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Technical Oops

Just a quick technical note. If you subscribed to the QT Blog via email and are getting THIS feed instead, please re-subscribe to the QT Blog at http://querytracker.blogspot.com/. The email link on the QT Blog site was pointing here. I double-checked the code and tested it, and it now works properly. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Contests and Other Industry Happenings

I'm going to try to blog a little more often here, and today I just want to give you a heads-up on some contests you might be interested in joining!

  • Dec. 15 - Jan. 15: Firebrand Query Holiday.  Rather than queries, the Firebrand literary agency is soliciting first chapters for one month. Want to submit?  Check out Firebrand's website. If you Twitter, one of the agents, Nadia Cornier, is posting updates on how many submissions they've received, read, and requested.
  • Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Search for an unpublished novelist who deserves to be launched into a career. Novel submissions happen February 2 - February 8.  Be sure to check out the FAQ!
  • If you haven't discovered Miss Snark's First Victim yet, it's about time.  Authoress posts frequent contests, including ones in which a secret agent critiques the first few paragraphs of  your novel.  She will be running one of these Secret Agent: Are You Hooked? contests in January, along with a First Chapter Crit Fest. More details when she posts them!
Everyone have a safe and happy New Year's!

Subscribe via Email & the QT Blog

I've added a Subscribe via Email link to the blog.  Sorry that took so long, I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't realize how popular it was to read blogs that way.

I also want to let you know about another writing site I'm now a part of: The QueryTracker.net Blog.

If by some chance you haven't visited QueryTracker.net yet, what are you waiting for?  It's the site for finding literary agents and tracking submissions to them.  I used it to find my agent.  I also blogged about it when I first found it, and I love it more now than I did when I found it.  It's free, though you can buy a premium subscription for extra features.  (I don't get a kickback if you start using QT, it's just that awesome.)

Along with four other fun, wacky women and the master sitebuilder himself, Patrick McDonald, I'll be blogging several times a week on hot topics like important industry news (including agent contests and announcements), hot writing and publishing tips, a soon-to-be announced QT Blog contest, and ways to use QueryTracker.net, QueryTracker Forum, and RallyStorm to help you become a better writer, find an agent, and get published!

Funnies for the Jingle Bell Chain

What with the holidays being so busy, this go-round the blog chain is doing a "Jingle Bell Chain" in which everyone just posts on the topic of their choice.  Mary did a beautiful job talking about what a great boon online writing friends can be that I've been stymied on what to post.

Tonight, it came to me.  You know that sometimes I post "timewasters" because...well, just because I end up doing silly timewasting things online when I should be writing.  So in the spirit of the holidays, here are some holiday funnies from my favorite timewasting websites.

icanhascheezburger.com is probably my all-time favorite timewaster.  It's filled with user-captioned photographs of funny cats (though there is a sister site for "hot dogs".).  Part of what makes it so funny is that the pictures are captioned in LOLspeak, which is like a combination of Engrish and baby talk.


Some of them are writing-specific.
icanhascheezburger.com has a sister site with funny graphs:
For obvious reasons, I also get a kick out of psychology humor.


Last but not least, I'd like to offer something I found a while back that always makes me smile.  I like speculative sf/f, but sometimes it's tough to explain the subgenres to people who aren't into that particular genre.  I thought this was a great explanation for steampunk.

Happy holidays, everyone!

We're posting out of order this time, so be sure to check out the posts of everyone on the chain.  Part of mixing it up was linking to different people, so in addition to Mary (above), be sure to check out the person who comes after me, Heather.

Archetype Updates

Finally, I've had a little time to update the Archetype site with some great new articles!  Happy Holidays, everyone!

7 Personality Characteristics You Need to Get Published by Carolyn Kaufman, Elana Johnson, and Suzette Saxton
Agents and editors deal with hundreds of queries, synopses, proposals, and chapters every month. Whether you realize it or not, your approach to the process has a lot to do with whether or not your work will ever reach publication. Here are the 7 characteristics necessary to achieving your dreams!
 
The Reluctant Writer by Pamela White
Since the age of 9, I've been a writer. I loved telling a story, dreaming up new ideas, places and people, and rereading what I had written. I just never wanted anyone else to read it...

Rejection - Is Your Book Really THAT Bad? by Aaron Lazar
Rejection tears at the thin fabric in which we cocoon with our fragile writer's ego, protecting the inner belief that our work is valid.

Pitfalls of the Aspiring Author - Common Mistakes You Must Avoid by Umm Junayd
As a publisher, I have received numerous queries and manuscripts from writers seeking publication, but there are some things that aspiring authors always seem to get wrong...

Creating Believable Villains Who Are Worthy to Fight Your Protagonists by Vicki Hinze
You must make your villains credible, logical, believable and understandable, but not likeable. You want your villains to be real, three-dimensional people. You want the reader to understand what they're doing, why they're doing it, why they believe their actions are just and rational but you don't want the reader to become so empathetic with the villain that he/she loses empathy with the hero/heroine and starts cheering for the villain.

Essence of Character - Seven Steps to Creating Characters that Write Themselves by Corey Blake
Creating characters that are believable takes time and discipline. Creating dynamically real individuals and not imposing your own thoughts and impressions upon them is not easy to do, and is often the difference between a novel or screenplay that sits in a closet and one that finds its way around town and into the hands of audiences.

Sharpen Your Writing - Choosing Strong Verbs by Charlotte Rains Dixon
Have you ever read a novel and been impressed with the originality of the author's use of verbs? One of the hallmarks of good fiction is the use of strong, original verbs. Yet how does one go about finding these verbs when our daily lives are most often assaulted with weak variations of "to be" from every angle?

Fiction Writing: Getting Your Events In Order! by Steve Dempster
Many writers make mistakes when they describe two things happening simultaneously...

Short Story Writing -- Don't Waste Your Words On Wasted Words! by Steve Dempster
The short story market often demands tight word counts from the writer. Here are some tips on how to keep that word count under control!

Top 7 Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Manuscript by Lucia Zimmmitti
I'll bet you've grown weary of writing coaches telling you how to fix your work-in-progress. Ready to break the monotony? Here are some guaranteed ways to ruin a perfectly good manuscript!

Writing Skills - Become a Collector by Charlotte Rains Dixon
The best writers are collectors. They gather ideas and snippets of this and that as they go through their daily life.

Writing Rituals and Routines by Pamela White
When I was offered my first ongoing writing position, I never thought about having a schedule for my writing time, unless procrastinating until the last minute was a plan...

Improve Your Writing Habits Now by Melinda Copp
Writers sometimes develop poor habits, and end up doing more thinking about writing than actual writing. I know, because although I write for a living, and I still don't always spend enough time on the writing that I most want to do.

