creativity

How writers using multi-sensory storytelling will save the planet

Photo by Marc Wieland on Unsplash

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry, author of The Little Prince (among many others)

Today I want to talk to you about how storytelling has a vital role to play in saving the planet. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been consumed with getting ready to start my new graduate program in Sustainability Leadership at University of Cambridge. I’ve completed my first set of assignments and the first (very long!) reading list. I’ve read well over a thousand pages of documents, reports, data collections, and science journal articles. I have 10 new books on my to-be-read list, many relating to the connections between the economy, nature, and societal structure. It will come as no surprise that much of it is bleak, and there is some hope sprinkled in here and there.

Here’s what I didn’t find on a single page I read: what will our world look, feel, sound, smell, and taste like when humans learn how to live on this planet in a sustainable way?

The science matters. We have to have the reporting and data to show what’s happening in real-time right now, and explain what can happen if we don’t turn things around and fast. We need the urgency provided by the dire warnings. The doomsday scenarios are true possibilities and we’re on a collision course with them.

We also have to give people hope by explaining all we stand to gain if we change our ways, systems, governments, businesses, cities, economies, and — here’s the kicker — our values.

For decades we’ve been obsessed with efficiency and convenience, and in the process have caused a massive number of extinctions and destroyed priceless ecosystems that we’ll never see again. We stand to lose much more if we don’t realize we must value nature because nature underpins every aspect of our lives and livelihoods.

We have no future without nature and we need to wake up to that reality.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would take to give people an experience of what a truly sustainable world will be like. How can we make it an experience that sticks with people long after the experience is over, motivates them to make changes in their lives, and causes them to demand change from the businesses they patronize and the governments of which they’re citizens?

How can we, in the words of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, make them long for the healthy, thriving, clean sea, literally and figuratively?

I’ve been immensely inspired by the immersive exhibits that are all the rage right now — Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience and Imagine Picasso are two examples of the tech-centric, projection-based exhibits that are everywhere. In February, The New Yorker wrote a long, exceptional piece on this trend. For many years, I’ve been a fan of immersive theater like the wildly popular Sleep No More that’s a bit like Clue meets haunted house meets Eyes Wide Shut, complete with masks for all guests so you feel like you’re at a costume party. Since I was a child, I’ve loved choose-your-own-adventure stories. And let’s be honest; I still love choose-your-own-adventure stories.

So here’s my proposal — what if we take the:

  • technology of immersive art exhibits
  • participatory storytelling of immersive theater
  • user-guided choice of choose-your-own-adventure stories
  • science of climate change

to not tell, not show, but allow people to experience how climate change will look, sound, smell, taste, and feel if we continue on our current trajectory and if we make the needed, massive changes to save the planet, save ourselves, and save all the species who call Earth home? There would then we an online component that would connect people to one another and provide support for making the changes we need and charting collective and individual progress because as we know, what gets measured gets done.

Would that be a way to use multi-sensory storytelling as a tool to motivate people, open their hearts and minds, and give us a fighting chance at building a sustainable society together? If executed flawlessly and meaningfully with heart, I think this might be part of the solution we need that doesn’t yet exist. What do you think?

creativity

Start at the ending, in writing and life

Photo by Monty Allen on Unsplash

“Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Julie Andrews, Do-Re-Mi in The Sound of Music

As writers, sometimes we have to start at the end. In my previous books, I started at the beginning and wrote all the way through to the end. It’s how I outline, too. But with this third Emerson Page book, I have to take a different approach.

I started to write the beginning with my trusty outline in-hand and quickly found myself in murky waters. So murky that I was procrastinating, which I never do. I was afraid to sit down and write, and that fear was getting in the way of delivering my draft manuscript to my publisher under a tight deadline.

I have to find another way in. I stopped writing in my usual progression of beginning to end, and flipped it on its head. Today, I’m writing the last chapter of the book, the end of Emerson’s story arc. I know where it needs to take place and what needs to happen there. With that confidence, I’ll walk backward one step, one chapter, at a time.

To be honest, I don’t like that I have to do this. I’m a creature of habit and I like my writing habits. But this leg of Emerson’s journey is the most complicated of the three books. It has many more twists, turns, and surprises. The stakes are higher, and I have to give readers an ending that’s satisfying and true to Emerson’s spirit. To do that, I have to adjust my process.

