The happiness advantage – To write better novels, lighten up!

By Janet Lane

--What’s behind the happiness craze?

It’s summertime, and the weather’s finally fine. Sunshine is in abundance, and so are articles about happiness.

In July 9th’s Colorado Style, The Washington Post’s Brigid Schulte wrote an artcle, “Boost happiness with a few simple daily habits.” The July 12 issue of Parade’s cover headline reads, “50 Shades of Happy,” and the August Golf Digest cover declares it’s their “Happiness Issue.”

In one of those golf articles, contributor Bob Carney discusses a golfer on his high school team who was the happiest golfer he ever knew. He would be happy no matter the weather or what he shot, and he was not only the best player on the high school team, he was also the luckiest. His 6-handicap, Carney says, wasn’t all magic. It turns out there’s scientific proof that this “happiness edge” exists.

Shawn Achor, Harvard researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage, claims our brains, in positive mode, perform significantly better than they do in negative, neutral or stressed modes. Carney quoted five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thompson, who said, “You can think best when you’re happiest.”

So why are we all so hard on ourselves on the golf course, or at our computers, writing novels? One reason, Carney suggests, is that we “model” experience. We have preconceived notions about the “right” way to raise children, choose a mate, or in our case, write or promote our novels. These notions can be time-saving, but if we take them too seriously, we begin to believe that this is the way the world really works.

Are our theories about how to write a good novel simply a construct, also?

Annika Sorenstam’s coach, Lynn Marriott, says we have a negativity bias, that we store negative experiences in a deeper and more permanent way than we do our positive experiences. This suggests that we can undo the harmful, negative bias by replacing it with a positive bias.

If we have a propensity to imbed the negative, it will take a little more effort, but we can learn to apply this concept to make our writing more joyful, more satisfying.

Close your eyes and think back to the first time you wrote fiction—how excited you were, how magical it all seemed, creating a story from your heart, from that beautiful, magical place we call creativity. You couldn’t wait to write more, to discover what happened next, to watch your characters come to life on the pages.

Time, as we know, passes. Some stories get rejected, some get admired, some get published. We trudge on, dragging our feet through the industry “mud” of dashed hopes, disappointing letters in the mail, demanding editors, indifferent agents, careless reviews, puny sales numbers.

Over time, the joy fades, and our creative hearts need replenishing.

Take a deep breath. Hug your manuscripts and/or published books, and recall that early joy. Armed with positive thoughts, dwell on your successes and enjoyment. Remember to relish those memories, because it takes more effort to embed the positive.

When you’re preparing to edit (or, let’s be honest, “thinking” about preparing to edit, or tying yourself in the chair to force yourself to edit), engage encouraging thoughts.

Capture old, negative thoughts and turn them on their ear. Dash memories of plotting gone bad, and critique sessions that leave your manuscript bleeding from all the comments. You may have to hand back your bleeding manuscript to your critique partners and ask them to write two good things about your pages. Then you can take control and read and re-read those positive comments, giving them the same power as the critical comments . This will help you enter into your editing session with a hopeful, happy outlook, better able to tackle any problem areas.

When you’re gearing up to write new material, hug your creative mind and give it a jump start. Think of three or more outstanding memories of your writing, times when you could sing, you were so happy.

When you finished a scene that made you cry. Or laugh.
When you wrote a piece of dialogue that impressed you so much, you wanted to dance.
When someone looked you right in the eye, gave you a smile, and said they really enjoyed your writing.
When you wrote “The End” for the first time.
When you read a fantastic, positive review of your book, written by an obviously intelligent reader.

You’ll think of other gems. They’re in your memory bank, just temporarily dulled by the hard knocks that come with the industry.

Writing this blog made me happy. I hope it makes you happy, too. Join me next month as I continue my happy writing thoughts.

Janet Lane
While dodging Black Moments, Janet is wrapping up details of her July 15 release of Crimson Secret, the fourth book in the international award-winning, #1 Amazon Bestselling historical romance series. Her novels are set in fifteenth century England during the so-called “Gypsy Honeymoon” decades. She graduated with honors from the University of Colorado, completing their Creative Writing program.

In addition to the awards mentioned above, Tabor’s Trinket, is a #1 Amazon Bestselling novel. Emerald Silk, part two in the Coin Forest series, was reviewed by the Historical Novels Review, which noted that it “goes beyond simple romantic suspense by including serious issues such as racism, homophobia, and clerical greed. However, the love story and the quest for the stolen chalice take center stage throughout.” #1 New York Times Best-Selling Author Lara Adrian called it “..an enchanting medieval romance filled with passion, intrigue and vividly drawn characters that leap off the page. I loved this novel!” Crimson Secret is the first novel in the series to be released as both a Kindle and as a paperback.

Janet was a featured author in RMFW Press’s Tales from Mistwillow anthology, and co-chaired the editorial board for that press’s anthology, Broken Links, Mended Lives, which was nominated for the Colorado Book Award.

Janet lives with her husband in Colorado, surrounded by a forest of conifers, herds of deer, and an occasional black bear. She welcomes your comments and feedback via her blog at http://janetlane.wordpress.com or on Twitter at @janetlaneauthor.

11 thoughts on “The happiness advantage – To write better novels, lighten up!

  1. Pat, you are one of the most positive people I know, so I can’t wait to see you shine even more! A Happy Day to you, my lady!

  2. I’ve watched people burn out on careers they loved. And I’ve watched other people who are still going along with that same beginning intensity level of passion.
    The ones that seem to last are the ones that are involved in their careers and their community. They don’t just read the articles, they attend meetings, conferences, they are mentors and have mentors. They donate their skills and time.
    And they have a support group ( other people in their field- new and experienced) that gets together on a weekly basis to talk shop, not to wallow, but to find options, solutions and encouragement.

  3. Hi, Samantha,
    You make such good points! I was so happy to have discovered RMFW. I joined *at* conference, and was blown away with all the sharing, caring and camaraderie. And it’s so true about the wallowing – my neighborhood friends once formed a “Wine and Whine” group, and it lasted maybe three weeks. It was too depressing to listen to all the rants (although we all need a one-on-one caring shoulder once in a while). I like the idea of stoking the positive, creative fires, not only for myself, but for the benefit of my friends, as well because, as we give, so shall we receive.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. “…our brains, in positive mode, perform significantly better than they do in negative, neutral or stressed modes.”

    I totally buy that, in fact I’m willing to bet we all can point to empirical evidence in our own lives to prove it.

    Good post, JL!

  5. Your point about remembering what brought joy to our writing in the beginning–before being published–is important. When we got a little boost in our step after writing a line we were proud of–even If no one but us saw it!

  6. Hi, Theresa! It’s the purest joy, isn’t it? That time just between you and your writer self, with no expectations, just appreciating the beauty of your own words. Thanks for sharing!

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