Strengthen Your Writing With Three Self-Editing Tips by Melinda Copp
When you want to ensure your written communications are professional and clear, knowing these three self-editing tricks can enhance your prose.

Writing as Wish Fulfillment?

This time, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan picked the blog chain topic:


What is the role of wish fulfillment in fiction? What personal wishes do you want your stories to fulfill? Are they the same ones you want to read about?

Though I'm sure there's some wishing involved in my writing, I don't think that's my main purpose in writing. I think I write more to express different facets of myself.  But that's not what this blog topic is about; this blog topic is about what kinds of wishes might sneak into my stories.

Like Elana, I'd love to have some special powers.  When I was a student, I always thought it would be fun to be able to move things with my mind -- wouldn't that totally mess with the teacher?  Now that I am the teacher, I think it would be fun to be able to move things with my mind...to totally mess with the students.  I can't tell you how many cell phones would be flying out of people's hands as they attempted to text.

From time to time I enjoy reading (or writing about) a romance, but I enjoy it more if it's about a woman who's as strong and capable as the man, so I suppose that tells us something about the types of relationships I wish to have.  I enjoy the romance even more if it's part of a paranormal/urban fantasy -- yep, the ones with the inevitable tattooed and sword-wielding but sexy badass on the cover. And what kind of wish might that fulfill?

You know, I think the wish is to get published and have my very own badass on a cover somewhere....now that would be a dream come true!

I have just not done justice to this topic.  If Mary hadn't done such a good job with it, I might have talked about Freud's theories of wish fulfillment.  Fortunately, Michelle comes after me in the chain, and her post is awesome!

Archetype Site Update

Hey everyone, just in case you're wondering when I'm going to update the Archetype site again, the answer is....SOON. It can be tough to find quality articles to share with you, and there's been a bit of a dry spell. Add that to the NaNoWriMo craziness last month, and I got a little behind.

The good news is that I will have some time to do updates later this month, and a small group of talented writers is working on producing some new articles for you. If you have suggestions for articles you'd like to see, please feel free to leave a comment letting me know!  You could say something broad like, "I'd really love to see some new articles on characterization/plot/publishing/creativity/etc." or something more specific like "Have you thought about writing an article on which personality qualities help people get published?"  Either way, I love article suggestions!

Some people have also asked about the Archetype Newsletter. I stopped doing the newsletter several months ago because it took a long time to prepare. The number of subscribers just wasn't enough to justify the amount of time and energy it took me to create. As a tradeoff, I decided to put more time and energy into blogging. The nice thing about the blog is that you can subscribe to it and keep an eye out for updates in your RSS feed reader.

If there's anything about the newsletter you particularly miss (jargon, for example), please also feel free to leave me a comment about that; I can make an effort to include things like that in site updates.

How to Help Save Publishing

The economy is terrible right now (I know, duh), and it has been especially hard on the publishing industry, but HL Dyer created the graphic at right to remind us all not to panic. 

And there is something you can do to help -- buy a book. 

Before you decide that you have a perfectly good library right around the corner, remember that writers who someday hope to publish need the publishing industry!  And you can help insure that publishing will still be there, looking for great manuscripts, when you're ready to submit...just by buying a book.

So buy a book!

Consider asking for books from family and friends who need suggestions; also consider buying books for everyone on your shopping list!

Need some suggestions?  Check out BookEnds agent Kim Lionetti's holiday shopping suggestions.

I read all the time, and I try to keep my AllConsuming list (at left) updated so you can see the kinds of great books I've found.  I've also hand-picked the best psychology and writing books for writers and put them all in one place for you.  Among them are books that helped me find and win over my agent, the magnificent Kate Epstein; books that give me ideas when I'm running out; books that give me hope when I'm ready to give up; and the psych resources I use when I'm writing!

Today's Timewaster: Geek Level

I'm blaming this one on Janet Reid too. I think she posts these so writers like me will play on the internet rather than writing and bugging her. ;-)

75% Geek

Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Sites

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Well, I did it.  I'm a NaNoWriMo 2008 Winner.  That means I wrote (and proved I wrote, though admittedly, it is still an honor system) over 50,000 words as part of a story/novel between November 1 and November 30th, 2008. 
*collapses*
Actually, 1667 words (or more!) a day is very do-able...as long as you can figure out what's happening next!  Here are some things I learned from my first NaNoWriMo.
  • Forcing yourself to write that many words that fast is a good exercise.  When I started this, I made a personal goal to write 20,000 words in a month's time.  You see, I've been stalled on my writing, and after writing a mere 5000 words in October, it seemed nothing short of masochistic to try to write 50,000 words in a month.  So I decided I'd do my best to write 20,000.  And after I wrote 20,000, I wasn't read to give up, so I kept writing.  And lo and behold, I kept finding words.
  • It's fun to have a little bar graph to show your progress.  It may be silly, but watching the little blue bars get taller each day was an incentive for me.  I'm never quite sure how long a novel is going to be when I write it, but perhaps a progress meter with a guesstimated final wordcount would be a good idea for me. (On the other hand, having to update a progress meter by changing the code is a pain in the neck.  Maybe not.)  Do you all use progress meters?  Do you like them?
  • Don't stop writing just because it's hard. The first 15,000 to 20,000 words I wrote for NaNoWriMo were hard. The last 10,000 were excruciating. But I didn't give up. Stephen King says, "Stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel s*** from a sitting position." (On Writing)
  • The notecard approach is helpful. I have never been a subscriber of the notecard approach, which is, in short, to write plot points on notecards and then organize them as you see fit. But when I decided -- two days before NaNoWriMo was to begin -- that I was going to try this, I sat down with some notecards and threw every plot point I had in my head onto one of those cards. Though the system broke down a bit at the end, it was helpful overall, and I can see myself using it again.
  • How to beat Writer's Block.  I never watch youtube clips when people embed them in their pages, but I promise you, this is worth it, because he's right.  And because if you do what he tells you, you will break through your writer's block.  I know.  I was desperate enough to do what he says.

Now, the million dollar question -- would I do it again?  If I had a story idea that I thought could sustain and entire novel...absolutely!

Here is my question for you, though.  What is up with the people who just stop writing at, like, 50,038 words and never touch it again? Was it really just about the 50,000 words?!

Edit: Here are the final stats from NaNoWriMo: Nearly final tallies! 119,401 Authors participated in NaNoWriMo 2008 & there were 21,683 verified winners! Congrats to all! 18% winning rate

Today's Timewaster: Your Blog's Reading Level

These things just abound on the internet, and they're way too much fun (at least for the blogger) to avoid or ignore. Literary agent Janet Reid is responsible for finding this one.

blog readability test

I figure that's a pretty good reading level, though perhaps a little higher than I'd like it to be. (I want my blog to be accessible to as many people as possible...on the other hand, I guess I am writing to writers, who can be expected to have the equivalent of at least a high schooler's vocabulary.)

