If you had to give up writing for a solid year, through what other medium would you release your creativity?
Why did you choose that creative outlet?
Are you active in it now?
If you had to give up writing for a solid year, through what other medium would you release your creativity?
Why did you choose that creative outlet?
Are you active in it now?
How do you recharge your battery?
The TKZ textbook on creativity
For today’s post, I wanted to explore activities that writers use to ramp up creativity, refill the well of creativity, or “recharge our batteries.” I wanted to look specifically at the use of creative pursuits, hobbies, or interests, outside of writing, to accomplish that goal.
I had my rough draft done before I searched for previous posts on creativity done here at TKZ. I was amazed at how much had already been written.
If you click on the two links below, you will find a treasure trove of articles on creativity, a TKZ textbook on the subject.
And here are the chapters:
I enjoyed reviewing the posts. I learned a lot. I considered changing my post to another topic, but I think we can sneak in a discussion on the topic under the guise of “activities, hobbies, and creative pursuits outside the realm of writing that increase our creativity for writing.”
Writing fiction is inherently an intense and consuming activity that requires a never-ending flow of creativity. It is the rare writer who can work for long periods of time without stopping to rekindle the fire, or refill the well from which that creativity flows.
In the posts listed above, there are many ways listed to improve creativity. A few of them include creative activities outside of writing. I know from reading responses to previous posts that many of you have such outside interests. We want to hear about them.
It is my opinion, that having and pursuing other creative interests is healthy, can give our brains a chance to shift gears, and can even inspire ideas for our writing.
So, Dear Writer, what do you think?
If you’re a writer—crime thriller or otherwise—sometimes you need a break… then a kick in the butt to get back in the chair and your fingers on the keys. I’m going through this after taking a two-week writing hiatus. Rita (my wife of 37 years) and I took a vacation, and Rita forbid (forbade?) me to write during our time away.
So, I’m back home and started to type a new manuscript that’s book 6 in my based-on-true-crime series. Although I know the story inside out, I confess I had a hard time getting in the chair and placing my fingers on the keyboard. Knowing I also had a Kill Zone post due this week, I decided to do a two-birds-with-one stone thing and get something stirring.
I spent an evening surfing the net and searching for motivation and creativity support. It worked. In the past three days, I’ve written 8991 words in my Between The Bikers manuscript. My renewed energy and creative juice is partly thanks to taking a writing break and finding inspiring quotes from inspiring crime thriller writers. I’d like to share some of them with you.
The way to write a thriller is to ask a question at the beginning, and answer it at the end. ~Lee Child
Place the body near the beginning of your book—preferably on the first page, perhaps the first sentence. ~Louise Penny
I’m interested in starting stories at the moment of some crisis to see how the character deals with it. ~Paul Auster
I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling a story, and I don’t want them to get up until I’m finished. ~James Patterson
Life is about working out who the bad guy is. ~Sophie Hannah
An initial crisis may produce a question, one that takes the form of a challenge to the reader: Can they solve the puzzle before the answer is revealed? In its simplest form the crisis is a murder and the question is whodunit? ~Unknown
I can’t start writing until I have a closing line. ~Joseph Heller
Often know how the book will end and have imagined a number of major scenes throughout, but not always how I will get there. When I’m about two-thirds done I re-outline the whole book so I know that I’m delivering on all I promised. ~Jeff Abbott
Crime stories are rarely about crime. They’re a study of its aftermath. ~Unknown
The only writers who survive the ages are those who understand the need for action in a novel. ~Dean Koontz
People don’t read books to get to the middle. They read to get to the end. ~Mickey Spillane
I do extensive outlines before I write a single word. ~Jeffrey Deaver
Plot develops from the initial setup of the characters, their conflicts and the location. This development is fueled by the characters’ decisions. These choices should be tough and compromising with high risks of failure. ~Unknown
I like to come up with a massive scale concept and throw in very ordinary characters because I think if you have a massive scale concept with massive scale characters they tend to cancel each other out. People have more fun if they can imagine how either themselves or the type of people they know would react in a bizarre situation. It’s a bit boring if you know how some highly trained soldier is going to react to a situation. It’s not very interesting compared to how someone who is an electrician or a schoolteacher might react to a situation. ~Christopher Brookmyre
The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book. ~Mickey Spillane
Readers have to feel you know what you’re talking about. ~Margaret Murphy
Keep asking ‘Who wants something?’ ‘Why do they need it?’ and ‘What’ll happen if they don’t get it? ~Unknown
A man’s grammar, like Caesar’s wife, should not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity. ~Edgar Allan Poe
Chapters are shorter than they used to be, and I have to be creative about ways to keep the pace moving: varying my sentence length, making sure each chapter ends on a note of suspense, keeping excess narration to a minimum. ~Joseph Finder
Surprise is when a leader is unexpectedly shot whilst giving a speech. Suspense is when the leader is delivering a speech while an assassin waits in the audience. ~Unknown
I’d have to say that most of my ideas originate with everyday anxieties. What if I forgot to lock the door? What if a horrific crime happened next door? What if my daughter didn’t show up at work? What if I woke up one day and the house was empty? ~Linwood Barclay
Ideas are not the hard part of writing. I have ideas all the time. The challenge is understanding which ideas are the most interesting and powerful and dramatic, and then finding the best way to bring them to life. It’s all in the execution, because the idea is where the work begins, not where it ends. ~Jeff Abbott
If you don’t understand that story is character and not just idea, you will not be able to breathe life into even the most intriguing flash of inspiration. ~Elizabeth George
