Friday, October 31, 2014

Developing Your Creativity

Now that you’ve unlocked your creativity, it’s time to develop it. Everyone is creative—even if you don’t think you are. You use creative thought every day. Some people use it a lot, others not so much. However, many writers become slaves to inspiration. They sit around waiting for the light bulb to go on. But you can do more than wait around. You can make sure the light bulb goes on by practicing some basic mind-developing techniques.

Sci-Fi author Ray Bradbury once said, “The more you put into your head, the more you get out.” Author David Ritz, a virtual writing machine with seven books out this year alone, is a voracious reader. He puts a lot of information into his head on many different subjects.  It’s only natural that a lot will eventually spill out in his writing.

But before you can develop your creativity, you must find time to be creative and let your creativity flow. In today’s busy world, this isn’t always easy. Look at your weekly schedule and see if you can find an hour that you can devote to creative pursuits. Once you start, you’ll look forward to that time. Eventually, your mind will think more creatively the rest of the week.

The creative mind knows no age limit or I.Q. The way you direct your thoughts is more important than knowledge, itself.  Your imagination is directly related to the kind of person you are.

To successfully develop a creative mind, you’ll need a few things. The first is solitude, especially in the beginning. You can’t afford to be distracted. The second is patience—it won’t come all at once but will take time to develop. And the third is intuition. Most people think only women have this ability, but men do, too.
You may be a creative person already but just don’t know it. Do you possess a sense of curiosity?
Do you perceive the world differently? Do you persevere when things get tough? Do you have a heightened awareness? Do you have ambition? And above all, are you enthusiastic? If you answered yes to even a few of these questions, then you’re a latent creative person. All you have to do is wake up that latent creativity. But how?

There are some things you can do to stimulate your creative mind. One is to develop a special interest. People used to call this a hobby. This is something that you enjoy doing, but it also fosters creative thinking. You’ll be developing your creative mind while doing something you enjoy.    This includes all types of subject areas, from learning to play an instrument to gardening, collecting various items, painting—you name it.

Another way to light a spark to your creativity is to spend some time with another creative person. This may be someone you already know or perhaps someone that you haven’t met yet. You’ll know that the person is creative by how they talk about the world around them. And it’s not just artistic people that are creative. What makes a person creative is how they solve problems. Scientists and inventors are very creative people.

And from now on, whenever you meet someone for the first time, ask them about themselves before you tell them about yourself.

Reading is a part of writing. It’s how you take in information. But just reading anything won’t do. To develop your creative mind, you need to read stimulating material, such as non-fiction or biographies. While fiction may be good for entertainment, they do little to stimulate your mind, no matter how well they’re written. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read a novel or short story once in a while.

To get yourself on the road to developing a creative mind, start a pet project. This could be designing a new garden or redecorating a room in your home. Or perhaps you need more storage and you need to design units that meet your specific needs. Or maybe you’d rather do something artistic like create a photo essay or learn new photo techniques. Whatever it is, it’s bound to stimulate—as Agatha Christie’s famous character Hercule Poirot says—your “little gray cells.”


Friday, October 24, 2014

Unlocking Your Creativity

Many writers are naturally creative people, but for some, keeping up that creativity can be a challenge. If you’re in that group, you may want to look beyond your writing to the rest of your life.

Whether it applies to writing or something else, creativity is a combination of new thoughts. Sometimes it’s needed when solutions to problems don’t work—when you don’t have the right tool but substitute another instead. Or sometimes it’s necessary when solutions to the problem at hand don’t exist. And sometimes, you creativity sparks when you’re dissatisfied with the way your life is going.

But no matter what sparks your creativity, it’s more than just using your imagination. It’s a focused thought process based on your current knowledge and situation. So just as you set out to solve everyday problems, so you should apply that same procedure to solving your writing problems.

Is there a solution that’s similar that you can adapt to your needs? Is your idea the opposite of what’s out there? Is your idea one that’s associated with another?

When you were in school, teachers only stressed original thought. But that’s not how the world works. Most great ideas are not totally original but adapted from ones in existence. Take designing a Web site for yourself. Instead of wracking your brain to come with a totally new idea, why not study sites of other writers to get some idea of where to start. Other sites will also spark variations on what you want to include in your site. In the end, your site will be so different from those from which it grew that no one will know that’s where your ideas originated. Film and television writers and producers do this all the time. While sometimes a standard plot is obvious, most of the time, you’ll have to study the film or T.V. show to uncover it.