Now you know you're going to have to try it on your blog...let me know what you find out!

Blog Chain: Writing Gems

This Blog Chain's topic was chosen by Michelle:

Share a favorite poem, quote, joke, anecdote, or anything of the sort that deals with writing, writers, the publishing industry, or the other strange and unusual tidbits that belong to our little world.
I'm the last one in this chain, so be sure to look at my fellow blog chainers to see lots of great writing tidbits!

I'm a Quotable Magnets fan, and here are the writing-related ones I keep above my desk:
I also keep this over my desk.  It's a Cliffs' Notes version of Robert J. Sawyer's discussion of Heinlein's Rules for Writing.  I can't recommend it highly enough (or, as my friends will probably attest, often enough).
I also have a great out-of-print book by Jon Winokur called W.O.W. Writers on Writing that is packed with quotes and worth the couple of bucks it would cost you online.  (Amazon Marketplace is selling it for a penny + shipping.) 

Find Out Your Blog's Personality Type

Kate found this cool Typealizer thing that analyzes the Myers-Briggs type of the author who wrote a particular blog.  (More information on the Myers-Briggs and how you can use it in your writing here.) Interestingly, I came out like this:

The analysis indicates that the author of http://archetypewriting.blogspot.com/ is of the type:

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.


The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Analysis

This show what parts of the brain that were dominant during writing.


What's interesting about this is I'm actually an INFP (and sometimes an ENFP, but always with an extremely strong N).  But the analysis still makes sense, because I'm relying on the scientific and logical part of myself when I write to you all. 

Try it and let me know -- how accurate are your results?

From My Blog to Yours...With Love

Michelle and Mary came together to give me the way cool I Love Your Blog award!  My first blog award! 
And now that I have it, I've got a few people I want to give it to!
  1. Monkey Pi always cracks me up.  Whether he's talking about writing, astronomy, technology, sci-fi, the joys and tribulations of family-hood, or just some other wacky thing that caught his eye yesterday, I'm hooked.  Still one of my favorite posts is the one where he proves that Han Shot First.
  2. The Last Psychiatrist is my psychology idol.  I'm not so sure this guy is going to want a little heart on his blog, but he's getting one anyhow.  This guy doesn't just get it, he Gets It.  And he's going to tell you about it, whether you like it or not.  So much of psychology is about political correctness, but TLP tears all the proper walls down and tells it like it is.
  3. Diinzumo is the online go-to resource for all things Gatchaman, and her Gatchablog always has exciting tidbits on new projects and merchandise.
  4. Jessica Verday runs cool contests, blogs on the chain, and has a book called The Hollow coming out in the fall of 2009! 

NaNoWriMo -- Halfway Day

Well, November 15th has come and gone, and I have written a grand total of 31,050 words so far for NaNo.

I'd be feeling pretty good about that if I had any idea where the next 20,000 words are going to come from. 


I made a desperate posting to my writing friends asking how the heck I'm going to figure out the end, and thanks to them at least I figured out why I don't know how it's going to end...I'm not there yet.  (And that's good because a 31,050 words does not a novel make.)

I'm not sure I'll ever do this to myself again, so I'm trying to enjoy the process.  (Inasmuch as anyone can enjoy pounding out enough words in a single month to bruise their little fingers.) 

My dear friend Elana talked a bit in her blog about how she's NaNo-ing in a notebook rather than on the computer.  Apparently her obsessive internet-checking behavior has decreased significantly as a result.  I would consider trying that if I didn't think the withdrawal might kill me.

I've tried using notecards to lay out plot points for the first time, and I'm finding them really helpful.  I was running out, though, so I went to a local Staples to find some more.  Only thing was, I only want unlined notecards, and the only way I could get unlined notecards was to buy 500 of them.  That's a lot of friggin' notecards.

Angst Blog chain Wrap-up

We've reached the end of our blog chain on angst, and since I started it, I get to end it with a quick review of everyone's point of view.

The first thing I want to note, though, is that the group overwhelmingly argued against angst being necessary for the production of creative works.  They believe that what I first defined as angst in my original post can instead be a barrier (sometimes an enormous one) to creative productivity. 

I wonder if part of the reason is that pretty much everyone in the chain is a little older -- between their late 20s and early 40s.  I wonder if the desire for angst and the need to wallow in it is particularly valued by people in their teens and early 20s?  (I remember my college poetry writing classes well -- we were just awash in angst in there, to the point that it gave me the giggles.  Which, to tell you the truth, just about got me thrown out of the class more than once.)

The group members are also notable for their dedication to professionalism and publication.  They're more focused on producing good, publishable work and interacting professionally with agents and editors than many writers.  Angsting takes up a lot of energy; a tendency toward angst may also make it more difficult to deal with the constant rejection in the pursuit of publication.

Other theories?  Comment button is below!

Well, I saved the part above and then went through and summarized what everyone said...just in time to have Internet Explorer crash on me.  So guess what?  There's gonna be no summary.  Too much angst to redo it.


And on that note, head on over to Michelle's blog.  She'll be starting our next chain on November 15th!

Do You NaNoWriMo?


A lot of my friends decided to do NaNoWriMo this year.  (That's National Novel Writing Month – you basically strive to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  That comes out to about 1666 words a day.)

Last month, October, we challenged each other to write 1000 words to say, and I failed miserably.  I probably wrote 5000 words the entire month.  It was sad.  No, it was pathetic.  So there was no way I was going to get sucked in to doing NaNo, ya know?

Except I did.  I recently started a new novel, but got stuck around 10,000 words. That seems to be a common number to get stuck at, we’ve decided. (Have other writers had the same experience?  Comment button below, folks!)  So I threw myself on the mercy of my buddies to help me brainstorm going forward.  We got that done just in time for me to start writing on November 1st

It’s Day 4 and I’ve written about 8000 words so far, so not only am I on track (so far, but it’s early), but in 4 days I’ve written more than I wrote the entire month last month!  This is a really different way for me to write, but I think it might be a better impetus than I ever expected.  Ask me at the end of the month.

Angst, Mental Illness, and Creativity

This time I was responsible for choosing the blog chain topic. Kate (who comes before me in the chain) just did a great wrap up of our last chain , on confidence. Michelle  (who comes after me in the chain) will be the next to tackle the questions I've chosen:

Some people argue that creative people need “angst” to produce good work. Do you? What emotions drive you as a writer?

