A Case for Visionary Fiction, Part 3: Action Plan

Editor’s note: The following guest post by Victor Smith is the last of a three-part series on Visionary Fiction aimed at increasing awareness of the genre and helping readers discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction.

visionary eyeAround the turn of the millennium, several of us authors-without-a-genre developed a vision on the then-Yahoo Visionary Literature Forum to “ . . . advance the dream of a thriving body of visionary literature that contributed significantly to humanity, making the leap to that next level of spiritual and practical evolution without which our future prospects as a race seem bleak indeed.”

This article, the third in the series A Case for Visionary Fiction, expands on that initial vision to popularize Visionary Fiction.

The Genre for This Age

Regarding the primary characteristic of Visionary Fiction given in Part TwoExpansion of the mind or growth in consciousness is the hallmarkof Visionary Fiction—we can rightly claim that expansion of the mind is on the mind of everyone in their right minds today. And such expansion posits elements beyond the bounds of the average TV-conditioned consumer, thus making VF quite indispensable.

The Visionary Fiction Alliance Home Page states: “As the world evolves away from the Newtonian model of the five senses to the more evolved quantum model that includes the sense of spirit so resurgent today, Visionary Fiction is rapidly becoming the genre of choice to express that evolution and predict the breathtaking future that might follow the anticipated leaps. Under its broader umbrella are now gathering works previously classified as spiritual, metaphysical, or science fiction.”

In 1967 the arch-philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan, put out a provocative little picture book entitled The Medium is the Message, which illustrates how new media forms stimulate the human ability to sense in radically different ways.  Think what a field day McLuhan, who died in 1980, would have had with the digital world of the 21st Century. We have only just begun, and yet we can leap from continent to continent with a single click, access information about anything by typing a few letters, and communicate with a speed and volume that was science fiction in his day. Modern technology offers the visionary writer opportunities, if only by eliminating the tedium of research and composition, to explore human consciousness in ways previously unimaginable.

Also in Part Two is this  point: Visionary Fiction renders the reading experience interactive. Digital media enables and enhances interactivity. To the visionary mind, this is electrifying stuff, and electrifying stuff is what fuels us to sit for hours composing our works. Even marketing, a bête noir for most writers, can be more opportunity than challenge to the VF author advertising in the digital arena. So far, eBook publication and online promotion have largely been an electronic imitation of the printed publication process with the addition of niceties such as hyperlinks and instant dictionaries. Full implementation remains wide open for experimentation. Following the visionary paradigm that encourages cooperation, we can imagine a form of electronic marketing that is more about sharing graciously than shouting louder than the rest of the crowd.

Establishing Visionary Fiction’s Pedigree

Rather than the narrow sub-genre to which it is often relegated, Visionary Fiction is, according to the eminent psychologist Carl Jung, a super-genre that forms a major slice of the literary pie.  In the lecture, “Psychology and Literature,” in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung divides all works of art into two distinct forms, psychological and visionary. “The psychological work of art always takes its materials from the vast real of conscious human experience—from the vivid foreground of life, we might say.” This is generally called realism. “The latter [visionary] reverses all the conditions of the former [psychological]. The experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression is no longer familiar. It is a strange something that derives its existence from the hinterlands of man’s mind—that suggests the abyss of time separating us from pre-human ages, or evokes a superhuman world of contrasting light and darkness.”

In Jung’s paradigm, the bulk of classical literature (the poems of Homer and Virgil, Beowulf and even the Bible) is Visionary Fiction. A few scholars besides Jung have made specific studies of the visionary form (Edward Ahearn, Flo Keyes); fragments exploring the concept are scattered through much literary criticism. But, to my knowledge, Visionary Fiction has been an elephant in the room with blind scholars examining its appendages, mistaking the part for the whole. Jung explains this myopia with an observation that explains why Visionary Fiction has been slow to catch on:

“The reading public for the most part repudiates this kind of [visionary] writing—unless indeed it is coarsely sensational—and even the literary critic seems embarrassed by it.”

One would think, given the importance Jung attributes to the Visionary mode, that scholars would stampede—and it is the intent of this series to stir up such activity—to expound on this vital cultural phenomenon. And yet even Wikipedia still relegates VF to a sub-category of Inspirational Fiction, an oversight the Visionary Fiction Alliance is now scheduled to correct.

