feel that their creativity lies only in the written word, but I believe that creativity is broader within people. It just takes a little teasing to bring it out and a willingness to risk, mess up, and learn. It is a great way to exercise the far reaches of the brain, sweeping out the cobwebs by tossing around ideas.

When I’m not thinking of plot twists and what makes my characters tick, I like to try out all sorts of fun crafts. I sew, knit, etch glass, cut and glue. For fun I search the internet for crafting ideas and visit craft fairs for inspiration.

Today I want to teach you a craft that I’ve found very helpful to my writing. Decoupage.

Before delving too far into a new writing project, I create a collage with elements of setting and characters to help me visualize. A collage is really decoupage, so it was easy for me to expand the craft. At writing conferences, people invariably ask me what I write. So I created a portfolio with all my covers decoupaged onto it. Pretty, isn’t it. And so much fun! On the other side I have inspiring quotes and images.

Notebk front notebk back












I plan to decoupage shelving in my house next and a new phone book. Oh, and light plates. Really you can decoupage most anything. I’ve even seen high heels decorated with Mod Podge (decoupage glue) and printed out images. The possibilities are endless!

decoupage shoes

You can decoupage blank books or journals to give as swag, as well as little prize boxes or canvases that represent your books or your author brand.decoupage tins









Here are some simple steps for Decoupage:

Mod podge drawers1. Choose a canvas. It can be anything from a book cover to a light switch plate to a jar. If it’s your first project, you might want to stick with something flat.

2. Choose your Mod Podge. There are shiny and mat finishes.Mod-Podge

3. Find the background. What is the underlying theme you hope to depict? Maps or music or dragonflies or even just polka dots might speak to your theme. You can use scrapbook paper, napkins, tissue paper, etc. Don’t glue it down yet.

4. Find pictures or letters. You might want to check out decoupage projects on line to see what you like. Some people prefer to totally fill up their canvases. Others like to leave a lot of background showing. If cutting out letters (you can use stickers), go for dark or standout colors. Pictures can be found on line or in magazines. Also check out calendars, wrapping paper, non-valuable comic books. Really anything flat and thin can work, even fabric.

quote mod podge

5. Arrange items on the canvas first to see if you like how it looks.

6. Glue down the background with Mod Podge or other glue. I use a wide brush to coat the canvas and lay the paper down, starting in the middle and working outward. Wrinkles can occur. Some people don’t mind wrinkles (me). For others, wrinkles can drive them crazy. Pros use a roller to try to get out all the bubbles and wrinkles.

mod podge tech1




7. Mod Podge over the background. Don’t leave puddles. Keep the coat even. Remember it dries clear.mod podge tech2

8. Now glue on your pictures and letters. You don’t have to wait for the background to dry. Mod Podge over them.

9. Add stickers, little items or final touches. Decoupage over everything once more in an even coat. Actually you can do as many coats as you want depending on how much exposure the project will get (ie. Shoes, you’d want many coats and probably an acrylic sealer). Let coats dry in between. Allow to dry completely (a couple days probably) before stacking with other materials.

mod podge roller

Decoupage can be an easy, cheap and fun project. Sweep away the mental cobwebs and stretch into a different realm of creativity. It will benefit you on many levels.

Do you decoupage? What have you created?


Creative Minds: Trey Parker and Matt Stone

Eric Cartman

Having recently hit a rough patch in my own creative process, one of the things I’ve been doing to refill my personal creative well is to explore the creative processes of people whose work I enjoy and appreciate.  Fair warning: This video-heavy blog post is likely to be the first in an occasional series because I found so much good stuff. 😉 

As someone who has to restrain herself from dropping the occasional f-bomb on the blog, it probably surprises no one that I’m a HUGE fan of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the Emmy-winning and Peabody-awarded South Park, and the Tony- and Grammy-winning Broadway musical The Book of Mormon.

Make no mistake–South Park, though animated, is a show for adults. These guys are expert cultural commentators and prescient social satirists. They pull no punches and have no fear. They please themselves, and only themselves. They have no sacred cows, but they have each other’s backs, and have for over twenty tears. These things, and so many others, are revealed in one of my favorite documentaries, the Emmy-nominated South Park: 6 Days to Air 6 Days plants a camera crew at South Park Studios, and documents the process they use to create every episode of South Park, which takes an idea from nothing to the air in a mere six days.

SIX DAYS, people – that includes brainstorming, story-boarding, writing, voice-over work, animation, music, editing, and a trip or two through the legal department and Standards and Practices, before up-linking the episode to Comedy Central just before airtime. Talk about tight deadlines. They’ve missed the deadline only once in 18 seasons, due to a power loss at their studio.

