Creating Opportunities to be More Creative

As a writer, being a creative person is a pretty big deal. We pride ourselves on how creative we are and yet there are times when we feel we just aren’t creative enough. It’s sort of a Ping-Pong match between the two. Some days it’s one, and a whole lot of other days, it’s the other. There have been quite a few times when I personally felt like I lost the game all together. Many times I found myself asking “Am I creative enough to be a writer?” or “What can I do to be more creative?”. In the end though, maybe it’s more of a question of how can we be the right amount of creative to accomplish our goals?

I want to tell you a story. Something that happened to me over the last few years that changed my life forever (causing me to abandon my blog for awhile too––sorry!) and made me see things in a little different light, especially concerning the way creativity works.

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The Journey of a Creative Life

It amazes me. Life. The journey we take. It takes surprising turns and we end up in locations we never thought possible. We have these big ideas of where we want to go. Sometimes we get there and we don’t even know it, because we get so wrapped up in all the craziness that is our life. Sometimes we don’t get there, but we arrived in a place that’s just as good or even better. And we think, “Wow, how did I get here?”

Living a creative life isn’t easy in this world of constant distractions and doubt. We wonder if what we are doing is right. We wonder if we should do this or do that. We fear what others might think if they find out exactly what we want or exactly how we think. We fear judgement and scorn. We fear failure. We fear success. We fear doing the wrong thing.

But even with all this tumbling in the back of our minds, we still feel the need to live our life the way we want to. That pull. That desire to just be us. It’s not just enough to live. We want to live a creative life. We want to be expressive. We want to experiment. We want to try new things. We want to do more than what we are doing. We want to be more than what we are, or maybe just a better version.

We also worry about how much we are getting done. Is our life where it should be? Shouldn’t we be doing more? Shouldn’t we be farther along than we are?

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Writing Exercise: The Peacock’s Friend

peacockI always love doing exercises. Sometimes I do them based off photographs. Sometimes I do them based off phrases or a series of words. I thought I would do something a little different and try an exercise based off an image and random words. Here’s an image I found at Office.Mircrosoft.com. I then picked up a random book and flipped through it picking words until I had six random words; happy, shape, wasp, friend, object, and dead. Now I was ready to be inspired. Here’s what I ended up with.

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Want to Be More Creative? Bring Out the Inner Child

Let’s face it, creativity is the bread and butter of being a writer. It’s the spark that gets the imagination going and is an essential part of coming up with something interesting to write about. It would stand to reason, then, if a writer has trouble coming up with ideas for writing, what a person really might be having problems with is creativity. This problem can be fixed by bringing out the inner child that resides in all of us.

Be a child? Oh, yes, Be a child. Act like a child. Think like a child. Why? Because children are some of the most creative individuals out there. I know this because I have a four year old and I love watching him play because his creativity is so fresh and unencumbered by the restrictions of adulthood. If I need inspiration to write or come up with new ideas, all I have to do is spend some time with my son, and every time I come away with insights I’d never considered before.

The thing what floors me is that these insights are usually so simple and obvious, but most adults (like myself) are too busy to see the simple anymore, though, it’s not just the simple, but really the incapability of looking at things from a different point of view. Sometimes creativity can be sparked just by breaking the brittle rust from our own minds and allowing us a change of view. It’s about having an open-mindedness to embrace new ideas no matter where or how they come, just as a child is naturally programed to do.

It’s a big scary world out there and it’s full of stuff that needs to be done right away. This often has a person running like crazy, or simply consumed by the day-to-day issues that hampers all adult lives. It’s no wonder with all the bill paying, job responsibilities, laundry folding, and rushing kids back and forth to school and soccer practice that the inner child disappears all together to be replaced with a mask of constant responsibility. This mask can be difficult to take off and sometimes it’s just downright inconvenient to do so. Other times, the responsibility of adulthood has consumed a person to the point of no return and the thought of being “child like” is repulsive.

When I have creativity “issues,” I have to remind myself to stop being so serious and let the mask of responsibility be put away from time to time, allowing for something that is so incredible as letting the inner child take control. It’s a freeing and satisfying thing to let happen, and it can do wonders for a mind of stone. Letting the inner child time to play, will loosen up that stone, which will then, morph into a waterfall of ideas that may even be difficult to contain.

Need some ideas on how to access your inner child? Swing in that swing on the playground, dance in the rain, build a sandcastle, eat ice cream with gummy bears, and if you don’t have a child, then borrow one. Get down on their level and play for awhile. If you’re like me, you’ll be amazed at what you discover, and might find yourself inspired to do something never before considered. Just make sure to keep a notebook handy to write down the sparks of creativity, as you let the inner child play.

