I read the book in the fourth grade and it haunted me for years to come. How does one track down a novel when you can't even remember it's title? This is the Halloween-themed story of how I rediscovered my childhood ghost.
As the publication of my third young adult novel, My Summer (with Robots), approached, I began thinking more about those books and stories I read in my youth which still resonate with me today.
It was easy to come up with a list of significant popular fiction from my childhood. Titles such as The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder; Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh; Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George; and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien are all standouts. But as I thought about it, I realized how much I have been influenced by stories found in unexpected places, maybe even tales whose titles I’ve long since forgotten but still linger in the shadowed corners of my mind.
Perhaps the most important of these was a short story called “The Bend of Time” by Howard Goldsmith ,which appeared as installments in Child Life magazine from October 1976 through January 1977.
During the 70s, Child Life was one of a myriad of youth magazines which flooded mailboxes, libraries and school book fairs alike. Others, like Dynamite and Pizzazz, were identifiable by their techno-colored covers and pandering features about the celebrities and pop culture fads. If humor was more your style, you might pick up Cracked and Crazy, imitators of the better known and more irreverent Mad magazine. And for the younger set, there was Jack & Jill, Highlights and, of course, Child Life.
What impressed me about “The Bend of Time” was how dark and sophisticated it was for Child Life, a periodical that specialized in science fiction and mystery but adapted for readers as young as 8. Lavishly illustrated by Werner Willis, the story was about a teenager named Roy who had returned with his parents to help recolonize Earth centuries after the ecosphere became uninhabitable. The family moves into Fallingwater, an abandoned house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright during the early twentieth century. Although constructed to accentuate natural light, the home has been completely boarded up and the living room filled with banks of antiquated computers. Discarded on the floor, Roy finds the faded photograph of a boy about his age. On the photo’s back is written: SUBJECT: KEITH EDWARDS. AGE: 14. INTELLIGENCE LEVEL: SUPERIOR. DATE: AUG. 15, 3220. Over the next few days, Roy begins to have highly realistic dreams of visiting Keith in the boarded up house some 800 years earlier. Roy finally realizes his dreams are slips in time, peeks into an age when humanity was enslaved by a race of sentient robots called Ogolots. When an Ogolot ominously tells Keith he’s been scheduled for removal from the house so his brain can be "studied," the boys escape from Fallingwater with a phalanx of machines hot on their heels.
The story doesn’t end there, of course… but for me there would be a 40 year pause until I could finish reading “The Bend of Time.” You see, back in ’76 my mother didn’t renew Child Life so we never received the January 1977 edition containing the final installment of the story. I have kept the first three issues ever since, occasionally conducting searches through used book shops and online for the highly elusive conclusion. But it wasn’t until last month that I discovered that “The Bend of Time” was originally published in an anthology called More Science Fiction Tales: Crystal Creatures, Bird-Things and Other Weirdies, edited by Roger Elwood. Finding a used copy on Amazon finally allowed me to finish the saga of Roy and Keith.
After the digesting the story in its entirety, I began to realize how it foreshadowed a lot of the same themes I’ve been writing about for years. Whether its supernatural connections between people born to different eras (as in His Life Abiding); my fascination for abandoned places (as in The Men in the Trees); or the curiosity of thinking machines (as in My Summer (with Robots)), inspiration was perhaps divined early on from this short story in a now defunct kids’ magazine.
It may seem strange that I kept these now yellowing magazines all this time, but we all do things similar, don’t we? How many people reading this blog have that dogeared copy of a favorite novel still sitting on their bookshelf? Maybe they even re-read it every few years? After all, the point of good fiction is to impact and inspire.
PS: If anyone reading this happens to own a copy of the January 1977 edition of Child Life magazine containing the final installment of “The Bend of Time” and is willing to part with it, please contact me at email@example.com.
Also, if you happen to know anything of the author, listed as Howard Goldsmith in Child Life but William Danton in the original anthology book, I’d been interested in knowing that too. I’ve not been able to find anything about the man — or even if he wrote anything beyond this single short story. He has become, curiously enough, part of the mystery for me. Thank you!
