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are you stuck for ideas?

Building a lego model I was busting a gut to find one particular wheel. Instead of cursing with frustration, a fairly usual response, I decided to experiment and started a procedure for finding hard-to-find bits in the lego box. I scooped all the vaguely wheel shaped bits up into one corner. This freed me up, since I didn’t have to BE CONCIOUS as I searched, I didn’t have to kind of talk to myself saying ‘nope, that’s wrong, that’s wrong’- in other words I reset my mind to an abundance setting, the same setting you have when facing a blackberry bush groaning with berries- you just pick on automatic setting. Hoovering up all the wheel shapes I naturally unearthed the right one along the way, effortlessly it seemed. The lego experience set me thinking about creativity. One of the best tricks for helping you write scenes in a novel is not to try and think up a scene- instead make a list of ten possible scenes that will serve the purpose needed. Then pick one. It may well be suggestion three or four, too, not the first idea you had. But that’s a side bonus. The real benefit is it flips you from static mind to dynamic mind, where choices are made super fast, almost automaticly- rather than dithering over the blank page.

The world’s most prolific author, Dr Jose Ryoki Inoue of Brazil- 1075 books to his name (some as short as 10,000 words- but still!) once gave an utterly illuminating comment on his methods, “Momentum is everything- always keep going even if you have to move sideways like a crab.” In other words when he hits a wall he moves sideways like a crab until he finds a break in the wall and then he moves on. And there are always breaks, sooner or later.

Creativity is a dynamic process. Actually everything, when we do it well, is experienced as something on-moving and dynamic rather than static, or a series of succeeding static positions- everything from fighting a battle to cooking. But creativity suddenly leaps into overdrive when you honour its dynamic nature and align yourself with it rather than fight against it. We fight our best abilities usually by allowing the self-talking conscious mind to interfere and turn creation into a static event. There’s a great moment in the Simpsons when Bart tries to imagine the new Itchy and Scratchy movie because he can’t get to see it at the theatre- a bubble appears above his head and the characters appear but they just stand there mute, doing nothing. This is static creativity, staring at the blank page waiting for inspiration- enough to give anyone the heebie jeebies.

Instead, like scooping up all the vaguely wheel shaped lego bits you need to widen your arms and scoop up from the mega-abundance out there, stuff that will roughly suit your purpose. From being in critical mode- which usually slows things down to stasis- you are suddenly spoilt for choice, and you make the choice quickly because you have an abundance of material.

As with the Steve Jobs quote I posted earlier (‘creativity is just having enough dots to join up’) you always need to have an abundance of material. And that doesn’t mean you have to spend three years doing research- it may mean just changing your perspective on what you already have. What EM Forster called ‘table topping’- if you change the scale you suddenly have access to a whole lot more material. You can get the same effect by ‘dropping down a gear’ or one of my favourites which is ‘what would I do if I had only one day to deliver this’- using a time limit to force me to look wider and stop being a perfectionist.

When you have your abundance you can get into automatic sort-mode- that is- making decisions instantly rather than pondering- which just gets you back in the static zone. One reason why the one-big-idea book, story, article, talk, art work is so fruitful is that it aids the automatic sort procedure frame of mind- you just keep relating stuff to the one main idea rather than having to relate to several ideas- it doesn’t flip you into self-talking, the very death of the dynamic approach.

When walking a canoe down a shallow stream filled with rocks you can go really slowly – and still hit the odd rock- or you can go fast, making instant decisions- and you may well find you hit fewer rocks and bottom-out less often. Trust that dynamic mind, of which the static mind is but a pale shadow.

















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