A Burning Day: Blog Rebirth Underway

Hello y’all! (nope, I haven’t moved to the South–but I did meet a charming gal at residency who is from South Carolina, and now I can’t seem to help myself :-P)

For you dedicated subscribers (all three or four of you) who have followed my blog religiously the past couple of years, I am sorry to say that the blog you have come to know and love is now on its last leg. Like the mythical phoenix, my blog will soon burst into flames so that it may be reborn from the (metaphorical) ashes.

My new baby phoenix blog will be focused more on my experiences as a writer than my experiences as a psychologist. But fear not! I will surely find ways to work psychology into some of my posts, as it is still a strong interest of mine.

However, my posts will primarily now relate to (1) my life as an MFA student (I’ve just started the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts) and (2) craft issues for writers (specifically children’s authors). I will continue to add books to the Bookshelf, and I will also continue to post links and other tidbits of information that I find interesting, even if they are not always relevant. (If you have any suggestions for my future post topics, please let me know.)  Cheers!

(Click Fawkes to visit the Harry Potter Wiki)

Is Creativity Contagious?

Greetings! I’m at the 2011 New England conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and I’m looking forward to two days of keynote speakers, writing workshops, and networking. Tonight I attended the conference orientation (as well as a hilarious cabaret performance), and being surrounded by so many people who are passionate about children’s literature got me thinking–is creativity contagious? What about motivation? Inspiration? Success?

I think we all know that success isn’t contagious, or else…oops, my bad–I was just about to make an inappropriate joke about Charlie Sheen and the company he keeps. I’ll refrain.

But seriously, research has shown that smiling can be contagious, and I think most people would agree that it’s hard not to laugh when you’re surrounded by laughter, or to feel excited when the air in a room is practically humming. If mood states can be catching, I wonder if simply being in close proximity to like-minded people can help get one’s creative juices going. (I certainly hope so!)

I’ll just have to wait and see how the rest of the weekend unfolds–and although I might not be able to predict what will happen the next time my pen touches the page, one evening in the company of these fabulous authors and illustrators has already given me the itch to sit down and write. So I consider that a pretty good start. 🙂

Distraction vs. Downtime: Do You Ever Unplug?

Here’s a link to a great post entitled, “What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking and Sacred Space” (Scott Belsky): http://the99percent.com/articles/6947/what-happened-to-downtime-the-extinction-of-deep-thinking-sacred-space 

I think that many of us can relate to this post (some of my best ideas do hit me when I disconnect from technology for a bit, such as while I’m showering), and I particularly like #5 on the list of suggestions, which discusses the importance of preserving what Belsky calls the “state of no-intent.”

Check out the article, and then ask yourself a few questions: Do you ever go “unplugged”? Do you do it regularly? What would happen if you did? How do you think this would affect your creativity?

I’m going to give it a try myself this weekend, even if just for a few hours. (Wish me luck! :-P)
~Stacey

Art & Fear

I recently started reading the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (it will be added to the Psychology page of the Bookshelf in the near future!). Here’s the description on the back of the book:

“What is your art really about?
Where is it going?
What stands in the way of getting it there?

These are questions that matter, questions that recur at each stage of artistic development–and they are the source for this volume of wonderfully incisive commentary.

Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way.

This is a book about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.”

 

I know my psychology colleagues would probably have a thing or two to say about the ‘Free Will’ issue, but, personally, I think that believing in Free Will is empowering for individuals, and I refuse to take the behaviorist perspective on the matter (take that, B.F. Skinner).

Regardless, I’m not reading this book to try to figure out whether my choices matter. I know they do. I’m reading this book because I know what it feels like to struggle as an artist, to doubt myself and my abilities, and to get stuck dreaming instead of writing. As Rita Mae Brown says, you should ‘never hope more than you work.’ That’s sage advice, but it’s hard to put into practice sometimes. Why is that?

I think the title is particularly intriguing–Art & Fear. For all of us creative souls, art is love, art is passion, art is self. But fear can still get in the way. Fear of what, you ask? Fear of anything–fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of ourselves and our own potential. Even when we know it’s not rational, our fear can still prevent us from being the best artists we can be.

More on these ideas later, as I continue to read. For now, I’ll leave you with the quote that starts the second chapter: “Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.” ~Stephen DeStaebler 

(Do you agree?)

There’s this place called “The Library”…

So many books, and so little time. Not to mention so little money. We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, it must not be a grad student” (okay, maybe I tampered with that one just a bit). But you get my drift. My “Books to Read” list is ginormous, but my budget? Not so much.

