So excited: I will be on WNPR’s Colin McEnroe Show Monday.

Guys. GUYS. I’m going to be on WNPR on Monday. On the Colin McEnroe show On the radio.

I will be on the air with three other CT authors: Chandra Prasad, Brian Slattery and Lucy Ferriss.

We will be talking about the future of the novel with McEnroe, who is himself an author, at 1 p.m. on Monday, and folks, it’s a call-in show. This is the number: (860) 275-7266.  Call in. Ask lots of questions. The show airs on WPNR-FM 90.5 in Connecticut, but if you don’t live here, that’s okay, you can listen live (or listen to the file later) by going here.

UPDATE: If you miss the 1 p.m. show, a rerun will air at 8 p.m. Thanks to Betsy from WNPR for letting me know.

I’m going to be honest; I’m a little nervous to be on a panel with these authors. They’re all extremely accomplished. But I’m also excited; I can’t wait to talk with them about writing in general and the novel in particular.

For those of you who are not from Connecticut, Colin McEnroe is kind of a big deal. He was on AM radio when I was growing up and he must have been on at a time when I was home from in school, because his was one of the voices I heard daily.

I could go on and on, but I will make a long story short: in 2009, McEnroe moved to WNPR, which is one of CT’s NPR affiliates. He’s got a show that runs from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays, and that’s the one I will be on Monday. He’s great to listen to; he’s a wit and he’s smart as hell and opinionated as a radio host ought to be. I once read a piece that described him as “The Hunter Thompson of Connecticut Journalism.” I don’t know if that’s really the case, but I aim to find out.

So guys, listen, call in. Tweet about it. It’s going to be fantastic.

How to force inspiration, kind of. (And how I learned that my shower is NOT actually the Magic Idea Box)

writing in the shower, inspiration

My diving slates.

UPDATE, 2/27/13: I’ve gotten more comments about creativity from readers on my Facebook page, so I’ve added more comments to the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

A few years ago, Wally Lamb spoke at my MFA program. One of the things Lamb mentioned in his keynote was that he got the idea for She’s Come Undone in the shower. If I’m remembering this correctly, it wasn’t an everyday shower; one of his children had just been born and he’d run home to clean up. Shortly after getting into the shower, inspiration sent him running down the hall for pen and paper.

I was so excited to hear this; recently I’d been noticing that my best ideas were emerging in the shower, exactly the time when I was unable to grab a pen and paper to write them down. I’d thought that I was the only one. And so, weird and creepy as it may be to randomly go up to a guy who is a complete stranger and talk about your showering habits, I just couldn’t help myself. I walked up to Lamb after the reading and said “Ohmygod I get my ideas when I’m showering too!” And he gave me the uncomfortable look that pretty much anyone would in the circumstances.

I’ve been thinking of the shower as the Magic Idea Box for a few years now. I never get ideas during morning showers (all they do is wake me up) but I know that if I’m stuck on something, I can take a shower in the middle of the day and the solution will appear within 30 seconds of the water being turned on. I keep diving slates in there so I can scribble the ideas down. I always figured it was the water, or the drumming of the shower on my spine that drew the ideas out. And until Lamb spoke, I thought it was just me.

This is apparently a thing. After reading a recent blog post by another favorite author, Mary Doria Russell, and seeing that she also gets ideas in the shower, I did a quick search for “inspiration in the shower.” It’s more common than I thought it would be. In 2006, Time published an interview with psychologist R. Keith Sawyer, author of Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. Here’s a quote from that piece:

In creativity research, we refer to the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged. When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain.

The bathtub, the bed and the bus. That makes sense. Everyone knows the story of the Greek mathematician Archimedes. The principle of the displacement of water came to him in the public bath and then went running out into the streets of Syracuse butt naked, screaming “Eureka!”
This blows a hole through my Magic Idea Box theory; Sawyer goes on to say that the “aha” moment is not a flash of inspiration. It is the end of a process that’s been happening for some time. Your brain has been working on the problem; the mental downtime of a shower or bath, or bus ride or the moments before sleep just kicks your brain into a different gear and that helps your mind solve the problem. But there are, apparently, other ways to force an “aha.”

Collaboration with people in or outside of your field is supposed to help. Here is Felicia Ryan, who commented on my Facebook page when I asked people how they get inspired:

My business partner (who is a visual artist by training) and myself (my training is in Communications) exchange ideas constantly, songs, artwork, books, resources….our exchange is a creative “call and response” conversation. Each of us adds to what the other has said and help to interpret it in a different way. We email, text and call each other and try to follow each creative thread to a conclusion or the next idea. It is like a on ongoing Ping-pong match.

Any kind of mental downtime. According to a recent NPR piece, people who can let their minds wander during breaks from a task are more likely to solve the problem when they return to that problem. As writer Tina DeMarco says, “Mostly [inspiration] comes when I’m busy doing something else!” Here is writer Krista Richards Mann:

I get inspired when it’s quiet. I like to go on a walk or a hike. But, inspiration has been known to nudge me while changing a load of laundry, baking a cake or sweeping the floor as well.

And here is writer Donna Orazio:

For me…it is when I silence the loop of conversation in my head and just listen to the sounds around me. What else is there to hear if I really listen? A new conversation often begins which leads me to unexpected places if I am open to it.

Writing in a blue room. I don’t get this one. Nor do I have a blue room, so I can’t test this theory. But NPR says it’s true, so like a good listener, I believe.

