Creative Writing Workshop

The ecourses are being removed from SuiteU. They had a lot of work put into them and were offered free. I think they are worth keeping online and available.

Creative Writing Workshop

By Wesley Sharpe

Introduction

 

My interest in creativity springs from a university class I attended on Creative Teaching. Before I began my study, I believed the myth that only a few exceptionally bright and gifted individuals are creative. During the next few months I learned that creativity is an innate ability regardless of IQ.

Aware that creativity is an inborn gift, I studied the creative thinking skills of elementary school educationally handicapped children. In eight weeks of instruction these boys and girls made outstanding progress in their ability to think of more ideas and more original ideas, than children without special training.

Like many new ventures, several years passed before this idea evolved into a book that focused on helping parents understand and teach their children inventive thinking skills. Since then I have continued to study and write about creativity.

I developed this workshop to help writers recognize and nurture their writing abilities. In the four lessons students will begin to understand their inventive abilities, and practice ways to think and write originally.

Each lesson includes a thinking workout including warm-up exercises. These exercises are designed to give the originative process a boost and prepare you for serious writing. Athletes warm up and stretch their muscles before they begin a workout or competition. You can have the same kind of experience with a creative thinking workout.

The primary rule during a workout is to allow the right hemisphere of your brain to take control. This means don’t edit grammar or punctuation, and forget about correct spelling at least for a while. Let the words flow.

Most of the assigned writing activities are adapted from Freeing Your Creativity by Marshall J. Cook. Although this book is out of print, new and used copies are available from Amazon.Com.

My home is in Little River California, population about 400, on California’s North Coast. When I am not writing, visiting grandchildren, or looking at the Pacific Ocean, I’m on the golf course enjoying life!

Lesson 1: What is Creativity?

“You need your broccoli in order to write well,” says Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird. “It means, of course, when you don’t know what to do, when you don’t know whether your character would do this or that, you get quiet and try to hear that still small voice inside. It will tell you what to do.”

Some experts believe that the “still small voice inside” that Lamott describes, gave way to rote learning and literal thinking when we were elementary school kids. Around the third grade many of us swapped our imagination and creativity for left-brain logical thinking.

 

Myths That kill Creativity

If you haven’t heard from your “still small voice” recently, it may be because of the misconceptions you have about your imaginative ability. The following are three common myths about creativity.

Myth 1: Only geniuses are creative. In other words, superior intellect means superior creativity. It’s true that people with high IQs can be highly original writers. But the opposite is also true. Geniuses may be boring. They may be respected members of their communities and contribute to their professions, but their inventive achievement fail to match their IQs.

Myth 2: If you have creative ability, your talents will be discovered. Every person has creative potential, but some of us are better at using it. The truth is, unless you write, your unique writing ability goes unnoticed.

Myth 3: You don’t have to work at being creative. Sometimes our best ideas seem to pop out of nowhere.

Rhonda Swillinger, in an article written for Psychology Today, says this: “It takes at least 10 years of immersion in a given domain before a creator is likely to make a distinctive mark. Einstein, for example, who is popularly thought to have doodled out the theory of relativity at age 26 in his spare time, was in fact engaged in thinking about it from the age of 16.”

Lesson 1: What is Creativity?

The Truth About Creativity

Truth 1: Creative thinking often springs from frustration. Like Einstein we have to give the creative process time to work.

Truth 2: Creative thinking is original thinking. To be original in your thinking takes time, and you won’t always do original thinking sitting at your computer keyboard. Creative solutions to our writing problems come to us at odd moments and as unexpected breakthroughs. A break through may come when you are walking, driving in traffic, waking up or about to fall asleep.

Truth 3: “You encourage your creativity when you allow yourself to play with new combinations of words, images and ideas,” said Cook. Edward De Bono a world authority on developing creative thinking skills believes that anyone can learn to be creative. When you pay attention to your creative flashes, you find fresh, new ways of thinking about writing.

