5 Tips for Sparking Creativity

By Beth K. Vogt @bethvogt

My husband brought me roses the other day. A lovely bouquet of blush flowers, which he put in a vase on the kitchen island. But then he put one single rose in a vase and set it on the table beside my chair while I worked on rewrites. I looked up and said, “Because you remembered that women are more creative when there are flowers around, right?”
I don’t know if my husband recalled me mentioning a certain study when I read about it several years ago, but researchers at Texas A&M University showed that women developed more creative and flexible solutions to problems when there are flowers in the workplace. And men generated 15% more ideas than women did. (Men, flowers are beneficial for you, too!)

I’ve always enjoyed flowers, but I like them even more knowing they can inspire me as I write.

What are some other ways we can spark our creativity?

  1. Use Your Nose. Cinnamon and vanilla scents have been linked to creativity. One study found that people exposed to the aroma of rosemary had higher cognitive and concentration performance – something I need when I’m on deadline! People also recommend citrus aromas to calm anxiety – and to release creativity. Consider burning a candle or using essential oils with a diffuser on your desk. 
  2. Work When You’re Tired. I know, you’re already doing that, right? Guess what? Being tired can help you be more creative. One study found night owls may do their best work in the early morning, while early birds are more innovative late at night. 
  3. Do Something Monotonous. This sounds counterintuitive, I know. You’re trying to write something brilliant and I’m telling you to turn off your brain and do a mundane task, like folding laundry or washing the dishes. As author Agatha Christie said, “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” While you’re doing a mindless task, your brain relaxes and gets refreshed — and ready to be creative again.
  4. Don’t Go It Alone. So often we get an “I’ve got to figure this book out by myself” mentality. But being with other creatives breeds creativity. (Duh, right?) The question is, who is in your creative community? Do you even have a creative community? We all need positive people who will reinforce our desire to grow as writers, upping our game, and inspiring our readers. And we also need to be encouraging other writers.
  5. Remove Obstacles to Creativity. Ask yourself this question: What (or who) blocks my creativity? Is there an activity that messes with your writing muse? Okay, I know you’re all thinking Facebook, right? But maybe it’s something else, like a negative relationship. Or maybe you’re listening to music while you write when you’re more productive when it’s quiet. 

Here’s one last thing to think about as you live a creative life: Did you know that research shows it takes 25 minutes to get back on task after we’ve been interrupted? The next time you think about taking a few minutes from your manuscript to check social media, remember it will take you almost a half hour to dive back into your story.

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We are more creative when there are flowers around~ Beth K. Vogt (Click to Tweet)

How monotony and tiredness spark creativity~ Beth K. Vogt (Click to Tweet)



Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Now Beth believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” As a contemporary romance novelist, Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner and 2016 Carol Award winner for her novel Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She was also a 2015 RITA® Finalist for her novel Somebody Like You, which was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. In 2015, Beth introduced her destination wedding series with both an e-novella, Can’t Buy Me Love, and a novel, Crazy Little Thing Called Love. She continued the series in 2016 with the e-novella You Can’t Hurry Love (May) and the novel Almost Like Being in Love (June). Her novella A November Bride was part of the Year of Wedding Series by Zondervan. Beth enjoys writing contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily-ever-after than the fairy tales tell us. Find out more about her books at bethvogt.com. An established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth is also part of the leadership team for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by best-selling author Susan May Warren. She lives in Colorado with her husband Rob, who has adjusted to discussing the lives of imaginary people, and their youngest daughter, Christa, who loves to play volleyball and enjoys writing her own stories.

