Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pentel click erase: If I am going to erase something, I want it gone completely

The best eraser ever.
Every once and awhile I come across something that I just plain like.  I don't want any other thing but it.  The Pentel clic eraser is one of those things. I am a writer that cannot leave behind the shadow of the previous words or lines that came before. It's distracting. If I didn't like them enough to erase them, they better be gone for good. Thus I have grown greatly attached to my clic eraser.

It erases everything. If I am making notes in pencil and I want to rewrite a word or two for clarity's sake, then I will search the house for a Pentel clic eraser. Sure you can buy the soft white polymer erasers in hand-sized rectangles, but they don't have the class of the Pentel clic.  Your hands get them dirty and they get your fingers dirty, too. The clic eraser is clean, remains clean, fits like a pen in the hand and can be placed anywhere a pen can be placed.  I have several that I strategically positioned about the house, my handbag, book bag, desk, work station, etc.

For a time, the Pentel clic erasers were very hard to find, so I hoarded them and would not share.  They seem to have returned to the market, and my students are running around with mechanical erasers, clicking them because they find the snap satisfyingly destructive to the quiet of exam taking.  Along with being a cheap purchase and refillable, they are an allowable entertainment in class.  And they're new (to my students at least).

But I have had this product for years.  I like to draw in pencil, using pictures I have taken on my travels as my models.  I create images by adding and subtracting lines until the right one is finally shaping the perfect curve, shadow or impression.  I erase the rest, and I expect them to disappear completely.  This eraser does that, and I don't have to rest my hand on the paper.  Erasing from a polite distance, that's me.

And that's it. I just wanted to tell about liking this particular version of the trusty eraser.  You can get one anywhere and make what you want to remove gone completely. Sorry, it only works on pencil; bugs, annoying children, homework, and other non-pencil created items will just have to be dealt with in the usual fashion.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Creativity: where does it reside in the brain?

Creativity: Uses your whole brain.
In the past the right brain was established as "conceptual, holistic, intuitive, imaginative and non-verbal" according to the Scientific American article "Is it true that creativity resides in the right hemisphere of the brain?"  It was later replaced by the whole-brain theory which is covered by Ned Herrmann who wrote the article. Basically, according to Herrmann, our brain is balanced.  It must use all parts to create, analyze and implement an idea.  So creativity is a holistic condition, not really a specific site in the brain.  

How can this relate to creativity pursued by writers?  I see it as recognizing the need to both explore through writing (write without reserve or even intention) and followup by demanding that we put our writing through a rigorous testing phase.  I follow my unreserved outflow of words with a more analytical, testing mind to review the work. And then off goes the non-restricted creative process again with new parameters. 

Every time I stop and reread my last thousand words, I am examining them for quality, usefulness, relatability, and connectivity. I adjust, develop, contrast and redesign my writing as I consider how it all makes a whole.  Essentially, I move back and forth between what reaches for anything and what reaches for the specific, and I parley between these two brain activities until I am content with the result.
Better storage

Back on creativity and where it resides in the brain. I suppose it resides everywhere or perhaps where it is most needed in order to solve the problem it is facing.  While researching where in the brain one finds the part marked "reserved for creative thought," I came across an article  questioning whether creativity is a bi-product of intelligence or a quality in and of itself essential to the evolutionary progress.

Certainly, I have heard in a long ago history class that society does not have time for culture until it has dealt with the needs of survival and is able to store enough food stuffs and necessary items to carry it through seasons of low availability.  I suppose one could use that point to argue that creativity is just bi-product and creativity is not a separate necessary aspect of survival. For only after all needs are met can the people of a village find time to decorate the necessities of life with engravings, fabrics and color.  However, it seems to me and others that those abilities don't just suddenly arrive unfostered out of the air.

Just coming up with the idea that increases production of necessary foodstuffs counters that theory.  For the idea of how to store product long enough to gain excess time to give over to less essential activities is proof of creativity.  Painting, carving, decorative weaving and embroidery are extensions of already necessary skills which means that creativity and its various supporting brain characteristics come part and parcel with all other thinking demands. 

creativity: lovely and necessary
The point of all this questioning over the location of creativity in the brain is to focus on the fact that we need all that our minds encompass to be strengthened.  Read, argue, examine, consider, connect, research, reach, etc.; do all brainy things that challenge and develop our thinking.  Creativity doesn't recline among the brain cells eating chocolates; it searches, gathers and prances about.