So the other day I was thinking (as I sometimes do), and I reflected on how much I love Barnes & Noble. Especially lurking–in a non-creepy way (I guess I should have chosen a different verb then, huh?)–in the children’s/young adult section. My own creative works are aimed at young adults, and sometimes middle grade audiences, so reading all those books I love (see the Bookshelf page!) is technically considered “research” for my writing (cool, right?). I mean, how am I supposed to write young adult fantasy if I don’t know what’s already on the market, what’s selling, and what’s old news?

This is why my “Books to Read” list goes on for days; there’s so much out there that I want to get my hands on, but I don’t have the money to buy the complete works of Lemony Snicket, Tamora Pierce, Rick Riordan, etc. This problem got me thinking: “I wish there was a place just like Barnes & Noble, where I could go and sit and read for as long as I wanted without having to buy anything…and, hey,”–this is where I really started thinking crazy–“maybe I could even borrow a couple of books for free and return them at my convenience!”

Yeah, so basically I reinvented the concept of a library…how clever of me.

In theory, libraries are great establishments. So why is it that I never go to the library to borrow books? I suppose part of it is a generational thing–I don’t want to date myself, here, but I did have a set of encyclopedias when I was young that I used to look up information for school projects, but it didn’t take long before those were replaced by encyclopedias on CD-rom (how futuristic!) and I started to become a “tech-savvy” kid. DOS prompts were traded for Microsoft Windows, and, before I could say “floppy disk,” the internet had come along and I had convinced my parents that IMing my friends would do much more for my typing skills than letting Mavis Beacon yell at me.

Now, as we all know, Google has become a verb (is Bing next?), and we’re all nano-seconds away from obtaining avalanches of information (both credible and not-so-credible) about any topic we could imagine, all with a few strokes of a keyboard/taps of a touch screen. This explains why I no longer feel the need to go to the library to do any sort of research. If I’m working on a psych manuscript, all I need is to link to PsycINFO or Google Scholar through my university’s library website and I can view PDFs of peer-reviewed articles to my heart’s content. Note that the library is still involved, here, but in a digital way. It’s great for accessing scholarly journals, but, at the present time, books still need to be checked out the old-school way.

Am I just too lazy to get up and go to the library? I don’t think that can really be the issue, because I’m never too lazy to go to Barnes & Noble and stroll (better verb) through the aisles of children’s literature. I think part of my problem has to do with my stereotypes of what libraries are and what they’re used for (and even who they’re used by). My schema (or mental representation/set of associated features) for The Library includes: a librarian, library cards, check-out desk with a slot for book returns, shelves of books in plastic jackets, a dusty smell, alphabetizing, Dewey decimal system (ha I pulled that one out of nowhere!), silence, carpets, the crackling of a binding when a book is opened for the first time in a long time, and tables and chairs strategically placed in corners. Perhaps most importantly, when I think of The Library, I think of old books–a few classics in a sea of ancient stuff that I probably haven’t heard of, nor care to read. “The Library” doesn’t make me think of technology, or popular fiction, or NY Times bestsellers; it doesn’t make me think of e-books or audiobooks or graphic novels. In short, I see Barnes & Noble as containing all of the new stuff that I want to buy and read, and the library as a place I would go if I’d like to find a really random old book that I’m supposed to use for a class report.

But is my schema accurate? Are my stereotypes justified? Probably not. I mean, the last time I went to a public library might have been that field trip in elementary school, the one where I was captivated by Animalia and then a kid “leaned against” (or so he claimed) the fire alarm and we all had to stand outside to wait for the fire trucks.

I guess there’s only one way to find out–I’ll have to visit a public library soon and see what I’ve been missing. Who knows–maybe libraries have kept up with the times more than I realize, and maybe my Barnes & Noble dream won’t be too far off the mark.

One thing is certain: if libraries have changed, my schema will have to change, too.

Consciousness and Problem-Solving: Some Interesting Quotes

I’m reading an article entitled “Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes” (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977), and there is a section about reports on problem-solving processes that I thought might interest my creatively disposed readers…

“There is a striking uniformity in the way creative people–artists, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers–speak about the process of production and problem solving. Ghiselin (1952) has collected into one volume a number of essays on the creative process by a variety of creative workers from Poincaré to Picasso. As Ghiselin accurately described the general conclusion of these workers, ‘Production by a process of purely conscious calculation seems never to occur’ (p. 15). Instead, creative workers describe themselves almost universally as bystanders, differing from other observers only in that they are the first to witness the fruits of a problem-solving process that is almost completely hidden from conscious view. The reports of these workers are characterized by an insistence that (a) the influential stimuli are usually completely obscure–the individual has no idea what factors prompted the solution; and (b) even the fact that the process is taking place is sometimes unknown to the individual prior to the point that a solution appears in consciousness.