Proper study, recognition, and development of VF might require the emergence of a competent field general, someone akin to John W. Campbell who in the 1940s promoted Science Fiction into the robust genre it has been ever since, and a few deep-pocketed patrons to stimulate the proper surge of interest. Many pioneers, whose efforts deserve to be documented in an appropriate history, have already plotted out the rough trail; it remains to lay down some smooth tracks to carry the product to the public in volume.

Baby Steps

However much time it takes before VF conventions draw thousands and glitzy award ceremonies are held for the VF Book of the Year, we can take practical steps, some already initiated and others suggested here, to increase VF’s hold in the public consciousness—Visionary Fiction is, after all, the art form designed to raise consciousness.

Once again, it is the internet that provides an inexpensive avenue for education and promotion, but its effectiveness requires a sustained effort and dedicated repetition (often on a shoestring) by those who aim to see VF go viral.

  • Insert #VisionaryFiction in every tweet possible.
  • Visit VF sites (some are listed by the Visionary Fiction Alliance) and generously contribute posts and comments.
  • Read other VF authors and review their works on Amazon, GoodReads, IndieReader, Smashwords and other venues where numbers count.
  • On your own website, cross-post with other favorite VF sites or list them in your blogroll.
  • Like/share worthy VF material on Facebook and Twitter. Volume activity raises search engine ratings and may eventually attract the attention of traditional agents and publishers.
  • Support the current effort to encourage the various online book vendors to properly and prominently categorize VF works (having VF properly defined in Wikipedia will facilitate this).

The Cooperative Model

The cooperative model is introduced here, not because it has been tried (it hasn’t) and is true (I, an optimist, believe it is), but because it is ideally suited to VF writers (also optimists by definition) who are producing works pertinent to society’s most urgent needs and demands at a time when the ideal delivery system (the internet) is in place. It is a radical opportunity because the old system, which assumes the 99% are born to contribute to the top 1% and individual celebrity trumps communal well being, is still the way to do things, fancy rhetoric invoking “the people” aside.

Even the most prolific writer acknowledges that readers consume books faster than he/she can write them. Thus, Author Paul promoting Author Peter does not rob Paul. John W. Campbell, with only the primitive pulp magazine model to work with, promoted a constellation of SF writers (van Vogt, Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, to name a few), most of whom benefited from the others’ popularity.

The Visionary Fiction Alliance is building on the blueprint set forth nearly 15 years ago by the Yahoo Visionary Literature Forum:

“The Visionary Literature Forum was to be the launch pad for an electronic gathering place for writers, publishers, agents, booksellers and supporters of the emerging Visionary genre. Its purpose was to hold enlightened and mutually beneficial discussions on the definition of the visionary genre, its history and authors, effective writing practices, marketing methods, and industry trends. From such discussions we projected to create a structure (permanent website, more sophisticated discussion groups, professional association, annual awards, conference representation, even a marketing/publishing collective) that would advance the dream of a thriving body of visionary literature that contributed significantly to humanity making the leap to that next level of spiritual and practical evolution without which our future prospects as a race seem bleak indeed.”

While the Visionary Fiction Alliance site is not the only game in town or yet an optimum model, it is a working installation operated by active VF writers, regularly updated with new posts and pages exclusive to Visionary Fiction. Its members acknowledge that it is just the beginning for what is intended to be a “home base and central clearing house for readers, writers, and researchers dedicated to or interested in the emerging Visionary Fiction genre.” While formed originally as a safe haven for VF writers exhausted by the excruciating going-solo stage, the Visionary Fiction Alliance is rapidly becoming a laboratory for the cooperative model, an experiment in best methods to effectively pool knowledge, effort, and even funds to move Visionary Fiction forward.

This article and the earlier two in this series are intended as seed material rather than complete treatments. Please jump in below with comments, suggestions and critiques that will further this important conversation.

