Children Challenge Your Creativity

True creativity is born from an insatiable need for self-expression. Have you ever thought about something creative that you might like to do? That you would do if you had more time? Would you cook an improvised meal? Would you knit a warm-weather accessory? Would you draw a graphic novel?

Even the most creative people sometimes lose sight of what it means to be creative, just for the heck of it. Work and other responsibilities pull us away from our creative impulses!

Sure, creative professionals might be doing something “creative” (if they’re lucky) at their jobs: designing book jackets for a publishing house or writing copy for ad campaigns. But I believe that true creativity is born from an insatiable need for self-expression.

Have you ever thought about something creative that you might like to do? That you would do if you had more time? Would you cook an improvised meal? Would you knit a warm-weather accessory? Would you draw a graphic novel?

If I had infinite amounts of leisure time, I would learn to play the guitar (a task which I have started and stopped numerous times), make jewelry, learn to sew, and write poetry.

However, many of these tasks require more than the time it takes to actually do them. These creative pursuits demand a meditative frame of mind, which sometimes takes hours to achieve. Think about it: would you be able to shift from a high-stress work assignment to writing a poem for fun without a break in between both tasks? I would be pretty impressed if you could.

For those of you that have trouble being creative, I have the perfect solution. My four-year-old cousin taught me that all anyone needs to rekindle creative spirit is to spend time with a child. Even better? Teach them a skill that will allow them to be creative, and you will find your immediately spark your own creativity.

When I was in college, I used to make beaded jewelry for myself. I even took classes at the Gem Cutters Guild of Baltimore. Putting together different color beads was a great break from the stresses (yes, stresses!) of college life. However, I hadn’t touched my bead box for at least two years when I suggested necklace-making to distract my cousin.

Teaching her required me to be creative because I had to explain the process in such a way that she would understand it. Helping her make the necklace required me to be creative because I had to direct her without getting in the way of her own creative process. Allowing a stuffed animal audience required my creativity because I had to accept that a pink unicorn was judging our performance.

So how was this activity my insatiable need for self-expression? Well, I really wanted to bead; I saw her as the perfect opportunity to fulfill my desire to do so. Most of the time I do want to be creative but have trouble accepting my desire; shouldn’t I be doing something more productive?

(Photo by net efekt)

The Thrill of Being Able to Share

One of the most exciting things about working on Too Shy to Stop is knowing that I have a little corner of the Internet where I can gather and share stories and photographs by like-minded young people. I’m thrilled when someone wants to match the Too Shy to Stop mission and vision.

One of the most exciting things about working on Too Shy to Stop is knowing that I have a little corner of the Internet where I can gather and share stories and photographs by like-minded young people. When one of our writers pitches a story idea to me or submits photographs, I’m really thrilled that someone has creative work that will match the Too Shy to Stop mission and vision.

Last week, Too Shy to Stop contributor Erin asked me if she could submit photos that she would take at protests against the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, PA. When she pitched the idea, I really had no idea what to expect, but I agreed. I knew from experience that she is a talented photographer, and I was sure that the photos would be spectacular.

On Thursday night (the night of the protests), at around 9 PM, Erin wrote on my Facebook wall: “ohhhh do i have photos for you.”. At that point, I was so busy with other things that I forgot to expect the pictures! She e-mailed me 10 zip files filled with all the pictures she had taken that day, and I spent the next hour or two reviewing them, editing them, and posting them to Too Shy to Stop for Friday morning publication.

Her enthusiasm was completely contagious, and I was so excited that she had taken all these unique photographs. I was happy that she trusted me with them, and I did everything I could to make sure that many people saw them. Obviously, I can’t make anyone care about pictures of protesters, but I hope that a lot of people looked at and appreciated them.

The little corner of the Internet that Too Shy to Stop occupies may not be comprehensive or far-reaching, but it does have its quirks. The New York Times doesn’t have Erin Goldberger on staff, but we do, and CNN will never get the photos that we have. I think that’s pretty cool.

(Photo by Erin Goldberger)

The Great Pumpkin Is a Great Teacher

The fact that I couldn’t find canned pumpkin actually turned out to be a good thing. I would make homemade pumpkin puree instead; this would require me to purchase actual pumpkins, remove the seeds, and bake the pumpkin segments. I learned a valuable lesson: just because a shortcut exists doesn’t mean you should take it.

Last night, I cooked a giant pot of turkey-pumpkin chili for Jarad and my parents. I wanted to make it last weekend but didn’t because I couldn’t find canned pumpkin puree in any of the local supermarkets.

The fact that I couldn’t find canned pumpkin actually turned out to be a good thing. I would make homemade pumpkin puree instead; this would require me to purchase actual pumpkins, remove the seeds, and bake the pumpkin segments.

