blog, creativity, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

5 simple ways to jump start creativity for writers and artists

powering through the block

crayons-scribble-baby_marimari
marimari via pixabay

Sometimes the ideas won’t come. You want to paint or write but you don’t know what. You started something and now you hate it. Or maybe you’re trying to get started again after a drought or forced hiatus. Like a stalled car, you need a little push to get going.

The Two Types of Thinking That Affect Creativity

The way we think has a great impact on creativity.

Divergent thinking creates possibilities. It gathers ideas and combines them in new ways. There is more than one answer to a question. And all ideas have potential value. Divergent thinking creates options using right-brained methods; imagination, visualisation, and intuition.

Convergent thinking solves problems. It considers, weighs and discards options, narrowing them down until the right answer emerges. Convergent thinking achieves results using left-brain methods; sequencing, logic, and facts.

We need both types of thinking to achieve a result. First, come up with ideas using divergent thinking, then execute an idea using convergent thinking. A brilliant concept is nothing without the techniques to make it a reality.

Judgement can wait

But choosing which idea to work on too soon can choke off possibilities. We tend to judge ideas and discard them without fully exploring them. So it’s vital to gather all your ideas without judgement first. It’s like mining a fine diamond; they’re not lying about on the surface. After digging through a lot of worthless stuff, you spot something with potential. Then you get to work cutting and polishing.

Creativity exercises are best done quickly to outwit the inner critic. Keep moving and let yourself be imperfect.

We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.
Bob Ross

1 . Get random

Having too many choices can lead to being overwhelmed. Because you could do anything, you end up doing nothing. Research has shown that we are more satisfied with our choices when options are limited.

Try letting chance dictate your next move rather than fretting over what to do.Then you can put your energy into doing, rather than frustration that you don’t know where to start.

Turn to a page in the nearest book to hand. Count the tenth verb or noun. Set a timer for ten minutes. Write a story or poem inspired by this word.

Do the same with a magazine, instead using the tenth picture as inspiration.

Go to Pixabay or Unsplash for photos. Use the first image containing a yellow object as inspiration.

2 .Brainstorming

This is a classic way to access divergent thinking. The idea is to generate quantity rather than quality. Concentrating on quantity leads your brain to think widely, past the obvious. Creativity sees new links between ideas or objects that were not connected before.

Keep asking “what else?” but do not ask “would this work?” For example, a Lego brick could be a doorstop. It doesn’t matter at this stage how effective that might be.

Most people can think of 10–15 ideas for a paperclip. See how much better you can do.

Write down as many uses as you can think of for a paper clip; a Lego brick; a small silver coin; or a teaspoon.

Pick an unusual use for an object and write a short story about it. Or draw it instead.

3 . Do the same job with fewer tools

Creativity blossoms within restriction. When we challenge our skills by limiting the available options, we have to find another way to get the job done. In other words, divergent thinking comes into play. That is the essence of creativity.

Try thinking inside the box.

Artists, paint or draw using shades of only one colour. If you usually draw in pencil, try using ink. Set a time limit.

Writers, use a random first line generator like this one to write a one-page story. Sometimes this works better writing by hand; somehow it’s less daunting than the blinking cursor.

4 . Play in a different sandbox

To create we need to see the world in a different way. When we’re comfortable in one way of seeing, it’s good to mix it up. Maximise your creative muscle by trying something new, just as you’d train different muscle groups in the gym. You will benefit by finding new solutions and skills that you can bring back to your chosen field. That could be improved memory, attention to detail, or improvisation. And it’s fun to try something new.

Make something small, in a different medium.

Doodle your favourite animal, if you write.

Write a song or poem, if you paint.

Cook a meal using a new recipe or only three ingredients from your fridge.

Look at an object in the room for one minute, then try to draw it from memory.

5 . Move

The brain requires up to 20% of the body’s energy. That energy comes from circulating blood, and getting active improves circulation. Sitting or standing in one position for extended periods also leads to stiffness and even pain. Artists and typists are prone to repetitive strain injuries from small repeated movements.

Spending long periods inside in solitary activity can have a number of negative effects, from vitamin D deficiency to low mood. We need to take care of our bodies if we want to stay healthy longer.

Go for a walk and notice the animals. One of them will become a character in your next story or painting.

Wander around a gallery, craft supplies store or even a toy shop. Surround yourself with interesting visuals to spark ideas.

