Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A shot in the arm

Are you creative in other ways besides writing – i.e. photography, painting, music, widget making, any other creative pursuits that you might have? Tell us about them and why you pursued writing as a career instead of one of them.

by Dietrich Kalteis

Last time around the minds talked about other forms of creative expression we might pursue if we weren’t writing. I think we can all be creative in just about everything we do. Creative thinking points us to new paths and allows for new ways of seeing things, and it can help us solve problems by seeing different ways around them. 

The one thing needed in order to be creative is inspiration. When I was a kid I loved to get lost in a favorite book. I remember some of the wonderful images I’d draw from novels like the adventures Mark Twain wrote about. And there was Edgar Allen Poe to scare the hell out of me, had me checking under the bed for years, and Rudyard Kipling’s tales of exotic places. 

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” 
— Pablo Picasso

I still read a lot, and a great novel often inspires my own storytelling and makes me want to raise the benchmark. Sometimes its Charles Bukowski, sometimes James Ellroy. I also find inspiration in films like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Watching Woody Harrelson and Frances McDormand give great performances is a real treat. And I find inspiration in the photos of Elliot Erwitt and Robert Doisneau, and in the paintings of Francis Bacon and Georgia O’Keefe.

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” — Twyla Tharp

I’ve mentioned I listen to music while I write. Sometimes it’s Leonard Cohen, and sometimes its Miles Davis. Whatever suits the mood, and when I get it right, the rhythm of what I’m listening to matches what I’m writing. 

When I’m working on a story, I’ve also learned when not to push it, when to get away from my desk and go and recharge the batteries. So, a walk in the woods or along the shoreline could be in order. Here on the west coast we’re blessed with mountains and ocean all around us, so there’s miles of seawall and endless trails.

Being a creature of habit, I tend to write at the same time of day. For me, it’s early in the day since I’ve got more energy then. But sometimes it’s good to break from that routine and write in a different spot or at different times, or for longer or shorter periods. It’s also good to set it aside for a while and take a break, like between drafts.

I’m not an expert at plants or working the soil, but digging in a garden is a great way to unwind and clear my head, and it can be a good time to work out some story ideas.    

As much as I steer to what inspires me, I try to avoid what drags me down. So, I don’t make a habit of catching the news, even though it’s almost impossible to avoid glimpsing a headline, or having someone say, “Hey, did you hear about …” The news isn’t often uplifting, but once in a while it gives me a spark for a scene or a story idea. 

And as much as we need inspiration, we need courage too. Putting any story out there subjects it to rejection. When I started out I was writing a lot of short stories and submitting them to various publications, and I ended up with enough rejection letters to paper a room. While we all love good reviews, we have to learn to deal with the bad ones, dust ourselves off and just keep going.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” — Dr. Seuss

There’s just something about imagining the scenes and characters, and seeing the stories come to life. And it never comes hard, it never feels like work, and I really can’t see myself doing anything else.

“There's no retirement for an artist, it's your way of living so there's no end to it.” — Henry Moore

Oh, and speaking of putting stories out there, my new one Poughkeepsie Shuffle was released yesterday. 

You can check it out at my publisher's website: 

Or, at my website:


7 Criminal Minds said...

An interesting glimpse into the roots of your creativity and writing process. Congrats on your new release!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Brenda.

Cathy Ace said...

I am very much hanging on to the idea that I will never "retire" from my creative pursuits, but do acknowledge the fact they take many guises. Maybe one day pottering in the garden will be all I'm up to - though it's possible I might find it just as creatively satisfying to direct the efforts of a younger person who gets to do all the hard work. I'm hoping that tapping away at a keyboard is something I might be able to manage for longer :-)

Terry said...

The creative spirit is so engrained in most of us, whichever form it takes. My husband is a mathematician and thinks of math as being very creative.

James W. Ziskin said...

Nice post, Dietrich. Creativity really isn’t a choice, is it? Some folks are just born with it.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks Cathy, Terry and James. Sorry I missed Bouchercon this year. And I agree, I don't think we can help being creative. And yes, I can see math as being creative, too, Terry.

Susan C Shea said...

I love all the quotes! From Matisse to Dr. Seuss, the quotes make me realize that we all think about how to nurture and support our creativity and stave off the self-censorship that can come from too much rejection. Good post!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Susan.

Paul D. Marks said...

Love this quote, Dieter: "There's no retirement for an artist, it's your way of living so there's no end to it.” It's so true.