Wooing Innovation

” The power of thought is the magic of the mind.”
Lord Byron

Innovation is an appealing idea –we all want to be creative and original. But how do we get there? The traditional model of innovation used in business and other settings revolved around conducting some kind of research or analysis and using it as the basis for
brainstorming to come up with an innovation:  You turn off your analytical left brain, turn
on your intuitive right brain, and creative ideas start popping out.

But according to William R. Duggan, the author of Creative Strategy, the newest brain research tells us that “there is no right or left side of the brain when it comes to thinking. Creative ideas actually happen in the mind, as the whole brain takes in past elements, then selects and combines them — and that’s how creative strategy works.”

Duggan says that traditional brainstorming, especially in groups, leads to everyone pooling their expertise and throwing out ideas based on personal experience. “If you have a problem that the total personal expertise of six people can solve, then brainstorming is very efficient. But if the solution lies outside their personal expertise, brainstorming is a trap — you toss out ideas and get conventional wisdom, not innovation.”

In Duggan’s alternative approach to sparking innovative ideas, as I understand it, you break a problem down into its essential parts, search for precedents for solving the isolated aspects of the problem, then “let them seep into your mind and some of them connect to give you an idea.” You keep letting the idea evolve and grow. The most important thing in this stage of the process: “Keep an open mind as you work hard on your idea: the idea should change as you proceed, perhaps slightly, perhaps dramatically.”

What habits of mind keep you open to strategic intuition and creative combinations? “People should cultivate curiosity about how exactly things succeed and cultivate ‘presence of mind’ where they deal calmly with problems and let their minds wander freely rather than look for quick answers because they feel stress.”

OK, so we need to keep our whole brain focused, stay curious and calm, be in the moment, and let our minds wander freely without feeling pressured for results. Sounds promising and doable as we all write on.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Daring Believers

“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.
Bruce Barton, advertising executive

Circumstances surround us and batter our defenses. External events or actions taken by other people so often seem beyond our control — they buffet and bruise our confidence and nibble away at our motivation. We hit a roadblock on the page. We receive yet another rejection email. Our beta readers are more critical than we expected. A hoped-for writing assignment doesn’t come through.

In the face of all the many challenging circumstances we may face, can we dare to believe that we have something inside us that’s superior to all these stumbling blocks — that can rise above and leap over them?

Daring Believers know that the past doesn’t define or confine them: That what’s happened before doesn’t have to affect what lies ahead.

Daring Believers trust in their work and the value of their efforts. They know that confidence flows from focused, purposeful action — and they commit to pursuing it.

Daring Believers have faith in their ability to grow and improve. They believe they can become better and stronger through constant, continuous improvement.

Daring Believers stay open and receptive to the world and all it offers. They refuse to let unwelcome circumstances shut them down and narrow their gaze.

Daring Believers count their blessings. They know that abundance flows both to and from a grateful heart. Knowing this, they recognize that any lack they’re experiencing is only temporary and will soon fade away.

Let’s be Daring Believers. Let’s believe that we have something splendid to achieve — and that we’re more than equal to anything that comes our way — and write on!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Fascinating Footnotes

“[Nimura] skillfully bridges Japanese and American cultures, using the seemingly small story of the three young people to tell a much larger tale of another time.”
  Washington Post

Great stories are all around us. And sometimes the story of how a story was discovered is as fascinating as the tale itself. And hearing firsthand how Janice P. Nimura came to
write Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back made for a wonderful evening at my favorite indie, Watchung Booksellers.

A book critic and independent scholar with an MA in Eastern Studies from Columbia, Janice happened upon a slim volume in the stacks of the New York Society Library titled A Japanese Interior, by Alice Mabel Bacon, a lively, quick-witted account by a single woman who’d lived in Tokyo in the late 1880s. Tracing some curious references in the book
led Janice to a forgotten, but fascinating, footnote in Japanese-American relations: In 1871,  five young girls were recruited by the Japanese government and sent to America. Their mission: “learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of
enlightened men to lead Japan.

Through persistence and expert sleuthing, Janice rescued these amazing young girls from oblivion and crafted a highly praised nonfiction account of a world long lost. Janice’s spirited description of her journey from researcher to author underscored four valuable attributes we can all benefit from cultivating:

Intuition: When Janice came across A Japanese Interior, she instantly  felt it was very different from most more formulaic diaries about 19th century Japanese sojourns. And when an odd reference intrigued her, she intuitively felt it was worth exploring.

Curiosity: Tracing the threads of her story from the United States to Japan, Janice began to weave a story rich in history, culture shock, and emotional depth. Guided by her growing curiosity, she  uncovered more and more information.

Patience: Over a decade, Janice pondered the story, researched it intermittently, and brought her book to print. When circumstances made it difficult for her to immerse herself in her project, she found ways to gather new material and keep her story alive. When she finally had time to give it her full attention, it took her three years to write.

Passion: The more research she did, the more committed she became to telling a big story — one that embraced the young Japanese girls’ challenges, but also put them in the context of both Japanese and American history.

