Category: Writing

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein

This week’s topic for #upbeatauthors is about fostering creativity. While what I’m going to talk about below focuses on writing, the piece of advice I’m sharing can apply to any creative endeavors – crafts, music, art, sewing, costuming/cosplay, basically whatever creative outlet refills your soul and/or is how you make your living.

It’s a simple piece of advice, really, but one we might overlook because we tend to find the thing we do well and stick with it. But what if we’ve done that thing so much that we begin to burn out or run out of ideas or lose the joy in doing it? Been there and done that. This is when we step outside of the box we’ve either put ourselves in or found ourselves in due to contractual obligations. If you find yourself in this situation, do something totally different.

Do you write sweet romance? Try a dark suspense. Do you write long, lush historical? Try a romantic comedy novella. Feel like you’re stuck in a rut with your quirky cozy mystery series? Try your hand at a piece of micro fiction set in some part of the past.

Sometimes writing something completely different in tone, content or length is just the kick in the pants you might need. You might instinctually make different word choices, sentence lengths, character traits and plot progressions because this is just an experiment and that knowledge frees you up to play. You can think of the experience as a palate cleanser or a jump-start to your creativity, but you might be surprised by how much you like the experience.

A few years ago, I took a short break from my normal writing to take part in the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Worlds project. They contracted with authors to write short pieces set in established worlds to the mutual benefit of the authors, Amazon and the world’s copyright holders. I wrote three pieces set in the world of The Vampire Diaries. I’d never written fan fiction before, so it was a totally new experience and a lot of fun. I always say that you don’t have to take every opportunity that comes your way, but it pays to at least be open to those opportunities. They might provide your creativity (and perhaps even your bank account) with unexpected benefits.

Have you ever done anything completely different from your norm to give your creativity a kick in the posterior? Is there something you’ve never tried that you’d like to? Why not work it into your schedule now?

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”  – Christopher Reeve

I came across that quote recently while I was working on a freelance magazine article about an equine riding therapy program. It really spoke to me, even more so when you think about all Reeve went through.

As I think back through my life, I can see the absolute truth in his quote. So many things followed that same progression – managing to pass trigonometry in high school, getting accepted into college (the first in my family to do so) and managing to pay for it, becoming a published author. There were nights when I was taking trigonometry that I would cry because I just couldn’t figure out my homework. It was doubly frustrating because I was a good student and I was depending on my grades to get into and pay for college. Trig just wasn’t how my brain was wired. With help from my best friend and my patient and understanding teacher, I managed to pass, albeit with the only C I ever got. And I was actually grateful to get that C.

My path to getting my first book published was a long one, also filled with tears and frustration every time I got a rejection letter. It took me 11 years of working my way through the impossible and improbable stages to get to the inevitable one. Despite all the rejection, at some point I decided that I wasn’t going to have put all that effort into something only to quit or fail at it. Call it determination. Call it stubbornness. I figured the longer I worked at it, the better my chances of selling. And eventually I did, though not before a lot of self-doubt had bombarded me.

Now I’m facing having to rethink my career. My line at Harlequin is closing next summer, which means my current contract is likely my last with them. I still have a lovely working relationship with my editor and senior editor and everyone I’ve come into contact with at Harlequin, but the numbers are not in my favor. There are probably 80-100 of us who are in the same or similar boat. There simply isn’t enough room to move us all into other lines that are continuing, so I’m thinking about other directions and what is best for me at this point in my life and career. I look at the really successful self-published authors and that’s what I want to aspire to, along with getting a new publisher for my young adult novels, which don’t do particularly well in the realm of self-publishing like other genres such as romance do.

