Archive for the 'psychology' Category

Monday, July 26th, 2010 by Charlene Teglia
Tarot as a Tool for Creative Insight

One of the more interesting writing classes I’ve taken over the years was one that taught storytelling with Tarot. Before that, I didn’t know Tarot had anything to do with stories, or that you could use Tarot as a tool for plot, character, and more. Even if you don’t have access to a live class on the topic, there are excellent resources online for learning card meanings and basic spreads.

The Tarot deck tells the story of the Fool’s Journey through life, which translates to the hero’s journey in fiction. But wait, there’s more. Each card in the deck tells a story in itself. Beyond that, some cards represent character archetypes while others represent plot turning points. And each card tells its story in symbols and images, the language of the right brain, making the cards a great tool for bypassing the left-brained critic and accessing your creative side.

All of this makes a Tarot deck a great writer’s tool. Even choosing a deck is a creative adventure; I recommend looking at several to see which artwork appeals. I bought a deck intended for children that depicts fairytale characters and scenes on each card. Each deck’s visual interpretation of the cards will vary and one will suit your storytelling style better than another so it’s good to compare.

Once you have a deck, you can use it for multiple creative exercises. You can simply draw a card at a time, and see what story the image sparks. What story would you tell yourself based on what you see? Do a timed writing and tell the story in 5-15 minutes. Lay out a series of cards and see what characters and events jump out at you as you connect the cards into a single story. Then write a brief story summary.

If you are stuck on your story at any stage, go through the deck looking at individual cards to see what images jump out at you. Your non-verbal right brain can use the visual tool to point out what you’re missing; a type of character, a twist, a dramatic event or choice. Or you can pull out a handful of cards that appeal to you and play “what if”. What if I add this kind of character to this scene or story? What if I move the scene to a setting like this? What if I add an element from this image? What if I do a combination?

There are so many ways to use Tarot as a tool to jumpstart creativity and access your right-brained insights for story solutions that I could never list them all. But the next time you find yourself stuck or if you just want a new tool in your box, try Tarot.

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 by Sasha White
Imagine this….

First off, number 6 was randomly drawn as the winner from last weeks giveaway. Deanna please contact me with you choice of book from the Genreality Bookstore, and your mailing info. You have one week to contact me.

I admit it. I used to be jealous of all those authors who have ridiculously fantastic imaginations. You know, like C.S. Lewis (Narnia) , Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) , Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass ). They wrote classics that will always be around.

Then there’s the many currant authors who let their imaginations rip as well. Like Lynn Viehl (StarDoc), Diana Peterfreund (Rampant) , Ken Scholes (Psalms of Isaak) and Jacqueline Cary (Kushiel series) . They build beautiful worlds full of adventure, drama and fascinating characters.

Me? I write contemporaries. I don’t build worlds or create races. Even my fictional towns are based on real ones that I’ve spent plenty of time in, I only change a name here or there. Not super-imanginative of me, I know.

There are times in the past when I felt like I’ve taken the easy road because I don’t create words, or new races or species, but a friend who writes Urban Fantasy recently said she felt the same way at times. She sometimes feels that she’s taking the easy way because she doesn’t have to “follow the rules of the world we live in ” when she creates her own worlds.

Hearing her side of things really brought it home to me how we, writers in general, tend to not give ourselves enough credit for what we do. We work hard. We put heart and soul into our stories. Not just with the time it takes to put the words on the page, but with the thought we put into every aspect of our works. Before I started writing never in my life did I notice just how fitting, or not, a persons name can be, or what the type of vehicle they drive tells me about their personality. We stress over the perfect description, the right plot twist, the best word. And we want it all to fit together and flow in a way that will draw the reader in and get them invested in our stories. Those things don’t change, no matter the genre. And honestly, I hope they never do.

What I do hope changes is the way we look at ourselves, and our work. I understand that as creative people we tend to be sensitive and slightly,(or maybe not so slightly) neurotic. But we need to stop knocking the work we do. Why should Others acknowledge the heart and soul you put it into a project if you don’t?

