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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: creativity

Are we born to do our jobs? Is the same DNA that chooses whether we have brown eyes or blonde hair, also responsible for choices that we make when it comes to our careers? It certainly seems like this might be the case, at least with creative people.

Ask any artist to give up drawing or painting and you might as well request he hand over a limb. Dancers are constantly tapping their toes, and their feet seem to always be in second position…even if they are forty and haven’t put on toe shoes in twenty years. So maybe today I will narrow the question: Are creative people born to create?

At first it might seem like a simple nature-nurture question. Cops grow up in cop families with cop attitudes. Engineers seem to sprout out of engineer families. It is not uncommon to see entire families of medical people. Firemen produce little fire fighters and military blood runs deep as well.

But what about creative people?

Many of us, when we tell our family that we want to be a writer, what they hear is akin to, “Blah, blah, throwing away college education blah blah cult blah Kool-Aid, blah blah writer.”

Most of my family was less than thrilled when I announced that I was leaving corporate sales to pursue my dream to write.

If you look at the picture above, that was me. Okay, well this is actually my son at eleven months old. He writes all day with anything and ON anything he can get his little hands on. He has notebook upon notebook filled with scribbles and drawings. No paper, wall or pet is safe. I was exactly the same way. I was writing novels before I had completely learned my alphabet.

My first novel was a riveting tale titled Hi Kristen Mom Love…because those were the only words I knew how to spell. It read like this:

J4yy 9 rs!

Clearly it was a tale about Princess Kristen and the evil witch who made all the little girls wear ugly boy pants. I recall using colored yarn to bind the pages and then would decorate my “book covers” with the Spirograph I got for Christmas…and then would go door to door selling Hi Kristen Mom Love to the neighbors for 5 cents a piece, only 10 cents if they bought the entire series.

So maybe I had a little sales in me too.

What I find astonishing, aside from the fact that a four-year-old sold door-to-door and no one called the police, was that I made a lot of money. Wait…no, that wasn’t my point. What I find interesting is that the same family who raved about the sheer brilliance of Hi Kristen Mom Love was the same family who later told me to be practical. I had to make a living. Writers were broke, depressed hippies who lived in their mothers’ basements…until they landed in Betty Ford or ODed.

Okay, they didn’t say that, but might as well have.

My grandfather wanted me to go into business. It didn’t matter that Kristen couldn’t add a column of numbers and get the same answer twice if her life depended on it. Dad wanted me to go in the military. He was a Navy man. Military. Yeah…I tended to ask Why? a tad too much. I spent two years in ROTC, and granted, I won more ribbons than anyone else…but I also did more push-ups and ran more laps than anyone else. Finally, one day the Commander called me into her office and asked if I might not prefer another career choice.

Not very encouraging.

I tried politics. Worked as an intern for a Congresswoman, but apparently my tolerance threshold for dealing with morons was not near high enough for working for the government. So, I figured sales! THAT was the ticket. I could seriously TALK, and salespeople were good at talking. I could do that. Except, I was absolutely the world’s worst salesperson, namely because I hated it. Hmmm. What now? Maybe law school. Hey, I had really great verbal skills. I did want to be a writer and lawyers wrote a lot of stuff, right? The one thing I didn’t count on was I’d actually be accepted.

My family was thrilled and all I could think was Crap.

I am actually really happy I was accepted to law school. It forced me to stand up for myself. I recall holding that letter in my hand. All I had to do was show up for orientation and buy my books, and I thought NO. I can’t do this anymore. I was born to WRITE. I don’t care if I am ever successful, at least I will be HAPPY.

See, I had spent a lifetime trying to please everyone else. I felt like a fish out of water, confused about what my purpose on this spinning hunk of rock really was. Yet, in reality, I had known all along since I was two and writing on the walls. I was BORN to write. It was why I had failed at everything else. Those other jobs were not my destiny.

The interesting thing is that once I made my mind up to embrace my destiny and give it all I had, I finally started seeing success. Why? I was willing to work 15 hour days and work 6 days a week because I LOVED my job. I was now excited about every new day and each new project. I was eager to learn all I could to get better. I hadn’t been this way with any other job. In sales, medicine, politics, law, I did the bare minimum to get by. It felt like walking through quicksand.

