7 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Improve Your Creativity

While I’m as big a believer as anyone else in the “just do it” mentality when it comes to getting my daily word count in, I have to admit I’m always on the look-out for an edge in the quality aspect of  “just doing it.” To that end, I’ve discovered a great article (via Behance in case you haven’t discovered them yet—an awesome resource for creative and compulsives alike) and recapped it here!

Enjoy and after you put that barbell down and finish playing with the dog, get back to work!

  1. Eat breakfast. I know, I know. I always suspected Kellogs invented this one but it turns out it’s probably true. At least a quarter of all Americans skip breakfast (me, included.) But studies show increased productivity, lower weight, etc. if we eat breakfast (and not, of course, beignets and Fruit Loops.)
  2. Sit less. Okay, a little tricky when you are writing at a computer, I know but a report on a recent 14-year study showed that there was a 20% increase in the death rate (40% for women) for those people who sat six hours or more every day. So! Motivation to get off your ass? CHECK!
  3. Exercise helps your mental performance and overall productivity. Turns out hitting the gym during the day will help you problem-solve and write better, longer. Who knew?
  4. Get a dog. Well, it doesn’t have to be a dog. Any kind of a pet will do. The reasoning behind this is that having an animal while you work increases trust and team cohesion. On the other hand, if you work alone, and collaboration is not an issue, skip the dog and get back to work.
  5. Kill the commute. If you write in your back bedroom, go ahead and skip to the next item on the list. If you have a job that forces you out of the house and that job is not close by, a new finding has shown that a commute of much duration is a total happiness killer. It significantly decreases your quality of life. My suggestion on this one? Find another house or find another job or just accept you won’t be as happy as you could be.
  6. Use all your vacation days. This was never a problem for me. In fact, I struggle to understand people who don’t take paid days off from work. I’m not making this up. An article from the Harvard Business Review said that “More than half of all Americans now fail to take all of their vacation days.” Okay, since I really can’t understand people who would do this, I can’t speak to it. (OTOH: if you really want to work so damn bad, donate your vacation days to me.)
  7. Get pissed. And I mean that in the American sense, not the British. New studies show that being angry (sad works too) is a key driver to creativity. And if you’ve ever knocked out some of your best work right after you were dumped, fired or lost your best dog, you’ll understand. Anger, it seems, fuels idea generation while sadness, perversely? drives us to work harder.

So there you have it! Seven easy ways to boost your creativity and get the most out of your writing environment. If you’ve tried any of these ways—or have issues with any of them—I would love to hear from you!

20 Things My Horse Taught Me About Being A Mom

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through a science magazine and came across the news that scabbing on a wound is now considered counterproductive to the wound healing quickly and with minimal scarring. I don’t know why the article surprised me. As an equestrienne, I’d been peeling scabs off my horse’s various cuts and scratches for years. The real surprise was that I hadn’t wondered, if it was de rigeur to do it for horses, why people didn’t do it too? My husband looked at the article, shrugged and said: “Kids always rip their scabs off.”

All of which triggered a burgeoning notion that being a Horse-Mom first before becoming a real one had prepared me for the job in many exceptional ways. Here are some of the things that owning a horse taught me about being a mother:

1. The Discipline Thing. This is a major issue in most relationship where you are outweighed by your charge by some 1700 pounds. If you can handle a truculent 1,800 pound four-hoofed, jerk-on-wheels (we all have our days), you have almost nothing to worry about when it comes to handling a child of your own under the age of three. Except for the occasional sharp smack on the neck to get Sparky’s attention, the disciplining is amazingly similar: You set boundaries, you make the boundaries clearly understandable, you respond to infractions of said boundaries with immediacy, love, firmness and consistency. And a good thirty percent of the time your horse and/or child will behave accordingly next time.

2. The Ability to See Past the Discomfort of the Moment. It’s the memory of uncomfortable equine incidents, like walking in mud and rain, cold and dark, looking for my horse out in some hilly, hole-infested pasture that later helped prepare me to weather a tantrum, clean up a seemingly impossible mess, or endure the constant sleep interruptions from an over-stimulated child. You’ll find you’re better able to deal with the unpleasantness if you can envision the coming, happier time: the tidy room, the tear-streaked but calm face, the peacefully sleeping child.

3. Sweets Make A Great Reward. And you still don’t want them to have too many.

4. Patience, Patience, Patience.

5. Expect the Best and You’ll Get It. Expect the worst and ditto.

6. It’s Only Poop.

7. Take Your Time. Unless you have servants to do it for you, getting ready to ride takes a good deal of preparation. One of the first things most equestriennes learn is to slow down and—since you have to do the job right (or, like checking your instruments before a flight, you may live (or not) to regret it)—you might as well enjoy the process. I have spent many happy hours grooming my mare, cleaning my saddle and other tack, watching the mice scurry out of the feed room, and listening to the other horses in the stalls nicker and murmur to each other; enough to know that riding horses is only a part of enjoying them. In many ways, this is one of the most important lessons my horse taught me about mothering. Forcing myself to slow down and listen carefully to my son’s report on his morning at Sunday School, or really involving myself in a game of hide-and-seek with him, allows me to enjoy him more deeply than I would the paltry satisfaction of ticking items off a list or finishing another task.

