Sleep: Embracing Your Inner Koala

“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.” –Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

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Koala bears are the experts when it comes to sleep. An adult koala averages about twenty hours of sleep each day! To those of us who are trying to pack as much writing, marketing, networking, and everything else into a 24-hour time period, that seems a little excessive..

So why do those cute, furry critters need so much sleep? Koalas exist primarily on a diet of toxic eucalyptus leaves, and it takes a lot of energy for their digestive systems to break down the leaves which turn out to be low in nutrients to begin with. Bottom line: koala bears get the amount of sleep they need to support their lifestyle.

So how does that apply to humans?

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“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” –Irish Proverb

We all know that a good night’s sleep is essential for good health. Good sleeping habits help us maintain a healthy weight, lower stress levels, repair body tissue, and give us an overall sense of well-being. According to sleepfoundation.org, sleep is also conducive to mental acuity.

Sleep is believed to help with memory and cognitive thinking. Brain plasticity theory, a major theory on why humans sleep, posits that sleep is necessary so the brain can grow, reorganize, restructure, and make new neural connections. These connections in the brain help individuals learn new information and form memories during sleep. In other words, a good night’s sleep can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making skills.

Better sleep means better thinking, but how about creativity?

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“Man is a genius when he is dreaming.” –Akira Kurosawa, Japanese Film Director

It turns out creativity and sleep are related.

Scientists generally divide sleep into two categories: Non-rapid eye movement (Non-REM) sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.

Ideatovalue.com posted an article that compared the two categories and examined their effects on creativity.

  • Non-REM sleep is where information we engaged with during the day is processed and formed into memories

  • REM sleep is where those new memories are compared and integrated into all of the previous knowledge and memories we have. This is also usually when we dream. This may form new novel associations between distant pieces of information, a vital component for new ideas

The article concludes:

This would imply that REM sleep is important for not only our ability to associate new ideas and solve existing problems, but also form new original and divergently creative ideas.

Okay. We need a good night’s sleep to perform at our best, but how do we get it?

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“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.” –Leonardo da Vinci

How much sleep do we need to maximize creativity? The National institutes of Health recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. And how can you ensure a good night’s sleep? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends

  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature

  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom

  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime

  • Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

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So TKZers: Have you noticed a connection between sleep and creativity? How much sleep do you get each night? Do you remember your dreams and use them in your stories? Have you recovered from losing an hour of sleep to Daylight Savings Time?

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Private pilot Cassie Deakin lands in the middle of a nightmare when she finds her beloved Uncle Charlie has been assaulted by thieves. Then things get worse.

Buy on AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle Play, or Apple Books.

 

Improving Your Creativity

Creativity is the phenomenon of finding imaginative ideas and turning them into reality. It’s the process of bringing something new and original into existence. The results can be intangible products, like theories and songs, or tangible products such as inventions and the new crime-thriller novel I’m struggling to create. Creativity appears to come easier to some folks than others, and we tend to see high achievers as gifted, natural creators rather than nurtured normals.

But is that so? Are there a chosen few, born with greater creative ability? Or can creativity be learned—a skill that can be taught, practiced, and mastered?

Back in the Greek and Roman days, creativity was seen as facilitated by a muse who connected individual human minds to the gods. Daemons were the Greek equivalent of guardian angels. They accompanied a soul from birth to death, some being highly creative which manifested themselves in outstanding and intuitive people like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Romans saw these paranormal intermediaries as Geniuses—disembodied messengers from a heavenly intelligence, delivering divine wishes to mortals.

The Renaissance era disagreed. Creative individuals were enlightened, they posed. Creativity came from within the self and gifted ones—DaVinci, Beethoven, and Shakespeare—were born intellectually superior with unique abilities to create. They were the geniuses; being able to connect directly with a plane of higher intelligence rather than having an imaginary genius translate for them.

Today’s neuroscience has another view on this. It sees creativity as a complex psychological process that occurs via the brain’s ventral striatum and amygdala and can be enhanced through neuroplasticity or rewiring the brain through practiced behavior. In other words, a planned and continual workout program for your brain can definitely improve your creativity.

Improving creativity starts with a foundation of subject knowledge, learning a discipline, and mastering a proper way of thinking. You build on your creative ability by experimenting, exploring, questioning assumptions, using imagination, and synthesizing information. Learning to be creative is like learning a sport. You need a desire to improve, develop the right muscles, and be in a supportive environment.