With writing? I was liberated.

The even MORE interesting thing is that my mother is a nurse. Heck everyone in her family is. My father was a radiation safety officer (explains a lot :P). My grandfather was a CFO. Thus, at first glance it seems I am the odd duck of the family. Yet, my father hated his job and spent his free time writing poems in a notebook he carried around with him. My mother has never thrived as a nurse, and, this past month, has taken up blogging. She admits she always wanted to write, but dyslexia and family disapproval stopped her.

After I had the courage to step out and become a writer, my one uncle started a sign business, because it incorporated his love for drawing and art. My other uncle, a history teacher, now acts and does competitive ballroom dancing with his girlfriend. He has taken up singing and it still weirds me out.

So was I really the black Lamb sheep after all?

What about you guys? What does your family think of you writing (drawing, painting, dancing, singing)? You think they might be closet creative people? Do you think we are born to do our creative field? Or is it an outside influence? Nature or nurture? Both? Come on! Time to play armchair scientist.

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

 

When we begin as new writers, we often just take off like a shot. Who needs to plot? Plotting is for sissies. Of course, failing to plot is a lot like failing to read the instructions. *whistles innocently* At the end of the day, the shelf leans like the Tower of Pisa and we can’t figure out how we only managed to use half the necessary screws.

So nice of them to give us extras!

Yeah…no.

Fail to do at least a general plot, and I guarantee that your plot will have a lot of missing screws. But plotting ahead of time gives a newer writer an advantage that most people don’t think about. It gives us a playpen to contain our baby writing “voice.” Voice is one of those aspects of writing that is tough to define and quantify. Yet, it is at the heart of who we are as writers. The more we write, the more mature our writing voice becomes. Leave an immature, unformed voice to wander off on its own, and it will be wandering around getting into everything and making a mess.

We will get back to voice in a second…

In my opinion, there is a mistaken assumption that creativity is birthed by removing all boundaries. Just a blank page, a keyboard and your wildest imagination and GO! I disagree. I believe that limitations, boundaries, and constraints are necessary for creativity to thrive. Don’t believe me? Take a tour of Alcatraz. There are few people more creative than prison inmates.

On the positive side, if humans were born with the ability to fly, would we have invented such a vast array of flying machines? If we could communicate telepathically, would we have invented the telegraph, telephone, cell phone, or even e-mail? It is our inability to do something that focuses our energy and generates dynamic results. Light is wonderful, but when focused it becomes a laser.

An author’s voice is what defines his style. Dean Koontz has a distinctive voice when compared to John Grisham or even Amy Tan. Voice is defined by how we use words to convey imagery. I believe that when writers are new, most of us possess a voice that is in its infancy. I propose that this voice will develop more quickly if given boundaries. If an author will choose a genre, then whittle all the ideas whirling in her head down to one kernel idea, she will be closer to finding her unique writing voice than had she just started writing.

How is this?

The writer has erected boundaries that will focus her creative energy instead of letting it dissipate like white light.

Think of the preplanning for a novel as a series of lenses. You are going to shine the brilliant white light that makes up the whole of your creative capacity. Ah, but then we erect the genre lens. Genres have rules. Picking a genre will focus that white light creative energy. Then, the next lens is the one-sentence original idea. The energy focuses even more. With these two lenses, it will be harder for us to stray off on a tangent. Then, want another lens? Even a rudimentary plot outline will concentrate our energy even more. Finally? Detailed character backgrounds will add a final lens that permits us to take on that novel with all our energy at laser intensity.

When we are new, many of us have a lot of favorite authors. Our infant writing voice (tucked in its playpen to keep it out of the adverbs) is much like a baby learning to speak. It does a lot of mimicking. I find it humorous when I read first-time novels. I can read the prose and almost tell what author that writer was reading at the time he wrote the section. The voice is all over the place. That’s normal. When we are new, we are experimenting and looking for the influence(s) that will eventually take root and hold. The trick is to get past this stage.

So what are some ways we can develop our author voice?

