A reason to write

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My Fellowship at KSP

 

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A room for writing.

It feels like only yesterday, but it’s actually just over a week since I finished my Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre. What’s a Fellowship? I hear you ask. Actually, I didn’t hear you, but I do hear voices in my head – no, I have an adequate sufficiency of matches, so be quiet. Anyway, I applied for a writing retreat to focus on (finishing….) my novel Evil Corp. Twelve-and-a-half days to do nothing but writing in a purpose built hut.

The writing huts are modeled after Katharine Susannah Pritchard’s own writing retreat and are very much focussed on having a room to write in. Your desk faces out onto the garden – I had a view of a gum tree with a beehive in its trunk – you have amenities for snacks and drinks, a chair for quiet contemplation, and a bed for… well, you know what beds can be used for.

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I had a whiteboard… which I didn’t end up using. And a giant pencil… which I also didn’t use.

The hut was quiet and felt ideally suited to writing. Or painting. Or reading. Or slowly going mad and deciding to live like a hermit. All good options.

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Yes, I brought a guitar.

The best feature was definitely the lack of adjoining accommodation for young children, who slowly steal your hopes and dreams as they consume more of your life than you’d ever imagine, such that you wake up at 40 wondering why you haven’t published a novel yet.

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Welcome Pack: Welcome letter, KSP sticker, KSP Fellow card, CHOCOLATE!

With the welcome letter in hand, my computer set up, I was ready to right write!

Getting my author on

Reading Anne's story at KSP Open day 2018
Not sure if I made this picture blurry by drinking too much caffeine, or if it was the wrong lighting for the camera to focus.

For my stay at KSP I had set a few hard and soft goals. Hard goals were things like: relax and enjoy being able to pursue my hobby uninterrupted for a fortnight; not wake up at 5am because my kids weren’t going to be there; refrain from buying a beret and neck-scarf; write more than 1,000 words per day. Soft goals were things like: wake up before noon; eat properly; get some exercise; try not to feel guilty about leaving my wife alone with our kids; write 20,000 words during my stay. Try to guess which goals I achieved.

I didn’t want to place too much pressure on myself to, say, “finish my novel” or “write 5,000 words a day”, because that would have sucked the fun out of the Fellowship. Having previously won NaNoWriMo, I knew I could write 2,000 words a day for a sustained period, but I was surprised at how having more time to write didn’t necessarily increase output. I’m going to claim that it was higher quality than NaNoWriMo writing though. A low bar I’m willing to jump over. But I did manage to write 20,000 words, do some plotting, create a few characters, outline several chapters for the future, review a couple of books, and come up with two plots for other projects, so it felt productive.

On the first weekend of my Fellowship the KSP Writers’ Centre held their open day. It was a fun event and well attended despite the threats of rain. As the above photo shows, I was asked to do a reading for the event on behalf of one of my writing groups. I read Werespoon by my fellow Fantasy Sci-Fi Horror group author Anne Forbes. Gillian Clarke read on behalf of my other author group, the Thursday Night group.

Another thing that made me feel authorly was mingling with other authors.

Surrounded by other authors

Me Kaaron Warren and Rachel Mead
Rachael Mead, Kaaron Warren, me being told to smile more.

Writing is generally regarded as a lonely occupation. Well, unless you take your laptop to a coffee shop so you can tell anyone who has the misfortune of coming too close that you’re an author and that sitting in a coffee shop telling people about your WIP counts as writing. The KSP cabins were decidedly setup for writing. On your own. Uninterrupted. I brought a guitar. But I still managed to hang out with other authors.

Kaaron Warren and Rachael Mead were also at KSP doing a Residency and Fellowship respectively. Kaaron has been publishing stories since before I’d figured out Coco-Pops didn’t need extra sugar. She was shortlisted for an Australian Shadow Award while she was in residence, and just last week released Tide Of Stone. One evening we were discussing awards (she is a judge for the World Fantasy Awards this year) and she casually mentioned being beaten by luminaries Stephen King and KJ Parker… I’m not sure that counts as losing.

Rachael has a PhD in creative writing and, like Kaaron, an impressive list of awards to her name. She has published multiple poetry collections, including one that came out earlier this year, and regularly contributes arts reviews to magazines. She also writes short stories and was working on what appears to have become a collection themed around paramedics during her time at KSP.

Which made me the bumbling rookie trying not to sound like an amateur around the two pros.

It was invaluable to chat with them over dinner, or at drink-o-clock, or at procrastination time. For example, Rachael helped me with a chapter I was headed in the wrong direction with. But it was also good just to be able to have a chat and socialise, including catching up with an old friend who is a mutual friend of Kaaron’s. If that wasn’t enough wordsmiths to hang out with, we also had a lovely dinner out with some other KSP Fellows. See the blurry photo below that proves kids aren’t necessarily good with technology.

