LET CREATIVITY RULE YOU
There is a gap between the writers we are and the writers we want to be. Creativity Rules! helps close that gap with a lively examination of the creative process and an engaging set of exercises designed to shake you free of the doldrums and quickly plunge you into the act of writing.
• Make creative choices with confidence
• Improve access to your own ideas
• Conquer writer’s block forever
• Invent all the plots and characters you need
• Generate stories and themes quickly
• Develop the daily practice of writing
Thoroughly practical, witty, and inviting, Creativity Rules! gives writers powerful strategies for exploiting creativity’s treasures. Be the writer you desire to be. Anything is possible when Creativity Rules!
INTRODUCTION: THIS BOOK IS ABOUT YOU
This book is about you. It’s about the writer you are, and the writer you want to be. It’s about your dreams, aspirations… your fears. It’s about your war, and if you don’t know what war I’m talking about then maybe this book isn’t about you, and you can stop reading now.
Since this book is about you, I’d like to ask you a question, and since we’re just getting started I’ll make it multiple choice.
Why do you write?
A – easy money –
B – can’t hold a real job –
C – just want my voice to be heard –
D – just sort of feel like I have to –
If you answered A – easy money – you’re either inexperienced, deluded or perverse… all treatable conditions. If you answered B – can’t hold a real job – at least you’re being honest. If you answered C – just want my voice to be heard – you deserve honor and respect, and possibly prayers. If you answered D – just sort of feel like I have to – you’re in the big fat majority here.
Many writers feel like they have no choice. They write because something named or nameless inside them makes them write. They often feel frustration because nothing they write seems to quell or quench the urge within. So they answer D – just sort of feel like I have to – but they’re not necessarily thrilled with their selection.
And that’s the war, the writer’s war, the constant struggle between the urge to write and the dread that it won’t go well.
And war, as we know, is hell.
But writing isn’t hell, not always. Sometimes there are moments of pure glory, and without those moments we’d just walk away, no matter how much have to we had. Those moments are the addiction condition of writing; they make us act like rats in a subtle and devious laboratory experiment: press bar, get treat. We don’t try to quit. We have no real desire to quit.
And choice is the reason why.
Even though we may feel we have no choice but to write, we always get to exercise the choice of what to write. That’s the best part. That’s where the glory lives, as well as the buzz — the buzz of having the pure power to choose. A power that no editor, publisher, producer, partner, loved one, critic, boss, client or buyer can ever take away, not truly. You might modify your choices to serve other people’s needs, but ultimately it’s your brain which drives your hands that bring your words to life.
Without you and your choices, it’s just an empty page.
So recognize your power and own it from the start. Own the right to start stories you don’t finish. Own the authority to create characters you later kill off. Own the initiative to try forms of writing you’ve never tried before. Own your control over the most basic issue: What do I write right now? Above all, own your right to be wrong on the page. Be confident in knowing that choices improve as information improves — and that wrong choices lead to right choices in the end.
You get to choose. That’s what makes you a writer, and makes some other poor jlub a muffler installer instead. You choose; you discover and judge; you select. In sum, you create. By making choices.
The writer’s war is the struggle to make choices without going nuts. Without second guessing ourselves, annoying ourselves, stopping or subverting or diverting ourselves. If we succeed, then we communicate our thoughts in a meaningful way. If we fail… sigh… we try again, because we’re writers and we can’t stop writing. But even if we succeed, we… sigh… still try again, because we’re writers and whatever writing worlds we conquered last week just won’t seem to satisfy us next.
It could be a long war.
How long? That depends. What would you take as a win? What would represent total triumph over the forces of imperfect process and ongoing writer’s angst for you? Writing a best-seller? Selling a screenplay? Having a steady writing gig with a weekly paycheck and health insurance? Publishing that collection of short stories in the university press? Releasing a CD of your songs? Posting a web page?
Please record your choices. I don’t intend to do all the work around here.
Whatever writing goals we have, they all have this in common: If they’re big goals, they’re hard to swallow whole. We can’t write a manuscript or a screenplay in a single sitting and plainly it’s unrealistic to try. While I’m no known fan of reality, I am a fan of practicality and, especially, efficiency. I can think of many strategies more efficient than trying to swallow a big goal whole. Strategies that I’ve thought of recently comprise the bulk of this book; ones I haven’t thought of yet will not be presented at this time.
Meanwhile, back at the war, we find that we’re assailed on all fronts. Procrastination creeps through the lines. Doubt occupies the low ground. Bills come flying in like bullets. Enemy personnel are constantly on patrol, trying to seize or kill our time. Metaphorical land mines (the worst kind!) block our path and also our Path. Inner terrorists lurk. Even the terrain seems to be against us:
Who put the delete key so far away anyway? Why is it so hot in this room? When did my back start hurting?
