Every writer knows that nothing can replace the good old-fashioned act of sitting with pen in hand—or hand on keyboard—and doing the work, but no writer is an island. Sometimes reaching out to a community that embraces and supports the heroic pursuit is just the thing to turn that floundering chapter around or to help land that next writing gig. This is true regardless of your chosen artistic pursuit.
For Meg Haley, connecting with her creative side happens with the seemingly ordinary events of everyday life. She’s inspired by an overheard phrase, an argument or an under-the-breath mantra. Perhaps it’s an unusual poster seen at a bus stop while driving by or a couple in a restaurant where the relationship is unclear. “All these and more can jump-start a story in my mind. The trick is writing it down before it’s gone.” Haley moved to the Austin area as a playwright—writing for the theater was her focus throughout her college days in Minnesota. She chose Austin as her post-grad location because it had a great reputation for producing new works, plus it had a great playwrights organization, Scriptworks.
“Pretty much immediately upon moving here in July 2006, I joined Scriptworks and attended any and all events, workshops and productions that they offered and utilized the submission opportunities they share in the weekly e-newsletter.” Haley’s monologues were published by the International Center for Women Playwrights, and she is now a contributing writer for L Style G Style.
Clay Smith, writer and literary director of the Texas Book Festival, suggested the Writers League of Texas as “an excellent resource for writers wanting to meet other writers or who want to learn more about the publishing industry.” The Texas Book Festival is a vibrant series produced in conjunction with Texas Monthly and other partners. It raises money for Texas public libraries and offers a contest to find the nation’s best kid writers. It’s also fertile ground for meaningful connections with other writers, designers and creative types.
Haley said she is mostly an office writer, but Austin offers plenty of venues for a change of pace to hook up your laptop and pound out a few lines, design a website or splice together images for a video project—including the two locations of Caffe Medici, Rio Rita on East Sixth Street, the 24-hour comfy environs of Bennu, and countless others. “Genuine Joe’s has good energy without being too distracting. I’ve also had success at Blackstar Coop (sometimes you need a beer to get going), and I’m always on the lookout for more bars/coffee shops/restaurants that have a good mix of people watching, fellow writers and maintain a semiquiet decibel.”
“Often, sitting down and willing myself to write doesn’t work, although I’m getting better at keeping my hands moving and eventually something other than ‘I can’t think of anything to say’ will come out. It’s taken a few years, but I’ve learned to ignore my wife, my dogs, and my bladder when I’m in the middle of working. The wife and dogs have been trained over time that it’s not because I don’t want to talk to them, but at the moment, I can’t. So they give me space until I reach a stopping point and then I do my best to offer my full attention.”
Connecting, for a writer who is new to the scene, is as simple as finding a poetry night or open mic night or joining a writer’s group like Scriptworks. According to Haley, there are also plenty of resources online, but face-to-face interactions are best. “Get real people in a room with words on a printed page and something magical happens.”
Local photographer Denise Prince uses active conceptualizing, styling, costuming, creating props, and editing as well as shooting to fuel and inspire her creative output. It’s an activity of creating and “I’m perfectly engaged and fulfilled.” Prince’s work started centering on the medium of photography when she moved to Austin. “After having made a feature film, I found that I was suited to creating scenes I could art direct, costume and photograph.” In this manner, she “constructed art photographs in the language of formal portraiture with advertising sensibilities.”
Prince ignites her creative side through taking risks and knowing what to say. “I enjoy the process of weaving the concept in as subtext. I approach subjects that I am conflicted about. Things I’d prefer to avoid.” She also likes to spark her creativity by taking a long drive or by drinking caffeine. She keeps her creativity flowing by working in mediums she’s not expert with, sometimes ones she’s not even familiar with. Recently she has tried her hand at painting on commission. “It brings the creative act into play using the mechanics of discovery.”
Talk. Share. Disagree. These are things that Prince finds inspiring about her artistic friends—and many artists would agree with that sentiment. “We feel comfortable challenging or questioning each other on any subject, whether personal or professional. We also have a love for entertaining. I have incredibly talented friends.”
Prince offered advice to those artists striving to connect. “Go to openings, lectures, performances at a wide variety of arts organizations or private gatherings. Volunteer. Figure out what you have to give, and give and give. Or just show up and be willing to help and look within.” She said that for artists, vulnerability is key in figuring out how to make sense of the world and advised them to find a practice that engages with both genuine humility and the sublime.
Artists, no matter what their chosen art form, have the same goals: Make an impact on the world and, hopefully, support themselves in the process. Build bridges. Join offline groups and online discussion boards. Take risks. Volunteer with different organizations and, most important, find fellow artists and simply talk. Make the connection.
Local Artists on Sparking Creativity
How do you ignite your creative side?
“I look at things, lots of things. I’m hypervisual. I excavate. I collect scraps and discarded objects, clippings and broken pieces—unhappy fragments that want desperately to be reunited. I look at art, photographs, surfaces, skin and fabric. I bring all these things together, either in my head or on my worktable, and invite them to reconnect. Objects seem to have their own sort of natural attraction. It’s sexy, in a way.”
Ron Bowdoin, collage artist
What do you do to find inspiration in Austin?
“First, go to Uncommon Objects on South Congress. It’s narcotic. Then take a stroll around some of our funky neighborhoods and watch people balk at convention. Lastly, go read the walls at Spider House and the bathroom walls at Epoch.”
Rob Rough, producer of mixed media and fabric art
How do you make your creativity work in Austin?
“Well, one must embrace Austin. Austin is full of creativity and various cultures. Standing true to the theme of Austin, which is to be yourself, doing what makes you happy is one way of getting by. Resources are not scarce, but divided, in my opinion. Stick to one cultural background and you are destined to be found standing still.”
Derrick Harris, painter
The Professional Writers of Austin
Supplies writers with social events, workshop opportunities and even job boards. PWA offers a round-table group that meets monthly and focuses on networking and critiquing, and according to the site, all genres are welcome from columns to screenplays. Also, check out meetup.com/AustinWriters.
Write by Night
Write by Night on East Sixth Street offers a meeting place for writers (if you’re so inclined to form your own group) or a space for solitary writers to pen the newest installment of their next novel. It also offers writing classes, critiquing services, publication and distribution services, and seminars that pack literary punch. The space is free, but seminars and some services carry a fee.
For playwrights and screenwriters, Scriptworks is a champion of writing resources, offering prompts, daily writing challenges, community-building opportunities, workshops and production opportunities. Contests are a perfect way to get your work in front of people in the industry, even actors and producers. FronteraFest is an annual live theater festival that helps playwrights produce their own work. Also, check out thescreenplayworkshop.org.
Open Mic Nights
Opa Coffee House & Wine Bar
Austin Poetry Slam