The Elegance of Reading on Your Writing

Photo of a hedgehogIt has been eons since I’ve written anything here on my blog, and for that I apologize. It’s not because I haven’t thought of you, my fabulous readers/followers, because believe me, I have…often.

The reason my blog has been silent for so long is because my life has been so packed with running, racing, and coaching—my other passions–that something had to give.

That something…which I can barely admit here because it’s truly unthinkable…is…reading.

Gasp. I know.

Considering how much I love to read, it’s not something I ever imagined I’d let happen. But being in constant motion over this past year, I could never keep my eyes open long enough to get to the bottom of a page, or stay focused long enough to swim in the magic of words on a Sunday afternoon.

And here’s the thing: without reading, there is no writing. At least no creative writing.

It’s that painfully simple.

When you are not enveloped in the beauty of language and pulled where your senses are awash in imagination, writing takes on a different quality. Oh sure, you can still knock out little blips here and there, and if you’re lucky, you might even be able to eke out a gem or two, but to fully tap into your inner-writing amazing-ness, you’ve got to read.

Fortunately, after far too long, I’ve finally crossed back into the literary world, thanks to a morning run up the street with my dog.

Photo of neighborhood lending library

Our sweet neighbors set up a little neighborhood lending library in front of their house (yes, I live in Mayberry, thank you very much). On a whim I grabbed The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

That’s all it took.

The writing is so fine, I lingered over words and sentences longer than my morning cup of coffee (if you know me, you know how long that can be). We’re talking goosebump producing prose, and characters that make you continually contemplate the over-arching beauty and complexity of the world around us.

After reading this book, I feel like I can breathe again, like my right arm has been reattached, and I’m suddenly back to where I cannot ‘not write.’ It’s the same feeling I had when I knocked out over a dozen chapters of my book in progress, The Art of an Improbable Life, while at the same time writing magazine articles, blog posts and three-quarters of a novel—one whose ending still bumps around in my head.

Who knew that reading could have such a profound affect on one’s writing? Well, of course we all know how important reading is, but until you’ve survived a literary drought, you will never fully understand the depths of its importance.

Now that I’ve finished Barbery’s masterpiece, my mind is gleefully spinning, trying to decide which book to linger over next. I’m searching for one just as compelling as the last so I don’t let old habits creep back in and let other responsibilities become more important than my precious reading time.

Do you have any book recommendations for me? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo of doggy running partner, Doodles

 

PS: In the meantime, I thought I’d share a picture of my big brown running partner, Doodles. This was taken on a rare rainy day here in CA. He doesn’t go far, but somehow he always manages to take me where I need to be–like the lending library up the street.


Doodles Dispatch: Secret Guest Post and Giveaway

Labradoodle Blog Post Portrait

Hi there. Doodles, here.

My mom is super busy right now shipping out all the inspirational calendars she created, so while she’s wrapped up in that project, I thought I’d log on to her computer and share my Doodlicious two cents with you. Sneaky, huh?

Before I give you the dish though, I gotta tell you this great joke.

Ready? Okay, here it goes:

Q. What do you get when you cross a Beatle and an Australian dog?
A. Dingo Starr!

Baa haa haa. I crack myself up! Oh man…“This Dog is on Firrre!”

Oh-oh, I better pipe down before it get caught. I just heard my mom—the one they call Becky—walk down the hall. If she finds out I’m on her computer, she’s going to kill me—especially since I plan to share a few family secrets. Shhhhhhh.

First of all, you probably already sense this, but Continue reading

Favorite Five Friday: Habits that Stir My Imagination

It’s easy to be inspired, motivated, “on fire” when you first launch a project. When the glow of excitement fades though, you need to fall back on your habits to keep you moving in the direction of reaching your goal and completing your masterpiece. Here are a few habits I rely on to keep my imagination factory pumping and propelling me forward.

Favorite Five Friday Habits that Stir My Imagination

“Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going”–Jim Rohn

What habits do you rely on to stir your imagination? Please share! When I wrote #5 on my list, I was thinking of many of you who often inspire me by the way you view the world. 

Favorite Five Friday: Quotes about Creativity

As the magic of autumn begins sending its creative sparks through the air, I can think of no better time to share some of my favorite quotes about creativity.

Favorite Five Friday Quotes about Creativity

What are your favorite quotes or ideas about creativity? Leave your comment in the comment box. I’d love to hear from you! Happy Friday everybody!

Positively Counteracting the Ninnies in Washington

This morning I was so filled with disgust about the toddlers running our government that I was ready to write a rant like no other. But then I stopped before I even got started, deciding that my writing tantrum would be akin to their childish behavior. And there’s nothing more absurd than grown, thinking people carrying on like two-year olds when they don’t get their way.

I also decided that I didn’t want to waste another ounce of my precious energy on all this negativity. So off went CNN. Away went every browser blasting headlines about the shutdown. And up went my blog.

Hello awesome peeps!

