Starcat’s Favorites: Inside the Creative Cave

As much as I (used to?) talk about the cold time of year not being my favorite, I’ve come to appreciate this season we’re entering. It’s the ideal time for holing up inside the Creative Cave.

Besides writing (which gets intensified during NaNoWriMo), I have some other favorite creative pastimes.

My favorite hobbies include papercrafts (making cards, collages and scrapbooks), music (in the form of making playlists and hand drumming), cooking, and of course READING.

What do you love to do when the days get short and you’re sheltering at home?

Here are some fun resources I’ve come across recently. Enjoy!

The strange year that is 2020 is still taking its toll on many of us. Here are some ways to help you keep from getting too overwhelmed. Also, tuck this pandemic permission slip into your back pocket.

Speaking of permission slips, here’s one from the Good Vibe coach, Jeannette Maw, on practicing what you prefer.

Here are some tips for strengthening your intuition.

Letting go can be hard sometimes, but being willing to surrender is a key part of living a happy life.

I love chocolate. I want to try this recipe for hot chocolate chai, and explore some of these delicious chocolate shops.

My first radio gig was Quintessential Jazz, a show I hosted on my college radio station. Mind you, I knew very little about jazz when I started, and learned as I went, with Quester’s help (he was a music major at the time). Jazz is still one of my favorite genres. This article gives new insights on the history of jazz and the contributions of Black artists.

Another longtime musical favorite of mine is The Indigo Girls. Check out their insightful interview with Krista Tippett.

Ready to dive deep? Here are a couple of longer-form articles to inspire you. The first is about freeing yourself from distractions (swear word warning here!). The second one features techniques for becoming grateful.

Here’s an invitation especially for you: join us, a circle of Thriving Artists and co-creators, for the (virtual) Vision Board PlayShop!

New Habits: NaNoWriMo Days 20-24

NaNoWriMo, November 2020, DAY 20 – 2137 words

Dear Diary,

Today BlackLion and I ran our second Writing Sprints Session on Discord with a couple of my book coaching clients.

It was fun introducing them to the power of sprints!

I also got a lot of words written today. That felt good.

DAY 21 – 1391 words

Dear Diary,

Brent and I did some sprints this evening. It went well.

I got caught up to par, in terms of staying on track to make my 50K words by the end of the month.

I’m still kind of making up the story as I go along, which is very different from having target plot points to aim for, but I feel pretty good about it.

DAY 22 – 1786 words

Dear Diary,

Today we made a delicious Indian food feast. It’s one of our family’s favorite types of food. BlackLion made his homemade naan. We also made nav rattan korma (mixed vegetable curry), chana masala (chick peas & tomatoes), and a recipe we hadn’t tried before, palak aloo (with spinach and potatoes). It was all so yummy!

After dinner, on very full tummies, we did some writing sprints. It feels like this is becoming an evening habit.

I say this every November, but perhaps I’ll incorporate more fiction writing into the other months. We’ll see if it actually happens or not!

I write non-fiction all year round. But for the most part, I’ve done the bulk of my long-form fiction writing during November, each year for the past seven (holy cow!). But I’d like to make it a more regular thing during the other months.

DAY 23 – 1270 words

Dear Diary,

We did a short session of sprints before dinner, as BlackLion had an online gaming session this evening.

It felt good to get it done early, although I didn’t get as many words as usual before Quester announced that dinner was ready.

This evening I did a bunch of reading, from four different books. I picked up one that I’d read part of and then abandoned. I really enjoyed it!

I hadn’t read a writing craft book for a while. This one is DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community by Gabriela Pereira. I recommend it for anyone who wants to write fiction.

DAY 24 – 1330 words

Dear Diary,

Once again we wrote a little earlier in the day, this time as part of the co-writing session I hosted for my clients on The Sacred Path.

I made it to the word count for the day to stay on track, which means I have less than 10K words to go, in about a week! This is do-able.

Though I’m not sure if the book draft itself will be finished. I still have the book’s climax to write, and then a lot of loose ends to tie up. Plus, I don’t yet know the ending. Ah, pantsing…

In the Groove: NaNoWriMo Days 16-19

NaNoWriMo, November 2020, DAY 16 – 1733 words

Dear Diary,

It’s Monday, so BlackLion had his online RPG. I tried to join a sprint with others, but no one was around. I tried sprinting on my own, but something was messed up with the bot, or more likely, with my internet connection.