Maybe you’re facing something similar, in your writing or in your life. Something isn’t progressing as you hoped. A surprise popped up that has thrown you off-track. You’re stuck, disappointed, frustrated, or maybe you’re all of those things.

Back up and look for a different path. How can you adjust what you’re doing? Is there another way forward, even it requires you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Maybe like me, you have to put things in reverse. Start with the goal. Then instead of asking, “and then what happened?”, ask “how did I get here? And here? And here?”

It may turn out that the ending is the very best place to start.

creativity

JoyProject podcast: The Joy of Photography with Amy Selwyn

The Joy of Photography with Amy Selwyn

Smartphones have turned all of us into photographers. We take pictures of our friends and family, our food, pets, art, selfies, sunsets, gorgeous vistas. If we can see it, we’re taking photos of it. Smartphones changed the way we see and capture our world and experiences. 

Less than a year before the pandemic started, photographer Amy Selwyn gave herself a gift that completely and unexpectedly changed nearly every aspect of her life. A trip to Cuba not only transformed her career, but it gave her a totally new way of seeing the world and her place in it.

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. As she adjusts her life to make room for making more art, she’s downsizing her home. That inspired me to re-arrange my own home and declutter my life. Apartment Therapy is an Instagram account and website that offers fantastic ideas on how to organize and decorate a small space for it’s beautiful and functional.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– How Amy got interested in photography
– Traveling to Cuba and falling in love with street photography
– The joy of being a beginner
– Discovering and living out your passions at any age
– Mental health and the artist mindset

Links to resources:
– Amy on Instagram – @amyselwynphotographer
– Amy on Twitter – @amyselwyn
– Amy’s website – amyselwyn.photography
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa on Facebook – @AuthorChrista 
– Christa on Medium – @christaavampato
– Christa on TikTok – @christanyc
– Christa’s website – ChristaAvampato.com
– Apartment Therapy – www.apartmenttherapy.com

About Amy:
Amy Selwyn is a writer and fine arts photographer, and an utterly devoted dog mom to a sassy and adorable French Bulldog. 

Amy spent over 35 years working for and with news organizations around the world, including the BBC, The New York Times, the European Broadcasting Union,  and The Associated Press. Stories and storytelling are a lifelong passion. 

Amy is currently in a 3-year MFA program at Maine Media in Rockport, Maine, studying photography. This month, Amy will have one of her works in a juried show at the South East Center For Photography in Greenville, South Carolina. 

Originally from Hartford, CT, Amy and her beloved pup are currently based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

creativity

In writing and life, have a sculptor’s mindset

Photo by Ilia Zolas on Unsplash

First drafts, of writing and any project in life, can be difficult. The proverbial blank page stares at us and we’re so concerned about getting things exactly as we want them to be in the end that we forget all creative acts are a process of becoming. Nothing springs to anyone fully-formed and perfectly-worded. 

I’m in the process of writing the first draft of my third novel. You’d think this would get easier with time. It hasn’t for me. I still approach each first draft, each first attempt of all of my creative projects, with trepidation and anxiety. What if this time I’m a total failure? What if what I’m trying to do doesn’t land and I can’t do anything to make it even decent, much less something I’m proud of? 

In moments like this that make it difficult for me to even begin, I remind myself that I’m a sculptor. This blank page, this new project idea, is a block of marble. And like the sculptor, I’m taking away tiny bits here and there. It will take many rounds of refining to bring the sculpture to life from this block. It will not happen overnight. It will not happen quickly. My only job is to begin, a tiny tap here, a tiny tap there. Over and over again with intention, curiosity, and openness. I don’t need to be brilliant. I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to show up. What I don’t get right in this round, I can attempt in the next. And on and on it goes. 

We consume and admire the work of others at its end stage. All we see and experience in the finished product, not the many long and arduous hours, wrong turns, edits, messiness, doubt, and about-face maneuvers it took to get to that ending when it’s ready for the public. So we compare our work-in-progress to work that has already progressed. 

The sculptor’s mindset is the one we need as we begin. Pick up the hammer and chisel and chip away at the smallest task of your grand dream. It’s how all great work starts, and how all great work makes its way, slowly and surely, into the world. 

creativity

For writers: FREE resources on query letters, nonfiction book proposals, finding an agent, and social media from Eric Smith

Eric Smith from his website https://www.ericsmithrocks.com/

Hello, lovely writers. Do you know Eric Smith, author and agent extraordinaire? If not, please get to know him because he’s a ray of light in the writing community. As both a successful author and agent, he understands both points-of-view and helps demystify a lot of things in the writing and publishing world that many other people don’t.

