Saturday, January 31, 2015

CBC's Creative Nonfiction Prize, and some science news

From CBC Books:
Send us your original, unpublished work of creative nonfiction (between 1,200 and 1,500 words) and you might win the following:
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CBC also has advice on how to write non-fiction.  From David Waltner-Toews:
2. Curate and shape your facts. "Facts are not enough! You need a great story that pulls together all the facts. This is where the aha! moments come. Without the story, a nonfiction writer or a scientist is a junk collector, picking up artifacts, bones, and bits of DNA. Without a good story to explain them, dinosaur bones are just old reptile bones. Nowadays, anyone can collect bits of data on the internet. As a creative nonfiction writer, your job is to give meaning to those data, and to instill into your (millions of!) readers your passion about the world in which we live. To write a good story, you must delight in your subject matter, no matter how banal. In fact, the more off-putting your subject matter, the more that delight matters. Believe me, having written books on diseases people get from animals, food poisoning, and excrement, I know what I’m talking about on that score!"
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Even more from CBC, this time from CBC Books.  The player is not working for me at this link, but at another, Linwood Barclay discusses the lengths authors have to go to entice readers.
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I've always been a fan of the creativity that scientists and experimenters display.  Recent Scientific American posts discuss how to photograph fire ants and how to make gardens that don't suffer form salinization.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Valliant effort and principles of comedy

CBC Books has an article describing how John Valliant wrote "The Jaguar's Children". Before writing it, he'd been working a book titled, The Tiger.  I guess he has a thing for cats.  Anyway, an excerpt:
PLACE AT THE DINING ROOM TABLE
Editing this book was very difficult for me, and I had the assistance of several editors working with it over a period of years. There were times when I had the story broken down into 150 scenes, each one described with a one-line capital phrase. They were thrown down in a heap on the dining room table and I just started pulling them out and asking each scene if it could justify its existence. If it could, it went into the keep pile. If it couldn't, it got set aside. Then, out of the keep pile, I asked which one of you comes first. There were some very obvious ones but there were also a number of scenes in the book that could have gone anywhere. That was an agony. 

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From Bill Hicks: Here are five of twelve principles
  • 1. If you can be yourself on stage nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.
  • 2. The act is something you fall back on if you can’t think of anything else to say.
  • 3. Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it’s not that funny to you.
  • 4. Never ask them is this funny – you tell them this is funny.
  • 5. You are not married to any of this shit – if something happens, taking you off on a tangent, NEVER go back and finish a bit, just move on.


jkl;lkj

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Controlled distraction might not be such a good idea

I'm sure I didn't coin the term "controlled distraction"* but I don't know where I first heard it.  My own usage for the phrase is to describe the sweet zone of idea generation in brainstorming or from forced connection exercises.  The person trying to create ideas needs to be focused on the problem but not too much so.

Daniel Pink, I think in this video, described how the use of rewards limited creative thought by encouraging the participants to focus too tightly on the problem at hand.  He, and many others, have suggested ways to loosen that focus just enough.  My recent post on messy desks as conducive to creative thought fits this paradigm.  Working at a messy desk causes you to see a wide variety of objects and ideas that might encourage unexpected connections to the problem and new ways to solve it.