Then again, as wars go this is a fun one because you really can’t get killed, and you do get to call the shots in a way that people who have only the desire and not the drive envy. Just ask the muffler installer. I’m sure that he (or she — this book provides equal opportunity for pronouns) would tell you that there are some terrific darn stories in muffler repair, if only one had the drive to write them all down. She envies you your war because war, albeit hell, is not dull.
So go out there and get bloody — okay, or anyway sweaty. Work up the kind of good creative lather that comes from putting hours into the task — waging the war — and finding that you’re advancing on some fronts.
They may not be the fronts you expect.
But this battlefield is fluid; you never know where you’re going to make your breakthroughs. In fact, given that creativity often involves taking yourself by surprise, you can expect to make breakthroughs in unexpected places. Especially if you’re expecting them.
Expect the unexpected? Is that what this book’s all about?
In a sense. There is a phenomenon that’s common to writers, the where did that come from? feeling or sensation which washes over us when we see our writing take on a life of its own. You bury yourself in a writing project for an hour or a day or a week or a month or a year, and later you look back and wonder where did all that come from? That’s the magic of writing: I know that I wrote all the words, but they don’t all seem to have been written by me.
There’s either a logical or a mystical explanation for this. Logic tells us that if we work on a project long enough with our conscious mind, eventually our subconscious mind starts to pitch in too. Mystics tell us that creativity is bestowed upon us by higher powers, and by writing we put ourselves into a place where higher powers can act. Which explanation is right? Whichever one you like.
They serve the same end.
If you take the logical approach, you’re going to spend more time writing in order to derive more benefit from your subconscious partner. If you take the mystical approach, then you’ll spend more time writing as a means of positioning yourself to receive the gifts that higher powers bestow.
Either way you win, because either way you’re going to spend more time writing.
And that’s what this book is all about.
To be a well-informed and confident writer, you have to write a lot. To write a lot, you have to be a well-informed and confident writer. How do we resolve this paradox? How can we work toward being the kind of writers we want to be in advance of having the necessary confidence and craftsmanship to move forward. How do we build strength?
Gradually. By degrees.
You start by pretending that you’re not completely ignorant and ill-informed, and move your writing forward a tiny bit on that basis. Having moved your writing forward a tiny bit, you now have a little more writing experience to draw on. This experience gives you new information and new confidence, which you feed right back into your writing process, like a not-for-profit corporation feeds its income right back into research and development, or like a mama bird feeds half-digested worms down her babies’ throats. Additional writing gives you more experience of yourself as someone who can do a writer’s job, and also gives you more skills for doing that job. Each time you confront recurring writers’ problems (motivation problems, story problems, logic problems, detail problems – oh, that list is long) you’re incrementally better equipped than you were last time through. Eventually the war starts to go your way.
I’ve heard this said: If you want to improve your writing, write more; if you want to improve a lot, write a lot more. This is a useful suggestion, but it overlooks one key piece of strategy. Not only do you have to write more, you also have to study yourself and experience yourself as the writer you are, and the writer you’re becoming. This wedding of write more and study your process moves you toward a well-informed and confident place. A place where a writer can get some real work done.
Take a long view of the war. You won’t win it overnight. You may not win at all. You might never close the gap between the reality of your writer’s life and the fantasies you create and sustain in its name. That’s all right. You don’t have to win the war; you just have to keep winning battles. To do that, merely keep writing and keep watching yourself write. You’ll get better; it’s a given.
Life is long. If you’re still drawing breath, you still have time to be the kind of writer you want to be. Here’s the kind of writer I want to be: a better writer today than I was yesterday. That’s a reachable goal. That’s something I can do. You can too. It happens automatically if we just keep writing. Well hell, that’s all we really want to do anyway. All that could possible stop us is lack of capability or lack of nerve. And these are two problems that the mere, sheer act of writing solves as well. Do anything long enough and you’re not a rookie anymore. Skill builds confidence — confidence builds skill. Unless you feel you already have too much of both, strive to add to your store.
Words on the page.
Words on the page.
Words on the page.
I’m telling you, that’s all it takes. I feel like I’m trying to sell you a diet supplement, guaranteed to shed pounds! It just can’t be that simple. But it is. Really, it is.
Whether you’re a rookie writer (or even a pre-writer) or a veteran, I hope and trust that this book will give you some new strategies and tactics that you can use in your war. But in the end my best advice boils down to this: Take small steps, and take as many as you can.
It doesn’t take forever to get good, but it does take time, and it does take work. If you imagined that you didn’t intend to harvest a single word you wrote for even five years, you’d be giving yourself a decent apprenticeship to serve. You’d certainly keep your expectations in check.
But whose got that kind of patience? I want the harvest right now. I want to be good from the start. Okay, fine, but contemplate this: You don’t have to be good to get good. Choose to learn. Choose to have patience. Choose to serve the writer you’ll be in the long run. That’s a place where a writer can stand, and that’s a war that a writer can win.