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!)

After a long hiatus…

I can’t believe I haven’t made a post since November! Time really flies during the holiday season, I guess. It’s now 2011…another year full of opportunities and possibilities. (And snow–that seems to be a theme so far this year. How does the weather affect your creativity?) 

The new semester is underway, and I’m hard at work on my Master’s thesis. Posts may be sporadic this spring, but the blog is going to get a facelift once I graduate in May. I’m undergoing a personal transformation of sorts–viewing myself as a writer first and psychologist second, now, as opposed to the other way around–and my blog will reflect that change as I move forward.

Until I’m able to finish another research post, I’ll at least try to share a few thoughts here and there on the books I’m reading, the projects I’m working on, writing tips I come across, etc. Here are a couple of quotes to lead things off:

On Writing:

“I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.” ~Pablo Neruda

“A line will take us hours maybe; yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, our stitching and unstitching has been naught.” ~William Butler Yeats

On Creativity:

“The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use. But the bee . . . gathers its materials from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own.” ~Leonardo DaVinci

“I do not seek, I find.” ~Picasso

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

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

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.

“The Writer Who Couldn’t Read”

This NPR feature is a must-see for anyone interested in the brain and its role in our creative endeavors. It tells the story of a Canadian author who woke up one day, after unknowingly having suffered a stroke in the night, and discovered that he could no longer read. Naturally, he thought his writing career was over.

It wasn’t. 

Watch the video and read about his amazing story here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127745750

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!

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