All posts by Kathy Sant

Are Writers Introverts?

Alone for hours at a time and often oblivious to the outside world, authors are solitary souls working with pen or computer in a quiet room, an isolated bungalow, or even an attic loft.

When you see images of the lonely writer perpetuated in photos, television, and movies, do you ever wonder if authors write because they want to be alone?

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If you ask them, they often say they feel perfectly fine creating stories in the isolation of their own minds. Why are they comfortable working alone when many people need others around to get anything accomplished?

So, are writers introverts? Do introverts choose to become writers so they can work by themselves? Or is this all a myth?

What are You?

Here is a quick test. Which of these statements best describes you?

  • I work better in an environment with people around me. I am outgoing and get energy from others. (Extrovert/Extravert)
  • I work better in peace and quiet. I need to be alone to get anything done. (Introvert)
  • It all depends on the situation. (Ambivert)

What is Your Answer?

Now that you have decided what you are, do you really think it’s that simple? Of course it isn’t, and recent studies and science explain why.

According to most research, no one is purely extrovert, or introvert, or ambivert. We are all a bit of each. However, everyone has one tendency that is predominant in his or her personality. And, as it turns out, that single component does affect us, our activities, and our creativity. Once we understand this about ourselves and about people in general, we should also be able to portray our characters more accurately.

Myths About Introverts

A cultural bias against introverts has existed for a long time. Even today, they are perceived as more reserved, quiet, shy or insecure, afraid of social situations, and highly intelligent—even nerdy,—and of course, they like to work alone.

The Truth About Introverts

As far back as the 1960’s it was assumed in many sources that introverts were a minority, perhaps only 10-20% of American population. However, according to a random sample study done in 1998, people who are predominantly introverts make up about 51% of the American population while 49% are primarily extroverts. Recent reports suggest that the number of introverts may still be increasing.

Introverts are not necessarily shy, as both introverts and extroverts can be shy. Mistaking introversion for shyness or social awkwardness is a common error made by people outside of psychology circles. Shy people avoid social situations primarily out of fear of negative judgment, whereas introverts just prefer quiet, minimally stimulating environments.

The Science of Introversion

So what causes someone to be an introvert if they aren’t shy? The answer is the dopamine reward system in our brain. The difference between introverts and extroverts lies in how their brains are wired and how the person gets rewarded and recharged.

There is more gray matter and more blood flow to the frontal lobe of the introvert’s brain, the area involved in abstract thinking, decision-making, and problem solving.

Introverts are re-energized by their internal mental lives and by their solitary quiet time. Social situations consume their energy. After any social activity, introverts need alone-time to recoup.

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The first clue to children who are introverts is that they often love to read. Early on, they discover that reading is a socially acceptable way to get their much-needed solitary, recharging time. Parents and teachers should not force them to constantly be involved in social activities, but allow them time where they have the opportunity to think, dream, and digest what they have learned, or just recharge. They don’t give quick answers because they need time to think about the question first.

On the other hand, the extrovert’s brain has more blood flow to temporal lobes, the posterior thalamus and the anterior cingulate gyrus. Those parts of the brain are involved with actions, emotions, social attention, risk-taking, and the senses. An extrovert is re-energized by being around exciting people and by stimulating activities and environments. They often act and make decisions easily and quickly. Quiet time zaps their energy and they need stimulation to recharge.

Then, there is the third category, not often included in studies or statistics—ambiverts. By definition, ambiverts move easily across the spectrum of possible situations. They have a tendency to be comfortable in social groups, but also, equally comfortable working alone, and seem to recharge either way.

To sum it up, the difference between individuals is based on the environments they thrive in. Extroverts get their energy from the outside world and introverts gain theirs from within.

So, if you want to be a writer and actively pursue the writer’s life, knowing whether you are an introvert, extrovert or ambivert is important.

Is There a Correlation Between Creativity and Introversion?

Studies on creativity show that anywhere from 10 to 25% of the general population is considered creative or engaged in creative pursuits. Both introverts and extroverts can be creative. Some studies break it down more, suggesting 60% or more of introverts are involved in creative pursuits, while only 20% of extroverts are. ‘Happiness’ seems to increase creativity for both groups.

