Question 9 for the DIY MFA Book Street Team is about feeding creativity. Gabriela Pareira discusses the need to have ideas at hand that allow you to spark your writing. Pareira has a really cool thing she calls the ORACLE, and it contains all kinds of tiny muses. I’m planning on building one of these because I’ve learned recently that like any muscle, our creativity muscle needs practice to stay healthy.
I lived in northern Alabama for eleven years and was part of the same writing group for all those years. We met bi-weekly and always started out our writing with a short prompt–then we read what we had written, if we felt like it. And then we wrote for a longer time, usually 40 minutes to an hour. When I moved, I lost my writing group and did not start with another one for about two years. When I started writing with that group, I found that writing impromptu was much more difficult. Ideas creaked out of my brain, as if it hadn’t been oiled, and my internal editor and critic screeched at me.
One prompt my group in Alabama used came from a book on developing writing community (Writing Together: How to Transform Your Writing in a Writing Group by Dawn Denham Haines, Susan Newcomer, and Jacqueline Raphael), and it’s a hard copy version of Pareira’s Writer Igniter, a random prompt generator on the DIY MFA website. The prompt is called “The Four Elements–Stories in a Shoebox” and directs writers to write down four elements on slips of paper that are then placed in the appropriate envelopes labeled Situation, Place, Object, and Character. Writers then draw one slip from each envelope and attempt to include all four items in her writing.
So one way I feed my creativity is by having kick-ass prompts, and Writer Igniter is a quick way to get those prompts. Natalie Goldberg’s prompts in Writing Down the Bones are ones I always return to. Two one-word prompts of hers always work: “green” and “stars.”
Another way I jumpstart creativity is to do something completely different from writing, like math. Working with numbers and shapes shakes up my brain, and I return to writing refreshed. Go to Khan Academy and pick graphing or computer animation–whatever draws you. Try it for a bit. Your word-y brain will thank you.
I like doing something much more visual, like drawing or fingerpainting or making a collage. Going to a gallery helps me see things differently. Shaking up creativity through different modes–playing my flute–this is a tactic that helps me immensely. Taking a walk and keeping my eyes open–any kind of attentiveness–these things also spark.
Writing with a group–nirvana.
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Hello Sandra. Finding ideas to write about has never been a problem for me, but I do like your suggestion about cross-training by practicing and enjoying other types of art besides literature. Happy writing! (Hmm–now I’m wondering about those green stars. Suppose a woman is lying in her back yard with her grandchild, looking up at the stars, when she notices that they’ve taken on a decidedly green tint…)