Failed sprints. 

However, I still wrote my quota for the day, on my own. Then, since I’m often tired by the end of a Monday, I just read and went to bed fairly early.

DAY 17 – 2063 words

Dear Diary,

I had fun this evening, doing sprints with BlackLion and another friend on our new server. It really is more enjoyable with other people. I tend to stick with it longer and get more done, too.

It feels like I’m getting into a groove. I like the sprints with others best, but even when that’s not happening, I’m in the habit of writing in the evening.

However, I still have no idea if this book will come together in a coherent whole. That will all be determined later. In the meantime, I’m continuing to fly by the seat of my pants!

DAY 18 – 1466 words

Dear Diary,

This morning I woke up with a download for my next non-fiction book!

I guess all this focus on writing is inspiring me.

I knew I was going to be writing a book on creativity, and writing, but that was all I had. In the dream, I was given a title, The Elements of Creativity. I also saw that the sections of the book would be organized into the five elements (earth, air, fire, water, and spirit). I love it!

This often happens – getting more book ideas while working intently on a particular project. 

BlackLion and I did sprints on our Parallel PlayZone server in the evening. It’s becoming a new habit!

DAY 19 – 1717 words

Dear Diary,

This afternoon was the weekly Parallel Playdate. There were six of us on the Zoom call.

I did my writing during the session, though it felt early in the day.

Actually, even though I’m the facilitator, I got a bit caught up in my writing towards the end and was a couple minutes late for the final check-in. That’s gotta be a good sign, right?

Hey, if you’re hoping to get some writing done before this strange year is over, check out my new video series on Writing Through the Holidays. You can get it by jumping onto my mailing list.

It’s An Experiment: NaNoWriMo Days 12-15

NaNoWriMo, November 2020, DAY 12 – 1583 words

Dear Diary,

I’m still not sure if I like this pantser approach (you know, just writing by the seat of my pants without knowing where the story is going next).

On one hand, it can be fun. I’ve come up with some cool ideas on the fly that are actually quite a hoot to write.

Then again, on the other hand, sometimes the well runs dry at the wrong moment and I’m stuck in the middle of a scene, or between two scenes, not sure where to go with it next.

Yet I still haven’t taken the time to come up with plot points, so there you go.

I’m gonna just consider it an experiment. Everything else about 2020 is different, so why not my approach to NaNoWriMo?

DAY 13 – 1721 words

Dear Diary,

Tonight was the Parallel PlayDate, so I did my writing then. I made some good progress.

The story was flowing today. I keep putting my main character into the astral plane, which is fun and kind of wild to write.

Sometimes during the PlayDates, while my writers and creatives are doing their thing, I just mess around and answer emails or whatnot. It was nice to actually join them and immerse myself in my craft.

DAY 14 – 1996 words

Dear Diary,

Today was Saturday, and we had a really fun day.

BlackLion and I went on a beach walk, then did some backyard crafting (with hot tea, because it’s chilly out!) with two of my best friends. We made pentacle wreaths from vines and sticks and hot glue.

Then I had time to read and study – my favorite leisure activity. BlackLion made dinner, and I brought some to my Aunt Peg, who lives next door. I also worked on some decluttering in my bedroom, which is an ongoing project.

We did our writing in the evening, doing sprints in our Parallel PlayZone channel, then watched The Good Place before bed.

DAY 15 – 1221 words

Dear Diary,

We had our first official Writing Sprints Session on Discord today. Two of our writer friends joined BlackLion and myself.

We had a lot of fun!

I totally blanked during the last round, and didn’t write a word – because I didn’t know where the story was going next. I did come up with a clue, and made a couple of notes for my next writing session.

Like I wrote before, this pantser thing is an experiment. Some days it works better than others.

That said, even though I wrote fewer words than usual, I passed the halfway mark today, in both words and time! 25K, baby! That feels good.