The character that lasts is an ordinary guy with some extraordinary qualities. ~Raymond Chandler
You’re looking for your character who’s got the absolute most at stake, and that’s the person who you want your story to be about. ~Daniel Palmer
Keep a plate spinning until the final paragraph. Then let it fall. ~Unknown
Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it… ~Michael Crichton
You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page. ~Jodi Picoult
When you’re editing write the following words onto a Post-it note in big red letters and stick it on your monitor: ‘Who Cares?’. If something has no bearing on the story, leave it out. ~Stuart MacBride
If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. ~Margaret Atwood
The best advice is the simplest. Write what you love. And do it everyday. There’s only one way to learn how to write, and that’s to write. ~Steve Berry
Read aloud. And not just your own work. Read good writing aloud.
Listen to the sound the words make. ~Unknown
A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. ~G K Chesterton
Write about what you never want to know. ~Michael Connelly
I always refer to style as sound. The sound of the writing. ~Elmore Leonard
Before you can be a writer you have to experience some things, see some of the world, go through things – love, heartbreak, and so on -, because you need to have something to say. ~John Grisham
Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine. ~Margaret Atwood
I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard
Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s good only when it’s over. ~Hunter S Thompson
My task, which I am trying to achieve, is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see. ~Joseph Conrad
Write every day even if it is just a paragraph. ~Michael Connelly
All the information you need can be given in dialogue. ~Elmore Leonard
Have something you want to say. ~Ian Rankin
Any author, like their protagonist, must endure sacrifice, or be willing to do so, ~Unknown
There are only two pieces of advice any would-be writer needs. The first is Give up. Those who heed that don’t need to hear the second, which is Don’t give up. ~Mick Herron
My purpose is to entertain myself first and other people secondly. ~John D MacDonald
I never read a review of my own work. Either it was going to depress me or puff me up in ways that are useless. ~Paul Auster
I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~G K Chesterton
The best crime novels are all based on people keeping secrets. All lying – you may think a lie is harmless, but you put them all together and there’s a calamity. ~Alafair Burke
With the crime novels, it’s delightful to have protagonists I can revisit in book after book. It’s like having a fictitious family. ~John Banville
I think the “crime novel” has replaced the sociological novel of the 1930s. I think the progenitor of that tradition is James M. Cain, who in my view is the most neglected writer in American literature. ~James Lee Burke
The most difficult part of any crime novel is the plotting. It all begins simply enough, but soon you’re dealing with a multitude of linked characters, strands, themes and red herrings – and you need to try to control these unruly elements and weave them into a pattern. ~Ian Rankin
Crime fiction makes money. It may be harder for writers to get published, but crime is doing better than most of what we like to call CanLit. It’s elementary, plot-driven, character-rich story-telling at its best. ~Linwood Barclay
Crime fiction confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible, and moral universe. ~P.D. James
Most crime fiction, no matter how ‘hard-boiled’ or bloodily forensic, is essentially sentimental, for most crime writers are disappointed romantics. ~John Banveiile
And there are rules for crime fiction. Or if not rules, at least expectations and you have to give the audience what it wants. ~Tod Goldberg
Crime fiction is the fiction of social history. Societies get the crimes they deserve. ~Denise Mina
One of the surprising things I hadn’t expected when I decided to write crime fiction is how much you are expected to be out in front of the public. Some writers aren’t comfortable with that. I don’t have a problem with that. ~Kathy Reichs
The mainstream has lost its way. Crime fiction is an objective, realistic genre because it’s about the real world, real bodies really being killed by somebody. And this involves the investigator in trying to understand the society that the person lived in. ~Michael Dibin
Anyone who says, ‘Books don’t change anything,’ or – more commonly – that crime fiction is the wrong genre for promoting social change – should take a closer look. ~Andrew Vachss
The danger that may really threaten (crime fiction) is that soon there will be more writers than readers. ~Jacques Barzun
I’ll bet you $10 right now that there are an awful lot of literary writers who started a long time ago and now they find themselves in this place where secretly they feel trapped. And you know what they really read for fun? They read crime fiction. ~Robert Crais
There is sometimes a feeling in crime fiction that good writing gets in the way of story. I have never felt that way. All you have is language. Why write beneath yourself? It’s an act of respect for the reader as much as yourself. ~John Connolly
Crime fiction, especially noir and hardboiled, is the literature of the proletariat. ~Adrian McKinty
There are a number of writers who believe it is their duty to throw as many curve balls at the reader as possible. To twist and twist again. These are the Chubby Checkers of crime fiction and, while I admire the craft, I think that it can actually work against genuine suspense. ~Mark Billingham
I had done 12 little romance books, and I decided I wanted to move into crime fiction. ~Janet Evanovich
I respond very well to rules. If there are certain parameters it’s much easier to do something really good. Especially when readers know what those are. They know what to expect and then you have to wrong-foot them. That is the trick of crime fiction. And readers come to crime and graphic novels wanting to be entertained, or disgusted. ~Denise Mina
Most crime fiction plots are not ambitious enough for me. I want something really labyrinthine with clues and puzzles that will reward careful attention. ~Sophie Hannah
I’ve always been drawn to the extremes of human behavior, and crime fiction is a great way to explore the lives and stories of fascinating people. ~Nick Petrie
The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. It’s about how cases work on cops. ~Joseph Wambaugh
If you don’t have the time to read, you simply don’t have the tools to write. ~Stephen King
What about you, Kill Zoners? What great writing quotes do you have? What would you like to share?
Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner, now a struggling crime writer and indie publisher. Garry has twenty pieces up on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook including his Based-On-True-Crime Series featuring investigations he was involved in while attached to the RCMP’s Serious Crimes Section.
Garry Rodgers also has a popular website and regular blog at www.DyingWords.net. When not writing, Garry spends time putting around the saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia at Canada’s southwest coast.
By SUE COLETTA
I read an article recently that gave writers permission to stop writing during these trying times, and it really resonated with me. Not because I long to stop creating—perish the thought—but being granted the permission not to write lifted some of the pressure from the “new normal,” which isn’t easy, as Clare mentioned last Monday.
Perhaps you can relate.
Do you feel guilty about not hitting the keyboard as often as you normally do? If you do, consider this your permission to stop writing. Just don’t stray away for too long. As we like to remind you from time to time, it’s important to keep our creative juices flowing. 🙂
As a self-professed research junkie, I wondered if creatives might feel the pinch more than non-creatives. Turns out, back in 2015, researchers conducted a study on stress and creativity.
The main reason for the connection between anxiety and creativity is imagination. The dichotomy lies in the fact that the same brain that conjures up inventive paintings, poetry, and music can also get trapped in repetitive thoughts and dreadful worries.
According to an expert at Evergray Digital Media, these individuals use their imagination to visualize something before it happens, whether it’s a piece of art or an issue (whether real or made up) that frightens them to cause feelings of great concern and panic. People with both traits also tend to overthink and over-analyze everything, which can make them more anxious and even neurotic at times. Interestingly, dwelling on one’s fears might be the very root of creativity and problem solving.
It’s difficult to recreate creativity in a lab setting. So, my theory runs a bit deeper into what might be causing creatives to lose focus. I say, many creative types are empaths, at least on a certain level. We need to be, don’t you think? How else could we slip inside a character’s skin?
Being an empath is different from being empathetic. Being empathetic is when your heart goes out to someone else. Being an empath means you can actually feel another person’s happiness or sadness in your own body.
In empaths, the brain’s mirror neuron system — a specialized group of cells that are responsible for compassion — is thought to be hyperactive. As a result, empaths can absorb other people’s energies (both positive and negative) into their own bodies.
Empaths are the medicine the world needs and they can have a profound impact on humanity with their compassion and understanding… The key skill is to learn how to take charge of your sensitivities and learn specific strategies to prevent empathy overload. — Dr. Judith Orloff
Let’s conduct an experiment.
Are you really intuitive when it comes to friends and family?
Can you sense conflict before it hits?
Do you pick up on the emotions of others, even those you’ve just met? How about those you’ve never met in person (aka online friendships)?
Can you sense when someone isn’t telling you the whole truth?
Do you feel drained after being around certain people?
If you answered yes to these questions, you could be an empath.
Empaths are highly sensitive individuals, who have a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. Psychologists may use the term empath to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, often to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense. However, the term empath can also be used as a spiritual term, describing an individual with special, psychic abilities to sense the emotions and energies of others. — PsychAlive.com
When I say creatives are empaths, I’m referring to the psychological definition. Other signs may include an overpowering sense of intuition. It drives my family crazy when I know something’s bothering one of them, even if we’re only communicating via text. I’m not psychic, as some would like to believe. I’m simply in tune with my intuition.
Without attaching labels, I think we can all agree that creatives need a healthy dose of empathy to view the world through a writer’s lens. If you missed Jordan’s post last week, read it. I’ll add one tip to her list: give yourself permission not to write. If you’re feeling distracted or overwhelmed, take the time you need to process your new normal.
