Tag Archives: creativity

My HuffPost: 1 week of meditation boosts creative problem solving

Please read my latest article on Huffington Post:

Just One Week of Meditation Can Boost Creative Problem Solving

From deciding what to eat for breakfast to handling a complex dilemma at the office, there is always more than one solution to any problem

The paths linking a problem to any number of resolutions can become twisted with doubt, uncertainty, or fear. Choosing one solution means giving up other opportunities. How do we select the best course of action?

Divergent thinking is a style of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated. It offers personal space and an outlet for creativity, making room tothink up as many uses as possible for a given topic or solutions to a problem. Or better, discovering solutions that provide unexpected gains, or minimize compromise.

“Creative breakthroughs are often reported to emerge spontaneously, when the mind is distracted and not focusing on the problem at hand,” says cognitive psychologist Mark A. Smith, Ph.D.

How can we get started with divergent thinking and produce multiple creative solutions to problems in a short time? The answer is as simple as breathing.

Please click here to continue reading…

 

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My HuffPost: Teens can Improve Creativity, Relieve Anxiety by Meditating

Please read my latest contribution to Huffington Post!

Teens can Improve Creativity, Relieve Anxiety by Meditating

todaycreative thinking with our neocortex, the part of the brain that is concerned with problem solving, visioning, hypothesizing, and strategizing. Meditation can have profound effects on the neocortex.

Blogger Branain Radcliffe shows how meditation boosts your creativity and focus in seven specific ways. Meditation will:

Increase self-confidence. Teens who lack self-confidence often hold back from using talents. Gaining self-assurance means embracing your best qualities and skills

Ease anxiety. Being creative is a risky enterprise. By creating a safe space within, meditation provides a platform from which to take risks.

Allow you to be yourself. Meditation puts you in touch with your true and authentic self, which is what makes each person unique. Knowing your true self makes it possible to express yourself in creative ways.

Make you less vulnerable. Teens often face criticism from peers. Because meditation puts you in touch with what matters to you as an individual, you can become less vulnerable to other people’s comments, whether positive or negative.

Foster kindness to yourself. Sometimes the creative juices flow and sometimes they don’t. Being hard on yourself makes it even harder to connect with your creativity. Meditation makes you kinder to yourself (and others).

Change brain activity. Studies show that meditation increases brain activity in the areas of the brain that are associated with creativity, and focus.

Keep the world at bay. By learning to focus on the present moment, meditation increases concentration and makes you less distracted.

Doron Libshtein is a wellness mentor and author who’s worked closely with the world’s top creative luminaries, including Deepak Chopra, spiritual mentor Byron Katie, and Marcia Weider, founder of Dream University. He believes that “everyone should meditate and, oftentimes, creative people are the best meditators. Meditation can help you get ‘the quiet’ you need to help reduce stress.”

Libshtein says the number one benefit of meditation is “a state of stillness and calm. When you alleviate stress through meditation, it makes space for creative thoughts and inspiration.” Libshtein explains that meditation greatly improves attention disorders, and provides clarity. When anxiety and lack of focus dissolve, there’s more room for inspiring ideas. “Creative ideas can come from meditation,” Libshtein says, “and connection to the source of your inner voice and thoughts.”

Good-bye, fear. Hello, focus.

Twenty-One Pilots’ song Stressed Out speaks to the teen reality. Meditation is a way to get calm, and focused. It trains your mind to relax, turning anxious energy into inspired thought.

…Read the rest of my story on Huffington Post here to learn how to meditate, and find out how meditation compares to using prescription antidepressants.

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Stepping into the spotlight – Interview with Victoria Theodore

I’m excited to announce that Mixtape Methodology published my interview with musician Victoria Theodore, featured in 20 Feet from Stardom. Here is an excerpt:

When Victoria Theodore began taking piano lessons just before her twelfth birthday, one of the first songs she learned was “Overjoyed,” the 1985 R&B single by Stevie Wonder. The song came naturally to her—as natural as the environmental percussion track in the hit’s background, layers of sound emanating from crickets and birds, ocean waves, and pebbles dropping into a pond. “I had just started studying piano,” Theodore recalls, “and since I’m a strong reader, I bought the sheet music and the album.”