While I was cutting up the pumpkin and flinging fibrous pumpkin innards into the trash can, my parents kept asking, “Why are you wasting so much time and energy when you can buy pumpkin in a can?” Sure, making the puree myself was a more difficult and time-consuming process, but getting pumpkin all over my hands was therapeutic. It seemed an appropriate thing to do on the first day of fall.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to make my own puree if I had other things to do, but I have been spending a lot of time in front of the computer and felt like I needed to make something with my hands. Cutting up pumpkins was more a meditation than a chore.

Once my puree was complete, I roasted the pumpkin seeds, which turned out to be a healthy snack that I could eat during the actual chili-making process, which required 45 minutes of intense vegetable chopping.

Have you ever heard stories about inner city children who don’t understand that vegetables actually come from somewhere other than the supermarket? How can you blame them? They are so disconnected from the earth that they can’t imagine it. Whenever I cook something that requires extra, unnecessary effort, I feel like those children, like I’m missing some vital knowledge about life.

So, why am I spending so much time writing about pumpkins? I learned a valuable lesson: just because a shortcut exists doesn’t mean you should take it. Choose your shortcuts wisely and set aside time for doing some things “the long way”. People (ahem, my parents) might think you’re crazy, but you will learn something about yourself and appreciate technology more.

New Media Generates New Genres

Since “new media” is a fairly broad and nebulous term, I would like to create a point of focus for this post. I am going to discuss: NEW GENRES OF WRITING (dun dun dun).

genreSome of my favorite blogs contain never-before-defined genres. A blog is a venue for writing, but the content within the blog can take many shapes and forms. Some blogs have informative articles, others showcase creative writing, and other blogs bend and break the rules of photojournalism.

(Pictured at left: Genre bending, by kevindooley)

My current favorite blog is Reblogging NonSociety (RBNS), a site dedicated to mocking Julia Allison and NonSociety. I am fascinated by RBNS because I truly believe that it serves as an example of a new genre that has emerged from new media.

RBNS is updated by three anonymous bloggers, and the commenters are regular (and extremely loyal) site-goers with memorable screen-names.

All the content on the site depends on NonSociety’s content. If Julia doesn’t update her site, her Twitter stream, or her Facebook page, the RBNS bloggers would have nothing to post.

Julia’s content is not particularly special or mind-blowing, but she is a fascinating character. While her site is considered autobiographical in nature, the RBNS site is satirical. The RBNS content is reminiscent of a roast, during which comedians poke fun at an individual, who takes the humor in good faith and is not personally offended.

RBNS is so harsh in their criticism of Julia that she has threatened to take legal action against the bloggers. However, they are not doing anything wrong! They are simply commenting on facts and statements that Julia willingly makes public to everyone on the Internet: a blog that makes fun of a blog!

Do any other blogs like this exist? I know that some blogs are devoted to making fun of celebrities, but most celebrities still promote themselves in traditional ways. What’s unique about Julia is that she made herself “famous” using the Internet. In the future, will we witness the emergence of more Internet celebrities and, thus, more blogs that make fun of blogs?

Sustained Creativity Energy in a Can

I would like to find an energy drink that I can chug whenever routine life drains my creativity. Spending just a few days away from Too Shy to Stop can throw me completely off course, and I usually need a full day or two to find my way back.

energydrinksToday, I had some free time to devote to TStS, but I found it difficult to refocus my energy from my other daily tasks and responsibilities. My brain was stuck in routine mode, and I needed to shift to creativity mode.

(Pictured at left: Creative energy in a can, by Kristian D.)

Is it possible to sustain creative energy so that I never need to make the shift? Perhaps all creative people need to take a break from creative thinking. If so, how can we make the transition more efficient and less frustrating (imagine staring at a blank screen, page, or canvas for hours)?

“Find sources of inspiration to combat those less than creative aspects,” said Twitter member @yellowdresses. “Obviously easier said than done, but it can be done.”

How was I finally able to post tomorrow’s story about artists promoting themselves online? I took some time to look at how artists use websites like Facebook and Twitter to showcase their work, and I was much more excited to edit and post Emily’s story. Just looking at colorful art and photography gave me the energy I needed to complete the project.

What are some things that inspire you? Do you look to certain artists, writers, or photographers to milk your creative juices? Are there certain situations or times of the day that help you work?

I usually work best at night, when I’ve completed all my routine tasks for the day. Working at night is sometimes dangerous because it keeps me from going to sleep, but I feel very inspired by the dark and quiet.

Above all, you have to believe that the creative energy CAN and WILL return! Sometimes, you will have to work very hard to recharge it, but you will find it again. Writes Twitter member @ArtFRONT, “You have to maintain confidence in your own abilities and the determination to act according to your ideas/ideals at every chance.”