During these turbulent times, an overabundance of empathy can suck the life right out of you. Thus, it’s important to develop self-protection mechanisms, like deep breathing exercises and communing with nature. Ridding one’s psyche of negativity promotes balance and good mental health.
There’s a lot of beauty in this world. If we take a moment to find it—the chipmunk who grins at a shelled peanut, the goofy antics of a squirrel, dog, or cat, the magnificent agility of crows and ravens, or the gentle whisper of silence—we can lessen the heavy burden of our new reality.
The world needs creatives more than ever before. So, let’s rise to the challenge.
As writers, what can we do to help folks stuck at home? One idea is to ask your subscribers if they’d like to read a free novel to help pass the time. I did, and the response was overwhelming. I’m still receiving emails from readers in my community. It feels wonderful to give back!
This seems to be a growing trend among creatives.
Many of our favorite recording artists are performing free home concerts under the hashtag #TogetherAtHome (link includes 80 concerts). On StorylineOnline celebrities read books to children (16 books and climbing).
Have you come across something beautiful that’s touched your heart? Share it with us in the comments. C’mon, creatives! Let’s lavish the world with our gift. What are other ways writers can help the community adjust to the new normal?
Laura Benedict here. Refilling, refueling, refreshing…There are many names for it, but they all refer to giving our creativity the chance to enjoy a well-earned rest. To give it some space, and let our subconsciouses play so we can come back and mine it when we’re ready. My guest today is my good friend, J.T. Ellison, and she and I have had hundreds–yes, hundreds–of conversations about staying creative and navigating flashes of burnout for over a decade. Given that J.T. has published 22 novels since 2007, along with a significant number of stories, novellas, and anthologies, she knows well the challenges of keeping her work fresh and herself productive, yet also sane.
* * *
“I’ve always wanted to write a boarding school mystery…”
Let me set the stage. 2018. St. Petersburg, Florida. Bouchercon. A long lunch with an editor, a publisher, a spouse, and a completely burned out author.
I’m not one for tears, but I was feeling it that day. I’d been juggling too much, jumping back and forth between my books and my co-written series, work for the TV show, traveling all over the place, and I was feeling it. I tend to bite off more than I can chew anyway, but at that moment, I had the horrible sense that writing had become work. It’s happened a couple of times in my career, so I recognized what I needed. A break.
Of course, that’s the very last thing any editor wants to hear, but I didn’t think I had a choice. It was take a break or flame out completely.
I’ve worked with my team long enough to be comfortable being honest with them. We talked frankly about author burnout, about finding the joy in the work, about how sometimes, you have to take a break from the grind, write something that you know will be fun. And the words slipped out: “I’ve always wanted to write a boarding school mystery.”
Though I wasn’t actively writing this story, I already had a character – Ash Carlisle. I already knew she was British, and was coming to America to attend an elite boarding school. I knew I wanted her to go from revered to reviled. That’s all I had. But my editor’s face lit up, and I knew I had to find a way to write the book. Just not then.
We left the lunch with a plan for me to regroup and get back to them when I thought I was ready to jump in. I planned to take the rest of the year off – two full months – and then spend six months on a new co-written book, then write the boarding school mystery.
We had scheduled a few days between events to go across the state for some east coast beach time. On the drive over, I was kicking myself. I’d had a conversation about burning out with another author friend, Carla Neggers, who rightly pointed out that some people have to work for a living and we writers have it pretty cushy. She didn’t exactly say suck it up and get back to work—or maybe she did, there was a lot of wine that night—but that’s what I heard. I was relaying this to my husband, feeling silly for my whining. “She’s right, of course. It’s not like I’m digging ditches. If I took a little time off now, maybe I could write the book by February.”
We talked it through. I only had one tour event left after Bouchercon, but February was only four months away. I had the setting, the main character, and the semblance of a plot. It wasn’t like I’d need to do a lot of research—I attended an all woman’s boarding college and was planning to use it as my setting anyway. We’d just been to Oxford, so Ash’s hometown was fresh in my mind. I had a sense of who she was. And it would be a fun book to write. A really, really fun book to write. Hauntings and history, secret societies and hazing, all against a backdrop of one of the prettiest campuses in the country.
I texted my editor, who said yes, they could work with February. I took three full days at the beach to recharge my batteries, handled a couple more events. And then off I went. I started writing in early November and the story just poured out. It was so much fun. I rediscovered the joy of writing. I wrote a few scenes in screenplay format to make sure the visuals worked, played and played with it, hit my usual ¾ of the way in block, where I need to blow up the book to make it all make sense. I even went so far as to change POVs after I’d written a large chunk of it, which truly brought it to life.
