The Truth About Burnout, Steps to Rejuvenation, and A Cup of Candor

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.07.11 AMI know this post is coming sooner than you or I expected it to come, so let me explain.

Earlier this week, I experienced something unfamiliar. It came out of nowhere and yet came from everywhere. I imagined myself in the image of an old wind-up toy that had hit a wall; I was marching along, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was swimming in “noise,” as we communication folks like to call it. It was filling up my head and causing me not to think clearly.

Some people might call it burnout.

Burn•out (noun) /ˈbərnˌout/  def. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. “high levels of professionalism that may result in burnout”

It was an emotional reaction that, quite frankly, had my friend Elizabeth puzzled when we talked on Tuesday.

“What happened?” she asked. “What happened after our lovely visit to Oxford?”

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 1.19.54 PMShe had sweetly volunteered to come with me and my daughter to the Plein Air event in Oxford where I was signing my latest book, Inn Significant, at the bookstore, Mystery Loves Company. I had been excited to go for weeks as my novel happens to be set in that sweet, picturesque and welcoming town.

“Nothing happened because of Oxford,” I told her. “It just happened after Oxford. I woke up in the morning the next day and didn’t know if I could write one more post about the book. I was becoming exhausted by the idea of book promotion.”

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When I told her more about it, she completely understood. So let me try to articulate it here. Forgive me if I don’t do it perfectly, but here are my thoughts on last Monday’s meltdown.

If you are not an independent author or an author with a small press, you may not understand fully the trials and tribulations of book promotion, but I know that these folks will get it — completely — so here’s the way it goes. Every morning you wake up with the thought, “How can I sell some books today?” For the last six years, that has been my relentless task, in addition to being a full-time professor, wife, mother, writer, blogger, and member of society who also likes to spend time with family and friends. That one, singular thought became an obsession for me, and here’s why: we care about our work, the stories we are producing as authors, but what good are they if no one reads them? The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to chip away at book promotion little by little, day after day. We write press releases. We enter book contests. We attend book talks, festivals, and signings. We are omnipresent on social media. We take photographs and come up with tidbits about our books to share on social media sites. We check our blog stats and our Amazon and Barnes & Noble pages to see how many books we have sold daily. We follow other people who are doing the same and see if we can learn from them. We see where we need to improve. We examine peak points on social media and try to post at those times that yield the biggest results. Then, we wake up each day and start over. And over. And over.

We drink a helluva lot of coffee.

And then we hit a wall.

Just like that.

Boom.

And the worst part is, I LOVE creativity. I love it so much, you guys. I love to talk about it, research it, read books about it, and just be creative through my writing and blogging and teaching, and yet, guess what was being zapped?

My friggin’ creativity.

Sucked away like Potter’s Dementors.

And so I had a knee-jerk reaction.

Stop writing. Stop blogging. Stop book promotion.

The problem came two days later when I realized that I didn’t want to stop blogging or writing, I just needed a sabbatical from book promotion.

I also realized that I needed to change my blog. It has been on my mind for a couple of years to rebrand it a bit, while still keeping the Steph’s Scribe flavor. As anyone in business knows, things can’t always stay the same, and change is good.  I’m one of the top Entertainment bloggers on Paperblog, and I have over 10,000 blog followers, so the last thing I wanted to do was start over.

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So you can see I’ve compromised. It’s got a new title, with Steph’s Scribe as a subtitle so I don’t lose my followers; it has topics that I would like to cover regularly; and my goal is for it to have a little more spirit and candor.

Not everything in life is roses and caviar, and I believe I didn’t always allow myself to be as candid as I would like. So, we’ve got a new approach and a new focus.

And now to you, my dear readers: I would love to hear from you about what you would like to see in the new revamping of the blog. I need some input. Creativity takes brainstorming and often can’t be done alone, so if you have some ideas for me, I am open and in need of them.