You need to view creativity as a practice and understand five key behaviors:

  1. Associating—drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields.
  2. Questioning—posing queries that challenge common wisdom.
  3. Observing—scrutinizing the behavior of others in, around, and outside your sphere.
  4. Networking—meeting people with both common and different perspectives.
  5. Experimenting—constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge.

Read this as — listen, watch, ask, mingle, and stir. Sir Richard Branson has a mantra that’s bred into the corporate DNA of his Virgin staff — A-B-C-D — Always Be Connecting Dots. Branson swears that creativity is a practice and if you practice these five behaviors every day, you will improve your skills in creativity and innovation.

Now, if these five behaviors put you in the right direction for improving creativity, then there must be behaviors to avoid. I found eight:

1. Lack of courage—being fearful of taking chances, scared of venturing down new roads, and timid about taking the road less traveled. Fear is the biggest enemy of creativity. You need to be courageous and take chances.

2. Premature judgment—second-guessing and early judgment of outcome severely restrict your ability to generate ideas and freely innovate. Let your initial path expand and follow it to its inevitable destination.

3. Avoidance of failure—you can’t be bold and creative if you fear failure. Creativity requires risk and making mistakes. They’re part of the process.

4. Comparing with others—this robs your unique innovation and imagination. Set your own standards. Be different. Something new is always different.

5. Discomfort with uncertainty—creativity requires letting go and the process doesn’t always behave rationally. Accept that there’s something akin to paranormal in real creativity.

6. Taking criticism personally—feedback is healthy, even if it’s blunt and harsh like 1&2-Star Amazon reviews. Ignore ridicule. Have thick skin, a tough hide, and don’t let criticism get to you.

7. Lack of confidence—a certain level of uncertainty comes with any new venture. Some self-doubt is normal but if it becomes overwhelming and long-lasting, it will shut down your creative abilities. The best way to create is to first connect with your self-confidence.

8. Analysis paralysis—overthinking renders you unable to make a decision because of information overload. “Go with your gut” is the answer to analysis paralysis.

Aside from positive and negative behaviors, there is one overall and outstanding quality that drives successfully creative people.

Passion…

Passion is the secret to creativity. It’s the underlying feature that’s laced the successes of all prominent creators in history.

Passion is a term we’ve heard over and over again. Chase your passion, not your pension. But few understand what passion implies. The word comes from the Latin root “pati“ that means “to suffer“. Passion is what perseveres in getting to your goal despite fear, discomfort, unhappiness, and pain. It’s the determination—the motivation—to push through suffering for the sake of the end result. And this passionate feeling of motivation has its source in your brain.

A study released in the Journal of Neuroscience identified the ventral striatum, in connection with the amygdala, as the brain’s emotional center that controls the motivation feeling—the higher degree of motivation you feel, the higher the activation will be in this part of your brain. So that intense feeling of motivation you feel when you are in a creative state—that feeling of euphoria when engaging in something you feel truly worthwhile and meaningful to you—is real and is something physiological occurring in your brain. It’s one of the least researched areas of psychology yet has the biggest impact on your creativity.

I sense you’re wondering if there’s a trick—a method to stimulate your ventral striatum and amygdala—in improving your creativity. Well, yes there is. It’s long been known and practiced by the greats:

Relaxation, along with definite purpose.

Relax. Put your thoughts and desires out to the ether. Relax and wait. Creative ideas will come.

I’m a life-long student of the Napoleon Hill Philosophy of Personal Achievement which is the psychology behind one of the world’s bestselling self-help books, Think and Grow Rich. Hill clearly outlines the path to unlimited creativity which he postulates comes from the source of Infinite Intelligence that we all can tap. To get creative ideas from Infinite Intelligence, first you must know what you want, then you must relax and let Infinite Intelligence deliver ideas or answers to you.

Relaxation can be done in many ways. Meditation. Workout. Vacation. Change of environment. Retail therapy. Long showers. Reading. Music. Deep breathing. Long walks in nature. Maybe a stiff drink or two. The methods are varied but whatever you choose, it needs to put you in a headspace receptive to creative ideas.