Charles Dickens at Writing Desk -PublicDomainPictures.net

Charles Dickens at Writing Desk
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Creative people need time alone to work on their projects, whatever they might be—writing a novel or poem, painting a picture, or doing scientific research. This seems to be right in the introvert’s wheelhouse.

How Does Being an Introvert Affect the Writing Life?

While the basic challenges facing all authors are similar, how introvert writers handle them is unique to them.

 When writing, introverts enjoy research, gathering and analyzing information, and get satisfaction from their efforts. Because they store the information in their long-term memories, it takes longer for introverts to access the information when they need it. They need to think about things before they can write.

If you’re both an introvert and a writer, you’re lucky for a number of reasons:

  • You can focus and think deeply about any subject you choose.
  • Thinking about your project recharges you.
  • You like research and its challenges.
  • You are content when you need to work alone.
  • You can concentrate for long periods of time.
  • You are self-motivated and persistent.

So, an introvert writer can spend long hours alone writing. Walking and thinking is a perfect exercise for introverted writers. In fact, after a party or social outing, returning home to read or write will recharge them.

But, there are disadvantages:

  • You don’t like to be pushed or rushed.
  • You hate deadlines.
  • You procrastinate because you never think you have all the information you need.
  • You never believe that your current draft is the final one.
  • You are not easily motivated to market your work.
  • And, finally, by spending too much time alone, you can lose contact with the outside world.

Whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, once you know your personality type and understand how to best recharge yourself, you can become a more productive writer.

Are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert? Do you have any thoughts about introverts and the writers’ life?

img_3925_2Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is Book 1, Secret of Haunted Bog is Book 2, and Legend of Monster Island is Book 3. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

Website | Facebook | Amazon Author Page | BBH McChiller Page | Reading of Excerpt

 

It Makes Sense to Use All Your Senses

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Do you have a sixth sense? How about a ninth sense?

If you’re human you have at least twenty-one senses according to recent studies and writers can use every single one of them to bring our characters to life.

For years everyone has been taught, from kindergarten through high school biology, that we have five senses–seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, and maybe possibly a sixth sense for those into the paranormal. But this is old news. Really old news. The idea of five senses dates back to Aristotle and science has progressed a great deal since his time.

So, if you ask researchers today how many senses humans have, you’ll receive a variety of responses. For years, scientists have been arguing about the actual number. Recently, the most common answer is around twenty-one.

Some researchers believe that our basic five senses can be split into sensory subgroups. Sight, for instance, can be further divided into the senses or perceptions of brightness, color, and depth.

Other scientists argue that senses are unique entities, not subgroups. In this theory, each sense consists of cell types that respond to a distinct phenomenon and then sends a signal to a specific region of the brain. With that definition, we have more than five senses.

The increased number of senses surprises most people, until they become aware that they are using most of them every day just to survive. Writers can utilize these senses to enliven and enhance their writing.

In addition to those already mentioned, here are the remaining senses:

Equilibrioception. This is balance, that sense that keeps us standing upright, coordinated by the vestibular region of inner ear with a little help from our eyes. You can use this sense in describing fast-moving sports, fights, or states of drunkenness.

Interoception. These are multiple sensory receptors found on internal organs. They each have a different function depending on location:

The feeling of being full or satiety is controlled by stretch receptors in the stomach after one eats. We’ll take notice of this sense on Thanksgiving. And likely ignore it.

Then, there are chemoreceptors in our blood vessels monitoring oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which will quickly inform us that we can’t get enough air or that we are suffocating. That’s where the panicked feeling that you can’t breathe comes from.

There are stretch receptors in our lung tissues that sense how full our lungs are.

Your breathing rate is controlled by the combination of how full your lungs feel and how much oxygen you are receiving. Some people also believe yawning could be a response to these sensory inputs.

Then there are those pesky chemoreceptors out of our control which tell the brain you need to vomit. Now!

Itch. Another annoying but necessary sensory perception is itching, which can occur with or without touching anything. It tells your brain something is irritating your skin, which could be anything from bugs or poison ivy to dry skin. Sometimes just thinking about it makes our skin itch and we want to scratch. This sense draws our attention to a specific location on our skin.

