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Posts tagged “The Tea House

The Tea House: Cross Training

Today is brought to you by a San Francisco French Roast, with milk and sugar.
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One of the remarkable things about being human is our innate need to create. Whether it’s dinner or a song or a flower garden or a method for more effectively driving to work or a screenplay or a house, people are constantly creating things. Though creativity is part of being human, artists are particularly aware of their creativity and how valuable it is. We may also be more aware that creativity is a muscle that can be enhanced.

There’s a variety of ways to build your creativity muscle. Today, we’re going to talk about cross training.

In athletics, there’s the concept of cross training. Cross training is engaging is sports or physical activities in addition to one’s primary sport. So, for example, a runner may also lift weights and swim or bike. A soccer player may run. This cross training enhances the athlete’s performance in their primary sport by building the athlete’s skills in other physical areas not necessarily covered by her primary sport.

Artists can also benefit from cross training. In fact, though they may not be famous for it, a variety of artists have cross trained: Marilyn Monroe was a poet, William Faulkner, Zelda Fitzgerald, John Lennon and Miles Davis were visual artists, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote and illustrated a children’s book, Flannery O’Connor was a cartoonist. David Bowie is a visual artist. Jarvis Cocker is a filmmaker.

And, of course, there’s Bizarro’s own Carlton Mellick, who is a visual artist and writer (and he was even once in a band), Andrew Goldfarb, musician, visual artist and writer, and John Skipp, writer, filmmaker and musician. Then there’s Michael Allen Rose who does just about everything. And you know I could go on.

So, here’s the question: Are you an artist who engages in a variety of art? Do you write poetry and make gourmet meals? Do you play guitar and build ornate dinosaur models? Are you a dancer and an illustrator? Or do you cross train in your own discipline? Do you write short stories and a poet? Are you a novelist and essayist? How do your artistic pursuits fuel and support each other?

Or are you someone who has stuck to one type of art? Have you considered cross training as a way to expand your creativity and fuel your primary art?
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Spike Marlowe has held a number of odd jobs, including working in a wild west show, as a detective, as a Bigfoot researcher, as a writer for an Internet content farm and as a busker. These days she’s a writer, blogger and bizarro editor for Eraserhead Press, with a focus on the New Bizarro Author Series. Her first book, Placenta of Love, is now available at all the usual locations. You can stalk her online at her website, Facebook or on Twitter at @spikemarlowe.


The Tea House: On Organization and Planning: Guest Post by S. T. Cartledge

Today’s Tea House post is brought to you by a good old fashioned Irish Breakfast tea. It’s nothing fancy, it’s just a good, reliable tea. It’s a great way to start the morning.
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I recently moved house, and there’s been a period of about a week where I’ve been moving things from one house to another, and I’ve only just now had the time to set my computer back up and resume my daily writing habits.

I’ll admit, my previous habits have been pretty poor. I’ll admit I don’t have a fantastic track record. Even while I’ve been writing every day, the amount of projects which I’ve finished compared to the amount of projects which I’ve started is a sad number.

But don’t be sad for me. I’m happy. I’m excited. I’ve had a hectic week off from writing, and I’m back and I’m writing a new advice column and I don’t care if people think advice columns are best left to the professionals.

I’d like to dwell on a few pieces of advice I hear all the time, how they work for me, and how they relate to progress and becoming a better writer.

The first piece of advice is: Write every day. Chuck Palahniuk does it. Stephen King writes a certain amount of pages before breakfast. My goal is to write an average of 1,000 words a day. Aside from situations like moving house and taking holidays and having a short break after finishing a major project, I should be writing every day. Always pushing towards that 1,000 word a day average.

If I can manage 7,000 words a week, that’s great. If I can do 30,000 words a month, that’s awesome. 365,000 words in a year would be fantastic. These are the incremental goals I’m shooting for. Sometimes it means 500 words a day before work. Sometimes it means 1,500 words on a Saturday. Sometimes it means 2,000 words and up on a day off.