Truth 4: It’s possible to kill good ideas by too much evaluation. Instead of finding everything that is bad about a creative idea list what is good. Evaluation comes later. Marshall Cook says, “When it’s time to evaluate and act on your inspiration, remember to play the angel’s advocate first. Instead of trying to decide what’s wrong with an idea, first note everything, that’s right with it, every thing it might become, all the possibilities it might suggest.”

Lesson 1: What is Creativity?

The Creative Process

It’s true. Creativity starts with ideas, sometimes very silly ones. Can you imagine what people thought when they heard about?

 

  1. The astronomer Edmund Halley sitting under sixty feet of water for an hour-and-a-half testing a diving bell?
  2. The inventor of the parachute jumping from a balloon at 3,000 feet?
  3. A Scottish veterinarian named Dunlop taking time from his practice to invent a pneumatic tire?
  4. A radio death-ray that was supposed to shoot down airplanes but led to the development of radar?

Even kids can think of fresh, inventive ideas if they are given the opportunity. For example, every year the children in the third grade class at Camino Pablo Elementary School in Moraga, California are required to invent something original, and the kids come up with some beauties. One crop of inventions included a water-saving device that shuts off the shower, ready or not; a battery-run back scratcher for pets and a basketball launcher for little kids whose shots fall short of the basket.

Here are some facts about the process that leads to a creative product.

Step 1: The process starts with an idea. During this stage you gather newspaper clippings, jot down your observations, and note what people say. You may read extensively, ask questions or keep a journal.

Step 2: The idea incubates while you go on to other projects. You may have enough material to send off a query letter but not much more. It’s too early to put your idea in its final form because in its infant state it can develop into many different forms. So you continue to build your file of material.

Step 3: Back to work. This is an exciting, exhilarating part of the process. What you want to write is outlined in your head and you can’t wait to get started. One caution. Don’t be too critical of your writing at this stage; wait to pass judgment on the quality of your work.

Step 4: Finally, it is time to evaluate and rewrite. Remember, Marshall Cook says, “When it’s time to evaluate and act on your inspiration, remember to play the angel’s advocate first. Instead of trying to decide what’s wrong with an idea, first note everything, that’s right with it, everything it might become, all the possibilities it might suggest.”

Lesson 1: What is Creativity?

The Creative Process Continued

Sometimes solutions or breakthroughs are unexpected. That’s the way it was with Monte Unger, a freelance writer and editor.

Unger’s creative light flashed on one day when he was confronted with a problem he couldn’t solve. It was his wife’s birthday, and he wanted to make her “big-four-O” a happy one. His wife had planned to be away, and he decided to line the sidewalk to their front porch with daisies and put up an enormous, “Happy Birthday,” sign.

Then his anxiety took control. He worried about what the neighbors would think about the sign and the flowers. Besides, the flowers would cost too much, and he didn’t have enough vases to hold them.

Unger’s anxiety blocked a unique solution until he realized that his inventive nature came from God. This time he didn’t let the problem squash his originality, and he took an innovative course of action. Here’s how he tells it:

“Our sons and I went out into the fields near where we lived and collected dozens of long-stemmed black-eyed Susans. In the basement of our house we found several boxes of old jars that Linda had been collecting — again free!

We filled the jars with water and turned the walkway into a path of flowers. We found a huge sheet of paper painted our message of love, and taped the sign to the front porch. All of the work was worth it. We had successfully softened her entrance into her forties.”

Unger confesses that the truth of his break through changed his approach to problems. When he paid attention to his inner light, he found fresh new ways of thinking!

Lesson 1: What is Creativity?

The Process Works!

If you look carefully at Unger’s story, you find the recipe for creative thinking.

 

  • He had a problem. His wife’s birthday. He wanted to plan a surprise celebration for her, but his plan was expensive and his neighbors might think he was acting foolishly.
  • A new idea began to form. He decided on an innovative action. He finally understood that he could be creative.
  • He thought of a way to solve his problem. He substituted black-eyed susans for nursery flowers and old jars for vases. He decided to paint a happy birthday sign rather than buy an expensive one.
  • A time for action. His sons helped him pick the flowers, fill the jars, and paint the sign.
  • It was a success. The idea worked and it was low cost. He stopped worrying about the neighbors and enjoyed the birthday celebration.

The creative process Unger used is the same one you can use to handle writing problems and everyday hassles. The steps to a creative solution sometimes seem to run together, but if you think about it, the creative stages are there. Thinking creatively is an everyday experience—a lifestyle. Make creativity a top priority and it will carry over to your writing.

Lesson 1: What is Creativity?

Creative Workout

Start a 21-day writing program (Cook, Freeing Your Creativity). Commit to 30 minutes of writing a day for 21 Days. Write on any subject that interests you. Don’t stop to think or evaluate your work during the 30 minutes. Just write. The clarity of your writing and the word count will surprise you.

Bibliography

1. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, Doubleday, 1994, p.110.

2. Freeing Your Creativity: a writer’s guide, Marshall J. Cook, Writer’s Digest Books, 1992, pp. 5 & 145.

3. Interview Edward De Bono, Omni, 1988.

4. Bright Kids, Kelly Gust, The Tribune, March 22, 1991.

5. God is Creator, Monte Unger, Decision, 1990, p.35.

Lesson 2: The Odd Couple: Right Brain/Left Brain Thinking

You’ve probably read about the so-called right brain, left brain war. “The creative right brain generates ideas spontaneously, and the killjoy left brain then restores order and tries to mold and shape the creation into something presentable.”

“We characterize the two hemispheres as sort of an Oscar/Felix odd couple. Left-brain Felix keeps his half of the operation tidy . . .. He trusts reason over intuition. He’s goal-oriented. He’ll work hard to please. Right-brain Oscar is driven by whim and he creates strictly for the joy of it,” Marshall Cook said in Freeing Your Creativity.

To be able to think imaginatively and to accomplish balanced thinking, the brain is divided into left and right hemispheres. Here’s how it works.

The War of the Hemispheres

Most of us tap the left-brain when we are using language, but the right hemisphere is in charge when we are in touch with our feelings. Balance or the ability to shift between the hemispheres is what’s important. The professional artist uses the right brain for creative work, but to keep accurate accounts, she must call on the left-brain. And a chemist works in a left-brain occupation but when he is having fun away from the job he is using his right brain.

Priscilla Donovan and Jacquelyn Wonder authors of Whole Brain Thinking describe how the left and right sides of the brain respond to different kinds of humor.

 

The two sides of the brain react or understand humor in two different ways, and to appreciate a joke fully both sides must be in use. The left is quite literal in its interpretations of the joke and is especially drawn to wordplay. The right is more alert to the subtleties and nuances.

 

A left-brain thinker would chuckle at the joke: “The bigger the summer vacation the harder the fall.” But the same person would puzzle over the story of a young man who returned from a blind date with Siamese twins. His friend inquired, “Did you have a good time?” He replied, “yes and no.”

 

Lesson 2: The Odd Couple: Right Brain/Left Brain Thinking

Logical & Imaginative Thinking

To be able to think imaginatively and to accomplish balanced thinking, the brain is divided into left and right hemispheres. Our thinking shifts from left to right depending on the task. Unlike the brains of animals, each hemisphere of the human brain specializes in highly complex methods of thinking. This is possible because a thick nerve cable with millions of fibers connects the two hemispheres, allowing us to shift back and forth between the two halves.

The two halves of the brain have different but overlapping ways of thinking. When you’re using your left-brain your thinking is:

  • Positive
  • Analytical
  • Linear
  • Explicit
  • Sequential
  • Verbal
  • Concrete
  • Rational
  • Active
  • Goal oriented

If you shift to the right side of your brain your thinking will be:

  • Intuitive
  • Spontaneous
  • Holistic
  • Diffuse
  • Artistic
  • Nonverbal
  • Visual
  • Playful
  • Symbolic
  • Physical

 

Lesson 2: The Odd Couple: Right Brain/Left Brain Thinking

Find Your Preference

From all appearances we are a left-brained culture, substituting rote learning and literal thinking for creativity. In many instances we aren’t using our right brains. If you’re not sure whether you are left or right brain dominant, the following quiz may help you get a picture of the side you prefer! The statements below describe left and right brain qualities. Decide which ones best describe you.

