Imagine this. You’re standing on the edge of an unexplored jungle in South America. Yep, South America (which Ellie in Up so succinctly described as: “It’s like America, but south!“). You’re all kitted out with safari hat, pocket laden vest, nifty quick-dry trousers and humongous backpack. Ready to set forth on an adventure – to find the lost treasure of kleptomaniac Mayan King Illtakethatifupleaz.
Clichéd, I know, but bear with me.
Your trusty guide for this occasion is: Macgyver. Or Indiana Jones if you prefer. Must be someone with incredible survival skills and the unmatched ability to outdo any baddies by the end of the episode/movie.
With me so far?
You turn to your trusty guide, and you have the following conversation.
YOU: So, Mr. Trusty Guide of my Choosing, sir. Where are we off to?
TRUSTYGUIDE: We’re off into the depths of this disease and baddie-ridden rain forest. Ready?
YOU: Um…Well, I’m not so sure really. Will it be safe?
TRUSTYGUIDE: Of course! I am <insert name of Trusty Guide of Your Choice> and I always find my way out of these situations, with my sidekick intact (unless you’re the kind of sidekick who turns out to be a spy in the third act). My methods may be unorthodox, but the result is always the same. Success!
YOU: Will we encounter quick sand?
TRUSTYGUIDE: Very possibly.
YOU: How will we get out?
TRUSTYGUIDE: There’ll probably be a vine nearby. Or I’ll use my gun. Or there’ll be a docile, nonvenemous snake you could throw me.
YOU: Well? Which one will it be?
TRUSTYGUIDE: Won’t know till we get there.
YOU: What about the baddies? They’ll attack when we get close to the treasure. It will look like we’re not going to make it. There’ll be booby traps and double crosses. What will we do?
TRUSTYGUIDE: I’ll figure it out. That’s what I do. It’s no fun if you know all the answers before you get there.
YOU: But we have to be prepared! How will you fix things if you don’t have a paperclip, duct tape and a matchbox on your pocket to begin with?
You contemplate this conversation as you study the passing rain forest floor, now bound, gagged and slung over your Trusty Guide’s shoulder.
“I would never say those things,” you think. “I’d be so excited to be with my favourite hero I’d be jumping at the chance to set forth. I trust that he will always get me out of trouble. That’s what he’s known for.”
Notice that word? Trust. We trust that Macgyver, or Indiana Jones or countless other action heros will eventually come out on top because that’s what must happen. Good triumphs over evil.
Does this always happen in the real world? Not always. In fact hardly ever at most levels of government, but let’s stay on topic here…
Just because things won’t go as expected, doesn’t mean you should sabotage your adventures before you leave by questioning how you’ll handle every little occurrence.
For instance, have you ever had this conversation (or a thought process like it) when contemplating a story idea?
YOU: I’ve got a brilliant idea for a story!
CREATIVITY: Do tell?
YOU: A super computer takes over the world and begins bumping people off because it feels the population has become unsustainable. You have action, you have moral dilemmas, and I’ll add an autistic boy to provide the answer with a little help from a dashing hero who falls for the boy’s mother.
CREATIVITY: Cool! Let’s get started.
You and Creativity have several long discussions about how things are going to pan out and so on and so forth. Then you start writing. About three chapters in, you start having this discussion.
YOU: How am I going to solve this?
CREATIVITY: We’ve already worked that out. We’ll…
YOU: Yeah, I know what we’ll do at the very end, but what about the baddies? What about the bugs in the code? What about the end chase? What about…
CREATIVITY: You’re on chapter three. We haven’t got there yet. I’ll tell you when we get there.
YOU: I can’t write it if I don’t know where I’m going!
And you leave in a huff. Creativity bangs head against wall. The manuscript becomes silverfish fodder.
At this point I should say that I appreciate it is very important to know where you’re going when you begin a project. And it’s very important to map out in some level of detail how you’re going to get there. Some people need to have everything all scoped from beginning to end before they put pen to paper. Other people just write. Either way, you need to trust your Creativity.