I made that deadline (with a small two week extension). My editor loved the book. And here we are, 14 months after my temporary meltdown, and GOOD GIRLS LIE is about to be in stores. It feels like a huge triumph, because this book refilled my well so completely that I found a new joie de vivre for my writing. It’s amazing to me how these things work themselves out.
I think it’s very important for writers—artists in general—to take a step back when they’re feeling burned out or discouraged. You may think you need months off, but a few days at the beach could be the ticket. Or writing a book that you’ve had simmering in your subconscious, one that you want to write, that you know will be a blast to experience. Your passion project will refill your well, and isn’t that what we all want?
Have you ever wanted to take a break from writing, or been forced to by life circumstances? How did you find your way back?
J.T. Ellison is the New York Timesand USA Today bestselling author of more than 20 critically acclaimed novels, including TEAR ME APART, LIE TO ME, and ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, and coauthored the “A Brit in the FBI”series with #1 New York Timesbestselling author Catherine Coulter. J.T. is also the EMMY®Award-winning co-host of the television series A Word on Words. Her forthcoming novel, GOOD GIRLS LIE, was a LibraryReads Pick for December 2019 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. For more, please visit www.jtellison.com, or visit her online @thrillerchick. An excerpt of GOOD GIRLS LIE is available now.
By SUE COLETTA
My husband and I recently watched an excellent documentary on Netflix entitled The Creative Brain. “Neuroscientist David Eagleman taps into the creative process of various innovators while exploring brain-bending, risk-taking ways to spark creativity.”
I’ve written about creativity and the brain before, so I didn’t want to write another post on the same subject. Nonetheless, all creatives should find the show fascinating. But — yes, there’s a but — the narrator claims only humans possess the ability to create. I disagree. Creativity surrounds us. We just need to remain open to it.
I think we can all agree that dancing is a creative form of expression. So, if dance is part of the arts, then the Birds of Paradise are creative geniuses …
Now, let me ask you, do you think this little guy is creative or working only on instinct?
Side note: ladies, how cool would it be if men had to woo women in the same way? 😉
Let’s dive into the ocean. In South Carolina lives one pod of bottlenose dolphins whose creativity gains great rewards.
Think about this … If they’re working strictly on instinct, then why aren’t other dolphins hunting in the same way? This “beaching” activity can only be seen in this one pod.
Check out these creative thinkers …
What if an elephant painted a self-portrait, would it then mean she’s using her creativity?
Meet Suda …
If you’re short on time, jump ahead to 10:45 to see what she painted.
This Australian Satin Bower selectively steals from humans. The female he’s courting has a fondness for blue. Only blue. Another color might ruin the design.
This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my beloved crows. Crow nest building is serious business, but creativity also plays a role. Made of interlocking twigs gathered from surrounding trees and shrubs, they weave these twigs with metallic wire to strengthen the nest. Some crows even incorporate knotted lengths of thick plastic. But it’s their love of shiny objects that really speaks to their individuality and creativity.
How ‘bout an entire nest made of coat hangers? This magpie’s nest may not look very comfortable, but it’s creative!
That concludes the fun half of the post. Now here’s why creativity is good for you.
6 Ways Creativity Improves Health and Wellness
1) Increased Happiness
When you’re completely absorbed in a project, psychologists call this state Flow. Writers often refer to it as The Zone. For those unfamiliar with either term, have you ever been working on a project and completely lost all sense of time? That’s Flow. And Flow reduces anxiety, boosts your mood, and even slows your heartrate.
2) Reduces Dementia
Studies show that creative engagement not only reduces depression and isolation, but can also help dementia patients tap back in to their personalities and sharpen their senses.
3) Improves Mental Health
The average person has about 60,000 thoughts a day and 95% are exactly the same. A creative act such as writing helps focus the mind. Some compare creative engagement to meditation due to its calming effects on the brain and body. Even just gardening or sewing releases dopamine, a natural anti-depressant.
Creativity reduces anxiety, depression, stress, and can also help process trauma. Writing in particular helps to manage negative emotions in a productive way. Creating something through art (painting or drawing) can help people to express traumatic experiences that are too difficult to put in to words.
4) Boosts Immune System
Studies show, people who keep a daily journal have stronger immune systems than those who don’t. Experts don’t know why it works, but writing increases your CD4+ lymphocyte count — the key to your immune system.
Listening to music can also rejuvenate function in your immune system. Music affects our brains in complex ways, stimulating the limbic system and moderating our response to stressful stimuli.
5) Increases Intelligence
Studies show that people who play instruments have better connectivity between their left and right brains. The left brain is responsible for motor functions, the right brain focuses on melody. When the two hemispheres communicate, our cognitive function improves.
Writers use both hemispheres of the brain, as well. Muse on the right, the critic on the left.
6) Decreases Chronic Pain
People dealing with certain medical conditions that result in chronic pain showed improved pain control after expressing their feelings through the written word. Over a nine-week period, the test subjects also showed an overall decline in pain severity.
