Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Teaching Your Creativity to Eat Vegetables

Happy girl eating salad and tomato soup.

See? Eating vegetables can be fun!

Last week Creativity wrote a post about riding your creative wave, in which she mentioned our experience writing a particularly challenging blog post. She pointed out that if your Creativity is finding your current project boring, you should move to a project he or she is more interested in.

While I realise there is a lot of merit in this (and I have seen the benefit countless times) I do feel I should expand upon the subject further. We cannot always drop a project just because our Creativity refuses to play ball, or wants to play backgammon instead.

Tiv likened the situation to getting a child to eat vegetables. The analogy is apt because, although we all love to eat sweets, we cannot live a life without vegetables, however enticing that prospect is to a five-year-old. There are times when you just have to sit your Creativity down and make him or her eat the vegetables, just to prove that icky greens aren’t so bad after all.

How? Here are some of my tips. (You may notice the points suggested work equally well on children. Need I say more?)

  • Don’t be afraid of inactivity. I think it’s worth saying first off that if your Creativity doesn’t begin spouting ideas as soon as you sit down, don’t be too perturbed. Often your head, and your Creativity’s surroundings, needs to be completely blank before the idea hits, almost like the calm before the storm or the blank canvas before the painting. The poet William Stafford likens this moment to fishing. Your Creativity may not necessarily be turning up her nose at the greens, but simply examining them for caterpillars before she begins munching.
  • Set a timer. If your Creativity really is sticking her tongue out at you every time you try to get serious work done, then this may just be a matter of habit forming. Your Creativity might not like being tied down the same project over and over, but if you make it apparent that you’re going to sit there and stare at that project for a set amount of time every day, eventually he or she may take the course of least resistance and join in.
  • Have a reward system. I know we say this often, but it’s a truism; sometimes the best way to get work out of someone (especially a reluctant someone) is to provide an irresistible reward at the end. It can be anything from chocolate to spending time on a different fun project. Check with your Creativity what would work best for them, and then carry through on your promise.
  • Mix it up a little. As Tiv mentioned in her post, by making your vegetables more interesting, or by changing the way you present them, the greens become more appealing and exciting. So why not change something about your environment? Go to a cafe, or sit in a park. Or perhaps change your expectations. Maybe you need to inject a little more fun into the project to bring Creativity’s attention back. Does your project need some visuals to stir the ideas? Perhaps write in a different voice, change the setting of a scene, dream up a new character, add something unexpected. What can you change to make it fresh again?

I add as a reluctant addendum that there are times when you should allow nature to take its course, realize your child may have a lifelong hate of cauliflower and leave it at that. The same is true on a creative front. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m sure Creativity would agree with me when I say that some ideas, projects and posts should be left to fade away. If the spark is gone and shows no sign of returning, then let the thing die a dignified death. Nothing is ever a total waste. Often what you were working on helped you to find your way to the next idea or at least define what you are not looking for.

But don’t give up on your projects right away, even if your Creativity is uncooperative. It’s possible that with a little change to your routine, you can bring him or her back into line and have them chompin’ their veggies with vigour.

Have you come across this problem with your Creativity? What solutions do you find helpful?


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Cooking for the Mind

How do you like your food? And what does that have to do with Creativity?

Recently Jessica read a great post by Elizabeth King entitled You Cannot Sing If You Cannot Cook.

Needless to say, this tickled my fancy – and I’m willing to bet it will tickle your Creativity’s fancy as well.

Just about everyone values organization, and a big part of organization is compartmentalizing. In other words, setting aside time to walk the dog, clean the house, take the kids to school, work, pluck your eyebrows etc. This kind of scheduling and focus is important. And it has its uses in a creative setting too. Scheduling time to just create is essential.

But sometimes compartmentalizing is taken too far, especially when it comes to learning and expressing ourselves creatively.

As mentioned in Elizabeth King’s post, education tends to put subjects into their own little boxes and very rarely allow the subjects to interact – as if they’re afraid that intersecting subjects will turn on each other like Siamese fighting fish.

But I ask you, which kind of meal do you prefer? One where each ingredient (from the garlic, salt and sauces through to the individual vegetables and meat) is presented on its own? Or one where the ingredients are mixed tastefully together to create a well seasoned dish?

You picked the latter, right?

The same often works in your mind. Allowing information, subjects, experiences and skills to infuse each other results in a sensation of flavours, some of which may never have been experienced before. (And unusual flavour combinations really do work. I’m a big fan of chocolate beetroot muffins for this precise reason.)