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Dinner with some other KSP Fellows.

Summary

It was great to have the opportunity to feel like a writer and make some progress on (one of) my works in progress. I met some lovely people, got some writing done, and didn’t get woken up by a toddler wanting to find the teddy that is lying right next to them in bed even once. I very much appreciate the board and staff at the KSP Writers’ Centre for awarding me the Fellowship.

Creativity Explained

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Last week I reblogged an article about some new research into what makes us creative. This week I’m sharing a video from one of my favourite YouTube channels, which essentially covers the same work. But this one is a video!

Since this is going to be a three part series, I’ll update this post as the other videos are released.

Part 2:

Further reading:

Kidd, C., & Hayden, B. Y. (2015). The psychology and neuroscience of curiosity. Neuron, 88(3), 449-460.

De Pisapia, N., Bacci, F., Parrott, D., & Melcher, D. (2016). Brain networks for visual creativity: a functional connectivity study of planning a visual artwork. Scientific reports, 6.

The Real Neuroscience of Creativity – Scientific American.

Eagleman, D., & Brandt, A. (2017). The Runaway Species: How human creativity remakes the world.

Catapult. Durante, D., & Dunson, D. B. (2018). Bayesian inference and testing of group differences in brain networks. Bayesian Analysis, 13(1), 29-58.

Li, W., Yang, J., Zhang, Q., Li, G., & Qiu, J. (2016). The Association between Resting Functional Connectivity and Visual Creativity. Scientific reports, 6.

Bendetowicz, D., Urbanski, M., Aichelburg, C., Levy, R., & Volle, E. (2017). Brain morphometry predicts individual creative potential and the ability to combine remote ideas. Cortex, 86, 216-229.

Writing in Western Australia

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Two months ago (November 2017) the Western Australian Government released its Writing Sector Review. Okay, most of the readers here are international, so you’re probably shrugging your shoulders and reaching for an atlas – atlases are still a thing, right? But after my recent post on support for the arts (I was in favour as long as the support was for all authors, not just those deemed worthy/literary enough), I thought this review highlighted many of the same points and might be interesting.

Okay, that’s probably my West Aussie bias talking. But if it is a problem, just mentally substitute your local area name in place of Western Australia. The points raised appear to be universal. Well, Earthiversal. Well, Writerversial.

The Department of Culture and The Arts had nine recommendations in their report:

Recommendation 1: Maintain current levels of State Government funding to the writing sector
This point is at odds with the rest of the list. Lots of new stuff to fund but no extra funding to go with it. But I guess this is why they are writers and not economists.

Recommendation 2: Create a hub for writing and creative thinking at the State Library of Western Australia building
This makes sense, especially if this extends resources out to the larger library network in the state. And a coffee machine, this needs a coffee machine to be a creative hub.

Recommendation 3: Conduct a distinctive annual Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards The Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards
This is something that used to happen but became biennial. I’ll have more to say on this point, mark my words.

Recommendation 4: Use investment in the writing sector to achieve synergies with existing Statewide library services to extend and enhance community engagement in the reading of Western Australian writers
Honestly, why wasn’t this already a thing? “Sorry, we don’t have room for you West Aussie authors on the shelves, James Patterson just published 12 new books.”

Recommendation 5: Foster professional development for writers to enable them to navigate the increasingly complex areas of rights and multimedia opportunities
This is already available, but an expansion would be welcome news to all of the state scribblers. The isolation of Western Australia from the rest of Australia, let alone the rest of the world, is something that needs to be addressed. I wonder if there is a worldwide… network that could be used in some way to facilitate this.

Recommendation 6: Foster an environment to maximise the potential of Western Australian writers to be published
Like reminding the rest of the world that we exist. Or giving us decent internet. Or a can with a string attached.

Recommendation 7: Enhance data collection about Western Australian writing to provide benchmarks and evidence for policy development
Enhance? Starting would be good. As noted in the report, the Australia Bureau of Statistics stopped collecting data in 2003-04. Also great to see a report admitting they didn’t have evidence to base their recommendations upon.

Recommendation 8: Provide support for screenwriting and playwriting
Aside from all of those tax breaks that film and theatre already get….

Recommendation 9: Establish writer-in-residence opportunities at National Trust properties (Source)
This is a specific focus thing about promoting literature with a local history emphasis. I’m sure that will make someone happy. Like sleep medicine specialists.

The overall emphasis of the report is that Western Australia isn’t a cultural backwater yet it is treated as one. So the state government should do something about that by promoting locals writers, local stories, and more people to wear neck scarves and beret caps.