According to Medical News Today, “music may help to restore effective functioning in the immune system partly via the actions of the amygdala and hypothalamus. These brain regions are implicated in mood regulation and hormonal processes, as well as in the body’s inflammatory response.”
The world needs creatives.
Let’s nurture creativity rather than force our youth into professions they’re not passionate about. We’re not born creative. It’s a skill learned over time. As such, parents and/or mentors need to encourage creativity and allow our children and young adults to excel in the arts.
Need more motivation? No problem …
Now, go forth and create something amazing!
By SUE COLETTA
Most of us are able to recall one or two of our dreams, but what if there were ways to increase that number?
We’ve all heard the stories of hugely popular novels which stemmed from the author’s dreams. For example, Stephanie Meyer and Twilight. Dreams serve health benefits, too. Researchers believe dreams help with memory consolidation, mood regulation, and/or conflict resolution.
Nightmares aren’t fun. Night terrors are even worse. It’s important we pay attention, though, because they can signal a disruption in our lives and sometimes, provide the answer.
Sigmund Freud believed dreams were a window into our subconscious, that they paved the way to satisfy urges and secret desires that might be unacceptable to society. I agree with the first part of his theory, but I think the latter depends on the dreamer. When it comes to dream interpretation there’s no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all definition.
Case in point: crime writers dream about murder. If an average Joe plotted revenge in his dreams, it might be cause for alarm. When writers delve into the dark recesses of the subconscious mind, it’s research. 🙂
While some sleep experts believe dreams are an anomaly of sleep, others think they may help us save memories, problem-solve, and manage emotions.
During REM — rapid-eye movement, when brain activity piques — and non-REM sleep, we have the potential to dream.
Dreams are connected to the creativity part of the brain, called the Superior temporal gyrus.
We have three creativity sections of the temporal lobe…
This could explain why serial killers, who often have temporal lobe damage or malformations, experience different phases before, during, and after they kill. And why, during the Aura Phase colors become vibrant.
Did you notice in the 3D image the temporal gyri aren’t limited to the right-side?
Brain cells in the left hemisphere have short dendroids which pull in information.
The right hemisphere branches out wider to absorb distant unrelated ideas, connections between concepts, and is responsible for insight and Ah-ha! moments. It’s here where our creativity comes alive.
The cerebral cortex is responsible for our dreams. During REM sleep, signals are sent from an area of the brain called “the pons” and then relayed through the thalamus to the cerebral cortex, which attempts to make sense of these signals. The end result is dreaming.
The pons also send signals to neurons in the spinal cord, shutting them down, causing temporary paralysis of the limbs. This safety switch prevents the dreamer from physically acting out dreams and harming themselves. However, there are exceptions. A condition called REM sleep behavior disorder exists. Can you guess what this causes? If you said, the pons fail to paralyze the limbs during REM sleep, you’re correct.
Some researchers believe we’re not designed to remember our dreams. If we had perfect recall, dreams might get confused with real-life memories. During REM, maybe our brain shuts off the Inferior temporal gyrus, responsible for memory recall. And why, we may only recall our last dream before waking, because that part of the brain is now switched back on.
Studies show people actually have more brain activity and more vivid dreams during REM. Others say our brains store dreams, which is why the tiniest detail later in the day can trigger the memory of what we’d dreamed the night before.
Sound sleepers are less likely to recall dreams. If you fall into this category, consider yourself lucky; the rest of us don’t sleep as well. Even so, maybe these tips will help:
So, my beloved TKZ family, are you able to recall dreams? Have you ever used dreams in your writing?
By SUE COLETTA
This video sent me down a rabbit hole of research.
As you can imagine, my writer brain lit up. Turns out, the research was even more fascinating than the video. A scientific study showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm or eggs and alter the brains and behavior of subsequent generations. This breakthrough is an important discovery in the fight to treat phobias and anxiety.
Do you fear spiders, heights, or small spaces for no apparent reason? This may explain why.
Neuroscientists trained mice to fear a cherry blossom scent prior to copulation. While breeding these mice, the team at the Emory University School of Medicine looked at what was happening inside the sperm. Incredibly, the sperm showed a section of DNA, responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent, was indeed more active.
The mice’s offspring, and their offspring — the grand-mice, if you will — were all extremely sensitive to cherry blossom and avoided the scent at all costs, despite never experiencing a problem with it in their lives. They also found changes in brain structure.
In the smell-aversion study, scientists believe either some of the odor ended up in the bloodstream, which affected sperm production, or the brain sent a signal to the sperm to alter the DNA.
The report states, “Our findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.”
