Stimulate Your Mind Today!Posted: September 7, 2015 at 4:27 pm
In other words, how does a writer produce something from nothing, a story or a novel seemingly out of thin air? The inquirer often adds, I could never do that. I’m not creative like you.”
The same person will then tell you how they adapted a recipe for their family’s enjoyment, improvised a costume for a school play out of a pair of curtains, or budgeted for a holiday out of the housekeeping money, without realizing that all these activities use the “creative muscle” that I believe we all possess to a greater or lesser degree.
Like all muscles, this one can be strengthened with exercise and regular use. One reason why writers may be able to conjure up ideas more readily is that they exercise their creative muscle frequently. As someone once said, your mental capacity is no more a given than the size of your biceps. Both can be enlarged and strengthened with the right exercises.
A Creativity Workout
Believing that practice and exercise can make you more creative is the first step. Then you have to put the exercises into practice on a regular basis. Just as an occasional workout at the gym won’t do more than give you sore muscles, merely reading these suggestions won’t do much more than arouse your interest. You must get into the habit of stretching your mental muscles at every opportunity.
Even the most mundane decision-making can be turned into a creativity muscle work-out. Instead of serving the same foods day after day, try out some new recipes. Rearrange your furniture. Try a new filing system. All of the tools in this article have one thing in common–they challenge you to seek out and embrace novelty and change. They’re like mind steroids that will boost your creativity muscle. As, the Roman emperor and sage Marcus Aurelius said, “The blazing fire makes flames and brightness of everything thrown into it.”
Aim to provide your mental furnace with many types of fuel to generate the “flames and brightness” of original ideas. The actor Leonard Nimoy believes there is a danger in waiting for opportunity to knock:
Taken literally this might mean that all one
needs to do is sit and listen for the sound of
knuckles on wood. My feeling is quite the contrary,
and always has been. I believe that it’s
through the individual’s commitment to various
ideas and projects that one discovers surprising
opportunities. I don’t believe there is
such a thing as “a waste of time” involved when
a person is pursuing an idea, a project, a hobby,
a social cause or whatever motivates him.
Nimoy cites an instance where working for a political cause led him to a marvelous acting opportunity. A decision to go to Spain to take a minor acting role led him to work with Sam Wannamaker, which in turn led to a discussion about the Old Globe Theatre and eventually to a new production of The Man in the Glass Booth, which turned out to be a triumph for Nimoy.
Screenwriter William Goldman says he consciously notes details that may come in handy for his future writing. “But when I’m in the obsessive stage, I’m a sponge. I’m not a whole lot of use to anybody. Wherever I am, obviously that’s where the physical part of me inhabits space.” But always a large part of his mind is at the typewriter “staring at white paper, wondering how in hell to fill it with words.”
Both Nimoy and Goldman recognize the importance of exercising their mental muscles wherever and whenever the opportunity arises, as well as turning ordinary experiences into workouts for their minds. You can cultivate this quality in yourself by following Nimoy’s advice and becoming interested in a wide range of projects and ideas. It doesn’t matter whether they are personal, political, environmental, hobby or business-related as long as they are sufficiently varied and stimulating to provide plenty of raw materials for your idea factory.
Literary Lightning Rods
Writer Marshall Cook talks about creating a “literary lightning rod” to draw inspiration to you whenever you need it. He sees this as teaching your creative right brain to work in harmony with its more orderly mental partner, the critical left brain.
He advocates a seven-step process:
* Feed the muse. Expose yourself to people, places, experiences.
* Nurture the idea.
* Ignore the idea until it demands your full attention. This happens when your subconscious–your idea factory–has had plenty of time to mull the idea over. This period is sometimes called the incubation stage.
* Devote your most productive writing time and energy to the task.
* Develop and write the idea. This should be in draft form, considering only content, not style. As Cook points out, you can revise for clarity and coherence later, but you can’t breathe life into a stillborn manuscript.
* Sustain the flow. Cook suggests always leaving off at a point where you know what will come next. Hemingway swore by the same rule.
* Revise and polish the work. It helps to allow time between writing and editing so you become objective about the work, seeing both its virtues and its flaws so you can more closely shape it to your vision.
