Advice of the Day

I’m reading The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb–a wonderful craft book–and this quote really resonated with me, so I thought I’d share it with you all:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” ~Annie Dillard

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Grammar Lesson #1: It’s vs. Its

Okay, so I’m rereading Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (description on the Bookshelf), a book about punctuation. You’d think the book would be a little dry, right? Well, you’re wrong.

Truss’s prose overflows with British wit and sarcasm, and I just reached a passage that actually made me laugh out loud. I decided I should share it with you, so I’m including the excerpt below. All you need to know is that the target audience for this book comprises mostly grammar sticklers, such as Truss…

“To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as ‘Thank God its Friday’ (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence. The confusion of the possessive ‘its’ (no apostrophe) with the contractive ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian ‘kill’ response in the average stickler. The rule is: the word ‘it’s’ (with apostrophe) stands for ‘it is’ or ‘it has.’ If the word does not stand for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ then what you require is ‘its.’ This is extremely easy to grasp. Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it’s best,’ you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot, and buried in an unmarked grave.” (44)

On that resounding note, make sure you proofread carefully–especially if a grammar stickler will be reading your work!

Works cited:

Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves. New York: Gotham Books, 2003. Print.

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. 🙂

Some New Quotes

On Writing:

“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” ~Vladimir Nabakov

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ~Mark Twain

“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” ~Flannery O’Connor

On Creativity and Imagination:

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras, 1942

“Sometimes imagination pounces; mostly it sleeps soundly in the corner, purring.” ~Terri Guillemets

“Some stories are true that never happened.” ~Elie Weisel

 

(Thanks to www.quotegarden.com!)

The Happiness Advantage

I’m reading a book entitled The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, a professor of Harvard’s famed course “Positive Psychology” and the founder of Good Think, Inc, a company that speaks to major organizations around the world on how they can improve their productivity through an emphasis on employee happiness (www.shawnachor.com).

The Happiness Advantage describes “the seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work.” Its main message? Happiness is a predictor of success–not the other way around. In short, we grow up believing that we will be happy when we earn that next good grade or score that next big promotion, and so we always see happiness as something that can be attained down the road–the result of success, a reward for achievement. But scientific research has debunked this myth. Research has shown, time and again, that happiness precedes success, and Achor’s book translates the findings of scholarly articles into an interesting and easy-to-read guide to happiness and productivity for the public. While these principles are especially important for CEOs, managers, supervisors, and anyone else responsible for implementing change in the workplace, they also can be utilized by individuals seeking fulfillment as they strive toward their own personal goals.

Visit the Bookshelf (Psychology page) for a complete description of The Happiness Advantage, as well as a link to buy it at Barnes & Noble (you will not be disappointed!). In the meantime, I just wanted to include a brief excerpt that shows how some of these positive psychology principles relate to creativity:

“Extensive research has found that happiness actually has a very important evolutionary purpose, something Barbara Fredrickson has termed the ‘Broaden and Build Theory.’ Instead of narrowing our actions down to fight or flight as negative emotions do, positive ones broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative, and open to new ideas. For instance, individuals who are ‘primed’–meaning scientists help evoke a certain mindset or emotion before doing an experiment–to feel either amusement or contentment can think of a larger and wider array of thoughts and ideas than individuals who have been primed to feel either anxiety or anger. And when positive emotions broaden our scope of cognition and behavior in this way, they not only make us more creative, they help us build more intellectual, social, and physical resources we can rely upon in the future.” (pg. 44)

In the pages that follow, Achor describes seven key principles of positive psychology and provides concrete suggestions for capitalizing on this research. I’m about 65 pages in–reading about the second principle–and this book has already filled me with excitement, optimism, and hope. It’s becoming clear to me that Achor’s “happiness work ethic” is a tangible catalyst for huge gains in productivity and satisfaction in the workplace, and, of particular relevance to writers and artists, that this mindset can fuel creativity and originality, as well.

Happy Reading! 🙂

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?)

A Few Inspiring Quotes (Happy Monday!)

On Writing:

“There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write.” ~ William Makepeace Thackeray

“To finish is a sadness to a writer–a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.” ~ John Steinbeck

On Creativity:

“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” ~ Robert Bresson

“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.” ~ Rita Mae Brown

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!

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