Running, swimming, walking or gardening are good ways to clear the mind and occupy the body with soothing repetition. This allows ideas from your subconscious to bubble up to the surface.

Just do it

The most important thing you can do to access creativity is to make more things, no matter how small or mundane. A new recipe, story, garden, doodle, or haiku all come from looking at the world, seeing new possibility and then expressing what you see in your own way. And that’s what creating is all about.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which to keep.
Scott Adams

blog, writing process

Writing karma: do you give as good as you get?

gift-flowers-hands_klimkin
klimkin via pixabay

Once you’ve lived a little you will find that whatever you send out into the world comes back to you in one way or another.
Slash, rock star

Hello, fellow writer. Have you written something lately? Posted it anywhere? Checked your feed for claps, votes, comments or sales? It’s something we all do. Unless we’re writing purely for our own catharsis, we want our words to be heard by an audience.

But now another question. Have you read anything lately? Did you clap, vote, comment, review, or buy?
And if not, why not?

You’re asking for something you didn’t give. Karma says what goes around, comes around. Karma says you get what you give.

Consumers, creators, commenters

Most people consume without creating, and they consume without responding. Around 5-10% of buyers leave reviews on Amazon overall. Even the most popular articles on Medium or Quora have a tiny percentage of comments compared to claps, and claps compared to reads.

Consider this article by Zat Rana, who has 72,000 followers on Medium. This gained almost 21,000 claps in thirteen days but a mere 79 comments.

View story at Medium.com

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 14.38.46

Since each reader can give from zero to a maximum of fifty claps, we can infer that at least 420 people read this piece, but the true figure is likely to be many more. As good as it feels to be read, it feels great to get applause. And comments? Well, a thoughtful comment is the sweetest nectar of all. It can give you validation and the dopamine hit we all crave, but it can do something even more valuable. It can start a conversation. And conversations lead to relationships.

Your reasons are excuses

There are reasons why you haven’t tended to your writer karma. Few of them stand up to closer scrutiny.

  1. I don’t have time to read.
    Stephen King said  if you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time and the tools  to write. A good writer, one who aspires to improve, must also read widely. It takes a few minutes to read an article on Quora or Medium, or look at your favourite writer’s website. Step away from mindless scrolling and put that time to better use.
  2. I don’t have time to respond.
    Really? It takes seconds to vote or clap. Even a brief message can make someone’s day, so why would you not do it?
  3. I can’t afford to buy a book.
    Buying a book new at full price is the ideal for an author, but maybe you don’t have resources. You can still buy secondhand and review, borrow from a library or a friend and review, tweet and Facebook post about it, tell your friends. You can download free books from Instafreebie and review.

    Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads drive sales twice. First, because the algorithms favour books with more reviews. Second, because readers also favour books with reviews. In this era of almost endless choice, recommendations are even more important.

  4. Nobody’s reading my stuff so why should I bother?
    See point 2 above. Feel good by doing good. Your following is built one reader at a time, one comment and relationship at a time. The best follower is one who is invested in your work, and the numbers are only one way of measuring impact. You never know who will be your new cheerleader.

    Your tribe of like-minded readers and writers is out there, but it will not find you if you are hiding silently behind a screen. You’re a creator, not part of the herd of consumers. Act accordingly. Connect. Reciprocate.

Give as good as you get – or better

Paraphrasing Anna Sabino, sometimes you have to send ships in the hope that one day they will come in. Sometimes you need faith in yourself, faith that things will turn in your favour, if you keep working. And when prayers are answered, it’s usually because a lot of unseen groundwork was put in without a guaranteed return. Ask any ‘overnight success.’

When your success arrives, you’ll want to turn to the people who matter, your mutual support system. You can rejoice together, because the only thing that makes a well-deserved success better is people to share it with.

So don’t wait. You can improve someone’s day, right now, and it only takes a minute.

I'm a true believer in karma. You get what you give, whether it's bad or good. - Sandra Bullock

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View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, poetry

September’s end

 

autumn-tree-leaves-red-63614
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com  

 

A breeze blows still, cooler and sharper than summer’s soft sigh, an edged whisper stealing beneath my ill-advised layers of silk. I should wear a sweater, perhaps. It’s almost time, but I cling to the dying summer as a drowning man cradles the last hopeful flotsam to his chest. It’s not enough, in the end. But it will do for now.

