Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Creativity

JAN: After studying the "structure" of writing for so long, I've turned my attention to something I used to think was simply innate, but have since learned can be enhanced. And that's creativity. And I've learned something really about being creative.

To be more creative, you have to shut up.

I'm pretty sure it is an occupational hazard of writers that we never shut up. At least not me, and not internally. Often when I'm in a room, I'm not in a room at all. My mind is automatically talking to itself about how I'd describe the room, or what I'd say about the people in the room, or about the event that's taking place. It's as if I'm always writing a letter about whatever I'm doing, instead of actually doing it.

Along the same lines as when you are TALKING, you can't LISTEN, when you are internally WRITING, its impossible to take in all the available sights, sounds, textures, experiences. If you think you know something well enough to write a letter about it, you've stopped really learning anything new.

So in the ULTIMATE paradox, it appears that I have to learn to stop processing all my thoughts in words to be a better writer.

EXPERIMENT: Since I had time to kill anyway, I tried this on the train ride home from NYC Thursday. I looked like just your average passenger, but really I was trying like hell to process all the sights, textures, smells and sounds (mostly sounds because a train is incredibly noisy) without naming anything, without letting the analytical part of my brain talk too much. (Shutting it up completely is impossible.) I managed this for three separate 15 minute intervals.

RESULT: I'm guessing that it takes more than one train ride experiment to have any kind of impact on my writing -- and how will I know exactly, unless I'm writing a train scene? But I did have an unusual side effect. I arrived home in an incredibly good mood that won't seem to go away. And I was also unusually efficient and productive yesterday -- on a Saturday no less.

Has anyone else ever tried an experiment in creativity? Mindfulness? Any tips to share?

Come back tomorrow when we talk about acts of grace
On True Crime Tuesday, I offer a scenario for a thriller and hope to hear some brainstorming.
Wednesday, I interview Leslie Wheeler on the latest in her living history series -- Murder at Spouters Point.
On Thursday, our own Roberta Isleib talks about her new mystery series set in Key West
and Friday (which I always think of as green for some reason)-- well I'll have to figure out SOMETHING good for Friday.


  1. Hmm, I may be physically incapable of 'thinking' without attaching words to my thoughts. But isn't that what meditation is all about -- and you meditate, Jan.

    But this did remind me of a phenomenon I've long noticed -- when you TRY to come up with an idea for your story, often nothing but mediocre ideas bubble up. But when you stop trying, inspiration strikes.

  2. Yes, I think what is in common - is shutting down thea analytical part of your brain to let the other part of your brain work.

    There are all sorts of studies they do with kids which show that when they incorporate artistic or experiential components into the regular class work, the kids learn at a deeper level and test higher than other school systems.

    I thin

  3. I don't do it often but when I remember to I'll shut my eyes, lean my head back and try to take in the feel of what's around me. It can be very relaxing and helps me appreciate my surroundings. It can also help open you up to another side of you. And if not, hey it's still pleasant.

  4. Yes, Donna that's exactly it!!

    At least that's the concept, I'm still working on it, but that's definitely how its supposed to work.