Regardless of what you’re writing, social media can be a valuable tool to connect an author with his or her readers. At it’s best, it will provide insights, education and entertainment to those you’d ideally like to transform from “followers” to “fans.” At it’s worst, it can become a marketing bludgeon which may eventually drive people away from your feeds — or at least cause them to ignore you.
After about a decade of working with social media, I decided to get serious about it in Fall 2015. I created a social media strategy, set benchmarks, watched my stats and attended workshops and other professional development opportunities to stay current on social media trends. I work at least an hour a day on my social media feeds, creating, scheduling and reviewing both new and curated content. Since then, my online following has increased by 160%. This hardly places me as a social media superstar, but it does underscore that having a plan and carrying it out faithfully can yield results.
As part of my new plan I began watching other author’s media streams, not just for inspiration but also to be mindful of annoying and counter-productive habits. Toward that end, and with my tongue somewhat in my cheek, I present my list of the top 6 things authors should NOT do on social media.
Don’t inflate your success. Have you noticed how every author you’ve never heard of claims to be both “best selling” and “award winning?” In many cases, this is completely disingenuous. There’s no universal standard for measuring a best seller, so unless you’ve made it onto the much coveted New York Times list, doing so is akin to labeling a food “organic” — it sounds good but what does it actually mean? As for book awards, well, these can actually be purchased by authors who have a few hundred (or thousand) dollars to burn. Both of these strategies may give someone bragging rights, but that’s not the same as connecting to your readership. I can’t ever recall purchasing a book just because it was “best selling” or “award winning.” I purchase books because I’m interested in what the author has to say — which is really more important than whatever epaulets they have on their shoulders.
Don’t fake your followers. Speaking of disingenuous social media trends, authors may purchase Twitter or Facebook followers in order to give the illusion that they’re popular. There are a tons of online services that will happily provide you with as many fake followers as you're willing to purchase. Once I published my first book, I was deluged with offers from companies and individuals who promised me thousands of followers for prices as low as $5. If you’re an author who’s just interested in playing a numbers game, more power to you but you may be wasting your money as Twitter, Facebook and the like crack down on "fake accounts." It you’re actually interested in building a loyal social media following, it takes time, dedication and creativity. Twitter has some free tools to help you do this, which you can access here.
Don’t make everything a sales pitch. Every writer wants to sell, but there comes a point where you really need to cool it with the constant sales pitches. Some authors I followed on social media were rebroadcasting the same ads / Amazon links multiple times a day. Does this actually translate into sales? Honestly, I don’t know. Certainly it makes for a dull, obnoxious social media feed that tells you nothing about that author except he or she is a very motivated seller. In my opinion, a better habit is to strategically promote your books (during a special event for example) and then provide occasional free content as well, such as a book giveaway, a short story or an ePub version of an older book. You want to stay in your readers’ mind — but not because you’re obnoxious.
Don’t just use other people’s content. To elaborate on my previous point, it’s important for authors to create something NEW for their followers. Curated and reposted materials are fine if the author’s selective. Simply hitting the “retweet” button on everything tagged #amwriting is not the same as being a thoughtful social media editor. Like a good book, a good social media feed has a voice, a soul and a story to tell. Figure out what those are and only share other people’s content if it helps enhance your message.
Don’t be afraid to follow back. Your readership may have interesting things to say and you can tap into that by following them back on social media. Not only can this be a great way to distill ideas for your next novel, it can also tell you what your audience is hungry for and allow you to engage with them one-on-one.
Finally, please don’t wear fedoras. This seems to be more of a trend among male authors who specialize in crime novels or spy thrillers, apparently borrowing a page from the handbook of Mickey Spillane. For Spillane, the fedora worn at a rakish angle may have been iconic in the mid-twentieth century, but today it’s just a schlocky affectation. This isn’t just about hats, of course. The larger message here is that ridiculous props and costumes can make an author seem pretentious rather than genuine.
Do you have additional tips for authors on social media? If so, use the comments section below to share them.
