Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Creativity Boosters

I think I really am almost well now. There's still some coughing, but I managed to sleep last night without cough syrup. And I got work done! Not actual writing, but I did a lot of pen-and-paper strategizing.

I'm a bit behind on my writing posts, since I've been too sick to think and write coherently, but now that I'm back, I think discussion of some creativity boosters is in order (because I may need them to jump-start myself). Some of these are more for general creativity, while others are more specific to working out particular problems, and some can be applied in different ways to different situations. And they're in no particular order because I'm feeling random today.

1) Study, participate in or experience another form of art.
It's amazing what you can pick up that applies to your writing from other art forms. I took a vocal performance class last year, and learning to pour fire and passion into Italian opera arias really helped me find new ways to convey emotion in my work. I've also used hints I've learned from acting classes I've taken in the past. Studying visual art, taking a painting class or even touring a museum can enhance your eye for visual detail. Almost anything you explore will help make you a more well-rounded person, and that's something you can bring to your writing.

2) Mix things up.
Try writing in a different place or in a different way. If you usually write with a computer at your desk, try writing by hand while sitting on the patio. If you usually work with music, try silence, and vice versa. Try a different process -- if you write by the seat of your pants, try outlining. If you plot, try just going free-form. When I go to writing conferences, I like to try at least once going to the session I think least applies to me and my work. Usually, the most useful inspiration from the entire conference comes from that session. It's all about the power of the unexpected and making your brain forge new pathways. Even if you end up going back to the tried and true ways that work for you, just having tried something different can make it feel fresh.

3) Make lists.
This is one of those tips I got from a conference session I didn't think applied to me or my work. For whatever problem you're facing in your work, whether deciding what to write, developing a character, figuring out a plot twist, fleshing out a scene, outlining a book, etc., make a list of twenty possibilities. Even if you come up with something really good that you want to use at around number fifteen, keep going to twenty. You'll be surprised at what you come up with in those last few items when you really have to force yourself to think of something. I've heard mystery writers say that when you're trying to come up with a plot twist, you should make a list like this and immediately strike off the first ten things you come up with because they're the ones everyone else is likely to come up with. What I generally find when I do this for planning a scene is that the first five things are the obvious things that need to happen for the plot, the middle ten are kind of silly, and the last five are the fun things that really make the scene pop.

4) Try "divination."
I put that in quotes because I don't mean actual mystical/magical/spiritual work. It's more about using random generation to force yourself out of your usual mindset for thinking. Find some way of giving yourself random input, and then try to think of how the result could apply to your story or whatever problem with your work you're trying to deal with. I know of authors who use Tarot cards and then try to figure out how the card they draw applies to their character or plot. You can make your own creativity cards by pasting magazine pictures onto index cards and do a similar thing. Put iTunes on shuffle and think about how the next song that comes up could relate to your story. Get a random article on Wikipedia or a random LOL cat at I Can Has Cheezburger. Open to a random encyclopedia page. You get the idea. Some of the things you get will require a real stretch to relate them to what you're working on, but the stretch is the whole point here. You're forcing yourself to approach the story from an entirely different angle that you didn't choose. What you end up coming up with may have absolutely nothing to do with whatever random thing you found, but it helps to make yourself think in different ways, and this is a good way to get out of a rut.

5) Make a collage.
Visually oriented people may find it helpful to make a collage by cutting out pictures of things that remind them of their story and then arranging them on posterboard. I also know of people who use small objects in a shadowbox to do the same thing. I do what I guess you could call an audio collage by making a "soundtrack" for my books, with songs that remind me of characters, scenes or emotions in the book. You could also do a scent collage using scented candles or essential oils that relate to your story (though you'd probably want to keep them separate and maybe just smell them in a particular order). The process of finding, selecting and arranging the items for whatever kind of collage you do puts your subconscious to work and creates a sense of discovery that gets at the essence of the story, behind the words. You may not even know why you relate a particular picture, song or scent with your story, but seeing/hearing/smelling it in your collage can give you something to think about.

6) Map it out.
This is for the more left-brained thinkers. Mind-mapping, in which you draw out the connections between various elements in your story or the branches related to each element, is another visual way of organizing story information. Flow charts can also work to show stages in a plot or a character's decision-making process.

With all of these techniques, the trick is to use them for enhancing your creativity without letting them become procrastination tools. If your collage inspires you to write your book, then that's good, but if you get sidetracked creating the perfect collage and never actually get around to working on the book, then you won't have something that can eventually be published.


Carradee said...

Your audio collage comment caught my attention the most, there—I listen to music most of the day at my new job (full-time proofreading of newsletters in an office setting), and I started listing some ideas of songs that remind me of certain characters or situations last week. Maybe I, too, will end up going that "audio collage/soundtrack" route you use.


Shanna Swendson said...

I find that the soundtrack really helps me shape the emotional arc of a book. Also, when I strongly associate a song with a scene, listening to that song helps me get in the mood to write that scene.