Want to join us for some writing sprints? Reach out to me at nikki at nikkistarcatshields dot com

Slacker Manifester: NaNoWriMo Days 8-11

NaNoWriMo, November 2020, DAY 8 – 2074 words

Dear Diary,

BlackLion made us a new Discord channel, the Parallel PlayZone, for my writing community. So naturally we played with it this evening, and did sprints with our own “CatBot.” It was fun.

I’m going to be running a couple of Writing Sprints sessions in our channel, for my current clients and subscribers to the Parallel PlayDates. They’ll be happening this Sunday and next Friday.

I’m super excited to introduce this way of writing to my peeps!

Mostly because I love it so much, myself.

DAY 9 – 1747 words

Dear Diary,

When I sat down to write today, I had no idea where the story was going. So I just went with it. I wrote 1747 words in just three 15-minute sprint sessions!

That was surprising.

One thing I’ve noticed is when I’m writing from my main character Cassie’s point of view, I write faster. I suppose that’s because she’s part of me in some ways.

I’m enjoying the process, for the most part.

DAY 10 – 1810 words

Dear Diary,

One of my mentors, Jeannette Maw the good vibe coach, talks about slacker manifesting. It’s the idea of giving up trying to bring about what you want, and instead letting it happen.

I’ve been half-heartedly trying to plan some plot points for Patterns on the Sea, but at this point, a third of the way through the month, I give up. Not in a resentful or guilty way, either. It feels like my creative inspiration is to just write this one as I go and see what happens.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m a slacker manifester!

In this today’s sprints, I manifested 1810 words. Not bad for not really feeling like writing when I first sat down.

DAY 11 – 1594 words

Dear Diary,

BlackLion and I decided to take an hour in the afternoon to do some sprints on our new channel. Once again I rocked the word count, accomplishing my goal in just three rounds. Woo hoo!

It feels good to just do the writing without worrying (much) about where it’s going.

What’s the worst that could happen? It might suck. But I’m confident if that happens that I can fix it in revisions.

I’ve noticed I’m embracing this “slacker manifester” approach in other parts of my life, too. It feels like a sigh of relief. Good stuff for this recovering perfectionist.

Want to join us for some writing sprints? Reach out to me at nikki at nikkistarcatshields dot com

Sprints Totally Rule: NaNoWriMo Days 5-7

Look at my crazy graph! Dude…

NaNoWriMo, November 2020, DAY 5 – 1726 words

Dear Diary,

I was thinking we’d probably do sprints tonight, but I completely forgot that BlackLion was starting a new online RPG that he’d been invited to by some Star Trek gamers.

Sure, I could have done sprints on my own (or with whoever else was on Discord), but I didn’t. I wrote after dinner, and wasn’t sure where to go next with a scene, so I just made sure I got enough words to make the general daily target (which is 1667 words, in case you were wondering – thank you, math).

I felt sort of “meh” about it, but at least it was done, right?

DAY 6 – 741 words

Dear Diary,

I’d planned to write during the weekly Parallel PlayDate this afternoon, but I got caught up doing some odds and ends of biz stuff, and before I knew it the time had flown by.

I wrote after that, again on my own, and just wasn’t feeling it. So I stopped.

No guilt or anything – I know I can catch up later.

Had a good conversation with BlackLion in the evening about how to build suspense from scene to scene without always having to have dramatic stuff happen. There are only so many kidnappings and stabbings you can have in one book! Not to give you spoilers or anything…

We talked about how to build internal suspense, like when the reader knows something the character doesn’t, or the character makes a choice that the reader is initially puzzled by – things of that nature. It gave me some good ideas to put into play tomorrow.

DAY 7 – 2293 words

Dear Diary,

After a lovely mellow Caturday, BlackLion and I sprinted together in the evening. It was awesome!

The number of words I wrote tonight just proves to me that when it comes to fiction writing, for me, sprints totally rule. They force me to just write, without thinking too much about it.

I simply envision the scene in my mind’s eye and describe what I see as it unfolds.

I still haven’t done any further planning for my story. I guess I’m a full-on pantser this time around! So far, so good…

 

Robots Need Words Too: NaNoWriMo Days 1-4

I miss coffee shop writing sessions…

NaNoWriMo, November 2020, DAY 1 – 0 words

Dear Diary,

Recently I looked back over last November’s blog series I wrote about doing National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). It was actually quite useful to me. I was reminded that I did most of my writing in the evenings, quite often doing sprints with BlackLion and others.

