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The Joys of Mental Sex: Lesson XIV

January 8, 2010

Let’s bash a few more myths, so we can head into the home stretch.

Myth: Failures are bad.

Truth: Failures aren’t all bad.

Noted physicist Tom Hirshfield had a brilliant maxim. Print it out and put it where you’ll see it every day. “If you hit every time, the target is too near or too big.”

The rate of error in any behavior is a function of your familiarity with that behavior. (Remember, behaviors are thoughts and ideas as well as physical actions). When performing routine tasks, you should produce a low error rate. However, if you’re doing things in which you have no experience or are trying to approach differently, you’ll make your share of mishaps. Every manuscript you write may not sell – in this day and age with so many vying for so few slots – but we can learn from every sentence written by honing our craft or sparking new ideas.

Mistakes and errors are useful. The let us know when to change direction. When things go smoothly, we generally don’t think about them, because we act based on the principle of negative feedback. Often, we only get attention when we fail to do something right.

Negative feedback means the status quo or current approach isn’t working. You need to find a new one. We do not learn from trial and correctness. We learn from trial and error. If we never make a mistake, we’ll never change our approach and we’ll grow stale with sameness.

Where do we get this feedback? From creative partners. Yeah, I know. Everyone else calls them critique partners or critique groups. But if you are truly in sync and helping each other to your maximum potential, you will be feeding each other’s creative flow. A good creative partner doesn’t just do line edits or write “This isn’t working” on your manuscript pages. A good team gets down to the nitty-gritty. They act with absolute integrity, giving honest feedback – good and bad. They become sounding boards for each other. They help each other figure out why something isn’t working. They brainstorm together, helping each other look for unique ways of addressing issues, so their words don’t come off sounding like every other romance writer out there.

The first novel I completed is tucked away in a drawer. I was going to be the next great mystery writer to do a series involving a nurse solving crimes. My book about harvesting of fetal tissue and selling it to the highest bidder on the internet turned into a romance. Lesson learned: I’d rather write romance and someone else will have to be the next Cherry Ames.

Failures should always be viewed as an opportunity to learn.

Successes aren’t all good.

When we address success, we tend to think of it as all good. Sometimes that’s not true, and the reasons why are not so obvious.

Success tends to set a course that’s constantly repeated. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” becomes a Sacred Cow and fixes our attitude. This can prevent us from trying something new or ignoring other approaches that may help us grow as authors.

Success can also create situations that undermine your original intentions. Sometimes you can end up with bigger problems than the one you began with.

Let’s face it. We’d all rather have a higher rate of success than failure. But being honest, I have to admit – looking back – there have been times where my failures were good for me. They forced me to look for a second right answer that was better than the first.

Keep your mental organ in shape by trying new things. If you don’t, your brain will atrophy and you’ll no longer be able to take chances.

I’m not creative.

Knock this idea out of your brain right now. Ever hear of self-fulfilling prophecies?

The philosopher Epictetus tell us, “What concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are.”

In the business world, people are well aware of self-fulfilling prophecies. Business confidence concepts are based on the notion. If a business person thinks the market is healthy (even if it isn’t), he may invest. Based on his actions, other people gain confidence and invest as well. Pretty soon the market may be healthy.

The chief difference between winning and losing athletes is the attitude of the winners and losers. The winners see themselves as winners, and the losers generally give themselves a reason or an excuse to lose.

Just thinking a particular thought can have a huge impact on the world of action. People who think they are not creative actually stifle themselves, because they think only the Garwoods, Roberts, Lindseys, Jefferies, Clancys, Kings, et al. own all the creativity in the writing world.

Exercise: Are you creative?

  • o Yes             o No

I hope you all got this one right!

In seminars, I generally give people a “creative license” to carry around in their wallets or tape to their computers. I recently saw an old Universal Studios photographer who took my classes years ago. He still had his laminated and in his wallet.

One of the main things that differentiate creative people from no-so-creative people is the creative people give themselves license to pay attention to small ideas, work outside the box, play the fool, etc.

If you think you’re creative, you’ll make yourself creative. You’ll generate creative flow by taking risks, trying new approaches, seeking new and innovative ideas.

The world of thoughts and actions are constantly overlapping. What you think has a way of coming true. If you want to be more creative, believe in the worth of your ideas and have the persistence to continue building your skills and honing your craft. With this attitude, you’ll break rules, look for more than one right answer, research ideas outside your comfort zone, tolerate ambiguity, ask that all essential “what if?” You’ll be motivated to grow as a writer and as a functional member of society.

The creative person has self-faith that his or her ideas will lead somewhere. And once they get an idea, they do what they can to get it in action.

The remaining posts in this series will be up next week. I’m going to put you to work doing a few creative exercises to help you identify your creative strengths and weaknesses.

Until next time, Happy Writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2010 7:02 pm

    I’m really enjoying your posts, Mary! Creativity is a subject that fascinates me anyway. I can’t wait to see what you have for us next week.


  2. January 10, 2010 3:42 am

    Thanks, Barbara! Hope you’ll have fun next week!

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