13. OBSERVE: In our everyday living we are often stressed and so much goes right by us. Sometimes even a very insignificant, ordinary moment may be a seed for ideas. Capture it, study it and see what comes out. Observe people, read, watch films and selective TV shows. Examine how the stories are plotted and what the themes are if you are interested in writing. If interested in the arts, watch body language and facial expressions. Take notice of their surroundings. How do the characters interact on a personal level? Life is stranger than fiction, and these stories are based on reality but exaggerated for effect.
14. STIMULATE: Your brain loves seeing new things so don’t limit it. Stimulate your mind by going to happenings at art galleries even if the works are not to your liking. Horror movies, anyone? (I personally can’t tolerate them) but it is eye opening. Perhaps visit comedy clubs, see foreign movies, documentaries and anything that has not been in your scope before. Do the same with your ears and listen to music you might not ordinarily be attracted to, but it might stir up new horizons.
15. THE SENSES: Think about all the senses – touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell. Give them their due. It is here that an opportunity exists for new experiences that we might have overlooked before. By making ourselves acutely aware of our surroundings and utilizing the senses, we can unleash an entire world. Does the smell of soup cooking take you on a journey to the past? Does touching sandpaper take you back to when you helped your father fix something? Utilize the senses to unlock hidden memories or use as an introduction to a new sensation. Bells may go off in your head. It will be like a breath of fresh air wafting or soft breezes caressing out cheeks.
“AN ESSENTIAL ASPECT OF CREATIVITY IS NOT BEING AFRAID TO FAIL” —— Edwin Land
Images created by Cayla Belser
9. RESPECT: All of your ideas have validity. Don’t be put off by what you think is a bad idea. Explore ideas that society might consider silly or crass. Don’t fear what others will say about you. It’s only important what you think about yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. The so-called failure may be judged by artificial standards that were designed by others. Set your own bar at any height you wish.
10. COMMIT: Set aside alone time on as many days as possible (hopefully, at least five (5) days a week). Shoot for a consistent routine to dwell on your thoughts and you may well find yourself in a place of creativity. Wondrous ideas may emerge. You can utilize this routine, however short, by jotting notes with whatever thoughts pop into your head. Don’t wait for the muse to strike, just do it even if it seems like gibberish. In time thoughts will emerge from within you that you never knew existed. You may also designate about five (5) minutes a day to think about one subject no matter what else is going on in your life.
11. WONDERMENT: Maintain the curiosity and delight you had as a child. Let that child within you observe the world around you without putting your adult self into it. Just concentrate on what you see, not how it would look with you smack in the middle. Keep the I and Me out.
12. EXPERIMENT: Select a scene that you’ve seen or are looking at and describe it in writing objectively. Then, if you wish, try to describe the feelings/emotions the scene evokes. Describe someone you like, physical and emotional as well. Describe someone you don’t like the same way. You may choose to use metaphors as well. In that case, don’t use the words “like” or “as” but simply use a metaphor: Example: …adrift on the ocean, or: …connected by a fragile thread, etc.
(CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR THE FINAL INSTALLMENT!)
Images created by Cayla Belser
4. INQUIRE: Ask the question WHY. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box. Be daring and bold in your inner life and external one as well. Don’t let unspoken rules of society limit you. I don’t mean overindulging, or anything that may be harmful to yourself or others, but, for example, challenge your mode of dressing for your age. Question the concept – “Age Appropriate Behavior.” Do something you’ve never done before in your life and maybe always wanted to try, but thought impossible to achieve. Or maybe do something you never wanted to try before. I’m not suggesting parachuting from a plane, but perhaps try playing a video game (educational, of course) or camping.
5. EXPLORE: Experiment by going where you’re told it’s inappropriate. Try happy hour at a local tavern, bar or restaurant, or walk into dive type places not yet explored (and don’t worry about motorcycles parked outside). If you’ve never sat at a bar, try it and order the drink of choice. Try attending current youthful pop concerts, picnic in a park, bike ride, — and the list goes on. (There is a naked bike ride in Center City Philadelphia but (no pun intended, I’m not pushing that far). Go the distance and wear spurs on your boots. That’ll go over well at OLLI. Explore the sub-cultures that exist all around us. Observe people familiar and/or strangers and their differences. This inspires creativity.
6. DIALOGUE: Open your heart and mind. Listen and dialogue with people who have different lifestyles (or even similar lifestyles) without judgment. Express and/or record what you think and feel. Encourage two-way conversations with people, explaining your concepts about life and your life’s desires, your own experiences and listen to those of others. Take and give feedback without prior assumptions. Forget what is considered proper conversation (one size fits all is not good here) and open it up to a more worldly view – go global, if you will. Don’t limit your horizons. Just allow ten minutes to each person to talk about grandchildren.
