Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Favourite Posts You May Not Have Read – Creativity’s Picks

A little boy with binoculars looking into the distance

Earlier this week we looked back on Jessica’s favourite posts. Now here are mine!

I take my job of blogger very seriously (I remove my Groucho Marx glasses every time I settle down to write to you). A lot of these posts are not just crazy, random humour, but were written to help you understand your Creativity better. Several of those listed below  cover essential secrets to keeping your Creativity happy and healthy. Please take a look. You might learn something helpful.

And my favourite post so far is…cinamon roll please…

  • Building Trust in Your Creativity – I take you on your very own jungle adventure with the action hero of your choice! (It gets helpful somewhere towards the end.)

Well, there. Doesn’t that list make it look like I’ve been working hard? I’m off to reward myself with some unabashed saxophone playing and a long drink of chocolate mud cake.


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Save Your Creativity from the Deadline Stupor

Thinking and Thumb Chewing

Someone up the hierarchy informs you of a deadline. You must produce by a certain time, or else.

What’s the first thing you do?

If you’re Jessica, the first thing you do is look for something to eat. Deadlines always make her hungry.

Then what?

Then you realise you have no idea what you’re going to produce. What do you do when you have no idea? You turn to your Creativity.

And stare.

I can tell you, as a Creativity, there’s nothing quite so disconcerting has being stared at and willed into producing an idea. I don’t know about your Creativity, but I get self-conscious – and quickly mesmerised by the stare. Everything comes to a halt as we wait for someone to blink. Stupor sets in.

Bad start.

What should you be doing?

Finding an Idea

How can you break the stupor and help your Creativity find an idea? Try some of these tips.

Play

‘I’ve just been given a deadline,’ you say. ‘I’m on the clock. Now’s not the time to play.’

Actually, now’s exactly the time to play. In order for your Creativity to produce the ideas and answers you seek, you have to release the pressure a little and play the game.

Doodle. Talk to your Creativity out loud (in a secluded place if you’re worried about wandering psychiatrists). Roll words and phrases around in your head. Fire questions at him/her. Give your Creativity something to work with.

I’m serious about the doodling. Get yourself a notepad and coloured pens. Or try a whiteboard. Something you can scribble ideas on as they come to you.

Don’t be afraid to pursue weird and wacky trains of thought. Let your Creativity wander through different possibilities. You’re on a treasure hunt. Who knows where the idea is hiding. So loosen up and play.

Nail Down the Specifics

Tell your Creativity exactly what you need. Do you need a story, poem, concept brief, article? What’s the genre? How many words? Who is your audience? What points do you need to cover?

This information gives your Creativity constraints to bounce off.

But limit the demands to only what you need. Exclude ‘wants’ at this stage. If there’s a little leeway on some of these questions, then leave them open-ended. Give your Creativity a little wiggle room. You can add the wants from your list as the project evolves. At this point be accepting of different angles.

Encourage Multiple Ideas

At some point during all this, your Creativity will hopefully come up with an idea. Do not run off with the first thing out of his/her mouth. Breathe in, breathe out, and ask if there are any other ideas. Give your Creativity opportunity to pop a couple more at you. The first idea is not usually the best. So wait around and see what else there is.

Once you’ve got your ideas flying, move on to the next phase.

Working the Idea

Now you need to knuckle down and create. At this point the stupor will threaten to set in again. Great ideas usually require work to bring them to fruition. How can you do that in time to meet your deadline?

Write Yourself a List

Work out what’s involved in making this idea happen. List every task. Perhaps it’s as simple as just sitting down and writing. If so, go do!

Most projects require more preparation. Do you need to research? Do you need to outline? Perhaps you have to learn more about your characters.

What is it you need to do in order to make this idea a reality?

The list will not only provide you with a guide to what needs to be completed, but will also inform your Creativity about what you expect to accomplish. Sometimes your Creativity will get to a list item ahead of you, just because he/she knew it was coming.

Find One Thing You Can Move Forward On

Often the length of the list and the size of the project is just overwhelming. And I can tell you from experience, the more options there are, the more paralysed your Creativity becomes. So what do you do?

Pick one thing, just one, which you can manage today – or at least start on. Find something you can make progress on. Focus on that one thing until you’re done. Then mark it off your list. Your project will become like a game of Mahjong. Each move you make will reveal another move. Slowly, slowly you’ll make progress.