The thing that’s been working for me is that I’ve been taking the “write every day” challenge and molding it around my day-to-day life, finding out the most feasible way to obtain my goals, and when I reach them, making them a little bigger.

In January I was trying to get used to things, so I wrote about 25,000 words that month. February was a little more. About 66 days into the year I had written and documented over 60,000 words of new writing.

I’ve given myself a lot of freedom with what I count as writing. It’s anything I type down which could potentially be published some time in the future in print or online. This includes novels, novellas, short stories, poems – the standard fictions – but also non-fiction articles and reviews, things like this. Even drafts of stories so horrible they will probably never amount to anything, they still become part of the writing process, therefore they’re a learning experience. Count it.

The next piece of advice is: Take notes. Some people carry notebooks all the time or pieces of paper or note pads which can fit in their pockets or wallets which they can write down anything that springs to their mind at any point in time. I love that. I’m not that organised. I used to wake up in the middle of the night and scribble down a handful of random words on a piece of rubbish, and then months later I’d find it and it would still vaguely make sense. But I never used to have much at my disposal for note taking when I was at work or just out of the house.

One little device has made this issue infinitely easier. The smartphone. Any ideas I have, I can not only jot it down, but I can refer to it at any time and I have the space to flesh it out. And it’s not like the good old days where my scrap paper notes would just lie around doing nothing. When I return home and sit at my computer, depending on what I feel like writing, I can either continue with something which I’ve been fleshing out already, or I can crack open a fresh stack of notes and begin creating something new.

Or, even, sometimes my notes are about my most recent works in progress, so they help me to get straight into it when I sit down. The more notes you take, and the better you organize your time, the more productive your writing time will be. It becomes easier to hit my targets earlier on in the day, to see projects through to the end, and to move on to other things.

I’ve also been keeping track of things at home in my diary. I got a 2014 diary specifically to track my writing and plan my days and weeks and months so I can write every day and track my progress throughout the year, so I can plan time to write and time for other things. To keep it managed and track progress on specific projects as they pick up or drop off.

The last piece of advice I have is one which I follow religiously: Do what works best for you. I write as much as I can in order to improve my writing skills. I take notes so that I always have something to write about whenever I sit down to write. I only think about editing and revising once the first draft is done. Editing mid-draft used to be the thing which held me back and now it’s a non-issue.

Leaving projects a few thousand words in used to be a problem, but now it’s just a matter of pushing through until I find something which works. I may not finish a novella or short story all that often, but I’ve done more on that front in the first few months of this year than I did throughout all of last year. Writing more articles and reviews has also helped break the monotony of constantly trying to churn out the next masterpiece. It’s the small successes which keep the momentum going. It’s knowing that all the unfinished works and falling short of my goals and not having a market for my work aren’t failures. They’re experiments, testing what can and can’t be done, what should or shouldn’t.

Some people spend years on one thing. Some people seem to be constantly pumping out books. Some people can plan and plan and plan and then write everything in three days. With the right amount of planning, note taking, and with at least a little bit of writing every day (no matter what it is) you can make a lifestyle of your writing. Even if you’re like me, trying to find out what your next big step will be, knowing your own habits and working towards improving them is the hardest part. Once you’ve got that figured out, you’re all set.

What works best for you? Is there anything here you really agree with or disagree with? Do you have a set schedule, or do you like to try new things all the time? Are there any specific organisation and planning tips you have found useful?
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S.T. Cartledge is the author of the 2012 New Bizarro Author Series book, House Hunter. In 2013, he graduated from Curtin University with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing (first class honours). He loves bizarro, manga, anime, robots, dragons, wizards, heroes, monsters, dinosaurs, and any combination/mutation of these things.


The Tea House: Making Art in the Social Media Age

by Spike Marlowe

photo (3)Today is brought to you by a hot toddy.

