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, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

When baking isn’t Zen

but you still get to eat a cookie

home made oat and raisin cookies
actual cookies baked by me

I wrote a piece recently about overcoming writer’s block by immersing yourself in the Zen of simple things. In this case, baking cookies.

It was all there; soothing repetitive tasks, making something tangible, a dash of creativity in the ingredients (these are oat, mixed fruit and ginger cookies, in fact.)

I thought I had done a Good Thing.™

Then this dropped into my inbox from Austin Kleon. You know, the Steal like an Artist guy.

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 12.51.54

Procrastibaking is a thing?

My world tilted. Was it possible that I had procrastinated without knowing — I had in fact procrastibaked?

No, no, say it ain’t so.

Okay, it might be so, sometimes, but I stand by my original article. And I learned something after the cookies (and my story) were baked.

  • creativity is a remix, combining existing elements in a new way
  • procrastination+baking = procrastibaking — love that word
  • inspiration is everywhere
  • productive procrastination still produces something worthwhile
  • whatever, I got to eat cookies and they were delicious

Now, go read his article and the book, which is fabulous. I’m off to make tea and raid the cookie jar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Flour, butter, sugar

baking a solution to writer’s block

raisin-cookies_pixel1
pixel1 via pixabay

I’m stuck. Just forty minutes ago the words were flowing, full steam ahead. Now they’ve dried up. I stand, stretch, sit again. Still no words.

It’s time to follow my own advice.  I say that writer’s block can be overcome*, so this is my opportunity to walk the talk. I resist the temptation to fall into a social media vortex. The weather is too hideous for gardening or a walk, so I head to the kitchen.

Flour, butter, sugar. The basic elements for baking are all there, and it is truly amazing how many variations flow from them. Like Lego blocks, they can build many things. I grab my trusty recipe for oat and raisin cookies.

Not enough butter, so I make up the shortfall with avocado oil. It’s supposed to be super healthy, and it ought to be at that price. Must have been feeling well off that day.
The recipe says raisins. I substitute mixed fruit and chopped ginger.
Little changes make these cookies uniquely mine, raisin and oats and something else.

Creaming butter and sugar is repetitive and soothing. I can’t get this wrong and there’s no pressure of time. I sift the dry ingredients together and inhale the aroma of cinnamon, noting the random speckles of brown against white flour.

While I combine ingredients, the story problem simmers in the background. It’s meditative, this focus on a single thing. I lose the plot. I start clean up while the oven preheats. Blobs of dough sit unevenly on assorted baking trays. They’ll all taste great.

The aroma of baking is heavenly and I inhale deeply. The kitchen is quiet and tidy again. After hours of mental effort, turning the focus outwards and creating order restores calm. I feel more in control and the nagging voice of doubt recedes, because the cookies are a small but certain win.

And then the protagonist whispers, “I fell asleep on the train and now I’m waking up in Sheffield with a dead phone and no money. Help.”  Oh yes, I can work with this. The next steps light up in my brain and I return to work energised, with tea and a warm, delicious cookie.

*No more writers block

Simple repetitive tasks are calming, approached in the right mindset.
Step away from the keyboard.
Let your subconscious work on a problem while you occupy your brain elsewhere.
Engage all your senses and pay attention.
Limitations create problems. Solving those problems demands creativity.
Making something tangible is satisfying
in a way mental work is not.
Small wins help enormously on the way to the bigger goal.
Enjoy your cookie.

 

blog, writing process

Creative slump? Think inside the box

fractal-box-733918_960_720
pixel1 via pixabay

Sometimes more is not better.

In the developed world choice is king. The more choices, the better the world is working, and the received wisdom is that more is always better. Whole industries are built on finding and then expanding niches.

It’s no wonder that the protagonist of The Hurt Locker stood in the store when he returned from Iran, paralysed by too much choice. We’ve all done this. We rush into the store to find something for dinner, and we find ourselves overwhelmed, unable to choose.

FMI statistics show the average US supermarket carries over 42,000 items. In 2015 Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket chain, carried 90,000 items, including 28 kinds of tomato ketchup. They planned to cut this to 60,000 to make shopping more efficient.

Mind. Blown.

How often do we grab the first thing we see, or give up and get a takeaway meal instead, in a mild state of panic? Those tempting offers and discounts take advantage of our frazzled brains, already worn out by too many choices from the moment we woke up.

In his TED talk Phil Hansen talks candidly about his quest to “Embrace the shake”. Well worth ten minutes of your time. He talks about losing the ability and will to create as he wished, and how he overcame a creative slump that lasted for years. He vividly describes becoming overwhelmed by possibility.

For writers, this equates not only to the empty page, but also to absent parameters. “Write a short story/novel/poem about anything” sounds great, till we sit down to start.

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image: geralt via pixabay

If all paths are open, which one should we take? Perhaps your stomach is already clenching at the very thought. But there is a way forward.

Creativity blossoms where there are restrictions.

The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.

attributed to Orson Welles

Put some walls in place, and ideas can bounce off them, finding surprising ways to fulfil the brief. It’s not only true for artists, because we all have constraints. Problem solving is a key skill for life.

If there are no constraints, there is no problem to solve.