I decided the best way to counteract these ninnies in Washington is to surround myself with positive, creative, motivated people like YOU.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m mad as hell like everybody else, and feel our elected officials are an embarrassment to our nation right now, but I can see beyond these self-absorbed nitwits to our extraordinary country, which is brimming with smart, caring, talented and creative people.

So what do you think? Instead of giving our so-called “leaders” any more of our attention as they puff and spout and lay on the floor kicking their arms and legs, what do you say we tune them out and DWELL IN POSITIVITY? As in… Continue reading

Inspiration in a Time Capsule

The other day my friend Sarah sent me a fun link about a lost time capsule recently found in Aspen by the crew of National Geographic Channel’s Diggers. The capsule was from the 1983 Aspen International Design Conference and it contained a bit of tech history–Steve Jobs’ mouse from his first LISA computer, along with an eight-track recording of The Moody Blues, a Sears Roebuck catalog, the June 1983 issue of Vogue, a Rubik’s Cube and a six-pack of beer.

Photo of time capsule from the 1983 Aspen International Design Conference

Credit National Geographic Channel

When I read the story, I chuckled out loud and thought, Only in Aspen, as a wave of nostalgia washed over me about the town my husband, Jeffrey Aaronson, and I called home for so many years.

It also reminded me just how much I love time capsules.

In fact, every New Year’s Eve I put my family through the same exercise—creating a written time capsule in which we list all our favorite things and most interesting moments from the year, along with epic world and national events. We often include photos and a few mementos that capture the spirit of our year. Then, so we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we unceremoniously bury it in the junk drawer.

I have to admit, I’ve already unearthed a couple time capsules from five or six years ago, and even in that short time, they already feel historic and full of whimsy. The best part is that I know I never would have remembered some of the things we documented, had we not written them down at the time.

Drawing of the Pearl Chase HouseTime capsules come in all forms—some of the most interesting ones are unintended, arriving out of necessity or happenstance. Being lovers of old houses, Jeffrey and I have bought and sold and renovated several historic Victorians, a Craftsman and even a barn. During those renovations we’ve almost always found interesting items stuffed in the walls—things like newspapers from the 1880s, used as insulation, or historic tools or tidbits buried beneath the foundation. Each time those discoveries  have made us stop and linger, thinking about previous owners and bygone eras.

In some ways being a writer is like creating small time capsules for others to discover, and hopefully enjoy and reflect upon.  Continue reading

A Story to Be Told…

Last year I was so inspired by my blogging friend, Monica Medina, and the clever progressive story project she created on her blog, Monica’s Tangled Web, I thought I’d give it a whirl myself. Monica simply posted a photograph and wrote the opening sentence to the story. Her readers then took the story and ran with it, adding new plot elements or emotional twists by leaving their contributions in her blog’s comment box. The story ended up being wildly creative and memorable.

So here it goes…based on the photograph below and my opening sentence, please join the fun and help create a story with me.

It’s important that you number your comment so that each person’s new sentence or idea flows in the correct order. For example, if you write the next sentence following my opener, you’d simply write 2. blah blah blah…. The next person would write 3. blah blah blah…. Simple, huh?

From time to time I may throw in a line or two along the way to keep the story going. When it feels like the story has come to its natural conclusion, I will post it in its entirety so you can marvel at your creativity.

Photo of an autumn scene with a woman walking

Here’s the opener:

I never imagined I’d be here at this moment in my life, but…


Draw Your Lines Any (Damn) Way You Like, Sweet Bug

It has been a summer of art at our house. My hubby has been hunkered down in his art studio working away on his new project, I’ve been writing into the wee hours of the night, and our daughter has been painting her way through a swirl of art camps.

It has all been delightful.

Sweet Bug Art-Children's ArtSweet Bug Art 4 Children's Art Sydney Opera HouseSweet Bug Art Children's Art

That is until last week.

Continue reading

Book Review–Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

Imagine Book Cover Jonah LehrerThe other night I had the privilege of listening to author, Jonah Lehrer, speak about his best-selling book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.

When 31-year old Rhodes Scholar and Wired editor, Lehrer, sauntered onto the stage at UCSB, smiled through his urban-hip geeky glasses, then started spewing insights in his highly-caffeinated manner, I felt like I’d just been hit with a double-espresso shot of inspiration.

Lehrer’s talk flowed just like his book, mixing neuroscience and entertaining anecdotes about famous creative breakthroughs and aha moments.

He shared stories about a wide range of characters—everyone from poets, musicians, and advertising executives to inventors, scientists and educators, deconstructing the process of how we accomplish some of our greatest feats of creativity.

Photo of Jonah Lehrer, author of ImagineWhile Imagine has been blasted in several reviews for scientific inaccuracies (The Guardian and The New York Times, in particular), I find this book irresistible.

None of the information on its own is necessarily groundbreaking, but the way in which Lehrer presents it with his fine writing, connecting the creative dots, and making the science approachable for non-scientific readers, creates a book that is not only delightful, but enlightening.

