Become more creative in 10 minutes a day

George Rodrigue
Benjamin Hardy claims that if you want to become more creative, the last thing you should do is check your email when you get up.

He recommends writing first thing in the morning.

Research confirms the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is most active and readily creative immediately following sleep. Your subconscious mind has been loosely mind-wandering while you slept, making contextual and temporal connections. Creativity, after all, is making connections between different parts of the brain.

Similarly, Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, advocates getting up the morning and writing 3 pages before you do anything else. (Myself, when I tried this, I grabbed a cup of coffee on my way to sit down with my notebook.) Don’t turn on the television or radio, don’t look at the morning paper, and don’t check your email. Just open the notebook and pour onto the page whatever is in your head for the space of three pages. She has other recommendations to help people become more creative, but the first is always the morning pages.

Note: these people aren’t advocating trying to write a story first thing every morning. They’re not advocating trying to write at all. The idea is just do put down on the page whatever’s in your head, whether it’s coherent or not. Whatever’s in your head when you wake up, write it down. Some people write down their dreams. Some write To Do lists for the day. It doesn’t matter what you write. Just fill three pages without any censoring or editing.

Hardy also recommends spending 10 minutes each evening asking yourself questions about how to accomplish whatever goal you’re working on. Apparently that stimulates the subconscious to work out the problems while you sleep.

Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.

— Thomas Edison

I haven’t tried this, but I had good results from writing morning pages.

Janice McLeod found the morning pages an important part of rearranging her whole life. She was stuck in a job that she hated, and she couldn’t see how to do what she really wanted, which was move to Paris. She started with writing the morning pages and trying to figure this out. If you haven’t read Paris LettersI recommend it. Especially if you’re stuck in a job that you feel is sucking the creativity out of you. (Spoiler: she did eventually move to Paris.)

So if you’re stuck, creativity-wise, try writing in a notebook every morning.

The subconscious mind will translate into its physical equivalent, by the most direct and practical method available.

-Napoleon Hill

One word after another


I begin with writing the first sentence—and trusting to Almighty God for the second.
-Laurence Sterne

Sounds so simple when someone else describes the process. I envy people who can sit down and write the first sentence, and then the second, and then the third… People who write linearly, that is. I think they must be very organized mentally and have everything laid out. The characters do what they want, the plot marches along in an orderly fashion.

I did try to write like that.

Clockwork with alarm mechanism, made by Nathaniel Dominy V, 1799 - Winterthur Museum - DSC01610I’ve tried outlining and drawing up character sheets and figuring out everyone’s motivation and then writing it all out in a straight line from beginning to end. And the result was as exciting as cardboard. The plot was predictable as clockwork. The characters weren’t people, they were cardboard cut-outs. Even I found it boring. I shudder to think what anyone else would think of it.

The only way I’ve found that works is to start with an intriguing idea and a likable character. Put the two together and then see where the story goes, let it develop in its own way.

For example, His Forgotten Fiancée, I thought: what would a man do if he woke up with no memory of himself, and a woman walks into the room and tells him they’re engaged? How would he react? I started out with the initial scene, then wrote the ending, then went back and wrote the middle.

With my next book, The English Lieutenant’s Lady, I came across a reference to British spies in the Oregon Territory in 1845. What if one of these spies fell in love with a local woman while on his mission? He couldn’t reveal his real identity, but he wanted to make her his wife. What would he do? I started out with them meeting, then wrote several scenes in the middle, then connected them up with the beginning before writing the ending.

I usually start with the beginning of the story, and I do try to write the next scene and the one after it. But the trouble is, an early scene almost invariably ends up having an impact on one or more later scenes, so I have to write down both the early and the later scenes while they’re fresh in my mind. Then I stuff the later scene into a later chapter to wait for the narrative to catch up with that moment. And those scenes tend to spin off ideas for new scenes that need to happen sometime in the middle of the story. Within a week or two of starting a story, I find myself with several handfuls of disconnected scenes that happen at various points in the story.

The secret of being is a writer is there is no secret. You do it one word at a time and that’s the only way. It’s totally terrifying. But the way you go about becoming a writer is by finding out how your brain works. Everyone’s brain is wired differently. I write in pieces. -Diana Gabaldon

Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon both write in non-linear, disconnected scenes. They discuss their writing style in this video. I found it very encouraging to know I’m not the only person who works like this!