Angst (n.) (ängkst)
Everyone talks about angst-ridden creative people, so I looked up the definition of the word “angst” to get myself going. (I normally hate when people include definitions — hello, I can use a dictionary — but I’m making an exception so you and I both know what the heck we mean when we say “angst.”) The word is German and refers to an “A feeling of anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression .” Fanfic writers use the word to help categorize some forms of fanfic: “Putting the characters and by extension the readers through deep emotional and possibly physical pain .”

Mental Illness
Some people take the angst idea a step farther. They believe that writers need to be at least a little touched by madness. Interestingly, there is a strong positive correlation between bipolar disorder (aka manic depression) and creativity . According to Frederick Goodwin and Kay Redfield Jamison, both giants in the study of bipolar disorder:
It is counterintuitive that such a destructive illness could be associated with imagination or great works of art. Yet the perceived association is a persistent cultural belief and one that is backed by data from many studies… The argument is not that manic-depressive illness and its related temperaments are essential to creative work; clearly they are not. Nor do we argue that most people who have bipolar or recurrent depressive illness are creative; they are not. The argument is, rather, that a disproportionate number of eminent writers and artists have suffered from bipolar spectrum disorders and that, under some circumstances, creativity can be facilitated by such disorders.
From Michelangelo and Jackson Pollock to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan to Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King, depression or bipolar illness is disproportionately common in creative geniuses.

Is Angst Necessary?
Now, if bipolar disorder and depression are common in creative geniuses, and angst is a description of how people with those disorders often feel, does that mean angst is necessary to the creative process?

Well…let’s see what the others in the blog chain think.

Looking at the psychological research…no. Interestingly, people who are creative have more in common with people who are bipolar than they do with “normal” people, but the commonalities lie not necessarily in mood disturbances, but rather in idiosyncratic thinking patterns, in enthusiasm and passion for their art, in how easily they can produce new and strange ideas. In many cases, people who are bipolar and creative are better able to express themselves creatively when they are being appropriately treated for their disorders.

Part of what makes being creative with a mental illness so difficult is the behaviors that result. Alcoholism is found in over 50% of the people with bipolar disorder. Drug abuse is also extremely high. Periods of despair can be so intense that the individual can hardly get out of bed, let alone create something. And of course the rate of suicide and suicide attempts is much higher than in creative people who aren’t also struggling with a mental illness.

The way I think of it is like this — there is an overlap between “creative” genes and “bipolar/depressive” genes. And while some people, like Kurt Cobain, feel much more creative when they’re in the manic phase of bipolar disorder, they may also be less coherent (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” lyrics, anyone?), and they also have to deal with the crash of depression (Cobain committed suicide). Research also suggests that over time depressive/bipolar illnesses gnaw away at creativity. In a study done with children , “we found a negative correlation of illness duration with…creativity ; the longer the children were sick, the less creative they were.” So overall, the illness becomes a hindrance to creativity, rather than a help.

Angst vs. Soul
An ex of mine was an amazing artist, technically. He could reproduce anything he saw, often without ever lifting the pencil. I’ve never seen someone who could draw like he could without ever needing to erase. He didn’t need to work the image over and over from rough to smooth — he just produced an immaculate image the first time.

He spoke at one point to some galleries about displaying his work, but he was turned down. One director was kind enough to give him some feedback. She told him something was “missing” from his work.

He thought it was angst. But it wasn’t. (He got to share mine, and it didn’t affect his art at all. I checked.) What he was missing was soul.

So I don’t think it’s angst that we all need to produce good stuff. It’s soul.

My Angst
So that brings us to me. Do I need angst to produce good work? I honestly don’t know, because precocious creative works started around the same time my angst found me. So I’m really curious about what the others in the blog chain are going to say.

I do have an emotional state that I think I write in better than any other (besides flow, of course). I call it “melancholy.” It’s a calm, quiet state that for some reason makes it easier to sink into a creative state. But maybe the reason that’s helpful is that I enjoy writing fiction with “angst” in it.

I have met people who become extremely distraught about putting their characters through a tale of angst. Some cry, some sink into a depression, some feel guilty. I’m not sure why they write it if they feel that way. (The only time I sink into a depression as a result of writing is when I finish a novel — I always worry I won’t be able to write another one!) For me, writing angst is like an outlet for my own. If I’ve got it, why not plumb it for material?

The Psychology of Halloween (Guest Blogger)

This entry is courtesy of guest blogger Sarah-Jayne Gratton, PhD.

It’s that time of the year again when witches, ghosts and ghouls roam the streets in search of candy. No longer just a throwback to the Celtic Festival of Samhain, where the end of the Celtic year was thought to be associated with death. Today Halloween means holiday--a time for dressing up, having fun, eating candy and watching scary movies!

And it’s not just for the kids. There’s something so timelessly magical in the golden colors of fall that’s annually reflected in the glowing flames of our Jack O’Lantern smiles. Rather than feeling a creepy chill in the air, instead, many of us today associate a sense of warmth and togetherness with the date October 31st. The past associations with all things evil have today been replaced by the amusing notion of ‘a good scare’ , meaning that it’s time once again to party in ‘Halloweenland’.

The Roots of our Rituals
The commercial exploitation of Halloween didn’t begin until the 20th century for the most part and mass-produced Halloween costumes didn’t make their appearance until the 1950s, when ‘trick-or-treating’ became firmly embedded in the rituals of the holiday.

The mask-like images associated with Halloween, like the holiday itself, also have their roots in Celtic practices and likewise, their place in the modern psychology of the event. In fact, the ritual of putting on a mask to become someone else outside of ourselves is something that we have truly embraced in western society, not just as a means of entertainment, but as a means of escape.

Fear as a Release
“The basis of optimism is sheer terror.”  - Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray

Modern life has never been so easy - or so stressful. The dichotomy presented by advances in technology is all around us; supposedly developed to make our lives easier, psychological research suggests that they can create a mental prison of inescapable responsibility. With this in mind, the notion of a faceless boogeyman stalking us has never been more readily embraced by audiences, especially as it may well be linked to these increasingly common feelings of insecurity and disillusionment that many of us feel in the twenty-first century.

In short, there is no escape from the cell phones, the computers, the pagers and of course the net - in cyberspace everyone can hear you scream! Unconsciously, many of us may seek out a psychological release though the adrenalin-infused horror movies we choose to obsess about at this time of year. Following this release, at the movies end, and as a result of all that adrenalin being pumped through our bodies, we often experience a similarly positive physiological response, where feelings of giddiness, euphoria and later relaxation weave their addictive charm and keep us coming back for more.