However, don’t ignore your imagination. You need that to get started when trying to think of a creative idea. It’s something your mind does deliberately. Unfortunately, many people put their imagination on hold as they get older instead of letting it shine.

Many writers sit around waiting to be inspired. Unlike the imaginative process, this one is more accidental. You have to be in the right place at the right time for things to happen. But if you prepare your mind, things will happen. Going to work in a cabin in the woods won’t make you a better writer. It most likely will make you a lonely one.

But when the light bulb goes on, that’s when everything comes together. This is called illumination. It can happen while driving to work or in the shower or while washing dishes. But it doesn’t happen all by itself. It needs imagination and inspiration to flourish. When the light bulb goes on, it’s all systems go for your idea.

Creativity is a five-step process. First, you need to prepare by studying the problem and doing research to find out if anyone else has come up with a solution. The more you know, the better off you’ll be. Second, you need to concentrate on the problem and possible solutions, looking at all the angles. Third, you need to take a break from the problem—let it incubate. This could be for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, or several months. After letting your subconscious work on the problem, the moment of insight—the “Ah Ha” Moment—will emerge. That’s when the light bulb will go on in your mind. Finally, you must adapt the insight to the problem and solve it.

How does this apply to writing? The preparatory step is obvious. You need to do lots of research to find out what’s been done before and how your idea fits. Then you concentrate on your idea, weighing in the research to firm it up. At this point, you work on another project, taking your mind off the new one. At some point, the solution will hit you and almost knock you over. That’s when you know you’re ready to begin writing.

Next Week: Ways to Develop Your Creativity

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Writer's Haunted Life

When is a writer’s life like a haunted house? Always.

Writers, most of them anyway, live a haunted life. Ghosts appear at every turn. Sometimes, these are the ghosts of previously written pieces that come around to bite them in the ass. Sometimes, these are the ghosts of editors who still carry a grudge for one reason or another. And sometimes, these are the ghosts of poorly made decisions. But whatever haunts you, you can bet it will be far worse than going through a haunted house during the Halloween season.

While visiting a haunted house is meant to be entertaining, living a haunted life certainly isn’t. The bad times far outway the good ones. Usually the euphoria that comes with the good times certainly lingers longer. But the truth is that bad things that happen to writers can have lasting effects.

Take the first time someone critiques your work. You feel scared as hell—your skin may itch, your eyes water, your stomach churns. And what if the critique turns out to be horrible. Will you crawl in a hole and die? Certainly not. But you may get terribly depressed. In fact, you may never write again. It happens far more often than you think.

Perhaps you’ve been working with an editor for a long stretch and you have developed a great working relationship. Then the editor tells you that they’re leaving for another job. You know what you have, but you have no idea what you’ll be getting. The new editor may love your work and give you more than you can handle. Or the new editor may end up telling you can’t write, leaving you without a good regular market.

Or what about when an editor promises you’ll get paid, but you never see the money. If you’re a full-time freelancer, the bill collector demons may be knocking on your door—or calling you every hour. Boy, could you use that money now. But it never arrives. And what about all the work you put into that piece. Sometimes, you can’t even sell it elsewhere.

But then you get a call from your publisher with a nod to a book proposal you sent him months ago. Hallelujah! You dig in and begin working on the book. You’re having a fantastic time. You send in the manuscript. Your editor loves it. Then you wait. One day, you get an Email telling you the publisher decided not to publish your book because the market took a downturn. You get to keep the advance. But no one will ever read your book. And unless the publisher releases you from your contract, you’re stuck.

Haunted houses are full of surprises. They’re meant to be. But so will your life be as a writer. Often you won’t know what the next day will bring. Too many surprises can cause a lot of stress. This turns a lot of beginning writers away from freelancing. The New York Times is in the process of laying off nearly 100 reporters and editors. You can bet a bunch of them will try their hand at freelancing. They should succeed, but many of them won’t. Why? Because they don’t like surprises. Working for a salary has its advantages.

It takes more than writing skill to be a successful writer. It takes stamina. You’ve got to be on top of your game all the time. And when you’re hit with too many ghosts coming at you, you tend to back off and your writing suffers.

You’ve only heard about all the good things that happen to famous writers. But they, too, have had their share of surprises—ghosts that have come back to haunt them.