This is very similar to the calls from The Guardian last month, which I covered in my recent post, Literary Fiction in Crisis. The government should be doing more to support, develop, and nurture artists. The publishing industry is somehow not being asked to do this. Apparently, they are all tapped out, and definitely not owned by the biggest and most profitable media organisations.

There are a couple of big assumptions built into this report. The first most obvious one is that Western Australia isn’t a cultural backwater. Having lived here my entire life, I can confirm we are a backwater, and not just culturally. I think we need to accept this fact. Maybe if we grabbed a couple of cold beers and watched some sport it would help us get over ourselves.

The second big assumption is that writers in Western Australia are worth funding. Why? What exactly is the government trying to promote with this funding? Is there a return on investment intended? These things aren’t really defined, just asserted as true. Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone loves a government handout, just ask the banks who nearly destroyed the world’s economy. But I’d like to think that this funding is a bit better justified than it appears.

The other big assumption is that support should be directed at literary works. This is a common theme to these reports and the articles I discussed previously.  The report recommends the Premier’s Book Awards be annual again, which they want to be used to promote West Aussie authors and Western Australia as a successful writing habitat – possibly with the inclusion of an emphasis on “emerging” and “developing” authors. I note that they aren’t proposing to support genre authors, nor have awards to promote them.

Why wasn’t there a conclusion that the Premier’s Book Awards should include Spec-Fic, Crime, Thriller, Romance, and YA segments? Are these not worthy? Do these genres lack enough subplots about recovering from cancer and relationships with cats? Because we can fix that.

As I noted in my Literary Fiction in Crisis piece, we could acknowledge that arts are an important aspect of our culture and support ALL artists with grants – not just the “important” literary ones. The initiatives that are meant to grow and sustain the writing sector always seem to be only for part of the writing sector. IF writing is to receive government assistance then it would be nice to see it not playing favourites without some damned good justifications. Until then it appears that some animals are more equal than others.

Edit: A recent article touched on a point about art vs sport and the taxation of people in those fields in Australia. Interesting what we promote as important.

5.1 CONCLUSIONS

In framing initiatives that will grow and sustain the writing sector, the following issues arising from the research and consultation process have influenced the consultants’ advice.

 The creative process – the act of writing – is severely hampered by lack of time and money

 Market development is a critical issue for everyone working in this sector in Australia, and one which WA needs to address with some urgency. WA’s isolation from decision-makers and peergroups exacerbates this

 Proximity to Asia and the alignment of significant time zones offers a considerable opportunity for WA writers (and to the creative industries in WA more generally)

 Market forces are causing publishers to become more conservative and mean they are not building writers careers in the same way. How is this gap to be filled?

 Collaboration between allied and sometimes competing parties is an emerging model in Australia and internationally. With the disruption of internet and digital technologies there is a greater need for publishers to cooperate and negotiate with other firms, including competitors, or others such as games, software and media companies in order to create new products.

 For emerging and small publishers, distribution can be a major hurdle

 Self-publishing without an experienced guiding hand is a minefield for new writers

 While authors still seek traditional publisher relationships there has been an increase in publishing innovation and technology driving new models. Australian publishers are experimenting across digital platforms with changes to royalty and subscription agreements, and providing free ebook downloads which helps make niche publishing projects viable

 Digital opportunities are encouraging a more direct relationship between writers and readers, publishers and readers, booksellers and readers

 Sales opportunities in the digital marketplace do not fundamentally alter the economics of publishing but have provided more opportunities for scholarly publishers

 The WA writing sector is supported by a range of community-based writers’ centres, facilitating organisations and by writingWA

 Throughout WA there are also 231 public libraries which provide a nexus for writers and readers in a geographically challenging state.

 There is a strong regional literary festival culture in regional WA – often initiated or supported by the public library. Geraldton, Kununurra, Avon Valley, Broome, Margaret River and Mandurah Festivals are all initiatives of, or have strong links with, their public libraries, and funding from DCA, DRD and Royalties for Regions, delivered via writingWA

 The history and capacity for publishing Aboriginal stories by Aboriginal people is a strength of WA writing

 There is a need to increase the diversity of voices and participants in the writing community

 Recent and current infrastructure developments, plus the proposed reconfiguration of SLWA offer opportunities for increased writing-based activity and activation

 Changes to governance arrangements at Screenwest and its greater emphasis on the telling of WA stories offer opportunities for writers

How Audiobooks Are Recorded

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This is an interesting short video featuring Suzy Jackson, voice artist, recording an audiobook at Audible Studios.

Joanna Penn has also interviewed a number of people on her podcast about audiobooks, which are worth listening to.

I’m quite the fan of audiobooks. Being able to read a book while I’m exercising or commuting has been a life changer for me. There is something about having headphones in that stops people interrupting you to ask what you’re reading. Sorry, not stops, but certainly lowers the number of interruptions.