Translating Personal to Universal Language

As an online media outlet, Too Shy to Stop competes with blogs and online newspapers/magazines. We don’t really fit into a genre, and we’re kind of tough to define. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but we do want to offer a unique product with content that readers can’t find anywhere else.

humancannonballPersonal essays are probably our most popular offerings. Though I was initially against featuring only personal essays, I am beginning to embrace them. My biggest concern is that the personal essay can be very self-absorbed.

(Pictured at left: That would make a cool story, by Brent and MariLynn)

“Why would anyone want to read about my life/experience?” is a question the writer must constantly ask.

However, we have had some serious success with compelling personal essays run on a weekly basis: Ana Is an Intern, Niko’s College Counsel, Mermaid in Manhattan, and Japan Jargon have all been recurring features on Too Shy to Stop. Peter has also written some great personal essays that involve music, books, and film.

I keep asking myself how each of these columns is different from a blog, though. Blogs usually contain spur-of-the-moment thoughts. Our personal essays are heavily edited and revised. How are they different from the content found in online literary magazines? I’m not sure yet.

Recently, I was actually inspired by a job advertisement posted by NonSociety, the blog founded by Julia Allison. She is a proponent of “lifecasting“, which is basically an extended personal essay told through various forms of digital media.

“What is a lifecast? It’s our experts creatively opining on their area of expertise while also giving the audience a glimpse into their lives. It’s really just the next step in multi-media art and expression. It’s part memoir, part scrapbook, part like a tattered notebook in which the personality jots thoughts and ideas and pictures about their subject matter. Ultimately, it exists to tell a story – but one which could only be told through the tools of technology…”

Unfortunately, many of the people lifecasting today don’t offer the most exciting content. With Too Shy to Stop, I find it extremely important to show that young people can be intelligent, ambitious, and creative. I am completely sick of the way that mainstream media portrays the typical American 2o-something, and I want to demonstrate the alternative.

I really don’t want to compete with online newspapers, which are experts at handling and reporting breaking content. The New York Times does a great job with it arts and culture section, and I will not claim that our work even compares. However, I do want our work to inspire and inform our audience.

If I Can Make It There…

A few days ago, Bill Wasik, op-ed contributor to The New York Times, wrote a thought-provoking piece about the Internet’s role in creative pursuit and ambition. Today, when living in New York City is basically a financial joke, many ambitious young artists and writers are finding new ways to market and promote themselves.

enoughalienationWho better to try a hand at innovation than those with creativity and energy?

(Pictured: In case you didn’t feel alienated already, by fergusonphotography)

Wasik writes, “In their scope, both the Internet and New York are profoundly humbling: young people accustomed to feeling special about their gifts are inevitably jarred, upon arrival, to discover just how many others are trying to do precisely the same, with equal or greater success.”

New York City is home to the gatekeepers, people who scout and promote talent for a living. These professionals include publishers, music industry executives, and directors. However, so many people have big dreams, and so few get noticed by the gatekeepers. Making it is mostly a matter of luck.

Now, everyone has a Firstnamelastname.com, an Etsy store, a MySpace music page, or a Twitter. Who needs a gatekeeper when you’re resourceful and connected? Millions of young people are resourceful, talented, and connected.

The Internet is a tease. We think we are speaking to an audience of many, but really we don’t know who’s listening. The real problem with the web is that you probably won’t ever know if you’ve profoundly touched someone with a song on MySpace or a poem in an online literary magazine.

Of course, the same problem exists with more traditional forms of media (an author can’t watch her readers, and a musician can’t see who’s listening to his album), but the Internet perpetuates anonymity and distance.

Don’t be discouraged. Just love what you do and believe that it matters.

Storytelling and Serious News Stories

harrypotterTake a moment to consider the Harry Potter series.  Before Harry Potter, young people rarely became excited about books.  Can you remember the last time one book made such an impact on an international level?

(Pictured at left: Media is cool again, by Noël Zia Lee)

Everyone, young and old, had to read Harry Potter, and everyone anticipated J.K. Rowling’s next installment.  The characters are compelling, the story is imaginative, the writing is clear and easy to read, and the imagery is vivid.

Harry Potter is a series of fantasy books.  I understand that many people read fantasy books to escape reality, but we need to remember that reality is often times much more interesting than fantasy.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t make this stuff up.”?

How can newspapers and magazines inspire the same enthusiasm as Rowling did in her readers?  I am trying to think about how reporters can tell their stories in new and interesting ways.  How can news outlets excite and capture the imagination of their readers without compromising factual content and the serious nature of the news?

escapeThe Daily Show gets viewers excited about news, even if the show is meant to be satirical.  The New York Times is trying to retain readers by updating the design of its print edition.  Journalists have launched their own blogs with the hopes of telling their stories in new ways, without the constraints of a news organization limiting their output.