We happen on a brilliant solution not by waving a hand or throwing money at problems, but by understanding that we must transcend apparently fixed parameters. We use only what we have been given to find another way.

This is a great way to recover creativity. Or to overcome the dread of the empty page. Or to continue when we we doubt our ability to get going.

Here are some suggestions. The first and most important step is to suspend judgement, the endless chatter of this is stupid/no good/worthless. It’s just practice.

The idea is to move forward and get ideas flowing, so that the energy feeds into your current project. First you need to loosen your creative muscles, like an athlete warning up.

  • Look around you, and write 100 words on the first red or blue object you see.
  • Construct a main dish using only the items in your fridge right now.
  • Pick up a book, turn to a random page. Look for the first word that is a noun, verb, or adjective. Write a one page story using that word, in ten minutes or less.
  • Paint using only shades of one colour.
  • Use random word generators, or a random first line generator, to get started. No more than ten minutes to create something using your preferred medium; words, images, music.
  • I highly recommend Phil Hansen‘s talk, where he gives great illustrated examples. He tried some surprising things. One might just be the spark you need to get started again.

Limiting our fictional characters can also be a good thing. Give her a seemingly impossible situation, and then she must fight her way out. Put him in a literal or metaphorical cage, and see how he responds. It’s a great way of showing character.

Sometimes, too many choices make us anxious. Then, we need a box as a starting point. It needs to be small enough that it doesn’t paralyse with too much possibility.

Big enough that imagination can stretch its wings and fly.

 

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

Doing the thing

microphone-boy_Free-Photos
Free-Photos via pixabay

Keep writing. The world needs your story.
Max Kirin

 

What do you do when nothing seems worth doing?

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2018/04/03/do-the-thing-an-faq-about-doing-the-thing/

I’m a big fan of Chuck Wendig and read his emails every week as he photographs tiny things, rants about politics, and talks writing, in very colourful words. In the post above he tackles the deep despair that can overcome you when the wanton f*ckery of the world seems too much to bear. (his phrase, not mine)

Creatives, especially at the early stages when it’s hard slog for little reward, can be tempted to give up. What’s the point we say, crying into our gin/ice cream tub/family pack of snacks? Nobody’s listening, it’s no good anyhow, the world is going to hell in a handcart and I’m powerless to stop it. My little story/song/picture/recipe/whatever is pretty useless as ammunition in this fight.

Chuck says, just do it anyway.

There’s someone out there for whom your thing is exactly what they need, right now. That could be entertainment, distraction, tools to do a job or navigate a heartbreak. They might see themselves in your thing and be inspired.

I once wrote a scene in which two gay men argued about being their authentic selves. A woman sent me a comment saying she had wept, thinking back to the compromises she made in earlier life, and that she felt like it was her story on the screen.

Emotional connection transcends time, gender, place. There is no better feeling for an author than knowing your words touched a chord with a real person.

You never know what people will take away from your work. Once it’s out there, it doesn’t belong to just you any more. Like a newly minted adult, it must take on the world on its own merits and find its place.

So enjoy Chuck’s take on writing, and keep creating. Don’t deprive the world of what you have to say, just because you got discouraged. Take a break and come back stronger. The world is awful, and it’s also amazing.
Be part of the amazing.

 

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

Conversations with an artist

paint-girl_lightstargod
lightstargod via pixabay

Listen here: 

I envy you.

Ill-concealed jealousy, or perhaps a fleeting moment of self- knowledge, a slip of the tongue, a confession unprompted. Still, I understand. You think you know the price.

You make it look so easy.

I assure you it is not. After years and centuries of practice, practice, try again, I have earned grudging acquaintance with the standards I keep. Improvement is my goal.

I don’t understand it.

I hear the scathing tone of your dismissal. Should art be understandable? Only for those to whom it speaks; and to the rest, it is noise. Listen harder.

How do you do it?

I just do it. I persist. I hear the self-doubt and corrosive whispers of fear that burn my heart, and I do it anyway, because the art demands to be heard. The pain of silence, I have learned, is worse than carrying my art stillborn in my chest.

Anyone could do that.

No, anyone could not. Every one’s a critic, but very few a creator. Anyone could do it. Hardly anyone does. I invite you to try.

I’ve always wanted to do that.

Creation does not wait for permission. But if you need permission, go ahead. It’s never too late to begin. The world is waiting to hear your story. It’s as simple, and as terrifying, as that.

You’re hardly the next JK Rowling/Beyoncé/Picasso/whoever.

You’re right, nobody is. But what I am, what I will be, if I can keep going, is the first, glorious me. I don’t seek comparison. You are no-one special, either. But I allow you the possibility that you could be.

It’s just your life story.

It’s just my heart and soul, bled out on the page, the canvas, the stage. What else is there? Where else will I find the raw and honest stuff to build my creation? I fuse drops of my history and things not yet imagined and echoes of other people’s random musings. Something new emerges. It is enough.

I envy you.

You see the glittering jewel. I see exhausting hours mining, selecting, cutting and polishing, rejecting and starting over. I see blood and tears. I remember pain carved in my bones, doubt piercing my heart, fear and loathing waiting to trap me. It looks so easy. But it’s not.