New study reveals why some people are more creative than others

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The question has long eluded researchers. agsandrew/Shutterstock.com

Roger Beaty, Harvard University

Creativity is often defined as the ability to come up with new and useful ideas. Like intelligence, it can be considered a trait that everyone – not just creative “geniuses” like Picasso and Steve Jobs – possesses in some capacity.

It’s not just your ability to draw a picture or design a product. We all need to think creatively in our daily lives, whether it’s figuring out how to make dinner using leftovers or fashioning a Halloween costume out of clothes in your closet. Creative tasks range from what researchers call “little-c” creativity – making a website, crafting a birthday present or coming up with a funny joke – to “Big-C” creativity: writing a speech, composing a poem or designing a scientific experiment.

Psychology and neuroscience researchers have started to identify thinking processes and brain regions involved with creativity. Recent evidence suggests that creativity involves a complex interplay between spontaneous and controlled thinking – the ability to both spontaneously brainstorm ideas and deliberately evaluate them to determine whether they’ll actually work.

Despite this progress, the answer to one question has remained particularly elusive: What makes some people more creative than others?

In a new study, my colleagues and I examined whether a person’s creative thinking ability can be explained, in part, by a connection between three brain networks.

Mapping the brain during creative thinking

In the study, we had 163 participants complete a classic test of “divergent thinking” called the alternate uses task, which asks people to think of new and unusual uses for objects. As they completed the test, they underwent fMRI scans, which measures blood flow to parts of the brain.

The task assesses people’s ability to diverge from the common uses of an object. For example, in the study, we showed participants different objects on a screen, such as a gum wrapper or a sock, and asked to come up with creative ways to use them. Some ideas were more creative than others. For the sock, one participant suggested using it to warm your feet – the common use for a sock – while another participant suggested using it as a water filtration system.

Importantly, we found that people who did better on this task also tended to report having more creative hobbies and achievements, which is consistent with previous studies showing that the task measures general creative thinking ability.

After participants completed these creative thinking tasks in the fMRI, we measured functional connectivity between all brain regions – how much activity in one region correlated with activity in another region.

We also ranked their ideas for originality: Common uses received lower scores (using a sock to warm your feet), while uncommon uses received higher scores (using a sock as a water filtration system).

Then we correlated each person’s creativity score with all possible brain connections (approximately 35,000), and removed connections that, according to our analysis, didn’t correlate with creativity scores. The remaining connections constituted a “high-creative” network, a set of connections highly relevant to generating original ideas.

Two renderings show the lobes of the brain that are connected in the high creative network.
Author provided

Having defined the network, we wanted to see if someone with stronger connections in this high-creative network would score well on the tasks. So we measured the strength of a person’s connections in this network, and then used predictive modeling to test whether we could estimate a person’s creativity score.

The models revealed a significant correlation between the predicted and observed creativity scores. In other words, we could estimate how creative a person’s ideas would be based on the strength of their connections in this network.

We further tested whether we could predict creative thinking ability in three new samples of participants whose brain data were not used in building the network model. Across all samples, we found that we could predict – albeit modestly – a person’s creative ability based on the strength of their connections in this same network.

Overall, people with stronger connections came up with better ideas.

What’s happening in a ‘high-creative’ network

We found that the brain regions within the “high-creative” network belonged to three specific brain systems: the default, salience and executive networks.

The default network is a set of brain regions that activate when people are engaged in spontaneous thinking, such as mind-wandering, daydreaming and imagining. This network may play a key role in idea generation or brainstorming – thinking of several possible solutions to a problem.

The executive control network is a set of regions that activate when people need to focus or control their thought processes. This network may play a key role in idea evaluation or determining whether brainstormed ideas will actually work and modifying them to fit the creative goal.

The salience network is a set of regions that acts as a switching mechanism between the default and executive networks. This network may play a key role in alternating between idea generation and idea evaluation.

An interesting feature of these three networks is that they typically don’t get activated at the same time. For example, when the executive network is activated, the default network is usually deactivated. Our results suggest that creative people are better able to co-activate brain networks that usually work separately.

Our findings indicate that the creative brain is “wired” differently and that creative people are better able to engage brain systems that don’t typically work together. Interestingly, the results are consistent with recent fMRI studies of professional artists, including jazz musicians improvising melodies, poets writing new lines of poetry and visual artists sketching ideas for a book cover.

Future research is needed to determine whether these networks are malleable or relatively fixed. For example, does taking drawing classes lead to greater connectivity within these brain networks? Is it possible to boost general creative thinking ability by modifying network connections?

The ConversationFor now, these questions remain unanswered. As researchers, we just need to engage our own creative networks to figure out how to answer them.

Roger Beaty, Postdoctoral Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience, Harvard University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.