The Future
As far as the future of Halloween is concerned, we can be fairly certain that its popularity will continue to grow as more and more cultures embrace its holiday and commercial appeal. In fact, with more articles than ever being written about it, more stores than ever stocking up on cards, candies and costumes in readiness for it and the television and movie studios all looking to give us the ‘fright of our lives’ on the night, it seems that the ritual of ‘selling our souls’ to the psychological motivators that keep the Halloween wheels turning may just be good for us after all.

Dr Sarah-Jayne Gratton has a PhD in Psychology and an Advanced Diploma in Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy. She is the author of Marketing Wireless Products (Butterworth Heinemann, 2004) and her work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines.

Work's a Bitch...

I had the great privilege of being quoted several times in career consultant and executive coach Andrea Kay's new book, Work's a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go from Pissed Off to Powerful (a sequel to her popular Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers: 9 Steps to Get Out of Your Funk and On to Your Future).

One thing I particularly love about Andrea's books is her practical, step-by-step approach. Her goal is to get you where you want to be in your career, and there's nothing esoteric about her approach. She buckles right down with you and gives you frank, concrete advice that actually works. So if you're one of the 85% of people who feel stuck and disillusioned in your career, pick up a copy today!

Confidence & Determination

Blog chain time again!  This time, the question was posed by Kate Karyus Quinn, who asked

How as a writer find do you find the balance between being having too much or too little confidence in your work?

Let me start with the confidence.  When I've written something, and the words have just flowed, I sometimes feel like I'm looking down on the Seventh Day, basking in the warmth of my creation and proclaiming, It Is Good.  I'll feel like I've captured the emotion and the angst; or the flavor, color, and texture of the world I envisioned.  The characters will be as real as Real People to me. I'll feel that glow in my chest: Of course I'm a writer.  This is something I was meant to do.

Now, as a psychologist, I believe it's not only okay, it's healthy to be able to say to yourself, "I did a good job on that." "I'm a good writer." You don't have to announce it to the world (in fact, you probably shouldn't!), but you're healthier if you have a secret little place inside with a nice big refrigerator to put up your accomplishments, and where you can nod and pat yourself on the back and think, I Did Good.  I even have lots of professional terms to make that all sound more authoritative, like self-esteem, self-efficacy, and adequate mirroring on the Grandiose Pole.  But I'm going to skip all that for right now.

If feeling good about what you'd written was as far as any of this went, all would be well.  But so many of us have this urge, this drive, this need to get published.  And what is that all about anyways?  Few people make money publishing.  It's cool, but unless you're Stephenie Meyer or JK Rowling or whoever this week's Hot Writer is, it's a passing cool that others soon forget.  Getting published doesn't make you beautiful or thin or get you a Happily Ever After with whichever celebrity you drool over most.

Yet the need remains. So you sweat blood over a query and open a vein to get the synopsis right and then, hoping, praying, believing you've got something others will love, you start sending your work out to others.

Some writers start with crit buddies, some jump straight to agents and publishers; some do both simultaneously.  And most soon discover that not everyone else thinks their work is so good.

According to Robert Heinlein, that's where a lot of people quit.  In fact, he believed that only half the writers who actually put pen to paper (or words to screen) and finish what they start have the guts to submit to agents and publishers.
Writers...are inordinately fond of their brainchildren.  They would rather see their firstborn child ravaged by wolves than suffer the pain of having a manuscript rejected.  So instead they [only] read their manuscripts aloud to spouses and long-suffering friends.
But you're not satisfied to believe the friends and family who swear your work is fantastic -- you have to send your work out to people outside that little circle.  And as the crits roll in and the rejections pile up, you look at your work with fresh eyes, and you realize it's miserable.  It's embarrassingly horrible.  You're embarrassingly horrible, and stupid besides to ever have believed someone else might be interested in the ridiculous stories you make up in your head.

Lather, rinse, repeat.  Crit after crit, rejection letter after rejection letter.

Some throw in the towel right away.  "The world just isn't ready for my material," they sniff, or they decide that all agents are self-important assholes who wouldn't know a good story if it ran them over.  There are even websites that exist for the purpose of ranting about your rejections and throwing mud back at the agents who sent them.  (Who are, by the way, human beings who are just doing their jobs as best they can.  But that's another blog post.)

Other writers are worn down over weeks, months, or years of querying.  Or by disapproving relatives.  Or by savage critique "buddies."  The rejection hurts.  A lot.

But some always manage to drag themselves out of the dirt, brush themselves off, and try again.  Just like they need to write, they need to keep trying to get published.

"Writing is a calling," says editor Betsy Lerner.  "If the call subsides, so be it. [But] when writers say they have no choice, what they mean is: Everything in the world conspired to make me quit, but I kept going."  She goes on:
Many writers have gathered their marbles and gone home for far less cause. It takes a supreme talent and fierce self-belief to write in the face of such acrimony... If the high wire is for you, if the spotlight is for you, if you believe that everyone should pay attention to you and your work, then you must stay focused.  Ambivalence will never get you anywhere.
What it comes down to, I've read over and over again, is determination in the face of all that feedback, all those rejections.  A willingness to learn, of course, but also determination to overcome and succeed:
  • The degree of one's perseverance is the best predictor of success - Betsy Lerner
  • In all manner of pursuits there's a tendency to overesimate brilliance and underestimate persistence.  Talent is common.  Determination is rare. -Ralph Keyes
  • [The authors of the Chicken Soup books] instinctively understood that all those rejections were simply an uncomfortable part of the process that would eventually get them where they wanted to be. - literary agent Jeff Herman
  • [Author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Ken] Kesey  was not even remotely the best writer in class [at the writing program at Stanford], but he was maniacally determined. - Classmate and writer Thomas McGuane
  • Talent is extremely common.  What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of a writer - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
So where do you find the determination?  According to Keyes, you have to hate the idea of being ignored, of never being read, more than you hate the pain of rejection. "It is some combination of ability and ego," adds Lerner, "desire and discipline, that produces good work." She continues: 
A writer's success or faltering can usually be traced to some abundance or deficit of those elements.  Some of the most gifted writers I've worked with were also the most self-sabotaging.  Lack of discipline, desire for fame, and depression often thwart those whose talents appear most fertile, while those who struggle with every line persevere regardless.
In many ways, learning to deal with rejection from agents and publishers is just the first step.  Because when you do manage to get published, you will have to deal with critics, the bloodthirsty pirahna in the sea of your success.  People who have sudden, overwhelming success, are not prepared for it.  And that may topple them and keep them from producing good work going forward.  So keep running that gauntlet, and be proud of your calluses and scars, because they mean you believed in yourself enough to keep going.

