Putting down the Phone and Getting Bored = Increased Creativity

I believe the key to a creative life is having the ability to observe humanity and to capture it, to illuminate it in some way. How do we do this? How do we expand our ability to observe? I think we have to step back from society’s push to constantly entertain ourselves, and instead, allow ourselves to be bored. We need to put down our devices for a segment of the day in order to let our minds drift.

Having said that, I’m as guilty as anyone. My fingers itch for the phone and I think I’ll just take a little peek, get my fix. Sometimes I pick up the phone during stoplights for a quick tweet or even worse, as much as I vow to leave my phone alone when I’m with my kids, I find myself checking my email while I’m pushing one of them on the swings. (Is anything as boring as swing pushing?) I see the need to disconnect from the world on my phone and to connect with the world right in front of me, but it’s a battle I fight every day.

An article in the New York Times this morning reported that motorist-related deaths in NYC have gone up by 23% in the last year. This was attributed to distracted walking and distracted driving. In other words, we are dying because we’re texting/tweeting while walking and driving. Our devices are causing our deaths, which is nothing new and no big surprise, for sure, but it made me think about what else we are losing. We are losing our ability to live in the present and this ability is very tied to our creativity.

Nothing is more creative for me than walking in New York City. I usually keep my phone in my pocket during these walks. I watch all the people and I see their little ticks and think about their lives. I imagine what their homes look like, what they do for fun and what odd things they do when no one is looking. Often they’re gazing down at their phones while I’m staring at them. (You got a staring problem, lady? Yes, I do.) Then I write.

If I had my head down the whole time, texting or Facebooking or tweeting, I’d miss out. New York City is a magnet for creative people – artists, photographers, writers, painters – for a reason. You see so much humanity every day by walking around and noticing. With your head up. Cell phone in pocket.

We are so afraid of being bored, but that is just what we need. The brain searches for stimulation, searches, searches, and then bang, you see something that you might never have seen if you weren’t bored. You imagine something. You come up with the best story idea you’ve ever had.

Maybe at that stoplight, instead of getting in a quick tweet, I’d see an almost dead deer twitching, not yet road kill, but hooves still kicking a little, and that moment would enter some piece of writing, like a blog post, perhaps. Perhaps while I’m pushing my child on the swings, instead of checking email, I would see a bee land on her and flick it away at just the right moment and this moment of heroism would enter a piece of writing. And, as another plus, my kid wouldn’t get stung.

What’s the Deal with Cold Showers and How Do They Enhance Creativity?

Before I started taking cold showers in the morning, I thought people who took them were a little hardcore, if not a bit crazy. Were they trying to punish themselves? If you could have a hot shower, why would you do this to yourself? I didn’t even like warm showers before. I liked them to be as hot as they could possibly be so that when I got out, my back was as red as a baboon’s behind.

When I lived in Mexico in my early 20’s, the apartment where I lived didn’t have warm water, so I showered in cold water, but the air temperature was warm and I had no choice. I did it as fast as I could and yearned for the hot shower when I’d return. Funny thing was, I didn’t get sick once in that year. But I didn’t make the connection. I also wrote constantly in Spanish in my journal. I learned to cook delicious Mexican meals. It was a time of great creativity.

I returned home and took hot showers again. They were a little shorter for a while because I was freaked out about how much good quality water we let slide down the drain when the water in Mexico and Central America wasn’t even drinkable. But I forgot about that soon enough and was back to my long hot showers.

When I was teaching English as a Second Language, I had a German student who took cold showers and swore by them. He tried to convince me to take them and I thought he was nuts. No way was I going to do it, not even once to try it. So, believe me, I get it. I’m very unlikely to convince anyone else to do it. You may think I’m nuts. My husband thought I was nuts until he started to see the effect on me for himself.

Ever since he’s known me, I’ve gotten sick a few times a year, often with ear infections or bronchitis. Then, magically, I started taking cold showers and month after month, I didn’t get sick. After a year of seeing me do it, he started doing it and a chronic dizziness problem he had went away. He’s addicted now too.

The reason I started taking cold showers was that my yoga mentor, Gurmukh Kalsa said I should. I was taking the kundalini yoga level one teacher training course for my own self-development. I wanted to grow as a person, gain a greater sense of grounding and get control over anger and fear. Gurmukh is one of the most enlightened people I’ve ever met, so I thought I’d at least try everything she suggested. Besides the health benefits, I noticed another surprising thing.

