Creativity as Applied to Writing

(Originally published Jan. 30, 2008).

Wikipedia defines Creativity as: “A mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity has been attributed variously to divine intervention, cognitive processes, the social environment, personality traits, and chance (‘accident’, ‘serendipity’). It has been associated with genius, mental illness and humor. Some say it is a trait we are born with; others say it can be taught with the application of simple techniques. Although popularly associated with art and literature, it is also an essential part of innovation and invention and is important in professions such as business, economics, architecture, industrial design, science, and engineering. Unlike many phenomena in science, there is no single, authoritative perspective or definition of creativity. Unlike many phenomena in psychology, there is no standardized measurement technique.”

Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” postulates that “Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy. There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life — including ourselves. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the Creator’s creativity within us and our lives.”

As writers, we struggle with the creative process on a daily basis. We create unique and sympathetic characters; characters that jump off the page; characters with credible strengths, flaws, and fears; characters with real goals and compelling motives; in short, characters the readers can relate to. At the same time, we also need to create a plot line that hangs together, a plot line with twists, turns, and surprises, a plot line to spotlight our wonderful characters. And finally, writers need to use creative prose as the cement to bring both characters and plot to life, coaxing users to keep turning the page from the sheer joy of reading.

I would like to propose some suggestions to help with this creative problem solving thing:

  1. Silence the little negative voice in your head with positive affirmations, for example, “I am taking the time to formulate brilliant ideas,” or “I know the perfect solution,” or, “I am a creative and talented writer, brimming with countless ideas,” etc.
  2. Go for a walk or do something else. A change of atmosphere is beneficial. Gentle exercise helps shake up the brain cells. A change in activity stimulates other parts of the brain. When Einstein would get stuck on a difficult concept, he would go into another room to play his violin. Upon returning to the problem, a solution would often come to mind. Exercising his mind in a different way boosted his creativity for the work he was doing.
  3. When you’re stuck for an idea, open a dictionary, randomly select a word and then try to formulate ideas incorporating this word. Or flip through Tarot cards. You’d be surprised how well this works. The concept is based on a simple but little known truth: freedom inhibits creativity. There are nothing like restrictions to get you thinking.
  4. Define the problem in detail. During the process, I find that ideas generally spew out on the page.
  5. Brainstorm. Talk your problem through with someone. Anyone. Your main squeeze. Your critique group. A friend. Sometimes, I just need to hear myself talk to discover the answer.
  6. Always carry a small notebook and a pen or pencil around with you. That way, if you are struck by an idea, you can quickly note it down. Upon rereading your notes, you may discover about 90% of the ideas are useless. That’s normal. What’s important are the 10% that are brilliant.
  7. Listen to inspirational music.
  8. Eat chocolate!
  9. Persevere. Keep writing until you reach the solution.