Enivronmental change can also critically affect the lifestyle, reproductive success, and lifespan of adult animals for generations. Exposure to high temperatures led to the expression of endogenously repressed copies of genes — sometimes referred to as “junk” DNA. The changes in chromatin occurred in the early embryo before the onset of transcription and were inherited through eggs and sperm. In mealworms, they traced the DNA changes through 14 generations.
Why mealworms? It’s quicker to test generation after generation on an animal with a short lifespan.
Another study showed that a mouse’s ability to remember can be affected by the presence of immune system factors in their mother’s milk. Chemokines — signaling proteins secreted by cells — carried in a mother’s milk caused changes in the brains of their offspring, affecting their memory later in life.
Memories are passed down through generations via genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors. These switches, however, can be turned on and off, according to Science Daily. Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences must be passed to future generations through personal interactions. However, this research shows that it’s possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.
Creativity counts as a learned behavior, but I also believe it goes deeper than that. Think about how deeply you feel about your writing. For most writers I know, when we’re “in the zone” our soul does the writing. One could argue we’re merely vessels who type. Have you ever read a passage that you don’t remember writing? Our ability to create burrows into the core of who we are, and thus, leaves an indelible mark. How, then, can we not pass that part of ourselves to future generations?
How many of you have creative folks in your family tree, be it writers, artists, musicians, singers, or other forms of creativity?
To test my theory, I asked the same question to my fellow TKZ members. Please note: this revelation occurred to me yesterday, so I’ve only included the members who saw the email in time. Hopefully, the others will add their responses in the comments.
For those I did catch on a Sunday, check out what they said …
Elaine Viets said, “My late cousin Kurt was a talented wood carver, and my grandfather was known as a great story teller in the local saloons.”
I love wood-carved pieces. The smell, the texture, the swirl to the grain. It’s not an easy creative outlet to master.
Jordan Dane comes from a long line of creative people. Here’s her answer: “My paternal grandfather was a writer for a Hispanic newspaper. My dad was an architect and artist (painter), my older brother went into architecture too, specializing in hospital design. My dad is a real renaissance guy. He could sculpt, paint, draw and he has a passion for cooking. My older brother Ed and I share a love for singing. I sang in competitive ensemble groups. He played in a popular area band and has sung in barbershop quartets. My mom was the original singer in our family. She has a great voice.”
Joe Hartlaub has two talented children. Here’s what he said, “Annalisa Hartlaub, my youngest daughter, is a photographer. My oldest son Joe is also a highly regarded bass guitar player locally.”
When I prodded further, Joe added, “My maternal grandfather played guitar, but we never knew it until we came across a picture of him taken at a large Italian social club gathering where he was strumming away. He was in his twenties at the time. As far as the source of Annalisa’s talent goes…her mother is a terrific photographer. The conclusion is that Annalisa gets the form of the art from her mother and her creativeness from me.”
Laura Benedict stunned me with her answer. “Someone doing genealogy linked my maternal grandfather’s family to Johann Sebastian Bach.”
Talk about a creative genius!
Laura added, “I remember a few very small watercolors that I believe my maternal grandmother painted. Trees and houses. But while we were close, we never talked about art. My aunt also did some drawing.”
John Gilstrap also came from a long line of creative people. Here’s his answer…
“My paternal extended family has always been fairly artistic. My grandfather, I am told–he died long before I was born–had a beautiful singing voice, and for a period of time worked whatever the Midwest version of the Vaudeville circuit was. My father, a career Naval aviator, wrote the Navy’s textbook, The Principles of Helicopter Flight, and had two patents on helicopter cargo handling operations. He passed away in 2006.
Although I wasn’t able to catch her in time, PJ Parrish is the sister team of Kris Montee and Kelly Nichols.
As for me, my maternal grandfather was a highly regarded artist (painter) in his time. My mother was a beautiful writer, even though I never knew it while she was alive. After she passed, I discovered notebooks full of her writing.
So, can creativity be passed through our DNA? Judging by this small pool of writers, I find it hard not to entertain the possibility.
I’m betting the same holds true if I expand the test subjects to include you, my beloved TKZers. How many of you have creative folks in your family tree?
On a picturesque fall morning in Grafton County, New Hampshire, a brutal murder rocks the small town of Alexandria. In the backyard of a weekend getaway cabin, a dead woman is posed in red-satin, with two full-bloomed roses in place of eyes.
In her hand, a mysterious envelope addressed to Sheriff Niko Quintano. Inside, Paradox vows to kill again if his riddle isn’t solved within 24 hours.
With so little time and not enough manpower, Niko asks his wife for help. But Crime Writer Sage Quintano is dealing with her own private nightmare. Not only did she find massive amounts of blood on the mountain where she and her family reside, but a phone call from the past threatens her future–the creepy mechanical voice of John Doe, the serial killer who murdered her twin sister.
Together, can Niko and Sage solve the riddle in time to save the next victim? Or will the killer win this deadly game of survival?
By Sue Coletta
First, let’s define the word “muse.”