Related Posts

  • In Part One: The Bucket, we argued to establish a single brand name, perfect or not: Visionary Fiction.
  • Part Two aims to initiate a vigorous buzz around the characteristics of Visionary Fiction.
  • In Part Three, “Action Plan,” we examine practical ways the VF community can position the Visionary Fiction bucket, now chock full of goodies in high demand, so that authors can make frequent deposits with confidence in a vibrant marketplace, and readers can make regular withdrawals with a transforming experience guaranteed.
Victor Smith, The Anathemas Visionary Fiction

Victor E. Smith

Anathemas by Victor E Smith Visionary Fiction

A lifelong proponent of human spiritual evolution, Victor E. Smith has focused on paranormal phenomena and their manifestations.  THE ANATHEMAS, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution, is widely available. A prequel and a sequel are well underway.

 

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Contest: Comment on My Cover Pages, Win a Dalai Lama Novel

I am gearing up to publish my first novel, FINDER OF LOST THINGS, and I’m predictably nervous. I’d like to recruit you wonderful readers to comment on the back cover blurb and cover image for the chance to win a brand-new hard copy of  The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purring, the second book in David Michie’s series (check out my review of the first novel, The Dalai Lama’s Cat). To enter, write at least a 25-word comment below by Dec. 27, 2013, and I’ll enter you into the drawing.

Here’s the front cover and the back cover text. I’m most interested in getting your take on the back cover blurb, since it’s arguably the most important element in selling a book:

FINDER OF LOST THINGSFinder of Lost Things by PJ Swanwick metaphysical novel

WHAT IF A PERSON COULD REMEMBER LIFE BETWEEN LIVES–THE LIFE OF THE SOUL?

Lila Chance must find a missing child who has a secret gift . . . a gift so profound and powerful it could change the course of history. Unfortunately for the missing boy, Lila is not the only one looking for him.

Lila lives a quiet life in Boulder, Colorado, ghost-writing amazingly accurate and engaging eulogies. Then an astonishing message from the missing child blows away everything she believes in, tumbling her down the rabbit hole of metaphysical discovery.

When she finds out the missing boy may hold the key to finding her own kidnapped son, Lila will stop at nothing to uncover the truth.

Part old-fashioned mystery, part new age exploration, FINDER OF LOST THINGS is an entertaining and intriguing look at the mysteries of relationships, the meaning of existence, and the most enigmatic question of all: What is life between lives?

Award-winning author P.J. Swanwick lives with her family near Boulder, Colorado. She writes on a wide variety of topics that interest her, such as where neuroscience and psychology intersect with metaphysics, spirituality, and creativity. In addition to writing, she manages Fiction for a New Age, which reviews metaphysical, spiritual, and visionary novels.

Visit the author at http://FictionForANewAge.com or http://pjswanwick.com.

Well? What do you think? Add your 25 words’ worth in the Comments section and perhaps win a hard copy of The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purring. And while you’re at it, check out my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Age-Fiction.

Thank you, dear readers! I’ll announce the winner on Dec. 30, 2013.

How Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain?

Moreover, readers can literally “feel” good writing

(Click twice to enlarge the graphic)

How Does the Act of Writing Affect Your Brain

One of the most interesting details shared in the graphic above is the information about the Princeton University Study which demonstrated that the brain of a person telling a story and the brain a person listening to it can synchronise. The academic paper published by the researchers can be read on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website. The link that is possible between a storyteller and their audience, what the paper describes as “speaker–listener neural coupling” can be clearly seen in this image.

neural coupling 3

More fascinating research on storytelling and the brain has been conducted at Emery University. A study published in February 2012 found that a region of the brain important for sensing texture through touch, the parietal operculum, is also activated when someone listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The same region is not activated when a similar sentence expressing the meaning of the metaphor is heard. As Annie Murphy Paul explained her fantastic March 2012 essay Your Brain on Fiction, “while metaphors like ‘The singer had a velvet voice’ and ‘He had leathery hands’ roused the sensory cortex, phrases matched for meaning, like ‘The singer had a pleasing voice’ and ‘He had strong hands’ did not.”

Infographic source: BestInfographics.com

Many thanks to Aerogramme Studio

10 Writing Tips from Paulo Coelho

Best-selling author Paulo Coelho’s YouTube channel, Coehlo’s Office, offers a series of short videos explaining how he writes metaphysical novels based on his experience creating Aleph, a deeply personal novel about faith. Following are ten writing tips based on those videos.

