Tag Archives: creativity

Ideas – They Don’t Just Pop Into Your Head

I’d say the greatest challenge for a writer is quite a simple on actually. It’s not writing well, or getting published. Even at a push, I’d say it’s not about staying motivated either. It’s having lots of ideas.

When we think about writing, we have this notion that ideas are the one thing you can’t change. Either you have a good idea or you don’t, either you can think up of many ideas or you can’t. It’s a bit of a naive attitude though, because it relies on the fact that ideas for writing simply stroll into our heads, that we have sudden moments of creative genius that happen outside of our control. It’s sensationalist, and encouraged because of its appeal, but it doesn’t do much good in reality.

If a writer were to say the idea for their entire book just walked fully formed into their head, I’d tell them to stop being overly dramatic. What are ideas? They’re by no means so tidy or obedient even. When you pause to break it down, the idea for a work is more of a single one, a stub, a starting point. One idea might be something very simple, and as you think about it, you come up with more. Whenever I write, I start with a small idea in mind. It’s my goal for what I’m going to do. Then as I continue, I get more ideas the more I think. I don’t just sit there waiting for inspiration to hit me, I ask myself questions about the idea I’ve had. Sometimes I get answers. Sometimes I don’t. But it creates more ideas for you to play with, rather than struggling with just one.

In reality, a story is an amalgamation of many ideas. One idea starts the process off, but then others join it. Some contradict each other, and some turn the story away from your original idea. But as you ask yourself questions, you build up a single, cohesive story. It’s like building a rubber band ball. You start with the first one, and as you add more the ball takes shape, until all those rubber bands behave like a single ball, rather than a pile of them.

So, you can think creatively by asking yourself questions. That’s a start, but it’s still limited in boosting your imagination. I’m not going to launch into a long paragraph about reading other books, because that’s a stock response. I’d say, read a selection of books. Ones that interest you, ones that you know nothing about. Even ones you think you won’t like. Don’t stop with contemporary fiction, but go back in time. Have a dig. Don’t limit yourself to fiction, but look at non-fiction. History is a very good place to come up with ideas, as you ask “what if” questions as you read. What if Rome didn’t fall? You can have some fun with that. Even then, I’d encourage brave writers to read philosophy. Stories will give you ideas for events, and philosophy will give you understanding of different modes of thought, which means, better characterisation.

Life experience is a great asset too. You know how looking back at your past work is almost always something that makes you cringe? That’s greater experience talking. How can you make your work better? By going out and living. Gain experiences, don’t just slave away at the keyboard. You can draw inspiration from the experiences you’ve had yourself, and the great thing about this is that it is free, and it’s going on all the time. If you can travel, then do, but if you can’t try to experience other cultures. Books, encyclopaedias, TV, these will all give you experience.

Ideas aren’t just a solitary affair. Have willing volunteers read your work. Discuss ideas. It’s always good to have friends that are writers for this purpose, and even better if you have a mentor. So in short, there are things you can do to have more ideas. It isn’t just about creativity on its own, because it is extremely hard to pull something from nothing, even if it is in your head. Experimentation is key, and you must not limit yourself by sticking to only what you like.

My question is how do you come up with ideas? Do you struggle, or do you have too many?

Escapism, Reality and Writing – Why Do We Create To Escape?

At the face of it, writing creatively is a purely self-destructive activity. Of all the things to spend your time, you choose to write on fictitious events, worry over imaginary characters and work to create the unreal. All when today, we retain the idea that we should do things of relevance, and that concept of what makes something worthwhile is intrinsically tied to a grounding in reality. In short, it is seen as productive to have a hobby that has some benefit to you in reality.

Here’s a hobby of mine. Rock Climbing. A good way to exercise; so it would seem. The practice of heaving yourself up vertical surfaces. Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? Yet even now when we’ve long passed over the hunter-gatherer stage of human development when this kind of skill would have been relevant, we still view it with an air of justification. Instead of using it to heave yourself up or down steep terrain to get to food others might not be able to access, it’s good exercise. It has a benefit to the body. Exercise releases endorphins, which make you happy. A happy citizen, a happy worker, a more productive worker. So, that’s fine, go climb those walls.

