Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Staying Creative, Part 1: Brainstorm

Starting with this post, I cover seven ways for writers to keep their creative juices flowing. Before offering the first tip, I should define writers and creativity.

I am referring not only to writers of fiction, essays, plays, and poems, although many of you who see yourself as falling into these categories would also benefit from this series. I also mean business, technical, and reportorial writers, those administrative, technical, and professional staff who must write every day, many even more than writers of the so-called creative realm. Frankly, I consider all writers—on-the-job writers as well as storytelling writers—creative writers if they are to survive successfully in a career of pounding the keyboard of their computer to communicate with people.

As for creativity, I do not necessarily mean the conveying of profound ideas on the order of a Kazantzakis, de Beauvoir, Chekov, or Neruda, although profound ideas do come from creative minds. By creativity I mean the creating of words on a screen or on a page that were never before created in just that same order to that same audience by you or anyone else. Yes, I do believe that creativity is necessary for writing a proposal to management, responding to challenging questions from prospective employers, composing a commendation of coworkers for a job well done or a speech honoring family members at a special occasion. If these messages are not canned—if they are to be original—then they demand creativity.

So here is my first of seven tips: brainstorm. List all the ideas that come to mind related (or even unrelated) to your topic. Do not judge whether your ideas are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Just generate ideas. You can move, add to or delete them later. For example, right now I’m looking out a window into the dark at 5:15 a.m. Never mind that I’m in an unattractive hotel room. I need to write a description of this area for you before daylight arrives, so I’m pretty much working from memory but I can hear plenty, including the roar of traffic from a nearby highway and a couple of hotel workers passing by chatting, presumably in Hindi.

My brainstorming results in the following unorganized list. Note that some of these observations are from earlier glances out the window in broad daylight, as I can’t see much.

  1. loud traffic

  2. three tractor trailers in parking lot

  3. chain link fence separating hotel from highway

  4. clump of birch trees in area between fence and highway

  5. six maple trees running across the from entrances of a dozen room doors

  6. 80-stall parking lot one-quarter occupied

  7. half the cars are campers, vans, or pickup trucks

  8. 6-by-8-foot lit hotel sign elevated on a 20-foot pole for viewing from highway

  9. tiny room with two tables and eight chairs downstairs serving continental breakfast

  10. stale donuts and passable coffee

  11. occasional chirping of a bird despite the northeast cold

  12. sound of workers loudly chatting in Hindi

At this point, I’ve run out of ideas, so I now have two choices:

  1. Cut and paste them in a logical order, adding and deleting as I see fit to continue my list until I’m ready to write a few descriptive paragraphs.

  2. Start my draft immediately from any of the 12 points that move me forward.

I might not use all 12 points; in fact, I might not use any at all by the time I’m finished. But I am so ready to write, just itching to keep my fingers moving. I get the feeling that I am talking to everyone I ever met, but it’s just little old me sitting alone in a hotel room writing at a laptop and being creative.