To those of you who wrote to me, people like Danielle, Jack F. and Jack G., Deborah, Elizabeth, Whitney, Heather, Linda, Leeanne, Chip, Laurie, and so many others, your words made me examine this much more quickly than I thought was possible. So thank you. Thank you so very much.

And while the “noise” may not be completely cleared and sent to Mars, it’s getting better. And while I cannot fully stop book promotion if I want my books to be read, I can still take a breather from it and perhaps manage the chaos in a different way. And while I may not be ready to write another novel, at some point, I will probably do it again.

And if I love blogging, well then, damn it, I’m just going to keep on blogging.

Was this candid enough for you? If so, I look forward to a cup of candor each week with you as we progress.

Love to you all.  Have a wonderful weekend…

Stephanie

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

5 Guiding Principles of Creative Leadership

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Last week, Dr. Leeanne Bell McManus, Chip Rouse, and I gave a three-hour presentation to an organization entitled, “Event Planning: A Seminar in Communication.” Centered around ideas from our textbook, Event Planning: Communicating Theory & Practice, we talked about communication theory, ideas, tips and case studies, and offered strategies for leaders in event planning.

Additionally, one of the aspects we talked about was creativity, and our textbook includes a chapter dedicated to leadership. I like to talk about the combination of the two: creativity & leadership.

One of my favorite articles I’ve read to date on this topic is from the Harvard Business Review and it’s entitled Creativity and the Role of Leader. It’s a terrific piece that examines leadership in creative roles, such as those at Google, IDEO, and XM and Sirius. If we can take away one thing from this article, it’s that creative leadership requires you to be a visionary.

After researching and reading about this topic for years, as well as presenting on the topic at conferences, I’d like to offer my take on creative leadership, for I believe it is the cornerstone of any successful organization or endeavor. I also come to the table a bit biased and in favor of creativity, as I have the privilege of working in two fields I believe offer tremendous opportunity to unleash your creativity—that of teaching and fictional writing.

That said, I believe creative leadership requires those in power to possess these types of characteristics.

1.  Creative leaders have open minds.

They are open to ideas and suggestions. They understand that the people they have hired or are working on their organization’s behalf are good at what they do and believe in the organization’s mission. Rarely is one person the innovator; it take a couple or more visionaries to make things go—just look at the early days of Apple. Creative leaders are able to examine a variety of ideas and appreciate the dedication that has been put forth by individuals and teams, and they always stay open to newer and better suggestions.

2. Creative leaders are not afraid to change and break habits.

In order for any organization or business to thrive, creative leaders must welcome change and not get bogged down by habits. In an event planning business, can you imagine if the leaders did not commit to this type of excellence? Events would be the same, and events of distinction would never be created. However, change for the sake of change is rarely a good idea unless it is grounded, researched, substantiated, warranted and undeniably necessary. Remember when they had to bring former CEO Howard Schultz back to his original role at Starbucks because things got out of hand?

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3. Creative leaders value their teams.

Rarely will you come across satisfied and passionate employees whereby there is no creative leadership. The stifling of creativity can prove deadly when individuals are stripped of creative measures. Workers and creative teams must be allowed to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and removing aspects of creativity could lead to decreased motivation. Teams need to feel that their contributions to the organization’s success are vital to the organization’s continued growth, and that their input is valued.

4. Creative leaders are motivators—and it’s a team effort.

I recently watched a “60-Minutes” piece on my former O’s colleague and friend, Theo Epstein, the current GM of the Chicago Cubs and former GM of the Boston Red Sox, who broke the curse of the Bambino. In that piece, Theo talked about how he builds his team and how important the cumulative sense of the team’s character is to the team’s success. That sense of choosing the right people leads to motivation that is unsurpassed, as was witnessed by the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Theo’s energy spills over into all those involved in the team, and as he states, no one person is solely responsible for the success. Perhaps that is why Fortune magazine chose Theo Epstein as its #1 World Leader in the March 2017 issue. I’m proud to know him. There is no denying that team spirit has the power to win it all, as has been proven time and time again in athletics. That same energy works in organizations, as well.