They say those who wish to sing always find a song, but Theodore’s choice led the chanteuse to find her mentor. In 2007, Theodore joined Stevie Wonder’s world tour as keyboardist and background singer. She accompanied Wonder and other musical icons around the world, and performed for President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth.

“Whenever I perform ‘Overjoyed’ with Stevie, I experience pure euphoria and magic. I think to myself, ‘I’m playing one of the most beautiful songs ever, with the man who composed it. Pretty amazing.’” The song is her personal anthem—her inspiration for creating music, and helping others to find their voice. As Ella Fitzgerald said, “I sing like I feel.”

Theodore’s debut album of original music, Grateful, was released on…

Continue reading at Mixtape Methodology.

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Kill Writer’s Block Now: The Fast Track to Creativity Starts Here

Staring at a blank page?

No me, my friend; I’m already off and writing this blog post, charmed by the prolific Charles Bukowski, “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” (The Last Night of the Earth Poems)

Garnering the wisdom of two of my favorite writing instructors, I’m here to solve your blank-page-trauma in only five minutes. Yes, you can be power-typing a brand new story before a fresh pot of tea is ready. Here are my tried-and-true, never-fail rules for copious creativity:

Know what a story is. If you haven’t already (why haven’t you?) get yourself over to WiredForStory.com, home of famed storycraft maven Lisa Cron. You must learn, internalize and copy/paste at the top of your page Lisa’s mantra:
A story is HOW and WHY what happens (the plot) affects (the protagonist) who is in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (what the story is about).

If your idea is “Mom makes a peanut butter sandwich,” then apply Lisa’s guideline as follows: Why does she make it?  Does she have a child who will order a burger and fries in the school cafeteria if no PB&J is offered? Slow down the action and tell us HOW she makes it. Make her think about the pattern on the plate, the weight of knife, and whether she’ll choose Tupperware or a ziplock and WHY. How does she feel about all this? When the sandwich is complete, how has she changed by the experience?  Satisfied in her parenting skills, or comforted after concern from pediatrician about high fat and cholesterol in child’s diet? Is she thinking about her own mother, or suffering any symptoms as a result of a nut allergy?)

Writing Prompt Helpers. That peanut butter sandwich prompt was genius Rebecca, but where can I get ideas so shiny and bright? Generally, I have a character or situation to begin with–especially when I’m starting a new chapter in an existing fiction piece. If I’m at ground zero, I Google “writing prompts,” like a trained chimp, ahem. The silliest prompt can elicit some profound thoughts, so don’t be afraid to grab the first one and go.

Brainstorm without borders. For no-nonsense writing advice from an accomplished writer and busy mom, you can’t go wrong with Author Jody Hedlund. I love her brainstorming plan, and I think it’s a must-do at the beginning of every creative venture. Jody says, “Before writing, I come up with pages of ‘what if’ possibilities for my story. I make long lists of all kinds of wild and crazy ideas that I could include in the story. I don’t limit myself. No idea is too stupid. I write down everything and anything… Usually the first few ideas we have are somewhat boring and cliched. So if we stop there, we’ll find ourselves frustrated. But if we list a hundred (or more ideas), then finally we’ll start digging deep enough into the creative well to pull out fresh ideas that excite us.”

This is solid advice, but one HUNDRED? (Yes!)
My next tip will save you from spending the entire weekend on that list…

The 5 Minute Miracle This is my own, personal, golden ticket. I set my phone or kitchen alarm for 5 minutes and I type as fast as my little fingers can. I don’t care about spelling, punctuation, capitalization–nada. I don’t stop to sip my coffee or pet the cat. I type without censure. You may call it stream of consciousness, but it isn’t. Why? Because of Lisa Cron’s mantra at the top of my page. I start with who, and I steer myself toward how, and that leads me to why, and then aha! Even I didn’t see coming the natural progression to the change experienced by my protag as a result. I type these scenarios as fast as I can, and when the alarm goes off, I have several ideas, a bunch of junk to be edited or cut, and some real, solid, satisfying fiction leads I may have taken HOURS to arrive at, without these tools.

