Why less is scarier than more

In the land of books and academia, more words, more pages, more weight in your bookbag in digging into your shoulders means This Is Important Stuff. Consequently, the longer your essays and reports are, the better your chances are of a good grade.

We have an unholy fear of white space. The urge to fill it up is irrational and will almost always give your work the appearance of a wall of text which to me, will put you behind the eightball no matter what you think.

People like me who have to actually read the stuff you write will run out of steam and caffeine at some point and you don’t want to be the one facing reader wrath, something you have absolutely no control over.

What you can control is white space. And specifically, the use of white space to be considerate to the reader in visually focusing on what is truly important information.

Bullets beat blither. Throw a couple of those in and you now have the attention of my lizard brain seeking the one shiny thing in an ocean of text. I will remember you, not only from your clearly set off points, but because you cared enough to make it easy for me to see you.

That is the superpower of white space.

Don’t be afraid of using it.

Squeezing time

For those of you with busy days and big lists of things to do, squeezing time is nothing new.

It is all because we want to have accomplished something by the end of the day that we resort to things like this. Finding 5 minute pockets of time to scribble some notes, dragging ourselves out of bed before sunrise to get an hour of creative work in before heading out to work, sitting at our desk during lunch to draw something.

This is making the most of our precious time everyday and with it comes an urgency that is often absent when you do find yourself in front of your blank canvas with time on your hands.

Do I have writers block when I know I have 25 minutes on a train? No, I have a list.

Do I have trouble coming up with the right image? No, I keep sketching until something clicks.

At the end of the day, I have created a little more than I had the day before. Over time, this will become something born of squeezed, stolen, seized and savored time.

For those of us with pursuits larger than our scheduled time slots, this is the best and only way to make a creative life.

The Most Important Thing A Writer Should Never Forget

Iris Chang

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

She was a force.

As I looked at her 2 books, The Thread of the Silkworm and The Rape of Nanking, I felt small and foolish sitting among a pile of old photographs from my own family history.

Many people have spoken of the tenacity, brilliance and compassion that drove Iris Chang, an American author and journalist best known for her best-selling 1997 account of the Nanking Massacre, The Rape of Nanking, to achieve so much in her short life. She was a thinker, someone who dreamed big and accomplished even greater things driven by a passion to tell a story that needed to be told.

“Civilization is tissue thin,” Iris wrote. She called this the most important lesson to be learned from the tragedy of Nanking. And she believed her research produced irrevocable proof of Japanese atrocities. She wrote:

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

The book hit the stores at Christmas, a tough selling season for serious nonfiction. It became a surprise best-seller. A groundswell of interest in the Chinese American community had quickly spread to booksellers and the broader reading public. Newsweek ran an excerpt, and soon Iris was a familiar face on TV news shows. Reader’s Digest devoted a cover story to her.        

from SFGate

Like others who were in awe of her as a confident young woman who excelled at everything she put her mind to, I feel my attempts to write anything are futile. Especially stories that are rooted in our shared Chinese American background.

Would my stories have the ferocious yet compassionate lens on a human experience?  Could I create something as resonant for my reader?

Something that has the power to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable?

It would be very easy to give up and take up knitting.  To brush off the demon who is dancing on my shoulder daring me to write my story.  To turn away from the story I have been longing to tell.

But I know I won’t because my belief in my story is as strong as Iris Chang’s belief in hers.  She knew how words could bring to life the silent narratives of people with no voice. And that we have to write them.

That is what I tell myself when I sit down to write.

I often wonder if the stars feel like this when the sun rises.

Do they think, “Oh great, now that he’s here we might as well fizzle out.  Who’s going to even see us?”

But sunrise happens everyday.  And so does sunset, which is followed by a dusk, twilight and yes, the stars.  The light of the stars at that moment has its own magic and wonder.

If any of you have ever felt like this, rekindle the passion you have for the story inside of you until it burns bright with an inner flame and tell it.

You may not be a snowflake, but you can dream of being a star.

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Four artists.

Four dreams.

Four proposals.

Sometimes you can just tell from the first few lines of what they have written, or what they say in the first few minutes, whether their project will succeed or not.

And when I say success, I mean that as something that defines an artist’s entire career, not just one grant proposal even though many of the same contributing factors can affect both.

One of the artists in a recent proposal writing workshop said,

“I really want to give people a hands on experience that can change their perspective by directly participating in my project.  This will help me grow as and artist and develop my creative process.  And the grant will help me create new projects and help me develop new experiences based on traditional art forms.”

Her proposal had been turned down by another foundation and she wanted to know how she could make it better.

My answer was really a question.

“Better for whom?”

Why this is important

No one likes rejection.

Or the feeling that you have invested so much time and energy for something that has been turned down.

You start to question your work, you start listening to that pesky demon whispering in your ear at 2:00 am, you wonder if you really have what it takes.

How do some people make it through?  What are they doing that makes that all important difference between getting a grant and getting a rejection letter?  Is their success unique or a sequence of strategies that you can learn?

And, what are reviewers really looking for?

What you can learn from your competition

You have a creative dream and a passion to share it.  It is something that will make a tremendous difference for the people who experience it.  You need moral and financial support to bring this to life and to build a life around your creative work.

I have been thinking a lot about how to create spaces and opportunities for artists to make life more beautiful and vibrant and all of the reasons we choose to create.

After spending a lot of time reviewing grants on the city, state and national level, I have seen patterns of success in the proposals of artists who get grants and go on to build great careers.

There is one thing that makes grant reviewers like me sit up and pay attention.

My dear friend and colleague, David Johnston, said it best, at the end of a long panel session:

“I just want to be delighted.”

 

How do you do this?

Create from a sense of joy.

It will fill you with energy, motivation and a sense of purpose and the work you produce will often be more successful in the market or with your audiences whether they are ticket buyers, fans or grant panels.  These 2 values – creating work you are passionate about that is successful – are not always closely linked but there is a way to find that sweet spot.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Think about framing joy as your intention.
  2. Then take yourself out of the equation.

That’s right.

Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.

My answer to the artist was an invitation to rethink why she was doing her project.
If the intent is to help her to grow as an artist, who really benefits besides herself?  If it is to change a person’s perspective, and perhaps in a joyful way, the world will benefit, one person at a time.
Never underestimate the power of delight.

Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.