Nancy: Can Creativity Be Scheduled?

Week 1 of My 12-Week Year Creativity Schedule. I might have gotten a little carried away…Note that I did not schedule transition time between major activities. Or  lunch time.

There many, many schools of thought regarding creativity, grasshopper. Looking specifically at writing, there are pantsers and plotters, planners and wingers, outline enthusiasts, outline eschewers, thumbnail sketch makers, muse-seeking free spirits, spreadsheet weirdos (raises hand). It seems creativity refuses to be contained. You can’t put creativity in a corner!

But can you put creativity in a time block on a calendar?

Ever willing to be a cautionary tale, I threw myself on the sword of research with an intense productivity system, called the 12-Week Year, so I can report my findings. For more information about this system and how to implement it, there are books, courses, and seminars. Boiling it down for you, the idea is based on data that suggest companies (and individual employees), when aligning to their annual plans, see a burst of productivity and forward progress during the last three months of their fiscal years. Why? Continue reading

Nancy: How Story Shapes Our Brains

How long did the last fiction book you finished stick with you? What about the romance or mystery or classic you read over and over again as a teen? How about the books your parents read to you before you were old enough to read on your own? Turns out, the fiction we read might just be making us more engaged, empathetic humans according to researchers studying the brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We’ve known this for a while now.

In a New York Times article published more than five years ago, Annie Murphy Paul reported: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated…Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.” Wow, heady stuff, you authors out there.

I’ve been pondering the power of story a lot lately as I’ve realized just how many of my foundational beliefs have their roots in Dr. Seuss stories. Continue reading

Nancy: The Most Important Question You’ll Ask Your Characters

We writers ask our characters a lot of questions. Who are you? What do you want? How will you get it? What are you willing to suffer, sacrifice, and change to reach your goal? If and when you reach it, are you sure that’s the thing you really want, after all?

These are all important questions. They are fundamental to building believable characters. But they aren’t enough to get to the heart of your story. To do that, you have to ask your characters why? Not just once or twice or even three times, but over and over again. Ask it until there is nothing more to uncover, until it seems your characters have nothing left to say. And then ask it one more time.

The importance of the question ‘why’ is a core concept of Lisa Cron’s Story Genius approach to writing. It makes sense. Of course we want to know why our characters do what they do. One way to learn why our characters want and do and react the way they do is to add whys throughout our development process. So what do you want? is followed by why do you want that?. How will you get it? is followed by why is that the path you’ll take?. Etc., etc. Ad infinitum.

And when should you stop asking why? Continue reading

Nancy: Retreat, Recharge, and Reclaim Your Writing Mojo

This past weekend, I got to do one of my favorite writing things. I joined good friends (all writers, go figure) and had a writing retreat: two and a half days of working on my own stories, hearing about others’ work, sharing story (books, movies) recommendations, and discussing the ever-evolving publishing industry. Now all we need are house elves to deliver coffee and wine chairside, and we’ll have perfected the art of the writers’ retreat.

In the early days of the 8LW blog, I talked about my writing retreats with this particular group of writing friends. A few years later, I was lucky enough to gather with the other Eight Ladies in Arizona for a retreat of our own, which inspired me to share my top five favorite things about these outings (spoiler alert: number one on my list is bonding with fab friends). Now it’s 2017, time for our bi-annual reminder that writing retreats are an awesome thing, and if you are a writer as well as a joiner of any kind, getting out of your writing cave and spending time around real, live people might just be the thing to kick-start your creativity and reconnect you to the joy of writing.

Continue reading

Nancy: Who Did It Better? Books Turned Into TV Phenomena

Have you ever seen the columns in entertainment magazines where they show two celebrities caught at different events wearing (gasp!) the same outfit? The column writer typically opines about who wore it better and why. A quick google search showed that these columns do, in fact, exist in the digital world, opening up the floor for everyone with a keyboard and an opinion to weigh in on the matter.

We humans love our comparisons. Remember compare and contrast writing exercises in elementary school? Comparative Literature?  Ever been given the advice to pitch your book by comparing it others already out in the marketplace?

Recently, I recalled a high school lit project that required us to pick a topic from a list of maybe 10, develop a thesis around it, and use the books we’d read by that point in the course to support it. I chose to write about whether classic books or movies made from classic books were better. (Spoiler alert: It was a literature class. This one came with a built-in answer, especially if you liked getting A’s as much as I did.) So, yes, using two classics, A Tale of Two Cities and Wuthering Heights – both books I loved in high school, by the way – I came to the astonishing conclusion that the books did a better job of presenting themes, metaphors, and character studies. Continue reading

Nancy: Writing Around the Web

Sometimes when writers are neck-deep in our own ideas and stories, we turn to other fiction for a mental reboot. Other times, it’s non-fiction, perhaps craft books. For the past week, I’ve been thumbing through Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story and Story Genius as I continue developing a novel with her brain science technique. For fun, I’ve been reading Stephon Alexander’s The Jazz of Physics. (Yes, that really is what passes for fun in my world.)

When I need a quicker fix, a quick shot of creative inspiration, or just a boost in the will to go on (because some writing days are just So. Damn. Hard.), I like to visit some familiar haunts on the web. A few posts have really struck a chord with me these past few weeks. If you feel yourself needing a boost, check out these articles for yourself, and poke around these sites – there’s so much good stuff to discover!

Arghink. This is the blog of Jennifer Crusie, mentor of the 8LW crew. Jenny’s blog is always chock full of great information, fun, and community, but recently, she’s also been sharing early drafts and revisions of her WIP. And it is as amazing as it sounds. Ever the teacher, Jenny is also sharing the way she approaches revisions. Continue reading

Nancy: 5 Things I Learned from Krav Maga (That Might or Might Not Apply to Writing)

I might have mentioned a few (hundred) times here on the blog that I love a good physical challenge. A few years ago, I had an idea for one that would not only get me in better shape, but would also train me in self defense. So I started searching for Krav Maga classes. Before I could sign up and start kicking ass, I broke my finger.

Fast forward a year and a half. Did I mention it was a serious break? So yeah, a year and half later, I finally signed up for a 6-week introductory class to the fighting style developed by the Israeli Army. And hey, they developed it so anyone of any age and fitness level could learn defensive fighting quickly and easily! So said one of my instructors while he had us doing brutal sprints and one-arm planks at the end of hour-long, full-out hitting and kicking sessions, when I was pretty sure I was going to die of exhaustion.

After expending so much energy, sweat, and – not gonna lie – a few tears, though thankfully no blood, I feel stronger and maybe a little better prepared to take up a fighting stance and protect myself if it ever becomes necessary. But I like to get a big return on my investment, and I can find writing lessons in almost anything, so behold my Lessons from Krav Maga: Writing Edition.

1) Don’t be surprised; be prepared.  If I had to boil my Krav Maga experience down to one line, this would be it. While the techniques do teach you how to fight (and flee!) effectively, there’s more to surviving a street fight than that. You have to be prepared for the unexpected and ready to fight the unknown.  Continue reading