I knew Imagine was for me when the author kicked off the first chapter describing the genesis of one of Bob Dylan’s best-known songs, Like a Rolling Stone. Dylan, who was burned out at the time—sick of his music and sick of other people’s expectations of him—got on his Triumph motorcycle sans guitar and headed to an empty house in Woodstock. There, after essentially quitting and letting it all go, he ended up creating one of the most inspired pieces of his musical career.

Lehrer hands us one entertaining anecdote after another then peppers it with science, explaining why a particular breakthrough may have occurred. There’s the tale of how masking tape was invented and other common items like Post-it Notes and the Swiffer mop, then there’s the story of how Nike’s famous “Just Do It” logo was created.

 “Every creative journey begins with a problem,” he explains. “It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer. We have worked hard, but we’ve hit the wall. We have no idea what to do next…Thanks to how we’re hardwired, it’s often only at this point, after we’ve stopped searching for the answer, that the answer arrives.”

Haven’t we all experienced this in our creative lives? Just when we’ve nearly thrown in the towel, some nugget of inspiration has fallen into our laps and given us the spark we needed to keep going.

What I like about this book is that Lehrer challenges pre-conceived notions about creativity and tries to demystify the process. He believes we all have the ability to be creative if we cultivate certain thought processes, and if we apply a large dose of grit.

As a writer, I loved being reminded about the grit factor, the need to dig deep and be persistent, putting in hours of hard work—as in the “1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration” notion. Best-selling memoirs don’t just magically happen. They take months, sometimes years of writing and re-writing.

Lehrer quotes neuroscientist, Nancy Andreasen, who says,

“Successful writers are like prizefighters who keep on getting hit but won’t go down. They’ll stick with it until it’s right.”

He also quotes famous graphic designer, Milton Glaser, who has the slogan ART IS WORK chiseled in the glass of his studio:

“There’s no such thing as a creative type. As if creative people can just show up and make stuff up. As if it were that easy. I think people need to be reminded that creativity is a verb, a very time-consuming verb.”

My timing in reading this book has been fascinating, as so many of the ideas have infolded in front of me while watching my husband agonize over the creation of an extremely complex piece of art he’s been working on for the past six months. Each part of the design, each medium he’s used (photography, paint, gouache, collage, paper, metal, ink, pencil), and each decision he’s made has been one of intense thought, piles of research, hours of learning new techniques, and even more hours of being hunched over his art table doing the work. Throughout this process he has hit the wall numerous times, felt like he’s lost his mind in even attempting to construct this concept. But just as it’s driving him mad, a solution comes—in the middle of the night, when he’s walking, when he’s listening to NPR, when he’s chatting with colleagues about random subjects, or when he’s looking at other’s art.

While Imagine isn’t a prescriptive book about how to be more creative, Lehrer does offer  a few strategies about remaining creative over time:

  • Travel—the longer the trip, the better.
  • Embrace your status as an outsider. People who aren’t established and haven’t learned the system, often bring the freshest ideas. They don’t know anything so they aren’t afraid to make mistakes. Their “ignorance” or naïveté, gives them an advantage.
  • Do the hard work then play, and then do it again, until the two are one process.
  • Cultivate new colleagues.
  • Embark on a new career or learn a new medium.
  • Live in a city. Urban centers are hubs of creativity because populations are usually diverse and people continually rub shoulders, sharing ideas. Culture, he says, determines creative output, and it’s through sharing information and making connections that we maximize that output.

A few other fun tidbits culled from this book include: the color blue is said to increase creativity, as does caffeine, daydreaming, and relaxing. That must be why I do some of my best thinking in the backyard, sipping iced lattes while writing under blue skies; and why ideas always pop into my head while I’m relaxing in a long, hot shower or going on a delicious, meandering run. It’s all about the dopamine, baby!

The take-away message from this multifaceted book is that creativity is hard-wired in the human brain and we can enrich that quality in ourselves and in our society. “It’s time to create the kind of culture that won’t hold us back,” Lehrer says, “We have to make it easy to become a genius.”

If you’re looking for a book to inspire and stir your imagination, by all means read Imagine, especially if you love a good behind-the-scenes story about how things are created, and how some of our best creations have come from failures. If you’re searching for precise scientific data about how our creative minds work, this book might frustrate you with its reported errors and generalizations. Head to scientific journals instead.

I rate this book a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.

What are your thoughts about this book? And what are your thoughts about Lehrer’s recent “self-plagiarism” controversy? Drop your two cents into the comment box. I’d love to know what you think.

©Becky Green Aaronson 2012

Favorite Five Friday: Creativity Boosters

Creative sparks come from many sources. When I’m trying to stir up some inspiration for my work, I always turn to my favorite activities. Here are the top five things that boost my creativity.

Favorite Five Friday Creativity Boosters

What are your favorite five ways of boosting your creativity? Take five minutes or less and drop your Favorite Five in the comment box. Happy Friday everyone!