Tag: Creativity

#Amwriting October 29: Writing Process and Creativity

As we begin to wrap up the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, let’s talk about writing process and creativity.

Writing can be a real a mystery. Yesterday, while typing up a blog post about endings, I had an epiphany about the beginning line of my novel. Popped right into my head. What is up with that?

Because we are about to embark on what is the writing equivalent of a marathon, perhaps it is time to talk about the creative process. Where do these new ideas come from? How does imagination work? How do we encourage it?

Where do the ideas come from?

Experts suggest that ideas come from having a question in mind. Some problem — small or large — has caught the attention of your brain and now it is puzzling out the answers whether you are aware of it or not. The answer arrives in the form of an idea.

For my “beginning” example above, I suspect one of the articles I looked at while preparing the post on endings must have mentioned the importance of beginnings as well. Perhaps it was in a fleeting title in a related posts section that I barely glanced at. In any case, without conscious effort my brain began churning away at the problem. I didn’t even know it had been engaged until the answer arrived.

I like calling creativity a “muse” because it helps explain that sort of unpredictability. Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful TED talk about the fickleness of creativity, which I’ve shared in a previous post. It’s well worth visiting.

Tricking Your Muse

At some point during the course of writing your novel, your muse may decide to take a long vacation in Hawaii. Here are some ways to trick him/her/it back into the room.

1. Read over what you wrote the day before. Remember what you were thinking and what you were feeling, plus where it was leading you. If you can’t remember, don’t worry about it because that will take up more mental space. Ask yourself the question, perhaps out loud. “Where was I going?” Then play around with some of the other suggestions in this list.

2. Set a timer and free write for 15 minutes. During that time, send your inner critic on vacation, perhaps to Florida. No correcting yourself. Ignore spelling, punctuation, grammar. Also, no expectations. Write whatever pops into your head.

Recently, I was supposed to write a letter from one of my characters to another. It wasn’t working, so instead I free wrote a letter to my sister. Turns out I had been thinking about her. Getting my thoughts down on paper freed me to work on my novel again.

3. Move to another scene or plot point and reverse engineer the scene you are stuck on later (a suggestion from yesterday’s post about endings.)

4. Check in with yourself. Sometimes we get so caught up in writing, we don’t take care of our needs. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Too warm? Too cold? Need a trip to the restroom? Tired? Are you wearing comfortable clothes? Are there noises that are distracting you?

Be careful, however, that you aren’t using a trip to the fridge as a way of procrastinating. If you just ate 15 minutes ago, hunger probably isn’t the issue.

5. Take a shower.  A shower combines gentle physical stimulation with a retreat from the world. It is a mini-vacation that might bring your muse back from hers.

6. Change venue. Take a walk, take a ride, drive somewhere new, write in the park, write in the basement. Maybe your muse will be intrigued by the novelty.

7. Join other writers. Writing is a hard thing to do and writing alone can make it more difficult. Try to find other writers and spend time writing together. Share experiences. Bounce ideas off each other. These days the meetings will probably be virtual, but that works, too.

8. Promise yourself a reward for finishing something. Positive reinforcement is good and it can be a simple as a piece of chocolate or five minutes on social media.

If none of these suggestions work, it might be time to take a long look at your project with an objective eye. Is your reader self trying to tell you there’s something wrong that your writer self doesn’t want to face? I once spent several weeks rewriting the first four chapters of a novel, spinning my wheels over and over. I couldn’t get past those chapters for some reason. Then, I figured out the glitch. My main character had no motivation to stay with the problem I wanted him to solve. In fact, he had good reasons to walk away. I decided to let him go and set the project aside for the time being.

Recharge Your Muse

If your creativity battery is simply low, there are ways to recharge that don’t require vacations to Hawaii. The tried-and-true way is to do some reading. In addition to any book you have handy, I recommend Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. It is full of chatty, but genius gems about writing.

In addition, look at art, listen to music, attend a play, or watch a movie. Let the creativity of others spark something in you.

Happy writing!

Do you have any other suggestions for keeping your creativity flowing? I’d love to hear them.

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

On Creativity And Cat Litter, With Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk

Creativity is a mystery. One day your ideas flow and eight thousand words pour out onto paper in an hour or two. Another time a complete short story arrives at three in the morning, as fast as you can write it down. A few days later, the brakes come on and it is a struggle to write more than a sentence or two. How do you deal with this boom and bust?

Creative Ways To Deal With Creativity Problems

Some writers have come up with coping mechanisms or ways to describe the process that help the words keep coming

For example, Elizabeth Gilbert shares how poet Ruth Stone “captures” a poem.

…she [Ruth] would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page.

 

Gilbert tells the story during this wonderful TED talk about the fickleness of the creativity.

 

Gilbert suggests it helps to develop coping mechanisms like talking to the elusive creative genius in the corner of the room. Whatever works to get rid of the angst.

Describing the process in concrete ways can help, too. Take Shannon Hale’s quote:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Nice sentiment. Unfortunately, my current work in progress feels more like I accidentally shoveled in kitty litter instead of sand.

Ritual

Some writers resort to rituals, like always using the same pen, drinking coffee from the same mug, or sitting in a certain chair. Shortlist reveals authors who stand up or lie down to write. They report Maya Angelou checks into a hotel where everything has been taken off the walls of the room. If I could produce work like hers, I would certainly give that a try.

Relaxing Sounds

Listening to certain repetitive sounds or music can improve focus and boost productivity. Stimulating your senses can get your creative juices flowing, too. YouTube has a number of videos that run from two to three hours with relaxing background sounds. I’m listening to swamp sounds right now. Blizzard winds are nice, too.

Play

Play stimulates creativity in children, why not adults? Try making friends with your inner child. Toss a ball. Play a game. Dress up as your favorite character. Finger paint. Make some actual sand castles. Whatever sounds like fun at the moment.

Get Feedback From Creative People

Although at times negative critiques can freeze up the writing process, look for one of those positive, imaginative people who energize you and bounce some of your questions off them. They just might help you over the hurdles.

Walk, Nap, Etc.

Taking a walk can get the blood flowing to your brain if you’ve been sedentary.

On the other hand, don’t forget that the type of thinking that writing requires takes energy. Take a nap to recharge those batteries. Connecting with your subconscious isn’t a bad thing, either.

According to an article about thinking in Scientific American, Claude Messier of the University of Ottawa writes:

“The brain has a hard time staying focused on just one thing for too long. It’s possible that sustained concentration creates some changes in the brain that promote avoidance of that state. It could be like a timer that says, ‘Okay you’re done now.’ Maybe the brain just doesn’t like to work so hard for so long.”

So, there you go. Give yourself permission for some R and R, and perhaps that fickle organ will produce something worthwhile. If not, you can always go change the cat litter.

Have you ever struggled with creativity? How did you jump start it again?

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