Five Keys to Creativity
Lately I’ve been thinking about creativity, secrets to how it works and how to make it work better for me. Here are a few keys to creativity that have helped me come up with ideas for my novels.
Explore Your L.I.F.E.
When you don’t know where else to turn, explore L.I.F.E., an acronym for Literature, Imagination, Folklore, and Experience. L.I.F.E. is a limitless well of ideas waiting to be tapped into.
Coax new stories from classic plots by setting them in a different time and place; examine your imagination for themes that pique your interest; search through the timeless motifs of myth, fairy tale and folklore; scour the expanses of your own experience to spark new ideas. Let your memories come alive!
Some memories inspire us, others haunt us. Some memories cling to things we own, others hover around places we’ve been. Start with what you have, nurture that fragment of a memory: your teacher’s face, the smell of your grandmother’s cookies, the charming way your father used to whistle, the chill in your soul as you rushed to the hospital, the taste of salt spray that summer at the ocean, how it felt to hold your daughter’s hand for the first time. Turn those memories over in your mind, flesh them out, allow them to breathe.
Every vivid memory is a garden of ripe plot ideas waiting to be harvested.
Change Your Perspective
A few years ago while visiting a hotel in Denver, I noticed “EXIT” signs not only above the exit doors, but also at their base. “How odd,” I thought. “Only someone crawling on the floor would need a sign down there.”
Whoever placed those signs down low had looked at the doors through the eyes of someone crawling for safety during a fire.
Creativity isn’t “seeing what no one else sees,” it’s “seeing what anyone else would see--if only they were looking.” New ideas are born when we view life from a fresh perspective or peer at the world through another set of eyes.
Keep ideas alive by working backwards and sideways, by peering over your shoulder rather than always staring straight ahead.
Step into the shoes of your main character and write a journal entry, a complaint letter, or a love note. Switch your point of view. Write a few paragraphs in first person or third person. Think of how you would respond if you were in the story. Walk through the action, stand on your desk, crawl on the floor. And keep your eyes open for the doors no one else has noticed.
Set Specific Boundaries
A photographer focuses on a single event and snaps the picture, freezing that moment forever. Her picture reveals only a sliver of reality, yet that carefully framed sliver contains a world of meaning. A great photographer knows just what to leave out.
Fiction writers don’t have a viewfinder. The lens we look through is as large as our imagination. And when we can’t think of what to write next, we often try generating more ideas when we really need to set more limits. The skilled photographer is careful to frame her shot just right. The skilled writer is careful to fence in his idea.
Nothing stalls writing more effectively than lack of focus. Freedom to write anything usually ends up becoming an excuse for not writing anything. As William Zinsser notes in On Writing Well, “Every writing project must be reduced before you start to write it.”
So sharpen your focus, clarify your framework, and set some boundaries. If you weren’t assigned any boundaries, set them yourself.
Look For Connections
Creativity occurs at the intersection of ideas when two thoughts, that seem to have nothing in common, collide and form something new. Don’t feel pressured to always come up with ideas from scratch. Instead, look for ways of combining two or more familiar things into something novel and unique.
Do this by forcing yourself to make connections. Randomly choose any two objects in your home, combine them, and form something new: “lights” + “carpet” might become “carpight” a soft, cushiony, glowing floor covering that turns on when you walk across it.
Change the metaphor.
Look for those parallels or connections between things that seem to have nothing in common. Let unexpected connections spark your writing.
Question Your Direction
A Jewish folk-tale tells of a man searching for paradise. Every night he points his shoes toward his goal and goes to bed. Every morning he steps into his shoes and continues his journey. But one night, a mischievous imp turns the shoes around. The next day the man thinks he’s headed for paradise, but he’s really walking back home. Pretty soon, he ends up back where he started from.
His problem had nothing to do with lack of effort or motivation. He even had an admirable destination. He just never noticed he was walking in the wrong direction.
That same imp visits writers. He sneaks into our stories and points the plot in the wrong direction.
And we keep plugging away, writing page after page of a story that’s headed nowhere.
Sometimes we write ourselves into a corner. We try harder and harder to scale the walls we’ve erected without ever wondering, “Does this story even need that corner?”
Question where you’re going. Don’t assume that you must be going in the right direction just because you’re picking up from where you left off yesterday. Ask yourself, “Is this really the right direction for this story? If not, where did I make the wrong turn?”
Stay on track. Every day when you start writing, make sure the shoes are pointing in the right direction.
So, whether you’re writing the next great American novel, or jotting down a poem for a birthday card to a friend, try these techniques. Put them into practice, and tap into the creativity that’s already there inside you.
One lucky reader who comments on my blog will be randomly selected to win a copy of my most recent novel, The King. Good luck!