Creative Thinking for Beginners

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This post is aimed at the absolute beginner, but it might help if you’ve temporarily lost your creative-mojo, too!

Maybe you want to write but you’re too scared to try because you don’t think of yourself as creative.

Maybe you had some knock-backs or harsh criticism in the past, or perhaps the idea of creativity just feels out of your reach… Something that you’d love to do but just isn’t on the cards.

You need a crash course in creative thinking and the best news is that it won’t cost you a penny (and very little time).

The first thing to say is that you are already a creative person. I can say this with authority because it’s part of what makes us human. (If any toasters are reading this, sorry, but kudos on the literacy skills).

You are a creative person. You have your unique perspective on the world and a well of individual thoughts, responses, interests and emotions. All you have to do is to start noticing and valuing these things and you’ll find that ideas begin to flow.

Creative thinking is about two things – noticing stuff (external observations and your own thoughts) and then putting them together in new and interesting ways. Don’t worry about the ‘new and interesting’ part just yet, just concentrate on noticing.

So, when you see a person walking their dog while furiously typing into their phone and it strikes you as funny, notice yourself noticing it. Expand on the impression a little by thinking about that person and why that text is so important and serious. Imagine describing the person to someone else and pick out a few details which encapsulate the scene.

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Imagine your mind is like a camera, taking snapshots. Fix these images in your mind by being very specific on the details. This will help you to recall the impression later on, but will also hone your powers of description.

Play the ‘what if’ game. What if the sky was a different colour? What if cats could talk? What if a modern-day bubonic plague decimated the population? It’s okay if you can’t think of an answer, just practice asking the questions.

This works just as well for more ‘everyday’ scenarios, too. When I’m on a train or restaurant or waiting room, I like to people-watch (sorry people!), but I also like to think through ‘what if’ for scenarios like a fight breaking out or the train derailing. I think about what I’d do (and feel!) in the situation and what the other people around me would do, too.

Which leads me to my final bit of advice for creative thinking:

Embrace boredom. Boredom is your new best friend.

Intentionally leave your paperback at home and put down your smart phone. Go for a walk without audio accompaniment. Engineer small spaces of time in which you don’t have an escape mechanism for your mind and, instead, entertain yourself with the thoughts in your head. This might feel uncomfortable – even scary – to start with, but it will get easier.

I hope this is useful. Do let me know if you’d like more of this kind of post, and please leave your own tips for creative thinking in the comments. Thank you!

Episode #05 The Worried Writer: Annie Lyons ‘You can lead me anywhere with a slanket!’

ww_episode5_annielyonsIn this episode I chat to bestselling author of romantic comedy, Annie Lyons. Annie and I signed with Carina at around the same time and her debut novel, Not Quite Perfect, came out a month after mine. We got chatting online and have shared the highs and lows of being newly-published authors. Not Quite Perfect became a bestseller and Annie followed it with Dear Lizzie and a novella, A Not Quite Perfect Christmas. Annie’s new novel, Life Or Something Like It, is published next week (on 13th July).

We talk about pre-publication nerves, dealing with criticism, writing routines and Annie’s slightly unconventional route to publication.

I had a stinking cold when this interview was recorded, so please excuse my sniffing/coughing/snot-choked voice.

Annie Lyons was a delight to chat with, though; you guys are in for a treat.

Books recommended by Annie:


A Novel In A Year by Louise Doughty


On Writing by Stephen King

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I give a small writing update and recommend using a planner or calendar to measure progress as ‘what gets measured gets done’. I use a Plannerisms Planner which you can see in action on my author blog.

Got a question about writing or creativity?

If you’ve got a writing-related question that you’d like featured on the show, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

Please spread the word and, if you can spare the time, leave a rating for the show on iTunes. I truly appreciate your support.

Thank you for listening!

Episode #04 The Worried Writer: A Conversation with thriller author C.L. Taylor

ww_ep4_imageIn this episode I chat with Cally Taylor about hopping genre, developing craft through short stories, getting the writing bug, and typing while walking on a treadmill.

