Practice Being Creative (like you practice math)

Practicing being creative might not sound like it makes sense. But it does. When you’re learning math, you learn how to approach a problem (let’s say, solving for X). You learn all of the beautiful things equations can do. You learn how to add, multiply, distribute, expand and condense exponential equations, substitute, and estimate. All in search of X.

Question: How is doing match similar to practicing creativity? (also, math is dumb, I hear some of you complain)

Answer: X is the idea. X is the story. In order to solve for X (in order to produce something creative), you have to learn HOW to manipulate the equation first. In short, you have to learn how to think about the world creatively before you can create something creative.

Example:  If the prompt is “someone cooking for the first time”, you might want to write a story about a budding chef at a shiny culinary institute, while someone else might want to write a memoir about the first time they boiled pasta as a ten-year-old.

 

Math Language: The simplest solution will be the one you find first. But there’s more than one way to get to the answer.

English Language: Don’t settle on the first idea you come up with. Keep thinking. Keep solving the problem. Keep inventing new paths to go down.

When you’re given a writing prompt, don’t just start with the first idea you land on. Ask questions, dig deeper, go down more and more tangents. Go where the white rabbit leads you.

Example Prompt: Someone cooking for the first time.

What are they cooking?

  • Obvious first answers: lobster, pasta, a cake
  • Less obvious second answers: burnt toast, cereal, competitive soufflé
  • Lesser obvious answers (where you pay attention to details and intentionally try to twist the interpretations): poison for a villainous villain, a batch of explosives, a potion to cast a spell, cooking up a dastardly scheme

Of course, genre gets tangled up here somewhere, but it’s up to you to fall down whichever rabbit holes you like! (You’ll see my examples tend toward the fantastical.)

Who is cooking?

  • Obvious first answers: someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to cook before, such as a child, a new college student, a chef learning to cook new things
  • Less obvious second answers: a spoiled rich person who’s maid just quit, an alien who’s trying to pretend to be human by cooking a thanksgiving dinner
  • Lesser obvious (even ridiculous) answers: a grasshopper who just got turned into a human, a witch casting her first spell, a tempest spirit brewing a hurricane to send at the pitiful mortals

As you can see, the more strange and more tangential solutions you can come up with, the stranger your story will become. The more creative you can be!

The final question: Why are they cooking?

(why does anyone do anything: either they want to or have to or did it by accident, or a combination thereof)

  • Obvious first answers: They are hungry, someone else is hungry
  • Less obvious second answers: They’ve been tricked into preparing poison for the person they love, they’re trying to win back an old girlfriend by cooking a romantic meal
  • Lesser obvious (verging on the absurd): They’re participating in an execution competition where they’re preparing a criminal’s last meal, they’re searching for the ingredients to a vaccine for a earth-changing virus, they’re trying to placate the first god of time by preparing a meal at the dawn of ages (get it, cooking for the first time?)

So what might have started as a simple prompt, write about someone cooking for the first time, has origami-folded itself into a more complicated story.

Here’s Your Motto: Aim For Absurd

There is literally nothing at stake when you’re just brainstorming ideas. So don’t hold yourself back or stay within your comfort zone. Aim for absurd. Push yourself to think outside of what you’ve always done, because that’s how you’ll surprise yourself.

And once you’ve hit the bottom of the rabbit hole, you can emerge with your strange idea. Then you can make your pitch:

Sasha never cooked anything more complicated than homemade alfredo. Now, she’s been invited to the home of Chronos, god of time, to help prepare a feast that will stop the temporal god from wiping the universe from existence. But here’s the thing about Chronos: He goes by Ron, he’s ironically impatient, and he doesn’t want a menu of complicated pastas. His feast will be a collection of the most painful and beautiful moments from the chef’s time on earth. Ron will consume the best and worst parts of Sasha’s life–and the lives of three other unlucky chefs–in order to determine whether time itself is worth saving. But can Sasha face the horrible things she’s done to the people she loved in order to save them? And is the god of time really just a cranky, impertinent deity, or is there something else he’s after? The more memories Ron consumes, the more human he seems to become. And the more time begins to unravel around them. (spoiler: probably Sasha becomes the next god of time, because that would be awesome)

 

To be fair, that idea is half-baked, spiced with whatever was in the back of the spice rack, and served up on the shiniest platter that I found outside this week.*

To be honest, it’s absurd. And that’s okay. Once you can find your way to absurd, you’ll know that your ideas are fully stretched and that you’re getting some great practice in. Creativity is a skill you can hone, but it’ll require thought and effort and time. Just like, say, if you were to cook something for the first time 😉

 

*all puns are cooked to order–consumption of undercooked puns may result in loss of time or blackouts or inexplicable, unstoppable laughter or hiccups

Writing Exercise: Shared Poetry (Campfire Style)

Think hot potato. Then think poetry.

That’s right, a really fun and probably terrible poem is about to burst into existence.

Here’s a writing exercise I did with my sister for funsies, and it was really really fun.

What you need:

  • 2+ people
  • 2 different colored pens
  • 1 or 2 pieces of paper
  • A timer (you can Google “timer” and get a really simple one)
  • A dash of imagination and adventure

Here’s the rules:

  1. You put the timer on for 30 seconds at a time.
  2. Start the timer! You each start writing a poem on your page. Hopefully you have legible handwriting.
  3. For 30 seconds, you write and write and write. When the timer goes off, finish the word you’re on. (Or don’t! You can cut off in the middle of a word if you want!)
  4. Trade papers! Start the timer again!
  5. Go back and forth like this until you’re about half way down the page. Now might be a good time to change the timer from every 30 seconds to every 45 seconds (or longer).
  6. When you get to the bottom of the page, stop! Or if you think the poem has ended or needs more space, feel free to keep going or stop early.
  7. Your poems are done!
  8. You each get to add a title to one of the poems!