Over at the delightful Myth and Moor blog, amazing writer, editor and artist Terri Windling recently discussed the issues surrounding using the Internet as a break while working.

Go on, go take a look. I’ll wait.

I definitely struggle with my Internet usage. It’s not that the Internet beckons and distracts me from my work, but that because I am a professional editor and writer, the online promotions are an essential part of my work. And yeah, I enjoy the Internet, too. It’s not been uncommon for me to get online when it’s time to take a break and see what’s up on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Bizarro Central or my favorite news outlet. The thing is, when I’m done, I feel super-unsatisfied and definitely further away from the work at hand. I’ve also noticed that when I spend a lot of time online, especially on Facebook and Twitter, my attention span shortens. This is bad for someone who professionally finds having a long attention span useful.

So I decided to significantly reduce my time online. I have a few short scheduled periods of time during my days where I poke my nose in and check out what’s up on the Internet. But these times don’t happen during my writing or editing times–mixing the Internet with my creative activities just doesn’t work for me.

But I recognize that while I function like a lot of other artists do who struggle with the Internet, there might be artists out there who don’t have an issue with the Internet.

So, artists: How does the Internet impact your creative life? How do you balance the two? Or does it not impact you at all? And what do you think about Terri Windling’s blog post?
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Spike Marlowe has held a number of odd jobs, including working in a wild west show, as a detective, as a Bigfoot researcher, as a writer for an Internet content farm and as a busker. These days she’s a writer, blogger and bizarro editor for Eraserhead Press, with a focus on the New Bizarro Author Series. Her first book, Placenta of Love, is now available at all the usual locations. You can stalk her online at her website, Facebook or on Twitter at @spikemarlowe.


The Tea House: In Balance

by Spike Marlowe

photo (2)Today is brought to you by green power hour juice.

Being an artist is hard work. For me, it’s a combination of physical, mental, psychological, emotional and spiritual work. A good day of writing is exciting, and I’m fueled at the end of my work, absolutely filled with energy, but it can also be exhausting. And bad days are

I know other artists who deal with this, as well. We all cope in different ways, and how I used to deal with it is completely different than how I deal now.

How do I deal and balance my life now so that I’m the best artist I can be?

I pay attention to how I’m feeling throughout my entire being. I.e., I listen to myself and pay attention. I definitely haven’t always done this. I’ve often had high expectations for myself and have believed that no matter how I feel or what’s going on, I should be tough enough to power through and do whatever needs to get done. While there is truth in this, powering through without also listening to my needs and taking care of myself isn’t fruitful. When I do listen to myself and fulfill my needs, I have an easier time accessing my creative self and making art.

I try to usually eat a good diet. What makes a good diet? This is personal, based on individual needs. For me, it took a long time to figure out a good diet for me, discovered after a lot of years of eating stuff that made my body sad, even though the food made my taste buds super-happy. Does this mean I don’t treat myself and eat something I love that makes me feel like ass every so often? I totally do treat myself–thus that massive plate of cheese friends my sweetie and I shared the other day–but it’s not a frequent event. The result of eating the way my body likes is that my mind is clearer, I have easier access to my intuition and emotional self, and my body feels better. This all positively impacts my art.

I also move my body every day. I take walks, do yoga, hike, lift weights. Why? Because ultimately, it feels super-good, I feel more in balance, more alive, I have more energy, and my brain works better. Yeah, a total win for my artistic life, as well.

I take time for myself to fill my well. Sometimes this means taking long walks, or sitting by the ocean, or reading a great book I don’t have to read for work or any projects, or it could mean making visual art, or playing my guitar, or even sitting outside under the sun drinking a yummy beverage. Sometimes this means going to a concert or an art gallery or hanging out with a friend. Once again, such activities fuel and fill me so I have more energy to pull from when writing.

I also figured out what activities can quickly help me feel balanced when I feel out of balance, and made a list. When I feel out of balance for whatever reason–maybe I haven’t been sleeping well, or I’ve been pushing myself too hard, maybe I haven’t filled my well enough, or maybe I’m not writing enough–I pull out my list and do the things on the list.

This morning was one of those out-of-balance days–I’ve been pushing myself super-hard, and wrote a super-intense personal essay this week that took a ton of energy, work and emotional and psychological processing. When I woke this morning felt like absolutely ass. Like I had the worst hangover ever. That I didn’t sleep well at all last night didn’t help. So, I pulled out my list and read “Listen to Bob Dylan’s Biograph, eat fruit, drink fresh juice, drink water, light a special candle, write in a journal, walk by the ocean, go for a hike in the hills, get a hug, snuggle with my dog, read a comfort book, attack my to-do list.”

So, I ate a pear, put on Biograph, got a hug, drank water, lit a candle, pet my dog, and started attacking my to-do list. Then, when my partner asked if he could do anything, I asked him to make me some green juice. And then I wrote this post.

And you know what? I’m feeling a lot better. I’m feeling more balanced. And I feel ready to attack some intense writing.

How do you balance the artistic life? What do you do to stay in balance or gain balance so you can be the best artist you can be?
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Spike Marlowe has held a number of odd jobs, including working in a wild west show, as a detective, as a Bigfoot researcher, as a writer for an Internet content farm and as a busker. These days she’s a writer, blogger and bizarro editor for Eraserhead Press, with a focus on the New Bizarro Author Series. Her first book, Placenta of Love, is now available at all the usual locations. You can stalk her online at her website, Facebook or on Twitter at @spikemarlowe.


The Tea House: On Failure

by Spike Marlowe

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Today is brought to you by raspberry tea.

In the past, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about failure. In fact, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time feeling like a failure. More than is good for one’s mental health, for sure. But over the past few years, my perspective on failure has changed, and recently I decided as long as I don’t quit the things that matter to me, the things I’m passionate about, I don’t believe in failure anymore.

Let me back up.

There was a time when if something didn’t work out the way I had hoped or intended, that I had failed. As a result, my successes were far and few between. But I also began to recognize I learned from my failures. And, more often than not, I could take bits I’d learned from my failures and apply them again. The reapplications often resulted in successes.

Over time, I realized success and failure is often a matter of perspective.

Let’s talk about science.

When trying to figure something out, scientists and inventors conduct experiments. Often, the experiments don’t necessarily result as the scientists would like. However, the scientists don’t say, “Woe! I have failed!” Sure, they get discouraged and frustrated and have their “What the fuck!?” moments just like the rest of us. But then they hop back into the lab and go for it again, taking what they learned in the previous experiments and applying them to future experiments.

Having an experiment “fail” doesn’t mean you quit. It means you try again.

If you look at our most famous scientists, they persevered. They experimented until they figured out how to make their experiments work. They conducted an ass-ton of unsuccessful experiments. But look at their successes! Look at the advancements in technology, medicine and how we understand the world. You are surrounded by the results of what were once experiments that didn’t work out as hoped.
Sometimes experiments didn’t work out as planned, but something better was discovered. Penicillin is just one example of this. And how many lives has that “What the hell is that?!” moment saved?

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

You’re an artist, and just like scientists, inventors, architects, engineers and those fabulous humans beings who figured out some cool bit about the world you now use everyday, you’re creative. You (hopefully) create a lot of stuff. And a lot of it probably doesn’t work out. Right? Pitches aren’t accepted, stories aren’t sold, films don’t find a distributor, plays aren’t produced, paintings aren’t bought or shown in a gallery, music isn’t produced.

Does this mean you’ve failed? Does this mean you’re a failure?

No. It means you’re just like every other marvelously creative person on the planet. And just like every other creative person on the planet, you’re going to have a lot of art that isn’t going to work out. You’re going to have a lot of “failures.” But do you have to look at the unsuccessful art pieces that don’t succeed the way you want them to as failures?

No. You can choose your perspective. You can choose to say, “Okay, that didn’t work. But what if I try this?” And then go forward and tweak what you did the previous times, or try something entirely new.

Another example is children. Have you ever watched a young child figure out how to do anything? Eat, walk, color, build a castle out of blocks, dress their doll, use the bathroom? Do they do it right the first time? Probably not. And you probably didn’t either. But you stuck to it, whatever it was that you were trying to learn. You experimented until you figured out what worked, and you did it over and over and over again, refining your skill in eating, tying shoes, going to the bathroom, building a giant Death Star out of Legos.

You didn’t fail as a kid, and when your art isn’t working out, you’re not failing now. Just like all those scientists and inventors and architects and crazy humans who figured out fire and how to hunt bison and build the Seven Wonders of the World.

But just like the scientists and children, you’ve got to try over and over and over again. You’ve got to persist. You’ve got to be willing to tweak your own experiments in making art, or look at what’s not working from a new perspective. And then you’ve got to show your art to the world, in whatever way you’re going to, and then get back to work, no matter what anyone else says.

The other thing is, even if specific pieces of your art don’t work out on the first several tries, if you’re figuring new ways to make your art, and you’re getting better, you’re learning. And if that isn’t worth everything, I don’t know what is.

We’re crazy in this culture–we’re obsessed with the genius, with the naturally gifted artists who were born making amazing art. But you know what? The grand majority of our success stories worked their asses off, learning and growing and working on their craft until they figured out how to rock it.

So go out and “fail.” Fail a lot. And then play with your art, and figure out what’s not working, what you could do better, and then do that. And learn recognize when your mistakes are actually a giant success.
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Spike Marlowe has held a number of odd jobs, including working in a wild west show, as a detective, as a Bigfoot researcher, as a writer for an Internet content farm and as a busker. These days she’s a writer, blogger and bizarro editor for Eraserhead Press, with a focus on the New Bizarro Author Series. Her first book, Placenta of Love, is now available at all the usual locations. You can stalk her online at her website, Facebook or on Twitter at @spikemarlowe.


The Tea House: Lessons from the Other Side of the Desk I

by Spike Marlowe
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I was a writer for a long time before I was an editor. I’ve been an editor for about eight months, and in that short time, I’ve learned a lot that’s benefited me as a writer.

The truth is, before I was an editor, I’d heard a lot of the stuff that’s hit home during my time as an editor. Back when I was purely a writer, there was a point–after hearing this information from professional writers and editors whom I admired–that I believed what I was told, but it wasn’t until I was an editor that the information I’m about to share with you really sunk in.

The information is this: If you receive a personalized rejection from an editor, this is a compliment. Take it as such and send your manuscript elsewhere, and keep writing. If an editor rejects your manuscript, but encourages you to send more work in the future, this is a huge compliment.

Editors don’t have a lot of time. If they’re willing to put the extra time in to say something personal in your rejection, or if they ask to see another manuscript, they mean it. They’re not just being nice (as I once thought when I got personalized rejections or invitations to send future work). They don’t say this to every author who submits a manuscript.

If you receive such a rejection, give yourself a big pat on the back, and then get back to work and write something the rejecting editor can’t refuse. If you receive a standard rejection, give yourself a big pat on the back for putting yourself out there and taking a risk by submitting a manuscript. And then write a story the rejecting editor can’t refuse.

No matter what kind of rejection you receive, be persistent, patient and professional, and you’ll break through.
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Spike Marlowe has held a number of odd jobs, including working in a wild west show, as a detective, as a Bigfoot researcher, as a writer for an Internet content farm and as a busker. These days she’s a writer, blogger and bizarro editor for Eraserhead Press, with a focus on the New Bizarro Author Series. Her first book, Placenta of Love, is now available at all the usual locations. You can stalk her online at her website, Facebook or on Twitter at @spikemarlowe.