Intuition, curiosity, patience, and passion — a powerful quartet of qualities we can fruitfully bring to our own projects, fiction and nonfiction. Bravo, Janice — write on!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Writerly Wisdom

Eager to find some words of wisdom that might give us food for thought and fuel for our creative engines, I came across these nuggets and wanted to share them with you:

“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed quickly, to trap them before they escape.”   Ray Bradbury

“The only obligation any artist can have is to himself. His work means nothing, otherwise.
It has no meaning.”   Truman Capote

“Two questions form the foundation of all novels: ‘What if?’ and ‘What next?’ (A third question, ‘What now?’ is one the author asks himself every 10 minutes or so; but it’s more of a cry than a question.) Every novel begins with the speculative question, What if ‘X’ happened? That’s how you start.”   Tom Clancy

“I make a very tight outline of everything I write before I write it…By writing an outline you really are writing in a way… you’re creating the structure of what you’re going to do. Once I really know what I’m going to write, I don’t find the actual writing takes that long.
Tom Wolfe

“Beginning a novel is always hard. It feels like going nowhere. I always have to write at least 100 pages that go into the trashcan before it finally begins to work.  It’s discouraging, but necessary to write those pages. I try to consider them pages -100 to zero of the novel.”
Barbara Kingsolver

“…False straining yourself to put something into a book where it doesn’t really belong, it’s not doing anybody any favors. And the reader can tell.”   Margaret Atwood

“I like to say there are three things that are required for success as a writer: talent, luck, discipline…[Discipline] is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just havve to hope and trust in the other two.   Michael Chabon

As we begin a fresh week, may some of these musings inspire us as we all write on.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Something Wonderful

A lovely poem by Rainer Maria Rilke as we enjoy Spring’s fullness:

Early Spring

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows’ wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Semicolon Savvy

“Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”   Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt is more than curt when it comes to semicolons — and he’s not alone. For some reason, this little grammatical critter seems to ignite passionate debate about both its usefulness and its legitimacy — whether it truly holds a rightful place on the page.

Why the pros and cons? Probably because the semicolon is neither fish nor fowl: It’s more or less a hybrid of a period and a comma; this means it’s less than a period and more than a pause. The bottom line stylistically? When it comes to its place on the page, it’s stronger than a comma, but not as final as a period.

To use or not to use? Being partial to the semi myself, I tend to sprinkle them perhaps too liberally through the tracks of my tears and ideas on the page. Here’s an overview of the four main uses of a semicolon as a guide for us all:

To link independent clauses when using a comma/coordinating conjunction construction would be weaker stylistically:

“Dancing is for the birds; the Chicken Dance is for weddings.”

To separate a statement from a question or when a shift in tone is needed:

“Stop fooling around; or should I call your mother?”

To separate clauses when the second clause of a compound sentence is introduced by a conjunctive adverb:

“I enjoy baseball; however, my favorite sport is swimming.”

To separate series and clauses containing internal punctuation — usually commas:

“My preferred places to spend time include baseball, basketball, and soccer fields; bistros, movie theaters, and Las Vegas.

In the first three uses, the elements on both sides of the semicolon can stand alone as sentences. This makes sense because, with the exception of #4 applications, semicolons are used only to connect independent clauses.

Here’s a simple little trick: Substitute a period where you think a semicolon should go. If both elements can stand alone as sentences, then they can be joined by a semicolon if you feel it’s more effective stylistically. If either element can’t stand alone as a complete sentence, then you’re better served using a comma instead of a semicolon.

Now equipped with semicolon savvy, let’s write on!










Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Perfectly Imperfectt

A cautionary tale: It took Truman Capote many years to write his breakthrough bestseller In Cold Blood. After it was published in 1965, Truman was widely quoted as saying that his next novel, which he tentatively called Answered Prayers, would be easy to write in comparison. “It’s all in my head,” he reportedly said.

And that, dear reader and writer, is where most of it remained. Capote was a ruthless perfectionist. His standards were so incredibly high that when he died in l984, he’d spent most of the past 19 years endlessly writing and rewriting Answered Prayers. He missed deadlines, published excerpts, partied, and worked himself into a lather about it, but never finished his novel. Sad, but true.

And probably familiar. We’ve all struggled with taming the ideas in our head and wrestled with putting the stories we’ve envisioned out into the world. We’ve
all faced days when nothing much of value seems to happening on the page. And we’ve all struggled with imperfection — the sense that there’s a huge gap between where we want to take our stories and where they seem to want to go. We reach for the perfect word, the perfect phrase — and find only an echo of what we long to say.

What to do, what to do? When perfectionism rears its frustrating, writer-blocking head, what’s the best way to respond? Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful:

Don’t get it perfect, just get it going: This is advice I first heard from a gaggle of entrepreneurs when writing my start-up action guide, Birthing the Elephant, and we writers can use it, too. In fact, let’s make it a mantra: “Don’t get it perfect, just get it going.” Start your engine. Get some words down on the page and don’t worry about whether they’re clothed in elegant purple prose or sparkle like diamonds: You can always dress them up later (see Quick FIX).

Remember, mining for gold requires panning: Think back to old Westerns and those scenes where prospectors are mining for gold: dipping pans in streams and then sloshing out the dross and hoping for a few gold nuggets. In a way, that’s what writing is like: If we end up at the end of a writing session with a few gold nuggets, then life is
good. Keep this image in mind and just keep panning.

See revision as your friend, not your foe:  Take to heart what John McKee, the author of a classic screenwriting guide once said: “Rewriting doesn’t mean drudgery. Rewriting means reimagining, recreating, improvising, and trying all kinds of crazy ideas. That’s rewriting.” When you have this vision of revision in your kit bag, you can simply toss perfectionism out — you really don’t need it.

So let’s all agree to be perfectly imperfect and then fruitfully and happily write on!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment