Friday, January 31, 2014

Carrie and Alton Barron on "The Creativity Cure"--An Interview with Two Clinicians about Their New Book

Carrie and Alton Barron are two physicians, well known in their respective fields of psychiatry and orthopedic medicine.  Carrie is on the faculty of Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and Aldon is recent past president of the New York Society for Surgery of the Hand and a long-time orthopedic surgeon for the NY Philharmonic Orchestra.  I had the pleasure of meeting Carrie when she began attending writing classes with me at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center in New York's Westchester County--and Alton some months later.  Passionate about creativity and its power for healing, their new book, The Creativity Cure (Scribners, 2012), is garnering rave reviews. 

This week, they share some of the process of writing a nonfiction book, staying passionate about their subject during the long journey, and what happens when it gets published.


When did you begin writing this book?  What were the stumbling points and the Ah-ha! moments that you remember?
Alton:  We began formulating the book in 2009, but formal writing began in 2011 once we received a Scribner contract and a nine-month deadline.  Carrie had been interested in creative practices as a way of enhancing mental health for many years before that and had discussed it in her writing class with Mary, many times.
Carrie:  One difficult book-writing weekend involved realizing that one of the chapters in the proposal was just not going to work.  An absolute inner blank and panic took hold the day I was to write it.  It was awful.  No matter which way I thought about it, nothing bubbled up.  Finally Alton and I discussed ways to deviate from the plan.  We deleted the chapter and did something else.  I think that the Ah-ha, feel-good moments came more from finding the right words to express idea in a simple way, rather than from new breakthroughs or insights.

Did you have to "cure" your own creativity en route?  How did you do that?
Alton:  We were both always interested in creativity for a long time, and surrounded by artists in our families and communities.  Carrie did sing for many years but that was more about interpreting than about bringing something new into being.  When we each explored writing on our own, something clicked.

Many people, including Joyce Carol Oates, have documented that the act of writing (and other creative practices) can lift mood.  Taking that first step in a dance studio, with a pen or paintbrush, just beginning, can change everything.  It feels good to put the self in motion, physically, mentally, creatively.  
You do not have to share what you are making with others.  Just developing that relationship with your creative self in private, at the start is important.
You have to protect it, discover it, let it unfold, come up with a way with your self and your task/interest.  A personal method that resonates with your inner life, your inclinations, who you are.  Your True Self, so to speak.   It is far more about the process, and creating an inner vitality, than the product.
The wish for a fantastic outcome can inhibit you.  Detach from a hunger for success and create a process that feeds you.
Tell us about your writing rhythm and what worked and what didn't.  Where do you write, for how long, how often?  Do you work with goals?
Carrie:  I think you can figure out what works for you by trying different things. I work best first thing in the morning in my bed with a cup of coffee, or in my favorite cafĂ©, also with a cup of coffee.  It's the buzz, the aroma, the friendly chatter combined with solitude.  I am hopeless at night. Alton works best at night with a cup of tea, after everyone has gone to sleep. 

When I have a deadline, I give myself an exact amount of days, weeks, whatever to finish.  I try to write daily, whatever comes out of my head.  Poem, essay, blog, gibberish, complaints.  Sometimes I write it on legal paper and throw it out.  It clears my head.
What kind of research did you do-and did any of it take the book in new directions?
Carrie and Alton:  Lots of research!  It was mainly on the role of creativity in treating depression, anxiety and trauma.  It included ways to develop an open, creative mindset. We found work by Dr. Charles Limb on the neuroscience of improvisation verses rote rendition and how the former stimulates pleasure centers in the brain.  Play, experimentation and exploration provide internal energy and are important for creativity.  When we deviate, meander, and dip in, we create new neural pathways.  
Because we learned through research that natural playgrounds (verses asphalt) stimulate imaginative play in children, we paid more attention to nature in the book than we had originally planned.
How did you find your agent and publisher?  What can you share about that process?
Alton:  Carrie took a weekend course at Harvard Medical School:  "Writing and Publishing for Clinicians."  Many agents, instructors, and editors were present and she found an editor, Lisa Tener, who was interested in helping her with her proposal as well as her agent Jeanne Fredericks who wanted to take the book on once she saw the proposal.
Platforms are helpful (some say vital) for nonfiction books.  What kind of platform did you establish and how?
Carrie:  Through our work in medicine, mainly Alton's, we have had the privilege to meet many people in artistic fields.  Many were taken with the ideas of The Creativity Cure and wanted to help us get the message out so they wrote blurbs, spread the word, etc.  For some people, creativity is a life or death matter, psychologically speaking, and for others, it is a great way to enhance a sense of vitality, interest in living, involvement in community or communication with others.
What's been your favorite experience along the journey to seeing this published?
Carrie:  Honestly, it is talking to people, listening to their stories.  It feels good to help when you can.  I know that sounds a bit corny, but when people can find a way to get through difficulties or just intolerable drudgery by looking within and changing it is gratifying.  We both, like many physicians, have a strong interest in helping people find better and better ways to heal.

To check out Carrie and Alton's new book, click here.