With Theo at an O’s Reunion gathering.

5. Creative leaders are constantly looking to the future for the next story.

Creative leaders can’t stay in the moment for too long—they are always looking to the future for the next project, idea, or task that will prove meaningful. There’s always another story to tell, if you will, and they are ready to move on to creating something even more meaningful than the last project. If they sit still for too long, they get itchy. Creative leadership means forging ahead with the next plan, because they know what it means to build on success.

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

Walking Spawns Creativity

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The ritual for me of a Sunday late afternoon walk is the perfect way to generate creativity. All you writers out there know what I’m talking about, right? The ability to unplug, listen to the birds, and regenerate from stress while burning a few calories helps us become more creative. I do some of my best creative thinking and strategizing during this time.

Late afternoon is my favorite time of day…and I love walking in my neighborhood.

Who else is a walker and does his or her best thinking on your feet? 👟👟

Getting in touch with nature and decompressing helps you recenter and look at things with a new perspective. If you don’t believe me, check out this article from Forbes about the research findings from Stanford University.

It’s hard to argue with it.

When I came home from my walk, I was inspired to grab my camera and take a picture of my three books. I sometimes run out of ideas, but this one came to me, and I’m happy that the walk brought me this little creative whim. Next, I need to tackle my characters in the sequel I’m writing to Inn Significant. I’m already on Chapter 4 and getting more excited by the day to bring the characters to life again and have them experience some new situations. I got a couple of new ideas about them on my Sunday walk as well.

The moral of the story? Keep walking.

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Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

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Overwhelmed at Work? Block Out Some Time for Yourself | Book Review

The other night when a group of ladies met to discuss my current novel, Inn Significant, for their book club, they asked me this question: “When do you find time to write? As a busy college professor with a family and other obligations, how do you find the time?” The answer is highlighted in today’s blog post: I block out time. And guess what? It’s easy to block out time to do something you love. That’s me today, just finishing writing this blog post, which I blocked out time to do. Enjoy!

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Here’s the scenario: Your inbox is overflowing. You have tons of emails to respond to, in addition to answering social media inquiries, answering texts, and making phone calls. You arrive at work and you already feel overwhelmed with what you must accomplish. You are all set to be productive, and then your balloon slowly begins to deflate as you sit sipping your morning coffee being totally reactionary and not proactive about what you need to accomplish. You know you have things you need to get done, and hope you can squeeze that in during the day.

Does this scenario sound familiar at all? If so, I’ve got some help for you, and it comes in the form of a little book called Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build You Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. This book gets right at the heart of managing your daily work responsibilities, while also incorporating time for your own work pursuits. Comprised of short articles from experts in the field, you’ll find yourself nodding along and wanting to better construct your daily schedule. I’m certain of it.

While the book focuses on creative types primarily, it is perfect for anyone who feels overwhelmed by technology’s ability to creep into our lives and not leave us alone—not even for an hour or two while we work on something important.

The idea of “chunking” or “blocking out time” on your own calendar to be productive is at the heart of this book. As worker bees, we need to be productive and we need to answer emails. This is true. However, that should not come at the expense of our creative endeavors. They have to be in conjunction with each other.

The book’s brilliant suggestion is to make that morning time YOUR time. Get in early to work when you are fresh and block out the first hour or hour and a half that is YOUR time to do YOUR projects. This makes you less reactionary. Now you are working on things that make your heart sing and make you happy to get to work. Sure, some people may say you didn’t respond to their email fast enough, but you’ll respond in the afternoon (unless it’s absolutely pressing, then I’d get that one done and move on).

It’s so true that we don’t make time for our projects because our day tends to spiral out of control. We lose it to putting out fires, responding to the deluge of emails, or attending meetings that take inordinate amounts of time away from our true productive tasks.