Nature has an article on how distracted minds might not be that smart after all. Their introduction:
If you have to make a complex decision, will you do a better job if you absorb yourself in, say, a crossword puzzle instead of ruminating about your options? The idea that unconscious thought is sometimes more powerful than conscious thought is attractive, and echoes ideas popularized by books such as writer Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling Blink.But within the scientific community, ‘unconscious-thought advantage’ (UTA) has been controversial. Now Dutch psychologists have carried out the most rigorous study yet of UTA — and find no evidence for it.
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*I was just being modest.  I really thought I had.  And I guess it is still possible that in my usage I had, but a lot of people use the phrase in conjunction with creativity.  Dang it.
Some examples:
Terry N Williams uses the phrase and also explicitly ties it to the Unconscious Thought Advantage. 
My shorthand version of a useful process is:1. Introduce the problem and range of solution options if they exist yet2. Carry out a pre-set 3 minute distraction activity*.3. Return to the problem and / or the options. Make your choice.4. Live with it.
Ha, Two students of mine summarized a lecture I gave on the subject. The link is to one student's review.
Alcohol will not help to our creativity, and restrictions can not help to improve our creativity. Money won't, either. But, there are some ways to help our creativity. First, controlled distraction is good at creativity, and random words help us too.
Talk about incestuous amplification!
I started thinking that what I wanted and needed was a deck of cards, inspired by Oblique Strategies, that would instead take me away from what I was focusing on and introduce a new subject. A kind of controlled distraction. I wanted a question or a subject on something I didn’t know, that I could research as quickly or deeply as I wanted in order to cleanse my thinking palette.
B.J. Kurtz uses the phrase to describe a strategy we have in common to improve concentration.  At some point in my youth I was diagnosed with something like ADD; I was (and am) unusually susceptible to distraction and play music I am well familiar with as a sort of white noise.  For Kurtz:
The only way it worked is by my second commonality: the need of music. The only time I write in silence is when I’m doing this blog or when I am writing in the early morning. However, if I want to write for longer than a half hour, I need music playing in the background. I’m not sure what it is about music. In theory, it should be a distraction. But, as I’m writing, I zone out the words and listen to the melody. It helps me tap into the tone of my scenes. But, it is also a controlled distraction, cutting out the clutter of everyday and replacing it with something I want.
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After five years of writing about creativity, I feel I am only a little more knowledgeable than when I started.  Controlled distraction is good.   Not it isn't (here - ah, this post you're reading right now).  Brainstorming is good.  No, it isn't.  I guess learning about nuance and limits is still learning.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hand-drawn image and the pain of body writing

Scientific American: from scribble to published infographic.


These images were greatly cropped before placing them on my blog.  To see the full images and the steps before the former and latter, follow the link.
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The pain and horror of beautiful handwriting.

I just finished a three-week academic camp in the mountains of Gangwon province and the work of my students in researching wildlife in the cold was wonderful.  So was the variety of wildlife we found to research.

The day before camp started we three teachers found these tracks in the forest.

I think below I see an 'r', a 'g' and another 'r'.
Could we be reading it upside down?
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Trigger warning: The next image might make you sad.
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This poor fellow was at the end of the trail.


I believe it ate something poisonous and the tracks that look so much like writing were a drunken reel before it collapsed and either the poison or the cold killed it, even freezing the urine as it spilled out.

My students didn't see this mouse as a snowstorm came in during the first day and covered it.  I felt it would be too ghoulish to dig it out even if I could find the exact location again.

My students did see other mouse tracks and studied why they might be out in the winter cold.  Apparently, if they get too cold, they awaken to rewarm their bodies before going back to sleep.  They can also awaken when the temperature warms to above zero Celsius.  So it was either too cold or too warm to sleep.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Does Werner Herzog's advice include cultivating a messy room?

I didn't notice that advice but at Indiewire, it did include "There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need."
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It was Elite Daily that investigated the psychology behind messy rooms.
Using a paradigm consisting of one messy room and one tidy room, and a series of trials, Vohs concluded that messy rooms provoke more creative thinking – and provided scientific evidence!
The next question is, what exactly constitutes “creative thinking,” and how will your pig sty of a room help?
Creative thinking, in its purest form, is thinking outside the lines of “conventional” reasoning. When considering this, it should be no huge shock that messy rooms containing possessions misplaced from their “conventional” locations would promote creativity.
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A common bit of advice from creatives is to require payment if you are working professionally. A friend shared this on Facebook from Just Music.  The artist -Melanie Gillman- seems to have more art here (which, ironically, I am not paying for but at least I do offer a link.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I guess Draw Muhammad Day has come early.

Seems like a day to share some old drawings of mine. Originally posted here (and around the time of Draw Muhammed Day and Camping's calculated end of the world day).

Also published earlier online but I can't recall where.
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Completely unrelated but it was in the post first, so I have left it in.


amazing what 13 hours a day of writing will produce, or not.

Kazuo Ishiguro wrote Remains of the Day in four weeks.  I didn't know Nanowrimo was active in 1990.

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It's amazing what crap writing will produce.  This is not a description of my blog but rather a question at Quora: "How would you deal with a writer friend who isn't a good writer?"  Sonnet Fitzgerald offers good advice but I am probably too tactless to use it properly:
I have chosen to make a point to compliment them on the amount of effort I know writing a book takes. "Wow, it must have taken you a ton of work to get that put together!" "I didn't know you were a writer, so few people actually have the stamina to see a book through to this stage." "You wrote this while working 60 hours a week? That's amazing!"
It's not lying, it's just... deflecting.
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Daily routines of creative people.  Want to know what those colours mean?  Look here.