I have some clients and community members who are doing NaNoWriMo for the first time, and I figured perhaps this will inspire them on their journey, too.

On the very first day, though, I wrote absolutely no words (well, beyond my journaling practice, which is separate).

I’m recovering from an infection that started in my right eyelid (yep, pretty weird and random, eh?). On the first day of NaNoWriMo, I was tired, grumpy, and out of sorts. Not the place you want to be in when writing a novel.

So I didn’t.

I didn’t even beat myself up over it – I didn’t have the energy for that, either.

DAY 2 – 2132 words

Dear Diary,

I felt much better today. I mean, I’m still tired and resting and healing – but no grumpiness and a lot more mental clarity.

Even so, I didn’t get to my novel until after dinner. Around 8:15pm, I opened up Scrivener (the software I’m using) and Discord (I’m not sure I can explain Discord, but it’s a chat-based communication platform, I guess?).

I went to the channel where Maine NaNo happens, and some writers were doing sprints together – one of whom is a friend of mine.

They have a new thing this year, a “bot” called Sprinto. It lets you send commands that start the sprint, and then it does the timing for you. So cool! I love having a neat robot thing to run the show.

It means we can do sprints anytime, even when the admins aren’t there. So convenient!

DAY 3 – 2126 words

Dear Diary,

BlackLion and I sprinted together this evening. The Discord channel was pretty quiet when we got there, but by the time we were done, there were a handful of us.

I love doing writing sprints. They force me to put the editor brain completely aside and just write. 

That said, I worked on this one scene that just goes on and on and on… I think there’s too much talking and not enough doing in it. Although I did leave it on a bit of an exciting cliffhanger at the end.

It’ll all get fixed later, during the editing process.

After we were done with our writing, we watched The Good Place. We’re on season 3 and it’s just hilarious.

DAY 4 – 2384 words

Dear Diary,

This evening after dinner, BlackLion and I joined the Maine NaNo crew for a scheduled write-in. It officially went from 6 to 8pm, but we were there from about 6:45 until after 8.

I wrote a bunch of words.

None of the writing I’m doing currently is planned in advance. I was sick with an infection during the last part of October, so I’ve done literally no planning ahead this time around.

Yup, at the moment, I’m a “pantser.” (Which means writing by the seat of one’s pants, without a plan).

I might try to plan a bit over the weekend. I usually like to have at least some solid plot points to aim for as I make my way through the story.

But then again, maybe I won’t.

Tonight after we wrote, we watched the new episode of The Mandalorian, followed by more of The Good Place.

How’s your writing going so far this month? I know there are a lot of distractions right now, but I’m doing my best to focus on the things that matter most and letting the rest go.

Using NaNoWriMo for Non-Fiction: 7 Tips

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that National Novel Writing Month (also known as November) is something I enjoy. I’ve done it for the past several years now, using it to try my hand at writing contemporary fantasy.

Most of my writing clients, though, write non-fiction. “If you’re not writing an actual novel,” they wonder, “can you still do NaNoWriMo?”

While NaNoWriMo is focused on fiction and its particular challenges – like character development and world-building – the container that it create can indeed be used for other genres of writing.

Here are seven tips on how to use the community momentum of NaNoWriMo to propel your book or other writing projects forward:

  1. The magick of NaNoWriMo lies in the word count goal. Use some kind of software that has a word count function. This month, it’s all about the words and getting them onto the page. Make it easier for yourself by letting the robots tally them up for you.
  2. Enlist your family’s help for the month. Get some extra support with chores and social obligations. Here’s a handy video you can share with your peeps.
  3. Try a new writing technique, like timed writing – the Pomodoro method works well, as do word sprints. Or try some channeling. Perhaps write via voice memo or longhand (though you’ll need to transcribe them so you can get your word count in!).
  4. Don’t edit what you’ve written. At all. Not this month!
  5. Have a fresh brainstorming session to generate plenty of ideas to write about. Even if you’ve done this before, or have a working outline, take this opportunity to load in some new anecdotes, client stories, examples, or techniques to share.
  6. Infuse your book draft with some fiction-style writing. Add some dialogue, describe a place or situation, or flesh out a character who figures in your book (it might even be you!).
  7. Participate in some of the virtual happenings during the month – revel in the extra camaraderie and accountability. Make some new writer friends. No one is going to reject you because your book project is a different genre. The NaNoWriMo crowd is very supportive and encouraging.

