Creative Incubator

If you follow me on social media, you’re probably familiar with my recent announcement that I’m heading into the Creative Incubator. I will not be doing readings, performances, workshops, etc. in June and July. Instead, I am focusing on creating new work for upcoming projects. I have never done this before, but I can foresee it being a part of my normal creative process. 

For six months, I have been Elgin’s first Poet Laureate. It has been an honor to represent the artistic voice of my community by writing and reading original poetry. I have participated in Memorial Day events, prayer breakfasts, opened for environmental activists, led writing workshops for elementary-aged girls and adults. Depending on the month, I have an engagement every week. 

I also have had homework and essays to grade. I teach full-time during my day job, and I commute roughly 12 hours a week to work. At night, I am an adjunct writing professor. I’m also enrolled in a full-time doctoral program. I’m heavily involved in my church, and I like to sleep and eat. Needless to say, my schedule is full.

While it is exciting to be invited places and to have a full calendar, it can also become difficult to stay true to my first love: writing. One thing I have learned as a creative is that you can’t rush the creative process. Writing, at least writing that will be memorable, takes time. When I sit down to write, I can’t guarantee that I will write an amazing poem or even a poem at all. The creative process is an odd thing and has a mind of its own. 

Having multiple engagements has allowed me to grow my poetic muscle and write poems in a shorter time. It takes me back to my time as a newspaper reporter, where I wrote articles on deadline

When I was a reporter, I wrote two types of writing: daily stories and long-term projects. Daily stories typically were covering a school board meeting, writing about a new school program or covering an emergency event, like a shooting. About 70% of the stories I wrote would fall in this category.  These stories were relatively simple to write and are the typical stories you read in your news outlet. 

On the other hand, there are a type of stories that required significant research, multiple sources were interviewed and the content was more complex. These type of stories would fall under the category of investigative reporting. Perhaps, I wanted to examine which schools had the highest teacher turnover or maybe I wanted to track the spending of the school board members. These were stories that could not be completed in one or two days. These were stories that made it the front page of the Sunday paper. And, these were the stories that earned awards, merited raises and promotions. To be a successful journalist, I had to have a balance of both types of stories. 

The same is true for me as a creative. Reading at an open mic or a governmental event are those daily stories. They are important because they allow me an opportunity to share my work with the public. However, long-term projects are what creates manuscripts for books, earns publications in literary journals and secures grants and fellowships. Quite frankly, long-term projects help me make a living as a creative. 

I knew I had to take a break when I realized I wasn’t working on the projects I said I had hoped to create in my application as Poet Laureate. I also recognized that it’s possible for me to get to the end of my two-year term and not have much to show for it beside a list of events I attended. I have to start thinking, preparing and positioning myself for the next step in my artistic career after my stint as a Poet Laureate. 

If you have made it to this point of this post, you may be thinking, ok Chasity, this is all interesting, but I am not the Poet Laureate, but how does this apply to me?

You are right. Your situation may look quite different from mine. Perhaps, you are a creative who has a team so folks can help you with administrative tasks and marketing. Maybe you have been in the creative incubator for years, and you actually want get out more. 

Here are a few takeaways from my experience that I think you can glean. 

  1. Admit that more isn’t better. 

I love being asked to attend events. It’s an honor and reaffirms my gifting as a poet. However, if every weekend of my schedule is filled, that means my laundry is not getting done; my kitchen is a mess; and I’m likely not doing any creating outside of the events. 

2. Work on long-term and short term goals simultaneously.

Creating is similar to money, in the sense that, you don’t want to just spend your money on every day purchases. You need to save for retirement and emergencies. Creatives must think short term and long term. What will you create next year? What about five years from now? These questions are not meant to induce anxiety or to say that you have to some extravagant over-the-top answer to sound impressive. Answer that question based on what matters to you. 

3. Give yourself time and space to create. 

You must learn how you create best. You must know what feeds your creativity and what starves it. And, it’s wise to be realistic. I would like to wake up each morning take a walk on the beach, sit under an umbrella and sip freshly squeezed lemonade while I write uninterrupted for 2 or 3 hours. Maybe one day I will get there or have a couple of weeks a year where this is my reality. 

In the meantime, I must identify a writing habit that works well for me. I’m from the South so warm weather and sunshine help me enter a creative habit. I’m also learning how much a clean home helps me in my creative habit. 

4. Grow as a creative

Another tell-tale sign that I needed a break is that I wasn’t growing in my craft. I wasn’t reading other poetry, taking a class or learning a new form. What will make me a poetry legend is have strong skills. Skills have to be developed. This takes time.  You can’t spend time cultivating your craft if your schedule is always full. 