It’s incredible how much wonderful advice he puts out into the world for authors for FREE! There are a lot of organizations out there who want to charge you a lot of money for this advice—I’ve paid some of them for it and I can promise you I should have just read Eric’s website because the advice I paid for was exactly the same as what Eric offers. 

Here’s a summary of what he has on his website:

Query letters
The good ol’ query letter is what we put together when looking for an agent or publisher who accepts unagented queries. You can read the query letter that helped me find my publisher for my Emerson Page young adult adventure trilogy here. Eric offers up 17 successful query letters from authors he’s worked with and he also explains why their pitches worked so well. In my pitch to my publisher, I did so many things that conventional wisdom said not to do. If you’d like to read my article on that, it’s here: A Publisher Bought My YA Novel Trilogy — Here’s Everything I Did Wrong.

Crafting nonfiction book proposals
I’ve been working on a nonfiction book proposal for about 6 months and Eric’s advice has helped me tremendously. He provides several successful nonfiction book proposals from authors he’s worked with and again offers his explanation of why they worked for those authors. There are definitely paid services out there that could be valuable for you to use but I recommend you try following his advice to create your proposal first, send it out, and see how it lands with agents and publishers.

Author and editors whom you can work with
If you’ve decided you’re at the point where you need an author or editor to look at your work and offer specific advice on your manuscript, proposal, or query, Eric has a long list of recommendations of people he trusts. He’s used the services of these people himself, as an author and as an agent. 

Looking up literary agents
Eric’s blog, which he updates regularly, is chock full of other advice for writers. One question I always get is, “How do I find an agent?” If you’re in the market for an agent, it takes legwork and research to find them. Eric offers advice on looking up agents and reaching out to them in this blog post.

Social media for authors
Ah, social media for authors. Do you love it? Do you hate it? It matters, and it doesn’t have to take over your life. Eric offers all kinds of advice on what to share on social media, platforms to use, and how it’s helped him as a writer and as a person. 

Building a platform
“You have to have a platform.” I have heard this for years and I still hear it all day every day to this day. Platform matters. It can also be fun to build one. There is so much to learn. There are so many people in the world doing really interesting work. While building your platform, you’ll meet and befriend so many terrific people you may not meet otherwise. That’s certainly been my experience and it’s brought me a lot of joy over the years. Eric offers up advice on building a platform as well

If you’re in need of writing and publishing advice (and who among us isn’t?!), hop over to Eric’s website and use his free resources for writers to the max. Happy writing and I can’t wait to read your stories!

creativity

How writing my Emerson Page novel trilogy saved my life—my conversation with Dr. Ed Freeman on The Stakeholder Podcast

In June 2022, I had the great good fortune to speak to my professor, mentor, and dear friend, Dr. Ed Freeman from the Darden School, on The Stakeholder Podcast.  

Link to the podcast episode: https://stakeholdermedia.libsyn.com/christa-avampato

Ed and I chat about:

  • how writing my Emerson Page novel trilogy saved my life
  • my live storytelling shows, screenwriting, and passion projects
  • my love for history, being a NYC tour guide, and how I got a tattoo live on stage
  • how product development helps me as a writer, and how being a writer helped me as a product developer 
  • living through difficult times and mental health challenges through creative work
  • my multi-faceted and varied career
  • making a living through a creative life
  • business and product development
  • building a better, more sustainable world

Ed is a treasure. He’s been one of the greatest influences on my work and life. He recently won University of Virginia’s highest honor: The Thomas Jefferson Award. Ed’s pioneering work on stakeholder theory changed the way we think about business and how businesses all over the world make decisions to create value. 

If you’ve ever used the word “stakeholder,” you can tip your cap to Ed. His writing about sustainability and stakeholder theory is what put UVA’s Darden School on the map for me, why I applied, and why I was honored to attend and graduate from the school with my MBA. He changed my life in incredible ways and I’m forever grateful for him. Thanks to Ed and producer, Ben Freeman, for having me on the podcast as a guest. 

creativity

JoyProject podcast: The Joy of Old Time Radio Shows with Zachary Lennon-Simon

The Joy of Old Time Radio Show with Zachary Lennon-Simon

Travel back in time with JoyProject as we delve into the world of Old Time Radio Shows, a form of entertainment from the 1920s to the 1960s that had families and friends gathered around the radio to tune into their favorite mysteries, drama, and comedies. Zachary Lennon-Simon, a comedian and storyteller in Brooklyn, New York, is our guide through this delightful and light-hearted audio-forward history for the latest episode of the JoyProject podcast—The Joy of Old Time Radio Shows.