So I have a bit of the impossible (“I’m too late to the game” and “It’s so hard to break out in a crowded marketplace”) and improbable (“It’s not realistic to think I can make five figures a month”) going on in my head, but I’m trying to believe in the inevitability that I will become a bestseller and not only replace my Harlequin income but surpass it. I’m doing lots of reading about positive steps such as mastermind groups and setting goals, the latest market news and promotional strategies, keeping up my daily story idea journal that I blogged about here. While I’m attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference this week, I’m going to soak up all the useful information I can and come back to plot out further strategies for getting to that inevitable stage. After months of not being excited about writing, I can feel the stirrings of excitement again and that, in itself, is exciting.

Being part of this new #upbeatauthors group is definitely helping me to keep my mind pointed in positive directions instead of negative ones. I’m hopeful that all the positive messages that are being shared by the group are helping all of you as well.

Since I’m a lover of quotes, share your favorite quote about being positive. I’ll give away a signed copy of one of my backlist titles to one commenter.

Today is launch day for a new happiness and creativity effort called Upbeat Authors, the idea for which came to me as I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. To put more positive messages out into a world that seems too often to have nothing but bad news and messages of anger, hatred and negativity, I posted on Facebook that I wanted to form a group of authors who would post weekly messages of happiness and positivity. It was obvious within minutes that this was an idea that many fellow authors liked and needed. Our number grew to more than 225 in only two to three days.

I came to read Rubin’s book when it was suggested to me in the aftermath of a large and scary panic attack I had in early June and the subsequent anxiety I’ve been wading my way through. As I searched for physical reasons for my body acting the way it was (it appears it may be at least partially due to a hormone deficiency), the experience made me want to reexamine my life and search for ways to make it happier, more fulfilling and rewarding. Not that I don’t have a happy life. I just think sometimes we can all benefit from slowing down and taking stock of how we’re doing things and see if there are better, more pleasing ways. I had already begun to try to stay away from negative messages that seem to come from all directions these days – social media, news, things you hear in the line at the grocery store. It’s hard sometimes, partially because my old journalist tendencies like to stay informed. It’s a delicate balance. I read books about making physical changes such as eating and exercising to improve health, the various viewpoints on anxiety and how it comes to torment so many people, and positive ways I can make changes regarding my career. It was Rubin’s book, though, that gave me the idea of how even very small changes, often in just how we look at things, can make a big difference.

That realization was the idea behind the theme of our first week of Upbeat Authors, which will be identified by the hashtag #upbeatauthors on social media. Each week we’ll have a different theme designed to help support and inspire fellow authors, our readers and anyone who could use a bit of positivity, a fresh and happy outlook on life and how to live it. This week’s theme is simple pleasures. Each author will be sharing graphics, social media updates, blogs, etc., on this topic and what it means to them. My choice was the peace that can be found by getting out in nature to take a simple walk away from all the electronic devices and the attention they capture in our daily lives. One of my favorite scents is that of a forest after a rain. Then there’s the salty scent of the ocean to be found as I walk along the beach. The sound of the waves is soothing as is the sound of running water over rocks in a creek. This communing with nature always brings a sense of relaxation and stress relief. It’s easier to smile, easier to breathe.

But it’s not only a simple pleasure that costs nothing. Studies have shown that getting out into natural spaces provides physical and mental health benefits. In addition to the physical activity, according to one study referenced in this article from the New York Times, walks in even a “leafy, quiet, park-like portion” of the Stanford University campus led to a decrease in participants’ tendency to brood, or to think about the negative aspects of their lives.

In Scotland, woodland programs are being used to good effect for patients with long-term mental health issues. 

In Japan, heading to the forest for health benefits is known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. According to some studies, it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and increases your immune system defenses.

While I have no doubt there is a scientific explanation for the benefits of spending time in nature, I think at least part of the reason we feel good when we do is because of our historic ties to nature. We once lived much closer to it. We didn’t have to make the effort to spend time outside in the green, breathing fresh air and enjoying the quiet only interrupted by birdsong and the wind in the trees. But while the modern world has conveniences, for sure, we have also perhaps lost a peace of mind and natural stress relief we once had without even thinking about it. It seems perhaps that Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson agreed.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. —Robert Louis Stevenson

So if you’re stressed, anxious, depressed or just need a break from the modern world, I encourage you to indulge in the simple pleasure of getting back to nature for a while. Soak it in and let all the bad stuff flow out.