Another study deals with the location and quantity of dopamine which apparently is the key chemical ingredient of creativity according to a variety of scientists.  But there are so many approaches to examining this key chemical and its interaction with the brain.  A study in Sweden linked dopamine D2 filtering in the thalamus to creativity based on the degree of filtering. Two groups have this feature (a greater number of unusual/unfiltered ideas could slide through): "highly creative healthy adults" and adults suffering from schizophrenia.  (The actual paper on this study is located at this site.)  I love the statement that this lower filtering could be described as "Thinking outside a less intact box."  I had this image of my ideas looking out of a mesh at the active real world beyond (slightly ironic as we are talking about writing in the creative form, not reality), waiting in line to slip through and become part of a story, poem, etc. The assumption is that "highly creative healthy adults" know the difference between reality and a created world.

More studies: Yet a second study linked high concentrations of dopamine as a sign of high creativity.  They were tracking what parts of the brain have high concentrations.  Presumably creative people tended to have more areas of greater concentration.  Also a theory presented in Alice Flaherty's study supports the idea that creativity occurred along these "dopamine pathways." I suppose when combined with the previous study, one could say high concentrations encourage more "divergent" ideas which then were lightly filtered, providing more creativity to the individual.

Creativity does not have to worry about being a wall flower in the scientific study party.  I found numerous papers discussing all sorts of research on how it works, where it is and how to get it to be more active.  So I am stopping here on the various articles I read.  But if you wish, Google "dopamine and increasing creativity" or check out this link on a study of the writing mind.

So what are you doing to channel your creativity? How do you incorporate your whole brain?

Extra credit value: Herrmann also said that male and female brains go about idea generating differently, so it is necessary that research groups have both sexes present.  Hmm, so writers, here is yet another argument you can use to encourage your spouse to participate in your writing as both muse and criticizer.  


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Creativity: Research your way to inspired writing

Sometimes hitting the books (internet, encyclopedia, local expert) is the best way to galvanize creativity. Immerse yourself in something that interests you. The information may not become useful right away, but then an internal click will sound and that knowledge will have a place.

An unplanned immersion for me has been Alzheimer's and Dementia. My father-in-law and my step-mother are quickly declining as these two age-generated illnesses take over and take from their lives. I wish I didn't have to know how this is effecting these two lovely and important people in my life.  I wish I wasn't learning how it will continue to progress, destroying who they are and who is important to them. I wish I was not aware of how my mother-in-law is trying everything she can to slow the loss of what makes her husband unique, even knowing it is snowballing, just infinitesimally slower than it would have had she not made the effort.  I wish that when I call my mom I don't feel as if some stranger has answered the phone and I am trying to make a good impression. But all this new knowledge is attaching itself to a novel idea which came out of another area of unanticipated knowledge gain.

building creativity
My family is building a house completely by ourselves. And as I write this, my husband is laying Zip System sheeting on the roof rafters.  I have learned about digging a trench for the foundation, setting up concrete forms for that foundation, making everything square, rebar bending and placement, concrete pouring, stem wall bolts, window and door headers, floor and ceiling joists, window framing, and rafter tying. Those are just terms.  But I know how they fit together now, the many different types of nails and screws used, the back-cramping effort of smoothing quickly drying concrete, how to use wall jacks to raise long spans; it is more than I anticipated knowing when I joined my husband's dream of building our own house for our retirement years (still far in the future).  I have become a champion hole digger, perfectly square, and I think holes can actually be described as beautiful; who'd have thought?

What I didn't expect from these two forced gains in knowledge, experience and understanding (we might add torture, but I want to keep this positive) is that the two would link up and inspire me to write a contemporary novel.  I write science fiction, folks!

The moral of this story is use the knowledge you have gained in life and extend it through research, conversation and attention to the details around you. It will inspire you and take you to new areas of creativity and written expression. That's after all what writers are all about, taking today (with all that came before) and turning it into words tomorrow.

What knowledge base has brought inspiration to you and found its way into your writing?  What interest could you pursue greater understanding of and use to provide specificity and inspiration to your writing?


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Creativity: Multitasking the process

Multitask the process of writing
Let's face it, if you are working at a job that you enjoy and that also pays the bills and writing for publication in your free time, than multitasking is probably a necessary evil. I don't advocate the idea of using up every moment for productive result at all times: cleaning house, writing, food preparation, outdoor maintenance, etc., leaving yourself without a moment to sit and relax, read a book, talk silly with someone, enjoy the view, and so on. But if you are in the same situation I and many other writers are, you are squeezing time out of anything not related to work and family.

You are multitasking for your craft during the precious moments you have garnered.