More on Focused Free Writing

As I already discussed in The Amazing Benefits of Free Writing, practicing free writing on a daily basis can open up writing in a wondrous way. This happens in the best way possible when free writing is focused on a specific topic or question. The topic or question can be anything that you chose, but the more specific the question the better. Having a broad topic to work on can be more confusing than helpful, but allowing freedom to explore inside a narrowed topic or question allows for discovery that might be surprising and quite enlightening. Here’s how I do it…

I like to make a list of things I want to know more about. When I have the time to sit down to write, I chose one from my list to write on. I let the pen take me to where it needs to go. I give myself permission to go beyond the borders of my chosen topic, but only if I think it will help fill in the blanks of the subject at hand. Any stray thoughts that have no relation to the writing “topic” is put in the margins of the paper, so I can come back to it later. At the end of the focused free writing practice, I often find myself surprised at what I come up with. The point is to be flexible enough to explore an idea fully, but not to go off the path so far as to be nowhere near the first original idea. It’s a delicate balance that can only be found through lots of practice.

Not sure where to start in focused free writing? Look at your own work. Do you have questions about the story, the characters, the plot, the ending, the beginning? Do you have questions about a certain topic in your story? Or maybe you have questions about where your writing journey is going? Do you have mixed feelings about the contract deal you’ve just been offered for a new piece of work, or whether to attend a writing conference, or maybe the question is as simple as trying to figure out the optimum time of day to write?

Focused free writing can be beneficial, because it offers a deeper look into current and future writing projects, or even into the actual writing journey. Sometimes just the act of writing out a problem can give a solution that has been illusive for days or weeks. Most often, it is during this act that allows a writer to stumble across solutions never considered before.

The Amazing Benefits of Free Writing

There are many tools in a writer’s toolbox, but none is as helpful as the simple practice of free writing. It’s something that I picked up in my writing journey, which I used––but never fully appreciated––until I learned how powerful it could really be. This happened after reading the book How to Be a Writer by Barbara Baig.

Nearly all her exercises, in the 265 page book, uses different variations of simple free write and focused freewriting. After doing several of the exercises, I found that all the free writing I’d done up to that point was really just a warm-up. I never took it to the next level, because I hadn’t realized I wasn’t doing free writing nearly enough (it should be done everyday), or even asking the right questions to do focused free writing.

Free writing is a remarkable tool that has, in a short period of time, led me to amazing discoveries about myself and my writing. The act of writing my thoughts directly onto the page, without any censorship, has given me the ability to articulate things that I wanted to say, but never knew how to say. It even unearthed things I never expected, and has led me down an entirely new path of writing, which I never would have seen without the process of free writing.

What is free writing and how does it work? It is actually a very simple process of writing either with pen and paper, or computer––whichever you feel more comfortable––for at least ten minutes without stopping (I use pen and paper because I find it’s easier to let go of the editor and just write). Turn that inner editor off! Don’t erase or correct mistakes! Keep writing no matter what! Set a timer, or an alarm if you want to keep the free writing limited in time (at the very least do ten minutes, if not more).

If you run out of ideas to write about, then just keep writing, “I don’t know what to write now,” until something pops up. Believe me, once you let the gate open, a flood of ideas will hit and you might even find it difficult to stop. I usually want to keep going, but have to move on to something else (but will come back later to explore more). Other times, I find that I’ve exhausted my ideas, and move then on to another subject to free write on, or another writing project all together.

The beauty of free writing is that you can free write on anything you chose. It can be a journal; a way to help get rid of the random thoughts, or the list of things you need to get done that day, or an argument you just had with the next door neighbor––or what I like to call “junk”––filling your head any given day. Once that junk has been expelled, other ideas are free to float to the surface.

The free writing can be on a specific subject or topic you want to write about. It can be on a new character that’s been haunting you. It can be, “I don’t want to do this” over and over. It doesn’t matter. Keep the pen moving! The point is to let yourself go and see where it takes you.

In doing this, you may wander into territory you don’t want to touch on, so change the direction. You may even find something new to explore that you never considered before. It’s up to you where you go and how long you want to go there. Just don’t have any expectations for your writing and allow yourself to enjoy the journey. You are in control!

The most important is to keep any free writing you do private. This gives you the freedom and you need to explore without judgment from others. The pressure is off and you no longer feel like you have someone looking over your shoulder. It is just you and your thoughts. Doing this will eventually boost your confidence as a writer, and will also let you just practice being a writer.

As important as it is for others not to judge your work in this practice stage, that goes double for yourself. If you find what you are writing “terrible” or “wonderful”, just ignore it, and move on. There will be plenty of time later to decide to polish up an idea, or just dump it all together. Right now, all that matters are the words being poured onto the page. Those elusive words and ideas are no longer hiding inside your crowded mind, but in solid form ready for you to use in any matter you chose. So keep that pen moving, and let the ideas flow!

Check out More on Focused Freewriting to know more about the free writing process.

The Missing Muse Part 2: Rediscovering the Magic

Part one of this series talked about the Muse or magic and how it can slip away on us at the most inopportune times, but here are some ways to get that creativity back. Nothing inspires inspiration more than other’s creativity, so that is why the first 4 suggestions are listed first. All the asterisks are the things I do on a regular basis to help stimulate the Muse. As you can see, it usually takes more than one way to keep the Muse strong. It’s about overlapping the inspiration to what works best for you and creating a lifestyle that the Muse feels stimulated to stay in.