Signs – Trust that you receive signs from a higher power, and learn to read those highly individual signs.They can guide your writing and inspire you. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

Inspiration – Inspiration comes from love. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you will be inspired to share it with others. It cannot be forced; you must allow yourself to be guided by it.

Confidence – You cannot sell your next book by underrating your book that was just published. Be proud of what you have.

Trust – Trust your reader, don’t try to describe things. Give a hint and they will fulfill this hint with their own imagination.

Experience – You cannot take something out of nothing. When you write a book, use your experience.

Critics – Some writers want to please their peers, they want to be “recognized”. This shows insecurity and nothing else, please forget about this. You should care to share your soul and not to please other writers.

Notetaking – If you want to capture ideas, you are lost. You are going to be detached from emotions and forget to live your life. You will be an observer and not a human being living his or her life. Forget taking notes, what important remains what is not important goes away.

Research – If you overload your book with a lot of research, you are going to be very boring to yourself and to your reader. Books are not there to show how intelligent you are. Books are there to show your soul.

Writing – I write the book that wants to be written. Behind the first sentence is a thread that takes you to the last.

Style – Don’t try to innovate storytelling, tell a good story and it is magical. I see people trying to work so much in style, finding different ways to tell the same thing. It’s like fashion. Style is the dress, but the dress does not dictate what is inside the dress.

Many of these tips were collated by Jerome Ibuyan, with a hat tip to Aerogramme Writers’ Studio. You can follow Jerome on Twitter @Jerome_Ibuyan.

A Case for Visionary Fiction, Part 2: What Goes into the Bucket?

Editor’s note: The following guest post by Victor Smith is the second of a three-part series on Visionary Fiction aimed at increasing awareness of the genre and helping readers discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction.Picasso quote art

Let’s suppose, as projected in Part One of this series, “The Bucket,” that Visionary Fiction becomes as prominent a genre label as Science Fiction or Mystery.  Now let’s consider the ingredients writers must put into a work to have it qualify for the Visionary Fiction bucket and what experiences or benefits readers can expect in a work pulled out of that bucket.

Arguments over some elements have raged for decades and will go on for decades more. Ours is a quantum world where every story has elements of just about every other story; but some stories have more in common than others. Here we examine the essential components, leaving the optional and controversial elements for later discussion.

Well-written Fiction

In The Secrets of Ebook Publishing Success, Mark Coker states as Secret # 1: “Write a great book,” which is almost too obvious to deserve mention. Regrettably, Visionary Fiction and similar genres have attracted a disproportionate number of authors (many from other professions) with brilliant ideas but inferior writing skills, thus forcing readers to wade through a bin of sub-par products before finding something worthwhile. A few VF works with glaring deficiencies in standard fictional practice, like James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy, did rocket up the best-seller lists, propelled perhaps by novelty. This misled aspiring authors to assume that a sublime message trumps amateur writing. All elements of good fiction—language, plot, character, setting, imagery, etc.—remain prerequisites in VF. Rules, of course, can be consciously broken, but only deliberately.

In “The Puzzle of Visionary Fiction,” Hal Zina Bennet makes several points pertinent to crafting quality Visionary Fiction:

“What happens in most visionary fiction that I’ve read over the years is that it gets burdened down by the author’s desire to get readers to believe what he or she believes. Characters disappear in the author’s message, which is another way of saying that they are two-dimensional, thinly disguised vehicles that simply recite the author’s beliefs. An engaging story is simply lacking and the writing never quite brings readers into that place of wonder, fear, discovery, which might transcend simple belief systems. We try to reproduce our own spiritual experiences on the page rather than giving readers what they need to have that experience for themselves.”

Growth in Consciousness

Here is author Michael Gurian’s opening line on his pioneering VF website:

image005

“Visionary fiction is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.”

And the first characteristic of VF, according to the Visionary Fiction Alliance:

“Growth of consciousness is the central theme of the story and drives the protagonist, and/or other important characters.”

In “The Altered State of Visionary Fiction,” Monty Joynes writes:

“For me, the Visionary Fiction genre includes novels that deal with shifts in awareness that result in metaphysical understanding by the central characters.  The plot of the novel is generally more concerned with internal experiences than with external.”

All the commentators I consulted on the basic nature of VF agree that expansion of the mind or growth in consciousness is the hallmark of Visionary Fiction.