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. I found a bunch of free online resources where you can tune into all kinds of old time radio shows with just a few taps on your computer or phone. I also share my two favorite apps where you can access thousands of free audiobooks through your local public library.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– How Zach discovered old time radio shows as a kid and rediscovered them after college
– Zach’s favorite shows and where to find them today
– The differences between old time radio shows, audiobooks, and narrative podcasts, and some good ones to check out
– The importance of sound design in old time radio
– Stars who made old time radio popular

Links to resources:
– Zach on Instagram – @lennonhyphensimon
– Zach on Twitter – @zachlennonsimon
– Zach’s short film, frantic delicate summer – https://vimeo.com/63383000
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa’s website – ChristaAvampato.com
– Old Time Radio Archive – https://www.youtube.com/c/OldTimeRadioArchive
– Old Time Radio Shows – https://www.youtube.com/c/OldTimeRadioShowsOnline
– MakeUsOf article – https://www.makeuseof.com/listen-old-time-radio-shows-online/
– Internet Archive – https://archive.org
– Relic Radio – https://www.relicradio.com/otr/
– RockIt Radio – https://rokitradio.com/
– Internet Radio – https://www.internet-radio.com/search/?radio=old+time+radio
– Pumpkin FM – https://pumpkinfm.com/
– RUSC – https://www.rusc.com/
– Libby App for free audiobooks – https://libbyapp.com/
– Cloud Library for free audiobooks – https://www.yourcloudlibrary.com/

A little bit about Zach:
Zach Lennon-Simon is a filmmaker and storyteller who was born & raised in Brooklyn, NY. He has told stories for many different shows such as Kvetching & Kvelling, Everything is Bad, Beaver Helmet, and The Teacher’s Lounge. In his spare time, he tries his best to sing both parts of Judy & Babs’ “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” medley. 

creativity

Write every day: My favorite Walt Disney quote about creative work and dreams

I’ve been a huge fan of Walt Disney’s tenacity ever since I first learned his story. Of all his marvelous quotes about creativity and creative work, this one is my favorite. May you sleep to dream.

“And just like that, after a long wait, a day like any other, I decided to triumph, to look for the opportunities, not to wait. I decided to see every problem as the opportunity to find a solution. I decided to see every desert as the opportunity to find an oasis. I decided to see every night as a mystery to solve. I decided to see every day as a new opportunity to be happy. I stopped caring about who was the winner and who was the loser. Now I care only about knowing more than yesterday. I learned that the best triumph that I can have is to have the right of calling someone ‘my friend’. I discovered that love is a philosophy of life. That day I stopped being a reflection of the few triumphs in my past, and I started to be my own tenuous light of the present. That day I learned that dreams only exist to be made to come true. Since that day I don’t sleep to rest. Now, I dream just for dreams.”

creativity

Joy today: How to think about critiques of your writing

For all those who create and face criticism for putting the very best of your imagination out into the world, remember this👇

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and themselves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”

~Brad Bird via Anton Ego, Disney’s Ratatouille

creativity

Joy today: Preparing for my first literary agent meetings

This week I have my first literary agent pitch meetings. I directly worked with a publisher for my first book so this is the first time I’m meeting agents and pitching myself and my writing to them.

I wanted some advice on this process and came across the Netflix series Shine On hosted by Reese Witherspoon. In one episode, Reese interviews Ava DuVernay and they talk about this exact kind of high-stakes personal pitch scenario in creative fields.

Ava’s advice:
“They want to hear you be the one [they’re looking for]. They don’t want to hear that you’re nervous. They want someone who’s smart, and capable, and passionate, and going to try. And those are all the things you already have.”

What does Reese Witherspoon think when she auditions? “I think in my mind, “Give me the ball.” Because people just want to know you’re going to handle it.”

Their bottom line is that even if you don’t know what you’re doing, be committed to figuring it out.

So today as I prepare my materials and refine my pitch, I’m holding this advice in my mind and heart. I’ve already got what I need. Now it’s just a matter of walking into the room like I already belong and letting myself shine.