Napoleon Hill didn’t have the anatomical knowledge of how the ventral striatum and amygdala worked, but he sure understood that definite purpose, motivation, and relaxation opened the doors of creativity. Hill described this part of the brain as being like a radio transmitter and receiver which exchanged creative thought with Infinite Intelligence.

So, if I can give one single piece of advice on how to improve your creativity it’s to read, understand, and practice the seventeen principles of success Napoleon Hill outlined in Think and Grow Rich.

A postscript to this article—while I was researching this piece, I came across a TED Talk with well-known author, Elizabeth Gilbert. Her presentation on creativity for writers is a fascinating look at the process. Click Here to watch it.

Kill Zoners: Enough of me preaching T&GR. How do you find and improve your creativity?

Ways to Do Morning Pages

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

A pole vaulter doesn’t come out of the locker room, pick up a pole, and get to vaulting. Like all athletes, they warm up. They do some stretching, some sprinting, test the poles, do a few practice vaults.

That’s how writers should view morning pages. They warm you up so you can reach new heights when you write. The subject has come up in comments several times here at TKZ, so I thought I’d offer some of the different ways I’ve personally done morning pages.

Bradbury’s Landmine

The great Ray Bradbury, in his book Zen in the Art of Writing, said of his morning pages: “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

He explained that by writing down what was in his brain the first thing upon waking, was capturing whatever dreams had percolated, or whatever his subconscious decided to tell him. He didn’t try to make sense of it as he wrote. The idea was to pour it all out, see what was there, and only then look for a story possibility.

Robert Louis Stevenson often got plot ideas in his dreams. In the wee small hours one morning, his wife was awakened by cries of horror from her husband. Thinking he was having a nightmare, she wakened him. He angrily said, “Why did you awaken me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale!” He got up and began writing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Natalie Goldberg’s Non-Stop Writing

In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg advocates “writing practice” before getting to your WIP. You simply pick a starter (like “I remember…” or “describe the light coming through your window,” or “write about an early memory”) and just go without stopping, without editing, without judgment. Follow wherever your writing leads you. The idea is to learn to free yourself up as you write anything.

Additionally, Goldberg advises doing this exercise for distinct moments in your fiction—especially description. You come to a point where you’re going to describe a character, or place, or clothing…whatever. You pause and open a new document and write for five minutes on that one thing, letting your mind feed you images and metaphors. (Now there’s AI to do that work for you. Personally, I don’t like that. Using our own neural networks exercises our brains…which we need if for nothing else than to fight the machines!)

Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes morning pages as “three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.” Even though my handwriting is awful, I think there is something to using pen or pencil on paper that exercises parts of your brain not normally brought out to play.

My variation on this is to do page-long sentences. No worries about grammar or punctuation, just letting one word lead to another and following any rabbit trail that comes up. It’s all about loosening up the creative muscles before the pole vault of your WIP.

Writing the Natural Way

In Writing the Natural Way, Gabriele Lusser Rico champions “clustering” as a way to unleash the right brain. Clustering is also known as mind mapping. You use a pen or pencil on blank paper, and start with a word or phrase in the middle of the page. Put a circle around it. Then start putting down words that connect to the main word, and connections from the new words, until you have a whole page of circled words or phrases with lines between them.

From Writing the Natural Way. Click to enlarge.

Let the map sit for awhile, then bring some form to it. I put numbers by certain words in priority order. I find this especially helpful when I’m mapping out a nonfiction article or book. It results in a usable outline. But I’ve also used this for big scenes in my novels.

Micro and Flash Fiction

Use a writing prompt to write a short-short story. Flash fiction is under 1k words; micro fiction is under 250 (though some purists make it under 100). I’ve written before about Storymatic. There’s also Writer Igniter that shuffles various elements for you.

Think about the prompt for a minute or two. You may stay with it, or you can tweak it. There’s no wrong way to approach this. I try to envision an opening scene and an ending to work toward. Then I write it. I share the best of these on my Patreon page. But even the ones I don’t use are of benefit, as the value of this exercise is in the effort.