Magnetoreception. Some people have a natural sense of direction and/or navigation and always seem to know which way is north or how to get home. They, like homing pigeons, are employing a sense of magnetoreception. They’re ‘feeling’ the surrounding magnetic fields.

Nociception. This is the sense of pain. In the past, pain was considered a response to touch, but it’s really a specific experience in its own part of the brain. Current researchers suggest that pain is actually three different senses, each relating to different kinds of pain occurring in different locations: pain in our skin (like a sunburn or a splinter) is different from pain in our bones (broken bones), and different from pain felt in an internal organ (for example, angina is heart pain, while gas and bloating are intestinal pains). All pains have a similar function, however, which is to tell your brain you are in trouble.

Proprioception. This is body awareness. If you close your eyes or go blind, you still have an idea where your hand is or if your legs are crossed.

Try going downstairs in the dark or with your eyes shut. You have a sense of where your hand is as you reach for the banister. You know where your foot is and you know when you expect it to touch the next step. (What if that step wasn’t there?)

Without this ‘sense of yourself’ you’d have to watch your hands every second to see if they are going in the correct direction and grabbing the right thing. Or you’d need to stare at your feet to see when your shoe is nearing the floor. Without this sense we couldn’t walk or even pick up a fork without problems.

Body awareness is affected by one’s alcohol consumption and by some illnesses. Police are checking proprioception in some of the field sobriety tests.

Thermoception. This is the sense of temperature, of feeling warm or cold. It comes from temperature sensors in our skin and travels to the brain via our spinal column. It helps tell your brain to do something quick so you don’t freeze in the snow, walk into a fire, or dehydrate in the desert heat.

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Temporal perception or Chronoception. This is the basic sense of time passing, the sense that controls our circadian or daily rhythm.

Time passing may seem different depending on what we do (we tend to think time passes fast if we’re having fun) or at different stages of life (younger people are more accurate in guessing the passage of time, while older people feel time passes faster and faster every year), but we all have a sense of time passing.

Finally, some people believe in ESP, the extrasensory perception, which could now be relegated to being the twenty-second sense instead of the sixth. More studies, of course, are needed to see if this is a true sense. Anyone with ESP care to make a prediction?

In the natural world we notice that many of the animal senses are more powerful than the human versions. In addition, there are a vast range of senses that humans do not have, often quite strange and unbelievable. (A debate exists whether perhaps some unknown senses are hidden in human DNA and we just haven’t developed them, or maybe we aren’t aware of them. Not yet, anyway.) But we can still write about them.

So, if you write about animals or superheroes or alien forces, you should investigate some of these:

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We know dogs have a limited sense of color vision, but they have an extraordinarily keen sense of smell, millions of times more sensitive than humans. Much scarier, bears have an even greater sense of smell than dogs, picking up scents miles and miles away. Some animals can also smell across time (wow!), knowing which scent came before another, like they’re stacked in layers.

Cats can see at night, their large eyes requiring a small fraction of the light required by people. Eagles and some other birds have spectacular distance and night vision.

Bats and snakes can see infrared light, which is beyond red on the electromagnetic spectrum. Infrared is invisible to humans. The main source of infrared is thermal radiation, which allows warm objects to be seen at night by those creatures with infrared vision. Snakes use their tongues to sense heat signatures of prey and can follow its movements.

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Bees and dragonflies and jumping spiders see ultraviolet (UV) light. Seeing ultraviolet light means you can see beyond violet, the shortest wavelength on the visible spectrum. So these creatures see patterns and markings that the human eye cannot see. UV light is used by art historians and curators to see the layers of pigment in paintings and to discover what might be in deeper layers.

Certain kinds of shrimp can see ‘all the above’ plus they can also see polarized light and, to boot, they can move their eyes different directions and see all 360 degrees around them. Next time you eat shrimp, think about that.