Because of this process, the show is extremely topical; Parker and Stone can respond to news stories and cultural issues on a dime. This season of South Park is only three weeks old, yet the show has already taken on the Washington Redskins controversy, Ebola, and transgender bathrooms in schools.

The South Park episode whose creation the documentary showcases, Season 15’s “HUMANCENTiPAD” (NSFW, 22:10), is a genius mash-up of the concept of how people automatically accept Apple iTunes’ Terms of Service without reading it first, combined with the truly, truly disturbing Dutch horror flick “Human Centipede”. Rent the 6 Days to Air documentary for a glimpse into their very unique creative process if you have a chance. Here’s a clip. (5:50, NSFW, for profanity, poor taste, scatalogical humor, and an untold number of offensive and hilarious things. After watching, you’ll never think about “the cloud” in the same way ever again.) It totally cracks me up how the women in the writer’s room are rolling their eyes, and the men are practically peeing their pants with laughter.  😉 And yes, that IS the brilliant Bill Hader, formerly of SNL, brainstorming in the writer’s room. He moonlights as a South Park writer and producer, and in 2009 shared in the show’s Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. 

Several years ago, 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft delved into Matt and Trey’s creative partnership (13:58, Rated PG-13):

Smart, funny, fearless, musical…these guys just thrill me down to my subversive, contrarian toes. The fact that they’re only one award away from the EGOT – the very short list of people who’ve won the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar, and the Tony – makes me very, very happy. (They were Oscar-nominated for the song “Blame Canada” (NSFW, 1:36) from the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, but they didn’t win. So close, dudes! But that Peabody counts for something.) 

Are there artists whose work helps YOU refill the creative well? Tell us about them!  Have you seen The Book of Mormon? And if you have one, who’s your favorite South Park character? 



TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.  Learn more about Tammy’s books at

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace


A Writer’s World

Have you ever gone for a walk in the early morning when no one is awake yet? The birds are quiet, no airplanes streak overhead, even the hum of the distant highway is muted? And for an instant you wonder if civilization has faded away somehow.

What would happen if suddenly every animal and human being were gone? Why? How? The spark of a story begins. As I traipse the waking neighborhood, I ignore the lights flicking on and the cars warming in the driveways, the kids walking to the bus stop and the Apocalypsebirds flitting from tree to bush. I am still in my sci-fi thriller world of disappearance. Was there an apocalypse that I’d missed? Where have I been? How am I still alive? Should I raid the houses for food, storing it in my familiar home? The possibilities are endless!

“Hi, Heather!” a neighbor calls and it takes me a moment to remember that I’m not really alone. I wave back but don’t have any small talk words when I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to survive on a vacant planet.


I continue across the cracked sidewalk. A car goes by and I inhale, coughiForestng against the early morning, noxious fumes. As the heavy odor clears I wonder what this very air smelled like in the 16th century, the time period of TANGLED HEARTS, my newest book (that released yesterday BTW : ). No car fumes, no aroma of Downy from morning loads of laundry, no tang of dog poop when I pass the receptacle. The world must have smelled sweeter. If I was suddenly transported there, would I notice with my first breath? This part of North America would have been wooded, quiet, populated by Native Americans. What would I see and smell and hear if I was plopped down in this very spot four-hundred years ago?

My large golden retriever barks and strains to reach a poodle who is staring at us with a vicious gleam in its eye. “Sophie, leave it,” I say, breaking the spell. We jog together to reach home in time to intercept the kids waking up.

Later, after thephone-fear-300x249[1] kids are off to school, I sit before my e-mail with my hot cup of comfort and inspiration, Chai Latte. I can’t write, it seems, without the taste of cinnamon on my tongue. The phone rings and I answer. Silence. “Hello?” Silence. It must be a telemarketing computer that realizes I’m on the “no call” list, but…

What if it is a future version of me? I’ve dialed back to my past in desperation. What would I do if my voice came across the line, crackly yet insistent that I flee the house immediately? Would I continue to sit there asking who it was or would I drop the phone and yell to my husband (who works at home)? We’d run to the front yard just as the house explodes from an undetected ga9.-Levi-Laundry[1]s leak. Hmm…

I hear a noise upstairs. It could be the washing machine draining or…what if someone appeared in my house? A lost child with saucer-like, fear-filled eyes, wearing ancient clothes and speaking in a language I’ve never heard? What if she began to lift my heaps of laundry just by looking at them? It could be Kailin from my SURRENDER book, somehow sent through time to my suburban house instead of the crypts of Victorian Era Egypt.

I sigh and look back at my computer. So many stories to write, yet so little time. My husband comes in and glances at my blank screen. “No ideas today? I’m sure something will come to you.” He kisses my head and moves on. I just smile. And begin to type.

Heather McCollum tends to her 3 kids, rescued golden retriever, and Highland husband while usually staring off into space as scenes race through her mind. She has six full-length historical paranormal romances out, the latest being TANGLED HEARTS. Her first YA contemporary paranormal romance will debut in another month. More information about Heather and her work can be found at .


Finding my Muse – in England?

Hopefully you are all logging on to read this fabulous ruby slippered sisterhood blog because of the constantly helpful tips and inspiration and not because your muse is still snuggled in bed. I must admit that earlier this summer, when I began the third book in my Scottish historical romance series, my muse was rebelling like a werewolf being trussed up in 16th century stays – very ugly. Part of the problem definitely had to do with me just having written the first three chapters of a contemporary YA paranormal for my agent to submit. My internal dialogue included words like “massive” and “epic fail”. Not very Henry Tudor.

When I had to shift immediately into the 16th century, my muse was…not amused -LOL! Luckily I had already purchased plane tickets and had planned a trip to England and Scotland where history permeates the very air you breathe. In between packing and mapping my upcoming route through the countryside, I rewrote the first seventy pages of my 16th century WIP three times and still wasn’t happy with it. Ugh! Surely I could convince my muse to wake up and help me in Britain.

My family and I landed in London after an all-night, no-sleep flight and pushed ourselves to stay awake. So despite standing beside the infamous white tower in the Tower of London and listening to French school children learn about Anne Boleyn being beheaded (Je crois que) right where I stood, my muse wasn’t all that impressed. That might have had something to do with my three exhausted, whining kids (ages 6, 12 and 14) who were also dragging behind me.

The White Tower in London

The White Tower in London

On to Hampton Court Palace the next day, my oldest daughter and I were able to run off by ourselves to explore Henry VIII’s kitchen and the incredible gardens. Since I had just finished writing my second Highland Hearts novel, which takes place at Hampton Court, this was thrilling. Luckily I hadn’t gotten anything wrong in the details, but just being there, walking the halls, touching the walls, got my heart pounding and my muse raised an inquisitive brow and put down her iPhone.

That night my family and I made it to our rental cottage on a farm in the lovely Coltswold village of South Cerney. It was like stepping into a fairytale with sheep and horses all around the stone cottage covered with climbing roses where it sat on a duck-filled lake. Walking paths led us through woods and meadows, along canals and under ancient-looking arched stone trestles. Neighbors meandered the footpaths with their dogs and trees bent over creating a shaded vault cathedral of leaves.

Heather & Kids under Coltswold bridge

Heather & Kids under Coltswold bridge

One morning I escaped the family to stroll the footpaths alone.  A light breeze blew, sheep bleated in the pastures and the sun shone in a blue sky above the flittering leaves. The beauty and serenity in the peaceful landscape filled me up until I was smiling outright, a silly grin of pure happiness. I roamed the countryside, watching new varieties of birds and studying the wild flowers and branched bushes trained to twine into fences along the road. And as soon as I got back to the cottage, I made some tea and sat down to write.

I wrote about the details of my new setting, this bit of heaven so d

ifferent from my American suburbia with its snaking sidewalks and rushing minivans. I felt full to bursting to write. My muse was whispering in my ear and willing to put on any period costume I wanted.

4-sisters tree in S. Cerney

4-sisters tree in S. Cerney

What I realized then was that it wasn’t so much that I was in England that I could suddenly write. It was that I was filled up again. With what? Hmmm…I’m not sure exactly. Creativity, peace, inner strength and beauty. Whatever it is, we need it as writers. This is what woos our muse into creating our art.

Think about it. When you are stressed out with time lines, with children or parents or siblings pulling at you, with those gray rocks of annoyance or dread like unpaid bills or illness or loss – you become drained, empty. You have nothing to give, no juice within you to ink your pen, to pour into your manuscript. The well dries out and your muse collapses on a dusty, pebbled road with vultures circling overhead. Quite sad.

Going to London didn’t wake up my muse. Touring Hampton Court gave her a drink. But it wasn’t until I walked in the exquisitely quaint landscape of the Coltswolds that my muse revived, drank fully, and smiled with that twinkle in her eye. The great Tower of London had authentic details that I will remember, but in order for me to write I had to refill my creative well.

Sheep Sheep Everywhere!

Sheep Sheep Everywhere!

I spent the next few days site seeing as well as resting under the magical trees and roses at the farm. We saw Bath, Stonehenge, Avebury, the Harry Potter studios, and Cirencester. But it was the cup of tea on the back patio watching the baby ducks and the cranes on the water that made me want to grab my journal and pen.

