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

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

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.

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.

Make the Most of Your Memory: 10 Tips for Writing About Your Life

A special thanks to Jane Friedman for inviting me to guest post on her Writer’s Digest blog There Are No Rules. 😀

You can view my post here: http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2010/08/30/MakeTheMostOfYourMemory10TipsForWritingAboutYourLife.aspx

The Notebook

This blog revolves around my two passions–creativity and psychology–but, so far the slant has been in psychology’s favor, for most of my posts (with the exception of an occasional quote) have been written from a scientific perspective. It’s therefore important to acknowledge that the relationship between these two spheres can be explored from other perspectives, as well. The psychology of creativity can be embodied, illustrated, depicted, examined–you name it–both by and through creative writing itself.  Fiction can be a mirror of sorts, one that reflects back on itself, on the creative process, and on the minds that engage in creative activities. It can be a picture and a window at the same time.

I’ve wanted to add this new page to my blog for quite some time, and–with spring in the air–it finally feels like the right time to introduce The Notebook.

Check it out to read creative, rather than scientific, entries. You’ll see that the first post is a “short short” story (a form I challenged myself, as a novelist, to experiment with for the first time last autumn) called “The Bridge.”

As always, thanks for reading!

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The Gulf Coast: You Can Help!

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