Birds, bees and cows can navigate by using their sense of the magnetic fields. Monarch butterflies can navigate across generations, hatching somewhere in the USA and later migrating to trees in Mexico where their ancestors once lived. Imagine taking off and going to the exact ancestral home of a long dead ancester in another country or on another continent without having an address nor a living relative to guide you. That is one unbelievable sense.

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Sharks and the platypus sense electric field changes in the waters around them. Most naturalists feel that alligators have the most acute sense of touch of all creatures, feeling the faintest of faint vibrations with sensors on their skin.

Cephalopods, like the octopus, have chemoreceptors in their skin to sense their surroundings, so they can change their own skin color, texture, and patterning to camouflage themselves. Some beetles (that need to lay their eggs in dead trees) can sense a fire many miles away.

Elephants hear low frequency sounds that are infrasonic, which lie far below our hearing range. They can also sense seismic vibrations in the earth with the pads of their feet.

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Dogs and mice hear higher frequencies than we do, hence dog whistles and plug-in pest repellents.

Some birds and other animals can sense what nutrient is missing in their diet (without a blood test or a dietician) and then seek out the necessary food. Don’t you wish you could do that?

Amazing stuff! And scientists aren’t done researching our sensory worlds. They’re likely to discover many more extraordinary abilities in nature and then utilize that information to invent things to enhance human existence.

Sensory details add depth to any description, so feel free to explore more than just the original five senses in your characters’ experiences.

Do you have a favorite sense to write about? Can you imagine a sense you wish you had?

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Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is Book 1, Secret of Haunted Bog is Book 2, and Legend of Monster Island is Book 3. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

(Clock photo by dreamtime. Other photos by Kathryn Sant.)

 

 

 

 

 

Tales of Compassion

Once again, I walked through the landfill graveyard in Tijuana, Mexico. (See previous post, A Giant Web in the Brain – The Science of Creativity.) This time it was a bright Saturday afternoon in November.

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While I hiked the irregular and rutted ground to admire the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) decorations, I witnessed an amazing act of spontaneous compassion coming from the children of the landfill. These children live in poverty that is truly unimaginable yet their hearts overflow with concern for less fortunate creatures.

It went down like this:

Twelve young children led by two 10-year-old girls, Fatima and Elly, played among the tombstones.

According to the girls, recounting the part of the story I hadn’t seen, a car speeding down the road struck and killed one of the stray dogs that roamed the landfill. The driver got out of his vehicle to make sure his car was okay, and as an afterthought, he tossed the dog into the graveyard.

Once he drove off, the children crowded around the poor dog, feeling pity for the animal. Upset by the man’s behavior, they tried to figure out what to do.

kids bringing the tools to bury the dog

Fatima and Elly took charge and led the younger kids across the road to a house where they borrowed a shovel and a garden spade.

They returned to the graveyard and set about finding a spot among the human graves to dig a final resting place for the “¡Pobre perrito!”

The ground was hard and they struggled. A volunteer from our medical team approached the children and offered to help dig the grave.

digging the grave

The kids handed her the shovel and a small grave was quickly dug in a shallow depression in the dirt near a bright blue tomb and bush full of berries.

Then the children took control again. They ran back to the dog’s body and carefully picked it up, carried it to the hole and gently placed it inside. They took turns covering it with dirt, then decorated the grave with boughs of berries, flowers and smooth stones arranged in the shape of a cross.

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After a few solemn moments at the gravesite, they eventually went back to playing, surrounded by all the colorful Day of the Dead tributes.

Children posing after the burial

I felt lucky to observe this simple act of compassion coming from these kids. As a dog owner, it was very moving to watch. These remarkable children had compassion far beyond their years and their circumstances. I told them so.

Have you ever seen young children show more concern than an adult? Why do some children show such compassion while others are bullies or brutal to their peers? Or to animals?

Empathy is the capacity to understand and appreciate the feelings of another and to use these feelings to guide one’s actions.

Learning compassion early in life certainly builds moral character, reduces bullying, and cultivates confidence. Teaching children compassion and respect for fellow human beings helps them become better adults and it also helps the less fortunate in their own communities.

Studies indicate there are several key experiences that actually teach kids compassion/empathy:

1) If they see compassion in action: Children learn by example. If they witness compassion in their lives, they absorb those qualities. Fatima and Elly were definitely teaching the younger children by their example.