Vibrant spring greens gave way to lively grass greens. Varied hues fade in sunlight that promises much from behind a window, but delivers less than wanted in reality. Here and there, wine red blushes leaves while others flicker orange and yellow, a final bonfire of colour to warm the season’s end. The green of life retreats to its source. We know the dark is coming.

Not today though. Today energetic clouds bustle in cool blue. Scarlet fruits bob and sway. Nature keeps her promises in generous bounty. And in the imperceptibly shrinking day another voice hides. Now you see me, then you won’t. But the world turns, and brings another, harsher time. Gather in while you may.

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

A Black Woman Goes Shopping

shopping bags_rawpixel
rawpixel via pixabay (edited)

listen: 

The automatic doors spring open for me, the only welcome on this chilly grey morning. Hot air blows briefly through my hair and I blink in the harsh lights of low-end retail, piled high, never mind the quality. Price is king. I’m not here for anything fancy. I have a specific task in mind.

Get in, get it done, get out clean.

Taking off my gloves, I flex my fingers and let the warmth seep into my fingertips. Cold hands lack feeling, and I need to discern every change in texture, weight and balance point as I seek my target. I’m not sure where to find it. Time to roam the ground floor.

I think he’s seen me.

I wander, apparently aimless but in fact with a definite route in mind. Back to bathroom goods, along the rear wall to soft furnishings, over towards the tills and retrace my steps. I pause next to lighting.

He’s still there.

No need to panic. I belong here, just walk like I belong here. I do belong here, I do. But he’s following me, upstairs to kitchenware, past textiles. I hide in the furthest corner, flipping through pictures. Maybe when I turn — no, I see him slipping between the shelves.

When I approach the till and the tired operator asks me if I found everything today, I nod and smile and hand over my debit card. No worries about the trifling amount for a laundry hamper. I dreamed of this day, when prices wouldn’t worry me. A nightmare dogs my steps all the same, even though I’m in the black.

Or because of it.

The security guard watches me exit the store today, just like every other day I visit, keeping a close eye on people like me. I want to shove the receipt in his face and scream.

He didn’t see me.

The automatic doors spring open for me, a cold machine welcome. I’m in another store, a giant halogen-bright temple to consumerism. I have a specific target in mind.

Get in, get it done, get out clean.

These salespeople are bright, smart, and cheerful. They want to help, and commission is a great motivator. I am faced with many options to replace my ageing bed. I look around, but it seems everyone is busy, helping someone else, earning commission somewhere else.

They haven’t seen me.

No need to worry yet. I definitely belong here; my bank balance says so. I do belong here, I do. Black Friday deals everywhere, now if I could only get some assistance with all these different sizes, fabric colours and delivery dates. It’s a high-end store with beautiful room sets and lots of empty space. Price matters, but quality matters more.

I’m not here for anything cheap.

I linger by a truly regal bed, its headboard glamorous buttoned purple velvet. Maybe in another colour, it could be the one. Thirty percent off in the sale ends tomorrow. This is the cue. I’ve stopped walking, I’m ready to be sold something.

Ready, willing, able.

I pick up a brochure on my way out. No one asks me if I found what I wanted today.

In the black. Invisible.

 

originally published by Those People on Medium September 11 2018

blog, writing process

Remove crutch words to make your prose stronger

muscles-lineart_OpenClipart-Vectors
OpenClipart-Vectors via pixabay

When editing your work you’ll find words that crop up over and over, but add no value to the prose. These are crutch words and removing them will strengthen your prose.

When speaking, crutch words give us time to think. They’re used as filler or emphasis.

Filler words in speech

• Well
• So
• Actually
• Honestly
• Really
• Definitely
• Anyway

In writing we tend to use the same words and phrases repeatedly. They slow down or dilute what we’re trying to say. When writing dialogue, a few of these words give a natural feel. They should still be used sparingly, because written dialogue is natural speech, but polished.

A word frequency counter like this one  identifies which words appear most often in your writing. Try it with a piece of your writing from one or two years ago.

You can use the ‘find’ function in a word processor, or use a printout and red pen, editor-style. Sometimes the word can be removed. Other times the sentence will need re-writing.

Like all editing rules, this is a guideline. You don’t need to remove every one of the words on the list. You’re looking at each instance critically and making a conscious decision to keep, change or cut. Some are adverbs, which as we know must be used with care.