In any credible story the characters must change, but in VF this change is from the inside out rather than from outside in. The reader sits in the co-pilot’s chair and gets to mind-read the pilot’s thoughts, intentions and decisions as they occur. He witnesses how the protagonist’s thinking influences external outcomes and how he adjusts to respond to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Growth in consciousness dictates that Visionary Fiction be optimistic. In materially based stories, birth inevitably results in death. In VF, birth begets rebirth at a higher level. Mind/consciousness development is the make-break ingredient in Visionary Fiction. If it’s missing, it’s not Visionary Fiction—it’s that simple.

The Reader Shares the Growth Experience

In “The Article that started it all,” author Jodine Turner writes:

“Visionary Fiction is like the legendary Celtic Imram [the mythical heroes’ quest]. The drama and tension of the characters’ adventures is one layer of the tale. All of the usual elements of suspense, conflict, even romance and mystery, are interwoven in the plot. The other layer, deeper and more archetypal, is that mystical inner journey of spiritual awakening. In Visionary Fiction, esoteric wisdom is embedded in story so that the reader can actually experience it, instead of merely learning about it.”

And author Margaret Duarte seconds this notion:

“What separates VF from other speculative fiction is intention.  Besides telling a good story, VF enlightens and encourages readers to expand their awareness of greater possibilities.”Ice Art1

The reader is not only in the cockpit with access to the pilot’s thoughts; she is enticed to think along with him, then grab hold of the controls, and do some flying herself. This element, engineered into the work, is perhaps VF’s most innovative, and also its most difficult to achieve. Visionary Fiction renders the reading experience interactive. The most gratifying comments on my own VF work, The Anathemas, a novel about reincarnation, came from readers who said that my book helped them see how past life experiences influence them today, and yet the book contains no regression technique per se; readers learned through the story’s characters.

We have progressed beyond where readers can just be told (the authority paradigm);instead, give readers the bare essentials and invite them to try it (the Gnostic or experiential model). The best VF is multi-layered to suit readers at different awareness levels. A bonus: rereading such well-constructed books yields a whole different experience the second time through.

The Spiritual Component

When we speak of thoughts, ideas, visualization, consciousness, and internal growth, we are, like it or not, in the spiritual (non-material, by definition) realm rather than in the physical or empirical. The quotes above contain phrases like “metaphysical understanding” and “mystical inner journey of spiritual awakening.” The VF Alliance definition states:

“[Visionary Fiction] embraces spiritual and esoteric wisdom, often from ancient sources, and makes it relevant for our modern life.”

Although it was not always so, the difference between religion and spirituality is now established:

  • Religion refers to a specific set of beliefs and practices agreed upon a group of people; fiction specific to such a community is Religious Fiction.
  • Spirituality is universal in embrace; consciousness, thought, visualization, and change are common to all human beings.Rock1

Because, as put by the VF Alliance, Visionary Fiction “is universal in its worldview and scope,” VF is the genre proper to spirituality. Visionary Fiction should ring as true to a Catholic as to a Buddhist, to a woman as to a man, to a heterosexual as to a homosexual, to an American as to a Polynesian. A tall order but an excellent acid test, and apropos for this age of entrenched dichotomy.

What of fiction that centers on single issues, even if from a spiritual viewpoint: recovery, women’s’ rights, political reform? Since many such topics fall into already established categories and lack the universal ingredient, they would not qualify as VF. We are looking to house orphans, not steal other people’s kids.

Just because VF has a spiritual focus does not mean it is “all sweetness and light.”  As taught in Composition 101, every story requires conflict. Professor Edward Ahearn sees VF as the strident voice of protest against the stagnant status quo. Visionary writers, he says in Visionary Fictions: Apocalyptic Writing from Blake to the Modern Age (2011), seek a personal way to explode the normal experience of the “real,” using prophetic visions, fantastic tales, insane rantings, surrealistic dreams, and drug- or sex-induced dislocations in their work. Their fiction expresses rebellion against all the values of Western civilization—personal, sexual, familial, religious, moral, societal, and political. Ahearn’s “shock and awe” style of VF may be extreme, but a touch of it might prove the antidote against VF’s otherwise Milquetoast reputation.