Back in December 2016, I went hiking with two of my best friends to Seven Falls, a natural area located just north of my home town of Tucson, Arizona. At first blush, such a thing would hardly seem blog-worthy, but for me it was highly cathartic. Before I reached my 50th birthday, which would happen two months later, I was making it a point to reconcile myself with a few things that had happened to me in the previous decades. This had been an ongoing process, started in earnest after I had left Arizona for Oregon in 2010. My reasons for leaving my home state were varied and complicated and I won’t bother addressing them here. But suffice to say that I left behind some unfinished business. In the author’s vernacular, these were incomplete stories, needing just a few more sentences before I could put them away for good.
Thus the hike to Seven Falls.
Like so many other Netflix viewers, I was blown away by Stranger Things. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, the series takes place in 1983 and is a direct homage to the early films of John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg, with perhaps a little Joe Dante and George Romero thrown in for good measure.
In true Spielbergian fashion, the first episode introduces us to four boys playing Dungeons & Dragons late into the evening. The scene is clearly reminiscent of the first few minutes of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), not just for the RPG reference nor the suburban setting, but because of how the mundane is suddenly interrupted by the extraordinary. In the case of Stranger Things, the interruption is not caused by a potato-shaped alien botanist, but a bloodthirsty monster released from an alternate dimension by meddling government types. (Yeah, E.T. had those too if you’ll remember…)
Stranger Things isn’t the first to attempt this kind of throwback. J.J. Abram’s Super 8 (2009) covered similar themes with similar characters, but Stranger Things does it better thanks to its excellent writing, outstanding performances and the sheer creepiness of its execution. Abrams' work, by comparison, got bogged down by his typically over-the-top special effects and world-destroying violence.
But what I realized as I tore my way through the mere eight episodes of Stranger Things is that the creepiest aspect of the show had nothing to do with monsters and everything to do with the disappearance of one of the young role-players named Will (Noah Schnapp).
If you lived through the 1980s, you might recall it was the Era of the Missing Child. And I don’t mean that more children went missing during those ten years, but rather that Americans became suddenly, frantically aware of the issue thanks to the use of mass media.
If you have to put an iconic face to the problem of missing children during the 1980s, it must be that of Etan Patz. The six-year-old vanished while walking to a school bus stop in May 1979. His father was a professional photographer and made many portraits of Etan available to authorities and the media. For years afterwards, tow-headed Etan grinned back at you from the pages of the newspaper, the nightly news, thousands of MISSING CHILD posters… Etan’s face was also the the first to appear on the back of a milk carton, bringing the issue of missing children literally into the family kitchen.
Two years later, Adam Walsh vanished while playing video games in a Sears store. His head was found floating in a canal weeks later and this grievous crime launched his father, John Walsh, on a lifelong crusade to protect children and bring criminals to justice. Walsh’s television show, America’s Most Wanted, ran a whopping 24 years (1988-2012) and was lauded by law enforcement and American presidents alike as an essential public service.
If there was one 1980s child abduction case that impacted me the greatest, it was the 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling. The 11-year-old was riding home on his bike from the local video store when a man in a mask appeared and held he, his younger brother and a friend at gunpoint. The man told the other boys to run away and not look back. Jacob was never seen again. I was in my senior year in college when the Wetterling case broke and, coincidentally, was managing a video rental store. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Jacob and the innumerable kids his age who wandered in and out of my store at all hours of the day and night. Were they at risk, I wondered? Most of them lived just around the corner, but in the Era of the Missing Child it didn’t seem to matter. Apparently you could vanish without a trace doing even the most innocuous things — going to school, playing video games, renting a movie. I remember watching the news night after night, hoping that Jacob would be safely recovered. To this day, his fate remains unknown.