Yet writing? Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. It’s just daydreaming. It’s just imaginary nonsense. Haven’t we grown up and learnt to focus on what’s real, instead of inventing things? Yes, oh dear. It’s a tenuous position, sitting and dealing with imaginary people, treating them as if they were real. We’re adults now, not children, we must focus our minds in the real world, upon all that is real and nothing else. Why is that? Because we’re meant to ‘grow up’, a concept that involves expunging childish practices from us in order to become a rational adult. With that in mind, the following paragraph will sound mad.

I spent several hours today inside my head, thinking about a world I created. I wasn’t just thinking about characters, I was imagining myself as them. I thought as them, felt as them.

Sounds like a mental problem, doesn’t it? Especially if you know the characters I write about.

It’s worrying when you break out of the daydream, blink, and realise for a split second, you were thinking and feeling like that character.

Really, writing in first person present screws with my mind at least. Not that I was complaining. Oh, take that society!

In short, this is why I opened by saying writing is self-destructive. Perhaps we spend our time inside our heads too much, imagining an escapist world like a child does, instead of being a good little worker and getting on with our lot in this world. Or rather, instead of learning to cope with the world itself, coping by proxy.

But hey, I don’t actually believe that at all. I wouldn’t say writing is self-destructive. But why did I just lead you on that tangent? I had to explain that in order for you to understand the next idea. Well, there’s a refuge in the word ‘writer’. The practice of writing is a refuge for imaginative process that would have been culled around the time you go to secondary school. That begins when you’re 13 if I remember correctly. Think back in your education. When did the emphasis on creativity and imaginative practice go? When instead of writing a story in English you had to start writing essays? When did they focus shift onto getting good grades for oh, that seemingly distant job? See, it’s an implicit part in the practice of ‘growing up’. The imaginative gets sidelined for the practical. Creativity is preserved only if it can serve an economic purpose. Learning suffers the same as well. Cram your head with the facts to pass the exams. Who cares if it’s something you want to learn about.

Creative problem solving. That’s useful, it means you’ll be a good worker that can better deal with unforeseen problems. What about being a writer? You’re using the imagination to write stories that sell. That’s the refuge. So all day, I’m not potentially wasting time indulging a denial of reality. No, I’m working to create a product. The thing is, unless writing can justify itself by selling, creativity for creativity’s sake alone is cast of as void. It becomes a nice thing for children to do. Paint a picture, write a story. How many artists and writers have we lost because they never thought to keep their creativity into adulthood? I look around at the people I know here at university. Of the English students, how many that say they are writers are? Few. Precious few. They’re here for inspiration. They’re here to learn how to write. Perhaps. But how many go of and write? Of them, who writes regularly? Who is really working on that book, and not just stuck in some limbo falsely labelled as work in progress?

Let’s say I haven’t found one yet. None isn’t a word I want to hear, but that’s another topic.

The continued existence of the refuge of writing presents a strange idea though, and why do I label it’s existence down to consumerism?

Well, it exists because it’s a balm, a slave for all the dreary existence we find ourselves trudging through. Working 9am to 5pm, seeing the same sights, living a life of routine without any change. It creates a craving for adventure. In all ways, all stories tell one. Whether it is as literal as that doesn’t matter. There are changes. There is excitement. It is novel. Buy a book, or better yet, write one and you can create your own adventure, with all the security of the current existence intact. I don’t doubt that anyone will ever be truly content with their lives. We can always find something more we want. Perhaps loosing yourself in a wood full of elves helps. Perhaps not. But the need for this alternate reality still exists, and it is a healthy one.

The question is, why do you start writing (if you are a writer) and if not, what do you think about creative endeavours? Do you indulge in escapism?

Writing Off Your Own Worst Enemy – How Do You Stay Postive?

There’s a lot of truth in the phrase that someone can be their own worst enemy. It might be one of those stock phrases that sound awfully cliché when you use them, but it’s one of the few in that category that are cliché because they’re just so apt, and therefore overused. I mean, how else could you say it?

When it comes to writing, I’ve been accused of being my own worst enemy. It comes with a great list of things. Stubbornness. Inability to accept praise. Constantly believing that your writing isn’t good enough, or neither will it ever be. Out of those few, the one that stood out most for me was being unable to accept praise. As soon as someone gave me a positive comment, I’d immediately look for ways to disprove it. It sounds bizarre, but I’d write off people’s comments for the reason that I couldn’t accept the good things they said.