Overused words

• Certainly
• Probably
• Basically
• Virtually
• Slightly
• Rather
• Quite
• Very
• A bit
• Almost
• Just
• As though
• Somehow
• Seems/seemed
• Shrugged
• Smiled
• Laughed
• Looked
• Started to
• Began to

Don’t forget two little words that can often be cut without losing the meaning of the sentence.

  • But
  • And

You will find that taking out a proportion of the crutch words/phrases allows your writing to speak more directly. And that is the aim of every writer.

On being asked how he created his magnificent sculpture of David, Michelangelo is reputed to have said, “Simple. I cut away everything that wasn’t David.”

blog

Thank goodness for the dog

I can forget about student loans for a minute

boy hugging yellow labrador dog
veroturg via pixabay

My son just moved into shared accommodation and there’s a friendly dog living next door. I’m grateful for that.

The whole children thing goes on and on, doesn’t it? Infancy gives way to childhood and then stormy adolescence finally mellows into kidulthood. They might grow up but they don’t move out and parenting is never done.

Although I have little time for the whole Millennial bashing thing, it is certainly true that the old rules about being an adult have changed. There’s even a new term for it — adulting.

 Adulting represents appearing adult while retaining the wide-eyed naiveté and barely suppressed panic of a child doing a grown-up’s job. The kidult is neither fish nor fowl. The law says she is grown, but she knows she is an impostor, playing games and shuffling in her mother’s too-large shoes. She also knows she may never acquire all the accepted trappings of adulthood. The deck is stacked against her and the house always wins.

Me, an adult? In this economy?

In 1978 a US student could work one minimum wage job and graduate college debt free. A 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath ranch home in Ohio cost $24,500. Average house price was $54,800.

In 1978 a UK student could get a means-tested government grant to live on while attending university without fees, work in the summer, and graduate debt free. Average house price was around twice average annual salary. Now the average home outside London costs eight times average salary.

Chained to debt

Young people start life burdened with debt. They are encouraged to get a degree with the promise of a better paying job. Once upon a time not so long ago, that made sense.

On average, UK students graduated in 2017 with £50,000 of debt, more if they were from poorer backgrounds or had longer courses and took larger loans. Interest rolls up from day one of the course, at rates up to 6.1% at a time when base rate is just 0.75% and mortgages can cost 1.5%. Student debt is being packaged for sale to investors, which can only mean ever higher charges.

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 12.39.19

 

In the US, the average student loan debt for 2018 is $32,371 (source). Unlike the UK, debt is not forgiven after 30 years (subject to earning less than £21,000, a figure which has been frozen since 2012).

Just get a job – ?

All the jobs I did to support myself at university have disappeared. Clerical jobs and factory jobs alike are now done by machines. My son has worked at events where adults with index linked pensions and big houses treat the wait staff like servants. It’s not enough to repay his overdraft.

And only a small proportion of graduates will earn big salaries. Most will start at around £20,000 and expect to see little growth, in line with pay generally.

 Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 12.43.07

I try to encourage him to save, but it seems pointless to him. How long will he have to save for a deposit to buy a house? Eight years, saving 15% of salary. Ten years if he wants to live in London.

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He might as well blow his salary (assuming he can get a decent job) on cars and holidays and whatever fun he can get. He knows he’ll have to work into his seventies and there’s no guaranteed pension pot at the end of the rainbow.

In my day…

Children are still taught to get educated, get a job, get a house, get married, have children. These are the aspirations of previous generations, but the world has changed. New adults are encouraged to mortgage their futures before they have one. Opportunities to build the assets now held by older generations are out of reach for many.

Is it any wonder that young people look at the disparity between the future they were promised in school and the reality, and find the older generation’s attitude wanting? They are not lazy or entitled. But they feel cheated.

Thank goodness for the dog

My son starts a paid internship this week. For once he will have a little money in his pocket and know some of the freedom that I remember, in exchange for his time and labour of course. There are so many years of toil and responsibility ahead, and I don’t expect him to follow my path in a world that’s so different.

A friendly two year old labrador lives next door to his shared house. She will help him miss our dog less, and to forget that the world has its hand in his wallet, even before there’s anything to take.

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

How young do you want to be today?

play is serious business

swing-child-blue_elton800
elton800 via pixabay

They say age is just a number.

You’re only as old as you feel. I don’t know about you, but on any given day that number ranges from 25 to 100. There’s an unfortunate skew towards the top end of that range.

My daughter went to a festival recently with her friend. She returned home tired, dusty, and hoarse from singing along. As she said, when your favourite singer tells you to scream, you scream.

