The happiness advantage – to write better novels, lighten up!

What’s behind the happiness craze? In Colorado Style, The Washington Post’s Brigid Schulte wrote an artcle, “Boost happiness with a few simple daily habits.” A recent issue of Parade’s cover headline reads, “50 Shades of Happy,” and the August Golf Digest cover declares it’s their “Happiness Issue.”

In one of those golf articles, contributor Bob Carney discusses a golfer on his high school team who was the happiest golfer he ever knew. He would be happy no matter the weather or what he shot, and he was not only the best player on the high school team, he was also the luckiest. His 6-handicap, Carney says, wasn’t all magic. It turns out there’s scientific proof that this “happiness edge” exists.

Shawn Achor, Harvard researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage, claims our brains, in positive mode, perform significantly better than they do in negative, neutral or stressed modes. Carney quoted five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thompson, who said, “You can think best when you’re happiest.”

So why are we all so hard on ourselves on the golf course, or at our computers, writing novels? One reason, Carney suggests, is that we “model” experience. We have preconceived notions about the “right” way to raise children, choose a mate, or in our case, write or promote our novels. These notions can be time-saving, but if we take them too seriously, we begin to believe that this is the way the world really works.

Are our theories about how to write a good novel simply a construct, also?

Annika Sorenstam’s coach, Lynn Marriott, says we have a negativity bias, that we store negative experiences in a deeper and more permanent way than we do our positive experiences. This suggests that we can undo the harmful, negative bias by replacing it with a positive bias.

If we have a propensity to imbed the negative, it will take a little more effort, but we can learn to apply this concept to make our writing more joyful, more satisfying.

Close your eyes and think back to the first time you wrote fiction—how excited you were, how magical it all seemed, creating a story from your heart, from that beautiful, magical place we call creativity. You couldn’t wait to write more, to discover what happened next, to watch your characters come to life on the pages.

Time, as we know, passes. Some stories get rejected, some get admired, some get published. We trudge on, dragging our feet through the industry “mud” of dashed hopes, disappointing letters in the mail, demanding editors, indifferent agents, careless reviews, puny sales numbers.

Over time, the joy fades, and our creative hearts need replenishing.

Take a deep breath. Hug your manuscripts and/or published books, and recall that early joy. Armed with positive thoughts, dwell on your successes and enjoyment. Remember to relish those memories, because it takes more effort to embed the positive.

When you’re preparing to edit (or, let’s be honest, “thinking” about preparing to edit, or tying yourself in the chair to force yourself to edit), engage encouraging thoughts.

Capture old, negative thoughts and turn them on their ear. Dash memories of plotting gone bad, and critique sessions that leave your manuscript bleeding from all the comments. You may have to hand back your bleeding manuscript to your critique partners and ask them to write two good things about your pages. Then you can take control and read and re-read those positive comments, giving them the same power as the critical comments . This will help you enter into your editing session with a hopeful, happy outlook, better able to tackle any problem areas.

When you’re gearing up to write new material, hug your creative mind and give it a jump start. Think of three or more outstanding memories of your writing, times when you could sing, you were so happy.

When you finished a scene that made you cry. Or laugh.
When you wrote a piece of dialogue that impressed you so much, you wanted to dance.
When someone looked you right in the eye, gave you a smile, and said they really enjoyed your writing.
When you wrote “The End” for the first time.
When you read a fantastic, positive review of your book, written by an obviously intelligent reader.

You’ll think of other gems. They’re in your memory bank, just temporarily dulled by the hard knocks that come with the industry.

Writing this blog made me happy. I hope it makes you happy, too. Join me next month as I continue my happy writing thoughts.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The happiness advantage – to write better novels, lighten up!

  1. francaldwell

    Janet, what a lovely post. Of course negativity must creep in after years of unsuccessful attempts to sell our beautiful work. I don’t feel it with the writing, but definitely in the editing (and for me, right now, the dreadful formatting for print-ready copy). To sit down, ‘tie ourselves to our chairs’, and do that thankless work brings out the worst in me. I will address this today, and perhaps won’t even need to bind myself to the chair to do it. Polishing our own unique words is a privilege few people experience. I must remind myself of that.

    Thank you.
    Fran

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