2) If they actually live/practice compassion: Studies show that children who practice compassion at an early age will be more compassionate as teens and adults. This can include helping at a homeless shelter, donating to the needy, or burying an unfortunate animal. These twelve young kids took it upon themselves to be compassionate to an unfortunate dog.

3) If they read/hear stories of compassion: This is important for us as writers, teachers, and parents. Numerous studies show that reading literary fiction and/or other quality stories that demonstrate compassion greatly increases the reader’s empathy for others.

Compassion is a common character trait in good stories. Children that read these books or hear them read aloud are exposed to examples of human kindness that perhaps are missing in their regular lives.

Books can teach kids to be kind to one another, to animals, and to nature, all through the example found in a great story. This is one reason why fiction can be as important as non-fiction in a child’s education. It’s also why we need to think about our character’s traits when we write.

We should encourage those we know, teachers and parents and librarians, to obtain or read books that portray positive human qualities for the proven effect it has on young readers.

There are numerous books out there that convey a beautiful message about empathy or compassion in the storyline. It’s really hard to narrow down and pick a few classics to mention, but some of my favorites are:

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For the Very Young, but can be appreciated by all ages:

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

Angelo by David Macaulay

The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry

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For Middle Grade and Tweens:

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

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Older Tweens and YA:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Wonder by R. J. Palacios

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

And many, many more…..

Have you witnessed spontaneous acts of compassion by young children? What are your favorite books that show compassion or empathy?

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Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is the first book in the series, Secret of Haunted Bog is the second title, and Legend of Monster Island is the third. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

A Giant Web in the Brain—The Science of Creativity

I just spent several days in Tijuana, Mexico, doing volunteer medical work. My favorite site when I travel there is a community the volunteers fondly call ‘the dump’.

Yes, a real city dump. We set up a portable medical clinic at the site of the landfill, a place of extreme poverty, where, over time, a shanty town has risen from the trash-filled ground. Literally. Dig down a few inches anywhere and it’s someone else’s garbage.

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Pepenadores—waste pickers—are people from the community who make their living picking through the trash left by dump trucks. Almost everything they have, wear, or eat comes from the dump. In the garbage, families find what they need to survive.

But this outcast community is an amazing place. As I make my way past a row of homes I’m stunned by the ingenuity of the people. They’ve built everything they need from junk that was uncovered in the landfill.

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Example of artistic construction from junk. Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. A wall is built from bottles, bottle caps, and cement. The restaurant’s owner grew up in Mexico in extreme poverty and he continues to re-use and re-purpose junk.

Houses on the landfill are pieced together from tarps, pallets, plywood, corrugated metal, and even old garage doors. Furniture is constructed using everything imaginable from buckets to tires. And art that can be sold is created from things like bottle caps, glass, and oil cans. It would seem ‘Dump city’ is a perfect example of creativity as a result of necessity, where everything thrown away is re-used, re-cycled and re-purposed.

So I began wondering about creativity and ingenuity. How can a community so impoverished be so creative to make everything they need from only the items they find? So many people living in America couldn’t even deal with that sort of existence, let alone survive.

Is creativity something one is born with or is it born of necessity? Is it a game of life where either you’ve got it or you don’t? What is creativity, anyway?

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Mexican art from junk, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. This is a bench made from a discarded bed frame.
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Mexican art from junk, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. Light fixture made from a tin can.

At the end of the clinic day, I walk the paths across the landfill. There are no sewers nor garbage collection on the dump. Electricity is stolen from nearby electrical poles and the dirt roads are pockmarked with mud-filled holes. There are no city services in an illegal town.

When there’s a rain storm, the hillsides bleed trash. Needles and bottles, plastic utensils and doll’s arms poke out of the mud like broken bones from an open wound.

Garbage tumbles into the ravines below, and mangy, stray dogs and wild chickens roam the debris. American volunteers see an abundance of trash, but the people living there see raw materials to make something they need.