*Listen to inspirational music: What types of music inspires you to write? Make a playlist and play it. Write to it or simply play it in the background until the Muse decides to speak.

*Find a picture that touches a cord within: There are may times when surfing through the internet or looking through books that I find a picture that I have to stop and stare at. It calls to me and something inside blossoms. Find those pictures, remember those pictures and create a scrap book of them (either online or an actual book) to reference for when the they are needed the most.

*Read things that move you: Read everything and anything. Find things you like and things you hate. Know what is out there so that it can be used in future stories or avoided like the plague. Mostly just read and you might be surprised when and where the magic might hit. Read blogs, inspiring emails, a good book, short stories, magazines, the backs of cereal boxes, anything and everything is game so dive in and be prepared to be inspired.

*Find quotes that inspire: It’s amazing how a short cluster of words can be the catalyst to an spectacular moment when light bulbs go off and the Muse kicks into to high gear. It’s happened to me many a time, so get in the habit of looking for quotes that inspire and make a library of them to be gazed upon when the Muse grows distant. Check out this site to search for your quote.

Go for a walk: Sometimes it is a simple matter of displacing oneself from the normality and routine of the everyday to get in touch with the Muse. A great way to do this is to go for a walk. It also gets the blood pumping, which is also a good way to get the brain working. So drop what you’re doing and get outside to enjoy the beauty in the world around. Inspiration might just be down the block from your doorway.

*Meditate on a regular basis: Another great way to get the Muse to come is to meditate, especially on a regular basis. Meditation is all about clearing the mind of the everyday clutter and junk so that the mind can rest, once rested the mind can then focus better. So sit down and take 10 or 15 minutes a day to sweep out the trash and be amazed at what you find in the cobwebbed corners. Check out this website to help learn how to meditate and here is a video as well.

Try something new: Sometimes finding the spark of creativity is about stepping out of the normal and trying something new. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t? A sport, learn to dance, learn a new language, learn to scuba dive, be more out-going, ect… Try it and it may even earn a spot in your next story.

*Take time out to observe the world around you and become inspired by what you see: The knowledge we posses is what makes us great writers and gives us tools to create the prefect character and universe, if we stunt out knowledge then we stunt the Muse within. Get inspired by observing the world around. Sit on a park bench and watch kids play, go to the mall and watch people shop, get outside and observe nature around you, let the world around you bring the Muse back to life.

Watch a movie that has inspired you in the past: It’s important to note here that if you want REAL inspiration you should turn the television off because it is usually more of a distraction than a help, but at times there are movies that can inspire writing. For me that would be movies like Gladiator or Adaptation. And the TV series Doctor Who. Every time I watch these emotionally charged movies and show, I always leave with a deep sense of profound wonder as it sparks the beauty within.

*Spend time and talk to other writers: This can end up a two way street. The writer(s) may inspire you and in return you might be the one to inspire, either way it’s a wonderful thing to be able to share your successes and failures as a writer. Some times talking to someone who shares your passion of writing can make all the difference in the world.

*Free write: To be a good writer one must first develop the habit of being a writer, which means writing everyday. This can be difficult sometimes, especially when the Muse is playing hide and seek, but I find free writing a great way to expel the the clutter from the mind and allow the Muse to flow. Several ways to free write is using writing prompts or just write for a period of time about anything that might come to mind usually 10 to 15 minutes.

Sometimes the spark of creativity is so buried that it might need some “extra” help.  This is when the big guns should come out. It then becomes a matter of peeling back the thick layers that are keeping you from reaching your muse.

Extra help (the big guns)

Face a fear: Fear can be our biggest hurtle in life and it can often hold us back on multiple levels. Facing a fear (fear of failure, fear of success, fear of talking to people, ect.) can help unlock the Muse and let it flow more freely.

Address an issue that’s been a problem: There are others things that can cause interference with the Muse. If a problem becomes so big that it dominates all other thoughts, it can quite literally choke the life right out of the Muse. These problems can include things like: an issue with a friend or family, financial difficulties, something that’s always on your mind that normally wouldn’t be, a medical issue that you’ve been avoiding, ect.

Take a piece of writing from when you first started writing and compare it to your current work: This can be a real eye opener. It’s easy as a writer to become discouraged and think that the progress we are making is not going anywhere. You begin to think, “What’s the point?” The next time this happens take out a piece of writing from when you first started, or even a year ago, and compare to what you’re currently working on and see for yourself just how far you’ve come. You might be surprised at what you discover.

It really all boils down to your mind. If you want to be more creative, if you want to rediscover the magic, if you want to get in touch with the Muse, change your mind. Once your mind is in the right place, then you’ll be free to focus on the creativity within. Don’t let the world distract you from being who you want to be.