Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Roads are Many

For the last post of the day, I want to direct your attention to an excellent article by Nancy R. Hatch, a new blogger, and occasional Guest Blogger here on Uphill Writing.

On her blog, Spirit Lights the Way, I found a post entitled “The Roads Are Many“, which, while not specifically about creativity (our theme for the day), reflects very well the ideas we have explored today.  Please follow the link, read and enjoy her post.  Oh… and let her know you were referred by Uphill Writing.  I think you will find her postings to be uplifting and helpful.

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Creativity: Getting Close

It has been a struggle, pinning down creativity, that is.  Just when we think we know what it is, the definition slips a bit.

We’ve looked at ways we can enhance whatever it is we’re calling creativity.  Some of you may have concluded along with me, that absolute creativity–the creation of something wholly and singularly new, if possible at all, cannot be described.

The problem is this: the argument both for and against the ability to create something totally new comes down to the language we use to make the argument.  Everyone has their own opinion (or if I’m right, their own version of an opinion) about what it is, how it works, and what to do with it.

Some people will feel threatened by the idea, despite the long history of people believing just such a thing.  Wasn’t it King Solomon who was supposed to have said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun”?

Others may feel the cool breeze of relief when they find that creativity is actually (and legitimately) finding new ways to deal with recognizable (and expressible)  ideas.

So, it’s been a tough road today, but it has also been fun.

Creativity: a Come-Back

My last post has created a bit of a stir, albeit in private.

One responder asked (and very cleverly, I might add) what about children?  Don’t children learn new ideas every day?

They do.  They also look at their world and solve problems, but this in no way negates my position that something totally new would be impossible to comprehend.  In fact, it rather cements the concept.

Consider this: Tell a child of four that she can have a piece of candy that is out of reach if she can find a way to get to it.  She can look at her surroundings, try and find something to climb on, work out the problem using what she knows about the physical world at her early age.   Due to her lack of the understanding of physics an older person might have, she may try things that are dangerous, or impossible.  But everything she tries will be based on real-world experience.

Show that same child two pieces of paper, one a glossy photograph of a colorful toy or cartoon character and the other a sheet of algebraic equations.  Which one would she reach for?  Wouldn’t you expect that most children of her age would be more drawn to the color than the equations?  Would you agree that the child would be drawn because the photograph was of something she could relate to?

Moreover, if you sat down and explained how to do linear equations she would quickly become bored.  She would have no way to connect with what you are saying, as complex algebra is seldom taught to four-year-olds.

The reader who questioned my statements equated being uneducated and seeing new ideas with an educated person being exposed to something that has no link to human nature or knowledge.  While it is easy to see how this could be confusing, I still assert that the truly alien is undecipherable, inexplicable to us, and is not useful to a writer.

The job of the writer is to take any situation, any character, any scenario, and make it fit for the reader.

Next?

What Really IS Creativity, Anyway?

Creativity, as we are using it today, is that ability to innovate.  Right?  Maybe not.

I’ve written elsewhere that being truly and totally creative has a serious downside.  BEWARE!  This is a topic fraught with contradiction, and will certainly make some of you uneasy, if not outright hostile.

I say that something drawn out of nothing, an idea which has absolutely NO strings to anything else in our world would be, no IS indistinguishable from static.

For an idea to touch a reader, there must be a place for that reader to connect with it.  Certainly we connect through language first.  Through words, written or spoken, we describe and convey.  Yes, it is possible to communicate through music, physical movement, hand gestures, and the like, but even those methods are a language of a sort.

So, if ideas cannot be wholly new, completely out of the blue, so to speak, what is it we call ideas?  What is this creativity thing?

It is expression.  It is means.  Creativity is how you describe, present, and represent an idea.

I look at amazing writers like Neil Gaiman and Colin Wilson and shake my head in wonder at the things they have come up with.  They have powerful, marvelous thoughts, and they have the ability to COMMUNICATE them to you and to me.

Perhaps that is a better definition of real creativity.  The forming of ideas, simple or complex, in a way that can be understood and conveyed to others.

10 Ways to Spark a Fresh Idea

The Internet, Bookstores and Libraries abound with ideas about ideas… about creativity.  The following list is an admixture of my own techniques, and some I’ve found useful from outside sources.