If you’re someone who likes structure during his or her day while also being as productive as possible, I would suggest reading this book. It also has some good examples, like the one I read last night about how someone like Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, blocks out time for his creative endeavors each morning. It provided a lot of inspiration as to how to use your time wisely.

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

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Answering the Question: How Many Books Have You Sold?

How many books have you sold?

It’s the question people like to ask me about my recently released novel entitled Inn Significant. It seems to be the question people have on their minds as the marker that indicates how successful the book has been thus far.

The funny thing is, I liken the question to someone asking me about my age, how much I make, or how robust my sex life is.

Sometimes we are focused too much on the results and not on the process. At least that’s what my husband and I try to teach our kids. The most important aspect revolves around the process that helps us achieve our goals; the results are often secondary (and yes, at times, can be quite important).

As for Inn Significant, I didn’t set out to write a bestseller. That thought is not based in reality; I like to think more realistically. When I began writing the novel, I set out to start the process, see the process through, and complete a project. A writing project. Do you know how many people start something and never finish it? My goal is always to complete it. Writing has been in my blood since I was about 13 years old. I feel compelled to tell stories, and I’m more concerned with the process of that storytelling journey than I am with the results of that journey.

Moreover, I find myself echoing the sentiments of writer Elizabeth Gilbert when she says, “…if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).” Well said, Ms. Gilbert.

If you have the creative inspiration to redecorate a room, you do it, don’t you? If you have the urge to build a spectacular garden with a fountain in your back yard, you take it on, right? If you sit at a blank canvas and paint something that moves you, you don’t tell your inspiration to run away and hide, do you?

No, you don’t; nor do I. If I have the inspiration—if it happens to bless me with a story I think I can piece together in a meaningful way—I write it. Why would I tell my creativity to take a flying leap?

As for book sales, I do my best to try to promote the book, talk up the book, market the book, and sell the book where I can. Just this week, I entered two independent author book contests, and I’m about to enter more. I sent my book off to people who may be able to help promote it. I mailed out press releases. I was booked to talk at a library and a book signing is in the works at a bookstore. I do what I can.

But this is not why I write.

I write, once again, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert, because of this one, main reason: “…at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 11.07.47 AMTo put it simply, I just like to be able to say that I welcomed inspiration and “I did it.”

I also love the fact that my kids see their mom be fearless about putting her creativity out there.

That’s a process worth teaching.

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15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree.  Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt. 
To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

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Writing Prompt Challenge

So, last night I posed a writing challenge to see who wanted to try and write a short piece of flash fiction (300-400 words) around a prompt. I posted three. I got no takers. But I did it.

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I chose the third. I love writing prompts because they force you to immerse yourself in a scene, setting, or situation right away. They force you to be creative, and to use your creative juices in the best possible way. The challenge was to write approximately 300-400 words.

Here’s my result of Prompt #3.

The Young King

The young King’s hair was a rumpled mess, his clothes strewn across the floor, his crown askew and hanging off of the chair. The lingering smell of liquor plagued the room as the gold goblet next to his bed sat empty. He had banished everyone from the castle after an evening of dancing and celebrating at two in the morning—rather earlier than his typical four o’clock dismissal. It was nearly eleven, and the sun had risen high in the sky, the morning dew long dissipated from the lawn.

His mother had married his father, the former King, when she was younger than he was now. She had not been pleased with his antics last night. She publicly reprimanded him in front of a few of the guests, and he in turn, had caused a scene. He was twenty-three, and he had become King two years prior upon his father’s passing. She blamed him for the current state of affairs in the Kingdom, for his lack of leadership and foresight, and for his relentless pursuit of young women. She had fought him privately, but last night she could no longer hold her tongue, and she had, in his estimation, embarrassed him beyond reproach.

She stood looking at him now, he squinting at her through the hazel eyes that so often had reminded her of her dear, departed husband. The blinding sunlight, which she had allowed to stream into the room after pulling open the heavy curtains, was causing him to sit up in bed and acknowledge her presence.