Sue Grafton’s Novel Journal

The author of the famous alphabet series featuring PI Kinsey Millhone, Sue Grafton, began each writing day by jotting in what she called her novel journal. She’d first put something down about how she felt that day, and then record any ideas that occurred to her “in the dead of night, when Shadow and Right Brain are most active.” Finally, she’d reflect on where she was in the book, ask What if? She’d write down many possible directions, and assess them later. (No surprise she was a pantser…but this also works for plotters, who can fill out details in scenes, deepen emotions, find happy surprises, including metaphors.)

So, ready to jump into your writing day? Warm up with morning pages, then set your bar high.

What are your thoughts on morning pages?

A note for you audio book fans. Romeo’s Rules, the first book in my Mike Romeo thriller series, has just come out in audio.

Redux: Does Creativity Pass Through Generations via DNA?

With a deadline nipping at my heels, and losing two days to the holiday, I’m sharing a post I wrote in 2018. Still as fascinating today, IMO. Enjoy!

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.”

Environmental 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.”

He’s being modest. When I checked out Annalisa’s photographs on Facebook and Instagram they blew me away. A photography project she created at 15 years old also went viral.

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.

My brother, four years older than I, plays a number of instruments, but his primary proficiency is the piano.  His daughter is a very accomplished cellist who makes her living as the director of a high school orchestra that consistently kills at competitions.
Closer to home, my only musical talent is to be a passable tenor in the choir.  For years, I sang with a choral group that performed all over the DC area, including a number of gigs at The Kennedy Center.  As a high schooler, our son was a pretty good cellist, but he walked away from it in college and never really looked back.”

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. UPDATE: In 2020, two years after I wrote this post, I found out she worked as an editor for many years.

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?

Wings of Mayhem by Sue Coletta

FREE on Amazon.

When the cat burglar and the serial killer collide, HE looks forward to breaking her will, but SHE never gives up. Not ever. And especially not for him.

New Outlets for Creativity

New Outlets for Creativity
Terry Odell

Decades ago, I was a photography hobbyist. Long enough ago so I was shooting black-and-white film and processing in my home darkroom.

Fast forward a slew of decades, and I’m getting back into it. Still at a hobbyist level, but as I said on my own blog last week, having more than one creative outlet can help deal with any frustrations in your primary field. People come to TKZ to talk about writing, so we all have that in common, but many of us have other channels we can turn to as well.

Given my books often include some aspect of photography, be it the kind of camera my covert ops agent is using for surveillance, or a character looking to become a professional photographer, I’ve enjoyed expanding on simple research and moving more into the hands-on. The more I know, the more my characters know. If the research satisfies an underlying need, so much the better. Right now, I’d say my skills lie somewhere between Kiera in In the Crosshairs and Belinda in Cruising Undercover.

I might know something about photography but it’s new all over again. Cameras bear only a vague resemblance to the ones I learned on, just as word processors or writing software bear only a vague resemblance to the Underwood and Remington uprights I learned to type on.

My son’s business includes photo trips where he takes clients to a variety of locations, both domestic and international, and leads them in picture-taking. I’ve been on several with him (as a paying client, no “mom” favors), including Alaska, the Caribbean, the Galapagos, and Croatia, and most recently, Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. Getting away from home, seeing new sights can add depth to characters and settings.

I’m the newbie in the workshop group on this trip. My little camera might have felt inferior next to all the big fancy ones with multiple lenses. (Okay, I own other lenses, but the advice I got was that a 14-150 zoom would cover virtually every shooting situation, so that’s the only one I carried.)

Listening to the others on this tour is like hearing a new language. Everyone else is fluent, yet they’re all here to expand their “vocabularies”. For one—not a newbie by far—it was simply pointing out a better way to hold his camera. Nobody had ever told him that before. Another learned about long exposures for clouds. And one member is interested in mystery writing, so we were able to compare places we lacked significant knowledge, but had significant interest.

For me, it’s almost all new. They’re talking about swipes, zoom blurs, multiple exposures, blue hour shots—and I’m hoping my settings are close to correct, period. Histograms? I’m supposed to look at them? What are they supposed to look like? All I see is something interfering with the image.

But that’s the point of the workshop. To have people show you (often more than once) better or different ways to do things. We were shooting in areas that almost always required moving in close for detail shots. The overwhelming amount of “stuff” made it impossible to capture everything in a single shot, so zooming in on details was the way to get better pictures. As it compares to writing–we’re always learning new skills, improving the craft.