  1. We’ll start with one of my all-time favorites.  What would you do with your life if you knew you couldn’t fail? Without the normal constraints on your personal life, you’ll find that ideas begin to pop up.  How might any one of those ideas work for your character?
  2. Mess with your setting. Think about it.  What would Romeo and Juliet have been like if the families ran concessions on a space station?
  3. Put something unexpected in the way of your main character.  Hurdles to leap, problems to solve, especially those which are out of the ordinary, force your character (and you) to think outside of the box.
  4. What if? This magic phrase is a strong part of a Creative Boost.  When you first try the “what if?” game it may feel a little forced, less like creativity than contrivance, but the more you use it, the easier it becomes.
  5. To steal from Terry Goodkind (The Sword of Truth Series), don’t think about the problem, think about the solution.  At first look that sounds odd, perhaps.  But when we focus on the problem, we tend to focus on what does not or (in our minds CAN not) work.  By focusing on the solution we open ourselves to new possibilities.  Another take on this is if you find yourself out of work, rather than labeling the problem, “How do I find a new job?” call it “How do I make money?”   The second way of looking at it is by far more open.
  6. Take one step to the left (or right), and one step forward. No, this isn’t a dance routine, and it need not be physical steps you are taking.  The idea is to come at a problem or situation from a different angle.  Say, for example, you’re trying to improve your technique for performing X. Rather than studying what everyone says about X, take that one step left and one step closer and look again.  Might you not get the same result by doing Y instead?
  7. Read.  What?  Read about creativity?  No.  Read about something you would normally pass by in the bookstore or library.  If your main writing genre is Mystery, read a Romance or Historical Fiction.  If your first love is Music, find a book on the history of painting.  Adding new items to the stew that is our mind is a wonderful way of developing new ideas.
  8. Judge not! One of the harshest enemies of creativity is judgment.  A new idea pops up and our judgmental minds wake up and insist that the ideas is foolish.  It can’t be done.  Write that and people will think you’re an idiot.  I have two responses to that.  a)  shooting down your own ideas before you even have a chance to try them out is both a waste of time, and mental training away from creativity, and  b) you characters actions do not reflect upon the author.  Even if an idea is something that you would never consider, it doesn’t mean your characters wouldn’t.  Give your characters and yourself a break.
  9. Desensitize your results.  One nasty little roadblock to our creativity is the thought that “if I do, I’ll get… laughed at, spanked, ostracized, punished in some way.  While it may be true that your idea will offend some people, go ahead anyway.  The fact is, if you say “Good morning” to some people, they’ll call the Weather Bureau just to find out.  You will never please everyone with your ideas, your writing… even yourself.  Just let that go and watch your pent up ideas flow.
  10. Reuse your ideas.  Reuse other people’s ideas.  Beg, borrow and steal from others, and from yourself.  Take an idea you’ve used before, or seen someone else use–one you really liked–and dress it up differently.  Change the locale.  Change the gender of the character.  Change the narrative point of view.  No ideas are completely new.  A totally original idea, one that has no links to anything else, will be nearly or completely unintelligible to a reader.  It is all a huge rehash of the past.

Chimera

Chimera, n.

An impossible or foolish fancy.  (We’re skipping the definition from Greek Mythology.)

Some days he would create, other days he would chase headlong after the chimeras of his mind.

How will you use chimera in a sentence today?

Getting Creative About Creativity

To me, the highest compliment I can give a writer, is to ask myself, “How did he or she come up with THAT?  Most ideas in books and stories are fairly mundane.  It is easy to see, even with those that are considered clever, how a person could have worked out the twists and turns.  They follow a certain logic and progression.

But when a writer, a thinker finds a way to take a sharp left or right, to the “chain of thought”, something really magical happens.

I direct you to a British writer and philosopher, Colin WilsonThe Mind Parasites, a remarkable novel he published in 1967, takes Carl Jung’s concept of a “Collective Unconsciousness” and postulates that while all people share a life in this great sea of thought, there are other things which live there with us. And they are a danger to humanity.

The book is not a terribly easy read, but I found remarkable insights and amazing creativity every other page or so.

I am envious of a mind that could do so much with the world, a mind that could evolve such fresh ideas.

Throughout the day we will discuss aspects of creativity, including techniques for developing our own skills and “imagineering”.