7. REFLECT: Remember number two suggestion where I asked you to go back into nice, happy events in your life? Now I want you to take it one step further. Dig deeply into yourself in those quiet moments. What events and experiences brought you to the place where you are today? What were the more traumatic moments? What were the hurdles you had to overcome? Were you teased, bullied or ignored? Think of teen years, young adult, college era, marriage, relationships, children, grandchildren or recalling other particular time periods. Examining past traumas (if it isn’t too painful), can be extraordinarily enlightening (like inexpensive psychological therapy). I find it mentally cathartic to confront those issues and sometimes insights come to you. It is that kind of deep reflection that helps in daily living. Most importantly, how did you overcome those trying issues?
How has all that affected your current behavior? Are you satisfied or do you want to make changes? Whatever you choose, it’s a wonderful freeing experience to have the understanding of how we’ve come to be the people we are.
8. APPRECIATE IMPERFECTIONS: It is not necessary to seek perfection. Many times flaws are what creativity is all about. For example: a sense of insecurity (which we all have from time to time) may turn into something very entertaining when put into words. We sometimes think we are the only ones experiencing inner fears but it is universal. Turn the tables on those apprehensions and find the funny element buried within.
(CHECK BACK NEXT WEEK FOR PART THREE)
Images created by Cayla Belser
Creativity has an almost mythical quality to it. Everyone wants it and feels like it is incredibly hard to come by. It appears to be a rare gem that few will ever get to see let alone own. My goal, with this presentation, is to debunk the myth that creativity is for a select few.
This applies to every art form: writing fiction, memoir, visual arts (painting, sculpture), etc. I believe that creativity is 20% talent and 80% work.
Creativity is within reach of every single person in this room - it is just a matter of finding it. Let me take you on a path that will, with several straightforward steps, open a dazzling new segment of your mind.
HERE ARE SUGGESTIONS TO OPEN UP THE CREATIVE PART OF YOUR BRAIN. YOU DECIDE WHICH SUIT YOU OR YOU MAY SELECT NONE:
1. SCHEDULE: Dedicate some time each day for thinking about the events of the day. Start with 10 minutes and keep adding time within a comfort zone. As you increase the time, think about anything you like - for example, relationships, events, cooking something you’ve never done before — anything you like. It’s good to use the time to think when external pressures aren’t there like when traveling, showering, weeding, etc. It’s fascinating the thoughts that come to you when the mind is in a quiet mode.
2. REMINISCE: Try to think back to more joyous moments in your past. How did that feel? What were the happy and pleasant events of childhood? Trips? Playground? Parks? Picnics? Movies? Foods you ate? Good times with caretakers/parents, siblings, friends in your life. What made you feel safe and secure? What events made you feel good about yourself? Pick out specific examples of comfortable times. Most importantly, relish the humorous moments. Sometimes we lose the sense of spontaneity over time and we need to recapture the feeling.
3. PLAN: Utilize goal setting. What did you always want to accomplish in life that you might not have obtained as yet. Did you always want to weld sculptures or make furniture, draw cartoons or study astronomy? Even in the realm of giving back. Did you want to volunteer to help deprived children? Disabled people? Think of ways you can achieve that goal and start to work toward it. How about writing our life story? Focus on the creative aspects of that objective. Go to workshops and see how others have gone in the directions of reaching a goal. Try to focus on one goal at a time and work out how it would play out from inception to actual reality.
(PART TWO TO BE RELEASED NEXT THURSDAY)
Images created by Cayla Belser
How has sci/fi writing influenced your mystery fiction writing OR: do you find the structure of both similar?
I don’t think there’s been an influence one way or the other, except for the art of simple storytelling. All writing is similar. Story structure, character development, it is always the same for any genre - the rules are all there. The tricks, the techniques, all those ways to make it stand out, make it difficult, to try to be the next big thing - all those stunts will work regardless of the genre. Of course, that’s just my opinion.
And if the stunt is to cross or mix genre, as has been the trend for a couple decades now, that’s really just shuffling the cards, right? Another trick, but you still have to follow the rules, complete the structure, and color inside the lines.
You have to learn the rules, before you start breaking them. You taught me that, Fran. You may be able to fly if you get a running start - but you have to learn to walk before you can run. Learn the basics first.
After so many years of sci/fi writing do you find mystery fiction writing satisfying?
