Saturday Creativity Quote

Tulip Festival, Roozengarde, LaConnor, Washington

A few weeks ago, I had to replace the wireless mouse and keyboard I use (liquids were involved but Mr. Kitten is blameless), and in the process, cleaned out the lap drawer tray on my desk where the keyboard lives. I had all kinds of notes and quotes taped inside it. (Plus some fur, for which Mr. K is entirely to blame.) This one is worth sharing:

“You never get it done and you cannot get it wrong. Life is supposed to be fun: you are creators; you are a focusing mechanism, and you are here in an environment that is very conducive to that. When you get hold of an idea, play it out for the pleasure in it. If you are doing it for any other reason, then you are not connecting to your Source Energy.”

– Abraham, via Esther Hicks

(So maybe you aren’t keen on spiritual entities channeled via humans. Not sure I am, either, but let’s forget that and focus on the substance. A reminder, regardless.)

Saturday Creativity Quote — on community

In April, I went to both Left Coast Crime, the mystery fan convention held in late winter or spring somewhere in the West, and Malice Domestic, the fan convention celebrating the traditional mystery held in Bethesda, Maryland the last weekend in April. Two weeks apart — remind me not to do that again. But it was great fun. (More photos below.)

Nominees for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel (clockwise from lower left: Korina Moss, Tara Laskowski (winner), Annette Dashofy, Ellen Byron, Leslie Budewitz (moderator), and Gigi Pandian)

I love meeting readers in person, and both cons are great opportunities for that. It’s also wonderful to hear authors, readers, booksellers, and editors speak on panels about various aspects of the writing craft, bookselling, and publishing. The conversations over coffee or dinner and in the hallways are priceless, especially for a writer like me who is happier and healthier because I spend most of my time alone with people who only exist because I made them up.

I always come home exhausted, but inspired. Inspired to read more, write better, connect with more readers and writers. No doubt that’s why I reached for a notebook during Nina Simon’s remarks on accepting the Lefty for Best Debut for Mother-Daughter Murder Night, when she said “Creativity comes from the community.”

It does, doesn’t it? From our brains and hearts, but in communication with all we experience and all those we connect with.

On this writing journey of yours, don’t go it alone. Create a community, online or in person, with others who care about books and creative work just as you do. Nurture it. You — and your readers — will be happy you did.

Join the fun next year! Registration is open for both Malice and LCC.

Three Sisters in Crime presidents! Past President Lori Rader-Day (2019-20), me (2015-16), and current president Kelly Oliver

Saturday Creativity Quote — reaching through the veil

Trees in the Mist, photo by Leslie Budewitz

I’m a big fan of the group blog Writer Unboxed, where more than 30 authors share advice on the craft and business of writing, and on motivation and inspiration. On the surface, this quote seems to speak mainly to authors of fantasy or magical novels, but I think it says more than that. It touches on a point I’ve often made here, that our work should say something true, something not immediately visible. Something you have to quiet your own mind and listen to the world to grasp, and to figure out how to express.

“Where do writers get their ideas? Sure, we might just be making it all up. But what if a writer is the only point of contact with an urgently real-in-its-way world that’s hidden from all others? We rub the membrane thin, and story leaks out. Or maybe we raise our lightning rods, and story flashes down our arms and onto the page. Or we open a door, and the ideas rush in. Choose your metaphor, but in every case, it is your role as a writer to document those moments of connection. Without your books, other worlds remain obscured. Without you, we will never be transported to the time and place that you alone can find.”
— Kristen Hacken South, “Thin Places,” on Writer Unboxed

Saturday Creativity Quote — listening to your own voice

“Poetry is often the art of overhearing yourself say things you didn’t know you knew. It is a learned skill to force yourself to articulate your life, your present world or your possibilities for the future. We need that same skill as an art of survival. We need to overhear the tiny but very consequential things we say that reveal ourselves to ourselves.”
– Irish poet David Whyte

Novelist Paul Lynch said something similar in his PBS interview, which I quoted a few weeks ago, about the difficulty of listening to ourselves in the modern world, shaped by the noise of technology. I think the Irish writers are on to something!