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 by Sasha White
Ants in my pants-mentally

When I was a kid I couldn’t sit still. My parents have many horror stories about trying to get me to go to sleep or to simply sit still. As a teenager I was involved in sports, as a young adult I was active in martial arts and partying dancing.  But in the last 7 years, I’ve slowed down drastically. So much so that I often don’t even recognize myself.

I know it’s mostly due to my curse ability to focus so strongly on one thing. You see, 8 years I decided I wanted to be a writer. And I firmly believe that if you want something, and you go after it, you’ll get it. I was right. I am a writer. And when I was neck deep in deadlines my ability to focus helped me a lot. However, now that I’ve got no real deadlines (only those imposed on myself) I find that when I sit down to write I get antsy within 15 minutes.

Where the hell did my ability to focus go?

I think I left it behind in the gym somewhere. Seriously.
All my life, up until I dedicated myself to becoming a writer, I was physically active. Then I become mentally and creatively active, and my physical self began to wan-until now.

I turned 40 last year, and I became suddenly very aware of my health. Not just my weight, but my health. Not just physical, but mental, and the way they work together. For the first half of my life I was physically active, but I never saw myself as particularly smart or creative. In the last 8 years I’ve come to realize that I am smart, and creative, but I’ve seriously neglected my physical self.

And only recently, in my efforts to gain back some of my physical health have I realized just how deep the connection between the two sides are. People say it all the time, that working out will help keep you mentally sharp, but it’s just like them saying an apple a day will keep the doctor away. It’s something we hear so much that it’s lost it’s punch. At least for me it did.

Lately I’ve been walking more. Just that. Not going to the gym, not working out, just walking. And that restlessness that used to hit 15 minutes after I sat down in front of the computer has settled a bit. I think it will continue to settle, and my ability to focus will come back more and more with each day. I’m pretty sure I’m just babbling here, and not explaingin myself very well…so I’m goign to quote from my friend Charlene’s blog post on Quiet Mind.

“If your mind won’t quiet indoors, try getting outdoors. Take your notebook and pen with you. Do enough physical activity to tire you out a little, and focus your mind on your task so it isn’t running away with you, and find quiet. Along with it, you might find the plot solution you need, the idea you were missing to make some task easier, or the answer to a personal dilemma. A quiet mind is like a weeded garden.”

It’s good advice.

Monday, June 21st, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
The Review Dilemma

I’ve got two books coming out over the next month, which means a lot of reviews are going to start rolling in.  I’ve already gotten one fabulous review.  But I’m bracing for the not-fabulous ones.

When my third book came out, I stopped reading the reviews on Amazon.  For the first two books it was exciting — holy cow, people are reading my books!  But then it got. . .weird, I guess.  There were just too many and they were too scattered to draw any conclusions from.  They were affecting my mood, when there was no reason they should be.

Really, I ought to stop reading reviews entirely.  The thing I hate about reviews:  it doesn’t matter how many people tell me they love the book, how many great glowing reviews it gets, it only takes one bad review to wipe all that out of my memory.

I don’t search for reviews any more, but people send them to me, and I feel obliged to read them.  Then there are the e-mails — 99.9% of them are great.  But every now and then one arrives that isn’t.  I’ve only ever written a couple of fan letters in my life — it takes effort and a bit of courage to write fan mail, I think.  So I don’t at all understand why someone would take the time and effort to write a personal e-mail to an author telling them what they hated about a particular book.  But it happens.  And it kinda sucks to get a letter like that.  That one overshadows all the positive ones.

I could look at it on the bright side:  my book really affected someone.  That’s good, right?  But one bad e-mail, review, or blog comment, can ruin my day.  I really need to figure out how to not let things like that ruin my day.  Focus on the positive, not the negative.  Which is easier said than done.

Also, I think about this, which I got from Neil Gaiman’s journal:

“… never take seriously anyone telling you you’re the best author who ever lived, because if you do you’d have to take seriously the person who announces that you’re the worst author who ever lived.”

See?  The good reviews and bad reviews end up canceling each other out, and I’m left feeling totally aimless.