“There were vial words said between us last night, most of which, I would like not to remember or repeat,” she said in a tone he fully recognized as one in which you do not offer a response. She was his mother, after all, and while he was by all means a man, she would always be his most trusted advisor and confidante. He felt a sense of regret at what he must have said last evening, but he offered no reply at present. “It’s your choice,” she shrugged. “You can continue with your worthless life, or you can become someone who matters.”

With that, she turned on her heels and began the walk toward the gilded double doors that shielded and separated his room from the rest of the castle. He was not one to apologize freely as his pride and defensive demeanor almost always got in the way of salvaging his relations, but as she crossed the threshold, she heard him call, “Mother—“

Flash Fiction | Stephanie Verni | 410 words


15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree.  Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt. 
To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

Handling the Insecurities of Publishing A Novel

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It’s a challenging endeavor. I’ve done it twice now with fiction, and twice with nonfiction books. And I’m about to do it again when I release my latest, third fictional novel.

There will always be anxieties that manifest themselves into insecurities about putting our work out there. The tendency to feel nervous about it is normal. We’ve invested a lot of time and energy into our stories, and we hope people will appreciate that time and energy regarding our work, too.

But there are no guarantees. Some people will love it, some will think it’s just okay, and some will downright dislike it.

It’s the way of the world, people. We all can’t like everything.

Nevertheless, I have to quell my fears. I’m more nervous about this book than I have been about the other two simply because it is my third. And as a natural course of progression and as someone who puts undue pressure on herself, I hope this one will be received as well, if not better than, the previous two I’ve written. “Whether you think you’re brilliant or think you’re a loser, just make whatever you need to make and toss it out there,” Elizabeth Gilbert tells us in Big Magic. “And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.” It’s great in theory, but tough to put into practice.

However, I think it’s important to adhere to this advice when you are making any kind of art.

Gilbert further goes on to say this:

“If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest—as politely as you possibly can—that they go and make their own f—ing art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”

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Recently, I watched the Oprah one-hour interview with J.K. Rowling that was filmed during Oprah’s last year of her show. I have to admit, I’m sort of obsessed with this interview. In it, we hear Jo Rowling tell stories of the backlash she took from writing Harry Potter, from those who thought writing about Black Magic was horrible for children, and from those who think children’s imaginations should be limited. It made me further understand what someone told me months ago, and honestly, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. She said,

People are entitled to their own opinions, but that doesn’t make them right.

And so, I’ve decided that despite my nervousness about reaction to my own storytelling, it’s what I have always wanted to do, and so I do it. I’ve always had this passion deep down inside of me. Ever since I was in middle school, I knew I wanted to write and tell stories. So all I can offer readers is my authentic self as I tell these stories that brew in my head. That’s what I’ve got.

As Gilbert says, “Just say what you want to say, then, and say it with all your heart. Share what you want to share. If it’s authentic enough, believe me—it will feel original.”

And so it goes.

Originally yours,

xx |

Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the upcoming novel Inn Significant. She is also a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

 

 

Yes, You Are Creative

bigmagicpbI can’t tell you how many times in my advertising and writing classes I teach at the university that I hear students tell me that they are not creative, or that they just don’t have a lot of creativity in their bones. As someone who has been teaching for over 25 years, I think I can safely say at this point that people underestimate their power to be creative, and that more often than not, they are quite capable of creating something that is better than they expected.

All they need is a push and someone to convincingly tell them that they’ve got creativity brewing inside them.

I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I’ve wanted to write a book about creativity for years, and in fact, have presented ideas on creativity at conferences for several years. Truthfully, it has become a big fascination of mine. Gilbert’s book is so spot on and insightful; within the text, grants us permission to be creative and put our talents to work, just in case no one else ever gave us room to do so. She carefully, humorously, and convincingly builds the argument that we, as humans, have always made things. So, if we wants to be writers, painters, or any other type of artists or inventors, why do we feel the need not to put that dream at the forefront of our endeavors? As she states on page 85, “If you’re supporting yourself financially and you’re not bothering anyone else, then you’re free to do whatever you want with your life.” She further states on page 89 that “creativity is the hallmark of our species.”