Considering receiving a positive comment is the thing writers crave; this all sounds crazy. I’m pretty sure I caused a few writing friends to bang their heads in frustration with me. In fact, in one case I know it. I was explicitly told.

Why would I choose to reject any positive comments? I think it was because I was never ready to believe in my writing; the idea that if I always thought it was rubbish, I’d never get my feelings hurt. I’d never get caught up in a few well-intentioned comments by friends, glossing over glaring errors because they wanted to be encouraging. Well, once you start going down that road, you start thinking everyone is sugar-coating, unless they’re being critical. Welcome to the world where nothing can possibly be good.

The question is, did any of you as writers slip into this mode of thought at some point? How did you get out of it? Or even if you didn’t, how do you keep yourself from becoming your own worst enemy? How do you keep that little voice in your head quiet?

Writing 101

Approaching Writing – A short guide to constructing ideas and dealing with writer’s block.

A tutorial on how to write – we’ve seen it all before. Why then, should you even bother to read any further into this one? I’m not just going to tell you how to write, but what I’ve learnt through experience. I’m also going to break a few moulds, and show you how some of the well known advice doesn’t exactly work in the simple way others make you believe. As a side note, this is a repost of I guide I previously wrote which got quite a bit of interest from people, and more importantly it seemed to help them. If you read this and find nothing here helps you, that would make me happy actually, as it means you’re beyond whatever help I can offer. Also, if there’s something you’d like to add, please share your tips!

1.The Idea

So, how shall we start? Let’s begin by examining what gets you writing in the first place. That of course is the idea.

It’s obvious, but often neglected when trying to provide advice on how to write better.  Your ideas are the single most important thing that will make your writing great. Being able to write grammatically perfect English doesn’t guarantee a good, thrilling read. Strong, technically flawless writing can’t make that promise either. People read because they love stories, not brilliant writing. I will admit though, the two go hand in hand. A good story is better when written well, and visa versa. However, my personal belief is that ideas have to come first over writing, simply because your writing can be improved by instruction and practice. Ideas however, don’t work in such a logical way. No one can teach you how to come up with a great idea.

Understanding this concept is all well and good, but it doesn’t help you actually come up with that story. Coming up with ideas is an illogical, haphazard process. A story rarely leaps into your head fully formed, and anyone claiming that they have is lying.  Unfortunately, you have to spend time thinking out your story. I’m one of those people who get ideas as they write, but every so often I get stuck too, and I end up needing to plan as well. This means I need to sit and brainstorm ideas down on paper. You can never rely on inspiration striking, because it’s a random and fickle thing. As tempting as it is, waiting until you feel inspired is a sure way to make yourself frustrated about your writing. Why? Because you’ll be staring at a blank document, wanting to write, but unable to because you have no idea where you’re going. It is a horrible cycle that is hard to break out of. The more frustrated you feel, the less you feel like writing. I’ll talk about this later.

Planning will give you the ideas and structure you need to continue writing. To plan out your story, I find it helpful to write down a few short statements that outline what you want to achieve in your book. It is best to have a number of these that differ from each other. Try to write down themes you want to tackle within your book, and any messages you want to convey. To give you some ideas, here are some potential statements.

1. I want to write a fantasy book.
2. I want to create my own fantasy races, not the usual elves, dwarves and orc races.
3. I want to write battle scenes as well as adventure ones.
4. The natural world is important to me, so I will write scenes that deal with nature vs. industry, or machines.

So, those seem to be fairly obvious, formulaic statements. The point of these it to serve as starting points for you to branch out from with increasingly complex ideas and statements. It’s obvious, but you must always deal with what seems glaringly simple, even if it feels stupid. It works as a focal point from which you can better elaborate and expand upon. This means that when it comes to writing you have an idea of what you want to write, and therefore will spend less time agonising over what to write in the first place. Hopefully then, the words will come much easier.

A crucial thing to understand about the planning stage is that it takes a while for ideas to come. Just keep brainstorming, keep writing notes. If you want to be more detailed, write notes for specific chapters, scenes and characters to help you get a better idea of your story. You must be patient and disciplined. Ideas develop over time, and you must be willing to invest time before you get them.

2.When to Write

I briefly touched on this in the previous section, but there is in fact a time to write. For a lot of writers I’ve come across, most say they only write when they feel inspired. This is what I feel distinguishes serious writers from casual ones, but crucially writers who’ll never finish that book and those who will.