Cally Taylor wrote two sparkling romantic comedies, Heaven Can Wait and Home For Christmas, before turning to dark psychological suspense under the name C.L. Taylor. The first of these, The Accident, was hugely successful, shooting up the Kindle charts and selling over 150,000 copies in the UK alone. Last year, Home For Christmas was made into a film by JumpStart Productions and, since this interview was recorded, Cally’s second thriller, The Lie, has shot up the bestseller charts.

For more on Cally and her books, visit her website CLTaylorauthor.com or follow her on Twitter @callytaylor

Books recommended by Cally:

Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them by John Yorke

The Story Book: A Writer’s Guide to Story Development, Principles, Problem-solving and Marketing by David Baboulene

Cally mentions the importance of taking ‘artist dates’ as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

Also, I mention that my debut novel, The Language of Spells is now available in paperback (meep!)


and I recommend a book I’ve been enjoying this week: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

 

Listener question:

This episode’s listener question comes from Maggie Jones – thanks, Maggie!

‘How ‘sucky’ can a book be when you send it in?!’

‘This question is definitely something I struggle with as I have very little confidence in my own work and never feel that something is good enough or even safely passed the ‘it sucks’ stage.

And therein lies the problem. We are probably not the best people to judge the suckiness or otherwise of our work.

Also, it’s worth remembering that ‘sucky’ is a subjective term. I think it might have been Jenny Crusie who said ‘your book is not a $100 bill, not everyone is going to like it’ and that is so true.

There may be published books that you don’t like, that other people love.

So, a book’s merit is a subjective thing. There is no opposite to ‘sucky’ which is ‘perfect’, only opinion on what is good or bad or fun to read or boring.

Once you’ve accepted that there isn’t an ideal you can achieve before sending your work out, you only have to ensure that it’s as good as you can make it.

Whether you’re sending your book to an agent, an editor or hitting ‘publish’ yourself to put it into the Amazon store, there are steps you can take to make sure that it’s ready.

Things like finishing it first, and rewriting it as much as you can stand to get it into the best possible shape. You can also get perspective through feedback from critique partners or by letting it rest before you edit for a final time. Four to six weeks is a good amount of time to leave it, so that when you come back to it you can see it anew. When I do this, I find I can detach my writer self from the reader, and I often find there are plenty of things I like – and have forgotten writing. It’s like magic. It also makes the dull or awkward or confusing parts glaringly obvious.

I hope that helps, Maggie. Thanks again for the great question.’

Got a question about writing or creativity?

If you’ve got a writing-related question that you’d like featured on the show, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

Please spread the word and, if you can spare the time, leave a rating for the show on iTunes. It would really help me!

Thank you for listening!

 

Episode #03 The Worried Writer: A Conversation with Julie Cohen

ww_episode3_shownotesimageThis episode includes a conversation with Julie Cohen, creative writing tutor and author of twenty books including Dear Thing and Where Love Lies.

For more information on Julie and her books, head to

www.julie-cohen.com  or follow her on Twitter @julie_cohen

I had so much fun chatting to Julie and we cover knitted owls, suckage, staying creative over the long-term and the importance of failure.

Books recommended:

Julie and I both love The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes

Software/tools recommended:

A kitchen timer. Any type will do! You can use the timer function on your phone, of course, but that’s more likely to lead to distraction…

Freedom I’ve been using this internet-blocking software for ages and it’s great! It’s only $10 and comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

Got a question about writing or creativity?

If you’ve got a writing-related question that you’d like featured on the show, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

Please spread the word and, if you can spare the time, leave a review on iTunes.

Thank you for listening!

 

Episode #02 The Worried Writer: A Conversation with Stephanie Burgis

ep2My guest today is Stephanie Burgis, award-winning author of short stories and novels that mix the genres of fantasy and historical.

I’ve know Stephanie online for a couple of years and I’m continually impressed by her productivity. No matter what is going on in her life, she seems to pull amazing word counts out of the bag with an astonishing regularity.

Stephanie is also a generous and supportive member of the writing community, and it was wonderful to get the opportunity to speak to her.

