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Friday, April 6, 2012


Today we’re thrilled to have author CJ Lyons back for a visit. As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times and USA Today Bestseller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday). Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at www.cjlyons.net -- AP

A Day in the Life

Two of the  most common things I'm asked are: where do you get your ideas? and what's a typical day like?

The two are inextricably linked. I have no typical day, no schedule, no idea what I'll be writing when I sit down.

You may have seen the excerpt from Jonah Lehrer's new book, Imagine, in the Wall Street Journal. Imagine has also been featured on NPR, in Salon, and elsewhere. It's an exciting book because it not only celebrates creativity, it provides a path to foster creativity.

Lehrer identifies several types of creativity or "genius."

There is the epiphany, that sudden lightning strike where an answer presents itself in the most unlikeliest of places or times, usually when we've given up or taken a break from working on a problem. This type of creativity depends on first hard work, followed by hitting a mental brick wall, followed by removing ourselves from the problem.

We've all been there, done that--especially hitting the wall, or as we writers like to call it, "writers' block."

But the trick comes after you remove yourself. You can't just give up, instead you give in. To a need to relax, to laugh, or even to drink.

Lehrer reports that "exposing subjects to a short humorous video…boosts the success rate by  about 20%. Alcohol also works…Drunk students solved nearly 30% more word problems than their sober peers."

No wonder writers are often portrayed as decadent, drunk, dreamers…but that's only a small part of creativity. Those lightning strikes of epiphany can reveal a solution but not only do you need to put in the work BEFORE they'll happen (that's the boring, banging your head against your desk part of creativity that no one enjoys and no audience wants to hear about) but you also need to take that epiphany and return to work armed with new insight.

As Lehrer says: "Sometimes, we just need to keep on working, resisting the temptation of a beer-fueled nap. There is nothing fun about this kind of creativity, which consists mostly of sweat and failure."

He quotes Nietzsche, "All great artists and thinkers are great workers" and Milton Glaser who engraved the slogan "Art is Work" above his office door.

Lehrer also mentions a third key ingredient in his recipe for creativity. In addition to hard work, sparks of insight, there is a wide range of diverse experience and/or knowledge.

To me, this last, is the most important. It's the catalyst that allows me to take a story from familiar and satisfying to remarkable and compelling. It's the spark that makes a reader lean forward and turn the pages faster while also allowing the writer to have so much fun that they forget the pain and hard work that comes with embarking on a new story (remember all that sweat and banging your head against the desk time that's a compulsory part of creativity?) and allows us to keep writing.

As Lehrer says, "Because they (creatives) don't know where the answer will come from, they are willing to look for the answer everywhere."

This is why I spent my day reworking an opening, sweating over word choices, researching the cries a leopard in captivity makes (yes, this is a mainstream FBI thriller set in North Carolina), watching videos on counter-moves against chokeholds, imagining what kind of lonely life an undercover FBI agent would lead in a small town where he's pretending to be a bad guy, stripping wall paper, playing Sudoku, pounding out a few more words, scribbling notes, free-associating plot ideas, and finally relaxing in a hot bath before coming up with the idea that changed everything and going back to work until 1am.

So there you go, the answer to "where do you get your ideas?" and "what's a typical day like?"

Art is work. And sweat. And laughs. And all sorts of amazingly different things that you connect and weave together to form a tapestry that is greater than the parts its made of.
If we do our job right, the reader sees none of that. But they'll never forget the world we take them to or the people we introduce them to and they'll be eager to come back to more.
Excuse me, I think it's time for another soak in the tub….

Thanks for reading!

And thanks for joining us today, CJ! -- AP


Jane R said...

No two ways about it... writing of any kind is hard work. Even great ideas can stall, which leads to more expended time and energy. All I can say is that I'm glad there are authors out there who are willing to stick with it, so readers like me can have an almost never-ending supply of books. Thanks for the reminder and the post!

Pat Dale said...

Fantastic post, CJ. You sum up the life of a writer as well as anyone I've ever read. We've all hit that brick wall, I'm sure, and we've mostly backed off for one reason or another. But Lehrer's comment about watching a funny video hits home. In my case, I turn to humorous writing.
I just wrote a guest blog about the dichotomy in my writing, between the dark, heavy stuff, and the light, funny devil may care works. I tend to alternate between them, and I think Lehrer has given me the answer why I do that.
Best wishes for continued success.
Pat Dale

CJ Lyons said...

Jane, Thanks for your kind words. As I always say, my guiding principal in this business is always "what will keep my readers happy." So guess it's a two way street, lol!

Happy reading,

CJ Lyons said...

Pat, I totally agree. My books are dark--and now that I'm focusing more on my mainstream thrillers, like BLOOD STAINED, they're getting even darker, so any chance to laugh is a blessing. I don't write comedy but do enjoy watching it when I find time to take a break--and this research gave me an excuse to treat myself to it more often.

Thanks for stopping by,