How can you make time in your day to quiet yourself enough to hear your own voice?

(Painting: In the Clearwater Valley, by Leslie Budewitz; pastel on suedeboard)

Saturday Creativity Quote — on twists and villains

Black question mark on white background

Writers working on a mystery or thriller typically focus on the protagonist, the main character, who is often also the narrator, and sometimes a stand-in for the writer. The writer is most interested in that person, the problems they face, how they unmask the villain and save the world or their community. And too often, not enough thought goes into the villain or antagonist –– they are a foil the writer moves around the page, coming up with their motivation (if at all) as an afterthought. It’s hard, I know. Believe me, I know! So I liked this perspective:

The protagonist’s journey in both thrillers and mysteries is effectively the unveiling of the villain’s plan, as experienced by the protagonist. The protagonist is our (the reader’s) ‘guide’ through the story, because the protagonist is the character leading the reader along as they uncover what the villain was/is ultimately up to. As such, I like to define twists as follows: Twists are the reveal of the villain’s truth. This truth feels “twisty,” because the reveal of the truth is unexpected to the protagonist.

— Samantha Skal, in a blog post, Designing Thriller and Mystery Twists That Work

What is your villain’s truth? What is she really after? What will she do to get it? How will she respond to anyone in her way?

Saturday Creativity Quote — more from Paul Lynch

Jeffrey Brown : “You have written about the role of the novel today and I guess a concern about whether it can still be valued, even important, have a place in our society.”

Paul Lynch: “Yes. It goes back to what I call the whisper in the ear. I mean, the novelist can whisper in the reader’s ear, and that’s a beautiful conversation. There’s also whisper in the ear that you have with yourself. But we live in a time where technology has done something to us.

We are no longer, for many of us anyway — unless you cultivate it and shape it, we are not in tune with ourselves. We’re not hearing the voice in the ear. And it’s harder to read fiction too. And I think that a culture that cannot hear itself think is a culture that is in serious trouble.

And I like that idea of fiction just being a little bit more dangerous, a little bit more engaging, pushing into — seeking this hidden charge of things and giving the reader maybe a little bit more electricity, but doing it respectfully.”

— Irish novelist Paul Lynch, winner of the 2024 Booker Prize for the novel Prophet Song, interviewed by Jeffrey Brown on the PBS Newshour

Saturday Creativity Quote — Paul Lynch

I’m interested in this idea of the personal cost of events.

And I think that, if you go back through literature, you go through a great book like The Iliad, it foregrounds the politics. It foregrounds the heroics and the great characters. But if you take The Iliad and you turn it inside out, you arrive at [the protagonist of his novel, Prophet Song] Eilish Stack. You arrive at the individual living the ordinary life and how the individual is caught up within the cogs, the machinations of this enormous thing that’s unfolding.

I’m really interested in the problem of grief, not grievance. I’m interested in the idea of the political of what is lost, how fragile this world that we’re in is.”

— Irish novelist Paul Lynch, winner of the 2024 Booker Prize for the novel Prophet Song, interviewed by Jeffrey Brown on the PBS Newshour

Saturday Creativity Quote — on flow

Rushing water between two large sedimentary rocks

Flow. We know it when we feel it, but what is it? How can we cultivate it? A new study done at the Drexel University Creativity Research Lab used brain imaging to study jazz guitarists working on an improvisation and summarizes the results this way:

“The findings reveal the creative flow state involves two key factors: extensive experience, which leads to a network of brain areas specialized for generating the desired type of ideas, plus the release of control — “letting go” — to allow this network to work with little or no conscious supervision.”

I like this so much, not just because it rings true, but because it also tells us what we can do to experience flow more often and more readily: practice the work, whether it’s chord structures or writing dialogue, creating new pathways in the brain, and practice giving up conscious control of the process and the results.