Being Creative vs. Being Online

Only Connect.
-E.M. Forster, Howard’s End

Every writer is told, repeatedly, that they need to be on social media chatting, promoting, being visible, putting themselves out there.

The trouble is that you can overdo the being visible part. You get used to being on social media all the time. It becomes a habit.

Derek Beres wrote an article on writers need to balance between being online and sneaking off to a hiding place to write. Not just writers, anyone who does anything that required creativity needs to step back from the keyboard/phone from time to time.

What seems to be lost in being “connected” is really irreplaceable time gained to focus on projects. Without that time, he says, you’re in danger of rewiring your neural patterns for distraction.

Actually, I’d say that applies to everyone. Especially at this time of year, when people are rushing around trying to get all their holiday shopping done, writing all their Christmas cards, attending all the holiday parties, doing All The Things.

Once in a while, stop. Unplug. Breathe.

In praise of repetitive writing

David Teniers der Juengere - Das Katzenkonzert

If you do not hear music in your words, you have put too much thought into your writing and not enough heart. – Terry Brooks

I’m still working through issues raised by sending my writing through a critique group. Some people objected to any repetition in my writing.

Now, that can be a perfectly valid point. Some people repeat a word several times in a sentence/paragraph/page without noticing they’re doing it. I confess that I have done this once. Or twice. Or… I have to say it… repetitively.


It is also true that repetition can be used to set up a rhythm. You know how you can set up a reader’s expectations by playing along, giving them what they expect to read? You can also lure them into reading by setting up a rhythm. George Bernard Shaw did this in Pygmalion (the forerunner of the musical My Fair Lady) when he had a character say, “I’m willing to tell you, I’m wanting to tell you, I’m waiting to tell you.

This is often used very effectively in poetry. Alfred Noyes, in his poem The Highwayman, used great, galloping repetitions that set up a rhythm of a horse riding down a road.

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
         (O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

It’s more common when what was written down is intended to be read aloud.

Cicero, for example, one of Rome’s most famous public speakers, told his rapt audiences that the end of a sentence “ought to be determined not by the speaker’s pausing for breath, or by a stroke interposed by a copyist, but by the constraint of the rhythm”.

This was an interesting article on the history of punctuation.

Can I trust C.S. Lewis or John Milton?

The Snow Queen by Elena Ringo
Mary Stewart’s books are now available on Kindle. I’ve been re-reading them, and I found myself puzzled. The e-books were taken straight from the British editions, and they’re not the same as the American versions. Indeed, sometimes the plots veer off significantly. For example, in The Gabriel Hounds the American edition has the hero and heroine as second cousins; it stresses that their only common ancestor is a great-great grandfather, or something like that. In the British edition, they’re first cousins whose fathers are identical twins. Perhaps this was considered too “icky” for American tastes–but it’s acceptable for the British readers? The Ivy Tree has a whole subplot about the heroine supposedly being pregnant. Edited out of the American version.

It reminds me of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which in the original British was titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Supposedly the title was changed so as not to confuse the American children. Are Americans supposed to be less intelligent than the British? Or more squeamish? It bothers me that publishers have been quietly re-writing British stories to make them less complicated for Americans. Now I’m going to have to go re-read the Narnia books to see if they were modified from the originals, and after that Paradise Lost, I suppose. I mean, where do they draw the line? Sheesh.

Quote: M.M. Kaye on Writing Romance

Susan Walker Morse (The Muse)

… this form of literature [Romance] isn’t nearly as easy to write as you think… I was writing something I thought was sentimental and saccharine drip, and in consequence, all I produced was exceedingly bad and patently phony drip that no publisher in the right minds would have accepted… You have to believe in it.”

-M.M. Kaye, Enchanted Evening

Why Write?

Young Dorothy Parker
Interviewer: What, then, would you say is the source of most of your work?

Dorothy Parker: Need of money, dear.

I’m not sure that’s the case for most writers these days. Not at first. Unless you fit into a narrow section of authors (i.e. you either write a mega best-seller the first time you sit down or you write a series of self-published books that hits everyone’s Flavor of the Month buttons at once) you’re not going to make enough money to expect to support yourself by writing, not right away. So I suspect most people write because there’s a story that needs to free itself.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. – Maya Angelou