As I watched Stranger Things, I realized that the scenes that affected me the most were those with Winona Ryder and Charlie Heaton (who played Will’s mother and brother, respectively) dealing with their grief of not knowing the boy’s fate. I don’t know if Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer intended Will’s disappearance to be so reflective of other boys like him during the same era. I guess it doesn’t really matter, because it struck a chord no matter what the intent. I can only imagine the anguish that the Wetterlings, the Walshs, the Patzes and other families of missing children still deal with daily. If Stranger Things did one thing for me personally, it was reminding me that monsters needn't come from alternate dimensions. We have plenty of them living among us…
Related Information: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
What author doesn’t crave a stellar review from the New York Times or Publishers Weekly? But for most of us plebes, the chances of getting such an honor are worse than winning a Powerball jackpot. Which begs the question for new, rising, and independent authors — what reviews can you feasibly get without spinning your wheels forever? I’m going to encourage you to concentrate your efforts on reader reviews.
Professional book reviewers like those mentioned above are deluged with requests and simply cannot or will not consider a title by an unknown writer. Additionally, professional reviewers are usually embedded with the publishing establishment and won’t consider books written by independent or unagented authors. They might give a variety of reasons for this, but what it boils down to is they simply don’t consider these writers to be legitimate and thus their work is not worth reviewing.
But don’t feel bad. If you’re an indy author for example, remember that your "thing" is still a relatively new — only about seven years old at this point. Like other trailblazers, you’ll have to pay your dues along the way. Independent filmmakers have been battling the same recognition and legitimacy issue for much longer and are only now making real headway. Heck, indy films are even considered chic these days — a far cry from a few decades ago when brilliant artists were labeled as unimportant because they refused to play the Hollywood game. If you’ve seen any of the films by Jonathan Levine, Nicolas Winding Refn, or Gun van Sant, you’ll agree that “indy” in no way means “untalented” or “illegitimate.” In truth, most of these folks probably just wanted greater control over their own creations, without having to sacrifice their vision to marketeers and studio execs. Sound familiar, authors?
So instead of spending all your time trying to garner reviews from people who won’t give you the time of day unless you’re sanctioned by their industry, concentrate your efforts on engaging with your readers. Having published two books in the last two years, I’ve found that the average reader is much more open to new talent anyway. Honestly, most book enthusiasts just want a good story and they don’t give a flying fuck if the book came out of Simon and Schuster or Amazon’s CreateSpace. Pedigree doesn’t matter as much to their eyes, and a large number of them thrill to discover new authors. The popularity of book sharing sites like Goodreads and Shelfari further enhances your ability to reach your readership and garner their feedback. You can also encourage reader reviews by doing the following:
Once you start getting reader feedback, don’t ignore it. After all, this feedback is coming from the rank-and-file of your audience, the people who actually buy your titles, tell their friends about you, and wait anxiously for your next release. Obtaining their feedback could be extremely valuable as you continue to write, allowing you to better craft your work and ultimately transform your readers into die-hard fans.
As I promised recently on my Facebook page, I'm presenting some of my favorite tales of hauntings, monsters and all-around bizarre stuff leading up to Halloween and the launch of my second book, The Men in the Trees.
I'm starting with the 1901 case of Charlotte Anne E. Moberly and Eleanor F. Jourdain, two English academics whose strange experiences at the palace of Versailles outside Paris became a sensation. I thought this was a great story to start with since these ladies' experiences in France also culminated in a book.
Miss Moberly was the first principal of St. Hugh's College, a prestigious all-women's institution inside Oxford University. Miss Jourdain was Miss Moberly's assistant and ultimately succeeded her as Principal when the latter retired in 1915. Both were daughters of English clergymen and considered themselves devoutly Christian and opposed to the Spiritualism movement which was sweeping Europe and America at the time.
In August 1901, the Jourdain and Moberly headed to France on vacation. They had limited experiences with the country and, by their own admissions, little knowledge of its history and culture. (Part of the reason for the trip was to educate themselves on both.) On August 10, they visited Versailles, the sprawling estate created by the French monarchy before it was abolished in 1792. After the French Revolution which culminated in the execution of King Louis XVI and his unpopular queen, Marie Antoinette, the palace and its gardens were made public. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Versailles was a popular destination spot for tourists.