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So why do so many people believe they are not creative? We must believe we are.

writerA writer myself, especially when I am writing fiction, I must go to that deep place of creativity often, and I have to rely on empathy to be able to feel or understand what a certain character might be going through. This kind of writing requires you to be inspired—by place, person, or thing. But we cannot even get to this place if we don’t believe we are creative. Believing we are creative is half the battle.

Bloggers understand this, too. If you are to be a consistent blogger, it requires consistent creativity to come up with article ideas and then implement them for readers. Even sitting here now, I feel as if I’m in my creative zone drafting this piece for you to read.

I highly recommend Big Magic to anyone who works in a creative field, for students who have to make things or write things in classes, for moms who have an idea to make something that will simplify life at home or with kids, and for any other folks who have a strong yearning to break out of the everyday drudgery of what they do and tackle that creative thing that will make your heart sing.

You ARE creative. We all are.

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That’s me holding the draft of Inn Significant, which I wrote almost entirely on my laptop on my back porch last summer. I find a lot of inspiration when I am outside listening to nature.

 

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Stephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the upcoming novel Inn Significant. She is also a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

A Little Fairy Magic … and Imagination

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Mystical fairies looking after us, guiding us, keeping watch over us—it’s not a bad idea, really. We could all use a fairy godmother or godfather every once in a while. Think about how many of us wish Harry was real and there was a place called Hogwarts; why not want to cling to the idea of fantasy? Sometimes the fantastical life is far more interesting and engaging than real life. At least, I think so sometimes, which is why I make up characters and stories and plot lines and write fiction. It’s just so much more fun to believe, I think. My husband and father think the idea of ghosts are just ridiculous, but I say…why not believe in them? And if you refuse to believe in them in real life, at least humor them in fiction.

The little fairy garden my daughter and I created a few months back is thriving. We put plants in the container, and they have taken off. I had to clip them back today because they were growing all over the space. And in this minute, magical, mystical, marvelous, mysterious fairy garden, you never know what happens when we turn our backs, or why the frog leaped off the lily pad. Who knows what they get up to in the middle of the night in there?

That, my friends, is called having an imagination. It’s called being creative. Do you think J.K. Rowling could have invented that amazing Harry Potter series had she not had one? Do you think Steve Jobs would have built the empire he built without utilizing his imagination and creativity? What would Einstein have done without his unique ability to think creatively in any situation? Would any author write if he or she were lacking in imagination? Would songwriters succeed if they didn’t listen to the music that came to them as they created it?

I encourage my daughter to have an imagination, whether it comes in the form of this little fairy garden we grow or in the articles and stories and music I encourage her to write.

Using your imagination…inside and outside the garden…is an important key to life.

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signatureStephanie Verni is the author of Baseball Girl, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and the co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.

Walking for Mind, Body, Spirit…AND To Improve Creativity

Approaching the golf course in our neighborhood on today's walk.
Approaching the golf course in our neighborhood on today’s walk.

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It’s 1:35 p.m. on a sunny, gorgeous Friday here in Maryland where the temps are a stunning 79 degrees, and I’ve just returned from an hour-long walk. There are no excuses when the weather is this spectacular. As someone who admittedly has not taken very good care of herself over the last few years and has put other things and other people first, I’ve committed the summer to my overall physical and mental well-being. From reading to writing to exercising daily and eating better, it’s time for me to get serious about my lifestyle.

I’m not hear to preach about your health; Weight Watchers, your doctor, and your own family do that for you. But what I can attest to is that walking helps clear the mind, especially if you walk by yourself. Doing it for one hour allows you the time to just reset your brain, reflect on things, and put some distance between you, work, family, and friends. There’s nothing wrong with a little alone time.

