I first discovered Marilyn Brant‘s books several years ago, and I’ve been hoping to meet her in person ever since. I’m kind of stalking her – I moved to Chicago and joined her local RWA chapter, but since I never make the meetings we haven’t had the big meet yet. I’m excited to introduce you to both Marilyn and her books – enjoy!
In my life before becoming an author, I was a teacher with an educational-psychology research background in creativity and culture. I was fascinated by these two topics, particularly the way creativity and culture mutually influenced each other (all the points at which they both opposed and intersected), and I chose this to be the subject of my master’s thesis.
I spent a couple of years just information gathering—reading studies on creative individuals, compiling lists of specific traits that seemed to predict a potential for creative behavior, identifying cultural patterns and situations that made for a fertile creative environment, and so on. Then I detailed the results in a document packed with quotes, not only from social scientists, but also from my favorite authors, film directors, musicians, and artists. Let’s just say the final product was on the lengthy side…and probably my first indication that writing books might be in my future, LOL. Even so, I still feel I barely scratched the surface.
But if I were to distill my hundreds of pages of notes and years of research into one concept, it would be this: I found that creativity most frequently occurs at the margins of our cultural experiences. It thrives in those places where our knowledge of one world overlaps with another world. And that it’s often at these edges where stunning insights, unusual approaches, combinatorial ideas, and ingenious advancements are born.
I find myself thinking about this a lot nowadays, particularly given the tremendous changes we’re experiencing in the publishing industry. We’re witnessing a seismic shift in the way stories and information are being distributed. All of us who are writing and publishing today are the living definition of cultural marginality, at least in relation to our field. We have a front-row view of the two intersecting worlds of publishing, i.e., the way things were done just a few short years ago vs. the altered industry as it has evolved since the digital revolution took hold. These changes are so real to us and so visible that we have the singular ability to hold the vision of both worlds in our minds simultaneously.
And, while the downside is that it likely feels to you (as it does to me—daily!) that the ground is moving constantly beneath our feet, the gift that comes from where we’re standing is that we’re now in the perfect position to be more creative than ever before.
I truly believe this. I’ve seen it in action, and I think most of you have as well. The spirit of innovation, the greater openness to trial and error, the generous sharing of information, and the rich peer collaboration have been beyond what many of us could have ever imagined during our earlier publishing days. Quite a number of unusual marketing ideas, multi-author projects, new regional reader events, and clever promotional strategies have originated or been expanded upon thanks to the out-of-the-box thinking of some indie authors. But the ideas have spread between all writers, who’ve cross-pollinated techniques drawn from the indie, hybrid, and traditional publishing realms, and most are trying fresh strategies wherever and whenever possible.
While not every promotional experiment out there leads to bestsellerdom, there’s an unmistakable sense of ingenuity in the air and a breathless excitement that comes from turning a corner midrace and finding that the course is completely open to change. That it can and, in fact, must be reconfigured—by us.
Romance writers were always an unusually supportive and bighearted bunch, but now there’s even more of a sense of possibility and generosity—one that amazes me and overwhelms me by turns. It’s not easy for anyone to pave a brand new path. However, our current climate sparks an appreciation for the gifts that this industry-wide upheaval has brought to all of us and a desire to contribute to the sharing of knowledge that has revolutionized the way we approach the writing, publishing, promotion, and distribution of our novels. It all starts, though, by knowing which talents we bring to the table.
Perhaps one of the trickiest lessons we each have to learn as writers is the art of playing to our strengths. Even as we work to improve upon whatever areas are more difficult or daunting for us as individuals, we still need to take the time to recognize those traits that make us unique—those particular aspects of creativity that fuel our storytelling and our imaginations—and to honor them. As novelists, whether published or aspiring, we are a collective of highly creative individuals. It’s a certainty that you register somewhere above average on scales of creativity—trust me on this! Just think about what we do every day: build new worlds, craft scenes, bring to life characters who feel real, script dialogue for people who don’t actually exist and who live in places we’ve only imagined, and much more. These are uncommon pastimes for most adults…unless, of course, they happen to be novelists.