Don't forget to check out Kate's post before mine -- it's a joy to read! And then hop over to Michelle McLean's blog and see how she manages that delicate balance between too much and too little confidence!

Archetype Site Updates

Quirky?

This time Mary Lindsey started the blog chain with the deep and academic question

What kind of quirky habits or rituals do you have regarding your writing?
(or regarding anything else, if that is more fun.)

Our previous chain was tied up with a bow by HL Dyer, so be sure to check out her Summary/Wrap-Up for Creating Story Worlds.

So back to the current chain question.  After Mary shared her neat-freak habits and took us on the magnificent world adventures of her writing buddy, a fluffy lamb named Beeyaaa (that's 2 e's and 3 a's).

Then Kate shared her unusual sandwich-eating tendencies, including her issues with tomatoes...which  makes her wonder if she might not have a touch of OCD.  She also showed us her writing space, which is remarkably dangerous given some Ikea shelves that loom over her head, just waiting to toss their contents onto her head.

So now it's my turn.  Yikes!

My quirkiest writing habit is that I like to write longhand when I get stuck.  I find the cursor blinking so patiently at me on a blank screen to be more mocking than patient.  But blank paper I find comforting.  I have notebooks filled with longhand notes around my writing areas.  If I don't have the notebook handy, I write on whatever I do and staple it in later.  I used to leave everything loose, but I'm kind of a klutz, and after you've dropped something like that a few times...well, a stapler becomes your friend.

When I edit, I often edit in longhand, and I'm very particular about using multiple colors of FELT TIP pens.  Pilot Razorpoints are nice.
  g
It is very difficult to find felt-tip pens these days.  Everything has gone rollerball.  This upsets me, because I want FELT TIP pens. And you can't buy those things in OfficeMax anymore.  No, you have to go to an art supply store.  I'm very upset about the dearth of felt-tip pens in my OfficeMax.

Now, before you decide I'm OCD with my little felt-tip pen obsession, I think you should probably see my desk.

desk

This is what my desk looks like when it's mostly CLEAN.  It's often a couple feet deep.  And this is an ongoing problem.  My desk at work is even worse. Students walk in and laugh. I have these great Post-It notes that say "My desk, my mess, my business." This was the best representation I could find since I'm not at work to scan them:



On a slightly different note, when people say "books to help you write better stories," I think of something a little different than the average writer:

g


Now, let's say you had a character named...oh, let's make her named Kate. *wink* And Kate thought she had OCD.  If you used one of those regular writer's books, you'd be in big trouble.  But I can just grab my DSM-IV there and check out whether the symptoms might show up if she...hm...if she had strange sandwich-eating habits, for example.

g

And I can also see in the Differential Diagnosis section the things she might have besides OCD.  Like...oh, hypochondria.  (Just kidding, Kate.)

So on to the illustrious Michelle McLean, who is going to share her quirky writing habits with you!

Readers! Have your own quirky writing habits? Don’t forget to post your own comment before you go!

I got tagged!

My friend (and fellow blog chain member) Abi tagged me, and that means means that I’m supposed to answer the questions that were asked of her when she got tagged.

4 goals I have in the next 5 years:
1. Sell my nonfiction book -- my wonderful agent, Kate Epstein, is currently submitting it
2. Land a fiction agent
3. Sell a fiction book with the help of said agent.
4. See both books on the bookshelves and listed on Amazon!

4 places I will visit someday:
1. The Grand Canyon
2. The Louvre
3. Hawaii
4. Tuscany

4 of my favorite foods:
1. Barnum & Bailey animal crackers
2. Uno's Chicago deep dish pizza
3. Graeter's ice cream
4. Wendys!

4 jobs I've had:
1. graphic designer
2. webmaster
3. psychotherapist
4. professor

2 places I've lived:
1. Toronto
2. Pittsburgh

2 places I'd like to live:
1. San Diego
2. ?

4 things I'd do with my spare time (if I had any):
1. photomanipulations
2. draw
3. sew
4. write

Now, I'm supposed to tag some folks, but everyone in my blog chain has been tagged already (I think).  So, dear reader, you need to help me out.  Consider yourself tagged!  Drop me a comment and let me know you decided to do me the honor (and so I can tell my blog chain friends I'm cool). ;-)

Wordle

Yes, you have to try Wordle.  Thanks to HL Dyer, so did Elana and I.  I threw in a passage from a story and came up with the following (which you can also see in the Wordle Gallery)

Story Worlds

Blog Chain Question: How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity?

Honestly, I took one look at this and thought Uh-OhKate Karyus Quinn, who is the blogger before me, had the same reaction I did, but that's okay, because some questions are going to be harder for some people.  And we can learn things from that, too.

Fortunately for my dilemma, since I'm up now, HL Dyer, who started this chain, and Michelle McLean, who followed her, had really interesting answers that got the little cogs in my brain moving.  I'm looking forward to Sandra's answer (she's the blogger after me this time), and all the posts of all my other blog chain buddies (see list to your left)!  Definitely be sure not to miss Mary Lindsey's -- she talks about the importance of authenticity with examples that will make your mouth drop open!

What makes my answer different from everyone's so far is that I write science fiction and fantasy. So rather than examining the past for factual details, I have to make up alternate worlds. And the most important thing I do when I build a world for my stories is figure out the "rules," or perhaps more accurately, the laws.

By laws, I mean the factual kind that recur in nature. You can jump upwards as many times as you want to, but as long as you’re dealing with a g of gravity, you will always come back down. You can do your darndest to stop the ocean tides, but as long as the earth keeps spinning and the moon keeps pulling, there will be tides.

The same thing has to happen with magic. There must be laws to any magical universe, and to create them, a writer must ask herself things like
  • Who can use magic and who can’t? Only people who are trained? Only people who have certain genes? Only people of a certain gender or race or culture? Why only those people? Must the power be awakened, or is it there from birth?
  • What is magic? Where does it come from? Is it a force of nature, neither good nor evil, or is it a spiritual or eschatological kind of power only angels or demons can grant?
  • How is magic used? Must the user cast spells, or is magic more of a generalized energy? Must he rely on herbs, or blood, or eye of newt, or are spell components obsolete in your world? Are sigils, runes, or incantations used?
  • What price must be paid? If you fight gravity by jumping, eventually you’re going to wear yourself out. That’s the price. So what happens when one uses magic? And are the consequences the same for any kind of magic, or do they vary with the kind of spell?
  • What are the limits on magic? If your character can do anything and everything, there’s no tension in the story, so what can’t she do with magic?
  • Are there different types of magicians with specialized powers -- like necromancers and alchemists and prophets -- or are they all the same?
The answers can’t be random, either. They have to make sense, just like the laws of our universe do. And you can’t be whimsically changing them because your character suddenly needs to be able to do this or that kind of magic.

