Robert Epstein: There are four different skill sets, or competencies, that I’ve found are essential for creative expression. The first and most important competency is “capturing”—preserving new ideas as they occur to you and doing so without judging them. [...] The second competency is called “challenging”—giving ourselves tough problems to solve. In tough situations, multiple behaviors compete with one another, and their interconnections create new behaviors and ideas. The third area is “broadening.” The more diverse your knowledge, the more interesting the interconnections—so you can boost your creativity simply by learning interesting new things. And the last competency is “surrounding,” which has to do with how you manage your physical and social environments. The more interesting and diverse the things and the people around you, the more interesting your own ideas become.Epstein might feel too methodical, but I think he's got the right approach. (I am sorta biased toward methodical, I confess.) The first one-- capturing and not judging ideas-- was crucial to me to breaking a decade-long writer's block. I had no story ideas. Or I was convinced I had none, anyway. Here's how I keep that block broken. I tell myself:
Welcome that new idea. Is it good enough? Yes.
Write it down. Everything!
Say yes to it some more.
Later on there'll be a lot of hard slogging to get all the details right, but say yes now. Type enough to have something to react to later. Write now. Edit later.
Whenever I worry that it's not any good, I remind myself that the job of a first draft is to be complete and crappy. When it's complete I can worry about de-crapping it, but not a moment before.
Also, I find conning the flist into giving me prompts is a great way to bypass the internal editor. Can't say no to that idea from flistian mumble, can I? She wants it written! It must be a good idea!
The word "creativity" seems to me one of those fat, fuzzy words, where the meaning is all over the place. Sometimes people use it to mean the initial spark, the first concept. Secret number N of writing is that ideas are cheap and plentiful. I have learned not to hoard them. Want to use plot ideas, storylines, whatever from my stories? Go for it. You and I might start with the same prompt words, but we'll go in radically different directions with the story, guaranteed. Because after that first concept comes elaboration: A story isn't just one idea. It's a sequence of them.
Here's an example from my own stuff, a story I mentioned the other day for the dedication meme. This story started with a ficathon prompt, but I bet the prompter was surprised by where it went.
Prompt: Giles/Ethan, Angel to shout at
Idea: Ethan is around for the events of "Amends", is angered by Angel's failure to make amends, and takes steps.
Idea: Ethan has his own amends to make to Giles.
Idea: Ethan as tattoo artist, tattooing a pentagram a demon trap.
And then a host of supporting ideas: Giles and Ethan as schoolmates, Giles as somebody who's leached the joy out of his own life, Ethan as sybarite vs Giles as ascetic, the residual effects of Angelus's treatment of Giles, the reawakened affair.
Sustained creativity? I guess, but it didn't feel like it, because each idea slid easily into the next one. (Flow state.) Every finished story has a similar list of idea-moments supporting it.
Then sometimes people define "creativity" by the end results. Finished works. What's more valuable: the prompt or the finished story? Aha, see what I mean? This is where the discipline the SciAm panelists discuss comes in. We all know that finishing things, polishing them and making them into great objects or at least decent ones-- that part of the creative task is hard work. Turning the first draft into the second is not anybody's idea of a romantic task. The kid bouncing on stage in the wild clothes and the guitar first spent ten years locked in a bedroom practicing scales, during which time he (or she) did not get the babes.
Discipline is valuable. Wish I had more of it.
And with that, I run off to type into the open BBEdit window, and I remind myself to say yes to this crazy idea.