Same goes for dialogue. If I’m working a scene and I don’t know exactly what my characters ought to say, I five-minute the heck out of them, and when the buzzer goes I’m surprised to learn what they “really” wanted to say all along.

Set your alarm, find a prompt, and let the five-minute-miracle unfold.

Oh, then tweet me about your adventure @TheRJLacko –or comment below, of course!

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4 Fun Tips for Inspiring Children to Read & Write Stories

Words are the foundation of any great story. Whether eloquent, blunt, allusive or rudimentary, words are the playthings of those new to the alphabet and MFA students alike.

photo by David Browning

I have two children, ages 5 and 7; both alphabet aficionados and no strangers to playthings. Like any book nerd, I do my best to feed their literary minds-in-training, beginning with picture books, and moving onto chapter books. I’ve had success; they can’t go—won’t go—to bed without bedtime stories, no matter the hour or my exhaustion. But I want them to love books, and—dare I dream?—writing, as much as I do. I figure my best hope is to reveal the magic of words.

  1. The Word Hunt: I picked up a book about palindromes
    and quite unexpectedly, ignited unbridled excitement for this surprising word configuration. Most children are intrigued by puzzles, and even early and pre-readers can get in on the action. Have your child scan the patterns of letters comprising a sentence; if they find a word or series of words that reads the same forward and backward, it’s a palindrome! Once my kids got the hang of it, they would spontaneously shout from the back seat of the car if they overheard me using a palindrome while talking to my husband up front. (*note: kids listen to everything you say. The only words which fall on deaf ears are your instructions and/or rules.)
  2. Compound words: My kindergartner is always on the lookout <<see? for two words glued at the middle to create a new word. Again, strong reading isn’t necessary to begin, but do point out compound words when you come across them in a book, or on signs and buildings during car rides. The one who finds the most compound words wins! (Note, my older son prefers instead to find words with prefixes and suffixes. My kindergartner doesn’t get this concept yet. To each his own.)
  3. Synonyms: This is another game we play in car or the grocery store, or anytime I need to keep the boys occupied. Choose a word they really like, and have them think of as many synonyms for it as they can. (Mistakes will happen—they will rhyme, for instance, or come up with a homonym without knowing it, but that’s fun too!) My children have a giggly blast thinking up synonyms for vomit, I regret to admit. Whatever it takes.
  4. The Human Condition: As a small child, I used to think stories were merely series of events. I didn’t think much about character  motivation, but understanding why a character responds one way or another when faced with conflict is essential. For young kids, character motivation can be taught simply by getting on the floor with them and asking questions during imaginative play.
    My boys have a Fisher Price jungle toy with an orienteering type action figure we’ll call Hemingway and a bucket of miniature animal figurines. They wanted to play a game where the Hemingway character searches for lost gold treasure in the jungle, and another action figure was to assume the role of “bad guy.” Awesome, we have the beginning of a plot.
    I asked the boys, “How will Hemingway find the treasure?”
    Boys: “The animals in the jungle are his friends! And they know where the treasure is!”
    I love their positive outlook, but here is the moment when an OK story gains momentum—with character motivation.
    Me: “How did the animals become his friend?”
    Boys: (thinking I’m crazy but trying to come up with a reason) “…he helped them find the baby tiger when she was lost and brought her back to her mommy?”
    To gain a clearer vision of the animals’ friendship and desire to help Hemingway find gold, we acted it out. We hid the baby tiger, the Hemingway action figure was posed through many heroic and dangerous stunts to save her, all the while the rest of the animals in the jungle fretted and cried out for the lost baby. Such gloom and doom among the animal kingdom, when wait! Hemingway returns with baby, safe and sound! The tiger mommy and daddy are forever grateful and vow to help whenever they’re needed. At the tiger’s homecoming celebration, my sons got the idea that the animals tell Hemingway about the bad guy hunting them. This was fantastic, because it added another stake to the race to find the gold, and further invests the animals in helping Hemingwat achieve his goal and overcoming the bad guy/hunter.

Create a balance of fostering independence while demonstrating interest in their activities by asking questions and brainstorming ideas. Throw your own palindromes, synonyms and compound words into the ring. Most importantly, have fun and laugh. Words are for play!

What games or techniques have you used to inspire a love of words in your children?

