Posted in Writing

Storms and Drought

Weather and writing. More generally, weather and creativity. They are inextricably linked together through metaphor.

Throwing out ideas is a Brainstorm.

Ideas come in a flood—or sometimes a torrent.

Ideas come out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning.

Weather seems a particularly apt analogy for creativity. They both seem out of our control—random even. While weather forecasting has given us more lead time to react to weather, we still have no actions to control the air and water around us. When ideas come we are similarly expected—and we’re generally happy—to simply weather the storm.

While there are tips and tricks to keep the creative stream flowing—write every day at the same time, use handwriting in a journal to warm up, etc—we have all been struck down by writers’ block from time to time.

There’s weather for that, too.

Ideas dry up.

A chronic lack of ideas is a drought—or somewhat less frequently, a depression.

If you’re stuck in a rut and can’t get out, you’re in the doldrums¹.

While not universal, the tendency to relate our creativity to natural phenomenon is certainly widespread—cutting across several languages, and not limited to the cultures that spread out from Europe.

This close metaphorical tie has an interesting side effect. With weather there is no shortage of terms for describing when weather goes wrong, yet there’s a dearth of terms for nice things like a pleasant, sunny day, with a short rain shower for good measure. Similarly, there are few elegant ways to describe the condition of having just the right balance between new ideas and the time to explore those ideas.

This is all scene setting for the situation I’ve found myself in. While I’m not swimming in free time, I do have some. But when I sit down to write, I find myself tilling the dry, crumbly ground for even the hint of an idea.

 


 

¹ Doldrums refers to those parts of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans affected by a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. The doldrums are noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks (paraphrased from Wikipedia).

Posted in Writing

Is There Power in Boredom?

ScreenShot7796When was the last time you were bored? Truly bored. Not a time when you wish you were doing something more interesting, but where your mind was almost completely unoccupied.

I’ll bet it’s a lot less common than it used to be. Especially if you have a smartphone.

And that might just be a problem. Some new research, suggests that boredom may be a critical component to creativity.

Looking back through my own life, there is certainly some anecdotal evidence to support the theory. The most creative places for me have always included the shower and driving alone in the car–places practically synonymous with boredom. And as I’ve gotten older, taken on more responsibility, and technology has become more ubiquitous, boredom is more and more rare.

If I’m in line waiting for the next cashier, I’m as likely to check my email as I am to let my mind wander. And that wandering mind is important in being a writer. Not only does it help you come up with ideas, plot and dialogue. But people watching and unconsciously soaking in the environment around you is critical in making your world and writing more real.

So…what to do?

1. Follow the link above and you can find out how to participate in the Bored and Brilliant challenge, taking place during the first week of February. All you’ll do is keep track of the time you spend on your phone over the course of that week. The data is going into a larger study about boredom and creativity.

2. Let yourself be bored, not just for a day, but as a reasonable part of your routine, and see if it has any affect on your creative soul.

Posted in Writing

Nurture vs. Nature

url-18Where do your ideas come from? Do they spring into your head not-quite-fully formed (Nature), or are they the process of laborious trial, error, sweat and tears (Nurture)?

Are you the type to go to a coffee shop with a notebook and pen to brainstorm ideas for a new story? Can you look back over these old notebooks and see the idea develop over time–from crossed out, embarrassing fist lines and awkwardly incomplete characters until you can finally see the semblance of a summary paragraph?

Or are you the type–like me–who finds themselves jumping out of the shower (or pulling over the car…or at a friend’s house asking for scrap paper) to write something down before the fleeting thought vanishes again?

Before you answer, we both must acknowledge that most of us are probably some mix of the two extremes. However, for most of us, one of these processes is dominant over the other. For me, a programmer with a touch of OCD, working out an idea on paper can often devolve into a messy organic flowchart where I try to list all the possible branches and outcomes of an idea. I have much better results thinking about the subject matter or a character, and letting my subconscious mind work on whatever it wants to work on within the subject.

Sometimes this results in an interesting character–which I’ll sketch out on paper, so I don’t lose her voice–then it’s back to casually mulling over the plot, or setting, or something else about the story. Sometimes, the other parts of the story come first. Over the years this has let me base my stories on plot, characters, settings, themes, and once I even based a story on an idea for the structure of a story.

