I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time–longer than I can really remember–but I was never able to come up with a good idea. Now, I know this might come as a surprise, but I think this was in part due to the fact that I’ve never considered myself to be a very creative person. This is especially true if I’m trying to force myself to be creative–such as trying to put together an idea for a book.
Over the years I’ve I tried brainstorming ideas, but my efforts always ended up being unproductive. Ugh. I’ve always hated brainstorming. I still remember absolutely hating being put into groups with the assignment to brainstorm such and such a topic. I cringe just thinking about them. I’ve just never been good at spontaneously coming up with ideas in a forced environment.
My lack of creativity is evident in other areas as well–such as art. I’m also not very good at drawing or painting something from memory. If I tried to draw a horse, for instance, I’d probably stare at a blank piece of paper and never draw anything, or if I did, it would be horrendous. But if you put a picture of a horse in front of me I could draw a fairly decent picture of it. I do this with my kids today; I can pick a picture of Ernie and Bert out of a book and draw a decent picture of them, but if I had to do it from memory…well, that’d be another story.
I’m comparing drawing with brainstorming ideas here to show that it’s the pulling ideas out of thin air that I’m not particularly good at. It’s probably a right brain/left brain thing, and my left brain definitely runs the show.
However, given what I’ve accomplished over the last few years, I’ve conceded that I am in fact creative. I just learned that I’m creative in very specific, and sometimes fitful, ways.
As I said, I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time but always lacked an idea. The problem was that whenever I sat down with the specific intention of trying to come up with an idea, I felt like I did when I was in school and put into brainstorming groups. I don’t know how many hours I spent staring out the window of the airplane as I flew along–the cruise portion of the flight with the autopilot engaged can often be boring–trying to come up with an idea and never getting one. More often than not, those experiences left me frustrated and feeling the opposite of creative.
Then, one day toward the end of 2013, when I wasn’t specifically trying to think about it, and certainly not expecting it, the seed of an idea popped into my head. I don’t remember the exact moment it happened, but I remember that I jotted it down. I didn’t try to force myself to be creative and build on this idea, but whenever something related to the seed came to me I wrote it down. Without trying to force myself to be creative, ideas randomly came to me and my notes slowly began to grow. Sometimes it happened while I was staring out the window at 25,000 feet, and sometimes it happened while I was washing my hair in the shower, or most annoyingly, it happened right before I fell asleep. Slowly, the basic plot of my novel began to grow.
Since I was planning a fantasy novel that takes place in a world of my making, as I worked on my plot I also had to develop my world. It needed a history so my story and characters had depth and purpose. There had to be a reason my protagonist needed to do what needs to be done. So, before I started actually writing the novel, I spent about six months fitfully piecing together my world, its history, and its problems.
Not only did the world I was creating need a history, but it needed everything a world needs–land, water, mountains, rivers, forests, cities, etc. I tried sitting down with a blank piece of paper and sketching out a world map, but those sheets always ended up crumpled into wads and thrown away. I was facing a similar problem I have when I draw with my kids.
And then it happened! One day I was eating fajitas for dinner with my family and my creativity decided to strike! I looked down at the fajita drippings on my plate and knew what I was looking at wasn’t simply fajita juice; it was my world map!
I snapped a photo and later used it as a guide to make a sketch of my world. After that, I was able to slowly start filling in the details of the world as the details came.
This is by far the biggest creative project I’ve ever undertaken, and over the last few years I’ve learned to work within my own creative limitations. I’ve read a lot of advice on writing–you know, from those that know what they’re doing–such as being deliberate and regular with your writing by scheduling yourself time to write and establishing a goal to write a specific number of words a day, but I don’t work like that. I’m not creative if I have to force myself to be. If I sit down to write and the creative juices aren’t flowing I don’t try to force it. Doing so just makes me frustrated. Some days I’m able to write three to four thousand words and others I stare out the window of my motel room and don’t write anything. If that happenss, I stop and do something else.
In the end, as fitful as it was, it worked. Now I have more ideas for stories in this world I’ve created than I know what to do with. And as I write this, I’m sitting in a motel and feeling the creativity. I’m currently about 60% of the way through editing and revising book 2 in my trilogy and I’m approaching a particularly exciting part of the story. I still have a few hours before I have to report for duty, so off I go!