Writing Cinematically: 10 Movie Techniques to Apply to Your Novel

by Deborah Raney

If I’d known my first novel—a story about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease—would be made into a movie, I would have written it very differently. But when I got my first glimpse of the script, I understood immediately why the screenwriters had changed so many elements from my novel. Too many of my scenes took place in a character’s head—in his memories or her internal dialogue. I’m so grateful it was my first novel that made it to the silver screen because the experience of seeing my story turned into a script changed the way I wrote my next thirty novels.
Since learning more about screenwriting, I’ve discovered methods of applying film techniques to my writing in a way that makes my novels more visually vivid, more “cinematic,” and hopefully more likely to be turned into movies in the future! Here are ten techniques that translate particularly well to books:

1. Cliffhanger 

Books are often labeled as cliffhangers, but the word originated as a film term. Regardless, ending every scene or chapter on a cliffhanger—leaving your character in imminent danger, or at least with an urgent text message pinging—is a good way to keep your reader turning pages. Don’t wrap everything in a tidy bow at the close of a chapter. Instead, end each scene in the middle of the action. Force the reader to turn the page to find out whether your character will survive or not. Just be certain you show that cliffhanger instead of telling your reader about it.

Don’t say: Little did he know it would be their last night together.

Instead: The doorbell made him jump. He flipped off the hallway light and pushed back the curtain. A police cruiser idled on the snowy driveway, the exhaust forming eerie clouds in the chill night air. The emergency lights strobed, then dimmed, and a paunchy officer stepped out of the driver’s seat.

Don’t reveal why that officer is there until the next chapter… or maybe two. (But also, don’t frustrate your reader by making them wait too long for answers.)

2. Establishing shot

In film, an establishing shot is a long or wide-angle shot opening a scene to show the audience the locale/setting (or era, weather, time of day… whatever is most important for them to know as the scene begins). In writing, sometimes this type of opening is written in omniscient point of view, and the author then zooms in on a more specific point in the setting—inside a house, for instance. This is a great way to paint the big picture. Just remember: today’s readers don’t have patience for more than a paragraph or two of description. And omniscient is a tricky point of view to write, so you likely will want to get quickly into the head of your protagonist. Here’s how I accomplished that in my RITA award-winning novel Beneath a Southern Sky.


The thin trail of smoke slithered toward the clouds like a cobra charmed by the music of the coming rain. Though it was hard to tell how far in the distance the fire was, it worried Daria. It seemed more than a bonfire. And hours too early for that besides

She turned back to the flatbread she was making, slapping the coarse dough hard with the heel of her hand, forming a thin disc that would fry crisp in a pan of grease over the coals.

3. Jump cuts and fade outs

Don’t feel you must have a distinct beginning and ending for every scene. You don’t always need a formal introduction or a good-bye to the phone call. It’s usually far more effective to jump into a scene in the middle of action already in progress (without knowing what route your character took, or what kind of car she drove to get there). It’s also fine—even preferred—to end a scene in the middle of the action and simply jump to the next scene. Just be sure the opening of that scene conveys to the reader clearly and early on where the setting has moved to and how much time has passed.

4. Dissolve

In a similar way, you can end one scene and transition gradually to the next by taking a visual element from the first scene and using it in the next. In the movies, a dissolve is a film editing technique where the final image of one scene slowly morphs into the opening image of the next scene on screen. Often one element in the image will stay constant in both scenes. For example, in the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the camera might zoom in on the deadly apple as the wicked stepmother poisons it, then the image gradually changes to the next scene with an close-up of the apple in Snow White’s hand as she brings it to her mouth.

Literary “dissolves” work especially well in comedy where a character says, “Oh, Harvey would never do that.” And of course, the next scene opens with Harvey doing exactly that.

5. Zooms

If the movie camera zooms in on an object, you can bet that object will play a significant role in the story later. By zooming your writer’s “camera” in and describing a close-up view of an object or action, you give it the same importance as an object zoomed in on by a cinematographer. Just don’t forget to complete the circle and come back to that object you highlighted.

6. Lighting
Describing the light in your scene—bright and sunny, hazy, moonlit, etc.—not only gives the reader a visual image to picture, but also sets the mood, or creates a metaphor for good/evil, happiness/depression, etc. The beauty of using lighting in your novel is that it can be done with just a handful of ordinary, but well-chosen words. Here’s how Robin Lee Hatcher did it in her novel Whenever You Come Around (Thomas Nelson).

It didn’t take long to pull on jeans, T-shirt, and boots. Then he headed for the back door. The night air was cool, and the moon had risen, casting a soft white glow over the valley.