If you’re wondering whether or not to jump into NaNoWriMo this November, I say go for it! Even if you don’t complete the goal, you’ll most likely write more than you would have otherwise. And it’s super fun!

Want more writing tips and ideas? Sign up for my email list over here and join a community of Thriving Artists.

What’s Stopping You From Doing The Thing?

You know the thing I mean. The one that is of deep priority to your soul…yet you never quite seem to get to it.

It gets continually moved forward on your (written or mental) to-do list.

It could be a creative project, like writing a book, starting a band, or taking a class in that new art technique you’d love to try. It could be something like asking that special someone on a date.

Maybe it’s cleaning and de-cluttering your room.

You’re not even sure WHY it’s not getting done.

Procrastination is tricky.

Sometimes it points to the timing being off. Your inner being is wise, and will guide you gently astray if the time for Doing The Thing isn’t right.

At other times, though, procrastination points to some kind of inner blockage. It might be a fear (of success or failure, perhaps) or a deep-seated old belief. It might be the notion that your work has to be perfect.

It could be that the project in question feels too big, too overwhelming, or too important. It’s intimidating.

Maybe you’re just tired.

No matter the reason, it’s best not to force yourself to do that thing. Forcing the issue just leads to unfinished projects and resentment.

How about a gentle process of inquiry, instead?

Try this: grab your journal and a pen. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Use this prompt: “I really want to do [The Thing], but…”

Free-write your answers. Keep writing until the timer goes off – even if you’re just starting with “I don’t know” over and over. Try not to overthink your answers. Let them flow forth onto the page.

Often you’ll surprise yourself with the underlying reasons for NOT pursuing that project that you thought you wanted so much.

Once the hidden inner blockages are out in the light, they tend to lose their charge. Seeing them renders them less potent.

A useful next step is to break that thing down into smaller steps, and add those – one at a time – to your to-do list. Start slowly. Baby steps toward your goals totally count, and are more sustainable than trying to tackle a big project all at once.

Try it, and see what happens.

If your big thing is a book or other writing project, I encourage you to join my mailing list. When you do, you’ll get a free copy of my “What’s Stopping You?” quiz. The quiz will help you narrow down some of the reasons you’re not writing, and how you might begin shifting them.

Starcat’s Favorites: Daily Spiritual Practice

The last couple of weeks have been like a rollercoaster. Lots of ups and downs – both personally and collectively.

My astrologer friends tell me that, given what’s going on in the stars, it’s to be expected. This is a time of big transitions.

I’m so thankful that I always have my daily spiritual practice to keep me centered (or as centered as possible).

My current practice includes meditation, alchemical journaling, and Tarot cards. I also write down my dreams, and I’m keeping a Pray Rain Journal. I spend time in the morning and again in the evening on my spiritual well-being. It’s non-negotiable.

My practice is like a rock. It’s always there, whether I’m having a rough day or a fantastic one.

One of my other favorite ways to stay centered is, of course, reading (along with enjoying art and music). Here are some interesting tidbits I’ve found recently:

Celebrating the season of Autumn.

5 reasons to read fantasy – not that I needed any.

September is the month to celebrate some of my favorite Goddesses!!! Learn more about the Mothers of the Sacred Waters and my beloved Yemaya.

Check out this amazing art exhibit on the streets of Portland (Maine).

Need an emotional boost? Try some uplifting music. I loved this Tiny Desk concert with some amazing musicians.

A friend in my mastermind group recommended Nick Breau as a helpful Law of Attraction coach – and he offers a free course on the art of manifesting.

Getting plenty of protein (but not too much) helps keep your immune system strong.

This is a long but very interesting article on the Victim Triangle. Super helpful for shadow work…

A comic book guide to the bardo, the Tibetan Buddhist afterlife. Because, well, why not?

Enjoy your weekend!