1. Erect Boundaries

We just discussed this and it could wholly be my opinion. I believe that even pantser writers (those who write by the seat of their pants) will benefit enormously by erecting even broad constructs. You don’t have to outline down to the last detail, but a general idea of where you are going and the stops along the way are great.

Think of it like taking a road trip. When you begin a trip, how you decide to travel makes a huge difference. If from the beginning, I decide my trip will be by car, as opposed to by plane, train, bicycle, roller skates, or pogo stick, I understand my limitations. By car, I cannot, for instance, go to Hawaii. Then, if I choose an end destination, there are only so many possible logical routes. Say I am going to go to L.A. Well, from Dallas, TX, there are only so many highways that will get me there. Also, I know some routes are just a bad idea. I-20 East is not a consideration. So I know I want to take certain highways to L.A. Now my path is much clearer. Also, since I know the main highways I need to stay on, if, along the way I decide to amble down a country road (pantser) to visit the Alligator Farm and World’s Largest Ball of Dryer Lint, I know that I just have to be able to find my way back to the highway.

But what kind of trip do you think I might have if I just began driving? Sure, I might uncover some great places and have unplanned adventures….but those unplanned adventures might not be positive. They could involve getting lost in the projects or having a flat tire in the desert.

2. Read, read, then read some more.

The best musicians study all kinds of music and then blend elements with their own unique style. That is a great parallel to how we develop our own writing voice. Read other writers. What do you like? Try it. What did you hate? Lose it. What could have worked, but didn’t ? Modify it. The more you read, the more hues of color you add to the pallet that you will use to define your voice. You will have more subtlety, nuance and dimension than a writer who doesn’t read.

3. Write, write, then write some more.

Put it to the test. Does a certain style work for you? Did it feel natural or forced? When did you hit your stride? Can you push it to another level? Practice, practice practice. Jimi Hendrix did not start out his music career playing Purple Haze. Elvis, Axel Rose and Meatloaf began as a gospel singers. Picasso began painting traditional subjects in traditional ways. All of these artists practiced and studied and added new elements until they created something genuinely unique.

What are your thoughts on voice? Do you guys have a different definition? What are your experiences? Frustrations? Does your voice climb out of the playpen and eat all the cookies? Do you have some suggestions you’d like to add? I love hearing from you!

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home. It is not too late to sign up for the workshop Selling Your Book taught by USA Today Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. This workshop is for all authors, but any self-pubbed writers would stand to gain amazing benefit.

Feel like you have writer’s block? The words won’t flow and you think you might have worn out your thesaurus function looking for another word to say “the?” You might be your own worst enemy.

This has been an insanely stressful week for me. Most of the time my life is blessedly uneventful, but life is life and it can suddenly make you feel as if you got tossed in the spin cycle. The impact that anxiety has had on my body, mind, and ability to write has been tremendous. I haven’t met many of my writing goals and have suffered tremendous fatigue…so I figured I could use this experience for your benefit and turn it into a blog post :D.

Writing can be therapeutic. True. But, our creativity can also be one of the first casualties of too much stress, which makes sense when we really study what is happening to us when we’re under too much pressure.

Biology 101. Have you ever wondered why you can’t remember half of what you said after a fight? Wondered why it seems the only time you can’t find your keys is the day you’re late for work? Been curious why you said the stupidest comments in the history of stupidity while in your first pitch session with an agent?

Yup. Stress. But how does stress make perfectly normal and otherwise bright individuals turn into instant idiots?

Basically, the same biological defense mechanisms that kept us alive hunting bison while wearing the latest saber tooth fashions are still at work today. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work in tandem to regulate the conscious mind. Sympathetic gears us for fight or flight. Parasympathetic calms us down after we’ve outrun the bear…or opened that rejection letter.

In order for the sympathetic system to do its job effectively, it dumps all sorts of stress hormones into the body—DHEA, cortisol, adrenaline—to enable that super human strength, speed, and endurance required to survive the crisis. The problem is that the human body thinks in blanket terms and cannot tell the difference between fighting off a lion and fighting with the electric company.

The human brain is divided into three parts:

Cerebral Cortex—higher thinking functions like language, meaning, logic.