WHEN YOU WRITE:

a. You’re a dynamo at producing ideas.

b. You love to research and revise manuscripts.

COMPLETING WRITING ASSIGNMENTS:

a. You plan assignments and never miss a deadline.

b. You misplace manuscripts and ask editors to extend their deadlines.

VERBAL COMMUNICATION:

a. You never stop talking.

b. You’re a better listener than speaker.

EXPRESSING FEELINGS:

a. You moan and groan — have mood swings.

b. You control your emotions. Grit your teeth and do it.

COMPLETING HOUSEHOLD CHORES:

a. You follow a checklist and like routine.

b. You let it happen. Jobs are completed but sloppy.

PLAYING SPORTS:

a. You’re competitive, happy when winning.

b. You play for the fun of it.

ENJOYING HUMOR:

a. You appreciate the subtleties in jokes.

b. Your favorite jokes play on words.

* Scoring: Items 1b, 2a, 3a, 4b, 5a, 6a, 7b are left-dominant characteristics!

Lesson 2: The Odd Couple: Right Brain/Left Brain Thinking

More on Preferences

Does it make a difference if we are left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant? Balance is the important ingredient. Imagine how unpleasant it is to be around someone whose right brain completely dominates his feelings and emotions. On the other hand, a left-brain dominant thinker, whose literal thinking lacks emotion, is not the kind of person most of us enjoy. The ability to shift between the hemispheres is what’s important.

The professional writer uses the right brain for creative work, but to keep accurate account, he must call on the left-brain.

“ Creativity has a single source. You must use all of your brain when you write. Your writing must be passionate and precise, must express your intuition and your intention,” says Cook.

Lesson 2: The Odd Couple: Right Brain/Left Brain Thinking

Creative Workout

1. Choose a subject and type its title at the top of your computer screen. Write whatever comes to mind during the next 10 minutes. Your goal is nonstop free association until the time is up. Don’t analyze or evaluate your writing until later.

2. Now evaluate what you have written.

Bibliography

1. Freeing Your Creativity: A Writer’s Guide, Marshall J. Cook, Writer’s Digest Books, 1992, pp.14-15.

2. Whole Brain Thinking, Jacquelyn Wonder & Priscilla Donovan, William Morrow, 1984, p. 106.

3. The Right Brain Experience, McGraw Hill, Marilee Zendek, 1964, p. 12.1991.

Lesson 3: Do You Have What It Takes?

You don’t feel creative? It might comfort you to know that some of our most creative and famous personalities were shut down as kids. There’s plenty of evidence that ordinary acting kids have overcome difficult, and imperfect childhoods to become highly creative adults. By surmounting serious obstacles children have turned a bad situation into a creative one, conquering poor teaching, physical handicaps or poor emotional adjustment. Here are two stories about the childhood of famous adults.

Smart Kids—Creative Adults?

Charles Shultz, creator of the characters in the “Peanuts” comic strip was never allowed to draw cartoons in school. “Only in the seventh grade one time . . .. The teacher for one brief period let us experiment with drawing political cartoons. Outside of that I don’t recall ever being allowed to draw cartoons,” said Shultz.

As a child Robert Louis Stevenson was tormented by nightmares that caused him to wake up screaming. Stevenson later described how his dreams “Became a stage upon which he conceived some of his best stories.”

The work of people like Shultz and Stevenson illustrate an element of creativity that needs to be considered. That is, superior intelligence is necessary for highly imaginative works, but the smart person is not always creative. A certain amount of intelligence is required for original thinking. Beyond that, being more or less intelligent doesn’t always determine the level of accomplishment.

Lesson 3: Do You Have What It Takes?

An Important Research Study

While many high IQ individuals are highly talented, others become rigid, lack-luster thinkers. In fact, IQ tests reveal nothing about creative thinking.

In 1921 Lewis M. Terman, professor of psychology at Stanford University, launched a long-range study of approximately 1,500 California boys and girls who were seven to fifteen years old.

These weren’t ordinary kids. They were extremely bright children with IQs of 140 or higher, and they were observed through adulthood.