Some quotations from Ghiselin’s (1952) collection will serve to illustrate both these points. The mathematician Jacques Hadamard reports that ‘on being very abruptly awakened by an external noise, a solution long searched for appeared to me at once without the slightest instant of reflection on my part…and in a quite different direction from any of those which I previously tried to follow’ (p. 15). Poincaré records that ‘the changes of travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry’ (p. 37). Whitehead writes of ‘the state of imaginative muddled suspense which precedes successful inductive generalization’ (Ghiselin, 1952, p. 15), and Stephen Spender describes ‘a dim
cloud of an idea which I feel must be condensed into a shower of words’ (p. 15). Henry James speaks of his deliberate consignment of an idea to the realm of the unconscious where it can be worked upon and realized: ‘I was charmed with my idea, which would take, however, much working out; and because it had so much to give, I think, must I have dropped it for the time into the deep well of unconscious cerebration: not without the hope, doubtless, that it might eventually emerge from that reservoir, as one had already known the buried treasure to come to light, with a firm iridescent surface and a notable increase of weight’ (p. 26).” (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977, p. 240)

Can anyone relate to these experiences?

References:
Nisbett, R. E. & Wilson, T. D. (1977). Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review, 84(3), 231-259.

Six-Word Memoirs at SMITH Magazine Online

If you think writing a full-length memoir is difficult, try writing one in only six words!

Six-word memoirs have become somewhat of a craze recently–their surging popularity undoubtedly linked to how much fun they are to try to write. At SMITH magazine online, you can create your own user account for free and add your memoirs to the thousands submitted by other writers/readers. Categories for memoirs include Life, Love, Moms, Teens, Food, America, the Green Life, and there is a special tab for memoirs on Pain and Hope, devoted to the non-profit movement, To Write Love on Her Arms. Every week, SMITH compiles a list of their favorite user-submitted memoirs, so if you write something really clever/powerful/poignant, they might take notice!

If you get hooked by these succinct gems (as I have), you can also buy compendiums in print–and yes, your submissions to SMITH have a chance at being selected for a future book!  

An aside for fiction writers: six-word stories  are a worthy challenge, as well. Write for the pure satisfaction of condensing a beginning, middle, and ending into only six words, or submit your best to Narrative Magazine for a shot at getting your words published. (There’s a small fee to enter, but also monetary compensation if they like what they see!)

So what are you waiting for? Start experimenting today!

Time of Day and Creativity: When Do You Write?

Is it the crack of down when you spring from your bed, grab a mug of hot coffee, and then plop down in front of your laptop/netbook/iPad/typewriter, your fingers absolutely itching in anticipation of the writing opportunities afforded by this glorious new day?

Or maybe you sleep in until 10 or 11, struggle to untangle yourself from your covers, yawn as you rummage through the kitchen cupboards for something to eat, and then seat yourself in front of your writing tool of choice, squinting with only one eye open at the blank page before you. 

Obviously these are only a couple of “get up and get to work” scenarios–just an example of what it might look like to be a “morning person” in the writing profession, as opposed to someone like me, who would rather wait until evening to get the creative juices flowing.

But this brings me to the question: what time of day would you write, if life was perfect and your work schedule was at your mercy?

And, when you’re forced to work at a less-than-optimal time of day, how do you think that affects your creativity?

Feel free to share your personal experiences and opinions in the comments section, and stay tuned for my next research post: a look at the psychology of circadian rhythms and creativity.

My Blog is Carbon Neutral!

Via another blogger, I just discovered a website (http://www.kaufda.de/umwelt/carbon-neutral/how-you-can-join/) that is running a very cool program through the end of the summer. If you give them a shoutout in your blog, they, together with the Arbor Day Foundation, will plant a tree in the Plumas National Forest to offset the carbon emissions of your website. What a greenius idea! 😛

I’ll be adding their badge to my sidebar and encourage all bloggers to do the same. Follow the link to their website to learn more!

We Give Books: Help Children In Need for FREE

We Give Books is a great organization that donates books to children in need, all over the world. It’s easy for YOU to make an impact: simply go to the website (www.wegivebooks.org, or click on the image below to open a new window), select a campaign that you’d like to support, and then read a children’s book online for FREE. For every book you read online, one book will be donated to the campaign of your choice. It’s that simple!

So what are you waiting for? Everyone loves children’s books. The selection of books on this website will continue to grow, so check back often–preferably in the company of the little ones in your life! Show them how they can have fun reading AND making a difference in the lives of other children, all with a few clicks of a mouse.

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The Gulf Coast: You Can Help!

Oops--I guess the grumpy sea turtle swam away.