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