For more information on Stephanie and her books, head to www.stephanieburgis.com or find her on Twitter @stephanieburgis

We talk about the importance of both discipline and kindness in staying productive, and Stephanie gives her top tips for making it through the long slog of a novel.

Recommendations from the podcast:

Stephanie mentions that the Clarion West Workshop was life-changing for her as a writer.

The wonderful short story that made me sob (available free to read on the Daily Science Fiction site): Dancing In The Dark 

I share my recent difficulties with getting back to writing after a short break, and a technique for introducing a little kindness into the way you speak to yourself when struggling with writing (or anything, really!).

I also answer my first listener question (sent in by @evergrowinbrain – thank you!).

He wrote:

‘I do wonder if forcing words out ever becomes good stuff and if you keep tabs on which bits your write ‘under duress’ and which bits were easy. 

Are 500 rubbish words still better than no words at all?

Or do they not count if they aren’t good?’

My experience, for what it’s worth, is that by the time I’ve finished the draft and let it rest, I can’t tell which words came easily and which did not.

I slogged my way through 50,000 words of a book once before deciding that life was too short to spend this amount of effort on something I hated. I put the book in the metaphorical bottom drawer. A year later I read it with surprise and pleasure. There was lots of good stuff in there.

So, to answer your question, I don’t think the quality of the words matter for two reasons. Firstly, you are too close to assess quality at the time; you need to finish the project and let it rest before you know.

Secondly, it’s all practice and you should count all of the words you write. You might end up deleting them, but that’s okay; sometimes it’s necessary to write the wrong words before you get to the right ones. And you should definitely get the credit for the work!

The only thing I would add is that if you are finding every single writing session a horrible slog, then it might be worth considering whether there is something wrong with the big picture. It might be that you’re trying to write a book for the wrong reasons, or that there’s something wrong with your plot or character motivation.

I do hope that answers your question, and thank you again for writing in.

If you have anything to add to my answer – or an alternative opinion – do let me know.

And if you’ve got a writing-related question that you’d like featured on the show, don’t hesitate to ask.

Please spread the word and, if you can spare the time, leave a review on iTunes.

And thank you for listening!

Process Not Product

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One way to tackle a fear of failure (or, its equally prevalent and powerful cousin – fear of success) is to stop focusing on the outcome of your creative work.

When we think ‘today I’m going to write the next chapter of my book’ or ‘I’m going to finish that short story’ we’re inviting a terror spiral that goes something like this:

I don’t know what happens next in the story and the characters feel kind of flat which means – argh -I’m wasting my time with this piece and I ought to start something new… But that means I’ll never finish anything and be a Real Writer, and if I do finish it what if it doesn’t sell? Or what if it does sell and then people actually READ IT? Uh-oh, I’d better take out all the blasphemy, my mum won’t like that. And, I can’t write that scene I was thinking of because it’s twisted and everyone will think I’m a horrible person. Perhaps, I’ll just go on Twitter…

Instead, try this: Today I’m going to practice writing. I will write 300 words because that’s how you get better at writing, by doing it.

Or: I will write for one hour, because I’ve been managing 50 minutes for a while, now, and it’s good to push myself, to stretch my goals and improve my concentration.

Every time you catch your mind throwing out an end-result-related thought (such as: ‘If I write 1000 words I will be halfway through the book’ or ‘is this YA or Crime Fiction?’) gently push it aside and think something process-related. It takes practice, but I promise you it helps.

Over time, you will naturally focus more on the process of writing which will help you to be more ‘in the moment’ of your creative work and to be more productive.

Here are some more examples of ‘process-thinking’:

  • I will write some sentences today and each and every one will make me a better writer.
  • I will write for at least ten minutes today and will work at extending my focus for longer periods until I can write for thirty minutes at a time.
  • Okay. I’m working on this scene. What are the characters feeling? Where are they? What would happen if I changed the setting? Or the POV? I’ll try it three different ways and see which I like best…
  • I’m stuck. I’ll just do some free-writing on another project because all writing is practice.

What do you think? Do you already focus on process-over-outcome? If not, are you willing to give it a try?