Ideas come from everywhere; the difficult part involves the recognition of an idea. If you pay attention to each situation that presents itself and your own reaction to a particular circumstance, you will discover idea after idea. Consider the following scenarios, and foster the habit of searching for ideas and recognizing them when they present themselves.
Some overheard conversations may make you feel awkward, icky, or any other number of emotions, and this is when you should listen the most intently. Recently, I took a "ghost" trolley tour in Savannah. We had just been "released" from the final stop on the tour: a closed-in warehouse complete with ominous special effects. A young, mid-twenties couple walked in front of me as we headed back to the trolley. It was obvious from the conversation that the woman "didn't get" her boyfriend at all. He tried repeatedly to tell her that he was claustrophobic, but she wouldn't give him any sympathy. She discussed how she loved that kind of thing, and she didn't understand why he didn't. Anyone who heard it had to feel for the guy. It was such a weird and telling interaction, definitely fodder for a fictional transaction.
Something you see may make you stop and consider what is happening. It can be something ordinary that just happens to strike you in a certain way, a mother walking her child to the bus stop early in the morning; something a little left of ordinary, a chicken pecking the ground in someone's front yard in a "regular" neighborhood (I saw this recently); or something strange beyond words, a clown crossing a main intersection smoking a cigarette while talking on a cell phone (I haven't seen this one, but it will probably happen now that I have put it to paper).
A memory can come back again and again, almost tapping you on the shoulder to acknowledge it for what it is. Even if the memory that you have isn't accurate, and there really is no way to tell, a strong memory may offer several ideas for your work. The fear you had as a child to the neighbor's dog can be translated into the fear that your main protagonist feels when he opens the door to his bedroom knowing that he recognized a man's voice alongside his wife's. Tap into the memories that have a definite hold on your psyche.
A vivid dream that takes a hold of you can be the start of a story. Merle Drown, a fellow author, began a novel based on a dream that he had. The twist was that he realized that everyone in his dream was lying.
The news and media constantly bombard viewers and listeners with information, but if a news or media story bothers you and continues to find its way into your thinking, even long after the story has passed, then you may have a great idea for a story. Not that you want to copy a news story, but you can definitely break down what's specifically bothering you about it, and you can find what your central idea is.
While reading other fictional works, new ideas can bubble up from reading others' great stories and novels. Again, don't copy the book; create your own ideas.
Generate ideas on your own. Many writers, and successful people in general, make a habit of generating five to ten ideas a day. It helps you "practice" your idea muscle, and you may remember an something that happened to you or around you, and sitting down to purposely come up with ideas helps you to remember it.
Does an event provoke your senses? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Does it make you think? Does it make you connect a little more with what is going on around you? Then, it might just be an idea.
Authors' Writing Tip of the Week: Tip 1
Five Benefits of Reading Other Authors' Fiction
by Sherry Meeks
Reading others' short stories or novels for the joy of reading represents its own benefit, but when you read works of other authors, especially authors who have mastered their craft, there are additional advantages. Here are just a few of the ways that fiction writers profit from reading:
Reading great works helps you to become a better writer. You lose yourself in a wonderful story, and at the same time, you notice, without being distracted from the story, some of the techniques the author uses. You might recognize the general tone or structure of the story, and this aids you as a writer. You begin utilizing some of the newly recognized concepts in your own work.
Other writers' fiction may spark ideas for your own work. Of course, you don't want to copy a writer's ideas, but you can definitely come up with new ideas that have presented themselves while you were reading someone else's fiction. The mind loves to connect ideas, and you may be inspired to write a story totally unrelated to what you just read.
In "Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function," an article in Psychology Today, Christopher Bergland reports that researchers at Emory University found that "becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Interestingly, reading fiction was found to improve the reader's ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of a muscle memory in sports."
What does this mean to you as a writer? When reading fiction, you further develop your sense of empathy. This increases your understanding of your characters and their respective situations. Also, through the mind, you "experience" what the individuals in the book experience. This improves the abilities of your imagination, and this can only assist you in your writing.
Reading fiction clears the mind of thoughts, and if you're truly engrossed in a book, time seems to stop, and you forget almost everything around you. Clearing out the mental "clutter" is a great place to start your writing. Focusing on the task in front of you may be somewhat easier.
Ernest Hemingway believed that reading others' works after his writing day was done not only cleared his mind, but also allowed the subconscious to "work" on his story. The next day he would return to his work-in-progress and begin with a fresh perspective.
You may think that as a writer, you only have time to write, but reading strong works of other writers will help you to become a better writer.
Sherry Meeks is the author of the soon-to-be-released novel Finding Tambri.
Writing prompts offer unique starting points for your writing, or they may spark something new for you in a current work. Give this one a try:
One of my instructors in graduate school, Craig Childs, passed this exercise along to me. It took a lot of thought before I knew what to do, and I think that for everyone the process may be a little different. You'll probably experience a similar type of "confusion," but that's part of the method, and you may be surprised by what ends up on the page.
Choose one of your favorite short stories. Create a brand new short story based on this story's structure. (Of course, don't copy the short story.)