To conclude on this vital spiritual component, we call on author Theresa Nash, who says in “How I Use Visionary Fiction And It Uses Me”:

“Visionary Fiction is about breaking the rules. It’s about remembering that we write our own stories. The true function of our stories is enabling a harmony between our condition and the Divine. They should inspire us to live our best lives, provide signposts on the journey. They should help us burst through the self-imposed bubble of our human potential to possibilities we can only imagine when we’re mired in chaos, conflict, and survival.”

Paranormal Perceptions

The word visionary implies the ability to see beyond what can be viewed with physical sight. Growth in human consciousness demands that we transcend the five senses when assigning validity to an experience. Thus Monty Joynes can say about VF:

“The work is also ‘visionary’ in the aspect that the authors sometimes (or often) employ non-rational means such as dreams or extrasensory perceptions to develop the content of the book.”

Ice Art2Michael Gurian is more emphatic about this element, saying that in VF such extraordinary phenomena “not only happen, but drive the plot and its characters (i.e. without these experiences, there would be no plot or character).” The VF Alliance holds that VF “oftentimes uses reincarnation, dreams, visions, paranormal, psychic abilities, and other metaphysical plot devices.” In “Visionary Fiction: Rediscovering Ancient Paths to Truth,” Hal Zina Bennett sums it up quite poetically:

“Like a shaman’s stories of the spirit world, where the spirits of animals, trees, sky, or the stars teach us how to live, visionary fiction introduces us to a reality beyond physical reality. They often carry us deep into a consciousness once thought to be the domain of seers, visionaries, oracles and psychics. The magic of this genre is the magic of human consciousness itself, our ability to see beneath the surface and create new visions of what our lives can be.”

While clumsy or exaggerated use of dreams, ghosts, telekinesis or conversations with angels can make a story far-fetched or laughable, super-sensory perceptions, used by a writer who has properly studied, experienced, or intuited such phenomena, blend into the story and move it forward as naturally as an unexpected phone call or unwelcome guest would do in a non-VF tale.

The presence of a paranormal device does not make fiction automatically visionary. A detective story in which a mentalist solves the crime is only  visionary if it probed the mind of the psychic and demonstrated how his gift leads to a higher state of consciousness. On the other hand, certain literary forms like myths, fairy tales, and talking animal stories, which are generally categorized as Fantasy (wholly contrived), should not be summarily exorcised from VF; think Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Conclusion

CO Sunburst1J

Visionary Fiction is still in the “becoming” stage, still emerging as a genre distinct from its various venerable ancestors (Science Fiction, Fantasy or Religious Fiction). Although driven by the current human imperative to evolve mentally and spiritually, this genre still begs for more structure as an art form and a larger niche in the marketplace in which to house its burgeoning creative activity.

In “Part One: The Bucket,” we argued to establish a single brand name, perfect or not: Visionary Fiction. Part Two  aims to initiate a vigorous buzz around the characteristics of Visionary Fiction.

In “Part Three: Visionary Fiction, the Action Plan,” we will examine practical ways the VF community can position the Visionary Fiction bucket, now chock full of goodies in high demand, so that authors can make frequent deposits with confidence in a vibrant marketplace, and readers can make regular withdrawals with a transforming experience guaranteed.

Victor Smith, The Anathemas Visionary Fiction

Victor E. Smith

Photos by Victor E. Smith

Anathemas by Victor E Smith Visionary Fiction

A lifelong proponent of human spiritual evolution, Victor E. Smith has focused on paranormal phenomena and their manifestations.  THE ANATHEMAS, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution, is widely available. A prequel and a sequel are well underway.

 

 

Related posts:

Visionary Fiction Part One: The Bucket
Visionary Fiction Part Three: The Action Plan

7 Creativity Tips from the Masters

Generating creative, inventive ideas may not be as hard as you think.Creativity tips from master artists and writers

“We learn, from the time we’re little, the process of the scientific method–how to discover things–but we don’t teach the parallel art of how to invent things,” Stanford innovation scholar Tina Seelig says. “That’s one of the reasons creativity seems so mysterious.”

However, creativity and invention can be as simple as connecting the dots, according to Steve Jobs. Here are a few tips from Albert Einstein, Jobs, and many other creatives.