After touring the main palace, the two women decided to see the Petit Trianon, the estate-within-the-estate created for Marie Antoinette. The reconstruction of this area began shortly after Marie Antoinette married Louis at only nineteen years of age. The queen was easily bored by the intrigues of the royal court, so the entire parcel was reconfigured to entertain her. It contained palatial homes, mysterious grottos, picturesque lakes and trickling streams. One entire hillside was replanted with pine trees to simulate the Swiss mountains the queen remembered from her childhood. Other areas simulated the French countryside, replete with farmlands and a working dairy. All in all, it was an extravagant melding of nature, architecture and imagination... and proof positive of the excesses that led to the Revolution and Marie Antoinette's own death.
As they wandered, Jourdain and Moberly encountered a variety of individuals, buildings and events that appeared to be at least one hundred years removed from their own time. Highlights included:
Unable to explain their experiences, Moberly and Jourdain returned at least three times to Versailles and spent four years quietly researching its history. Although they shared little, even with close friends and family, they finally made their account public in 1905. The book was entitled An Adventure. But its publication came with risks. As women in sexist Edwardian society, they were open to ridicule and even the destruction of their careers. Ultimately, they chose to publish under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Morison and Frances Lamont.
Although it quickly became a best-seller, reaction to An Adventure was mixed at best. The prestigious Society for Psychical Research was critical, stating (correctly) that much of the supporting documentation could've been known to the authors prior to visiting Versailles. Others claimed that the whole account was some kind of mutual fantasy produced by repressed homosexual desires or that they had stumbled upon a fancy-dress party and were too naive to realize it. A more charitable theory supposed that the women experienced a time-slip, a paranormal phenomenon where a living person inadvertently steps through a portal into another era. (For more on this, please reference any of a dozen episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
It ultimately boiled down to a chicken vs. egg argument. Did the women manufacture a carefully researched hoax? Or did they have a legitimate paranormal experience which they attempted to prove through careful research?
Interestingly, James H. Hyslop, Secretary-Treasurer for the American Society of Psychical Research recommended the book, although with some reservations:
"...We can only commend reading [An Adventure] to every one interested in psychic research, regardless of explanations. Of course the first question which every one will ask himself is: "Is this romance or reality?" As the stories are told they seem perfectly incredible, tho psychic researchers are accustomed to quite as startling phenomena. But the manner of telling the story at first suggests a romance and it is only the preface and the appended note by the publishers that tend to inspire trust in the seriousness of the incidents..." – Journal of the American Society of Psychical Research, Volume 5, No. 7, July 1911, pp. 405-06
So does AN ADVENTURE recount a true haunting? Versailles was a place of great drama and suffering, a excellent stage for ghosts of all kinds. To this day, strange phenomenon is regularly reported on the grounds. Moberly and Jourdain even note a long history of hauntings around the Petit Trianon, including sightings of Marie Antoinette:
"That evening when I was preparing to write down my experiences, a French friend whose home was in Paris came into my room, and I asked her, just on the chance, if she knew any story about the haunting of the Petit Trianon. (I had not mentioned our story to her before, nor indeed to anyone.) She said directly that she remembered hearing from friends at Versailles that on a certain day in August Marie Antoinette is regularly seen sitting outside the garden front at the Petit Trianon, with a light flapping hat and a pink dress..." –Personal account by Frances Lamont (Jourdain) in An Adventure, page 21-22.
The controversy around this ghost story has never been resolved. If it is a hoax, it has the distinction of being one of the best researched of all time! If you're interesting in reading An Adventure for yourself, you can do so by clicking here.
It’s official. The editors are done with my new manuscript, The Men in the Trees (TMITT), and it’s headed off to production for an October release date. Like most books, TMITT was a labor which spanned several years. Fortunately, the publication of His Life Abiding (HLA) last spring provided me with some useful insights when it came to completing book number 2. So I’m sharing the five biggest things I’ve learned through the publication of the first book which helped me make TMITT a much stronger novel — I hope!
Additional information on TMITT will be forthcoming soon, so watch this website or follow me on social media for updates.
Know — and approach — your audience.