That's it. That's all the instruction you'll be receiving. Have fun!
It's the blank page that brings some writers to tears, others to drink, and still others to run screaming into the night. How to begin?
Below, I offer various writing processes as starting points. Short descriptions are provided, and in future posts, I'll discuss each method in more detail.
Character Sketch - Write down as much as you can about your character. It can include her physical description to the brand of soap she uses to her eccentricities.
Outline - This is exactly what it sounds like. Don't let this one frighten you away. It doesn't have to be a "formal" outline. It can just be a few organized ideas. Use caution with this technique. Don't let the outline dictate where your story is going. Writing should be organic. Again, use an outline as a starting tool, but you can always change your story as you go along.
Clustering/Mind-mapping - Start with a big circle in the middle of a page, and write down your central idea in this circle. As you think of related ideas, create "branches" that extend from the middle circle. Create a circle at the end of each branch and write down your related idea inside the circle. You may also "branch off" from each of these related branches. This one is somewhat complicated, so I'm including an example.
Freewriting - It is exactly what it sounds like. Put pen or pencil to paper and write for a specific amount of time. Set a timer so that you won't be distracted checking the time. Don't pick the pen or pencil up; keep your thoughts pouring onto the page. You may also use a computer; just keep typing.
Visual - Choose an image or object and write about it. You can choose the vase sitting on the coffee table in front of you or you can pull up a picture or image from any website.
These represent a handful of techniques you can use to begin. These aren't only for fiction writing; you can also utilize each for your blog post, your business letter, or your nonfiction book. Getting the mind going and the words flowing is your goal.
I initially began this blog less than a year ago. Its intended purpose was to discuss creativity and offer ways to be more creative. With only three installments in the several months, I knew it was time to take a second look at my topic choice.
Creativity is, for me, too wide a topic. Plus, my expertise is in writing. I've written a novel, and I'm working on a second one. I also teach English Composition and creative writing on the college level. Yes, I know what you're thinking...
So, why did she choose CREATIVITY?
Because it seemed like something that would appeal to more people, and that's where I stumbled. Although, I do love being creative and discussing creative people and things, I am passionate about writing and Fiction. Sometimes, a person (in this case me) has to look around for something before she finds that its right in front of her. What was clearly under my nose was that discussing what I enjoy most is the best way to go, and hopefully, some people will join me in the conversation.
With that in mind, my blog is now entitled "Finding Fiction." I won't define it much more than that; let's just see where it goes. I hope you enjoy.
Imagination takes the stuff of observation and experience and recombines them into something new. Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova explores the mental workings of the world's most famous, fictional detective in Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. What does Sherlock Holmes, a detective known for his logic and powers of deduction have to do with creativity? Konnikova explains, "What makes Holmes who he is, what places him above detectives, inspectors, and civilians alike, is his willingness to engage in the nonlinear, embrace the hypothetical, entertain the conjecture; it's his capacity for creative thought and imaginative reflection." Problem solving requires creativity and a "leap of faith."
Konnikova demonstrates through "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" how both Holmes and Lt. Lestrade collect the same facts in the case, but come to different conclusions. John Hector McFarlane, a lawyer, is framed for the murder of Jonas Oldacre, a builder who had solicited McFarlane's assistance in the creation of Oldacre's will. Because Oldacre left his entire estate to McFarlane, a man he just met, Lestrade immediately "jumps" to the conclusion that McFarlane is guilty. Holmes disagrees indicating that Lestrade does 'not add imagination' to his other 'great qualities.'
According to Konnikova, imagination must be a part of the process before deduction (problem solving) can occur. "Imagination takes the stuff of observation and experience and recombines them into something new...It is your own synthesis and creation." She explains that imagination takes place inside the brain attic. The brain attic includes how your mind works (how it takes in information) and how it stores information. In addition, the brain attic includes the contents (memories). Imagination is an "essential mental space in your attic, where you have the freedom to work with various contents but don't yet have to commit to any storage or organizational system, where you can shift and combine and recombine and mess around at will and not be afraid of disturbing the main attic's order or cleanliness in any way."
To me, this space within your mind is reminiscent of a child playing with wooden blocks. The child moves the blocks around, using the experience and observations that he or she has gained thus far, forming something new. You shift your problem's information around in your brain attic adding past experience and knowledge and you build something original. Something only you could develop in this particular way. You create a solution.
So, how does Holmes solve the case of Barrister McFarlane? He looks at all possibilities and even goes to a location outside of the crime scene. Nothing comes of the visit, but according to Konnikova it represents Holmes willingness to "play" in the space of his brain attic. He moves "things" around and imagines different scenarios shifting the facts of the case alongside his knowledge and experiences. He even brings into question, the facts themselves. He intuits that Oldacre isn't dead at all. His suspicions are confirmed when new evidence of "McFarlane's bloody fingerprint" appears at the crime scene. Holmes realizes that this evidence has been placed at the scene after the crime. He is certain that in his initial inspection of the crime scene, the fingerprint wasn't there. With this new evidence, Oldacre overplays his hand and is discovered to be alive. No murder has been committed. Holmes does not "...equate the most obvious course of events with the only possible course of events."