It’s amazing how revitalized you can feel after strutting your stuff for one hour at a good pace. I love walking in my neighborhood–there’s so much to see. Many neighbors are in the midst of home renovations, the golf course sits in the middle of the neighborhood, and the trees, flowers, and landscaping of the homes provide an excellent landscape to entertain me. There’s always something new to see.

Walking also helps boost your creativity. According to research by Stanford University in 2014, it’s proven that walking helps creativity. I do some of my best thinking when I’m walking, and I come home and incorporate things I thought about into my stories. Writers are always told to seek inspiration from outside sources, and nature is a wonderful source of just that.

If you’re not in the habit of walking, you may want to give it a try. It really does invigorate your body, spirit, and your mind.

The beautiful sky from last night's walk...and airplane headed to BWI Airport.
The beautiful sky from last night’s walk…and an airplane headed to BWI Airport.

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5 Sure-Fire Ways To Boost Creativity

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In the textbook I co-authored with Dr. Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse about Event Planning, we have an entire chapter dedicated to creativity. This is one of my absolute favorite topics to discuss—with friends, with fellow writers, with students, with my children, and with colleagues. Maintaining a sense of creativity is important in so many careers; in fact, there are very few careers that do not value some sort of creativity and innovation.

However, the tricky part comes in when we, as people who can often be stretched balancing work and family/friends life, find ourselves zapped of creative impulses and notions. If this describes you right now, don’t despair. It has described me countless times before as well. Luckily, your creativity will find it’s way to you in good time. It’s cyclical—it comes back around. But how can we foster it and encourage it to return?

For years, I’ve been reading articles on creativity, from one of my favorite articles called Creativity and the Role of the Leader from the Harvard Business School to writers who discuss fostering creativity. There is so much still to learn about creativity and how to nurture it and develop it, but over the years, I’ve found several things that work for me and I thought I’d share them with you today.

#1: Read a Lot

No matter what career field you find yourself in presently, you should always be reading up on innovations within your area of work. If you are a teacher, read publications, blogs, books, and websites that could offer you information and help spark your creativity. For example, just the other day, I read a fascinating article from The Chronicle of Higher Education about how to end the last few minutes of class and help students remember the key points that were made during that lecture. As a college professor, I never quite thought about ending my course in this manner; however, now that I’ve read that piece, I am keen on giving that particular tip a try. Ideas are shared everywhere, and it’s your job to tap into those readings that can help you with your creativity. As an author, I read a lot of other writers—reading their work helps me spark ideas for my own fictional writing as I observe plot, characters, dialogue, setting, and more as I delve into each particular novel I read.

Photo credit: Discover.point.edu

#2: Get Out of the House

When you are sitting at a computer or trying to create a project and things are not going the way you planned or you are staring at a blinking cursor, get your butt out of the chair and go for a walk or run, visit a museum, have lunch in a sidewalk café, stroll the aisles of a library—do whatever it takes to change the scenery. I know that frustration can sometimes get the better of me, so just moving my body away from it for a few minutes invites clarity and perspective to return and helps me continue along with my project.

#3: Brainstorm

Brainstorming started back in 1953, and the idea was coined by Alex Osborn (we have a whole section on this in our textbook). Brainstorming is a great way to start a project when you feel stuck. Putting a lot of ideas to paper, putting them on a chalkboard, writing them in your journal, or creating a mind map are all ways to begin the brainstorming process. The best part about brainstorming? At this early stage of creativity, the best part about brainstorming is that NO IDEA IS A BAD IDEA. Sometimes the craziest notions become the strongest contenders. Push yourself to facilitate some quality brainstorming—you may just come up with the most innovative idea you’ve ever had.