Festivals were never my thing. But last month I went to a concert, stood in 42*C heat at the barricade alongside fans less than half my age, and sang along till I was hoarse. Yes, I could have been seated rather than in the pit, but where’s the fun in that?

In an experiment, viral video brand CUT drew a hopscotch board on the street in downtown Seattle and set up hidden cameras nearby. In ten hours, 129 people hopped, skipped and jumped down the sidewalk, while 1058 walked on. That’s just under 11% of adults who (a) took a moment to connect with their inner child and (b) took another moment to silence their inner critic and have some fun. In public.

Watch the video here. It can’t fail to make you smile.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
George Bernard Shaw

Play is a serious business

We take ourselves so seriously as the years roll on. Childlike curiosity and creativity is squashed in favour of sitting still, paying attention and not messing about. We watch depressing news programmes and listen to earnest classical music and jazz that you can’t sing along with. We read prize-winning novels and worthy self-improvement. All this is good and important and adult. But it can’t be the entirety of experience.

If you wait outside a school, especially on a day where it rained at break time and children could not go outdoors, you will witness something amazing. After a day of being not-children, kids explode out of the school gates like a fizzy drink that’s been shaken and uncorked. They run, skip, call to each other, smile and laugh for no reason other than the joy of being set free.

We lose that purity of being on the way to growing up.

Grown-ups need play too

Someone (but probably not Einstein) said creativity is intelligence having fun.
In his 1983 book Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences psychologist Howard Gardner suggested that intelligence is more than a simple IQ score. He proposed nine types of intelligence.

image by Adioma

 

It follows then, that we all find our creativity and fun in different things. I’m good with numbers but sudoku bores me rigid. It feels too much like work. Crosswords and music are much more appealing to me. Your mileage may vary, but the theory helps us understand what we enjoy and are good at – not always the same thing.

Find your fun

The thing is to find your fun, and engage in it without censoring yourself. Allow yourself to play, to be an amateur, to fail. Without these, none of us would learn to walk, to talk, to do anything well. The reward is in the doing, not the result.

Don’t worry that the person next to you is only twenty, or whether you ought to be doing it at your age. That kind of ossified thinking is a sure route to being old, whatever your number.

The serious adult world will always be there. After a good play session you can return to it energised, with a skip in your step and a smile on your face.

Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.
Michael Jordan

 

blog, writing process

Choosing the best

vegetable market_raggio5
raggio5 via pixabay

 

How do you choose a picture for a blog post?

We live in an age of abundance. We expect a wide range of choices in all areas of our lives, whether choosing a tomato or a house or a college course. But who has not stood in front of a supermarket shelf, tired and hungry, overwhelmed by the range of choices presented?

The ability to choose is finite, no matter the size of the choice. Following the example of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, we can cut down the number to make each day by wearing the same clothes, for example. This leaves more brainpower to spend on the hustle that is your real focus.

More is not always better

Researchers have shown that too many choices can lead to less satisfaction. They divided people into maximizers – who need to investigate all possible choices, or as many as possible
and satisficers – who make a choice that best fits their needs, then stop looking.

These two styles are incompatible when shopping. The maximizer always wants to try one more store because the perfect item is out there. The satisficer has a definite idea in mind, but will buy an item that comes close to their ideal. Perhaps you can recall a shopping trip where you are one type and your companion is the other. It can be a miserable experience.

Maximizers also tend to rely on external sources of validation. Their car meets their needs but it must also be validated by a car comparison website. In an age of internet searches and five star ratings, it has never been easier to search endlessly for the perfect deal.

Come off the fence

Finding a suitable photo for a blog post is vital. The choice on sites such as Pixabay and Unsplash is truly mind-boggling. But time is short.

The trick is to set parameters for your search, especially if you tend to be a maximizer.

  • search key words such as couple or beach
  • consider narrowing the colour choices
  • decide on a number of pages to search; these do not have to be sequential
  • go with your gut feeling; the right image may be on page one
  • have a time limit

The filters above applied to Pixabay results in 379 images spread over four pages. Searching more sites simply takes time that is better spent writing.

Not set in stone

Learning to choose effectively is a key time management skill. For writers that might be a name, a picture, or a title. In fact most of these choices are not final, yet they can derail a writing session. Pick something and move on. Don’t let maximizing hide your procrastination. Remember done is better than perfect.