I have my own approach to this process.  When the opportunity to write is present, I do the following:
  • When I am writing a first draft, I focus all my creative energies on that work. For the most part, I won't turn to any other writing until the draft is done.
  • If I am in redraft, everything changes.  (And you are going to see the paradox of this in relation to the first point.) That's when I move about from work to work.
    • I redraft two ways: clarifying what is already written and adding scenes that expand and develop.
    • I plan out my next novel first with Freemind, brainstorming simple hints and ideas I have about plot and character. 
    • Next I break down each scene and enter them into yWriter for later development.
    • I edit the current work that I am preparing for publication.
    • If I have sent out a draft to my beta readers, than I jump into writing my next novel, but...
    • If at any time an idea or needed expansion scene comes to mind for the work that is out for feedback, I'll drop what I am doing and return to that work.
    • I work on cover art, blurbs, make changes to social media backgrounds to reflect new or upcoming publications, and generally organize files.
    • I back up in two other drives (flash and external drives) everything I have going on.
    • If I am beta reading or editing for a writer friend, then I will give over a couple of weeks to that as they arrive.
 What does this look like in real time?  Let me show what last year looked like.
Real time (wish it had time travel button)
  1.  The book I was anticipating publishing had the working title Time 3. It was already drafted to the point that I needed my beta reader to look at it. She had sent me her newest work for beta read and I had just finished with that.  So I sent mine off to her in October.  (My year always starts in September, teacher and all that.)
  2. I then turned to the work that I had in first draft, Time 4, and began refining and adding scenes.  My beta reader anticipated getting her response back by November, but I had told her to take her time fitting it in to her drafting schedule and did not expect it back before December.
  3. Every now and then a flash of concern over a scene would come to mind for Time 3, and I would open it up, make some additions and then return to 4.
  4. December was just around the corner and my beta reader was expecting to get it to me by then. I asked her to delay as things were moving so well on Time 4 that I did not want the tug to redraft (damn near wrenching grasp) that would occur when her comments came back. So she held off sending while I wrote madly on Time 4. 
  5. January, I gave her the go ahead.  
  6. Worked with my beta buddy and husband to come up with a strong title for Time 3. (I now have titles for books I haven't even thought of!)
  7. My mind was beginning to wander onto Time 5, already mapped in Freemind. I started making scene notes in yWriter.
  8. Time 4 was reaching a state of full draft and then I realized where I was ending it was not really the end. Back into mapping, and scene notes to plan out the new ending: Characters! Sometimes they yell, "Hey, we're not done. What about...."  Mine were screaming and waving, and generally making irresistible sense.
  9. March, put Time 3 through another redraft per beta reader inspiration.
  10. April, working on the house and in strode contemporary novel idea.  Amazing what can come to you when you're digging foundation holes for concrete.  Stopped work on Time 3 & 4 to begin mapping, character design and scene planning.
  11. Returned to Time 4.
  12. Still April, sent Time 3 off to a second beta reader.
  13. Returned to Time 4 to develop new ending.
  14. May, received Time 3's new feedback.  And made adjustments to clear up issues.
  15. July put Time 3 through numerous edits: line, content, reverse, search and replace, formatting.
  16. Revised two book covers and updated various necessary sites. Designed cover art for Time 3 and Time 4. Prepared the blurb.
  17. Last day of July published Next Time We Meet (Time 3) on Smashwords and Amazon.
  18. In July, I received a novel to beta read.  I got to it in August. I took a couple weeks to read and draft comments on my friend's book.
  19. August, returned to work on Time 4.
  20. Designed cover art for omnibus three book box set for all books currently published for the Students of Jump series (In Times Passed, No-time like the Present, Next Time We Meet.)
  21. Returned to preparing for the new school year.  I haven't added to any of my ongoing projects since August 11.  Time 4 still has a patchwork ending.  My contemporary fiction idea is barely planned out, and Time 5 is looking a bit bleary eyed.
  22. So in the little bits of time that I have available, I am tweeting, reading, visiting Goodreads and Google+, and blogging.
  23. And since December 2013, my hubby, daughter and I have been building a house.  Roof is going on this month.
  24. But I managed to read three of the Divergent books, two YA books my daughter wanted me to read, all four of Jodi Taylor's St. Mary's books.  Another novel by Taylor.   Connie Willis's Passage, and three other time travel books, both Patterson's Heinlein biographies, and King's On Writing.  So I do relax now and then (hmm, or do research depending on how you look at it). And I tweeted, blogged, found pics for Pinterest, commented....
And how do you run your never-take-a-moment-to-sit-down-and-do-nothing writing?