Saturday, July 14, 2012

Creativity Unbound

I gave the program today at the writers group. They seemed to like it. Applauded, which was embarrassing, but gratifying, too.

Here's the outline of the talk.


By Stephen B. Bagley

People often ask me how I come up my ideas. At first, I thought that was the question, and my answer would vary depending on the project. But in the poetry classes I taught at the local college, I had several students explain they didn't want to know about the particular idea behind a story or poetry; no, they wanted to know how I generated the number of poems, stories, plays, blog posts, and so on, that I do. While some of that creativity is simply a function of my personality and life, I also use various techniques to unbind my creativity.

These techniques can apply to any endeavor, artistic or otherwise. Creativity is valued in today’s society. Industry leaders claim that creativity is one of the traits they seek in their employees. Of course, I’ve noticed that industry has a tendency to stifle that creativity when it conflicts with established procedures. The tech industry has many stories of a maverick who had to leave an established company to make his own, better way.

Creativity is also valued in our personal lives. We applaud creative parents and teachers. We appreciate new solutions to our daily problems. By inviting creativity into our lives, we can enhance our relationships, jobs, life.

Here are a few techniques that I have used and found effective in enhancing creativity. You can find many more if you search the Net. Remember that the best technique is what works for you.

1. Feed. Not your stomach, although it’s difficult to be creative when you’re starving. I mean feed your mind. Sometimes our problem is that we’ve starved our intellect. We’re empty of creativity because we haven’t been absorbing it. How do we feed?
- Read books or articles about the problem we’re trying to solve or the subject we’re researching.
- Talk to several people about the problem. Preferably enthusiastic people who believe a solution is possible. If it’s a writing problem, talk to writers. If it’s a parenting problem, talk to other good parents. Avoid people who only want to sympathize. You need people who believe you can find a solution.
- Use the Net, although be cautious in this as it contains as much bad information as good.

2. Breathe. Naturally we all do this, but I’m talking about conscious breathing. Yes, a quiet five minutes where you empty your mind and just pay attention to your breathing. I use this often. I find the brief break allows me to return to my work refreshed and ready to go. Yes, it’s meditation of sorts. I don’t use a mantra, but perhaps one would work for you.

3. Brainstorm. Take 10 minutes and write down every thought as fast as you can. No editing. Try to  your thoughts toward solving your problem, be it how to get character A to location B while getting Character C to meet Character D at location E or how to get your children dressed to school in a timely fashion.
- Brainstorm with other people. Make sure they know the rules, which is to NOT EDIT any suggestion however off-the-wall. Set a time limit and go! You’re going for quantity, not quality. You can throw out the unworkable later. You need the forest now so you can find the perfect tree later.

4. Jumble. Throw different things together to see if they fit or can contrast in certain ways. Let’s say you’re writing a poem. You have a photo of a sailing ship. You’d like the poem to talk about relationships. Maybe a marriage. Maybe a floundering marriage. I used this to write my poem "Uncharted."

5. What if? Imagine approaching the problem with unlimited resources. What would be your solution then? A friend of mine who was experiencing a business problem was sharing her troubles with me. I asked her what would she do if she had unlimited resources. How would she solve her problems then? She said, half-joking, “I’d hire a team and they would fix it.” So I suggested she find a way to do just that. She didn’t have the money, but she did have a husband and brother and several friends who were willing to be her team for a pizza dinner. They solved her problem.

I use this in when writing fiction. I write mostly mysteries. I imagine how my characters would solve the crime if they had unlimited resources. Then I would work backwards. For instance, maybe a super lab with DNA equipment would solve the crime. Well, they don’t have that, what can they use instead? Their circumstances dictate what they will use to catch the bad guy.

6. Use a clock. This is my favorite technique. It’s called timed writing. It works like this. You take a clock, you set it for ten minutes, and then you write. You write as fast as you can about anything that comes to mind. The important thing is to write every single second. Don’t edit, don’t back up, don’t correct, don’t explain, you’re just throwing words on paper. They can be on your project, but most times they won’t be. All you’re doing is popping the cork, breaking the dam, starting the avalanche, striking the match, shooting the starter pistol, kicking the ball, and so on. The point is to get your creativity pass your editor.
- Important note: If you can’t figure out something to write, write something positive. For instance, write “I’m a good writer. I’m a good person. I tell the truth. I care for the poor. I love my family and friends. I’m reliable. I’m creative.” And so on. Repeat these positive affirmations until you veer off. And then follow where you go. NEVER write anything negative. Lots of studies have shown that the more you write or repeat something, the more true it becomes. Because your editor is being shut down, you are open to suggestions. Make those suggestions good. This is a direct way to reach your subconscious. So remember, be positive. And if those positive things aren’t true yet, they will be. It’s the power of positive confession. Have faith in your future.

7.  Play some tunes. This is really a variation on the timed writing, but in this case, the time is marked by music. I have a playlist for every book I write. You might try music that reminds you of the locations in your book or short story. Or fast music to rev your energy level up. Or classical if you’re writing a historical novel or concentrating on a difficult subject. NOTE: Do not use lyrics in your story or poems. Songs are protected in peculiar ways, and using as little as one line has got an author in trouble. Besides, if the song only inspires you to think about the lyrics, you’re not trying hard enough. Lyrics are what the songwriter thought. We want your thoughts.

8. Write naked. I don’t mean nude ... not necessarily. But what I mean is for you to bare your soul. Write that which makes you uncomfortable, angry, or sad. Write the forbidden things. Write the forbidden words. You don’t have to show these to anyone -- in fact, I would suggest you not doing so -- but getting them on paper will get the ideas flowing.

9. Keep a journal. Jot down your thoughts. Don’t worry about publication or that it’s useful. Stick pictures and postcards and recipes and cut-out articles in there. Wise sayings, funny quotes, strange photos, bits of your dreams, anything that interests you is the only theme. When you feel blocked, flip through it. All that material will spark your creativity.

10. Do something new. Doesn’t have to be big. Walk a new path in the park. Try a new dish in a restaurant. Go into a new shop. Read a different genre. Go to a movie you wouldn’t ordinarily go to. Wear a hat -- if you don’t. Newness makes your creativity pay attention.

11. Use your chores to motivate you. I hate dusting. When I get stuck on a problem, I dust. I find my subconscious kicks in gear to keep me from having to dust. People always know I’m having trouble when my house is spotless. Pick a chore that requires not much equipment so that you can easily stop when you have your solution.

12. Turn off your TV. Turn off your TV. Turn off your TV. What’s on TV is rarely new. It’s rarely creative. And many studies have shown watching TV induces a passive state. Your pulse slows. It’s like a trance. This doesn’t mean there aren’t good shows worth watching. There are. But be very selective. Remember that old computer programmer adage: garbage in, garbage out.

13. Take a brief break. Sometimes we need to recharge. We need a bit of distance to see clearly. So take a quick walk. Make a cup of tea or coffee. Let your mind wander. It might just stumble on the solution. But don't break too long. Taking a break is a way to help you solve your problem, not ignore it.

Creativity can enhance your life in many ways. So go out there and unbind your creativity and show the world a better way.

Copyright 2012 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without express prior permission. Thank for you for reading.

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