Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tapping In To Your Creative Self

By Julie Coulter Bellon

I am finishing another manuscript this week and part of me wonders, just as Sariah did, can I do this again? Can I create another story that other people will want to read?

As I was pondering this, I was intrigued by a question posed by one of the blog readers last week asking whether creativity is a different thing than inventiveness. I don’t think so. In the dictionary definition they seem interchangeable. The hard part for an author, I think, is finding a way to tap into the creative/inventive part of yourself so that you actually can create/invent something new.

So, as I’ve talked to friends this week and looked back over how I’ve tried to tap into that inventive side of me to create a story or scene, I did notice a few things that I thought I would share with you today.

1. Relax. The best ideas seemed to come to me when I am relaxed--which is sometimes hard to be with the everyday demands of life. I like to put on music when I write and that seems to help, and some writers I know do a series of stretching exercises to get in the zone. But this recommendation leads right in to number two.

2. Let go of fear and worry. If I am nervous that I can’t finish, meet my deadline, think of a story, or whatever, I might as well not even bother to sit down at the computer because I’ve already stunted whatever creativity I had. My creativity doesn’t seem to flow at all if I’m worried about something or someone. It’s hard, but try to put the worries aside. I think it was Kerry Blair who had a worry jar and she wrote everything down that she was worried about and put it in her jar for later. I thought that was a wonderful idea.

3. Sometimes it’s okay to be in a hurry. As a mother, my time at the computer is limited. There are times when all I can do is just hurry and type whatever is coming to my mind at the moment—like a strange free write in a way. I don’t go back and check, I just dump it all onto the screen. And when I come back to it, to sort it out and smooth it over, I find that some of my best ideas have been put onto that screen and just thrown out there.

4. Use your dreams. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dreamed of a scene or a bit of a character. Dreams can be very useful. Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, said she dreamed of a field scene with Edward and Bella and that’s what started the first Twilight book for her which led to her being a published author.

5. Let your imagination run away. Since I am a suspense writer, I think of normal situations all the time and wonder what would happen if suddenly a bank robber ran into the bank I was walking into. What would I do? What if my children were with me? What would my first thoughts be? Or if a terrorist suddenly took over the church I was sitting in, what would happen? I admit, my imagination runs wild all the time and while I haven’t used everything I’ve ever imagined in my books, those scenes have translated into, well, that couldn’t happen, but this seems plausible.

6. Start gathering information, because random bits can take shape. For my new book, I was watching a documentary on television and got really interested in the topic so I decided to see just what sort of information was out there. It turned into an idea for a story and is now an almost complete manuscript. But sometimes even random bits of information can be an idea in embryo. You never know.

7. Let your thoughts wander. Sometimes if you can take a few moments to yourself and just let your thoughts go, you would be surprised with what you can come up with. One time, I overheard a comment that was made in a grocery story and the more I let my thoughts wander about that random comment, the more I imagined a character of mine saying it and it ended up as a scene in my book.

8. One of the best ways to tap into your creative self is to do something different–-go out and garden, take a walk, read something uplifting. It opens your mind and refreshes you and the results to your creative self can be something unexpected.

9. Talk to a friend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bounced ideas off of my friends, especially friends who aren’t in the writing or publishing business, just to hear their thoughts, and that leads to something else, which has often turned into something more than I ever thought it could. For instance, I had an idea for a plot against the new French president, but when I went out to lunch with some friends and told them about it, they didn’t think it was believable enough and suggested several scenarios of their own, some that were quite silly, but were fun to talk about and try to imagine.

10. Do something you’ve never done before even if it’s reading a new blog or a newspaper from a different country. Almost all of the ideas for my books have come from newspaper articles that I’ve read or documentaries that I’ve watched. It will amaze you how when you read another perspective, it can jog things in your creative consciousness that can move a story forward.

Everyone’s creative process is different and not everything will work for everyone, but if you are starting a story, or are stuck in a particular part of your book, maybe try one of these suggestions and see if that doesn’t unlock some creativity in you. I know that these things have become a pattern in trying to tap my own creativity and they’ve helped me along, even on those days when I thought I didn’t have one more book left in me, or I couldn’t finish the manuscript I was working on and should just use it as a firestarter. I believe we are inherently creative beings. It’s just a matter of finding what works for you in tapping into your creative self.