Fires can erupt from the methane produced by decomposing trash, and when they do, homes are destroyed. Then the people, with unbelievable optimism, start over, fabricating new homes and new furniture from junk they salvage, and they continue their lives, but their lives are always difficult.

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Even though they’re living on top of decades worth of trash, there’s a cemetery on the landfill where the dead are buried. The graves are piles of dirt or cement slabs, but families have planted trees, painted many of the slabs with bright colors and fabricated decorations. Walk through the graveyard in November and it’s gorgeous. Nearly every gravesite is beautifully decorated with flowers, offerings, and handmade religious items, all in celebration of El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

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Mexican art, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. A painted skeleton head is often seen during Day of the Dead celebrations.

Every path I walk in the landfill community there is evidence of creativity despite the heavy burden of poverty. This phenomenon doesn’t happen only in the Tijuana dump. Across the world, especially in poorer countries, art is often the first commodity created, made from whatever the people have around them and sold on the streets to tourists.


Teaser of the upcoming documentary film “Landfill Harmonic”

In Paraguay, people living on a landfill have used the trash to create musical instruments. Their instrumental music is now available everywhere on the globe and a movie about them is in the works. Constructing instruments from junk and then playing them beautifully is real creativity!

So, how is creativity in such deprived areas explained?

Is necessity the mother of invention?

Sort of. But there’s more to invention than just necessity. According to scientist Jonathan Schattke, who is often quoted on this subject, “Necessity is the mother of invention, it is true, but its father is creativity, and knowledge is the midwife.”

The latest science agrees, suggesting there are many factors that go into invention and creation. Need plays a role, like in Tijuana, but studies suggest that creativity entails a lot more.

Is creativity a right brain activity?

Neuroscience has given us new insights about creativity, clarifying what it is, and more importantly, how to enhance it. Creativity is not located solely in one spot on the right side of the brain. We can no longer use the excuse to explain away someone else’s creativity as, “Well, they were just born with it.”

MRI studies (where people solve riddles or brain teasers, create rap lyrics, draw or otherwise improvise inside the MRI machine) show that when a person is being creative the brain lights up in many, many locales—not in a single spot on the brain’s right side. All over the brain, right and left, these illuminated areas are associated with facts, experiences, motor activity, emotions, knowledge, and memories.

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It would seem, everything we have ever experienced is involved in our creativity.

Studies show that creativity is exactly that, a spark, a new and unique connection between two or more spots in our brains. A person who has a greater number of points (call them memories, facts, experiences) in their brain to draw upon is much more likely to have that new and unusual connection, that spark of creativity.

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A brain with few facts and experiences can only make a few ordinary connections.
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A brain with many facts and experiences can make more connections, especially more unique connections.

What about kids?

On the Tijuana landfills, children often work alongside their families. They collect and try to sell to strangers all sorts of items they’ve found or made. These kids aren’t old enough to have a lot of knowledge or experiences, so why do children everywhere seem to have a tremendous amount of creativity without a lot of knowledge?

Kids often connect their dots randomly and therefore stumble into creativity. Their thinking isn’t rigid about what experience is supposed to connect with which fact. They are more likely to make spontaneous and wild connections, which adults see as creative. Those same adults tend to suppress any odd ball connections they might have.

But, studies show that by third grade the ability to connect random dots in a creative or unusual manner decreases. One of the theories thrown out there is that kids are limited by a growing awareness of rules and regulations. Others say it could be the educational system. And as kids get even older, the peer pressure to fit into an accepted mold discourages both creativity and individuality.

So how are we supposed to counter those forces in order to maintain or encourage childhood creativity?

The answer seems to be in providing kids with creative outlets. Scientists suggest asking them open-ended questions, playing ‘what-if’ games, and giving them problems that require creativity in solving, such as riddles or situations where the answers aren’t obvious. What can they make from three random objects or what can they draw from a squiggle on a piece of paper?

Take kids to new places and provide them with lots of knowledge, information, and experiences to populate their brains. Encourage curiosity. Follow the ants to see where they go instead of stepping on them. Help kids build a repository of memories and then let them freely explore the ideas that result.

How can a person enhance his or her own creativity?