Which I think means what I need to not read reviews at all and just concentrate on writing the next book.

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 by Sasha White
Summer’s Here!

WINNER: Comment 7 was randomly chosen as the winner. So ALLISON, please contact me about collecting your copy of Writers Gym!


Okay, I know that many of you are thinking “It’s the middle of June and she’s posting that summer is here? No shit, Sherlock.” but you have to understand something. I live in Northern Alberta, and it snowed here less than three weeks ago. Sure, the snow melted that night, but come on…it snowed! In May!

Don’t get me wrong. I love the snow. Even that night it was freaky beautiful. But sometimes love isn’t enough. Sometimes a change of pace, or of scenery, is needed to help renew a person’s energy.

Pots_04This past weekend was the first weekend we’ve had that actually felt like summer was here. The sun shone (shined?) all weekend and I took advantage.

You see, two years ago I went all out on my third floor balcony. I bought a bistro set, a lounger, some indoor/outdoor carpeting, and tons of flower pots. The I proceeded to fill them with colorful things so I could sit out on my deck and write instead of staying all cooped up inside.

Some pots were filled with a few herbs like sage and parsley while others contained greenery like dieffenbachia’s that I could bring in during the winter (although my mom- who lives in this city- said she has some planted in her yard and they just go dormant in the winter, then come back in the spring). Those were for the corner of the deck that gets the heat and light, but no direct sun.

Weren’t they pretty?

They all died.

Seriously. They didn’t even last a month! I followed all the instructions on the the little cards that came with them, but they all died. I was heartbroken. I have this huge deck that’s at least 18 feet long and I knew it could be a fabulous retreat spot for me, but it didn’t work out that way.

Last year I didn’t bother to plant anything. But this year I decided to be stubborn.

I want that retreat space, and I’m going to get it. I spent all day Saturday planting flowers for my deck. This took three trips to the store as I kept underestimating how much dirt I would need. Then of course on the second trip I couldn’t resist more flowers, so I once again underestimated the dirt factor. The third time I went to the store I was very focussed-dirt only.

My downstairs neighbour came up and helped me plant some of them, (every year she has tons of potted flowers out and they’re beautiful all summer). Instead of putting them in the corners I lined them along the deck so each pot could get plenty of sun at some point during the day. I cleaned my carpets, and set up my little bistro style table next to my outdoor electrical plug so I could use my laptop without worrying about the battery. I also dusted off my lounger and set it up so I could lay on it and write, or nap brainstorm.

After setting it all up I laid out on said lounger with my laptop in my lap, and started to work. It was heaven.
This was the view from where I sat.

The picture’s not super great, but I used the laptop’s built in camera to take the pic. And I had to snap this one too. Scarlet, my rescue kitty that follows me everywhere mellowed out in the shade under the lounger while I worked.

It’s too easy in this business to get bogged down by the pressures we put on ourselves. It’s too easy to get so wrapped up in the stories we create that we sometimes forget to stop and smell the flowers-and that kind of pressure, be it pied on by our own self or by deadlines or publishers, can kill us creatively.

I’m thrilled with my retreat space, and am determined it will blossom, and not not wither and die. Even better,after a sunny weekend out there I already know that the change of scenery from my office to the deck not only lets me enjoy the bright days of summer, it helps my creativity blossom.

Tell me in the comments what’s helped your creativity blossom lately (or simply say Hi) and be entered in a draw for a copy of Eliza Clark’s Writers Gym

Monday, May 10th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn

DiscordsApple150-smallI had an interesting bit of writerly psychology play out this week.  On Monday, I got a big boost when I found out that my stand-alone novel, Discord’s Apple, got a starred review in Publishers Weekly.  “…brilliantly structured, beautifully written…”  I want to paint that on the wall of my office.

Professionally, this is marvelous.  It means some second looks and extra buys from stores and libraries who might not have paid much attention to it otherwise.  Plus, bragging rights and a fantastic pull quote.  Personally, I’m over the moon.  I feel ten feet tall.  I feel an overwhelming sense of joy and validation that seems far in excess of just encountering a good review.