Satisfying? Again, I don’t think there’s any real difference between the genres from my point of view as a writer. The difference may well be only with the reader, in what he or she prefers. I think it’s all about telling a good story. As far as satisfying, there’s nothing better than completing a work in progress, regardless of genre, now that is satisfying.
What is your process and how was the transformation of genres?
My process depends on the inspiration. Sometimes I will get an idea in my head and work from there. For instance, my short story, “Live to Write, Write to Live” in the Strange World anthology was inspired by my habit of writing on my iPhone, which being so small and portable allowed me to write anywhere, including the bathroom. The main character begins the tale doing just that and rolls from there. When I started with that one, it should be noted, I had no idea where it was going, but there you go.
So I’m a bit of a pantser as far as process goes. For those not in the know, pantsing is a writing term for those of us who write by the seat of our pants, as opposed to planning and outlining. That said, when I do know where the story is going, I will stop and plan out the rest of the tale as I work toward the light at the end of the tunnel, so I’m a pantser and a planner, just from two different ends.
That’s my schizophrenic process. As far as transformation of genre, as I said, it’s about storytelling, and the story and the characters go where they go. I just follow, observe, and report.
Do you envision writing more general fiction from now on?
I envision writing whatever comes into my head. There are no plans, only the notions that put my butt in the seat, fingers on the keys, and words on the page. I can’t predict such things. However, mainstream fiction is where most of the money is, so I would hope that’s what my mind gives me to work with.
Isn’t it Stephen King that said once that what you write can not be controlled? I think so. I recall him saying somewhere if he tried writing about children on a playground, there would always be a kid killer hiding in the nearby woods. But then again, he has broken his own given rules. Look at “The Body” from which Stand by Me is taken, and the award-winning Shawshank Redemption, not to mention those great non-fiction books he wrote about the Red Sox. No monsters there, at least not obvious ones.
Which genre intrigues you more?
Between science fiction and mystery? Depends on what the story I’m working is, or the day. I think more in line with ideas, stories, or concepts that staying inside the lines of any one genre.
As far as what intrigues me, I’d like to write pulp. That said, it’s pretty much a dead art and a dead genre. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a strong new pulp movement, and some amazingly talented authors in that field, fine folks like Derrick Ferguson, Barry Reese, and Will Murray, but the mainstream literary machine hasn’t so much as even noticed its existence in decades. Let’s face it, the days of Doc Savage and The Shadow are long gone, no matter how much fun they’d be to both read and write. As far as I’m concerned, the powers that be at the book publishers need to wake up to that fun.
I would also like to write comic books, but seeing how the writing format for those are the same as screenplays, and when I’ve tried my hand at scripts, I am a complete disaster… that ain’t gonna happen. I suppose there’s always the sub-sub-genre of superhero fiction, but it’s a very small target.
Although, you can’t tell me that our current popular protagonists aren’t a perfect evolution from superheroes just as superheroes are an obvious evolution from mythology. Don Draper from “Mad Men,” Olivia Pope from “Scandal,” and Alicia Florrick from “The Good Wife” are the same archetypes as the superheroes of decades past, and the myths of legend. Don Draper isn’t doing anything new that Iron Man or Perseus hasn’t already dealt with.
Where do you draw inspiration for your work?
Well, as you can tell from the genesis of “Live to Write, Write to Live” above, I can pretty much take inspiration from almost anything, no matter how bizarre or mundane. It depends though. Sometimes a thought, an image, a turn of phrase will get stuck in my head, and will nag and nag until I do something with it. The desire to write sometimes becomes a compulsion, but then again, as a great man once said, “A writer writes.”
What influence has pop culture had on your writing?
Over and above that most of my writing is about pop culture, it offers a barometer for what is popular at any given moment. One can look at it as a window into what audiences are into now, or a crystal ball predicting what will be hot in the near future. I have always been one of those people who look for the new, the next big thing, so writing about pop culture is comfort food to me. It’s only naturally that it instructs my fiction.
Where do you see your writing going in the near future?
Where do I see my writing going in the future? Hopefully to the published page, whether it be online, in e-format, or on the printed page. After all, that’s what we’re all after. As far as what I’ll write about, I couldn’t say. In the fiction arena, whatever grabs me, I suppose. I will certainly continue writing about pop culture, as that’s my bread and butter, but beyond that, who knows.
Glenn Walker is the Associate Editor of Biff Bam Pop!, Membership Director of the South Jersey Writers Group, he blogs about pop culture, writing, comics, videogames, and French fries, and is also a podcaster and a vidcaster, besides attempting a multi-genre pursuit in fiction. You can check out his work at GlennEWalker.com