How many times have we read passages from books and said, “Damn, I wish I could do that?” With my photography, I don’t compare my work to that of the experts, but I can look at what I create and try to make it better. Just as everyone’s voice in writing means 7 people can be given the same story prompt and no two will be alike, 7 photographers can shoot the same subject, and every image will be different.

On Monday, Kay talked about words and pictures. As the final activity in our workshop, each of us was to share three images for discussion. Photographers notice things non-photographers don’t. They point out little details that add or detract to the picture–things most of us wouldn’t notice. Kind of the way writers notice things like POV issues, descriptions, overused words, etc. One group member talked (and talked) about the emotions he was trying to convey in each of his shots. Did I get the same feelings? Not really.

Several in the group chose pictures of a very old cemetery taken at the Taos Pueblo. Each had a different approach. Different angles, and different renderings–one in black and white. Instructors made comments about things like leading lines, rule of thirds, toning down or playing up shadows.

One group member was from the east coast and had never experienced anything like what she was seeing in New Mexico, and she focused on details that spoke to her. She liked the shapes and colors of things.

No matter where you are, looking at everything around you as a writer provides story and character fodder as well as a photographic image. Driving down the highway and seeing articles of clothing strewn about triggers story ideas. Is there a body somewhere?

If you’ve stayed with me this long, here are some of the pictures I took. Consider them first drafts, as I’m still learning how to spot those details that will make them better images. Normally, I wouldn’t talk about ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, the same way you don’t share first drafts with the general public, but this is The Kill Zone, after all.

 

Hobbies, Activities, and Creative Pursuits

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.

http://killzoneblog.com/category/creativity

http://killzoneblog.com/tag/creativity

And here are the chapters:

  1. The Creative Energy of Crowds, JSB
  2. Evolution of a Book Title and Cover, Debbie Burke
  3. Don’t be Afraid to Go There in Your Writing, JSB
  4. The Importance of Creativity Time (mental calisthenics), JSB
  5. Use NaNoWriMo to Repo Your Mojo, JSB
  6. Less Focus for Better Writing (positive constructive daydreaming), JSB
  7. Chasing a New Idea, JSB
  8. Permission to Make a Mess, Laura Benedict
  9. It Came From…, Joe Hartlaub
  10. When Your Brainstorming Hits a Drought, JSB
  11. Inspiring Quotes from Inspiring Crime Thriller Writers, Garry Rodgers
  12. The World Needs Creatives More Than Ever, Sue Coletta
  13. When a Writing Break Turns into a New Novel, J.T. Ellison
  14. Are Only Humans Creative? 6 Ways Creativity Improves Health, Sue Coletta
  15. Writers and Dreaming, Sue Coletta
  16. Can Creativity Pass Through Generations via DNA, Sue Coletta
  17. Our Brain and Creativity, Sue Coletta
  18. Write that Caption! New Yorker Cartoon Contest, Kathryn Lilley
  19. The Power of the Shadow Story, JSB

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?

 

  • Do you believe that other creative activities can benefit your writing?
  • Do you need creative pursuits beyond writing to recharge your battery?
  • What hobbies, activities, or creative pursuits do you use and enjoy?
  • In what way does this hobby or activity improve your writing?
  • How passionate (crazy) are you about this hobby? Give us a little taste of your passion.

Inspiring Quotes From Inspiring Crime Thriller Writers

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.

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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

Figure out what exactly is at stake, and how to establish it quickly. That’s your conflict. ~Katia Lief

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

My ideas? Headlines. The human heart. My deepest fears. The inner voice that says: if it scares you, it’ll scare readers too. ~Meg Gardiner

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

Don’t go into great detail describing places and things… You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill. ~Elmore Leonard

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

The words characters use and the gestures they make should be enough for the reader to know who is talking and how they’re feeling. ~Unknown

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

I abhor crime novels in which the main character can behave however he or she pleases, or do things that normal people do not do, without those actions having social consequences. ~Steig Larsson

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

It wasn’t a decision to become a writer. I wanted to become a writer of crime fiction. I was very specific. ~Michael Connelly

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?

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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.

The World Needs Creatives More Than Ever

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?

 

When a Writing Break Turns Into a New Novel: J.T. Ellison

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.

Welcome, J.T.!

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Credit: Krista Lee Photography

“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.