Set Aside Time

Don’t let every deadline result in the same desperate, eye-popping squeeze on your Creativity the night before. Set aside regular time in the days, weeks and/or months leading up to the deadline.

Be kind to your Creativity. Avoid procrastination. Your Creativity works hard for you so repay in kind.

And if you happen to finish a little earlier than your deadline, what’s so bad about that?

Eliminate Distractions

Creativities are usually very easily distracted. If you turn the TV on, or start reading an interesting book, we get caught up in what you’re doing and forget what we’re working on. So while we all need time to replenish our Creative sponges, if you’re working towards a deadline try eliminating the distractions and focusing on what you need to accomplish.

And remember, television or a good book is a great reward for completion.

An Important Consideration

We’ve spoken about how to work towards a deadline, but there is one point you need to keep in mind.

Not all deadlines are worth it. Sometimes you have to say no. Protect your Creativity from unreasonableness – either from your boss, or from your own expectations. If the deadline is too tight, you’re just going to damage your Creativity in the process.

Pick your deadlines, and then work together with your Creativity to make them a reality. One step at a time.

For more ideas on staying creative when facing deadlines, read this post over at Bit Rebels.

How do you generate ideas when facing deadlines?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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Picking Your Deadlines

Calendar with date selected

In the previous post, we read about how Creativity can use deadlines to reach creative heights. Now I’m sure most of us cringe at the idea of deadlines, remembering the stomach churning weeks of stress and the long nights of last minute work which accompanied the previous deadline we endured. Or even worse, remembering the feeling of having a deadline and not the slightest whiff of an idea.

There are, however, two types of deadlines – the ones imposed on us by others and the ones we impose upon ourselves. I’ll save the first one for another post. Today we’ll focus on the second.

Why Use a Deadline?

If you’re not already on the clock for a boss or publisher, why should you pick a deadline?

As highlighted on Monday, constraints often serve to increase your Creativity’s potential. It gives him/her something to kick against. Some obstacle to climb.

Without a deadline you will too often end up with great ideas but no result. You deserve to have work to show for your inspiration. So pick a deadline and start showing us what you can do!

When Should I Use a Deadline?

There are many different answers to this question. When it comes to choosing deadlines for yourself, I suggest waiting until after the light of inspiration has hit. Too much pressure to produce the beginnings of an idea can often inhibit the very spark you’re trying to achieve. So, if possible, allow yourself a deadline-free environment for your first inspiration.

Once the idea has hit, and you know it’s something worth doing, then set a deadline. Satellite ideas will start to form and it’s your job to put in the hard hours working on the end result. What better way to make sure those hours of toil get done than working to deadline?

Why Do Deadlines Work?

Deadlines:

  • Spur you to action. If you have a date to aim for, and a reason to get moving on your project, the lure of the television becomes that little bit easier to beat.
  • Make you accountable. It’s one thing to pop out creative ideas now and then. It’s another to tie yourself down and definitely say, “I’m going to do something with this idea.” Once you’ve made that commitment, all sorts of things become possible.
  • Help you to schedule. A project without a deadline progresses in fits and starts, if it progresses at all. A deadline encourages you to plan how best to use your allotted time. How many words do you need to average? How many hours a day/week should you spend?
  • Reinforce the importance of your project. With a deadline on the way, you’re less likely to make excuses. Your accountability makes you take things more seriously. If you have a deadline, then your work must be important, right?
  • Encourage you to declare a project finished. We tend to tinker with a project as it nears completion. A finishing touch here. A final tweak there. The truth is, there will always be something to fiddle with. A deadline provides a cut-off point. The day when you stand back and let your baby go – be it into the draw for some distance time, or off to the publisher for some slush pile time.

How to Set Your Deadline

Okay, so you’ve decided you need a deadline for your project. How do you go about setting it?