It would be much harder writing for young adults if I didn’t know any. Fortunately, I raised several of them and have many more who are personal friends. And I pick these young peoples’ brains a lot. Not only do some of them read my manuscripts in draft form, but I also ask them specific questions about how they approach situations, speak to their peers and think about the world. It’s not enough just to draw on my own experiences as a teenager (which are now several decades out of date), but to know how contemporary teens approach life – and literature. Regardless of what audience you write for, do yourself a favor and find someone within your chosen demographic to read your work before it’s finalized.
Don’t assume you can “write” a new character type correctly the first time.
TMITT was particularly challenging to write because it has a female protagonist and it can be inherently hard for men to write women and vice versa. To help with this challenge, I made sure I had multiple women (including teenage girls) read the book. It was an interesting process, because my male editors sometimes pressed me to make the female protagonist behave in a more masculine way. To a person, the female editors disagreed with this advice. In the end, I chose to listen more to the women’s advice because they were, after all, the experts. I wanted to be particularly careful here because I don't like how young women are sometimes portrayed in YA fiction as vapid, boy-crazy morons. I wanted a protagonist who reminded me of the young women and know and admire – intelligent, clever, kind, but still prone to making mistakes or having lapses in judgment. I think this advice is applicable to any writer whose approaching a character decidedly different from themselves, whether that's based on ethnicity, culture, lifestyle or belief system. You run the risk of making your character a parody or a stereotype if you don't do a little research first, and then try to be truthful in your depiction.
I totally get it when authors say “I have to be in the mood to write.” Creativity cannot be forced, but it can be coaxed. If you aren’t disciplined about your writing, nothing will get done. If you don’t believe me, think of all the people you know who say they want to write a book and compare it to how many actually do. Writing is very hard work, and like anything hard you’ll do in your life, it requires discipline and sacrifice. Granted, you may not feel inspired to kick out a brilliant new chapter every night, so I’d recommend having different projects you can alternate between. Don’t feel like writing a new chapter? Work on your agent queries instead. Sick of working on your book? Start that short story you’ve been putting off. You can break up your work load without sacrificing productivity. By being more disciplined, I was able to complete TMITT in half the time it took me to write HLA. And I hope to have the first draft of my third book, My Summer (with Robots), done by the end of this year!
The best writing occurs after the first draft.
Writers can be a temperamental lot, often in love with their own craft and reluctant to make changes. Years ago I had a friend who would froth at the mouth if anyone suggested changes to his work. In his mind, his first draft was perfection — but really this conceit was just the expression of an insecure artist wh preferred to send out a manuscript riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, misstatements and other nonsense than except his own fallibility. Over time, I’ve found my writing improves as it moves from one draft to another. TMITT went through seven drafts in all, and in some ways changed dramatically. If you accept that change can be good, you’ll be more open to improving your work rather than just defending it.
Agents and editors can be wrong.
It makes good sense to listen to the advice of those who are reading and evaluating your manuscript, especially if they are experienced and thoughtful in their criticism. But there’s still a point when you have to dig in your heels and say “no.” I had an agent who read HLA early on and wanted changes. I spent six weeks making the alterations he asked for and, though he acknowledged liking the book even more afterward, still refused to represent me. This experience underscored how all critics, professional and otherwise, have preconceived notions of where they want a story to go which are heavily influenced by their own tastes. The really good editors will provide you with feedback based on how they anticipate your book’s intended audience will react to the work, but it can be difficult to find these people. Whatever feedback you get, no matter how well intentioned, it may not jive with your vision or help you sell your title. Whenever I write anything for publication, I never have fewer than three people read it first and provide feedback. But at the end of the day, it still has to be my decision as to what words are on those pages.
Related Features: Walking for the Sake of Writing | The Writer's Work Space | Has Young Adult Fiction Become Utterly Formulaic?
In my last blog, Walking For the Sake of Writing, I shared some recent studies which showed how walking had a measurable and positive impact on a person’s creativity. The response I got to that blog was very positive, and it got me thinking about how one’s work space can also effect creativity.
When you think about a professional novelist for example, how do you imagine his or her workspace looks? Is it some dimly-lit study with cluttered bookshelves running from floor to ceiling? Is there a large mahogany desk with a dust-covered computer you can barely see behind all the piles of notes, missives and miscellany? Is there a large, high-backed chair behind the desk which has been used so continuously there’s a Homer Simpson-style ass groove down the center of it?