8. Second Sight. I am not talking visions here. I’m talking about sensing danger before it’s present. Because of a horse’s skittish nature, it’s always wise to keep your wits about you and see—before your horse does—anything that might cause a problem. That red jacket hanging over there on the fence? Steer clear or prepare yourself. Rocket might just rearrange the order of your spinal column if he sees it and decides that, today, it’s a threat to him. With horses, you always need to be one step ahead. Same with kids. The habit of looking down the road while at the same time looking at what’s right in front of me has helped me keep my child from walking into eye-level sharp objects, swinging car doors, too-steep stairs, off the edge of decks and any number of what-are-the-odds-he’d-get-into-that? kinds of dangerous situations. Developing eyes in the back of your head is a skill you hone with time. Taking care of a horse who saw bogeymen behind every tractor, rock and bush—helps.

9. Don’t Play in Traffic. Enough Said.

10. Endurance. I don’t mean the kind of endurance that has you switching horses on a mountain trail at 45-miles an hour, with your crash helmet caked in muck from the last hell-bent hour of your 20-hour ride. I mean a smaller kind of exhaustion that can overwhelm your determination not to quit. For example: I don’t care how tired you are from a long trail ride when the weather turned nasty and RockStar took that spill that left him shaky but YOU with a twisted ankle and now it’s so dark you can barely see the rider in front of you. When you finally make it back to the barn you still need to untack him, check him out for any boo-boos, clean him, dry him, feed him and tuck him in for the night before you can even think of icing that ankle, stripping off your muddy clothes and collapsing into a hot bath with a stiff one. I once broke my arm jumping a coop in a field and waited while kind friends fed my horse and turned him out to pasture before driving me to the nearest medical facility. (Being in shock helped.) As a result, you’ll find that years later, you’re wonderfully prepared for the moment—at four in the morning Christmas Day—when you still haven’t figured out how the damn dollhouse goes together. Or when you know you’ll end up screaming like a mental patient if you have to read the “Cat in the Hat” one more time, and then you read it a few hundred more times without any loss of inflection or drama when “Thing One” and “Thing Two” show up.

The Final Ten Things My Horse Taught Me About Mothering will continue next Friday! I’d love to hear from you—is there a hobby you had before you became a mother that you think made you a better mother? I’d love to hear about it!

Mixing Writing with Your Life

I once read that Rita Mae Brown, renowned equestrienne and novelist (among other things), said she couldn’t both ride and write at the same time. She didn’t mean she couldn’t balance a book on her pommel, she meant if she was fully engaged in creating characters and plotting storylines, she couldn’t also foxhunt or get very involved with her horses. I assume she still hacked most days but maybe not even that. (Huh! Just caught the pun…hack writer, hack rider?)

Anyhoo, I used to think about that comment when I would see myself totally immersed in some nonwriting project, like putting together my dad’s recipes into a family cookbook, or piecing together the personal history I’m doing for my mother. It’s funny how “real” writing projects would get tabled or worse, put on a shelf indefinitely.   I do see piecing together family cookbooks or creating legacy books or making amusing little videos as major detours to sitting down and finishing my word count. They have their place in my life—just as Ms. Brown’s horses had a place in hers. But she also had a publisher waiting for her next book. Makes temporarily hanging up your spurs a little more bearable.

Before I started indie-publishing, I handled it this way: I stopped writing. Since there was definitely more payoff in creating the perfect chicken potpie than in opening up a vein over my keyboard only to have the manuscript remain a manuscript until it officially qualified as “trunk” material, I allowed myself to just give up. And when I did, I felt such relief at not writing. On the one hand, I was driven to do it, but I’d learned to resist the impulse, kind of like what I imagine crack addicts must go through: you know you desperately want to but, deep down, you also know it probably isn’t going to end well. Spending hours mixing sugar and milk and eggs and vanilla together may not match the thrill of holding your published book in your hands but you can always count on getting at least some cupcakes out of the process and with a book, not so much.

And then came Indie.

Indie publishing helped free me from the question mark that always hung over the effort of writing. I hate to think I have the same validation issues that so many writers have. After all, writing something beautiful should be just as satisfying to read back to myself as it is shared with other people. But you know, it’s just not.  Writers need readers. The fact is, thanks to indie publishing there is now a way to get the hard work, the carefully chosen words, the well-crafted plot and scintillating dialogue in a form that can be shared. And it’s not a crap shoot or a popularity contest or who-you-know or blind luck. It’s simply the logical next step in the creative process.

So now, when I’m baking,  I’m also sorting out character motivation and plot logistics in my head. I’m rerunning the action happening up to now and envisioning different characters doing different things as I sift and zest and measure. If you don’t count a few absent-minded burns here and there, I find that allowing my writing ruminations to infiltrate the rest of my life has been a very good thing—for me as a person and for my writing, which, whether I’m sitting at a computer or greasing baking sheets, I’m now pretty much doing 24/7.

And you know? The rightness of that is so exquisite, I can almost taste it.