Konnikova utilized imagination and creativity in the development of her book. She employed her knowledge of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels, stories that her father read to her as a child, as a way to demonstrate (in a creative and enthralling way) different functions and applications of the brain. Konnikova shows how imagination, creativity, and Sherlock Holmes play a role in the world of deduction and problem solving.
Konnikova, Maria. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. New York: Penguin
Group, 2013. Print.
Flow drives individuals to creativity and outstanding achievement. (Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi)
In flow, time becomes distorted. Complete concentration, a lack of self-awareness, and increased creativity and productivity represent some of the characteristics of flow. During and after a session in the "flow" state, feelings of elation and satisfaction are experienced. It is a state of consciousness that many people, myself included, seek out because it is a creative, productive, and positive place to be.
The flow state occurs in creative processes such as writing, composing, singing, solving scientific problems, and teaching (just to name a few). Sometimes called "the zone," it can also happen when playing sports, such as football or ping pong, and playing games, such as chess or poker.
Hungarian Psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University and Founding Co-Director at the Quality of Life Research Center and the pre-eminent authority of Flow, Creativity, and Positive Psychology has studied the habits of famous creative people such as Writer Madeline L'Engle, Jonas Salk, and of average folks who work regular jobs. According to Csikszentmihalyi, with every flow activity studied, there was one commonality: "It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed-of states of consciousness. It short, it transformed the self by making it more complex. In this growth of the self lies the key to flow activities."
Csikszentmihalyi offers nine conditions of flow:
1. Attainable, clear goals.
2. Strong concentration and focus.
3. An intrinsically rewarding activity.
4. Serene feelings, along with lack of self-consciousness (the ego disappears).
5. Because of the extreme focus, time is distorted.
6. Immediate feedback.
7. Control over the activity and the result.
8. Physical needs go unnoticed.
9. The activity becomes an end in itself.
How does this list help you to find flow? Control the factors that you can control.
· Set attainable and clear goals. Writing a novel is an attainable goal, but it isn't clear enough to achieve flow. For flow, break this goal down into smaller goals that you can accomplish on a regular basis. Writing five pages a day is an attainable and clear goal.
· Balance your skill level with the challenge presented. If you're writing a novel, and you decide you want to write it in Spanish, but you only took two semesters in college, your skill level will probably be too low to accomplish this task. At the same time, the goal must be a challenge to you. Boredom is your enemy when it comes to discovering flow.
· Grow your skills. If you want to write, read works by great authors to see how it is done. In fact, you can experience flow through the act of reading according to Csikszentmihalyi. Also, write on a regular basis. With practice, your skills will develop, and you may find your way to flow through your regular writing. Sometimes when you aren't searching for flow, it finds you.
· Find the activities that help you to achieve the flow state. Try new things and see what works for you.
· Also, try to accomplish flow more often in your everyday activities. There are some people who experience flow almost all of the time. Csikszentmihalyi indicates that these people have autotelic personalities, which "denotes an individual who generally does things for their own sake, rather than in order to achieve some later external goal."
Creativity can be enhanced in the flow state. Whether you are a painter, singer, composer, financial planner, stockbroker, soccer goalie, or chess player, flow can help you solve problems and create new things. Recreate the conditions listed, and find your way to flow.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper
& Row, Publishers, Inc., 1990. Print.
How would you define creativity? Does it revolve only around artistic endeavors such as writing a novel, creating a sculpture, singing, or directing a movie? Creativity is artistic and so much more. Creativity helps us to generate new concepts, and it also helps us to find connections that matter and, in doing so, assists us in solving problems. Creativity begins when you pick out your clothes and shoes for the day, and it continues throughout your workday as you resolve problems.
Discovering a want or need is the start of the creative process. The issue has to be recognized in order for creativity to kick in. You may not realize some of the things that you do each day as creative, but take a look at the list below, and see if you see something that seems familiar.
*Your child is scared to sleep alone in her room. One owl nightlight hasn't done the trick, so you decide to buy a nightlight for every outlet in the room. Your child feels more at ease, and you get more sleep.
*You want to exercise more, but your hectic workday just doesn't allow the time. You park farther away from work, from Target, from the coffee shop. You take the stairs whenever they present themselves, and sometimes you take them twice. You feel more invigorated, and you do find the time to work out on the weekends. You lose eight pounds, and you continue to find inventive ways to add exercise to your day.
*You want to go back to college, but you don't have the funds. You search and apply for scholarships. You take on a second job to save for college. You begin college.
*You're tired all the time, and the doctor has told you are doing just fine. You change your eating habits, and you go to bed 45 minutes earlier. You feel better, and you have more energy.
Maybe you're more creative than you realize. Tell me how you define creativity. What are some instances in which you used creativity and made your life or someone else's life better? Send them my way, and might post them to my blog. I look forward to hearing from you.
This blog is about my passion, Fiction.