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Train Your Brain to Create instead of Think (part 2)

  1. I’m stealing from Stephen King’s On Writing: write the first draft with the door closed and the second with the door open, which is to say realize the difference between creating and thinking. The first time around a composition does not have to be good, it has to be there. Good comes later.
    • As one of my supervisors said, “I give you permission to write absolute shit.” You can’t work with a blank page but, you can rework some good, old-fashioned textual fertilizer into something better.
    • Write whatever comes no matter how ridiculous. Remember, NO THINKING. Try for a mentality of and this happens, and this happens, and this, this, and this rather than a mentality of what happens next?
    • Tell the story YOU want to hear. Forget about what anybody else will think or feel. Please yourself. It is story-time, and you are the teller and the audience.

    Okay, that is all frame-of-mind stuff, but what about actual drills?
  2. Write for 20 minute bursts everyday—stream-of-consciousness if that is what comes. You’ll be surprised how quickly this exercise will gear up your creativity. Think of the bursts as push-ups. Today you can do one. Next week you will be able to do four. And the week after that you’ll feel like something is missing if you don’t do any. I know a professor at the University of Toronto who uses this drill to teach writing and the students say it works.
  3. Play 20 Questions if you are really stuck. Write 20 questions about your project. Keep them simple. What is his name? What are his hobbies? Why is he mad at his sister? And after you have all 20 write a simple 3 or 4 line response to each. NO STOPPING. NO THINKING. It is a great way to brainstorm and it pushes you to create as if you are under the pressure of someone else’s questions.
  4. Play 20 Questions with someone else. Make sure you choose someone you trust not to feel stupid in front of and who is patient so they won’t mind when you get irritable as the pressure to answer questions you don’t have responses to begins to annoy you. This one is my personal favorite.
  5. Safety in numbers. Buddy up and set a specific time every day. At this time you will exchange whatever you wrote that day (be it 3 lines or 3 pages) with your partner and then provide just reactionary comments like this made me laugh, or I tripped over this bit, I loved this, this was boring etc. NO THINKING!

And here I’ve provided just a couple of assignments for writing. You can obviously come up with more on your own. Set small, specific goals like write a scene with a lamp, a dog, and blue sedan. Remember, education is about drills and jumping through hoops. Most of those hoops are going to be completely arbitrary, just like lifting a dumb-bell up and down is completely arbitrary, but arbitrary hoops provide practice, and you need to practice creativity to develop it as a skill. Editing comes later. Learn to just grow a story first. You can train yourself to do that. If a creative writing teacher asks you for story after story with no change in the pattern no matter how well or poorly you do, that teacher is interested in seeing where you are as a writer. But if a teacher gives you little assignments or arbitrary drills (either regularly or in response to seeing you need some help), then that teacher is interested in teaching you to write. There is a difference. Don’t let anybody discourage you by convincing you differently.

Matt Mott
Editorial Assistant

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