1. Einstein: Play with multiple ideas before taking action

Einstein had a delay-oriented form of problem solving: If given an hour to tackle a monstrous problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about it and five minutes putting the solution together. His approached creativity the same way.

Brain Pickings editor Maria Popova noted that Einstein thought of creativity as “combinatorial play” among the ideas brewing inside your mind. He would play with elements and concepts before attempting to put the resultant ideas into words.

2. Jobs: Collect lots of different types of experiences

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” Creativity feeds on diverse experiences, or a large career vocabulary, to get enough dots to connect. “The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” To accumulate more creative raw material, have more expansive experiences; for example, travel more.

Creativity tips from master artists and writers3. Notice more

In addition to collecting more experiences, you should notice more: According to Seelig, “The first step to becoming more creative is certain appreciative, inquisitive mindfulness: We need only to observe the world with acute focus.”

“When you realize that we’re influenced by so many things that we don’t even pay attention to, then you can start seeing the opportunities in your midst. If you don’t pay attention, not only do you not realize what’s affecting you, but you also don’t see the problems that can be turned into opportunities.”

4. Do a little bit every day

Every artist in Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, found some way to carve out time to work, says Jessica Grose, “either in the early morning, or before binge drinking the rest of the day like Francis Bacon. In some cases, it’s not that long. Gertrude Stein would only work for 30 minutes each day. Some other writers said two to three hours every day is great, but more than that wears them out and hurts the next day’s work. But they worked at the same time every day, regardless of their other obligations.”

5. It’s the spaces between the work that matter

Many creative behaviors, Grose discovered, relate to taking breaks. “Taking a nap and drinking coffee were typical. Igor Stravinsky would do a headstand. Thomas Wolfe had the weird fondling-himself habit. Walking seems the most common, especially among composers. Composers all seemed to take a long walk every day.Creativity tips from master artists and writers

6. Clean body, creative mind

Many artists used bathing habits as part of their creative process. “Beethoven would stand at the washstand and pace back and forth and then go back to the washstand and put water on himself,” says Grose. The novelist Somerset Maugham would think about the first two sentences he wanted to write while soaking in the bathtub in the morning. Woody Allen would give himself the chills so he wanted to take a hot shower.”

7. Always ask questions

PayPal founder Max Levchin talks to tons of random creative people, asks them questions about their craft, takes extensive notes of their quandaries, and then compiles–and reviews–all of his research. What comes out of it? Companies–like his new mobile payment solution Affirm.

This slide show explores the specific creative habits of artists from poets to directors.

Hat tip: Brain Pickings and Fast Company

Creativity tips from master artists and writers

A Case for Visionary Fiction: The Bucket

Editor’s note: The following guest post by Victor Smith is the first of a three-part series on Visionary Fiction aimed at increasing awareness of the genre and helping readers discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction.books

“We tried mightily to get the retailing powers to start a visionary fiction shelf. We came close with Walden, but the suits at B&N, alas, took the position of ‘no one is coming into the store asking for visionary fiction’,” said editor Bob Friedman of the situation as he saw it at Hampton Roads Publishing some years ago. And those who frequent this and similar websites cannot have missed that the brain storming, hand-wringing and campaigning over a proper name for our genre—what we ought to call ourselves—still continues.

Bob’s comment nails the dilemma: How can readers ask for our kind of book if they don’t know what we call it? It’s not that they don’t read in the genre (best-sellers Richard Bach, James Redfield, Hermann Hesse, Paulo Coelho, Anne Rice, and Richard Matheson are a few authors that Freidman cites as VFers). While I must presume, to write this article fairly, that the name selection process is still open, I couldn’t start writing it without adopting some sort of a moniker for it. (And, yes, my title betrays a prejudice for “visionary fiction.” To satisfy sticklers for unbiased elections, I’ll keep  “visionary fiction” in lower case when not part of the title.) My need to explain myself at such length in this paragraph shows, intentionally, how complex it is to discuss a subject without a discrete name. Sadly, for we live on words, this is the situation with our genre.

For the record and to set my cred, I am a Johnny-come-lately to the novel writing profession, having spent most of my 60+ years as a generalist (see the bio on my website if you want to know more about me). Horizontal range of experience, as contrasted to the specialist’s depth, enables me to quickly recognize an area of confusion and then suggest clarification and action that brings about initial coherence.