So, when learning about a subject, do you make an effort to discover obscure connections to other things you already know? Do you allow these new points to flow into other areas of your learning and life?

A trip to a museum can reveal a significant moment in your story’s history. A better understanding of music theory can unlock a character’s hidden quirks. An introduction to the Japanese Tea Ceremony may give you the final act to your novel.

When you get an idea, do you always express it in the same way? Perhaps painting your poetry or turning your plot into music will allow your idea to ferment into something even more powerful.

Compartmentalizing your Creativity only limits what he/she is able to achieve. The best results come when you steep your Creativity in a rich and varied mixture of sensations, allowing random moments and connections to flow through his/her space. Then the possibilities become spectacular.

What about you? Have you experienced this in your life?


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Creativity Update

Today’s been especially busy so I haven’t had time to write my usual post. So instead, I’d like to invite you to tell us about your latest Creativity Project. What are you and your Creativity working on right now? It can be anything from writing your novel to deciding the best way to clean your kitchen exhaust fan. Please share.

I’ll go first. Creativity and I had a wonderful day yesterday working on the second draft of my novel. We rewrote the first chapter and edited the next 20 pages. Because of that my house is in complete disarray and I have no blog post. But boy it was nice to get some headway on my project.

Okay, now your turn. Tell us what you’ve been working on. 🙂


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Why Blackouts Are Perfect Creative Time!

Yesterday I read this amazing article by Jason Reid about how a week on a ventilator in ICU turned into one of the most creative periods in his life.

You have to read it! Go ahead. I’ll wait till you come back.

Do you always see the rainbow in the storm?The article really got me thinking about what I would do in that situation. Would I have the ability to manage, even mentally thrive, under those restrictions?

About 3 hours after reading the article, during an afternoon thunderstorm, the power went out.

When the power first goes out, it’s always difficult to know what to do. Of course, it’s impossible to tell how long you’ll have to wait. Will it be back in 10 minutes? Will we be eating dinner by candle light?

One thing was for sure, seeing as I lived over 20 storeys high, I wasn’t leaving my apartment. (I have no problem going down that many stairs, but I sure don’t want to come back up that many.)

So I stayed in my apartment, turned off my computer in case I needed it later (I couldn’t work anyway seeing as there was no internet access) and found myself a snack.

Then I started getting excited. What a fantastic opportunity! Enforced writing time! I sat down on the sofa next to a window, pulled out my notebooks and started scribbling. The words came thick and fast. I couldn’t keep up.

An hour zoomed by.

Then, while I was in mid fervour, my air conditioner made a beeping noise. With sickening disappointment I realised the power was coming back on.

“No!” I wanted to scream. “Wait! It’s only been an hour. I haven’t done all the stuff I wanted to do!”

How quickly our perception of a situation can change. On a day when I’d been struggling to get things done and couldn’t focus my mind on something for more than 5 minutes, an enforced limitation turned me from an unproductive frustration into a fountain of words.

So, while I still don’t know how I would manage on a ventilator (no paper and pen!) I did have a demonstration of how limiting situations outside my control can be liberating and great opportunities for extra creative time.

I’m looking forward to the next outage! But first I must purchase a torch…

What about you? What kind of enforced limitations have you come across recently?

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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What Are You Exchanging Your Life For?

How do you decide the price of something? How much money it costs? How long it takes to do? What you have to give up in the process? How many bars of chocolate it equates to?

Here’s an interesting quote by Henry Thoreau, an American poet who lived in the 1800’s:

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

So what are you exchanging your life for? What are you exchanging your Creativity’s life for?

SpringYou see, each Creativity is like a spring, with their latent potential all bound up inside your head. What will they accomplish? It all depends on what is in that unique spring and how much opportunity you give your Creativity to unleash.

Think back over the great works of men and women who have let their Creativities run wild. Famous writers, artists, musicians, designers, inventors, speakers etc. Imagine their Creativities working away inside their heads, releasing their energies and ideas for the world to use, admire and remember.

Now take one of those names, your favourite, and imagine what would have happened if that person had not let their Creativity release. What would the world have missed? What would never have come after?

Take that one step further. Think of the unique gift you have. What will the world miss if you don’t let your Creativity go? What potential is bound up in your head?

What are you exchanging your Creativity’s life for?


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Why You Can Be More Creative With Less

In a previous post we discussed how constraints can help your Creativity reach new heights. Since then we’ve come across a couple of real life examples to illustrate this principle.