At 3/20/2008 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Julie (as usual). I was the goof who asked the question about wither creativity and inventiveness were two different things or manifestations of the same artistic muse. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

I think the answer is yes and no. And you’ve done a terrific job of answer the yes, they are the same thing question. They can be different beasts.

Creativity can be thought of as an organizing event, in essence organizing your perceptions of people or situations into the characters and stories that people your novel. Isn’t the act of creating really an organizing task anyway? Didn’t Rogers and Hammerstein write that [orchestra up] "nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever does".

But without a sense of invention your "creativity" or "organizing" of your characters, settings and story may be rendered repetitive, your work static and predictable.

Coming up with new plot ideas may be an entirely different matter than creatively putting together your characters and your story. Without a sense of invention the writer soon depletes her store of perceptions about people and situations. Creative writers are plentiful. Inventive ones are unique. Creative authors may write an excellent novel. Inventive authors write many compelling stories and they may even prove wrong the adage that “there are no new stories.” That may be why inventive authors are not interested in sequels. Revisiting the old ideas is uninteresting. Inventing new ones is breathtaking.

Here are five elements to help evaluate your inventive story:

1. Is the story fascinating? Compelling? (see #5 below for how to re-tell an already told story in a fascinating way).

2. Are your characters interesting? Are they loaded with conflicts?

3. Have you incorporated in the opening chapters enough possibilities to allow the plot line to take multiple turns later on? Are your writing an opening to your novel that has the potential to razzle and dazzle later on? Or are you just going to let the plot line take a few twists and turns without preparing (foreshadowing) for them in the opening of your novel?

4. Are you telling the reader what he already knows in such a way that he does not believe he's read it before?

5. Does your writing make the reader think about and care about your characters? Or do your characters only exist to tell a story? Inventive authors find ways to invite the reader to think about and care about their characters.

David G. Woolley

At 3/20/2008 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I agree with your perspective as well. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to the question.

What I think you're saying is that inventive writers can jump start the creative muse to create something new, where creative writing is more just organizing thoughts. I think it depends on your definition of creative. I think almost every time you create a character, you're inventing something new. You're using the inventive/creative side of yourself to express what's inside of you.

For me, the two words are interchangeable because I can say I am creating a story and it means the same thing to me when I say I am inventing a story. I think creative writers are inventive--they have to be or the stories would never be told. There are many people who say they are writers or want to be writers, yet how many truly sit down and create that story?

On the flip side, the market may try to force writers to an ever higher standard of creativity/inventiveness, but is that something that can be forced? Are writers trying to be inventive or more creative than the next guy to get noticed? And if so, is that true inventiveness if it's nothing more than a ploy?

I really do see your perspective and I'm so glad you took the time to respond. I loved your five elements of an inventive story, by the way, and plan to file those away for future reference. Very well said!

Julie Bellon

At 3/20/2008 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi again Julie. Its me. The guy who really should re-read (proof read) what he writes before he clicks submit. Why am I always in a rush to get it down and move on? Some much to invent, so little time. Sorry a bout th e typooos.

I think creativity may be a manifestation of what we have within us--our perceptions of people and situations.

Inventiveness, on the other hand, may include the ability to write about things that are not "inside of us". To perceive people and situations that are not part of our experience and then write about them in a believable way.

David G. Woolley

At 3/20/2008 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooh I really like that definition of inventiveness because it "includes" the ability to be both creative and inventive. :)

Thank you so much for your comments. They've really sparked some introspection on my part about what I really think.


At 3/20/2008 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts.

This is not directly on your topic other than it is about creating/inventing and the concept has given me a new way to think about creating/inventing which, at times, has helped me come up with different, unpredictable ways to solve problems both in and out of writing. Basically, there are three ways to create/invent something: 1) use a new thing a new way, 2) put new things together in a new way, 2) use an old thing combined with a new thing in a way, and 3)use two or more old things together in a new way. Using this has helped me organize my thinking so I can come up with unique resolutions. I guess if I had to differenciate between creating and inventing in this kind of format I would say that to me, creating includes a nearly mystical kind of thinking while inventing requires physical components.

the wanna be the Grandma Moses'of Mormon family history mysteries.

At 3/20/2008 7:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm...that's an interesting twist Marlene. Thanks for your thoughts! This is a fun topic, I think. :)

Julie Bellon

At 3/20/2008 11:10 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Great suggestions, Julie!


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