A teacher once drew a chalk dot on the chalkboard and asked a high school class what it was. At first, no-one volunteered an answer. Finally, one brave student spoke up. A chalk dot? The teacher asked a kindergarten class the same question, and couldn’t keep up with the flood of enthusiasm. A squashed insect! A telephone pole seen from the top. An egg. A cigarette butt. A button. A bottle cap!
Finding the wrong kind of groove
This story comes from Roger von Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head, and illustrates how a thinking rut limits creativity. Writers can’t afford to get into a thinking rut.
We have to create a different kind of magic with the same words used by other writers. We have to rework age-old plots in new ways that both satisfy readers’ expectations, yet surprise them. We have to inhabit each of our character’s minds in turn – crafting personalities that are congruent, character flaws that are authentic, and motivations that hinge. Thinking ruts are a nightmare.
If you’ve reached a deadlock in your writing, try these tips:
- Park it: sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away. Put some distance between you and the problem, and do things that feed your soul. Go for a walk in beautiful surroundings. Visit an art gallery. Lie on your back and look at the stars. Listen to your favourite music. Visit good friends. When you come back to it, you may have fresh perspective.
- Change your viewpoint – literally: if you’re stuck on a problem, try changing your physical position. Write your problem in the form of a question, stick the paper under a table, and lie on the floor so you can see it. Take a few pillows and lie in the bath. Put your paper on the floor and stand on a desk. Sometimes a change in physical location jars your brain into seeing something new.
- Brainstorm properly: in the brainstorming phase of problem solving, all ideas have merit. Record them exactly as they come to you. Don’t filter out the ones that don’t seem useful. An associated sequence of two unlikely ideas can lead to a brilliant third one, which you wouldn’t have discovered if you hadn’t allowed the unlikely ideas.
- Play: when you approach a problem, foster a playful attitude. Think up ridiculous and outlandish answers to your question. It’s like doing brain warm-ups that keep your mind supple and open to consider all the options. Ultimately, this will boost your creativity.
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by Donna Radley
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