Here are some helpful hints:

  • Leave an inch or two at the top of the page so you can add a title once it’s finished.
  • Leave an inch or so margin on the left side of the page in case you want to go through and add doodles or art or something later!
  • Use pens that have a different enough color so you can tell who wrote what.
  • Don’t forget to sign and date it! Sign it in the color you wrote with.
  • If you finish it and want to share it with us!
    • Twitter: tag us (@McRebecky and @MelAnn1313) with the tag #campfirepoetry
    • Instagram: @MelAnn1313
  • If you just want to let us know if this was helpful or fun, leave a comment here and share your experience!

Here’s what one of ours looked like!

20161126_201501

The final version, typed:
Except Nothing
the aroma of damp, decaying leaves
and crisp fall air with nothing,
nothing on the skyline except
except
except
maybe that’s just it — Nothing.
Does it frighten you?
You, who has spent time frolicking in fields
of death — graveyard flowers, cracking headstones,
trash left by those who couldn’t forget
the emptiness of horizons, the loneliness of what
once was, now only a void.
This is you.
Or it was. At least. Once. It was. I promise.
Death. You are Death. Right? Or have you
abdicated that title in exchange for a
new one. Are you Angel? My angel?
I almost feel the decay of winter
chilled against my fingernails, my toes. Is this–
this– the sky you’ve left for me?
Bleak, gray, unyielding to my cries and prayers?
Except
Except
It is not empty. I am not empty. I am Death, too.

NaNoWriMo 2017

Sometimes I win NaNo, and sometimes I fail.

This year is a bit different.

I have a book deal for two books (THE NAMELESS QUEEN and a sequel), and I’m in the middle of doing edits with my editor.

I haven’t heard back yet on the first round of edits, and I’m already about 79k words through the sequel.

 

Things standing in my way of being productive this NaNo:

  1. Job. Job. Job. I work as a technical editor (day job), and we’ve gone from 3 writers on staff to 1. Not for any nefarious reason, just that one intern went back to school already and the other took a contract position elsewhere. There will be a NEW full-time writer come January-ish, but then there’s a long process of training and such. Meanwhile, we’re currently doing 3 major projects and I’m the lonely writer. Sooo basically my life is going to be busy at work. Might be working long hours.
  2. Fragmented transcription. Some parts of my story, I dictated and then transcribed. Contrary to how I normally handle this, I didn’t necessarily smooth over all the scenes that I typed up, so there’s an occasional hard bracket section which denotes a gap in the story. Nothing is more fun than seeing this as you scroll through the document:
    • [] Something something clever line. [smooth over transition btwn these scenes. sorry about the fuss, Future Me.]
  3. Edits. If I hear back from my editor during this month (which is likely, because I sent the edits to her at the beginning of September), then that will take priority. Not much to do about this one except to treat edits with as much reverence and rush as they deserve. ❤

 

Things that will not stand in my way of being productive this NaNo:

  1. Job.
  2. Fragmented transcription.
  3. Edits.

Because even though these things take up my time and are important, they are just a part of a given day.

  1. Yes, my job is important, but as long as I leave work at work, I have a whole evening to myself. Back when I did the first draft of THE NAMELESS QUEEN, I was working 50-hour weeks. I basically had one or two hours of writing time per day. And let me tell you, when you only have 2 hours, you are a hell of a lot more productive than you’d be when you’re staring at a blank screen all day.
  2. Yes, fragmented scenes are tough to work around. I’m at a point of writing where I’m not sure which characters are present. Is it just 3? 4? Or is it as high as 8? *shrug* I’ll pick my favorites, and if a time comes where I realize I need some of the others, they will appear as if by magic. I’ll let Revision Rebecca deal with that issue, aka Future Me Who Has To Edit The First Draft.
  3. Yes, edits are the top priority. If they come in, I will drop the sequel like a hot potato so I can dive into the fire of revisions. But you know what? Edits on book 1 are just as important as writing book 2. So if I end up spending NaNo doing edits, that’s fine by me. Productivity isn’t prescriptive. You don’t have to accomplish exactly what you set out to do. You just have to accomplish something. So even if I “fail” NaNo like I did last year (I’m looking at you, Pitch Wars and Getting an Agent/Book Deal), that doesn’t mean I have failed.

 

Then again, the biggest test will be today, the first day. Typically Day One of NaNo is one of the most productive, so if I set a good tone with today, I’ll get a good sense of if I’m in a good spot to keep moving forward.

 

And hey! If anyone else out there is doing NaNo this year, let me know!! We can be buddies!

 

Have a question on any of this?

Ask me!*

*yes it can be anonymous!

Writer’s Life: The Pen Cup Crisis

A typical Saturday morning of an author. Any writer knows the struggle of the pen cup.

You know how it goes. One pen, two pens, 90-thousand pens—half of which don’t work. All of it resulting in a tetris-jenga mess.

THE NAMELESS QUEEN, my debut novel, is out in Spring 2018!! AHHH! (Mark it as to-read on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28173303-the-nameless-queen)

Find me on the Social Medias:

Twitter: twitter.com/mcrebecky
SnapChat: mcrebecky
Blog: makawalli.wordpress.com
Tumblr: mcrebecky.tumblr.com