I didn’t go looking for this mess, but I saw I stepped into a big one during my first agent interview. Brashly dismissive of traditional marketing requirements, I was actually proud that my first novel defied categorization. The agent’s opening question: “What’s your genre?” I hesitated, cleared my throat, and prepared to explain. The pitch came and went: Strike One!

Here I had blended elements of traditional history, alternative history, orthodox religion, New Age spirituality, the paranormal (dreams, extrasensory perception),  and the metaphysical (reincarnation), spicing the concoction with mystery and suspense techniques—something for everyone—and here I was being told I wouldn’t get near any readers without a genre badge. My flapping wings summarily clipped, I began the search for a label worthy of my opus.  This being the early 2000’s, I stumbled across Michael Gurian’s now inactive website, visionaryfiction.org, with this statement, “‘Visionary fiction’ is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.” Hmm, I thought, that works. He then prefaced a long list of recommended ingredients with: “In visionary fiction, the following sorts of things not only happen, but drive the plot and its characters (i.e., without these experiences, there would be no plot or character).” As I read his list, I got excited: my novel, The Anathemas, had enough of his suggested elements to be a veritable visionary fiction fruitcake: mystical experiences, visions, clusters of eerie coincidence, past life realization, to name a few.

Elated to have found the perfect label, I plastered “Visionary Fiction” all over my query letters and summaries. That would do the trick—NOT. Turns out it only made it easier for prospective agents to pick the appropriate rejection slip: “We’re sorry, but we do not represent works in your genre. In our experience it has proven not to sell well.” A swing this time, but a miss. Strike Two.

But not out yet. In the ensuing decade, technology came to the rescue, and I paid an inexpensive print-on-demand publisher to produce and distribute the hard copy of the novel and later plodded through Amazon’s cryptic instructions to post a Kindle version. Self-marketing, once anathema to the creative (and often cash-impaired) writer, became tolerable through a website, chat groups and other virtually free forms of social media. I bit the bullet and devoted some of my scarce writing time to ad copy and on-line conversations. Wonder of wonders, I discovered other writers out there who wrote and other readers who read “visionary fiction,” albeit under various names: metaphysical, spiritual, New Age, alternative, even defaulting to literaryparanormal and fantasy in cases.

Then earlier this year (2013) I happened across an intrepid gang of authors, mostly women I noticed, who had formed the Visionary Fiction Alliance with objectives I could align with:

  • Increase awareness of the genre
  • Help readers to discover, explore, and enjoy Visionary Fiction
  • Mentor new writers who wish to explore this genre
  • Provide resources for writers of Visionary Fiction
  • Be a place where readers can find Visionary Fiction books and engage in discussion with the authors

It wasn’t a home run, but my third swing got me on base with a cast capable of pushing some runs across batting behind me.  They had already christened themselves the Visionary Fiction Alliance. Visionary Fiction was emblazoned on their team jerseys and even painted on their water bucket. I got me one of those shirts and put it on.

But…but…but—I can hear it starting again. Maybe, we should call ourselves New Age, or Metaphysical or Spiritual or Gnostic (a favorite of mine) or Alternative or some compound thereof. To which I respond in the words of PJ Swanwick: “Does the name even matter as much as getting readers to identify with it…the really, really big issue is ‘How do we make it go viral?’ Let’s just pick one and stick to it.”

Case closed? Case closed. Let’s paint VISIONARY FICTION in bold red letters on our genre buckets and be done with it. Don’t worry, the fun (argument) is not over. But that’s for part two of this article: “What Goes in the Bucket?” At least, while we’re thrashing around in there, we’ll have a name for what we’re talking about.

But now, jump in, grab a brush, and splash your signature on the Visionary Fiction bucket by replying in the Comments section below. Then, let’s get on with it. As most of us already know: We have work to do!

Victor Smith, The Anathemas Visionary FictionA lifelong proponent of human spiritual evolution, Victor E. Smith has focused on paranormal phenomena and their manifestations.  THE ANATHEMAS, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution,  is widely available. A prequel and a sequel are well underway.

Related posts:

Visionary Fiction Part One: The Bucket
Visionary Fiction Part Two: What Goes in the Bucket?
Visionary Fiction Part Three: Practical Action Plan