Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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You Too? Where Do You Get Your Best Ideas?

A woman happily walking outdoors.

Do you get your best writing ideas while out walking?
(Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art)

Welcome to another installment of ‘You Too?’ where I ask you a writing related question and you share insights about your writing life.

Today, I thought we’d do a poll!

I’m sure all of us get ideas when we least expect them. This is because most ideas come to us when we’re relaxed, while our mind is concentrating on something other than our writing problems. 

So I’m interested to know where you get your best ideas. I’ve added some of the classic places to this poll, but if you have a different place then let me know and I’ll add the option. Feel free to select multiple options if they apply.

The next question is, how do you record those ideas?

Again, I’ve listed some of the common options, but I’m sure there are plenty more I haven’t thought of so tell me what I’ve missed in the comments. Feel free to select multiple options if they apply.

I look forward to seeing the results!

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Creative Actions: Record That Bouncing Idea

Children bouncing on balls.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Most of us have at least a couple of ideas bouncing around in our minds at any given time. Some of them are just small ideas (like what to write next in a scene or a great name for a character) and others have the potential to be huge (like a new series of novels or a brilliant twist to our latest plot).

Either way, our ideas need to be carefully looked after if they’re to make their way to fruition.

If we can’t use our ideas right away, then it’s good practice to record them in an idea book. We just recently spoke about how the act of writing changes your ideas.

Getting them out on the page can help you:

  • Preserve the idea for later reference (in case the idea changes or is forgotten).
  • See the flaws you’ll need to fix to keep the idea alive.
  • See connections to other ideas or projects you may not have realised before.
  • Try different iterations and drafts while still keeping a copy of the original concept.
  • Expand your idea into paragraphs of concrete text ready for further work.
  • Get the idea out of your head to free up room for your current project and/or fresh ideas.

Recording the idea doesn’t mean you have to start work on it right away. In fact, writing your idea down is a great way of keeping the idea safe while you move on to other things.

So why don’t you give it a go?

The steps are as follows:

  1. Set aside 15 minutes.
  2. Settle yourself in front of your idea book or computer.
  3. Write your idea out. Note down all the relevant details that have been floating around in your head. Use stream of consciousness if that works for you.
  4. When your time is up, reward yourself for your hard work – perhaps with a snack or a pat on the back. Make this an enjoyable experience.
  5. Come back to your idea in a few weeks’ time to see if there’s anything you can add to it.

Try it out and then comment below to let us know how you went.

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A quick note: My plans have suddenly changed and I’m traveling overseas next week. I’m looking for some guest posts help me through the next few weeks while I get my plans sorted and recover from jetlag. If you’re interested in guest posting here on Creativity’s Workshop, take a look at the guidelines and then send me an e-mail.


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How the Act of Writing Changes Your Ideas

A man writing while sitting atop a rock. I hope he doesn't drop his pen.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Outlining is great. I love it.

I have a noticeboard above my desk with three different storyboards in varying stages of completion. I map out story arcs. I put a lot of thought into something before I write it.

However, last week something happened during my writing that really shook me up.

How do Words Get on the Page?

First of all, let me take a slight detour past an excellent post you have to read. It’s by Charlotte Rains Dixon entitled How Words Get on the Page. I was going to save this link up for my recap at the end of the month, but it was just too good to wait. Go read it now!

Her main point is:

…magic happens when we engage with the words. That writing gets done when we write…So next time you’re stuck, try writing instead of staring out the window. Trust me, it actually does work.

It’s true. Words get on the page through the act of writing. That’s the only way.

We can have the most incredible ideas floating around in our head, but it’s only once we get them onto the page that we see them in all their glory.

Sometimes an idea that seemed pretty ho-hum in your head comes into its own when it finally appears on the page. At times like that, you can be shocked by the strength of the end result.

I Didn’t See It Coming Until the Last Word

Last week I started a new writing project.

Yes, I’m editing my short story collection of self-pubbing later on this year (in fact I’m looking for beta readers this month so if you’re interested then let me know). However, I’m finding that during the editing process I need to have another first draft on the go to keep my words flowing.

Anyway, the concept of this new writing project had been on my mind for some time. It was a quaint idea but I wasn’t sure if it would actually work on the page. The only way to find out was to write it down.

So I started writing. The first day I only wrote 100 words or so of very ordinary stuff. My inner editor jumped in and reminded me this concept was a long shot.

The second day was a whole different experience. I wrote just over 500 words. In that time a brand new character sprung into life with all the elements I’d been thinking about and one notable addition.

She had a deeper motivation than I had ever realised. That motivation suddenly made the whole premise of the book fall into place and gave me a stunning character arc.

