Creativity is at the core of everything we do as writers. It is the fuel we need to breathe life into our writing and into the worlds and characters we create.
If creativity is a key to writing success, are there ways to enhance and cultivate this quality? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychology professor, leading expert in the field of creativity and author of Creativity and Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, believes there are. After years of studying creative individuals in a variety of fields, Csikszentmihalyi found ways we can all access our creativity consistently.
As with any creative venture, writing takes time, and success does not happen overnight. In his book, Csikszentmihalyi reminds us, “A generally creative accomplishment is almost never the result of a sudden insight, a light bulb flashing on in the dark, but comes after years of hard work.”
Successful creative people share common characteristics. First, they understand the fundamentals for the profession. To be a writer means learning grammar and proper writing techniques. To become a successfully published author, a writer also needs to learn the rules and procedures for publishing. We can’t show up on publishers’ doorsteps, hand them our manuscript and expect them to read it and publish it. There are protocols that need to be followed.
Next, creatives are passionate about their work, yet extremely objective about it as well. A good writer can pour herself into her writing, but then step back, evaluate it and revise it to craft the best work possible.
The ability to enjoy the process for its own sake is another characteristic among this crowd. Writers who function at this creative level love to write because they find great joy and satisfaction in the process. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to be published, but the need to express themselves with their writing is first and foremost.
The Creative Process
While researching, Csikszentmihalyi outlined important components of the process of creativity. Writers typically move back and forth between parts of the process and considering the following qualities may help you optimize your creativity and continue the writing that fuels your passion.
During this stage, writers need to keep their eyes open, curiosity awakened and a notebook handy. This is a time to gather ideas and experience new adventures. Andrew McCarthy, travel writer and author of The Longest Way Home, takes this to heart when he is on assignment in a new city. “Sometimes I take copious notes; other days pass with barely writing anything,” he says. “I try to write details of things I see, quotes and feelings. Facts I can get later, once the dust settles.” Here are a few ideas to try.
- Jot down thoughts about your experiences.
- Save interesting stories and headlines from the newspaper.
- Keep brochures and information from places you visit.
During this phase, bits and pieces from the preparation phase percolate in our mind. Ideas come together, stories begin to form, characters appear and plots unfold. There are creative tools to help facilitate these ideas.
- idea maps
- general plot sketches
- character sketches
- visual montages of characters and settings
This is the “Aha!” moment when everything begins to come together. We get excited about our idea and want to take it further.
This can be the most emotionally trying part of the process, when we feel uncertain and insecure. We wonder if the idea is original enough and worth perusing. We think about who the audience will be and question if we have the ability to make it happen.
No turning back. We must write the novel, article, poem or short story. To see it complete, we have to make the time and persevere until the project is finished.
Getting Past Obstacles
Most of us encounter obstacles in our writing life. Distractions get in the way, we are too tired to write or we can’t organize all the thoughts in our head. There are strategies to move past the blockages and be a more productive writer.
Find your inner child.
Children are naturally curious; they delight in the strange and the unknown. The more we can adopt that same curiosity in our everyday lives, the more it will help us as writers. By keeping an open mind and being a keen observer of the world, ideas have a better chance of “growing up.”
Develop strong habits.
After creative energy is awakened, it must be protected. What can writers can do to connect to their creativity instead of electronic devices? “We must avoid distractions and escape outside temptations and interruptions,” says Csikszentmihalyi. “If we do not, the concentration will break down, and we will default to our old behaviors. If you want to avoid distractions, then take steps to avoid it. Don’t feel that you have to have your cell phone with you all the time, don’t look at your e-mail except once or twice a day, silence your gadgets. After all, they are there to help you, not to mess with your brain. Some people will think you are a Neanderthal for living off the grid, but hey, so what?”
Take charge of your schedule.
Writing time needs to be a priority, a non-negotiable part of the schedule. We must honor this time and not look at it as something that can be disregarded. This means setting boundaries with friends and family and clearly letting them know there’s a “do not disturb” sign on this space.
Make time for reflection and relaxation.
It is important to have some down time to recharge and to let new ideas or aspects of current projects roll around in our minds. Set aside or schedule this time as well. Reflection can happen while you’re sitting quietly or doing a favorite activity such as gardening, woodworking or baking.
Shape your space.
Your writing space should inspire you. A few years ago when I was reporting about feng shui for writers, Terah Kathryn Collins, founder of the Western School of Feng Shui, shared that a productive area is not about being immaculate; it is about having a space that doesn’t irritate, confuse or overwhelm you. Collins said, “Writers are intuitive creative people who work from the inside out. Setting up your writing space should be no different – you should do it from the inside out.” Personalize it with art, photographs and objects that are meaningful and inspire creativity.
Do more of what you love.
If you want writing to be a part of your life, examine your current habits and lifestyle and see if there is a way to increase the things you love to do (writing) and let go of, hire out or delegate those aspects of your life you dislike.
“It is much easier to be personally creative when you maximize optimal experiences in everyday life,” writes Csikszentmihalyi. And by doing this, you can consciously create the writing life you have always dreamed about.
Kerrie Flanagan is a freelance writer and the director of the Northern Colorado Writers group.