I felt more creative. Cold showers wake me up in the morning and make me want to write. I don’t feel sluggish. I don’t need five cups of coffee. In fact, if I drink caffeinated tea, it’s later, and I’d probably be better served by taking another cold shower. Sometimes when the writing is hellish, I take a cold shower or go for a run. I’ve found that the body and creativity are very linked. A block usually takes place in the body before it takes place in the mind. That’s what yoga is all about, to clear those energy blocks and create flow.

How do I do it? Sometimes I wash with soap and warm water first, then I turn it on cold. I dance. Move my arms around. Get my armpits – that’s important because it stimulates the glandular system. I let the cold water hit the front of my body until it hurts and then I turn around and get my back. I stay as long as I can, around 5 minutes. I turn off the water and then I get out. As a plus, it’s never cold when I get out of the shower. Also, I feel like I’ve accomplished something and I always feel happier. Like, yeah, baby!

Interestingly, I recently got a cold for the first time in a year and a half of taking cold showers. Why? I was skipping the cold showers and skipping sleep and not meditating or doing yoga. My novel had come out and I was busy every waking minute doing interviews, guest blog posts and writing my next book. First thing in the morning, instead of a cold shower and yoga, I’d tweet and answer emails, and I’d stay up late doing the same thing. After a month of this, I couldn’t believe it, but I had my first cold in ages.

A lot of writers talk about how they get sick on their book tours or after the book comes out and I now get it. The whole marketing and promotion part of post-publication is very consuming and it can take as much time out of your life as you let it. So, now, I’m back to my cold showers and yoga. I’m writing my next book. It’s all balance.

A few good links:

Kundalini yoga and cold showers

Funny piece about cold showers and being a badass

21 medical benefits of cold showers

How do you interview people for fiction?

Interviewing people for fiction is a lot more fun than interviewing them for a specific magazine article or news piece because you can let them talk forever. Whatever they share with you might be a possible gem for your book. Here are some of my tips for interviewing people for fiction:

1. Reassure them that whatever they share will be fictionalized and they won’t be identified. You are interviewing them so that you get it right. People are eager to help you. Everyone hates mistakes in fiction, especially when it’s something you care about.

2. If you’ve already written your story and you just need to fact-check, then go through your list of questions. Otherwise, if you’re trying to figure out what it’s like to be something, like a policeman, a scuba diver, a video gamer, a modern-day slave, a Moldovan, start more general.

3. Ask them to tell you about the first time they did something. Those memories are often the most vivid.

4. Listen carefully and plan follow-up questions to get more details about whatever they are describing.

5. Do not interrupt, for any reason. Wait to ask your follow-up questions until they are quiet. They will keep talking and then they’ll share something amazing. I recently had a high school student who interviewed me. Best interview ever. He was too shy to interrupt, (or he was incredibly good) and I just blabbed on.

6. Keep it like a conversation. Laugh. Encourage without interrupting. Examples: Uh huh, Yes? Really? Hmm.

7. Record it if they will let you – just the audio, not video. This makes most people uncomfortable and they’ll share less.

8. If they won’t let you record, don’t scribble notes the whole time. That’s distracting. Trust that you will remember the gems. Write key words, main details, while they talk. Then, afterward, write for as long as you can about what they told you.

9. Location: coffee shops and restaurants are nice because you can drink coffee together, but choose one that’s dead. Booths are great. If they’re worried people will hear, they won’t share much. Go to their house if they’ll let you. You’ll get a ton of details to include in your fiction if you do. Don’t invite them to your house. They will usually be less comfortable, unless, of course, you’re already good friends.

10. Thank them profusely and ask them if there’s anyone else they think you should talk to. Afterward, send them a thank you note and include them in your acknowledgments when you’re published.

For Romancing the Book, I wrote a guest post on how I interviewed people for TRAFFICKED:

Romancing the Book: The Art of the Interview

Do you need to research a work of fiction?

Recently, I did a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) and one person asked me why you’d need to research a work of fiction. It stunned me at first because it seemed so obvious, and then I realized, well, of course, some books are entirely made up, especially ones involving entirely imaginary worlds. However, nearly every work of contemporary fiction requires a lot of research because you aren’t always writing about things you have directly experienced. It is fiction, not autobiography; therefore, your character will be in some situations you haven’t.

