I’m starting something new here, and I’m really excited about it. It’s called The Creativity Questions and my idea is this: I will periodically
hypnotize invite kickass creatives (writers, musicians, artists, photographers) to answer five questions about the decidedly tawdry mating habits of fruit bats creativity. The questions will always be the same, but the answers, of course, will be different every time (and fun and funny and insightful and honest).
The AIS trick, that inspiring moment of abject terror, and the best thing to do with duct tape
victim interviewee is short story author, novelist, and award-winning poet, Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer). Annie has work appearing or forthcoming in over two dozen venues, including The Spirit of Poe, Underneath the Juniper Tree, the British Fantasy Society journal Dark Horizons, and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies’ prize anthology Encore. She’s also a member of the Horror Writers Association, vice president of the Denton Poets’ Assembly, and president of the North Branch Writers’ Critique Group. You can visit her at www.AnnieNeugebauer.com for blogs, creative works, free organizational tools for writers, and more.
(Editor’s note: Annie is also wicked smart and very funny. Wait ’till you see.)
j: Life is demanding. What are your tricks for getting into a creative space?
Annie: At the risk of taking every last drop of romance out of writing, I am a big proponent (and pretty strict adherent) of daily word count goals. To borrow a phrase from the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” I practice AIS – Ass In Seat – every single workday, five days a week.
That probably isn’t what you were hoping for, is it? But honestly, that really is my best trick for getting into the mood to create. I firmly believe that creativity is a muscle, and like any other muscle, it gets bigger and stronger with use, just like cardiac endurance. The more regularly you jog, the easier it is to jog the next time – and the further you can go. If you sit around waiting for the mood to go running to hit you, you might only do it once every few weeks. But if you make it a regular occurrence, committing to run whether you feel like it or not, you might just find that once you start, you get in the mood.
My point is that I don’t sit around and wait to feel creative. A muse – whether you believe in the concept of divine inspiration or just think it’s a cute way to describe your own brain function – can be trained to make a regular appearance. Some days I don’t think she’ll show up, but you’ll still find me AIS, typing away. Because even if I don’t *think* I feel creative, something unexpected might come out. What if I never sit down and try? This way, my “muse” knows where to meet me: at my desk, every single day, AIS.
j: What’s the weirdest thing that inspires you?
Annie: Well, when people hear I’m a poet and literary fiction writer, I think most of them probably assume I’m inspired by long walks in the woods, passionate lovemaking, the soft fur of a kitten’s belly, and global injustices. And don’t get me wrong; sometimes I do get inspired by those things.
But I’m also a horror writer. (Yes, even horror poetry.) And by far the weirdest thing that gets my creativity cranking is good old-fashioned terror. You know that moment when you’re alone in your house because your spouse or roommate is gone and you’re getting ready for bed? That strange sort of eeriness that you try to pretend you don’t notice? And you shut the bedroom door behind you so no one can come in after you, which is silly, but you tell yourself that’s not why you did it. But then you have to close your eyes to bend over the sink and wash your face. And there’s one moment, right after you stand up and towel off, when you open your eyes and look in the mirror and are almost sure someone will be standing right behind you.
That’s the moment I hope for. That feeling, like waking up from a nightmare, must be the weirdest thing that inspires me.
j: How do you deal with critics?
Annie: Two words: Voodoo dolls.
Just kidding. (Kind of.) In reality, I surround myself with supportive people. I regularly receive feedback, but I think learning to deal with critique is a whole different ballgame than learning to deal with criticism. Critique is invited and helpful, whereas criticism is uninvited and hurtful. I don’t think I’ve ever had someone criticize my actual work (at least not right to my face), although I do sometimes get snide remarks about my career choice. I’ve found, though, that people will generally use your own evaluation of yourself to guide theirs. So once I learned how to be confident and take pride in what I do, people began treating me accordingly.
The only outward critics I can think of are rejections. And although rejection is a necessary part of every writer’s life, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Rejections hurt like hell! What I’ve learned to do, though, is to see rejections as hierarchical instead of binary. A “no” isn’t just a “no.” It’s a sign-post telling me how close I am to acceptance. A form rejection might mean a project needs a lot of work. A personalized rejection might mean it only needs to find a more suitable home. And a personal note with recommendations and/or an explanation means I’m almost there. In short, I think of rejections as progress meters for my work, not an indication of personal value.
And when I feel down, I try to remind myself this: the fact that I’m getting rejections at all means that I’m actively putting myself out there, which is something to be proud of.
j: What energizes you, solitude or engagement?
Annie: Solitude, definitely. I’m one of those people who no matter how much fun I’m having or how much I love the people I’m with, I breathe a sigh of relief when they’re gone. Being alone too much probably isn’t good for anybody, but I also don’t think being constantly active and surrounded by other people’s energy is good either. Balance is important, and different for every person, but in general, I find myself more refreshed after a weekend of easy solitude than by a weekend of exciting activity. Both are great, but solitude has power. When there’s no one else there to make you think, you think about what’s really on your mind, and that leads to ideas and inspiration. I believe many people don’t spend enough time alone in a dark, quiet place.
j: Glitter, trash, and an endless supply of duct tape: What will you make?
Annie: I’m imagining some sort of industrial cat tower made of those empty carpet tubes and discarded pieces of scrap wood, duct-taped with the sticky side facing out and covered in glitter. Maybe then I’d eventually have sparkly cats. And really, at that point, I’d pretty much have achieved everything I’ve ever wanted out of life.