Most Americans don’t have survival as the impetus to be creative like the people who live on the landfill. But for those whose job requires creativity or who have a creative hobby, what can be done to enhance it? Science tells us a number of ways we can stimulate our own creativity.

Make more dots that can be connected across a wide range of knowledge and experience.

Discoveries, inventions, and creative ideas come from synthesizing information across different fields and building on the works of others. Most creative or scientific breakthroughs come from people who have been learning about their own field for many years. Studies suggest it takes approximately ten years worth of experiences or knowledge in any given area to be able to invent or create something really new and innovational.

But all experiences count. It’s easy to see how important it is to create a storehouse of knowledge and memories that we can draw upon later, providing our brains with a web of opportunities to spark that unique connection.

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Be optimistic.

No matter how hard they have it, most people living on the Tijuana landfills are optimistic, always hoping for a better life. Studies show that being positive works alongside knowledge and experience to boost creativity and ingenuity. Realizing that first ideas are often worthless (the simple, easy connections in the brain), we should push ourselves further until we have that flash of genius (combining ordinary ideas in extraordinary ways).

Take a shower (But keep a waterproof notepad handy).

There are many anecdotes about how someone got an idea or an answer to a problem in the warm relaxation of the shower or bathtub. One of the ideas for the Hubble telescope folding arms came to its engineer while taking a shower. Greek scientist Archimedes was stepping into a bathtub when the principle of fluids came to him. Creativity doesn’t blossom under pressure. We need to relax. A shower does that.

Have some alone time.

Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla said that to be alone is the secret of invention, that working or relaxing alone is where ideas are born. Often daydreaming and pondering without interruption triggers those obscure connections we seek.

Take a walk.

Taking a walk helps us get away from our problem for awhile. It also allows our subconscious to work on testing connections without putting up barriers. Once all the raw material is loaded into our mind, we need to allow it to incubate while we take a slow pleasant walk. Listen to the birds. Smell the flowers along the way. Eureka! The answer to our problem has appeared to us, like magic.

Take a trip or live in a foreign country.

The American Psychological Association was the first to study the links between living abroad and creativity. It found that foreign travel was like thinking outside the box, expanding one’s experiences and knowledge and boosting creativity. After living many years in Paris, the Spanish artist Picasso created Cubism only after he spent time studying art in Africa.

Take a nap.

Wasn’t Sir Isaac Newton relaxing/napping under an apple tree when an apple fell on his head? Was it the nap or the experience of the apple conking him in the head that sparked his first ideas about gravity? Or both?

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Napping works. A power nap of twenty minutes helps alertness and motor skills. A ‘REM sleep’ nap of sixty minutes or longer can boost your memory, energy, and especially creativity, helping you solve those creative problems. On the other hand, sleep deprivation has been proven to stifle creativity and problem solving.

Then there’s Google.

We’ve all heard of Google employee job perks—a place to take a nap, music, serene grounds to stroll through, a basketball court, library, and gym, etc.  Well, it turns out, these types of diversions are the very things science says will trigger those sparks of genius that the Google employees are known for. Google is correct. These diversions may not be perks at all, but a necessity for creativity.

Finally…

Is creativity something one is born with?
No. Anyone from any background can be creative. Given enough knowledge and experiences to build upon, almost anyone could create something unique or innovational. The goal is to pack your brain with facts and experience which you can draw upon later when you need it.

Is creativity in a specific spot in the right side of the brain?
No. In an MRI scan, the brain lights up in multiple places during creative activities. The brain draws upon all the experiences, memories and knowledge the person has to reach a solution.

Can creativity be enhanced?
Yes. We can increase the number of possible connections in our brain. That means we must see more, learn more, do more, feel more. When we need a creative idea, we allow our subconscious to work on making those connections. Relax. Take a shower. Take a nap. Take a walk or even a trip.

The spark of an idea or the answer to a problem can come in any moment, in peace and quiet, in a diversion or in physical activity, so keep your phone or notepad handy.

JellyFishSharkCollageTijuana graffiti – Jellyfish, Shark, and Turtle

 

I created this post after visiting a foreign country, walking my dogs—and then taking a nap.

How do you boost your creativity?

