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The Art-Committed Life

A Newsletter by Author Patrick Ross

The latest tips and trends on sparking your muse as a creative writer and artist

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Doomscrolling: Is it Killing Your Creativity?

We all do it. “Just a quick look,” we tell ourselves as we open a news app or social media feed. Two hours later we’re horrified and seething. It’s called “doomscrolling,” and with a global pandemic it’s more common than ever. This activity engages the brain stem, the reptilian part of our brain that governs fight or flight. It’s well-intentioned, trying to keep us alive. With tigers rarely salivating in any nearby bushes in our modern world, however, what it usually does to us now is cause physical and mental upset.

Did you realize doomscrolling can also impact your creativity? Most likely you did, if you’ve ever sat down to work on that novel or painting right after scrolling through the latest trending Twitter hashtags. I’ve been struggling with this problem extensively this year, and have developed three approaches that could help both with your creativity and with your overall mental health. Let’s get past our brain stem and into our frontal cortex, where the magic happens.

  1. Carve out time for creativity: You don’t have to doomscroll all day long. Make an appointment with your muse, and ensure you don’t look at your phone for at least an hour beforehand. I’ve actually turned off all of my news and social media alerts on my phone so I’m not tempted to look. For me, my muse appointment is often the moment I wake up, so I ignore my phone and go straight to the manuscript document on my laptop without opening a browser. I do bring in our print newspaper so my wife can read it, but I avoid looking at the headlines. It helps if this appointment is a set time each day; your brain will learn that it’s going to have to go without its doomscrolling adrenalin rush during that time.
  2. Channel the angst: Okay, so the bullet above is easier said than done when pandemic deaths are skyrocketing and democracy seems on a knife’s edge. You’ve decided that at this point in your life, doomscrolling is a part of it. Well, why not channel that energy? Great art arises from deep emotions, including dark ones. I saw several reports of artists channeling their upset during the Black Lives Matter protests to produce stunning murals and other works of art. Don’t put pressure on yourself to convert your anxiety to your greatest creative work, however. If you’re a fiction writer, maybe you just decide to punch up a conflict scene in your book by channeling that rage you’re feeling into your characters. The scene will most likely come alive.
  3. Let your subconscious do the work: Longtime readers of my Artist’s Road blog know that I have a cheat code when it comes to my creative writing: I let my subconscious carry much of the load. In short, I program my subconscious to conduct creative problem-solving while I sleep by focusing on it at bedtime. I usually wake up raring to go. This article is the result of some mental noodling I did one afternoon, with it taking shape while I slept. You can’t doomscroll when you’re unconscious, so your subconscious is freed to do its thing. Just don’t sabotage it by looking at your phone the moment you wake up (I intentionally charge my phone overnight on an entirely different floor of the house from the master bedroom).

Finally, if you’re curious about our reptilian brain and how it inhibits our ability to avoid anxiety and find joy, I strongly recommend you read What Happy People Know by Dan Baker and Cameron Stauth. It captures some lessons from the psychiatrist who runs Canyon Ranch; he’s a bit smug, but full of insights. It’s been almost two decades since I first read it, but I still carry lessons from that book with me to this day.

Hoping Against Hope

Finding a Literary Agent

“I’m looking forward to some killer tips from you on finding an agent.” So wrote a new follower to this newsletter in a comment she sent from my website. It’s the long lament of any book-length writer, whether fiction or nonfiction. Personally, I have twice landed agents for projects I was working on, and other times haven't gotten a single manuscript request. 

This is on my mind right now, as I anticipate beginning the query process for my novel-in-progress in early 2021. It’s also worthy of a more detailed article than I can fit in this newsletter today.

For now let me just say that you should approach who to query as seriously as you do in your romantic life. You don’t want just any boyfriend. You want the right boyfriend. So research agents, identify ones you think would like your work, and pitch them with a short query demonstrating why you think you’re a good fit. With my first agent, I did my research with Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest. I would suggest now a subscription to Publishers Marketplace, a treasure trove of agent data. It’s a bit pricey, but you can cancel once you land an agent!

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The Latest on My Artist's Road

I have a new website! I welcome you to check it out and provide feedback. This is one of the things I’m doing to prepare for my agent pitch; it’s a way to let them know they’re dealing with a seasoned professional (or at least someone who has taught themselves the basics of Wix).

What has me thinking, after 2 ½ years working on an urban fantasy novel, that I’m almost ready to pitch an agent? It is, in part, beta reader feedback. Here are three takes:

Reader #1: “The writing was simply great and caused me to have complete trust in the narrator to take me on this journey! Every now and then I 'woke' from the reading and had a thought, and it was 'wow, this is well written.' I had moments of noticing the authorial voice, the one that had done research and blended it in well. And the ending was great. One battle won while the next was laid out ahead of them. And the way science and reality was layered over the fictional was well done and works to give the ending and really the entire story the believability that had me surrendering to the story and fully immersed in the characters' world.”

Reader #2: "Looove this book! I'm only about 20+ pages in, but I can't wait to continue reading! I think this book will be a best-seller! Really gripping, extremely well-written, super interesting and thought provoking subject matter... - it's a real page turner."

Reader #3 (who read part of the first one and correctly noted its flaws): "Wow, I've read the first two chapters and it's fantastically improved! Clear characters beginning to be developed, fast moving, relatable, and engaging! Your descriptions are tangible and your storyline reads as real... There is a lot to each sentence - which I enjoy."

I’ve begun a final revision, which will be followed by a final polish. Then it’s time to start the pitch process, and not let my reptilian brain spin with each probable rejection. Setbacks are part of the artist’s road, and I’m prepared for them.

Thanks for Reading!

Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to peruse my latest newsletter. Feel free to pass it along to others who might be interested.

As we enter what for many is an unprecedented holiday season, I wish you mental and physical health. Your loved ones are always with you in your heart, and technology can unite you in other ways. Stay safe and remember that you're loved.

Patrick Ross, Author

website: patrick-ross.com

Carlsbad, CA

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patrick@patrick-ross.com

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