I do the same kind of thing with science fiction. There have to be set laws and limits on what technology can do. Technology has bugs, and it always fails you at the worst possible time.

I have done a lot of research on different kinds of technology over the years. I understand a variety of different theories on wormholes, time travel, and multiverses. I’ve researched EMPs (electromagnetic pulses), Coriolis forces, and how rail guns and particle beam cannons might function. I have files on my computer explaining the difference between fission and fusion bombs, the radius of damage done by different kiloton blasts, and the effects of fallout. (And of course these types of things tend to pop out of my mouth from time to time, causing people to look strangely at me.)

One of the hardest things for me is not using the same rules in every magical universe or scifi universe. When you have a logical, well-defined set of rules that you abide by carefully, it can be hard to think beyond them for another story. I think this is part of the reason some authors set different stories in the same universe. It’s easier to work with rules you’ve already established than start over from scratch.

Readers! I’m interested in your thoughts on story-world building. Don’t forget to post your own comment before you go!

Technology Tips for Writers

I belong to a couple of writers' communities, and sometimes writers have...well, technical problems with their manuscripts.  For example, they need to be able to change something throughout the manuscript and it's just not working.  So, since I am a geek, I decided to start logging the problems and solutions so other writers could use them too.  The new section, called Technology for Writers, is in Archetype Writing's Resources area.

Characters and Personality (Theirs and Yours)

The topic for the blog chain this time, started by the lovely Leah Clifford, is

Are your characters real people to you?
How much do you really know about them?

Be sure to check out Kate's response (she's the blogger before me in the chain) and Michelle's response (she's the blogger after me in the chain) as well as the responses of the other bloggers in the chain -- they're listed to your left.

Are your characters real people to you?

Absolutely.

And sometimes I tie my brain in a pretzel thinking about the nature of reality, and -- sparing you the philosophical Rube Goldberg machine -- what I end up with is, Do I have any proof that they're not real, somewhere, somehow? 

Well...no.

I mean, it often feels like I'm just writing about what's happening somewhere else, because I know when I've got it "right" and I know when I've got it "wrong."  (Though I don't always know how to fix it when I've got it wrong.  I always feel like I need to listen more carefully.)

Other writers have that same experience, though they might not describe it in the same way I have.  They refer to it as "automatic writing" or as "listening to the Muse" or (if they're psychologically minded) as "flow."

How much do you really know about them?

A lot, though I don't learn it all at once. 

Some writers' books and magazines encourage you to learn all the mundane details about your characters, but I don't really care what kinds of grades my characters got in high school or what their exact weight is or every last job they've ever held.  I focus on personality characteristics, fears, terrible secrets, and especially on little details that don't seem to fit the rest of what I know about them. 

For example, I have a character who's hotheaded, blunt, and prefers people to be a little afraid of him.  So when I learned that he was bilingual, a practicing Catholic, and adores his cat, I was intrigued.  Learning about why the face he presents to the world is so different from who he is underneath was important, not only so I could write him "accurately," but also because it drove the plot foward.

I tend to learn so much about my characters that I have to write a lot of it down somewhere so I don't forget, but also so I don't accidentally "contaminate" my characters with how I would do things.  Here's a piece of one of my novels' character sheets (sorry it's ugly, SnagIt tries to create a small file).  I used the RPRF descriptions to help myself make the list of personality qualities in the middle column.  (Read more about how to use it for your own stories here.)  I have also been known to give my characters personality tests.

To me, one of the most intriguing things about learning about characters is how much I learn about myself while I'm doing it.  After all, even if it feels like I'm channeling something from outside myself, I know that in reality the stories come from somewhere inside of me.

And each character reflects a different aspect of my personality.  Carl Jung would have said that only by learning about and accepting that each of those characters is part of the whole self can we learn who we really are.  In other words, your hero must confront his dark side, but to create a truly dark villain, you must delve into your own dark side.  So your villain reflects your own darkness.  Likewise, your hero(ine)'s love interest is likely to be based on your own idea of what's attractive.  So the love interest acts as your hero(ine)'s anima or animus, but is also a reflection of your own.



Narrative therapy theory argues that we create our own reality with the stories we tell about our lives.  When we tell stories, we flavor them with our own perspectives.  If I am in a car accident, when I tell it to my friends, I don't focus on how fast the cars were going, the angle of impact, or the amount of debris on the road.  I focus on how I felt and the role I played.  I might portray myself as a victim, or as unfairly accused of doing wrong, or even as a hero for helping the people in the other car afterwards.  The way I tell my story becomes my reality.

I believe that the stories we tell as writers both reflect our realities and help form them, too.  So as a writer, ask yourself what kinds of characters you like to create, and what (possibly hidden) aspects of yourself make those kinds of characters so compelling for you?

You might be surprised what you learn about yourself.  And your willingness to dig around in your own subconscious may reveal even more about your characters, as well!

Archetype Site Updates

Added some fresh articles and updated the Deviant Art Prompts!

You should also check out RallyStorm, a new website by the creator of the wonderful QueryTracker.  On RallyStorm, writers can set up private critique forums for their readers.  And QueryTracker, of course, lets you track queries sent to agents, as well as share information with other writers about agents.

ISO A Few Good Ideas

Our blog chain is picking up new members, which is really exciting. Rather than list them all here, I'm going to direct you to the blogroll column to your left, where new blogs are still appearing!

Though the genres topic was tough for a lot of people (including me), Elana's wonderful question has nearly doubled our blog chain!

The question: Where do you get your ideas?

Now, I took one look at that and started looking forward to everyone else's answers, because I feel like I don't have enough ideas. (Which is kind of ironic considering that Archetype Writing has a whole Muse section...or maybe you know now why it does.)

The truth is that I have plenty of things that catch my attention, it's just knowing what to do with them.

So...I collect ideas kind of like burrs. Some things just stick to me.

Sometimes it's a line from a song, like HL Dyer and Mary have experienced.

For example, I love that bleak line from Bush's Machinehead: If I had it all again, I'd change it all.

That just seized my imagination and wouldn't let go. I can't tell you what the rest of the song's lyrics are, but boy, that line...

Especially because I tend to think of disasters as learning experiences, I was intrigued by the idea of an outcome so bad a character would give anything to start over. By the idea that someone would be willing to take any outcome but the one he got.

I ended up with a character so desperate to do the right thing that he makes all the wrong choices. Eventually he finds himself responsible for the deaths of those closest to him, for the fall of his nation, and for lifting his worst enemy into power. And that's where things get interesting, because without anything left to lose he really becomes dangerous. (And he's the good guy!)