And I mean ‘stunning’ in a very literal sense. I was stunned, short of breath and on the verge of tears. Not the happy, excited type of tears either. They were tears of empathy for this sudden creation. I had, in a very short space of page, uncovered a deep emotional centre to my new character.

The concept I’d been carrying around in my head was okay, but when the words came onto the page the idea became a whole different thing – a much richer and more touching story. I would never have seen this aspect to it if I’d spent that time outlining instead.

So, while I’m still a great believer in outlines, the truth is words get on the page through writing. I can discover so much about characters and plot on the page as I write.

Taking Creative Action

Do you have an idea floating around in your head – an idea you’re not sure will actually work on the page?

Have you tried writing it down?

Spend some time this week putting that idea into words on the page. Not just conceptial words, but actual narrative. Give your Creativity some space to experiment and watch what happens in front of you.

It may not happen right away, but I guarantee it will eventually give you some kind of insight you wouldn’t have got any other way.

What about you? Have you had a similar experience when putting words on the page?


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Why You Need an Idea Book

A woman looking up from her book. I wonder what goodies she has in there.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Earlier this week Creativity wrote about the importance of To Do Lists. Today I’m talking about another type of list – a list of ideas.

We touched briefly on this concept in the post Keeping Your Creativity Entertained when discussing having a notebook handy and journaling. Now I’m going to expand on it by explaining how to create an Idea Book.

First of all, what exactly do I mean by ‘an Idea Book’? Basically I mean getting your ideas down on paper (or computer screen); just getting them out of your head. The book can contain a basic list of ideas, or it can be far more in-depth with each idea taking up many pages. It all depends on the complexity of the ideas you’re trying to capture.

You may already be recording this information in your journal, on your whiteboard, on your fridge. That’s great. The important thing is to designate a place where you can catch all your random ideas, so when an idea flits through your mind you know exactly where to take it. I’ve found having a book specifically dedicated to idea catching works for me. It’s full of random drawings, quotes, possible book titles, characters, plots, locations, descriptions, facts. Anything that sparked excitement in my mind, no matter how small. I fill it with colours, pictures – things I feel a connection to. And best of all, because it’s all in a book, it’s portable.

But is it really worth all this trouble to put your ideas on paper? Let me give you some reasons why you need to start this habit.

It Gets the Ideas Out of Your Head

I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep ideas in my head. Some ideas stick around, jumping up and down screaming, ‘Record me!’ As Creativity mentioned earlier, when something is knocking around in your head, the voices reminding you of it, and willing you to do something about it, can be deafening. But there comes a point when these voices get distracted by the next big thing, or simply give up. If you haven’t captured the idea by then, you’ve missed your opportunity.

Other ideas briefly appear, tantalize you with their possibilities and then disappear just as quickly. These ideas are no less valuable. Capture them, and who knows where they will lead.

The act of getting ideas out of your head and onto paper can actually strengthen your ideas. Often if you start recording while the excitement and idea are fresh, the idea becomes clearer and bigger as you work.

It Helps Sort Wheat from Chaff

Not all ideas are worth pursuing. You want to find the idea that really excites you, that energizes you, that you are willing to sacrifice time for. The best way to find that idea is to record all your ideas. As you look over your list, that special idea will stand out. It will be the one your eye is continually drawn back to. It’s the one you keep adding to.

It Helps You See Connections

I once read a really great article by Orson Scott Card about Distractions from Writing. It started with a question from a reader who explained that he couldn’t ‘stay rooted to one project.’ He described continually leaving projects half done because of all the new ideas that kept popping into his head.

Orson Scott Card’s reply was very interesting. (I suggest you go read it in full of you have the chance.)

First of all he called the situation ‘thinking like a writer’ which means if you’re a writer you’re face this situation at some point. Then he let us all in on a little secret. None of those ideas are ready to be written when you first think of them. You need to keep the ideas moving through your head, because:

…pretty soon you’ll find two completely unrelated stories that, when you combine them, suddenly come to life in a way that is so rich and inventive that all your ideas that keep coming up now fit within the story instead of distracting you from it.

He also pointed out that if your idea came while you were working on a project, perhaps the idea is somehow related. He suggested spending minutes, or even a couple of hours, working through the idea. This may eventually show you how the idea is connected to your work-in-progress.

It is so true. Often our ideas are connected or should be connected. We may not notice this while they are swimming around in our head, but once they’re out on paper we’re much more likely to find the similarities and connections. So don’t miss the opportunity to discover them.

It Saves Ideas For When You Need Them

Sometimes I only get part of an idea, say a title or a snippet of dialogue. I know it’s not enough on it’s own, but I want to keep it safe until I have the rest. So I write it in my Idea Book, happy in the knowledge that I can find it when I need it again.

