Scientific American interviews three experts on how to boost creativity.
Most interesting to me were these comments by Robert Epstein:
There are four different skill sets, or competencies, that I’ve found are essential for creative expression. The first and most important competency is “capturing”-preserving new ideas as they occur to you and doing so without judging them. Your morning pages, Julia, are a perfect example of a capturing technique. There are many ways to capture new ideas…
… The second competency is called “challenging”-giving ourselves tough problems to solve. In tough situations, multiple behaviors compete with one another, and their interconnections create new behaviors and ideas. The third area is “broadening.” The more diverse your knowledge, the more interesting the interconnections-so you can boost your creativity simply by learning interesting new things. And the last competency is “surrounding,” which has to do with how you manage your physical and social environments. The more interesting and diverse the things and the people around you, the more interesting your own ideas become.
Of course, I immediately started applying these to myself and writing. My capturing technique consists of ideas and notes spread over half-a-dozen notebooks and as three-liners in random Word documents. I have also done a few different types of journaling that are akin to Cameron’s morning pages–I’ve kept running novel journals in which I pour out my frustrations over character stubbornness and plot murkiness, I’ve prayer-journaled for a number of years, and I’ve also done some topic-specific timed writing.
(As an aside, I bought a new pink notebook for scribbling in a couple weeks ago. I haven’t figured out what exactly to do with it, but it’s small enough to fit in my purse so it might become my ideas-on-the-go journal.)
Next, challenging. I think every story I write is challenging; they sure seem that way! I’ve branched out into darker, fractured fairytale-like stories; I’ve developed a liking for the first person present tense; I’m seriously considering writing a science fiction romance (have had these characters in my head for years!). I also try to claw my way deep down into my characters (which often means taking a good hard look at myself, too) and to give a plot some unexpected (and yet subtly foreshadowed) twists. I could be more adventurous with my writing–which is why I’m so interested in boosting my creativity.
I’ve broadened my knowledge by reading more and more non-fiction. A sampling of my recent reads includes books on beekeeping, the American Revolution, and homeschooling. I’d say that my fiction/non-fiction reading mix is about 50/50 right now. I am not including picture books because that would throw my “grownup” books ratios off completely *grin*.
The last area–surrounding–is my weakest one. I hate conflict and like to be comfortable, so the people I hang out with tend to be a lot like me: homeschoolers, Christians, other moms, homeschooling Christian moms… It’s not that I am unaware of other ways of thinking out there; it’s just that I prefer to engage them through books rather than with people. As for my physical surroundings–well, my decorating style is what is commonly known as Contemporary American Kiddie Clutter, my walls are a (mostly) blank boring off-white, and the only interesting things are what turn up in my dustpan, as in “How long has that grape been under the couch?” I’d love to hear any tips from the more visually creative people out there to spice up my surroundings a little.
So, questions (there are always questions :D): What kinds of risks do you take in your writing or other creative endeavors? What sorts of things do you surround yourself with that jumpstart creativity and keep those ideas flowing? Where and when are you at your most inspired?
I’d love to hear any tips from the more visually creative people out there to spice up my surroundings a little.
When I read the excerpt, I definitely thought of visible, tangible objects, but not really paintings or pictures, per se. More objects gleaned from travels, things that have stories to them that you either know or can imagine. However, I also thought of different kinds of music, unfamiliar types of cuisine, taking a different route to and from destinations…
Upon reading the last, “surrounding,” I admit to suddenly picturing a cozy-darkened room, where intellectuals–turtlenecked and black-bespectacled–lounged on plush sofas and languidly chatted as if after a poetry reading. *lol* But there again, I think the kind of people it is good to meet and chat with, if not take to your bosom as eternal friend, are those of all walks of life and opinion. One has to think, and venture, outside her box, I guess you could say, push the edges of the envelope or risk stagnation.
Concerning risks, I think the risk of trying to put my mental story on paper and failing is my biggest one. Once you take the dream from ethereal to spoken or written word, you expose it to ridicule; you inevitably introduce weaknesses while trying to make it whole and comprehensible to anyone other than yourself.
I don’t really surround myself with anything in particular. I take inspiration from anything and everything around me, though there are definitely moments when I’m more receptive.
I feel inspired in the tub, sometimes washing dishes, reading, watching a movie, seeing what other people have done…
Dr. Robert Epstein says
Thanks for calling attention to my work! You’re doing an impressive job of applying the principles. Your readers can get a quick measure of their creativity competencies at http://MyCreativitySkills.com. Cordially, /re
Miquela, thanks for your comments! I like the idea of surrounding oneself with objects that have stories behind them–or stories you could build around them. I’m not at all sure there is space for those kinds of things in my life and home right now–partly because of kids and their belongings, but also because I’m not a person who likes non-functional decorative items (could be because of dusting chores in the drawing room as a kid!). Surrounding oneself with different kinds of experience (with a handy notebook to capture some of those sights, sounds and smells!) is another good idea.
The leap from mental story idea to words on a page is always risky. I know that I hardly ever feel like I’ve captured what my imagination sees and that failure can be crushing at times.
Yet still we write. 🙂
Thank you for your kind comments, and thanks for the link!