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Posts from the ‘Writing Life’ Category

Shake yourself out of a creative brain freeze by taking a walk

I have a love/hate relationship with my computer. I love it for the way it connects me with people and makes it easier to do research and write. I hate it for how fried I am after sitting in front of it for hours at a time. And as much as I can accomplish with a computer, I find that sitting in front of it isn’t the best place to find those epiphanies that can change everything.

Some of my best ideas come when I’m taking a shower, going for a swim, driving my car,  and going for a walk. As it turns out, scientists have proven that people generate more creative ideas when they walk than when they sit.

Santa Clara professor of psychology Marily Oppezzo was the lead author on a study that measured creativity among participants based on if they were walking or sitting. Oppezzo and professor Daniel L. Schwartz wrote an article based on the research: “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking” that was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition in April of this year.

Research findings proved that walking leads to more free-flowing thoughts and more creativity. Read more

Step away from your desk and fuel your writing life

It’s easy as writers to hole up in our writing caves. We’re busy operating under the influence of words and we don’t want to be interrupted.

But sometimes you have to get out into the world. It’s how you pick up telling details that add more authenticity and authority to your work. And then there are the times when you’re stuck. Stepping out just may spark an idea or epiphany.

Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy),wrote on her website about the act of trying to make conversation with a “living human” after a day of writing. She writes that if she could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, it would be this:

“Say yes.” The world is asking you to try new things, have fresh experiences, meet people, see foreign places, and learn things. Most of the time we say no. Say yes. Go for it. Try. Live. Dream. Refuse to be negative. Be generous with your own time and gifts. See what happens then.

Changing your routine routine can reveal unexpected insights. Read more

The writer as double—will the real writer please stand up?

Reading Margaret Atwood’s book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, I’m contemplating the writer as double. We all have doubles, in a way, whether we’re writers or artists or scientists. We have our public persona and our private self or what I sometimes call my inside voice and my outside voice. (And, it’s that inside voice, when she gets loose, that often gets me into trouble).

Atwood says that this concept of the double started early in her life with superhero worship. Superwoman, Superman, Spiderman, etc. are all strong and kick-ass when in their saving-the-world-mode but their “real” personas are weak and fallible, i.e. Clark Kent.

Writers can be seen this way, too. We have our normal everyday self who walks the dog and washes the dishes, then we have our writing self who causes an innocent young paraplegic to die a horrible death at the hands of a time-shifting serial killer.

Atwood writes: “All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you have just read. Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication, and the person who wrote the book is now a different person…”

She goes on to write, “When writers have spoken consciously of their own double natures, they’re likely to say that one half does the living, the other half the writing and…that each is parasitic upon the other.”

Throughout time, writers have written much about this double—probably most famous is the Jekyll/Hyde duo but writers have also written about their own writing doubles. Jorge Luis Borges did so in his work “Borges and I” where the first-person narrator of the person of Borges separates himself from the writer Borges.

Atwood asks, “Can an “author” exist, apart from the work and the name attached to it? The authorial part—the part that is out there in the world, the only part that may survive death—is not flesh and blood, not a real human being. And who is the writing “I”? A hand must hold the pen or hit the keys, but who is in control of that hand at the moment of writing? Which half of the equation, if either, may be said to be authentic?”

I believe both aspects of my double are authentic. My public persona—the one who runs a business—is fed by connecting with and helping others. My inner persona is fed by time spent alone putting words on the page (and all the attendant thoughts and ideas that fuel those words on the page). When these two aspects of myself get out of balance is when I fall into trouble.

And, really, it’s not like I’m two separate people–unless I’ve had one too many glasses of wine or a shot of Mama Juana I brought back from the Dominican Republic (shh…don’t tell). But parts of me rise up as needed or as the project demands. When I’m deeply involved in my writing, all my energy is directed onto the page. If someone were to interrupt me and ask a question, they likely might walk away wondering how a blathering dunderhead could write anything.

I think Atwood’s Alice Through the Looking Glass analogy sums up the double dilemma best:

“The act of writing takes place at the moment when Alice passes through the mirror. At this one instant, the glass barrier between the doubles dissolves, and Alice is neither here nor there, neither art nor life, neither the one thing nor the other, though at the same time she is all of these at once. At that moment time itself stops, and also stretches out, and both writer and reader have all the time not in the world.”