Take to specifics like a hammer to a nailNail Down the Specifics

The first is this quote from composer Stephen Sondheim:

“If you ask me to write a song about the ocean, I’m stumped. But if you tell me to write a ballad about a woman in a red dress falling off her stool at three in the morning, I’m inspired.”

This is a brilliant example of how nailing down specifics can explode the situation’s potential. This is why (as an example) the more you know about your characters, the easier they are to write.

If they are wishy-washy, with vague background and nebulous motivations, then there are just too many possibilities. Your Creativity find his/herself stumped, like a rat in a lab experiment, surrounded by doors. Of course we know the cheese/story is behind one of these doors, but instead of starting somewhere and working our way through the options, we sit staring at the possibilities. Sensory overload!

So start choosing specifics, often the wackier the better. Give your character an embarrassing middle name – Goliath, Liverwurst, Gimblebot – and then describe the parent who gave it to him. Discover the food your character absolutely detests – plums, cream cheese, schnitzel – and then explain why. The more details you add, the more possibilities you’ll see.

As you learn and create the specifics of your character, that character will come to life inside your head. You’ll hear their voice, and they’ll take you on a journey.

That surge of inspiration and the glorious surprises which result all come from nailing down specifics. And trust me, details make the story.

Choose the Hard Road Out of Necessity

Our next quote is by Sally Porter, a very talented woman who wears so many hats in the writing and production of her movies that it’s almost impossible to list them all. The following comes from an interview about the movie Yes, which she wrote and directed. (I hasten to add that Jessica’s never seen the movie itself so this is not a review or recommendation, merely a quote.)

Guernica: What made you choose to do the dialogue in iambic pentameter, and—even more astonishing—in rhyme?

Sally Potter: It came out of necessity. The constraint of verse liberated a way of expressing ideas and feelings which are difficult in the different constraint of so-called normal or everyday speech.

There’s something deliciously crazy about writing an entire movie script in iambic pentameter out of necessity.

What constraints are necessary for your project? Remember, it’s the details, the specifics, of your project which make it unique. Of course Creativities love working on ideas, but when we know we’re working on something truly different, something which will capture your unique view of the subject, then we get really excited!

So don’t avoid the hard constraints. Choose them, run with them, and create something extra special.

What constrants have you imposed on your Creativity?

For further reading on this topic, check out the article 3 Reasons Why Having Too Many Materials and Options Stunts Your Creativity at A Big Creative Yes.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art


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Revel in the Journey

Journeying with the top down and a smile on your face.

Before I left for China, I indulged in some singing lessons. I only managed three lessons so don’t expect lyrical bliss anytime soon. In fact, the lack of warbling perfection is the reason for this post.

I had a jam with my dad the other day. He played the guitar and I sang. I’m pretty sure I made a hash of it. Thank goodness it was in our back room and not in company! Anyway, feeling deflated I wrote my singing teacher an email mentioning my flop (among other things). In her reply she bestowed this gem on me:

This stuff takes time…. years!!! Just enjoy the journey and the challenge 🙂

While taking this to heart, I realized that this applies to any creative endeavour.

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

When we start writing or painting or other creative pursuits, we want to be published, be recognized, be extraordinary, or at least be able to compete. We forget about the ‘in between.’ The time it takes to become good at something. Because skills take practice, and practice…well practice is dull, right?

Your Creativity likes new things. He/she is addicted to the excitement and discovery. Practice is just more of the same. Nothing new. Nothing exciting.

Or is it?

Practice and learning a skill is a journey, with many interesting landmarks along the way. Each time you make progress you are doing something new. Think about it. The first time you hit a high note. The first time you play a song all the way through without mistakes. The first time you master a painting technique. The first time you finish a draft. These are all moments to cherish and celebrate. Some of them will be moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life. All of them will be milestones, because without accomplishing them, you could not have travelled further.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Creativities love to celebrate. They love to know you’re happy with them, and they’ve contributed to an accomplishment of some kind. They love to succeed. Don’t we all? So view each little milestone as a success. Find little things to commemorate, appreciate and reward.

When on a road trip, we often collect bumper stickers to show where we’ve been. Why not cover your fridge, pin-up board or bedroom wall with ‘bumper stickers’ of your journey? A word count you’ve reached. An outstanding sentence you wrote. A truism you finally understand. Show people, and yourself, where you’ve been and what you’ve done.