If this is what you imagine, you’re probably in good company as that’s the stereotype of the writer’s work space. In fact, just for fun, I put the search string “writer’s work space” into Google images and that image is exactly what was returned to me over and over again.
But even if you don’t have this kind of room in your home, it did have me thinking about whether the studies on walking and creativity might have some correlation to the kind of environments we create for ourselves as writers. In other words, does having a variable work space increase creativity? Certainly there’s some validity to this idea, as even large corporations are increasingly abandoning cubicles and offices and offering a variety of work spaces, from communal to intimate, both indoor and outdoor. My employer, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, graciously allows me the flexibility or working from home rather than in the tiny cubicle I have on site. When I’m doing creative work for them, particularly writing, design or filmmaking, this flexibility is not only appreciated but beneficial for both parties. I get to vary my work space with fewer distractions and the aquarium gets a higher level of productivity from me.
If you work on cooperative projects, the importance of the writer’s work space can become even more obvious. Over the last twenty years, my friend David and I have produced various projects together. Our most recent efforts really underscored how the work space can effect personally creativity. David liked to work in his home, usually sitting in an upright chair at a desk or table. I preferred to lounge on the sofa with my shoes off and the laptop balanced on my stomach. He disliked the idea of working in public areas such as a coffee shop because he found them distracting. Conversely, I began to itch to mix things up after a short time being in the same surroundings. Certainly our different, somewhat oppositional needs in a work space effected our productivity. When writing on my own, often switching my work space several times, I can easily put in six to eight hours per day. When working with David however, we rarely went longer than three by mutual agreement.
Of course there’s no right or wrong way of organizing a work space. It’s all very individual and it may take some time for a writer to find the formula that works best for him or her. What do you think? What’s your creative space look like?
Back in early 2013, I wrote a blog called “My Wandering Process” which detailed how walking helped me with my writing and other creative endeavors. So it was with great interest that I read an article today from the BBC called “The slow death of purposeless walking” by Finlo Rohrer. The article states in part:
A number of recent books have lauded the connection between walking – just for its own sake – and thinking. But are people losing their love of the purposeless walk?
Walking is a luxury in the West. Very few people, particularly in cities, are obliged to do much of it at all. Cars, bicycles, buses, trams, and trains all beckon.
Instead, walking for any distance is usually a planned leisure activity. Or a health aid. Something to help people lose weight. Or keep their fitness. But there's something else people get from choosing to walk. A place to think.
Of particular interest to me was how many of the world’s great walkers – or at least those mentioned in the article – were also writers. These included Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. Yet most of the creative thinkers mentioned in the article were from an era before what you might call “intentional exercise,” where walking and other forms of movement were invariably aligned to some purpose other than a strictly pleasurable one. And while purposeful exercise is certainly positive, how many people go work out for the cognitive benefits? How many are even aware that such benefits exist?
The article cites an interesting study out of Stanford University called Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. In my aforementioned blog, I noted how walking provides me with the opportunity to “see something different, hear new sounds, breathe fresh air, observe humanity…” But the Stanford study seems to indicate that there’s more to it than just stimulating your various senses.
“The effect [of increased creative ideation] is not simply due to the increased perceptual stimulation of moving through an environment,” the authors noted, “but rather it is due to walking. Whether one is outdoors or on a treadmill, walking improves the generation of novel yet appropriate ideas, and the effect even extends to when people sit down to do their creative work shortly after…”
So the very act of walking stimulates creativity, even if it’s taking place on a treadmill in an empty room where your chances of encountering new sights, sounds and smells is limited. For many however, walking is a waste of time and they resent it. Certainly modern Americans seem to look for ways to fill or soften what they perceive as an annoying activity, whether it’s by plugging into headphones or playing with their smart devices.
If you’re inclined to buck the trend however, the article has some good tips on how to walk in order to maximize the effect on your personal creativity:
Does it work for you? Send me a message and let me know what your process is for stimulating creativity.