February 8, 2018

Why Crime and Punishment is a Better Novel than War and Peace, and Why Writers Should Care

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, Peak Experiences tagged , , , at 2:52 pm by Rebecca Hein

These days, highly intellectual novels such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Tolstoy’s War and Peace aren’t likely to attract many readers. “Too long and boring; too full of unpronounceable Russian names;” these are a few of the objections I’ve heard inside my own head, and from others. However, my reading habits seem to be subject to a stronger force than the legitimate desire of a reader to be entertained.

It’s the same phenomenon I encounter when listening to a wonderful piece of music. That beautiful concerto, sonata, or folk song reaches deep inside me and sets up an enduring memory of the experience and a craving for more.

How did the composer do that to me? I always wonder this, and have wondered the same when a writer pulls me so deeply into his or her story that I forget where I am.

This is another form of the perennial question, What is a great work of art, and how do we recognize it? If you want to write, you need the answer. Both Crime and Punishment and War and Peace can help us learn some of what we want to know.


June 27, 2012

Perfect Moments, Part Four

Posted in Peak Experiences, Practice Writing tagged , at 2:12 am by Rebecca Hein

How do you induce a state of mind where you write your best? The answer lies in your subconscious, which responds beautifully to “down time” and indirect work.

This is why practice writing is so valuable. It releases you from conscious effort to write well. In practice writing, you’re generating words with no purpose other than flow. Your brain doesn’t have to work at all, yet you’re still writing.

This dichotomy, in which you’re doing two semi-related things at once, will help you practice the similar paradox of wanting to write your best while not grabbing for it.

June 20, 2012

Perfect Moments, Part Three

Posted in Creativity, Depth, Peak Experiences tagged , , at 3:47 pm by Rebecca Hein

The art of not grabbing for your best work has to be practiced just like any other skill. It’s a state of mind where you must balance your desire to write well with a complete release of that hope.

This may feel impossible, but it probably isn’t any harder than musical performance, where you want to play your best, yet know that this very goal will defeat you if it is foremost in your mind. To get lost in the music, forgetting everything else, is the way to play your best.

June 13, 2012

Perfect Moments, Part Two

Posted in Creativity, freewriting, Peak Experiences, writing techniques tagged , , , , at 4:43 pm by Rebecca Hein

If our best work feels like a gift from above and therefore not something we can just grab, how do we achieve it? What I’ve learned from cello playing has taught me the answer.

In a series of wonderful, serendipitous practice sessions, I expected nothing. Making no attempt to recapture the best achievements of the previous day, I simply launched into my warm-ups and the beautiful, easy folk songs that deliver pure enjoyment.

For writers this is part of the answer. Give yourself time for fun, easy writing. Too many hours spent struggling with plot, character, or scene will bog you down.

Instead, on a daily basis, write letters to yourself. Or rant about your frustrations. Anything to get the words moving, after which you can expect things to begin to sparkle.

June 6, 2012

Perfect Moments, Part One

Posted in Creativity, Peak Experiences tagged , at 4:33 pm by Rebecca Hein

The essence of a sublime experience is that you can’t hold onto it. Yet these transcendent moments in creativity produce our best stories, poems, and scenes. How do we attain this exalted state where we know we’re generating material many readers will want?

I began speculating about this several years ago when my cello practicing floated into that zone of enchantment where everything worked perfectly. Instinct told me I couldn’t repeat it. Yet I’ve been able to do just that, time after time, until I’ve nearly come to expect it.

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