Sometimes the idea comes from another story. One of my novels was born of a trailer for a movie called The Seventh Sign. To this day, I have not seen the movie, nor do I really know what it's about, but the first time I saw the trailer, something about the concept stuck. I liked the idea of a group of people coming together to try to stop an apocalypse. In my characters' situation, they fail. Miserably. And then they have to destroy what they've unleashed.

(I just looked at the Wikipedia entry for the movie. Definitely not what I came up with. My story's high fantasy. :-)

Sometimes I start with a character. Often I'm intrigued by movie characters. I really liked Ioan Gruffudd's Lancelot in 2004's King Arthur. (For the auditory among us, his last name is pronounced Griffith.) What makes the character especially interesting to me is that Gruffudd hasn't played anyone else like him. (Like, could Mr. Fantastic be any more of a polar opposite?) At one point in the movie Guenevere asks Lancelot if he's thought about taking a wife and having children, and he responds that he's killed too many men to have the right to sons of his own. And that stuck. So I have a WIP with a character kind of like Gruffudd's Lancelot, but in a totally different context, with a different backstory...it's more the archetype of the character I liked, and Gruffudd's unique spin made it stick.

Sometimes what sticks is a character's plight from a novel I've already finished. It can be hard to tie off all the loose ends, and I don't like Disney-happy endings, because that's not what real life is like. Twice I've had a character who drew the short straw in endings, and I've had to go back and write a new novel for him.

The first time the character lost his family, didn't get the girl, and didn't learn to use the magic he craved. So I wondered...what happened next for him, after he walked away from everyone else's happy ending with nothing for himself?

The second time it happened the character got to be part of everyone else's happy ending, but he had posttraumatic stress disorder, and that doesn't just go away. Since he had gone from second-in-charge to first-in-charge of an entire nation, I figured there were some interesting bumps in the road ahead of him. I was right.

Sometimes something in my own life just has a lot of emotional weight, and I need somewhere to put it, so the problem or experience finds its way into a character's life.

Whenever something sticks, I try to put it away in a notebook where it will stay safe. But some things don't stay in the notebook. A little corner of my brain keeps turning them over, trying out different possibilities, until finally I'm compelled to start writing.

A Horrible Book on Writing

Recently, I started reading Dennis Palumbo's Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within. The back of the book says Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist, but I sure wouldn't want him as my therapist.

First he misinterprets psychological data, and then he states -- across the board -- that years of research is wrong, just because he doesn't like what it says. As far as I was concerned at that point, the book wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

My students sometimes do this. They write compare and contrast papers and conclude them with "I think this research is better/more accurate/more correct than that research" because they like (or understand) one source better than another. You can't do that, not if it's real research.
You can disagree with the researchers' interpretations, and you can disagree with their approach to doing the research, but you can't disagree with rigorous mathematical results. The equivalent would be saying you think the sky would be much prettier if it were sunflower yellow, so you disagree that it's blue. It's still blue, and you just look like an idiot. (Frankly, I think it's sad that students are still doing this at the college level, but I find it downright disgusting that someone who represents himself as a professional in my field would make the same mistake.)

So what is Palumbo disagreeing with?

He states that "it's in fashion again--the notion that the creative impulse, with its accompanying emotional difficulties, is merely the product of a psychological disorder. The current favorite diagnosis for artists, particularly writers, is bipolar disorder--a condition that used to be called manic depression. The most recent book to make this argument was the ifnluential Touched By Fire by Kay Jamison."

But Jamison herself says IN Touched by Fire that "the main purpose of this book is to make a literary, biographical, and scientific argument for a compelling association, not to say actual overlap, between the two temperaments -- the artistic and the manic depressive -- and their relationship to the rhythms and cycles, or temperament..." In other words, she is going to compare creative processes to the processes of bipolar illness - they may or may not actually overlap. In the definitive tome on manic depression, a book Jamison is also half responsible for (Manic Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression, 2nd ed.), she states, "the perceived association [between bipolar disorder and creativity] is a persistent cultural belief and one that is backed by data from many studies. All of these studies are limited by their methods, but as we shall see, their findings...are certainly suggestive. It may be, of course, that there is no relationship. Or there may be a link, but not a causal one."
See why Palumbo made smoke come out of my ears? He told us Jamison said that creativity is just the product of a mental illness, when Jamison says absolutely nothing of the sort. In fact, she says the opposite -- the two may not be connected at all, but let's look at the data and see what it says.

So LET's look at the data and see what it says. (Palumbo never once suggested we look at the data -- in fact, he suggests that science is poisonous to art. Who gave this man his license?)

On the left, above "expected rate in general population," we see that very, very few people develop mood disorders, with bipolar disorder being the least common of all. Then we see a variety of different studies (many of which were not done by Jamison) showing how much higher the mood disorder rate is in creative people. In fact, if you were to average the percentages from the different studies, you'd come up with something like this:


Bipolar disorder shows up at a rate of about 1% in the general population, and at about 5-15% in the general population. But poets, fiction writers, and musical performers have an astronomically significant bipolar rate of 70-77%. And that's actual data, not someone's opinion, so you can't just "disagree" with it.

Clearly, then, there is a very striking relationship between bipolar disorder and creative writing. We don't actually know if one causes the other or if they're both caused by some third factor (like shared genes), but we do know there's a relationship in many people. The data says so, right there.

Palumbo, still running on the (incorrect) idea that Jamison said that all creativity is caused by bipolar disorder, argues that it is "ludicrous" to "claim that the creative impulse comes from any one source...because it undervalues the mysterious, indefinable aspects of the creative act." Then he quotes author John Fowles: " For what good science tries to eliminate, good art seeks to provoke--mystery, which is lethal to one, and vital to the other."

So this guy Palumbo does therapy. But he doesn't read his research carefully enough to understand what it says. Then he tells us it says something it doesn't. Then he says we should ignore what the data says, because science is anathema to art.

So where does that leave all the creative people who are struggling with bipolar disorder? Many, many creative people are afraid to be treated for their psychological problems because they're afraid to lose their creativity. Palumbo is feeding that myth, even as he suggests that maybe they're not sick at all. It infuriates me that Palumbo takes a phenomenon that's well-supported by research and tells us all we're foolish to believe in it, to just get over ourselves.

Clearly HE's never struggled with a mental illness!

A good therapist not only recognizes that some creative people do struggle with mental illness, she appreciates that treating the illness will often improve the person's ability to share his creativity with the world. She is also sensitive to how important creativity is to the individual, and if a medication or a therapeutic approach interferes with creative output, she's going to try to find an alternative.

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