Tag Archives: creativity

Train the Brain to Write at Night Again

RedPenWorkThe marvelous Tam MacNeil (Go check out her books! She’s awesome!) brought up on Twitter the advantages of freelancing—namely, making your own schedule to make best use of one’s most creative hours. (She brought up the downsides, too, but let’s not speak of those right now…)

(My, I’m feeling parenthetical today.)

My own most creative hours have almost always been in the evenings. Truly, I blame twenty years of theater for training my brain from childhood to work in the make-believe world of rehearsals and performances more nights than not. Heck, when I started writing in earnest, I even kept a notebook backstage so I could write between stage-time.

After theater came karate.  When I started training, then teaching, karate way back when, it cut into my writing time a few times a week, but I adapted. When my teaching went fulltime… Ouch. I mean, I adapted somewhat by using afternoon hours, but it always felt as if I was really rolling just about the time I had to stop writing to put on a gi and head out to the dojo.

Writing after teaching wasn’t very productive. Really, teaching well and with energy is a creative process in itself, and I don’t deny there’s performance art involved in keeping the attention of dozens of students over the course of the evening. Four hours on the mat, teaching the way I do, didn’t always leave much energy for writing.

So now I’ve been in Colorado about five months, not teaching at all. This is so weird and disturbing to my internal clock and creative brain. Between five and six o’clock, I start fidgeting, pacing, cleaning the kitchen, running kata while I wait for clothes to come out of the dryer, thinking I might want to paint all the walls and install a drop ceiling in the basement… You get the idea.

Just as theater trained me to be creative during certain hours (and to preferring late nights over early mornings), teaching karate taught my body to spend the evening in physical action.

These two trained behaviors are now in conflict, you see. I cannot write well while punching a heavy bag. Alas.

Of course, the brain can be retrained, and it’ll take time. I’m still holding out hope I can find a place to train in the next couple months, but that’ll be only two or three nights a week. The other nights will require work. My current workaround is to leave the house around “teaching time” a couple nights a week, giving in to my body’s need to go somewhere for work, and spend time in the local coffee shop or pub. Doing this ups my productivity immensely, but costs money. The coffee shop gift cards I received for my birthday do help. Alas, I have no pub gift card, so must keep that an occasional treat. 🙂

(No, the library is not an option. It’s a traffic-filled drive to find a branch open past 6pm.)

So that’s what I’m able to do: trick my body into believing we’re leaving for work so the brain will hit the proper writerly space. I’m rather curious what it would take to change forty years of “nights are for creativity” habits, but not so curious as to struggle to write in the early morning… unless that becomes the sole option at some future date.

(Sends out please-no-not-that vibes.)

I blame theater in general, and working with Shakespeare’s works in particular, for many things in my writing—the black box, the starting place of dialog, the focus on character, my penchant for tragic death, and my love for the wise and noble fool. Now I blame it for when my writerly brain is most willing to cooperate with me.

Still doesn’t make me want to perform or direct again.

Unless, maybe, someone needs a Volumnia.

#SFWApro

 

The Light Beyond the Wet Blanket

100_2648Back at this post, we talked about throwing away the Wet Blanket—turning off the part of your prefrontal cortex that inhibits creativity—in order to use new writing skills and be creative at the same time.

It’s easy to say.  There are writers who have, it would seem, a natural ability to bypass the Wet Blanket or perhaps have no Wet Blanket at all.  Hearing their advice—”Just do it!”—can be so frustrating because the fact you can’t just do it makes you feel like a failure or an imposter.  It’s even worse when the advice is coupled with judgment about a writer’s worth that’s based on this single measure.

But know this, my darlings: Very few writers can “just do it,” and natural ability is no indication of future success.  The fact your creativity doesn’t perform on command is normal.  Tapping your creativity can be learned.  But it is also, unquestionably, difficult at times.  And the most difficult time is when you’re actively working to improve your skills.

Research performed at the University of Pennsylvania found free and creative thinking could be enhanced by inhibiting the left prefrontal cortex with a mild electrical current.  Shocking your brain sounds a tad extreme for home use—not the sort of DIY project I’d recommend—so let’s see what else we can do, hmm?

Continue reading The Light Beyond the Wet Blanket

Throwing Off the Wet Blanket

100_2471It happens to a bunch of writers—particularly those writers who are enthusiastic storytellers and seeking better ways to write those stories.  (Perhaps writers like those who have attended, and are currently attending Viable Paradise.  Just maybe.)

You spend years writing stories as quickly as your fingers can fly across the keyboard, thrilled with the ideas, the characters, the dialogue, the action, EVEYTHING.  Every stolen moment is spent adding to the word count, and those stolen moments are absolutely necessary because the story is always right there at the edge of your thoughts.  It’s ready.  You’re ready.  It’s all flow.  You are the ruler of all story!

Then you learn a New Thing—possibly the most wonderful and accurate and encouraging New Thing any writer could dream of—and yet your stories grind to a halt.  Words that once spilled effortlessly onto the page become painful little treasures to be counted one at a time as they are pushed through the keyboard.  Days that used to yield thousands of fantastic, reader-believed words might now give you a few hundred painfully-awkward words that’ll need much revising.  Stories that used to seem so natural and alive and perfect now sound stilted and dull and derivative.  Everything is wrong.

You wonder what sort of fever-dream led you to believe you could string words together at all.

Continue reading Throwing Off the Wet Blanket

Five Fonts of Happiness

Mmm… Chinese food…

Ahem.

Five things that make me happy. Very well.

First, that mention of Chinese food does indeed make me happy. Mentioning Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern, American, Indian and European food makes me happy, too. I love food. I adore food. I don’t consider myself a foodie, or a great cook, or even a discerning eater. But taste and scent and texture—and sharing that experience with others—is a great joy. I remember the immense pleasure of eating fresh cilantro atop carne asada for the first time. I can recall the sweet tang of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, tossed with feta and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. My mouth waters over what I was served at an Indian restaurant in Salt Lake City, though I can’t tell you what it was called. The fried green tomatoes and chutney I ate in Charleston were a delight. Tarragon chicken. Burgers and onion rings. Cannelloni con asparagi. Moo shu. Noodles with butter, garlic and oregano. Sweet corn. Beef barley stew. Cheesecake. Naan. Fried mushrooms. Hummus. French fries. Marinara. Steaks. Oh, yes, steaks. Food makes me smile from the inside out.

Unless it involves fish, and then I really don’t want anything to do with it.

Continue reading Five Fonts of Happiness