Photo credit: JSHA.com
Photo credit: JSHA.com

#4: Believe in Your Own Creativity

As an educator, I cannot tell you how many times I hear students say, “I’m just not that creative.” I’ve even heard people who are writers say, “I just don’t know if I can finish this thing—I’m really not that creative.” While it’s true some people are just naturally gifted with creativity, it doesn’t mean that you are not. It’s like anything else in life: if you believe you can achieve it, you probably will. Shoo those demons out of your head that tell you that you aren’t creative; ignore the comments you may hear from others; dig down deep within yourself and believe that you not only can be creative, but that you already ARE creative. This belief will carry you through any project that requires a great deal of creativity.

#5: Have Fun with Creativity

Way too often, we put pressure on ourselves that everything we create must be perfect. Good Grief—if I thought everything I created had to be perfect, I never would have published my two novels (trust me, I could still be editing Novel #1 if I didn’t finally say to myself, “It’s done. Put the sucker out there.” At some point I had to let it go.) Creativity is not an end-all-be-all. It’s a continuum, a circuitous path we must embrace. Sometimes our creativity will be at an all-time high; at other times, it may not be as stellar. But guess what? It’s all okay. We are mean to have fun with it. Keep going, keep having fun.

 

Verni Books
I won’t deny that it took a ton of creativity to write these books, but as with all projects, there are highs and lows. You just have to stick with it, believe in yourself, and have fun with it. You CAN do it.

I hope these ideas help you embrace creativity, when it comes, when it doesn’t, when it’s frustrating, and when it’s amazingly stellar. We’ve all had bouts of highs and lows with our creativity.

The important thing is to persevere. Creativity is meant for you, after all.

That Magic Moment When It All Clicks—Writing A New Novel

Barbara-Kingsolver***

Here’s how this story goes…

Beneath the Mimosa Tree at G&RI published Beneath the Mimosa Tree in 2012. Baseball Girl followed three years later, and this week I am celebrating it’s one-year anniversary as it launched last March 6. At the time I began writing my first novel, I had simultaneously started writing another bit of fiction. When I had to make the choice between the two in which to fully invest my time, I picked Beneath the Mimosa Tree because it had been a story that had lodged itself in my brain for 20 years. I have no regrets about publishing it, and I always feel a sort of sentimental sweetness about that book.

BaseballGirlAfter Beneath the Mimosa Tree was published, I went back to the “other” piece of writing. Standing at about 43,000 words (which pretty much equates to almost half of a novel), I stopped writing. Something wasn’t working for me. That is when my dear friend, Julie, said to me quite frankly: “I don’t know why you don’t write a book about baseball.” You see, Julie and I worked in baseball together for many years at the Baltimore Orioles and were both directors of departments. The idea whet my appetite, and I found myself abandoning the other 43,000-word work in favor of what became Baseball Girl, a multi-layered love story about a female professional who secures a job in professional baseball in the front office of a baseball team after the loss of her father. I was thrilled to write this storyline because I could base some of the characters’ stories on real-life work experiences that my friends and I had while working in the sport while fictionalizing much of it as well. It was great fun, and I’m pleased with the result of that work.

But now, finally, all these years later, something has clicked, and I have dusted off that neglected manuscript that I put aside twice. I know exactly what I want this story to be, how I want the characters’ lives to unfold, and I feel a real sense of purpose for this project. I attribute this light bulb’s illumination to the fact that I’ve been reading a lot again for pleasure, and this breadth of exposure and interpretation has helped me form clearer ideas for the arc of the story, the depth of the characters, the humor I want to infuse into their situations, and the picturesque quality I want to bring to the storyline. I am not afraid of deleting much of what I have already written and blowing it up and starting all over again.

Ideally, this should be the life of a fearless writer–and a good editor. Get rid of shit that is not working and start all over again. And so, the job is in front of me, and I welcome it with open arms.

hemingway

As writers, sometimes we sit and wonder when the big “ah-ha” moment will come to pass. If we sweat about it too much, it may never flutter down from the creative hemisphere and grab us and shake us and say, “Um…hello! There’s a big idea here and you better grab it before it goes off searching for someone else to write it.”