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What Was Your Childhood Dream? Dare to Let Go And Grow

Three decades stand between me and a little wish I’d had a child.

For most little girls, ballet tutus hold an inescapable allure, swishing like a soft summer breeze over long grass, impossibly layered mille-feuille, delicate and delicious.

I wanted one.

And the leotard, and the tights, and the little pink slippers. I suppose if I were to dig below the surface, I also longed for both the spotlight and the validation of appearing as gracefully weightless as the tutu itself.

I had it all, for a fleeting moment. As a preschooler, I attended a pre-ballet dance class in the basement of a church. I wore a silky white ribbon around my waist, while the “older” girls–kindergartners–wore identical ribbons, but theirs secured miniature tutus around their tiny five-year-old midsections. I begged to continue with ballet but eventually found myself on swim and softball teams.

I never gave up my dream of dance. The forest beyond our backyard became my woodland stage. Leaping about in secret, I metamorphosed into Sugar Plum Fairy, nymph or sprite, as delicate and sparkling as a drop of dew upon a leaf, as radiant and welcome as sunlight through a lush canopy. My play-clothes were transformed in my imagination to an intricate tangle of sequins and flowers, my body a lithe sapling hoisted easily for aerial arabesques. I would hum the Nutcracker Suite, Flight of the Bumblebee, or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

In fifth grade my best friend, a tall willowy girl, began to study ballet in earnest. I drew up a rather official-looking agreement and attendance record and urged her to sign. After her Saturday ballet class, we would meet at her house and she would teach me everything she’d learned in class that day. I was a demanding student, wringing from her more knowledge and experience than she had at her disposal. The agreement lasted only one afternoon.

In sixth grade, a woman’s body replaced the potato shaped pre-teen form I’d hidden under sweats. I shuddered at the very thought of any public appearance in a leotard and gave up the dream of ever attending ballet class.

In my bed concealed by sheets and blankets, I laid on my back, pointing my toes as hard as I could, touching the tips to the mattress, contracting my leg muscles, “turning out” at the hip flexor. When out of sight of others, I’d tip-toe as softly as possible, toes pointed out, ankles up to increase foot strength, holding my hands as though tiny butterfly wings. I wanted to be ready.

In college, a beginning ballet class beckoned me from the course catalog. For a moment I glimpsed the possibility of touring with a dance troupe with seasoned dancers. But who begins learning ballet at 19, I contended.

I declined to allow myself the pleasure of merely learning.

Nearly 20 years later, I’m committing more time to caring for myself now that my two children are both in school. So I signed up for a beginning ballet class. After all, I’m finally writing my first novel, a long-held dream that won’t let go until I’ve met my goal. Why not dance as well?

That first class reduced me to my five-year-old self. Inside my chest, a small fire lit, and I happily moved my feet from position to position as though I were back in the woods behind my home. I gladly flexed onto tiptoes and plied with gratitude. I can do this, I whispered to myself.

After class, the instructor asked me again, “Certainly you’ve had dance experience. As a child, perhaps?”

Flushed with endorphins and giddy disbelief, hope is renewed in me.

Passion is always present, available, and laughs at age, the most irrelevant variable. Having begun at last to dance has awakened in me both confidence and curiosity to try other things for the first time. I dare you to live your childhood dream, if only for an hour, as I did.

Comment with your experience—I want to hear from you!

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Using Dirty Fighting To Escalate Tension In Your Story

Great books are filled with conflict, and great characters who learn important lessons.

Writer and all-around-funny Jenny Hansen’s clever tips for Dirty Fighting Techniques can be applied to your main character’s friend, family member or a significant other…whoever he or she is in conflict.
Hansen asserts, “Every entry on the Dirty Fighting List is guaranteed to make the other person see red.” If you’re writing fiction, anger and tension is a fantastic vehicle to move your story quickly and appropriately introduce backstory. The following are excerpts from her post.

One difficulty with reading about dialog is that every character is unique and, even though the examples may be excellent, your characters would not necessarily say those things. How do you think of creative things to say that would apply ONLY to your character?

One answer is to make him or her fight.