  1. Pick a reasonable date. Decide how much time this project will plausibly take. Hours? Days? Weeks? Months? Don’t be unreasonable, but don’t be too lenient either. Remember, constraints spur your Creativity on. That’s why NaNo WriMo is so popular. It sounds crazy when you first think about what’s involved, but it is doable.
  2. Inform friends. One of the beauties of deadlines is the accountability. For accountability to be a factor, other people need to know about your deadline. They can cheer you on, show an interest in your progress, celebrate your achievements and commiserate with you during the down times. Try folding a few people into your dreams. You’ll be surprised by the results.
  3. Set smaller goals. Big projects can be daunting, so break things up into chunks. Perhaps you want to write 500 words a day. When you sit down in your chair and become mesmerized by the blank white, set a goal of one word. Then one sentence. Chip away at it until you meet your quota. If your big project is a completed manuscript, set each chapter as a goal.
  4. Implement a reward system. Decide how you’re going to reward yourself for each goal achieved and especially how you’re going to celebrate reaching your deadline. Will there be partying, or just a favourite meal? Make your time and effort (and your Creativity’s blood, sweat and tears) worthwhile. If you make this deadline fun, then you’ll be excited about the next one.

Now, over to you. What points have you found important when setting deadlines?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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Creative Constraints – Or How to Wall Jump Like Mario

Mario jumping from wall to wallHave you ever played a Super Mario Brothers game? My favourite is Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii in all its delectable 3D planetary madness, but that’s probably beside the point. I bring this to your attention to discuss wall jumps.

A wall jump, for anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, is when you scale to normally unreachable heights by jumping between two conveniently placed walls. This is a skill Jessica has great difficulty mastering, but that’s also probably beside the point.

The point, if I understand where I’m going with this, is: If the walls are too close together, Mario can’t move. If the walls are too far apart, Mario can’t wall jump at all. They have to be just the right distance from each other to make this feat of game magic possible. (Goldilocks would have loved this game.)

What does this have to do with your Creativity?

Placing Creative Constraints

Some people believe freedom is essential for Creativity. They say endless time and boundless possibilities are exactly what’s needed. Well, I have news for you. That may work for some special few, but most Creativities I know would find that kind of freedom paralysing. It would be like Mario stuck walking along an endless green platform with nothing to jump on.

You end up with too many possibilities and yet none at all. Your Creativity blinks at the curvature of your brain and his/her eyes glaze over. He/she continually waddles past idea flowers and interesting walking mushrooms without ever advancing to the next level.

Constraints are essential to get the game started. For instance, knowing whether you need to create a poem, short story, novel synopsis, children’s story or mystery thriller greatly alters the skills, materials and mindset you use.

Work out what you want to achieve. If you need to write, give yourself a word count, a subject, the first line, a character – something which gives your Creativity a wall to jump against.

Yes, as soon as you start nailing down the specifics you cut off access to other things that could have been. But without the wall you’re really holding your Creativity back from the creative heights he/she could achieve. And the good news is there’s always more to explore later. You can start on the other side of the wall in your next project.

But one wall is not enough. For a proper wall jump, you need a second surface.

Placing Deadlines

While most Creativities eye off deadlines as if they were the grim reaper come to snatch their baby, I think we all realise how important deadlines are to the completion of projects. Without deadlines, you would forever tinker with the details, or worse – never get around to starting the project at all. 

We’re not necessarily talking about massive impending deadlines like ‘must have a submission-ready manuscript by the end of next month.’ A deadline can be something as small as ‘I am going to sit at my computer for the next 20 minutes and just keep writing.’

Search out deadlines (like writing contests) or create your own (like inviting your writing friends around at the end of the month to discuss progress on your projects).

Set specific goals with specific completion dates.

Some Creativities will balk at this, but if done right, you’re really giving your Creativity a wonderful opportunity to explore new heights.

Watch Out for Tight Corners

I mentioned earlier that if walls are too close together, Mario can’t move, let alone jump. Likewise, if your constraints and deadlines are unreasonable, then you’ll just paint your Creativity into a corner where he/she will live like a sardine until such time as you realise you’ve lost the game. So continually evaluate the walls you choose, because their effectiveness will vary depending on your Creativity’s experience, skills, preferences and mood.

Why does all of this matter so much? Well, if you’re happy for your Creativity to potter around on ground level fiddling with the mundane, then it’s probably not that important. But if you want to advance your projects and eventually reach the goal (a finished manuscript or just a big shiny gold star) you need to start moving upwards. And the best way to do that is to wall yourself in. Counter intuitive, no?

Have you found this method works?