Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More on Creativity

Ballet started again last night, and I was so happy about it. I think I've become addicted. The teacher went to a curriculum workshop at the American Ballet Theatre this summer, so she came back with all sorts of new stuff that's a lot of fun.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I'm exploring various ways of digging into creativity, as part of the Ongoing Quest for World Domination, and I talked about my issues with The Artist's Way. I'm still plodding through that, ignoring some of it (like the no-reading thing -- I think I read eight books, most of them work-related, during that week). But I dug another book off my shelf last week that seems to cover some of the same subject areas in a totally different way that's less "recovery" oriented.

I'm not sure when I bought Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette A. Klauser, but it's been sitting on my bookcase for years. I'm sure I grabbed it at some book sale, but I don't think I ever read it. It seems to mostly focus on people who are afraid to write -- like business executives who hate writing reports and presentations -- but it does cover some general stuff about left brain vs. right brain thinking and dealing with the inner critic that applies to every kind of writing.

What's funny is that there are a lot of elements in this book that also show up in an entirely different way in The Artist's Way. The Artist's Way approach looks at those people who've criticized you in the past as "monsters" who are holding back your creativity. In this book, those people are acknowledged, but the idea is that you're the one who incorporated them into your Inner Critic, and they aren't necessarily wrong. They may have their time and place. So instead of writing an angry letter to the third-grade teacher who criticized your spelling and kept you from achieving your creative potential, you're supposed to tell the Inner Critic that incorporates that teacher that you'll consider her feedback later while you're working on the first draft, then when you're in edit mode, you welcome her and her red pen back to help you make the final product the best it can be. That seems a lot healthier to me.

This approach also has something like the Morning Pages, though this author calls it freewriting, and it goes by time (I think ten or twenty minutes) instead of a number of pages. They're still done first thing in the morning, with the idea that your right brain is generally more dominant when you first wake up and your left brain still hasn't reported for duty, so that's when you can be most creative without worrying about being held back by your Inner Critic. This is probably more useful when you're writing something like a letter and can write a whole draft in that session, but I suppose you might also apply it to novel writing in some way. I've been using it for brainstorming ideas. The reason for the set time (or page count) is that you tend to hit a "wall" at a certain point, and the best ideas are usually the ones that come after the "wall" when you push yourself to keep going. If you just stop when you think you're done, you're missing the best stuff.

There's even a similarity to the "artist date" in that the author says play and thinking, or, as she puts it, "ruminating," are very important to the creative process. There aren't any strict rules for a formal artist date type thing, just the idea that you need to allow yourself time to think, and that playing can help free your right brain. I really like this part because I'm finding that it's key to my work, yet it also still feels somehow wrong. I think it's a holdover from my days in the corporate world, where you were supposed to look like you were working. A big part of my job was coming up with ideas, plans and strategies, which is mostly about thinking, and yet I'd get criticized if I was staring out the window of my office because I wasn't working. But that staring out the window was probably the most valuable thing I did all day because that's when I could generate creative ideas instead of just doing copy/paste and search/replace to turn a plan from one client into a plan for another client.

Thinking is such an important part of the writing process, and yet staring out the window or staring at the ceiling or taking a shower or going for a walk don't feel like "work," and I know I feel like I'm wasting time when I do it. I should be moving fingers over the keyboard and generating words.

But what I'm really discovering is that the longer I think about a project before I put a single word on paper (or computer screen), the better it is. I spent about a year and a half thinking about Enchanted, Inc. before I wrote a single word. I'm doing something similar with the book I'm developing now. It was more than a year ago that I first had the idea to write something like it, and at first the ideas came really, really slowly, but they've picked up steam and are now going full-force, but I still don't feel that the idea is "ripe" yet. I came up with the main plot about a month ago, but if I'd started writing then, the book wouldn't have been nearly as good as I'm hoping it will be because the time I've spent thinking since then has generated more ideas and a few twists. I'm realizing that the ideas that come to me, that I get really excited about and that I rush to write have all fallen flat in the execution. It may be that all the research I'm doing is really just a subconscious trick to force myself to wait and think. Yeah, I'm getting a lot of info and facts and ideas out of it, but really what's happening is that I'm letting myself feel like I'm making progress and doing "work" while I'm letting my subconscious mull it all over and come up with some good stuff.

I really need to give myself permission to just think, and maybe even forbid myself from jumping right to writing an idea as soon as I get it. If it's a good idea, I should be even more excited about it if I give it some time. If I lose interest while I'm thinking about it, it wasn't such a good idea. The thinking time also allows me to go beyond my initial impressions, which are usually the more boring, conventional approaches. It's like the advice I've heard about coming up with plot twists in mysteries: make a list of at least 15 or 20 ways things could go and eliminate the first ten automatically because those are the first things that come to mind, and the first things that come to mind for you will probably be the first things that come to mind for your readers, so they're the most predictable. When I jump to write something as soon as I get the idea, I'm writing the first things that come to mind. When I make myself wait and dwell on it, I can generate more interesting ideas.

The book also gets into mind mapping as both a brainstorming tool and as a replacement for a more conventional linear outline for organizing information. I've been playing with that some. I've already done a mind map for the idea in general to organize my thoughts and see what avenues I need to research. I may do individual mind maps for each character as part of the character development process. I'm not sure how to do one for plot, but I may play with that idea and see what happens.

Those who find the "recovery" and New Age psychobabble aspects of The Artist's Way annoying may get something out of this book. The whole thing may not apply, but there are elements that can work.

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