7. Magic Hour

Speaking of lighting, camera crews spend endless hours waiting for the warm but fleeting glow of sunrise or the clear blue light of evening, just before dark. Writers have the luxury of being able to capture that “magic hour” any time they choose. But it’s about so much more than what the eye can see. Setting numerous scenes in that mystical, ephemeral light can have the effect of giving your novel a surreal and magical mood. This is especially true if you write fantasy or romance, or employ elements of magical realism.

8. Soundtrack/Score
You can also create a wonderful mood for your scene by helping the reader hear the music that would be the soundtrack if your novel were a movie. Before “my” movie was released, the director sent me a rough cut—before the musical score had been added. When my husband and I were able to attend the movie premiere in Hollywood a few months later, and I saw the completed film for the first time, I was astonished at the difference music made.

Don’t make the mistake of sending your book into the world before the soundtrack is laid! Give your character a musical instrument to play. Have him always singing or humming or whistling. Have music from a grocery store waft to her ears. The reader will “hear” those songs, and your story will be so much richer for it. And don’t forget that rain, wind, whispering leaves, ocean waves, etc. make a music all their own.

It would take a big chunk of your advance to quote too many words of a song’s lyrics, but you can cite titles to your heart’s content. Here’s how I evoked a soundtrack for A Nest of Sparrows (WaterBrook Press/Random House) and my country music-loving hero Wade Sullivan.

Wade flipped on the radio and cranked up the volume. Garth Brooks’s voice carried over the wind. The lyrics wove a story from the old cliché, blood is thicker than water. But it was the last line of the song that caused his throat to tighten and a knot to form in his gut. But love is thicker than blood. Wade hoped a certain judge at the Coyote County courthouse believed that.

And later, a different kind of music:

Wade listened to the everyday sounds of his house—the patter of the kids’ bare feet on the hardwood floors, the creaking of the house’s old pipes as the kids turned the water off and on, the lilt of their thin voices wafting downstairs. He’d taken it all for granted. Too late, he recognized it as music. A melodic air that had changed keys and been transposed to a dirge before he’d made time to appreciate the happy tune.

9. Crosscut

In cinema, crosscut is the technique of interweaving clips of multiple scenes, usually chronologically, to show simultaneous events (or sometimes to emphasize themes). In writing, this can be especially effective in a thriller or suspense novel when the clock is ticking and many things are happening at once, and the reader needs to be aware of them all. These might be short scenes comprising a chapter, or consecutive chapters of only two or three pages each. Robert Parker’s novels are nearly 100 chapters long, although some of those chapters are mere paragraphs long. But they keep his novels moving at a nice clip (and his sales, too!)

10. Product Placement

Alas, a novelist doesn’t usually get paid to use the name or logo of a trademarked product in his book, but that doesn’t mean product placement can’t be used to great advantage. Bill Higgs in his debut novel Eden Hill (Tyndale House), plopped his readers firmly into 1963 with his clever (but well-integrated) mentions of a Philco radio, two-tone Nash Metropolitan automobile, Brownie camera, Oxydol detergent, and Hostess Twinkies. You probably don’t want to kill a character with a poisoned Twinkie, but you can certainly use namebrand products in a positive way to create visual images or evoke an era in your reader’s mind.

These are only a few of the film techniques that can be adapted to novel writing and thus bring your story to the reader in living color. There are no doubt others that could be translated for literary use, but for now, that’s a wrap!

TWEETABLES

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Bring your story to the reader in living color.~ Deborah Raney (Click to Tweet)


DEBORAH RANEY’
s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She has since written over 30 books, including novels for Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Harlequin. Deb is on the board of the 2600-member American Christian Fiction Writers, and teaches at writers conferences around the country. Deb and husband, Ken Raney, traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the friendly city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.

Book Blurb for Home at Last:

Why did their differences matter so much?


Link Whitman has settled into the role of bachelor without ever intending to. Now he’s stuck in a dead-end job and, as the next Whitman wedding fast approaches, he is the last one standing. The pressure from his sisters’ efforts to play matchmaker is getting hard to bear as Link pulls extra shifts at work, and helps his parents at the Chicory Inn.