This is good news for you and for me. Why? Because this means that you don’t have to travel across the ocean to wake up your grumpy or thirsty muse. Yes, it helps to be immersed in the details you will be writing about, but even with the details, if you don’t fill up the well, nothing will come out on paper. And you can fill up the well here at home. You just need to find some peace, breathe, and explore your world until your muse becomes hydrated again. Here are a few ways I hope to fill my well here at home.

  1. Find new walking paths around my town to take my dog on.
  2. Visit the rose gardens in the town next to me.
  3. Visit the art museum and stare at art until my muse either becomes inspired or swoons from boredom.
  4. Investigate the quaint little shops in my own town while trying not to spend money.
  5. Find a tea shop that serves tea and scones. There’s got to be one around here.
  6. Make tea each day in my own tea pot at home and enjoy a biscuit with it.
  7. Sit on my screened porch and watch the birds swoop or thunderstorms roll in.
  8. Go camping or hiking or to the beach.
  9. Lay on a blanket under the oak in my backyard (with heavy clothes on to keep the mosquitos from eating me alive).
  10. Lay on that same blanket with my hubby watching the stars (nudge, nudge, say no more ; )

The next time you’ve lost touch with your muse, don’t feel like you have to travel the world looking for her. If she’s coughing up dust balls there are ways to revive her right in your own little corner of the globe. Fill yourself up. Only then will you have the creative juice to fill pages with your words.

What are some ways you wake up your muse?

It’s Because Of You

It is because of you that I am.

The above line sounds like a perfect line in a romance novel, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is. I’m sure there are probably hundreds of lines that are similar and hold the same meaning, like the Jerry Mcguire line “You complete me.”

Anyway, it just came to me when thinking about something Yanni said during one of his concerts. Yeah, I’m a Yanni fan. Old Yanni and New Yanni. I’ll clue you in on what he said later.

Now, I want you to take the above line and add the word A to it and then finish it by adding a noun. Any noun. Make a short list of five. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I promise I have a point to make.





Okay, my short list:

It is because of you that I am a light bulb.

It is because of you that I am a wheel.

It is because of you that I am a calendar.

It is because of you that I am a laptop.

It is because of you that I am a song.

Every one of those nouns at one point in time didn’t exist. They were once the idea of its creator—an idea that came to them while they were living life, watching the sunset or as children rolled a log down a mountain side. And they came about because the person had this insatiable drive to bring their brain child to life. To present it to the world.

By this time, you’re wondering what does that have to do with writing a novel? Well, besides the obvious that we always start with an idea, it is my belief that nothing has been created without trial and error, without studying the problem and its effects, and without lots of pondering. Writing a great story takes all of those steps.

Now, for my point today. Don’t beat yourself up for not having your fingers on the keyboard 24/7. I hear a lot of writers chiding themselves for not writing a word for a day or days. Your story hasn’t stilled. It’s growing inside you. A worthy story takes thought and research and study to create. It takes time to get to know your characters just like it did for you to get to know your hubby and friends. Take the time you need. And allow yourself to fumble, just don’t allow yourself to quit.

Okay, here is what was said and got me thinking.

“Creating is one of the most powerful, deliberate acts that human beings can do. It is one of the most important reasons to exist. If I do my job right, my listeners will experience what I experience while creating.” Yanni

Creating is one of the most important reasons to exist. Love it!

Until The Last Moment Yanni- You Tube

Guest Post: Candace Havens, on her Fast Draft process

Happy Wednesday everyone, and have I got a treat for you! A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting today’s guest and spending the weekend with her. And let me just say, she is FABULOUS! And she’s also highly motivating. It was purely due to her that I finally figured out how to finish my very first manuscript. No, it didn’t sell, but it got finished. Which was all I needed at that point! And it got finished because of her Fast Draft process. There’s just something magical about figuring out how to turn off that internal editor, and let the words flow. But I’ll let her tell you all about that!

For our readers, I want you to keep in mind that our Winter Writing Festival is coming up next month, and what better way to prepare than to learn how to Fast Draft!

Now please, let me introduce to you, the wonderful, the fabulous, the spectacular, Candace Havens!!! 🙂 Please Candy, tell us all about your process…

People always say they don’t have time to write. They are lying. The truth is, they won’t MAKE the time to write. There aren’t many jobs where you can show up for an hour and then again six months later, and make a living. You have to make writing a priority.

The Creative Urge

Recently, an acquaintance told me, “I’m not a creative person. That’s just not something I have in me.”  She shrugged, as if this were a trivial admission, along the lines of saying she didn’t care for asparagus, or had never been to Wisconsin.

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