I used to subscribe to this style of doing things, but now I don’t. Unfortunately, writing when you feel inspired is a bit of a self-destructive cycle. I’m not being dramatic either. Most of the time, you won’t feel inspired to write. Let’s be honest, we’ve all told ourselves we’ll do it some other time. This means you will struggle to make any meaningful progress on your stories. This in turn, will make you frustrated, which will increasingly leave you feeling even less inspired than before. It’s an unpleasant cycle that doesn’t leave you with good feelings about your writing ability.

In my case, I spent two years writing when I felt like it, and I only came up with 40,000 words on my book. At first, that feels like a sizable amount, but when you break the years down, you realise how little that actually is. With some simple maths, it means that in 730 days, I would have written on average 55 words. Of course, you can’t write every day, but I did waste a lot of time doing nothing simply because I didn’t feel like writing, and then telling myself that any lack of progress was fine because I didn’t feel inspired or even in the mood.

The hard truth is, if I hadn’t gotten my act together, I doubt I would have finished it at all. I certainly didn’t feel good about it either. To me, the amount of time you spend working on a story is only justified when you finish it. If you quit before you do, then you’ve just wasted all the time you spent on it. Besides, if you want to be a published author, you can’t write 55 words a day.

The key to feeling motivated when it comes to writing is all about setting goals for yourself. You’ve got to be disciplined in order for this to work. Motivation is key. I work by writing a thousand words a day, for five days a week. This means I can have the weekend off as a break so I don’t get fed up with writing the same story all the time. It allows me some time where I won’t feel guilty about not writing. Furthermore, it will take on average around forty-five to an hour and fifteen minutes to write a thousand words. What this system means is that in two weeks, I can have ten thousand words written down. What would have taken me two years, takes only two months. So I neither get fed up with writing, nor frustrated with a lack of progress.

However, such a system should be tailored to what works for you. Find a balance between words written and time. For me, I put aside an hour in my day so I can write my thousand words, without having to worry about other obligations. It will probably be a different story for you. Just remember to make a target system that you are happy with, and most importantly, provides progress without making you feel like a slave to your keyboard.

In this part, I’ll also deal with writer’s block. I’m sorry to say, but it’s a case of tough love right now. Firstly, there is no such things as writer’s block. If you are disciplined and prepared, you will have no problems writing. In such, writer’s block really speaks of laziness on the part of the writer, because it is used as a way of justifying a lack of progress to themselves.

Yes, I realise I’m challenging the orthodoxy.

Why do I say this? Because I speak from experience. If I couldn’t be bothered to get writing, I’d just cite writer’s block to myself and hop off to play a computer game. It was an easy excuse, and one that I could use to not make me feel bad about writing. What made it worse was that I felt that I could only write when I felt inspired, because I thought that forcing myself to write would mean I would write badly.

I pretty much impaled myself on a double-edged sword.

Fortunately, I was wrong. As I said, with planning and self-discipline, I could write just as well as when I felt inspired. Sure, there were days when it felt like I was wading through waist high mud, but when I stopped, looked at my notes, I could get going a lot faster. Even if I wasn’t happy with it, I just kept going until the work I had to do was done. When I came back to read it, I realised that it was just me. There was no marked difference between pieces when I felt inspired and when I didn’t. Besides, you’ll always go back and make edits later, so you don’t need to worry about writing brilliantly first time.

That’s the hard truth of it, and it’s something not many people say. I only snapped out of such methods recently. I’d just watched an entire summer holiday slide by with no progress whatsoever. The truth was, I was disgusted with myself. I spent an entire summer doing nothing but lying around, being lazy and playing computer games but I still would call myself a writer. At the end of it, I had nothing to show for it, and that’s what made me feel bad. That in turn, provided me with the kick to actually get something meaningful done. Finding the time to write just becomes harder as you grow up, and life in general will test your commitment to writing. Sometimes, you’ll have to write while half asleep on the train back from work, or just before you go to bed. You might even have to understand that writing will have to fit around other more important duties, and this will test your motivation to do so in the first place.

Learning, Intelligence, IQ

And all that nonsense. Yes, I say nonsense for many reasons. I’ll outline the premise of why here before going into some depth, so keep reading while I get the introduction out of the way.