Since gratuitous fighting in a story is like gratuitous sex (kinda boring if there’s no real connection or reason for it), the author needs to find a great reason for the fight. The easiest way to pave the road is to discover what your characters really want. Then dig down for what they really, really want.

DON’T give it to them.
Or at least, don’t give it too soon.

Then flake away more layers to uncover what your character really fears. Then what they really, really fear. DO give it to them!

This is where things get interesting. You not only have characters who are upset, you’ve also found myriad ways to slide everybody deeper into your story. To do this, ask your character questions:

  1. What matters most to this character? (What is he or she most afraid to lose?)
  2. Who matters most? (This is usually the person they are most afraid to lose.)
  3. How did the character’s parents fight?
  4. How did the character’s parents interact with him or her?
  5. What does this character wish he or she had gotten in childhood?

All of these questions can provide you with cues about where your character is “broken” and give you ideas about fixing the broken part (i.e. Fix = Lesson).

Now it’s time to unleash that fight! BRING IT ON.

Below are Jenny Hansen’s top five Dirty Fighting Techniques for adding tension and plotting options to your story. (Get ready to flex your sarcasm muscle – which is always used in a dirty fight.)

#1 – Triangulating: Don’t leave the issue between you and your
conflict partner (could be a family member, friend or love interest), pull
everybody in. Quote well-known authorities who agree with you and list every family member whom you know has taken your side (and lie about the ones you haven’t spoken to, yet).

Uses: Triangulating is incredibly useful in fiction because you can expand the discussion to more characters and stir up some real drama. Let’s not keep this issue between just us, one character says to the other. Oh no, lets involve everybody.

If you have extreme Dirty Fighting Talent, you can stir the pot and then step back and play a new game called, “Let’s watch the other two people fight.” Good times.

#2 – Escalating: Quickly move from the main issue of the argument
to questioning your partner’s basic personality, and then move on to wondering whether the relationship is even worth it. Blame your partner for having a flawed personality so that a happy relationship will be impossible.

Uses: Excellent tool for keeping two love interests apart. But, the fight better be about something that really, really matters.

Escalating also allows for plausible use of Back Story. When you’re moving from the main issue to what the REAL issue is (often happens at the end of Act 2), escalating the argument will make someone lose control enough that they blurt out something juicy. Way to go, Author!

#3 – Leaving: No problem is so big or important that it can’t
be ignored or abandoned all together. Walk out of the room, leave the house, or just refuse to talk. Sometimes just threatening to leave can accomplish the same thing without all the inconvenience of following through.

Uses: My favorite use of this is employing it when the two characters really need each other. It completely ups the betrayal factor: I can’t depend on you, I don’t trust you, you’ve let me down.

You noticed how dirty those last three statements were, right? Not a clean fight to be found anywhere with “leaving,” which is fantastic for your story! The farther your character falls, the harder the journey is on the way back up, right?

#4 – Timing: Look for a time when your partner is least able
to respond or least expects an argument.

Uses: Think about this from a story point of view. A really great time to pick a fight is just before the main character embarks on a journey, has a new murder to solve, is called on to save the world. Anything
with high stakes. Be sure the character ambushing them is a likeable one so the reader REALLY gets drawn into the conflict.

#5 – Rejecting Compromise: Never back down.

Uses: This is a kickass Dirty Fighting trick to use on the main character. If there is only one winner, there is automatic conflict involved for the person who “loses.” The solutions are endless, but here’s some scenarios that come to my mind.

The main character could:

  • Realize the universal truth in fighting: the person who says “no” always has the power. Perhaps your MC will change their motivation so that the other character’s “no” doesn’t bother them so much.
  • Learn never to accept “no” from someone who doesn’t have the power to say “yes.” In other words, your MC could learn to stand up for they really want and find a way around their primary obstacle.
  • Find a way for there to be two winners. This a continuation of the point above

What do you think? What are some other ways you could use a good fight to help your character grow or advance your story? Do you use any of the five techniques in your own life…come on, you can tell! Let’s hear your fabulous Dirty (Fighting) Thoughts!

Jenny Hansen’s creative life is filled with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, and short stories. Find Jenny on Twitter @jhansenwrites, read her blog or look for her over on the Writers In The Storm blog.

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