The Idea Book can also act as your personal collection of writing prompts. The best part of recording your ideas is reading back over them later, especially on those days when you’re stuck for ideas or craving entertainment. I love looking through my idea book. I start giggling, or at least crack a smile, every time. Sometimes I find a spot where I can add to an idea. Other times I discover something I can use in my current project.

If nothing else, the book makes me feel safe, because I know I have bottled ideas whenever I need.

It Shows Your Creativity You’re Trustworthy

As Tiv pointed out earlier, for our relationship with our Creativity to blossom, we need to prove we take his/her ideas seriously. One of the best ways to do this is to write the idea down. Give the idea it’s own special place on a page. I guarantee you, once you start writing ideas down, plenty more will appear.

Getting an idea down on paper is also an important part of an idea’s life cycle. Check out The Secret Life of Frank on the blog A Big Creative Yes.

What about you? Do you have an idea book? How do you keep your ideas safe until you need them?


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Prove Yourself Trustworthy

A little while ago I wrote about building trust in your Creativity, the gist of which was: give your Creativity opportunities to prove she/he can keep you stocked in ideas.

While this is a good concept and all, today I’m here to explain that trust is like a reversible jacket. It has to work both ways. You see, for me to feel confident about creating, I have to trust you.

Confused?

Put it this way: When you get all excited about an idea, who is the first person you tell? Someone you trust, right? Someone who will nod, smile, perhaps even become excited. Not someone who will take a verbal machine gun and begin blasting holes in the side of your inflatable idea.

My point is: When your Creativity produces an idea, which kind of person are you? Do you get excited and give the idea encouragement to grow? Or do you begin thinking of all the ways it won’t work?

Each time you shoot down an idea, you show your Creativity you are untrustworthy. And who wants to face the firing squad every time they have a fledgling concept?

So, what are some ways you can prove you’re trustworthy?

Don’t Laugh At the Idea

(Unless it’s a joke, in which case laugh hysterically.)

But seriously, often ideas start out a little ridiculous. Or a lot ridiculous. They are usually the best ideas because they have potential to become big. But they’re also the kind that people feel needs to be withered by rational thought. They laugh it down till it is too tiny to grow any further.

If you laugh, scoff or roll your eyes often enough, your Creativity ends up deciding you’re just not the accepting kind and stops showing you ideas. And believe me, once your Creativity has decided you’re that kind of person, it takes a long time to coax another idea out of him/her.

Don’t Show the Idea to Others

Some people feel that as soon as they have an idea they must spring it on the world, or at least show someone who will reveal the idea’s weaknesses and problems.

But ideas very rarely pop into your mind whole. They need time to mature. Time to strengthen. Time to become usable. Time to gestate. Time for you and your Creativity to tinker and improve. Respect that time and don’t bring it into the harsh sunlight too soon.

Do Defend the Idea

Once the idea has begun to form, it’s vulnerable to doubts. Your Inner Critic will want to get in on the act and prove himself ‘useful’ by picking holes in it. Your job is to protect this idea so it can grow.

Recognise that ideas start whacky and often too profound for their own good. That’s part of the process. Provide a haven for them to develop – a place where they can expand and contract in safety until they reach ideal dimensions.

Do Know When to Let the Idea Stand on Its Own

Some people shelter their ideas so well that the idea never sees the light of day. At some point you have to show your Creativity that you will actually do something with this idea. Hours of time and energy have gone into the idea’s conception. If you never use it your Creativity’s Workshop will eventually clog up with stagnant ideas, leaving no room for new ones. And that’s just depressing.

So, recognise that eventually ideas do need to be shown to others and tried out in the real world. Some will work. Some will flop. Some will be stellar nosedives. But at least you tried and gave it a fighting chance.

Proving to your Creativity that you respect what he/she has given you leads to trust on both sides. And that trust is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

What methods do you use to gain your Creativity’s trust?

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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When Procrastination Isn’t Procrastination

I’ve recently been reading this article.

The article made me feel so much better about myself and my methods. I do feel I incubate my ideas. I’m conscious of them brewing in the back of my mind, percolating into something I will eventually put on to paper or into practice.

This harks back to a previous post about the Creativity Sponge. Time is an important part of the creative process, most times a necessary part. While we want our families and workmates to appreciate our need for incubation time, we also need to respect our own need for that time. This means knowing when not to force something, when to go for a walk, when to leave the idea for a week, a month, until another idea collides with it to take the idea from ordinary to inspirational.

Thoughtful Creativeness

I think the term that best describes this is ‘Thoughtful Creativeness’ – that which comes from time and consideration before anything tangible appears on paper.

We often equate Creativity with spontaneity – loud, unpredictable, surprising etc. But how much of this perception is actually the flurry of activity after a lengthy incubation process?