When journeys are long, we measure them by what city or town we’ve reached. As you practice, find ways to measure your improvement to keep yourself and your Creativity interested. Try drawing a road map and mark the places you intend to visit – the goals you intend to achieve. Leave plenty of room to draw new locations as you get nearer to them. There will always be extra goals to accomplish as the journey goes on.

Many of these milestones we cover in our journeys are moments everyone must achieve in order to continue. And this brings up another point.

It’s a Journey, Not a Race

When we start learning a new skill, we crave proficiency. We want to be right up there with the big names. We want to write great work, sing fantastic songs, accomplish our dreams. In the drive to succeed, we often seek to speed up, desperate to get to the top of our game as quickly as possible.

But in the process we miss the scenery. We skip, gloss over or drive right by experiences and opportunities we may never pass again.

Remember, this is a journey; it doesn’t have to be a race. As Mahatma Ghandi once said:

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

So slow down. ‘Just enjoy the journey.’ The hardest journeys take the longest time, but usually pass the most interesting landmarks. So instead of finding ways to speed up your progress, why not revel in each step – milking it for all its worth before you move on? After all, you wouldn’t want to have reached journey’s end and realise you’d missed an important step just because you were moving so fast.

Enjoy your bad drafts. Revel in those bad writing days. These are all part of the process. Everyone goes through them. Get yourself the bumper sticker, display it proudly, and potter on to the next attraction.

To see this principle in action, have a read of this article: The Special Joys of Super-Slow Reading by Sydney Piddington. It details his reading experience in Changi POW camp. You’ll never think of reading the same way again.


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The Library: Finding Neverland

What do you do on those days when inspiration lags and you just want to sit on the couch and stare?

Watching TV can reignite your inspiration, if you watch the right program or movie. What is the ‘right kind’?

One kind is ‘author biographies.’ They usually provide amusement, insight, understanding and, hopefully, an itch to recreate some of the wonder in your own life.

While I’m the first to admit that Hollywood alters facts to serve story, I’m talking about using biographies to find inspiration. If you want to find the truth of the matter, I suggest research.

But that’s a discussion for another time. Right now I’d like to add a movie to our Library. And the movie I choose today is: Finding Neverland.

Things I Have Learned from J. M. Barrie

Finding Neverland PosterFor those who haven’t seen this movie, it follows the story of how J. M. Barrie created the character Peter Pan. It starts with him witnessing the flop of his latest play. As he tries to find inspiration for a new play, he meets the Llewelyn Davies family. The four boys (actually five in real life) become J. M. Barrie’s new audience, and inspire him to write the play Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.

I love this movie because it taught me several important things:

  • Keep writing. The idea wilderness strikes us all from time to time. But if you show up every day with your pen and paper, sooner or later inspiration will hit again. In the movie, J. M. Barrie is sitting in the park with his pen and paper when he meets the boys. If he had stayed at home and moped about his play’s failure, he would never have come across the catalyst for a whole new story. Whether you encounter that catalyst in the great outdoors, or just in the recesses of your head, make sure you’re there with pen and paper to capture it.
  • Fill people with joy, laughter and wonder. Sometimes we get so caught up in word counts, misplaced commas and character arcs that we forget the real reason we should be writing. Isn’t it to inspire others? Isn’t it to entertain? Isn’t it to describe a story that burns so bright inside us we just have to let it out? J. M. Barrie was passionate about his story, and he infected others with that excitement and passion. Shouldn’t we all aspire to that?
  • Dream big and innovate. J. M. Barrie didn’t just write a play, he crafted a world – a world which had to be built and filled with people who needed to be costumed. Someone needed to play a dog, and actors needed to learn how to fly. It even included a character played by a light. Then, on opening night he scattered orphans throughout the audience so their childish wonder and amusement could rub off on the adults. He used many different innovative methods to make his play as interesting and successful as it could be. So when you create, don’t just think in terms of words. Think of the possibilities around the words. What can you do to innovate? To dream bigger?
  • Be confident in your ideas. Many people doubted Peter Pan could be a success, especially those directly involved in its production. Pessimism is contagious and can destroy possibilities before you even try. J. M. Barrie had a gut feeling that his play would work, and he stuck to his guns. If you have the feeling that your idea is going to work, even if others around you are not so sure, then step up and be the driving force. Most ideas work because of the passion of the person behind them. So be confident. Be passionate. Drive your idea to success.
  • Dance with your dog. There are some days when you just need to dance with your dog. It’s good for you.

Have you seen Finding Neverland? Do you have any points you’d like to add to the list?


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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