So, like a good writer, I’m fascinated by my reaction and have been analyzing it.  What have I come up with?

Like a lot of writers, Imposter Syndrome (which Bob talked about here) is a constant, looming presence in my life.  I got where I am because of luck, I’m really not that good, and one of these days everyone’s going to figure that out.  The men in suits will show up at my door at take all the successes away.  This gets worse because I feel that luck actually has played a part in my career (the explosion of urban fantasy hadn’t happened yet when I sold my book — the label urban fantasy wasn’t even being used for that type of book then), and because I’ve read just a few too many reviews of my books that use some variation of the word “surprising.” (as in “it was surprisingly good!” or “a pleasant surprise!”)  Some days, it can be way too easy to feel like a hack.

The starred review took a big, big bite out of my insecurities, at least for a little while.  “beautifully written” indeed!  It’s a good book, it really is!

That this review came out for Discord’s Apple in particular has made me feel hugely validated.  This is one of the stand alone novels that pretty much broke the deal with my old publisher.  I had two different editors tell me that my stand alone novels just weren’t as good and shouldn’t I really stick to writing urban fantasy series?  You see, they wanted me to write urban fantasy series and nothing else.  The quality of my stand alones was actually moot.  Too bad I didn’t really get that at the time.  At that point, my insecurities became towering.

And then one of those books gets a starred review.  Validation!

I think the depth of my emotion about this review reflects the fact that I had no idea how much I needed that validation.  It’s taken a long time and a lot of back and forth (Pen name or not?  Try to sell it right away or wait to build an audience?) to get this novel into the wild.  And seeing that review was the first hint I’ve gotten that maybe everything’s going to be all right after all.  I’m going to try to hold on to that feeling.

On a less cerebral level, I celebrated the review with wine and cookies.  Yum!

(Oh, and Discord’s Apple will be out in July.  I keep forgetting that shameless self promotion means nothing with the appropriate information.)

Monday, March 1st, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
The Comparison Trap

Here’s something I’ve had on my annual goal list for the last few years:  Stop comparing myself to others.

It starts early, out of necessity, because we look at other writers and their careers for clues about how the business works and how to break in.  We ask for advice from writers who’ve been there and follow their leads.  But that also gives us a way to gauge our progress.  And as the saying goes, there’s always someone doing better than you.

Comparing ourselves to others is so easy to do, especially when it’s so hard to judge your progress in the publishing business.  But we have numbers.  What’s your print run?  What are your sales numbers?  How does your advance stack up?  We’re trained from early on to compare ourselves to others:  Who gets picked first for the dodgeball team? (Although I hear schools avoid that sort of thing these days.)  Test scores are so easy to compare, and to use to arrange us into neat little grids and graphs.

Writers’ blogs make it way too easy to compare on a day-to-day basis.  Writers post daily word counts — and it seems like they’re always more than mine.  (I figure if anyone is writing less they’re too embarrassed to post.  I don’t post because I’m too embarrassed by my low numbers.  And I’ve found that the more I focus on daily word counts, the less productive I am.)

Publishing is an industry that has lots of awards, lots of bestseller lists, lots of rankings, everything from the number of stars on an Amazon review on up to the Nobel Prize for literature.  We all want those gold stars.

We have a “grass is always greener” mentality.  I have writer friends who get a ton of critical recognition and are constantly nominated for awards.  I celebrate their successes, and I’m secretly a little bit envious.  Which is tough, because I know they look at my career and the New York Times bestseller label and feel exactly the same way.  Interestingly enough, our problems — worrying about sales numbers, deadlines, self-promotion, publicity, etc. — are the same.  All those extraneous measurements of success are just that  — extra.  They ultimately don’t mean much.  But that’s what we focus on.

I haven’t figured out how to overcome this all-too-human impulse, which is why I’m still putting it on my goal list.  I try to focus on my own work and doing the best I can — writing the books I want to write, telling my own stories, and celebrating both my successes and those of my friends.  I remind myself:  This is not a race.  There’s no finish line and no big trophy.  And we’re all in this together.