It’s not hard to find a bevy of articles espousing–or attacking–either of these methods. Just a couple days ago I read an article saying that those ideas which come to you in the shower, or while you are drifting off to sleep, aren’t actually worth writing down, because they’re just not good enough.

To most, if not all, of these opinions I say, “BAH!” What they nearly all fail to acknowledge is that everyone comes to their own ideas by a different process.

Those ideas that come to me while my mind is idling in the shower are good ideas. I know this because I’ve written them down. They are not, though, fully-formed, fleshed-out ideas. But I recognize them for what they are–part of the puzzle that will fit together to become my story.

One of the most important things you can do as a writer is to understand where your own ideas come from, and learn how to capture them on paper.

What about you? Where do your ideas come from?

Posted in Writing

The Only Way Revision Works (For Me)

keep-calm-and-revise-revise-revise-4We talk a lot about the rituals and habits of writing.  It’s the same for just about every blog, website, magazine or class that I’ve had experience with.  What time of day should we write?  Do you write every day?  Do you journal?  Don’t edit while you write.  Write by hand.  Don’t write by hand.  Caffeine precedes inspiration.  And so on.  And so on.

There are powerful reasons for this focus.  The processes of inspiration and creation are hard to talk about because the act of creation has never been well-understood.  So we talk—sometimes, talk to death—the minutiae that surround the process, because it’s too scary to tackle the real issue head on.

However, more often than not, advice surrounding the process of revision sounds remarkably similar to the instructions on a shampoo bottle….Revise.  Repeat.

Revision is never that easy.  Any writer who’s ever clashed with their editor, but had trouble expressing the reasons for their objections can attest to that.  Likewise, how many of us have moved a paragraph or two earlier in the manuscript, only to move it back when we second guess ourselves—only to move it back again…and so on?

While revising is not, strictly speaking a creative process, there is undeniably a creative aspect to it.  After all, revision is not just removing.  If you decide that a certain scene needs a little more detail—or more emotion—to feel genuine, you have to create that detail.   But the analytical aspect is at least as important.  It takes experience and judgment to know what’s going wrong in your story.  It naturally follows that if revision is partially a creative process, you may still need some of those same tools you use to create.

In the last year, as I analyzed my creative process, I’ve learned about my revision process as well.  I write by hand.  Maybe it’s because I learned to write just before computers were everywhere, but I’m just more creative with a pen than I am with a keyboard.  Then I use the process typing my story into the computer to revise.   But in the last year I’ve learned I have an extra step.  My first revision works best on paper.  I’d rather move a paragraph by circling a paragraph and drawing an arrow to its new location than by using my word processor’s cut-and-paste.  It’s just easier for me to read through it and try the story out both ways.  It’s less permanent.  It’s less of a decision and more of a question.  Then, when it’s time to type it into the computer I’ll make my choices.

I write better at night, but I edit better right after work—maybe because my job is analytical.  I write better in slightly-noisy venues like coffeehouses and restaurants, but I edit better in comparative quiet—maybe a radio or TV playing softly in the background.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about how you edit?  Do you know what works for you and what doesn’t?  Let us know in the comments below…

Posted in Writing

Challenging Creativity

To be creative you must be challenged.

There is a chef on the local news channel who seems to have lost his creative spark. Here’s are a few of his recent segments:

  • Broccoli & white beans side dish
  • Egg, Bacon and Romaine Salad
  • Oven Roasted Chicken and Potatoes with Braised Red Cabbage

While there’s nothing wrong with these recipes, there’s a definite lack of originality that one expects from a professional chef. It doesn’t even seen that he takes much effort to name his recipes. We sometimes joke that were he to publish a book of his recipes it would be called “The Dishes I prepared on the Local News During the Calendar Year 2008.”

For a while now, this is how I’ve felt about my own presence here on Write Anything. It’s been nearly three years now, and each week it’s more difficult to come up with a topic. And even if I do have an idea, I find my own writing lacking.

This is what happens when creativity is not challenged. Creativity is a process of conflict, of success and failure, or experimentation. This is one of the reasons that the starving artist is such a powerful cliche—because it’s so often true.

So I’m looking forward to the upcoming changes on Write Anything. We’re making changes designed to challenge ourselves, and our readers, to be better writers. I’ll leave it to other to unveil the specifics, but I think it’s fair to say that following this blog will be a much more active experience than it has been in the past.

I, for one, am looking forward to the challenge.

This post was originally posted on Write Anything
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