And I hope you’ll look for the #upbeatauthors posts across all platforms today and each Monday. We hope they brighten your day, and we’d love for you to share them with others. The more people we can reach with messages of happiness and positivity, the better.

 

 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past several months — about writing, my health, my outlook on life, the future, the world in general, etc. While these might seem like disparate topics, I realized that I can put them all under the heading of What Makes Me Happy. I made this realization while reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, in which she chronicled her varied efforts to improve her everyday happiness. The book is a New York Times best-seller, and Rubin has a popular blog about the same topic.

I think I’ve come to this point where I’m examining what makes me happy because of a variety of reasons: my age (I just turned 47 this year); some bouts of anxiety which I’m addressing; world events and an unfortunate increase in negativity on what feels like all fronts; changes in the publishing industry, including the closing of my line at Harlequin next summer and a bout with burnout, that have me reexamining how I’ll make a living from my writing the the future; and a desire to make the most out of the rest of my life without putting panic attack-inducing stress on myself. I need and want balance, positivity, and fulfillment.

As I’ve been examining all these aspects of my life, I also realized that I wanted to share thoughts that I hope might also help and inspire others — be they readers, writers or both. I also realized I’ve been woefully neglecting this blog and the opportunity it affords me to share my thoughts and experiences in a form that won’t quickly disappear down someone’s social media feed. So I’m going to do my best to blog a few times a week about things that I hope you find helpful and hopeful.

First, I’d like to talk about a simple action I took last month and am continuing that is helping me find my creativity again. I think because tight deadlines had me writing the same type of book (even though they are all different in terms of plot and characters) for several books in a row, I started suffering burnout and lost any joy I once had in writing. Getting words down each day felt like a slog through thigh-high mud. It got to the point where I did something I never thought I would — renegotiated the delivery dates on the final two books on my current five-book contract. I hated asking for this because I pride myself on always meeting or often beating my deadlines, for being dependable, a go-to author for my publisher. But as soon as they agreed (bless them), the sense of relief was tremendous. Granted, that extension of my deadlines will leave the last book on this contract in an unsure position at the moment. I still have to write it and deliver it, but it’s original release date is past when the line is ending. But in my efforts to focus on the positive, I have to believe that the story will still make it to my readers in some fashion. There’s nothing I can do, so I have to let it go and not worry about it.

Okay, back to creativity. Fellow author Diana Peterfreund posted to a writer’s group I’m in about an idea-generating event she took part in called Storystorm, which began as Picture Book Idea Month by children’s author Tara Lazar several years ago and later underwent a name change. Once Diana explained it, we did a modified version in this group. The idea is very simple and yet very effective. You write down an idea for a story (novel, novella, short story, a catchy title, an interesting character name, etc.) for each day in a month. Some days you might not think of anything, and other days you might have a flurry of ideas. The goal is to end the month with at least 30 new ideas. They don’t have to be fully-formed synopses; that’s the beauty of it. It frees your mind up to just play with snippets of ideas.

This came just when I needed it. So I raided my stash of paper supplies and pulled out a brand new Mary Englebreit notebook and paired it with a cool purple gel pen Sally Kilpatrick gave me for my birthday (Thanks, Awesome Sally!). I came into the challenge late, halfway through the month, but I was so excited that I’d caught up with 15 ideas within a day or two. And I kept it up after the challenge was over and now have 41 ideas in my little notebook. Some are a little more clear in my mind while others are just vague notions; some are no more than a series of connected character names. Another is an idea for how to engage readers more. I find myself looking everywhere for snippets that could turn into story ideas. It’s made me more observant, more excited about my chosen field again. Only now that I’m feeling that excitement again am I fully realizing how much it had left the building.