(Pictured at right: Why escape?, by Sam Judson)

News media should exist in order to inspire citizens to take action and make change.  How will you inspire anyone if your message does not engage someone’s imagination?

Somehow, the news media needs to focus more on titillating creativity and thought; reality should be such a commanding presence that no one feels the need to escape it.

Appreciating Creative Professionals in Your Neighborhood

I spend almost as much time seeking new clients as I do working with them.  Any small business owner or consultant will tell you that finding the next client, customer, or project involves effort and time.

jobsandgates_editedI frequently search Craigslist for business owners seeking writing and/or marketing services, and I respond to them in a professional manner, explaining who I am and offering a free customized proposal.

(Pictured at left: Two of the most influential business owners meet in a professional manner, by Joi)

The problem with Craigslist is that some posters try to take advantage of people that respond to their ads.

Yesterday, I contacted Sue, who runs Powerplaygaming.net, the website for a family-owned gaming center in New Jersey.  In her ad, which you can read on Craigslist, Sue seeks “unique sales ideas – lower the cost the better!”.  She is “willing to pay for your time and the idea”, is an “honest salesperson and business owner”, and “will pay an appropriate amount based on the idea”.

I actually live really close to Sue’s business, and I offered to meet with her so that we could discuss her business in person.  I told her that I would create a free proposal that addresses her specific needs.

“If I could afford to hire a consultant I wouldn’t be posting an ad on craigslist,” wrote Sue, in response to my initial e-mail. “If you want to present an idea to me here is my website: www.powerplaygaming.net.”

Of course, I would love to offer her my ideas, which would including registering for a Twitter account, creating a Facebook fan page, blogging about all the fun events that take place at Power Play Gaming, drafting a press release and sending it to local newspaper editors and bloggers, connecting with online gaming forums, and building a fan base by offering free teaser events at her location.  None of these ideas would cost her any money.

I did not want to offer Sue my ideas because I knew that she was trying to take advantage of creative hopefuls.  “How is any professional supposed to know that you will compensate them for their ideas?” I asked. “Creativity doesn’t come cheap!”

How did Sue respond?

safetypins_edited“Just so you know, creativity actually CAN come cheap – I have used ideas from 10 and 12 yr olds and they have increased my business and I have used ideas in the past from College students and HS students and paid them in time to play, WOW!

(Pictured at right: Children have great ideas, by Pink Sherbet Photography)

That’s the reason I am posting again because I am ready to get more ideas.  Last night I received about 15 ideas and will put 3 into place and will actually pay them.  OMG, I actually am keeping my word!

If you had responded with something more positive than ‘creativity doesn’t come cheap’ you might have piqued my interest. Have a great day and if you want to increase your business I have a suggestion…stop emailing me and spend time on someone that is actually interested in what you have to offer.”

If you want to succeed in the business world, you can use Sue’s strategy and take advantage of 10-year-old children.  Or, you can value services provided by creative professionals, keeping an open mind when they offer to meet with you and draft a personalized proposal for you free of charge, without any obligation.

Q&A with Alyssa Royse of Just Cause Magazine

Alyssa Royse, President and Editor-in-Chief of Just Cause, a magazine available online and in print on-demand, contacted me because she noticed a reporter query from Too Shy to Stop writer Eui-jo on Help a Reporter Out (HARO).

Alyssa was intrigued by our model, and I was intrigued by her magazine, especially since I have immersed myself in everything print on demand for the past week!  I asked her a few questions about her magazine, her ideas about print media, and her business model, and you can read her answers below.

Me: What’s the story behind Just Cause?

AR: You could come at this from several different angles – life is a series of twisted paths that seem totally disparate until they deliver you where you’re going. But after working in PR, journalism and doing a lot of volunteering, it became very clear to me that people can be (and are) united by the causes that matter to them. That seems to transcend race, age, socioeconomic status and everything else. Further, that by looking at solutions and fostering actual dialog about the issues, we can make progress. I had an “ah-ha moment” in a planning meeting for a fundraiser, and the whole thing really presented itself to me.

Beyond that, I was just sick to death of the overwhelmingly dogmatic, negative and divisive nature of media. What good is done by focusing on problems rather than solutions, failures rather than successes, or people’s basest behavior rather than their achievements? I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that the way to encourage positive behavior is to celebrate it and create a media that that looks at our potential in an instructive and inspirational way rather than focusing on the misguided notion that we are interminably screwed. I still think I’m right – we’ll see!

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