5. Think about your legacy.

I marvel at poets who have written dozens of books. I am fascinated by creatives who constantly create, despite being insanely busy. What you create is the legacy you will leave the earth after you have died. What will you leave behind? What works will you contribute to the creative community? Once again, this is not about numbers and accolades. It’s about being intentional and thinking long-term about the impact you are going to make.

Truth is tomorrow isn’t promised, and we don’t know when our last day on earth will be. If you knew you had three years to live, what kinds of art would you create? What would you leave behind? 


Finding your Flow

beautiful pink lotus in lotus swamp at “Talay-Noi” Pattalung province ,Thaialnd

You can call it a writer’s paradise. Sitting down to write without interpretation, words spill from your fingerprints like rain drops during a summer storm. Steady. Constant. Sure. You lost track of time and for a moment, you forget where you are. You have found your groove. Your sweet spot. You have founded a flow.

When you are there, it’s an awesome place to, but getting there is most writers’ greatest challenge. But what if there was a way that entering a flow wasn’t so hard? What if there was a way that finding your flow was like turning on the water faucet in your bathroom: steady, constant, sure. According to a distinguished psychological researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly flow can be described as concentration “so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems.”

Concentration is no longer the multi-lane highway that many of us have when we are trying to write. Instead, we have single lane of traffic headed in one direction. Csikszentmihaly goes on to say in his book Flow that flow is not something accidental, random or happenstance. He explains that in most cases, it happens as a “result either from a structured activity, or from an individual’s ability to make flow occur, or both.”

If you want to learn various structured activities that can increase your writing flow, join me for a free writing workshop May 3 at the Gail Borden Library from 4-5:30 pm in the Grove Room. You can register here. See you there!

Reference: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.


Celebrating National Poetry Month

Earlier this month, I did a reading at Gail Borden Library to commemorate National Poetry Month. I also invited a couple of friends to read alongside. Since the event was held in the River Road, we each read poems inspired by the river. Elgin is one of several cities that are nestled along Fox River.

During the reading, I took questions from the audience about how I write poems and the creative process.

I shared new poems for a collection I am working on about Elgin’s early African American residents.

These photos were taken by James Harvey.


How to Create an Erasure Poem

According to the American Academy of Poets , an erasure is where a poet takes a text and erases portions of the text to create a poem. Erasure poetry is also called blackout poetry. It is considered a found poem. Creating erasures is a strategy you can use to avoid being stuck in your writing. It also can be a tool to expand your vocabulary and engage in creative play with words.

Erasures can created be from a variety of texts. I recommend using texts that won’t get you into trouble with copyright infringement. Be conscious of plagiarism when you are working with the text. Here are some ideas for texts: dictionary, cookbook, hymnals,  song lyrics, religious text, magazine, newspaper articles, poems you have written, vintage books. 

Here’s how you can create one. 

  1. Select a text.

Remember aim for a text that is in public domain.

2. Pick a writing utensil.

I like to use a pencil because I can erase if I feel the urge. But a pencil or a black sharpie can work.

3. Start erasing.

Allow yourself to enter a flow as you do this. Don’t overthink your choices. You are not analyzing the poem or being overly critical. This activity is not about creating the perfect poem. Your goal is to find a poem within the text. Within one text lies several poems. Your goal is to simply find one.

4. Stop

Whenever you feel you have created a poem, cease erasing. 

Now that you know the best method, here are some variations you can try with technique. 

  1. Scrabble

Type of up the words or phrases that remain. Cut a strip of each word of phrase and play around with the order. Glue or tape the strips on a piece of paper. It’s fun if you do a couple of variations and see which one is stronger. 

You also could cut up a erasure poems and put the strips in envelopes to pull out whenever you feel stuck with your writing. It can get you out of your rut.

  1. Haiku

Make a haiku from the words that remain.

2. Rainbow

Pick 3-4 colored pencils or markers.  Highlight words you want to keep. You can be totally random with how you color them or you can create a color code. For example, every verb could be highlighted blue and every noun highlighted in pink. The visual image of your poem will create a different effect and allow you to experience the poem differently. The highlighting may also be soothing. 

3. Combo

Select a few texts that may be related to the poems you are currently working on. Use them to give you inspiration for your new poem or as creative play for when you feel stuck. For example, let’s say you are writing a river in your hometown. You could have dictionary definitions of words related to the river, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries or lyrics about the river.

4. Digital

If you are not into pen and paper, you can create an erasure online at this website

Learn about other varieties here.

If you want to read a published collection of erasures, check out poet Quenton Baker who created a book about the Creole—the most successful on a U.S. slave ship.