TRAFFICKED required a great deal of research because I’m not from Moldova and I’ve never been a slave in someone’s house. I had to talk to Eastern-European immigrants, go to Moldova, learn from people who had been slaves and from people who worked in anti-trafficking organizations, and then, of course, the rest is based on my imagination, or on slightly altered events from my own life.

In Eve’s Fan Garden, I talked about specific experiences I had in Moldova, which changed everything about how I wrote TRAFFICKED, including a dead dog and people’s reactions to it, a girl who thought her mother had been trafficked and another girl who seemed a little too interested in having me come for a ride in a car with a very large man.

Eve’s Fan Garden: Researching TRAFFICKED


Why I Love Teens and Why I Write for Them

Today, I was bringing my kid to preschool and I overheard another mom saying, “I’m in real trouble when she becomes a teen. Seriously.” Her face was full of dread. I thought, oh no, if you’re worried now, just think how that’s going to turn into a full power struggle when your kid reaches that age. You are in trouble, but it’s because of you, not your kid.

I hear negative talk about teens all the time. Just yesterday, in fact, a neighbor was talking to me about his teen and said, “Well, you’re lucky, you’re not there yet.” I told him that I write novels for teens and teach creative writing to teens. I said I love that age. He looked at me like I was out of my mind and then joked, “We’d better have a talk.” He couldn’t imagine loving this time in his kid’s life and it made me sad.

Sometimes when I do a reading or when I tell people what I do, they ask why I write for this age. As if it’s so much more valuable to write for adults. Some young adult writers joke that they never grew up. I do think there is a beauty in staying connected to this age, even as you mature, to remember what it’s like. However, I write for this age because as a writer, you have the greatest impact on a person at this time in their life. The books that I read as a teenager live inside me to this day. If a teen is having a rough time and they read a great book, it might help carry them through. I believe YA fiction does save lives.

High school, for me, was a time of great turmoil. As a result, I have a lot of compassion for kids of this age. At one moment, it’s so incredibly fun and you’re laughing your head off with your friends, and the next moment, you have no friends and you want to die. You don’t know that it will get better. As an adult, I think it’s important to acknowledge how they’re feeling and to love them through this time.

To me, teenagers are so incredibly beautiful because they are both kids and adults at the same time. They can roll around on the ground with their little cousins and make fart noises. Then, in the next minute, they’re discussing the French Revolution and its impact on modern society. They’re dumb and brilliant. They’re naive and wise. They’re nervously polite to someone they admire and snarly and rude to someone they don’t. They’re learning the grays of life, instead of seeing things in black and white. They are on the cutting edge of culture, music and technology. We, as adults, have so much to learn from them.

The best and most rewarding part of working with teens is that when you show them you’re someone they can trust and you really talk to them, they have the most interesting observations about people and life. They open up and show their vulnerability. At that moment, they embody the brilliance of an adult and the magic of a child.

I don’t write for teens because I can’t write for adults. I write for teens because they let me.

Romelyn was my first teen mentee at WriteGirl. She's a fabulous writer and taught me just as much as I taught her.

Congrats to the winners of TRAFFICKED and the Most Recent Winner for the “I am a Reader, Not a Writer” Blog

There have been so many people who have won TRAFFICKED from the various giveaways at all the different blogs who have done interviews or hosted guest blog posts. I only know of a few of you, but I’d love to congratulate you all.

The most recent winner is Mandy Riddell for the “I am a Reader, Not a Writer” Blog. Another winner was Amy Giuffrida for Nova Ren Suma’s Distraction 99 Blog. Madeline Luka also won. Congratulations to Mandy, Amy, Madeline and everyone else!

If you’ve won a book, I’d love to hear from you. In fact, I’d love to hear from anyone who’s read TRAFFICKED. I’m shamelessly excited about every message I get from a reader. It’s still new for me.

Here’s the interview I did for the “I am a Reader, Not a Writer” Blog. In it, I give some writing advice and talk about the writing life.

“I am a Reader Not a Writer” Interview



How do you research a character from another country? Go there.

For my novel, TRAFFICKED, I tried to do my research online and through interviews with people in America. I thought it was possible to learn enough about Moldova that I could use that information for my main character, Hannah, who’s from Moldova. After all, most of the story takes place in Los Angeles. However, in the end I had to go there and experience it myself. Here’s my guest blog post about that trip on Eve’s Fan Garden for my blog tour.

Eve’s Fan Garden: Researching TRAFFICKED