The Tea House: Guest Post by S.T. Cartledge: The Stories at your Fingertips

by S.T. Cartledge

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Today’s Tea House post is brought to you by Oolong tea. Most of the time I’m like your everyday tea drinker, a great way to start the day is with a good black tea, milk and sugar, nice and sweet. Irish Breakfast, preferably.

Oolong is not like that at all. It’s a traditional Chinese tea (Oolong meaning “Black Dragon”) which you drink just with the tea leaves brewed in hot water. I drink it usually on my own to help clear the mind and to warm the body up, especially gearing up for a late night of writing/study. It’s an acquired taste, but I don’t think it’s nearly as overpowering as some green teas can be.

Today I would like to take your memories back to the Tea House post: An Exercise of Tastes. Spike stressed the importance of reading outside your own genre, trying new things and opening yourself up to the potential of new influences. I think this is extremely important and I cannot stress that enough. A few years ago when I discovered bizarro fiction I was also simultaneously discovering manga and anime. Within those genres there are a billion different styles and sub-genres, influences and nods to other genres.

There is no one novel which exists in and of itself in one single genre. Genre is sprawling, genre is uncontrollable, genre is ever expanding as the universe is ever expanding. There are genres being written that don’t have a name yet. There are novels that are just mashups of many different genres. And there’s a genre for mashups, too. Genre is a type, a simplification for these beasts of imagination which often struggle to boil down to just one genre. Sure, there may be one main genre driving the aesthetics and style of a work, but within that there might be romance, crime, noir, horror, whatever.

What I want you to do is stop thinking about genre here. Genre is the end-product. Genre is the classification. The description that readers use to identify with stories. When you read a book, think of the characters, plot, setting, the conflict/resolution. The point of view. The narrative arc. All the elements that an author goes through to piece their story together. All the things the author doesn’t want you to think about because their writing and editing was intended to mask all that. You should appreciate the skill involved when a writer seems to pull it off flawlessly. But you should still, as a writer, be able to break things down and analyse them in the reading.

Instead of asking:

Why is this character doing that? Why is this thing happening to that character?

You should ask:

What is the reason behind this character’s actions? What function/purpose does it have upon the overall narrative?

It should be easy for a writer to ask these questions while reading a book. It should come to some of you like second nature. The logic of narrative and storytelling, the pieces of the puzzle. You may not come up with all the answers, in fact it would be strange if you could. Your answers may not be even remotely close to the truth. But the truth of why an author writes a book doesn’t matter. You’re probably familiar with the idea that once a book is published it becomes the property of its readers. They own it and they are responsible for pulling meaning from it, regardless of what the author intended. The only thing that matters is that you make your own logic.

Now, to take it one step further, take this logic to anywhere you see art, anywhere narratives are made. Watching a movie or TV show. Imagine the process behind the finished product. Imagine how the stories have translated from script to screen, or how the story on the screen may adapt to the page, not as a script, but as a story to be read not only by actors and film makers. How does the style translate? How do you capture the visuals in your writing? It doesn’t have to be film and TV. It could be theatre. If you want a challenge, try reading narratives into art and music. Video games. Stories are everywhere, waiting to be deconstructed and understood on various levels.

Whenever I try to discuss movies with people who just want to watch them for the entertainment value, they see it as stripping away the movie magic. Breaking the illusion. Taking them from the dream world and forcing them to look at the cogs and the gears. They think it ruins the movie. To writers, no matter what quality the film or book or play, there is value to be had. If you open up your inner critic to everything you watch and read and play and hear, there’s a lot to be learned. There’s not just the inspiration that comes from borrowing from other genres, but also the learning process of how that borrowing can be done in the first place.

In the end, it makes you appreciate the finished product even more.

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S.T. Cartledge is the author of the 2012 New Bizarro Author Series book, House Hunter. In 2013, he graduated from Curtin University with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing (first class honours). He loves bizarro, manga, anime, robots, dragons, wizards, heroes, monsters, dinosaurs, and any combination/mutation of these things.