Cultivate conversation with a mini essay

You never know where you will find wild words.

In a recent post, How to find writerly inspiration while eating a burrito, I wrote about Chipotle restaurant’s Cultivating Thought — Author Series in which it features essays from 11 authors on cups and to-go bags.

The campaign was meant to spark conversation and introspection through essays that take about two minutes to read.

In the spirit of cultivating inspiration and discussion, consider writing your own two-minute essay. Here’s a list of writing prompts that might spark an idea.

1. What is your personal philosophy?

2. What is a favorite memory and why?

3. What frustrates or annoys you?

4. What makes you happy?

5. What are you grateful for?

Write about 300 to 400 words. When you sit down to write, suspend all critical thought and just pour your heart out on the page. You’ll have time later to edit and revise. Consider even writing your first draft by hand in a notebook. When you’re done, publish your essay on your blog or website and start a discussion of your own.

How to find writerly inspiration while eating a burrito

The minute I finally learned to read, I was hooked on words. I was like a staggering lost child who had crawled out of the Mohave desert and couldn’t stop gulping water from the first faucet I found. I checked out stacks of books at the library and read anything I could get my hands on, including the back of the Cheerios box as I sat at the breakfast table.

So it’s no surprise that when I went to Chipotle yesterday, I immediately glued my eyes to the copy written on my to-go sack as I chomped down on my burrito.

“Hope that, in future, all is well, everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.” George Saunders

I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Huh? What’s George Saunders, the short story writer extraordinaire, doing on my burrito sack?”

This is what: Saunders and 10 other writers are part of a Chipotle campaign called Cultivating Thought — Author Series. The campaign was the brainchild of Jonathan Safran Foer, a featured author and curator of the project.  It’s meant to spark conversation and introspection through essays that take about two minutes to read. The idea, Foer said in a video on the website, was not for the campaign to be any sort of marketing tool. He goes on to say that, “….in the scheme of corporate America, this is not a massive investment of any kind. But it might have really beautiful payoffs.”

Other authors include Toni Morrison, who wrote the essay, “Two-Minute Seduction,” comedian Sarah Silverman, Harvard professor Steven Pinker, and Michael Lewis, author of “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side.”

The essays on Chipotle’s bags and cups are meant to, “create a moment of analog pause in a digital world, provoking introspection or inspiration, and maybe a little laughter.”

Besides the essays, the paper bags and cups feature original art. For a bite of inspiration, go to cultivatingthought.com to see the artwork, author bios, Q&As with the writers, and their essays.

Fun and inspiring titles for your summer reading pleasure

It’s summer here in the U.S.A., so time for many of us to head out for a vacation. Wherever you’re going, it’s a perfect time to take a stack of books or your e-reader to catch up on some reading.

For your reading pleasure, here’s my list of fun and stimulating titles.

I was totally entranced by The Rosie Project, a novel about socially challenged genetics professor, Don, who tries to turn the art of love and his search for it into a science project. An unlikely relationship develops between Don and one of the candidates who responds to his search, Rosie Jarman. The Rosie Project is quirky, funny and different than any other romantic comedy I’ve ever read.

For those of us who live for writing, you’ll be inspired by Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir, A Place to Stand. Baca writes about how he learned his craft and found redemption in poetry while serving time in a maximum security prison. At one point, he gets into a fight with another inmate and as he hovers over him about to plunge a blade into his heart, Baca hears in his head the words of Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda, two great Spanish poets he’d been reading.

“How can you kill and still be a poet?” he asks. Baca is torn between a prison code of survival and the beauty and inspiration of words and in the end chooses poetry — and life. Read more

Energize your writing life with these three tips from other writers

Sometimes the trick to having a great writing day is just getting started. Here are three tips from other writers that inspired me and may help you too.

Write scenes out of order. Sometimes I know the end of a story before I know the beginning. So I go ahead and write the last scene. Or sometimes I have a key scene in mind that is asking to be written. I write it, and it gives me momentum to find the rest of my story.

This drives one of my writing friends crazy because she absolutely must write her novels starting from the beginning. I say, do what works. You’ll find advantages and disadvantages to every approach. But if you’re stuck about how to approach your next piece of writing, think about writing scenes in the order they come to you. Read about how Roz Morris started doing this in her post, Writing your scenes out of order on her Nail Your Novel blog. Read more

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