All her life, Shayla Michaels has felt as if she straddled two worlds. Her mother’s white family labeled her African American father with names Shayla didn’t repeat in polite–well, in any company. Her father’s family disapproved as well, though they eventually embraced Shayla as their own. After the death of her mother, and her brother Jerry’s incarceration, life has left Shayla’s father bitter, her niece, Portia, an orphan, and Shayla responsible for them all. She knows God loves them all, but why couldn’t people accept each other for what was on the inside? For their hearts?

Everything changes one icy morning when a child runs into the street and Link nearly hits her with his pickup. Soon he is falling in love with the little girl’s aunt, Shayla, the beautiful woman who runs Coffee’s On, the bakery in Langhorne. Can Shayla and Link overcome society’s view of their differences and find true love? Is there hope of changing the sometimes-ugly world around them into something better for them all?

A Dog, A Monk and A Judge Walk Into a Book Store

Sorry. There is no punchline. But Ron has author wisdom to share involving all three of those elements. How could I resist?  

Meet Ron Marasco …
What things would you do differently…



I think I would have liked to begin my writing career with the understanding I now have about editors. Older writers sometimes have negative and cautionary things to say to young writers about editors. But it has been my experience that your relationship with you editor can be one of the truly rich experiences of your working life as a writer. The key is to approach it as a naturally collaborative relationship—as it is—as opposed to an adversarial relationship–which it only is if it gets off on the wrong foot!
When you “click” with an editor it can make for a deep, meaningful and sometimes life-changing connection. But you need to keep your ego out of the way. And you need to think of the book not as “yours” alone, but as a story or project that you want to bring to the world, that you want to someday belong as much to readers as it does to you.



What issues make you struggle…



When I am writing I get so swept up in what I am doing that the little details of life don’t get taken care of. E-mails go unanswered, chores ignored, health regimens foregone. It gets so that all you want to do is write.  At times like that it makes me understand why there were such things as Medieval monasteries—where people could just work and contemplate, utterly undisturbed by the ever-encroaching imperatives of the outside world. Medieval monks didn’t have to pay cable-bills or get their tires rotated! In the late stages of doing a book, every writer is an Medieval monk! (It’s one of the ways you know that you and the book are really cooking—that feeling of “Leave us alone!”)



What is your best writing advice?  



The first is from the novelist Elmore Leonard who said the key to writing is to “leave out the parts that readers skip.” My best advice to writers is to know that the story is not coming from you, but coming through you, from somewhere else. Thinking like this will way help you get put of the way of it. A truly organic story can’t be manipulated; it has to be allowed. It’s a “Let go, let God” kind of thing.



What would I do with my life if I didn’t write…



To degree, I’ve already done it. For years I was a professor who taught Theatre. And throughout all my years teaching I kept up my career as a professional actor. I’ve done dozens of TV shows. Most recently I have played the recurring role of a (quite irascible) judge: Judge Grove on the TV show Major Crimes. I must say, being a judge is pretty fun. The bench, the robe, the gavel!  You holler; people listen!  I have a bailiff, for heaven’s sake! Everyone should have a bailiff!  It’s a great role to play. Of course, in real life I’d be a lousy judge. Being an actor and a writer I tend to empathize and feel for all people, so I don’t know that I would be able to make a decision about anything, if I were a real judge. But the props and costume are pretty fun to play with!

TWEETABLES


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Book Blurb:



No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah.
He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before.
Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.



Bio:



Ron Marasco is a professor in the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His first book, “Notes to an Actor,” was named by the American Library Association an Outstanding Book of 2008. His second book, “About Grief,” has been translated into multiple languages, and he is currently completing a book on Shakespeare’s sonnets. He has acted extensively on TV—from “Lost” to “West Wing” to “Entourage” to originating the role of Mr. Casper on “Freaks and Geeks”—and appeared opposite screen legend Kirk Douglas in the movie “Illusion,” for which he also wrote the screenplay. Most recently, he has played the recurring role of Judge Grove on “Major Crimes.” He has a BA from Fordham at Lincoln Center and an MA and Ph. D. from UCLA.