Though they were respected members of their communities and contributed to their professions, their creative achievements didn’t match their higher IQs.

Lesson 3: Do You Have What It Takes?

Common Creative Traits

Where does that leave us? Even if your creativity was squelched as a youngster, you can become a creative adult. There are at least four traits that creative children and adult’s share.

These influential traits are:

Curiosity. All creative individuals are curious. Probably most creative ideas begin the with the question, “What if . . .?

Persistence. Creative adults experience one failure after another. But in spite of their flops, they endure until their creative idea unfolds as a useful product.

Positive self-esteem. Self-esteem is a bridge to creative writing. If you feel good about yourself, chances are that you will be a more productive writer.

An open attitude. Marshall Cook believes that the creative person is:

Open to experience.

Open to possibilities.

Open minded about ways to solve a problem.

Open to discovering new abilities interests, and powers.

Lesson 3: Do You Have What It Takes?

Identify Your Abilities

Use the following checklist to identify the strengths and weakness in your creative development. Remember, a checklist is just a checklist; use it as a gage for improvement.

The Creative Writer:

Stays on task.

Burns with curiosity.

Enjoys complex ideas.

Adjusts easily.

Has a variety of interests.

Has a high energy level.

Is self-reliant.

Daydreams.

Sticks to his/her beliefs.

Enjoys play.

Believes in himself/herself.

Lesson 3: Do You Have What It Takes?

Creative Workout

Writers often use excuses to keep from writing.

Make your own list of excuses.

Compose a “Dear Me” letter and tell yourself exactly what you are going to write for your next project. Jot down the points you will stress and the impact you want to have on your reader. Combine your ideas to make better ones.

Bibliography

1. The Right Brain Experience, McGraw Hill, Marilee Zendek, 1964, 1991, p. 53.

2. Giftedness and the Construction of a Creative Life, American Psychological Association, 1985, p. 362.

Lesson 4: How to Think Like a Writer.

Experienced writers talk about a mental process they call flow. You are writing in flow when you have a sense of being plugged in and alive. It’s like your brain has shifted into overdrive and you’re skimming along. You lose track of time as the words flow onto the computer screen or paper.

Creative Ideas & Flow

Flow comes as you learn to translate your ideas into a written draft without struggling over each sentence. It’s a learned skill, experts say, and to get into flow depends on how you prepare for writing.

The groundwork you lay is part of the creative process, it directly relates to the information-gathering step, where you plan, take notes, organize your material and research your story or article. During this time you are building up pressure to start writing. Eventually it’s write or explode.

“The worst thing about trying to write without building up creative pressure is that when you fail—-and you will fail—you will be teaching yourself an unfortunate and inaccurate lesson: You can’t write. Writing is painful and frustrating and slow,” said David Fryxell, author of How to Write Fast.

If you start a first draft before you have completed the groundwork stage, you short circuit the process. “Every time you begin to build up a head of creativity, you unleash it by blowing off partial drafts, pieces of leads, fragments of dialogue,” says Fryxell. Instead, frustration builds up and you quit after a couple of pages.

Lesson 4: How to Think Like a Writer.

Keep a Writers Journal

How often or how much you write in your journal is up to you. The thing to remember is that the more you write the more you will benefit, say experts.

The setting is important. It is best to have a quiet place where you can spend 15 minutes or more recording your thoughts. Use an 8 X 10 inch notebook to record what you did the day before; include your ideas, dreams, problems and rambling thoughts. But always carry your journal with you. Record your written thoughts about feelings, opinions, beliefs, hopes, fears, reflections, and etc.

For reference, it’s a good idea to put the date on the first page of each journal entry. Forget about editing what you write, but keep your journal entries honest by keeping them private. If you decide to share your writing be selective, choose someone who will be supportive of you.

Lesson 4: How to Think Like a Writer.

Take Notes

A pen and notebook is the writer’s number one low-tech weapon for research, interviewing, and fast writing, according to Fryxell. If you are researching an article or story, it may seem easier to dog-ear pages of source material, or photocopy sections of the material that interests you. But note taking brings order out of a mess, and aids the writing process in two ways.