Below are some of the most frequently cited characteristics of creative people. Many are complementary traits while others may be in opposition. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are fairly well known by educational psychologists to be the kinds of things that are noted as indicators of potential creative talent. I’m sure you can pinpoint quite a few of your own:
Fluency of ideas
Flexibility of ideas
Complexity of ideas
High energy level
One of the most interesting concepts I came across during my creativity research was a characteristic called “permeability of boundaries,” referring to boundaries between categories and spheres of interest. The creative individual is aware of such boundaries but enjoys finding ways to subvert or transcend them. This is where the ability to see and understand more than one “world” comes into play, and it has a direct application to fiction writing. When a writer has multiple interests or strong areas of knowledge, she’s capable of making startlingly original connections between them. It might be as simple as using an unusual but apt metaphor in writing a scene or as extensive as utilizing a deep grasp of another vocation to slingshot book promotion to a new but receptive audience.
Another of my personal favorites is a trait called “tolerance of ambiguity,” which is the ability to deal with vagueness and ideological discontinuities. It is possessing the mental flexibility to accept the internal conflict and tension that result from polarities, inconsistencies, and contradictions. Essentially, it’s marked by the ability to handle the discomfort of the unknown. This is a trait I think most writers must draw upon whenever they start a new novel—just take the art of plotting as an example.
I, for one, happen to be a loose plotter. I love Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! beat sheet and think it’s a work of story structural brilliance. But, even with its assistance in the basic plotting of my story, I still have to face a trillion decisions yet to come. Decisions about the backstory and motivations of my characters. Or about plot twists that I may not have planned out in advance. Or about nifty subtextual cues or literary motifs that highlight a theme I’m only partially able to name when I first start drafting the manuscript. And I have friends who don’t plot at all and, yet, they still end up with beautifully written novels drafted through their own special “fly into the mist” processes. I can assure you that everyone who successfully writes a book that way has a gift of tolerating ambiguity in large measure!
Furthermore, for all of us, there is a strong link between creativity and the ability to take emotional risks. I’ve seen this again and again as a vital difference between those who choose to pursue their writing dreams and those who back away. Ralph Keyes, who wrote one of my favorite nonfiction books, The Courage to Write, also wrote a book called Chancing It: Why We Take Risks. In that text, he states, “While creativity is generally assumed to have some correlation with talent, the more important correlation is with nerve.”
I think he nailed it.
So, in my opinion, although industry-wide change can be frightening, as authors we have very little to fear. Our creativity—our risk taking, our adaptability, our willingness to think divergently, our capacity to collaborate with each other, etc.—will serve us well. Figure out which creative traits are your greatest assets and explore them. Play to your strengths. Learn from those authors who have skills in different areas and share in return. Use your talents to pave the path you most want to follow and join together with authors you respect to reach your goals.
More than ever before, there’s magic to be found when we combine forces and let our ideas, experience, and sheer creativity mingle. Together we can do more than just envision great things—which is a gift in itself—but we can also make them tangible.
When do you feel most creative during the writing and publishing process? What’s your favorite part?
Author Barbara Monajem joins us on Wednesday, August 13.
Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and won RWA’s Golden Heart Award (2007) for her debut novel, According to Jane. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. Visit her website:
Now, Beth’s best friend, Jane Henderson, and Will’s first cousin, Bingley McNamara, begin their own unlikely love story inPride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet (Perfect #2), which starts at the Bennet/Darcy wedding when the two of them find themselves in the roles of maid of honor and best man for the newlyweds.
Jane is an interning school psychologist and a woman who wears an angelic mask in public, but she’s not as sweet tempered as she’d like everyone to believe. Turns out, she may have just crossed paths with the one person who’ll unnerve her enough to get her to reveal her true self.
As for Bingley, he’s a wealthy, flirtatious, compulsively social guru of finance, who likes to wager on stocks and, let’s face it, on just about anything that strikes his fancy. But this dedicated ladies’ man may have finally met the woman who’ll challenge his bachelor ways!
Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet…where life’s biggest gamble is the game of love.
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