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Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is the first book in the series, Secret of Haunted Bog is the second title, and the upcoming Legend of Monster Island will be the third. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

 

 

Never Underestimate Young Readers

We often hear how students today don’t know literature or history, or that they lag behind kids in other countries in the most crucial areas of math, science, and engineering. Culture is often blamed. Movies and TV shows promote violence and drug culture and advertising commercializes and sexualizes the youth. Video games and movies often glamorize unsavory heroes. Kids today live in a celebrity culture, where intellect isn’t appreciated and everything is dumbed down, numbing young minds instead of expanding them. Some schools barely keep kids in the classroom. Our society is not encouraging children to utilize the full potential they were born with.

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We must constantly strive to reach these kids and give them books they’ll enjoy while stretching their minds and imaginations. As readers and writers for young people, the Emblazoners know tweens are readers and fully capable of understanding rich and complex stories that thrill and teach and inspire. We know what books we read and enjoyed in our youth and we want to reach today’s kids before they give up on learning.

Lynn Kelley and I, writing as BBH McChiller, have decided that when we write our Monster Moon series of books for 7- to 12 year-olds, where we create a fictional world full of fictional characters with fictional problems, that we will always drop in a dabbling of real history or geography, real science, real literature, actual occupations, folklore, and mythology, anything that adds truth and depth to the story.

This exposes kids to the real world in a subtle and unobtrusive way. As a simple example, our pirate rat character often bemoans the plight of his species Rattus rattus, and while kids sympathize with him they are learning the scientific nomenclature for the rat species. Similarly, we have Macbeth being quoted at a Monster Ball. Kids are smart and capable, so why not give them an awareness of history and science and literature in addition to a fun read.

Last month I had the opportunity to be a Grand Award Judge at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles, and I saw firsthand the intelligence and amazing abilities of young people, but also, the worldwide competition with whom they’ll have to compete.

Intel’s ISEF is the world’s largest science and engineering fair where millions of dollars are awarded to students, mainly high schoolers, ranging in age from 13 to 18. Over seven and a half million students from all over the world began on this journey by competing in local, regional, school, state or sponsored fairs, and the top winners/finalists were invited to compete at ISEF for the largest awards given to young people.

The 1,700 finalists came from 70 countries and were the best of the best. Their projects would compare with any college or graduate level research endeavor. Several top category winners were just 13 to 15 years old. The Grand Award winner was a 15-year-old boy from Boston, MA who worked on his project at home combining science, math, and computer learning. He wrote a computer learning program teaching the computer to calculate the relative deleterious effects of various cancer cell gene mutations, all in his spare time. These students certainly gave me hope for the future of the world.

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This year’s top winners were from Malaysia, Germany and United States.
(Photo – Courtesy of ISEF)

These outstanding kids got their interest in science, nature, mathematics, computers, etc. from somewhere. They had already attained this interest and drive before they went to high school. Maybe it was from reading. Interestingly, I noticed that many of the competitors were reading fictional books in their spare minutes. Or, maybe they got their interests from museums or travels. Somewhere they developed an ability to think about the world around them, to question how things work, to see problems and imagine solutions.

We work hard to write books that kids will enjoy and maybe we’ll inspire some readers to become writers or poets. Maybe we’ll write something that while fun to read, also inspires future historians, archeologists, engineers, mathematicians, cancer researchers, physicians, veterinarians, astronauts, and inventors.

Within the context of our novels, we can certainly encourage a zest for learning and for understanding the world around us. It’s easy to tuck interesting nuggets into a story, details that readers will enjoy and remember. Maybe we’ll even trigger that spark of curiosity, and they’ll want to learn more about some factoid we’ve woven into the tale. Maybe they’ll even want to read a nonfiction book on the subject. We can give readers an idea how they can solve a problem or change the world. Books can do that. We should challenge young readers’ minds. They can handle it.

Do you write historical or scientific facts into your stories beyond what the setting requires? Do you think it’s hard to do if it doesn’t directly pertain to the story?

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Kathryn Sant

Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is the first book in the series, Secret of Haunted Bog is the second title, and the upcoming Legend of Monster Island will be the third. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.