First, note taking saves you time. You always will have more information than you can use and note taking forces you to boil down your research data.

Second, note taking forces you to keep the information firmly in your mind where the subconscious can mull it over and begin to shape into creative prose. Actually, note taking benefits the creative process. The information is firmly in your mind and your story idea can develop into many forms.

Effective notes depend on the ability to write fast. It’s great if you know shorthand but it is possible to develop your own system of shorthand. Any system of abbreviations will do, if it is fast and you can decipher your notes.

Lesson 4: How to Think Like a Writer.

Brainstorming—Basic to Creative Writing

Brainstorming is basic to creative thinking because it provides a safe environment that is open to new ideas. When you brainstorm you are free to express unique ideas, use your intuition, and to be flexible in your thinking.

The basic brainstorming strategy is to delay judging the merit of your ideas until all of them have been listed. Prejudging restricts the flow of good ideas. When your thoughts are judged at the same time they are expressed, you tend to worry about whether the ideas are good or bad, and fewer good ideas are triggered.

Brainstorming is essentially a right-brain activity, one that allows you to pour out your ideas. Don’t inhibit this process by criticizing or evaluating too soon. Use the following rules for individual or group brainstorming sessions.

Four Brainstorming Rules.

Free your imagination. Write all the ideas that pop into your head.

Wait to judge the ideas. You can’t judge your ideas effectively as you’re receiving them.

The more ideas the better. It’s quantity not quality that counts.

Combine your ideas to make them better. It’s okay to piggyback ideas.

Lesson 4: How to Think Like a Writer.

Four Success Stories

Conrad Hubert returned home after watching his friend use a battery, a bulb, and an electrical switch to illuminate a flowerpot. He decided to put batteries and a bulb inside a tube, and the flashlight was born.

Humphrey O’Sullivan found relief from aching legs, back, and neck by standing on a rubber pad while working in a print shop. Later, he attached a rubber pad to the heel of his shoes, beginning what would be the worldwide distribution of Humphrey O‘Sullivan’s rubber heels.

The grime and grease on the ceilings of factories and commercial buildings dismayed Kaaydah Schatten, an amateur chemist. She invented a cleaning compound that could be sprayed on ceilings, and after the dirt particles drifted to the floor be vacuumed up. As a result she founded a company that sells Ceiling Doctor International franchises worldwide.

Hyman L. Lipman had the ability to fill a need. “Lipman’s idea was a simple one, but essential in our offices, schools and homes. His brainstorm was to cement a piece of rubber onto the top of a standard pencil. Until then, people rubbed their mistakes away with pieces of India Rubber,” said David Lester in a Reader’s Digest article.

Lesson 4: How to Think Like a Writer.

Creative Workout

Cluster Diagrams. Draw a shape (a box, oval, or circle) in the middle of a blank page and write a topic that interests you inside the box.

Draw branching lines from your topic, and as you think of subtopics, write them at the end of a branching line.

As each of the sub-topics suggest additional ideas, cluster them around the idea that spawned them. Continue branching off from topic to sub-topic until you have run out of ideas.

Write the sentence: “The cat stretched one gray paw, sinking his claws into ———-,” on a blank sheet of paper, fold the paper and set it aside for later.

Make a cluster diagram for a story or article you want to write. Use the four brainstorming rules as you branch the topics and sub-topics.

Return to the sentence you wrote on the piece of paper. Spend the next 10 minutes writing whatever comes to mind. “Don’t stop to think, worry, or edit and redraft your work. Your mind has been working on the problem of the cat ever since you wrote the words; now, the writing should come easily,” says Michael seidman, author of Taking the Elevator to Creativity.

What happened when you went back to the sentence, “The cat stretched . . .?

Bibliography

1. How to Write Fast (while writing well), David A. Fryxell, Writer’s Digest Books, 1992.

2. Strokes of Genius, David Lester, Reader’s Digest, June 1990.

3. Taking the Elevator to Creativity, Michael Seidman, Writer’s Digest, July 1989, p. 22.

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