Let’s start with an exercise exploring your idiosyncratic preferences and habits. Begin by closing your
eyes and thinking of four times, any times when you used your creative energy productively, easily, and with great satisfaction – perhaps related to writing and perhaps not. Then jot down words or phrases that signify the four experiences you remembered. Turn off the recording and do that now. Then I’ll ask a series of questions about these experiences.
Did you think of four times when you used your creative energy productively, easily, and with great satisfaction? We’ll be examining them for patterns that you can then incorporate into your writing process to make that more productive, easy, and satisfying too. You would definitely have a pattern if all four, or three, of the experiences you remembered share one of the characteristics in my questions. Sometimes even two “yesses” point to a pattern. So take note any time you feel there’s a similarity, and we’ll deal with the implications for your writing process later.
___ Were these four creative experiences things you were under pressure to do or things you did for the love of it? Do you notice a pattern there?
___ Were these things you did alone or in a group? Do you notice a pattern there?
___ Were these things that you did outdoors or indoors? Any pattern there?
___ Did these activities involve your mind, your hands, or both? Is there a pattern there?
___ Did you do these things for an external reward, an intrinsic reward, or both? Do you see a pattern there?
___ Were these things your idea and initiative or were they suggested by others? Any pattern there?
___ Did you perform all phases of the work yourself or share responsibilities or delegate them to others? Is there a pattern there?
___ Did these activities require a lot of research? Planning? Inspiration? Hands-on work? Any patterns there?
___ Did they involve big bursts of energy or small doses of consistent effort over a long period of time? Do you notice similarities there?
___ Did you know how to complete the tasks before you began, or did you learn as you went along?
___ Were these things enjoyable every step of the way or were you happy only once you had finished? Any pattern there?
___ And the last question has three alternatives. Did these activities involve a)looking, your visual sense? Or did they involve b) listening, hearing or making noise – your auditory sense? Or did they involve c) bodily movement, your kinesthetic sense? Any patterns there?
Finally, spend a couple of minutes thinking about whether there are other patterns among the experiences you remembered that I did not ask about.
The idea here is that you may have a problem with writing because you’re trying to do it in a way that doesn’t come naturally to you. If you can refashion your writing process more in line with the patterns you discovered in this exercise, you will notice a huge jump in your productivity and enjoyment of writing. I guarantee it. So let me offer examples of how other people applied the results of this exercise.
Carol, who stayed pretty quiet throughout a workshop, revealed that three of her four experiences had involved performance. How could she work that into her writing process? She decided she would try to write more plays instead of concentrating exclusively on magazine articles. In addition, when she was working on essays, she could sign up to read her work at the meetings of a writer’s group she belonged to. Even reading her work out loud to a friend over the phone would help get her excited and motivated.
Ken, a business school professor who was trying to write a book in order to win tenure, said that the creative times he had remembered included speaking to a live audience of people who were listening and responding. When I asked if he could write by pretending he had an audience and speaking into an audio recorder, he said that interested faces were crucial. He decided to hire someone to interview him about his ideas – that’s the interested face – and record their conversations. Then he would use the transcription as a rough draft for his book.
Petra, who had once been a cartoonist, told the other members of her workshop that most of the experiences she remembered involved her visual sense. How could she use that natural creative tendency now that she wanted to write fiction? The suggestions she received included visualizing her characters, drawing them, drawing her settings, using diagrams to plan plots, making sure her writing space was visually pleasing, visiting an art museum for inspiration, and doodling when she got stuck.
Avril, the psychic I mentioned earlier on who liked to keep moving, realized she could take a recorder with her on long walks and dictate her thoughts, or she could record her classes, or she could write on poster board tacked on the wall while walking around standing up. Or she could follow the lead of novelist Carolyn Chute, who writes only when the door to her study is locked because she acts out all the parts before she writes anything down.
Let these examples spark your own creativity. Look over your notes - if you are driving, listen to this lesson again when you’re able to take notes - and come up with ways you can use your natural creative tendencies in your writing process.
In the next lesson, you’ll hear about the importance of harnessing enthusiasm at the time when you feel it.