Limbic/Mammalian Brain—used for experiencing emotions.

Reptilian Brain—cares only about food, sex, survival.

I believe that writers (and people in general, for that matter), could benefit greatly by truly understanding stress and the affect it has on the mind and body. A brain frazzled to the breaking point physiologically cannot access information contained in the cerebral cortex (higher thinking center). Thus, the smart writer must learn to manage stress. 

And for the purpose of this blog, I am referring to bad stress so there is no confusion.

Modern life may not have as many literal lions and tigers and bears, but we are still bombarded with their figurative counterparts all day, every day. When stress hits, the body reacts within milliseconds. The sympathetic nervous system floods the body with hormones, increases heart rate, pulls blood away from digestive and reproductive systems, etc. And, most importantly, it diverts blood supply to the mammalian and reptile brain at the expense of the cerebral cortex. Apparently the body feels your witty repertoire of Nietzsche quotes are not real helpful in lifting a car off your child.

Thus, since the mammalian brain is in high gear, this explains why it is not uncommon to experience intense emotion while under stress. This is why crying, when confronted or angry, is very common. It is also why, once we calm down, we frequently wonder why we were so upset to begin with…mammalian brain overtook logic. This is also why the gazillion action figures your child leaves littered across the floor suddenly becomes a capital offense two seconds after you accidentally set dinner ablaze. Your emotions have taken front and center stage and knocked logic into the orchestra pit.

Another interesting point…

When the sympathetic nervous system prepares us for fight or flight, our pupils dilate. The purpose of this is to take in as much information about a situation as possible. The problem is that, although we are seeing “more” we are actually seeing “less.” The body is totally focused on the cause of the stress. This is why, when we’re running late to work, we see every clock in the house, but cannot seem to find our car keys.

This also explains how, once we take time to breathe and calm down, those keys have a way of magically appearing in the same drawer we opened 763 times earlier (while screaming at the kids, the dog, the cat, the laundry….). Poof! Magic.

Once we understand and respect stress, it seems easier to give ourselves permission to go on vacation or truly take a day off. It is a matter of survival. When bad stress piles up, we physiologically are incapable of:

1) Being productive.

That book proposal will take 15 times longer to prepare because you keep forgetting the point you were trying to make in the first place. 

We will wear out the thesaurus function on our computer looking for another way to say “good.” Face it. Stress makes us retarded.

2) Making clear decisions.

We won’t be making decisions from the logical part of our brain, so eating everything in the house will actually seem like a good idea.

3) Interacting in a healthy way with our fellow humans.

The new trees for your back yard might never get planted because your husband will be too busy plotting a way to bury you under them.

The most important lesson here is to respect stress. We must respect its effects the way we should alcohol. Why do we make certain to have a designated driver? Because when we’re sober, we think clearly and know that driving drunk is a very poor decision. Yet, the problem with alcohol is it removes our ability to think with the higher brain functions. Stress does the same thing. It limits/obliterates clear thought.

That’s why it is a very good idea to have people close to us who we respect to step in and 1) force us to back away and take a break, 2) convince us to take a vacation, get a pedicure, go shopping, hit the gym 3) give us a reality check, 4) take on some of the burden, 5) run interference with toxic people.

Like great violinists take great care to protect their hands, we writers would be wise to do the  same with our emotions and our minds. So when the stress levels get too high and you start seeing it seeping into your writing, it is wise to find a way to release stress. Take back the keys to your higher thinking centers! Take back that cortical brain!

Exercise, read, pray, meditate, watch a movie, laugh, do yoga, take a walk, work in the garden. Most of all…write. But do a different kind of writing. Write without a care in the world. Ever wonder why experts advise us to do freewriting when we hit a wall? Seems counterintuitive, but it is actually super smart when you think about the biology lesson we just had. If we can just write forward, without caring about the clarity or quality, we often can alleviate stress rather than fuel it. This freewriting can calm us back into the cortical brain so later, when our head is back on straight, we can go back and clean up the mess.

Which is exactly what I will do…after I go for a walk.

What are some ways you guys deal with stress? How do you overcome writer’s block?

Happy writing!

Until next time….