Skills to Cultivate
Creative people have a number of skills in common. Cultivating them provides a mental climate in which ideas can take root and. grow. These skills are:
* ability to define the problem or the result required
* ability to see different points of view
* willingness to keep an open mind, not prejudging
* understanding how different elements might be combined
* sense of humor
* ability to visualize and fantasize
* ability to play
When all these qualities are combined, you can make maximum use of three more tools: brainstorming, clustering and journal keeping.
“Organized ideation” was how Dr. Alex Osborn described the process he invented in 1941. It is “a method by which we can use our brains to storm creative problems in a way that keeps judgment from jamming imagination.”
The great strength of this technique, says Robert J. O’Reilly in Dynamic Thinking, is that it “picks conventional thinking up by the scruff of the neck and shakes it.”
Brainstorming gives your creative right brain a chance to have its say, free of the restrictions of your editing left brain. The ground rules are simple. You start by posing a problem for which you require a creative solution. It may be the need for a book title or a logistics problem, such as finding enough time in a busy day in which to write. Whatever the problem, you should spell it out as succinctly as possible. Remember to focus on the result you seek:
I need a title for my science fiction story.
I need to find an hour a day in which to write.
During brainstorming, quantity of ideas is the aim. Set a target of how many ideas you will generate in the time available. Don’t stop until you’ve generated this number of possibilities or more.
At the outset, no criticism or evaluation is allowed. This rules out comments such as “I tried that and it didn’t work” or “I already have that on the list.” It also means no comments of a positive nature, either. The habit of judging ideas as they arise is so strong that you’ll be sorely tempted to say things like “Hey, that’s a good idea” or “That would take more money than I have.”
Any kind of value judgment, even of a positive nature, signals a shift out of the creative fight brain and into the critical left brain and immediately applies the mental brakes to your thinking. In brainstorming you want to generate as many ideas as you can, the wilder the better. There NAAII be ample time later to tame them–weeding out the impractical ideas and seeing whether the others can be combined, improved on or altered in some aspect to achieve the result you want.
Another kind of brainstorming is clustering. It helps you to focus your thoughts and access different directions of thinking about a given subject. Clustering works because it also quiets the critical left side of the brain and encourages “outside the boundaries” thinking, sometimes leading you to make connections you might otherwise have overlooked.
In Writing the Natural Way, Gabriele Lusser Rico suggests starting with a key word as a nucleus to evoke “clusters” of associations. Spilling random words and phrases out around a center creates a moment when you suddenly sense a focus for writing, says Rico. Applied to business-related or personal problems, the clustering process helps you order your thoughts and gain new insights into the problem itself.
You begin clustering by writing a nucleus word in a circle in the center of a blank page. Then you simply write down any connection that comes into your head. Write each word or phrase quickly with a line connecting it to the word in the circle, so your thoughts form a cluster around the main idea. Write in any direction you like around the central word, letting each thought feed off the last one until you exhaust that line of thought. If a new direction occurs to you, start a new radiant from the center and follow this until you’ve exhausted it. (An example cluster appears below.) Work as fast as you can and avoid censoring anything that comes to mind. Keep going until you can’t think of another connection, or until you reach a breakthrough moment when you recognize a word or thought you can build on.
The writer and teacher Barry Watts uses clustering in his seminars on creative thinking. He encourages students to write fast, untidily and without analyzing whatever comes out until every possible connection is exhausted. This enables you to stay in your creative fight brain, only later turning the proceeds over to the left brain for analysis and development.
Barry calls the cluster a web and refers to the lines radiating out from the center as stems, each of which more or less represents a line of thinking. Clustering can be an excellent way to force your mind to make fascinating and sometimes unexpected connections.
Sometimes you will be baffled by the connections your fight brain makes out of a seemingly innocuous word. But pay careful attention to all the connections. They are telling you something about the direction and relationships your mind makes to this word or idea.
Barry Watts suggests building on the cluster by turning one or more of the stems into a vignette, a little story linking the various images in the stem together. You do this by inserting as few connecting words as possible to form the stem into a coherent message or story.
Start with the word that “speaks” to you most strongly, one that may have triggered many other associations. This may help you turn the random thoughts in the cluster into a more recognizable pattern. For example, in the cluster illustration at left, a vignette might be made from the stem starting with writer and lightbulb. The sentence might read, “A lightbulb shone above the writer as he spun flights of fantasy, his readers passengers on a journey to a happy ending.”
Of itself this process may not start you writing in the direction you expected, but it may well trigger other associations until, before you know it, your thinking is focused and a story is taking shape.