A muse is a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. How amazing that we’re able to tap into her energy and translate our story to the page.
An alternate definition of “muse” is an ancient Greek word that means to be absorbed in thought or inspired. Amusement is the absence of thought or inspiration. Hence why social media can destroy our creative time. Over saturating ourselves with anything, including thoughts, outside and inner pressure, too many ideas, etc., can wound our muse. Ever notice that some of our best ideas come when we’re falling asleep or taking a shower or walk? That’s because our mind is relaxed. For those that struggle to structure themselves should consider using a matching worksheet maker to help them keep on track with educational tasks, they have laid out for themselves to improve their creativity.
What happens inside the brain?
Dr. Lotze from the University of Greifswald had always been fascinated by the creativity of writers, so he wondered how the brain reacted when they crafted stories. In a scientific study, he took novice writers who’d never completed a story and professional writers who’d authored published books. The results amazed him.
Did you know our brains react differently, depending on whether an author writes professionally or if they’re just beginning their writing journey?
First, Dr. Lotze built a custom-made writing desk. While lying supine, their head cocooned inside the scanner, the subject rested their arm on a wedged block. He positioned several mirrors which allowed the writers to see what they were writing.
Dr. Lotze asked 28 volunteers to first only copy a block of text. This gave him a baseline of brain activity. Next, he gave them the first few lines of a short story and told them to continue on. Thus, triggering their muse. They were allowed to brainstorm for one minute, write for two.
The research showed certain parts of the brain became active during the creative process but not while copying text. During brainstorming, some vision-processing regions also came alive in some of the writers, as if they were seeing the scene unfold in their mind’s eye.
During the writing process, other regions activated, as well. Dr. Lotze theorized that the hippocampus was retrieving factual information for the subjects to use in their stories. Who says research isn’t important?
Another region of the brain, near the front — left caudate nucleus and left dorsolateral and superior medial prefrontal cortex, which is crucial for storing several pieces of information at once — also activated. When writers juggle characters and plot lines we put special demands on that part of the brain.
The problem with this study was that he’d chosen all novice writers.
What happens inside the mind of a seasoned writer?
Twenty authors volunteered this time. In the same position as the novice writers, Dr. Lotze gave seasoned writers the exact same instructions. Brainstorm for one minute, write for two. Like before, the first few lines had been written for them.
Dr. Lotze’s findings are as follows …
During creative writing, cerebral activation occurred in a predominantly left-hemispheric fronto-parieto-temporal network. When compared to inexperienced writers, researched proved increased left caudate nucleus and left dorsolateral and superior medial prefrontal cortex activation. In contrast, less experienced participants recruited increasingly bilateral visual areas. During creative writing, activation in the right cuneus showed positive association with the creativity index in expert writers.
High experience in creative writing seems to be associated with a network of prefrontal and basal ganglia (caudate) activation. In addition, the findings suggested that high verbal creativity specific to literary writing increased activation in the right cuneus associated with increased resources obtained for reading.
You can read the full report here.
Let’s break it down in easier terms.
The brains of seasoned writers worked differently than novice writers, even before they began to write. During the brainstorming, the novice writers showed more activity in the brain’s regions responsible for speech.
“I think both groups are using different strategies,” said Lotze. “It’s possible that the novice writers are watching their stories like a film inside their head while the professional authors are narrating it with an inner voice.”
He discovered more differences.
Deep inside the brain of seasoned writers, a region called the caudate nucleus, responsible for skills that require a lot of training and practice, also became active. In the novice writer, it didn’t. The caudate remained quiet. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that when we start learning a skill we’re more consciously trying to master it. With practice, those actions become largely automatic, and it’s inside the caudate nucleus where the shift occurs.
Skeptics like Dr. Pinker, another scientist, said the test wasn’t involved enough to make comparisons. He’d rather see tests between writing fiction vs. nonfiction or other factual information. Creativity might also cause differences from writer to writer. For example, some writers may activate the taste-perceiving regions in the brain when they write about food. Another writer might rely more on sound. Paul Dale Anderson wrote a fascinating post that touched on this difference in more depth.
What’s the best way to summon creativity?
Read a book, listen to music or audiobooks — any exercise that forces us to envision someone else’s story world. A passionate and focused writer can accomplish more in a few hours than an unfocused writer can in a full day.
Over to you TKZers. What do you think of this study? Are you an auditory or visual writer? While writing, can you taste the food?
How did I manage to miss this elegant little contest/game–The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest–which offers a new way for writers to procrastinate and waste precious writing time? The New Yorker cartoons were a cherished element of my childhood reading experience (I confess I skipped reading the articles until I was well into high school years).
Check out the weekly New Yorker cartoon (by clicking this link) and tell us what caption you’d write for it. Here’s my entry for the caption:
“My doctor says it’s an off-label use for energy drink withdrawal.”