Asking what intelligence is, how it can be cultivated and how we can measure it is very much an epistemological concern, but one that is also rooted in a perceived financial necessity. We live in a society that is geared to rewarding intelligence because of its ability to enhance financial productivity, and we can see this in the salary differences between various professions. Graduate jobs tend to pay more than jobs that don’t require a degree, and it’s an easy trend to observe when looking for work. However, the problem as I perceive it is that society is too geared towards cultivating a specific type of intelligence, one that fills economic necessity. As such, society is about intelligence for economic gain, rather than intelligence for the sake of it.

It’s fair to say we’ve all gone through the meat-grinder that is state education, and to everyone potentially reading this I ask you to consider how much of what you learnt as part of either state curriculum or at university you firstly can actually recall, and secondly, how often you use it in your everyday life or profession. Then, compare that to what you’ve learnt yourself through your own learning independent of an academic institution. Again, the question is of these two categories, which one do you remember the most? That, and which one benefits the career path you are on?

Of course, let’s not pretend we’re living in some idealistic world where we all go off and learn about things in our spare time. That’s not a realistic assumption. But the question to engage with here is one whether state education and society in general encourages a sort of ‘legitimate’ intelligence (intelligence for the sake of it) or an economically productive intelligence.

Going through all levels of education, the focus has never been upon learning the content of a subject for long term reference, but to demonstrate the ability to use certain skills – such as analysis or communication. The interest in having a qualification is not that you learnt information about the world from that course, but that the mark you gained showed the degree you can use that skill. The best example I can personally think of is not that for one course in history I had to learn over 100 years of Russian history in detail, but that I could demonstrate the ability to exercise judgement, analyse information, present an argument and then communicate effectively. The latter abilities would be the economically productive intelligences, while the former, being all facts, is just information for the sake of it. With skills of analysis, the subject matter is interchangeable and frankly irrelevant. While a drive in state education towards economic intelligence is understandable and even logical, there’s something said from the lack of interest in education once a job is secured. You might undergo varying degrees of training, but once those are over, it is time to use your economically productive intelligence to benefit the firm you are working for. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what you know any more, but merely the functions you can preform.

That’s the thing that I find lamentable, and perhaps worrying even. We spend our childhood learning information and skills only to fulfil and adult society’s demand not for intelligence, but productivity. Now, this isn’t a simple issue either. It isn’t just logical, but essential to have an education system that encourages productive intelligence. However, if the outcome of education is economic productivity alone, then that very aim is endangering itself.

Yes, it comes down to that predictable outcome that creativity is valuable because it is a way of coming up with new solutions to things. And yes, we must do more to value creativity. But, what we should also look at is how we perceive intelligence. Intelligence should not be perceived to be confirmed by economic success, neither should “intelligent” individuals have the expectation of doing certain jobs only, and anything else is a waste of their ability. As we’ve outlined, only a specific type of intelligence is financially rewarded, and we risk creating very narrow perceptions of intelligence if we do so. It ironically comes down to the principle of genetics – a healthy population has multiple versions of many genes and has a large population. Low genetic diversity is bad for the species, and in the same way, a low diversity of intelligence created by a perceived validation by economic success risks not only making society a poorer one culturally, but also risks harming that very model of economic success because of a lack of diversity.

From this, let’s finish upon society. If a certain type of intelligence is valued only by society, then we must ask what questions this poses about ourselves. Is it correct to brand someone as “stupid” if they do not conform to a narrow set of exceptions? Is so, does this mean we understand “stupidity” as merely an individual who is not economically productive? One of the common arguments you hear batted around in general conversation is that “I know someone who knows lots of facts but isn’t smart”. How can knowing lots of facts not be smart? If these facts are not useful, who decides so or how is it decided that they’re useless? Again, we come down to that issue of productivity. But in terms of society, we must have a shake up of the perceived intelligence roles for individuals. Does stacking shelves make someone “stupid”? Does that mode of productivity define our expectations of that person? I think the answer is yes, and it shouldn’t be such that we make a judgement upon that person based upon that fact.

In the end, the issue is that society is enslaved by an idea that economically productive intelligence is the only form of intelligence. From this a number of problems are spawned – what do we view intelligence as, but more importantly, it spawns a very dangerous idea of intelligence, where individuals are defined by this specific form of intelligence.