Speaking of NPR. Here’s social media marketer Kate Hutchinson’s strategy for getting ideas:

NPR. I love to listen to it in the car, and half the time I’ll listen to a story about communications between rebel groups in Syria and outside aid groups and suddenly I’ll realize there’s something I can apply to my social media strategy, so I’ll make a voice memo on my iPhone.

Driving/Walking to work. This falls, for me, into mental downtime (unless you’re driving in LA, across the George Washington Bridge or on I-95 in Connecticut) but enough people, like Hutchinson, mentioned getting ideas in the car that I felt it deserved its own category.

From Brian Hendrickson, creator of the web comic Call of Cthulu: The Musical:

From Karen P. Schuh:

I often get ideas when driving or when observing people interacting that causes my creative mind to react and imagine a story.

And from Talking to Walls frontman Brian Kelly:

I find that I write most of my songs at the least convenient times. The best happen when I’m driving or in the shower. If I “sit down to write” it almost never happens. But usually when I can’t get to a guitar or, in the case of a shower, paper, that’s when the muse hits. (I think she just likes watching me in the shower. Kinda creepy…)

Which brings us back to the shower. Here’s a comment from Stephen Schmidt, who has the same problem as Brian:

In the shower of all places – I guess the hot water gets my brain going. A whole new meaning for “go soak your head”. It’s hard to write stuff down though.

Diving slates, Stephen and Brian. Trust me.

How do you get your ideas? Does the blue room thing even work? Comment here or on my Facebook page and I may update with your input.

As for me, I’m headed over to the Magic Idea Box to see if I can harvest some ideas for the next chapter I have to write. Apparently I’m over the weirdness of publicly discussing showers, although I don’t think I’m quite at the Archimedes level of weirdness quite yet.*

*Archimedes was a bit on the odd side. He was killed during the invasion of Syracuse. He was working on an equation at the time. A Roman soldier came to take him prisoner and Archimedes was all “no thank you, kinda busy right now,” and the soldier got mad and killed him. (I imagine things didn’t end all that well for that centurion when his general realized that the greatest genius of their time was murdered in the middle of something brilliant by some kid with an anger management problem.)

NPR & TMZ? OMG!

I consume many different kinds of media. I read my local newspaper in the morning, I follow several journalists on Twitter, read various news websites throughout the day and I read magazines like the New Yorker.  Two sources of news, however, command more of my attention than any other.

I’ll tell you about the one I’m proud of first. I spend a lot of time listening to two of NPR’s programs: All Things Considered and my favorite,  Marketplace, which has made business news palatable to me. Not only does Marketplace partner with the Freakanomics guys,  whoever is in charge of their music is awesome. No other business program lets me know how the stock market did during the day using “We’re In the Money” or wah-wah trombones, which is the only way I can understand it, since the actual stock prices make no sense to me.

My other big news source? Not nearly so highbrow. I read the kind of  gossip news that’s “reported” by the paparazzi. I’m talking about the sort of celebrity stories that pop up in my news reader when I attempt to check my email. Gone are the days when I tried to change my Yahoo settings so that real news would show up instead. I’ve given up. Now I want to know which teenage set of twins have moved into the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner. And yes, I’d love to know how Kim Kardashian is coping these days.

None of these guys will be winning a Pulitzer anytime soon. But it doesn't keep me from reading them.

No matter that these news sites elevate useless people to celebrity status. No matter that it’s a waste of time to read it.  No matter that the agents of these sites are irresponsible journalists who infringe on the lives of famous people, sometimes putting them in physical danger. And yes, I’m aware that if celebrities were animals, there would be an outcry against this kind of unethically gathered news. But since the paparazzi is considered to be the price of fame, the only protest we ever see comes in the form of each new single and/or video released by Britney Spears.

The unintended consequence of spending so much time on two disparate news sources is that I’ve begun to mishear things. A few days ago, when the stock numbers were being read, I thought that Cher had fallen six percent. This summer I  was convinced I ‘d heard that Björk finally had a tax plan. And this week, during a story about a power plant, I heard that Japanese scientists had the Situation under control. I know what the reporter meant, but that didn’t stop me from seeing , in my mind’s eye, Michael Sorrentino from The Jersey Shore being held down while Japanese scientists forced him to put on a shirt.

I do know that I have to give up the celebrity news. There are nights when I’m not feeling great and instead of a junk food binge, I find myself wandering through the links on TMZ and OMG, clucking about Leann Rimes’ weight and trying to determine for myself is Ashton is really cheating on Demi. And no trip to a gossip site would be complete without checking in on Lindsay Lohan. But these binges are never satisfying. They’re like the spiritual equivalent of eating a meal from McDonald. I go in thinking I’m being wicked and indulgent and I come out feeling kind of sick.

So yes, I should definitely cut back. But I’m not going to lie. I’ll miss mishearing the news.

NPR! N to the P to the Radio!

So, about two weeks ago one of my profs from F.U. had he administrator of our MFA program blast an email out to all the students in the program. The message was essentially this: “NPR has a short fiction contest. The deadline is in six days. Get on it.”

The contest, “Three Minute Fiction,” required writers to produce a story less than 500 words long. The first seven words of each piece had to be “The nurse left work at five o’clock.” The entries will be judged by James Woods of the New Yorker, but until then, NPR is posting a favorite story on its site each week.

Mine was posted this week. I don’t think I’ve stopped grinning.