All Creativities will have moments where they’re not sure what to do. Macgyver and Indiana Jones have their moments of surprise, confusion and indecision too. But give them all long enough in a situation, plus enough paper clips or rubber bands, and they’ll begin making connections. Perhaps your Creativity sees something that he/she can use. Perhaps he/she realises a change needs to be made earlier for all of this to fit together.
Whatever the case, don’t take away your Creativity’s chance to stand in the room and look at the problem. Instead of hesitating at the edge of the rain forest, asking for answers to every problem, let your Creativity get stuck in the quick sand, navigate the booby traps and discover the double agent in ‘real time.’ Not necessarily while you’re writing, but perhaps while you’re planning. Give your Creativity opportunity to get in and get messy. To try different things. To live in the moment.
This doesn’t just apply to a creative writing setting, it applies to any problem you’re trying to solve. Creativity needs time, input and the opportunity to play around with the situation. Take away any of these things, and your adventure stops before it’s even started.
So give it a try. Step into the rain forest. The leeches are lovely and warm this time of year.
Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art
January 29, 2010 at 12:46 am
I meant to tell you – I like the way your blog is evolving. You (and Ms. Creativity) seem to be getting more and more focused over time.
January 29, 2010 at 9:28 am
You think so? 🙂 Thanks!
I make no guarantee we’ll stay focused though. Concentration seems to come and go…and that’s the way Creativity likes it.
March 2, 2010 at 7:15 pm
oooh, fun! Found you from your comment on my Lateral Action piece – and I’m glad I did, this was very fun and wise. Trusting our own process is a much deeper well than trying to know exactly what will happen before we begin. Or never beginning because of course it’s impossible to know everything in advance.
I love visualizing my creativity as an Indiana Jones / MacGyver combo. Can Knight Rider be in there somewhere too?
March 2, 2010 at 7:55 pm
Absolutely! 😉 Whatever gets you into the right mindset.
Thanks for dropping by! I really enjoyed your post.
For anyone who missed the post in question on Lateral Action, here’s the link:
March 2, 2010 at 8:35 pm
thanks for that! Feel free to drop by Cliffjump! for more meanderings.
I Tweeted this one btw… you don’t have an easy button for it, might be an idea – don’t know what wp.com offers in the way of plugins for such things but worth looking into?
March 2, 2010 at 10:45 pm
Yeah. I can’t find anywhere in the template that provides a suitable button. 😦 I’ll have to look for it in my next template.
Thanks for the tweet! 🙂
I’ve just added Cliffjump to my reader and am looking forward to Fearless Creativity.
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June 18, 2010 at 6:47 pm
Great post! Will help me get further into my novel planning/writing process than sitting there telling my Creativity that we have 20 tons more research to do (without telling her what sort of research) before we can hardly BEGIN writing. She doesn’t like this line of reasoning much. Neither do I. I suppose it would make more sense to begin writing (after, perhaps, a bit more plot planning), and figure out what to research when we’re stuck for a fact or unsure of the information we do have.
June 19, 2010 at 8:56 am
Yes, I have the same problem. It’s so difficult to know where the balance should be. I found this article from Writer Unboxed really helped.
June 20, 2010 at 8:57 am
This comment from the linked article showed me my problem:”As an historical fiction writer, I tend to hide behind research when the actual project seems daunting.”
Now I have to stop hiding and being daunted…but, how?
June 20, 2010 at 1:51 pm
My suggestion is find characters you trust and take the journey together. These things are usually far less daunting with friends. When the character is leading you, and begging you to record their story, then you just have to come out of hiding and oblige.
June 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm
I have most of my main characters already. I’m not entirely sure if they trust me with all of their secrets yet. And some of the slipperier ones don’t want to completely reveal their motivations, which are key to certain vital elements of the plot…for without sufficient motivation, they would not put themselves into the positions they do, in order to find out the information which moves the plot toward its pivotal points. But, I can’t figure out what exactly those motivations are, or what precisely it would motivate them to do………….
Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when we try to create a complex plot!
June 22, 2010 at 5:57 pm
This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read about character development. Perhaps there’s something in there which could help you out. 🙂
I do sympathise. I’m also grappling with some elusive characters at the moment. 😉
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