Blinded by the White – Three Ways to Deal With Writers Block

by Jennifer Slattery

The white screen of death—it’s inevitable.

Even the most brilliant writers experience writer’s block on occasion, and often at the most inopportune times. This time period can be shortened, and perhaps even prevented, however, when a writer takes time to refuel, trusts God’s sovereignty, and maintains a posture of surrender.
Take time to refuel
I think it’s fair to say, most writers are idea people. We’re great at hatching—then chasing after—countless dreams. Until our schedule gets out of hand and we begin to feel depleted. Add to this all the other demands writers face each day, from marketing to editing to blogging, and it’s no wonder our brains check out from time to time.
When we’re fighting for words that refuse to come, often the best thing we can do is step away. Rest and take time to refuel—however is most effective for you. Regardless if you feel you have time to do so. In fact, it’s when we feel we’re most feeling squeezed that we need to step away. Even if that means leaving something undone.
I have a group of women I love hanging out with for the simple fact that they make me laugh. When I’m feeling drained or squeezed, I close my computer and give them a call. Laughter is healing and has the capacity to draw out the most stubborn muse. Plus, it relieves stress, and stress is a major creativity killer.
Trust God’s Sovereignty
Last week, staring at the bones of a new story and a calendar full of articles, keynotes, and guest blogs, I felt as if everything writerly in me had completely dried up. And I began to grow anxious, because really, a writer is only as good as their next idea, right? It stands to reason, when one’s creativity dies, their career dies with it.
Right?
Except, God is still in control even when our creativity stalls. Ephesians 2:10 tells me He has a plan for me. A plan He is working out, at this moment. A plan He is lovingly crafting and equipping me to fulfill. Knowing this allows me to rest in Him. As I do, something beautiful happens—I begin to die to myself, to my limited, anxious ways, and His Spirit is given free reign.
If we want to create lasting, intriguing, heart-stirring, beautiful work, we need to connect, deeply, with the Creator. With the God who formed galaxies out of nothing and who created the most colorful, diverse, and unexpected creatures. Because here’s the deal—our gift of creativity (and it is a gift) comes not from within ourselves but from God, the giver of every good and perfect gift. Our ability to create comes directly from Christ.
Creativity is Fed by Surrender
I know this. I know my greatest work, my greatest accomplishments, come from God’s Spirit working in and through me. I know only He can fulfill me, refuel me, and set my heart and mind on fire. And yet, so often, He is the very One I crowd out. I allow all my “have tos” to overshadow what I need most.
But when I pause and put God first, I find He has a way of working everything else out. Although that might result in a bit of redirecting, and yet, because God is a God of perfect wisdom and unfailing love, when He does nudge me right, left, or on a round-about, the result is always good. Better than good. Because He is good.
Writers block, unchecked, can literally lead to the death of a writer. But if God opened a door for us, be it through a contract or assignment, then we can rest assured He will enable us to walk through it. We can help on our end by taking time to refuel, trusting in His sovereignty, and maintaining a posture of surrender. By doing so, we place ourselves in the perfect position to be infused with and empowered by His unfathomably creative Holy Spirit.  
Novelist and speaker Jennifer Slattery has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, (http://whollyloved.com) she and her team put on events at partnering churches designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. She writes devotions for Internet Café Devotions, Christian living articles for Crosswalk.com, and edits for Firefy, a Southern fiction imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.
Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her on Facebook




Mitch, a contractor and house-flipper, is restoring a beautiful old house in an idyllic Midwestern neighborhood. Angela, a woman filled with regrets and recently transplanted to his area, is anything but idyllic. She’s almost his worst nightmare, and she s also working on restoring something herself. As he struggles to keep his business afloat and she works to overcome mistakes of her past, these two unlikely friends soon discover they have something unexpected in common, a young mom who is fighting to give her children a better life after her husband’s incarceration. While both Mitch and Angela are drawn to help this young mother survive, they also find themselves drawn to each other. Will a lifetime of regrets hold them back or unite them and bring redemption along with true love?