There will always be those moments of instant inspiration, witty responses right on cue and random ramblings of genius that you cannot prepare for. They just pop out. That’s the creative expression we expect, and is the hardest part of Creativity to predict and quantify. But, Thoughtful Creativeness is something better, more special and, if mastered, far more useful.

How often do we hear a person who has written a book, made a movie or written a song say something along the lines of, “The idea began several years ago when some-unusual-event-or-fact intrigued me. It took me several years before I really knew how I wanted to portray it.” That’s incubation.

How You Can Practice Thoughtful Creativeness

You’ve probably already experienced Thoughtful Creativeness. For example, have you ever been working on a project and suddenly have a brilliant idea for a final touch? The idea seems to just ‘come to you’ or ‘pop into your head.’ But really, could you have come up with that idea if you had not put in the effort and preparation which got you to that point? All the thought that came before incubated and nurtured the ‘flash’ of inspiration.

The biggest part of Thoughtful Creativeness is relaxing to the point where you trust both your Creativity and yourself. When you feel that little bud of inspiration forming in your mind, don’t feel like you have to do something with it straight away. Water it. Keep it warm. Shine encouragement on it. Be gentle and allow it to blossom in its own time. Ideas don’t die from nurturing and patience. They get better, they grow, gradually getting to the point where they open up into beautiful and colourful results that others will marvel at.

Have you ever experienced Thoughtful Creativeness? Do you have any tips on how to develop the skill? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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The Benefits of Befriending Your Creativity

Okay. So now you’re probably finding the whole idea of personifying your Creativity a bit strange, and although it sounds cute and is fun to read, you think you’ll just remain a distant observer. Fair enough. But let me briefly explain why this concept might actually be useful.

Predict the ‘Elusive’

You’ve probably heard many descriptions of creativity. It’s a mysterious and elusive force some people master while others spend their time fruitlessly waiting for it to appear. It is a process – if you put yourself in the right mind-set, at the right time, in the right circumstances you will eventually produce creative thought. The descriptions are numerous and varied.

However, most of these descriptions foster the idea that you need to control your creativity. If you find the spark, grab it. Don’t let go. Recreate the same circumstances so you can reproduce the experience. Follow these steps to bring it back into predictable line.

Steps and cycles do have their place when you need creative inspiration, as we’ll discuss another time. But what if, instead of viewing your creativity as something to be controled, you viewed it as someone to interact with?

What if instead of viewing it as an unpredictable force, you were able to view it as a friend? You could learn your Creativity’s likes and dislikes. When does she feel creative, and when does she feel stifled? When is she bursting to provide you with the answer, and when is she sulking because of something you let happen? What can you do to make her feel creative again?

And most importantly, how can you call her to action when you need her? What if, instead of rummaging through the scraps of paper on your noticeboard for your 10 point list on how to spark your creativity, you could mentally pop around to her place and ask for help in person?

The Second Voice

You’ve heard it said, “Two heads are better than one”? In a way, your Creativity can become your second head. She’ll bounce ideas off you. You’ll mention your problems to her. She’ll say the wacky, insane things you’re afraid to say and you’ll be the voice of reason. She’ll raspberry at you when you select her tamest idea and you’ll smile to yourself as you put it into practice.

Thinking of your Creativity as a separate character, allows part of you to voice ideas your rational mind would be too embarrassed to let out. It provides you plausible deniability. The idea’s insane/ridiculous/brilliantly crazy. That’s okay, it wasn’t me, it was Creativity. She made me think it. The freedom this provides is delightfully liberating, and does wonders for your creative thought. It gives you permission to play with absurd ideas that you may otherwise have dismissed as inappropriate or childish. And it’s those ideas that are the necessary fodder for creative thought.

And besides, who doesn’t want to have someone to blame for our mistakes, verbal faux pax and word puns? Isn’t this why younger siblings are all the rage?

Feel More Comfortable in Your Process

I speak from experience when I say that viewing Creativity this way can take a lot of the stress out of the creative process. If I need an idea, I know where to go. I know I have a friend who can help me out. If I have a creative block, or am coming up with less than stellar ideas, I check on my Creativity. Is she annoyed at me? Is she feeling okay? Does she need a break? Does she need some new experiences? Am I actually listening to her, or trying to do things without her?

Getting to know your Creativity allows you to understand your own creative process. What helps it. What hinders it. (I use ‘it’ here to refer to the process, not the Creativity. I mention this to keep me out of my Creativity’s bad books. She views these things very seriously.) It also helps you to understand what you can do to increase the efficiency of your process.

In short, this is more than just a cute gimmick. It’s a concept that could help you become the creative person you want to be. So don’t be shy. Give it a try. 🙂

(On a side point, you may notice that the capital C in Creativity seems to appear and disappear. In this blog we will use an upper case ‘C’ when referring to personifications of Creativity, and a lower case ‘c’ when we are talking about creativity in general.)