Writing Wednesday — Staying Creative and “The Rules”

Recently, a list has been circulating on Facebook titled “33 Ways to Stay Creative.” (I wasn’t able to trace its origins; when the “My Modern Met” blog of the Metropolitan Museum of Art shared it in 2011, they couldn’t find the author, either.)

I love this because it’s concrete and specific — these are things we can actually do, and too often don’t. It reminds us that creativity doesn’t just happen by accident; we can feed and nurture it, to better feed and nurture ourselves.

My friend Elaine Snyder, an amazingly creative buckskin clothier, commented that she’d add to #24 “test the rules,” because they can provide insight. And that got me thinking about writers, often beginners, who complain about “the rules” without actually digging for that insight Elaine mentioned. Take, for example, the complaint about “the rule” against adverbs. “Adverbs are perfectly fine,” they say. “X uses them and everyone praises X’s writing.”

This “rule,” and almost every other rule about writing, is really a guideline, a good practice grown from experience. At its core, it’s a reminder to choose every word with care and intention. When you’re tempted to use an adverb, for example, ask yourself first if you’ve used the right verb. Truly think about the action you’re describing, the person taking the action, what they’re feeling at that moment, their motives and inner conflicts, their physical capabilities, the setting—the entire situation. When you find the right verb, you might not need an adverb. If you decide you do need one, like the much-acclaimed X, then it will have been a deliberate choice, not a lazy fallback. You may write an entire story without a single adverb—or you may let them fall drippingly, deliciously, bountifully off every character’s tongue.

So the next time you find yourself griping about “the rules,” test them. Follow, flaunt, fall somewhere in between. See what happens.

And revel in the creativity of it all.

The Saturday Creativity Quote

Morning Mist, photo by the author

“Before you can write anything, you have to notice something,” novelist John Irving said. And in these difficult times, when many of us are walking around — six feet apart — feeing as though a Band-Aid had been ripped off our entire body, leaving us raw and exposed, we wonder how we can create. Because the act of creativity requires some belief that what we do serves us and the world, that it answers questions about life and guides us forward. And right now, that belief isn’t easy.

So “since feeling is first,” in the words of the poet e.e. cummings, start there. Notice what you’re feeling. Just notice it. Don’t burden it with the obligation of action — not yet. When you’re ready, give that feeling to a character if you write. You don’t have to write about a pandemic; let the emotion tell you the story. Let it drive the character. Give the feeling a color or a shape if you paint, a sound if you sing or play, a movement if you dance. Let the feeling guide you.

The Saturday Writing Quote — on creativity

I’m continuing my month of sharing quotes I found in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant (2016).

“Originality is what everybody wants, but there’s a sweet spot. If it’s not original enough, it’s boring or trite. If it’s too original, it may be hard for the audience to understand. The goal is to push the envelope, not tear the envelope.”
– Rob Minkoff, b. 1962, American filmmaker whose films include The Lion King and Stuart Little

The Saturday Writing Quote — on creativity

As I mentioned last week, this month I’m sharing a few quotes I came across in Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant (2016), a look at how individuals bring new ideas to fruition — or fail to do so — particularly in organizations.

“No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. When I begin a poem I don’t know—I don’t want a poem that I can tell was written toward a good ending. … You’ve got to be the happy discoverer of your ends.”
– Robert Frost, American poet, 1874-1963


The Saturday Writing Post — on creativity

Last month, during my trip to Seattle to celebrate the launch of CHAI ANOTHER DAY, the 4th Spice Shop mystery, I stayed with an old friend from college who had just celebrated a birthday. Her husband arranged a surprise party during my visit, a lovely Sunday morning brunch in their back garden. One of the men at the gathering recommended Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World, by Adam Grant (2016), a look at how individuals bring new ideas to fruition — or fail to do so — particularly in organizations. But though it isn’t focused on artistic creativity, it did include some quotes I want to share with you this month.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
– Scott Adams, cartoonist and author, creator of Dilbert and other works

The Saturday Writing Quote — the spark

Spark: How Creativity Works by [Andersen, Kurt, Julie Burstein]The meat of Spark is, of course, the perspective and experiences of the artists themselves, but Julie Burstein, who produced the radio show and compiled the interview excerpts, offers a few insights into the creative process from her own experience. Here, she’s recounting part of a conversation with her mother, a college professor and author.

“My mother often reminds me that beginning a new project doesn’t start when you sit down at your desk to write, or stand in front of a canvas with a palette full of paint, or figure out a new tune on a piano. For most creative work, there’s a period that she likes to call ‘pawing the earth,’ when we must create the environment in which we can begin.”
– Julie Burstein, radio producer and author

The Saturday Writing Post — the spark

Spark: How Creativity WorksThis month, I’m sharing a few of my favorite observations from Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein (Harper Collins, 2011), based on interviews conducted for Public Radio’s Studio 360, by Kurt Andersen and produced by Burstein.

When asked what artists can do in the face of destruction like the 9/11 attacks, which occurred a week before her interview:

“I think it’s a very sharp moment for people in the arts, those who love the arts, those who make them. I think it asks particularly of people who make art a very poignant question: If you think that art is not worth doing in a time like this, it probably isn’t worth doing at any time. If you think that art is indeed part of what I call the world’s work, then to be loyal to it and to look to it for strength, for its strength now, seems right.”
– poet Marie Ponsot

The Saturday Writing Post — the spark

Spark: How Creativity WorksI’m continuing to share a few of my favorite observations from Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein (Harper Collins, 2011), based on interviews conducted for Public Radio’s Studio 360, by Kurt Andersen and produced by Burstein.

Trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard on working on a soundtrack for a documentary about Katrina: “You can’t avoid your daily experiences. You have to write about those. From an artistic point of view, I had to do it. [Surviving and recovering from Hurricane Katrina] became a very emotional thing. … I didn’t want to be a part of that whole movement of folks where when something happens, everybody tried to jump on the bandwagon. But at the same time, I started realizing that I am a part of the story. Being an artist, you can’t avoid your social setting. …  The trumpet represents, in my mind, people on the rooftops crying for help and not being heard.”

Saturday Writing Quote — Julia Cameron on creativity

“Creativity does not depend on money. It depends on our sense of abundance. When we tend ourselves creatively, we often trigger an increased flow financially. Creativity is an act of faith. We extend ourselves, believing that good will come to pass. This act of faith brings us closer to our Creator, closer to our flow of good.”

– Julia Cameron with Emma Lively, Prosperity Every Day: A Daily Companion on Your Journey to Greater Wealth and Happiness (The Writer, June 2015)

The Saturday Writing Quote — L’Engle on creativity

01_Barn_Pastel_WEB“When we are writing, or painting, or composing, we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions, and are opened to a wider world, where colors are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize.”

— Madeleine L’Engle, American novelist and teacher, 1918-2007)

(painting: pastel on sandpaper, by Leslie)