Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Great Paradox of Creativity

NOTE: This is an excerpt from my recent handbook, Double Your Creativity in 3 Hours

When my college creative writing teacher asked me about my sloppy essay, I explained myself in clear terms: “I am a writer.  Therefore, I must be completely free to create.”  It sounded reasonable then, and maybe you agree with me now.  After all, the “right brain”—the inner artist—operates at peak creativity when the “left brain”—the inner critic—is otherwise occupied or relaxed.  Thus, it only stands to reason that we writers are most creative when no constraints or restrictions are placed on our writing.  Right?

Well...not necessarily.

The great paradox is this: Constraints cultivate creativity. 

It’s true that your inner artist may grow frustrated by intrusions from your inner critic, but outside parameters are just the challenge your right brain relishes.  Imposed parameters can be inspiring!  Even children do better with reasonable limits.  Stay with me on this.

A lesson from Hitchcock 

Psycho is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, and yet there are only two acts of violence in the entire movie.  Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano were not allowed to show nudity, nor could they show a knife actually penetrating a body.  Gore was not allowed either.  In the now-famous shower scene, the nudity is implied, and the knife is juxtaposed to the body, but is never seen entering the body (or apparently entering the body).  The Hershey’s cocoa swirling down the drain terrified me as a child. 

In a word, Hitchcock & Stefano were forced to be creative in how they wrote and shot that scene.  The constraints helped create a classic.  Today, there are no or few restrictions to the horror genre of film, and what do we usually get?  More and more blood and guts, with little creativity.  The art has not advanced.

Certainly it is possible to be creative without restrictions.  You’ve experienced that in your own writing.  That wonderful creative flow transports you to Writer’s Nirvana.  But constraints can be helpful, too, and even fun.  When I originally wrote this piece for Writer’s Digest, I enjoyed the challenge of whittling it down to 800 words.  In so doing, I found myself refining my little opus so that I better connected with my readers (I hope).

Editors, publishers, and producers—oh my!

Have you ever felt blocked at one time or another by the thought of editorial restrictions?  Perhaps the constraints reminded you of an overly critical parent or a past nasty authority figure, but they can inspire you if you let go of your initial resistant reaction.  With a little re-thinking and setting aside the negative emotions, the block you feel becomes a veritable stepping stone to better writing. 
Much of the great music of the past was commissioned; the composer didn’t initiate the project and was confined to the musical forms of the time.  Even hip-hop and rap adhere to some form or format.  Everything artistic has two components—form and content.  The creativity comes in how you craft the content within the restrictions of that form.  Yes, and sometimes the writer transcends that form.  Dickens wrote The Christmas Carol as a newspaper serial that later became the classic book. 

Perhaps, the most restrictive writing form is the sonnet.  Yet, some of world’s most beautiful poetry comes in sonnet form.  I remember the pain and joy of writing a poem in iambic pentameter.  My college creative writing teacher assigned me to write something worthy of the great poet-writer William Wordsworth.  It took me 14 hours to write 14 lines, but I’m a better writer for it.  In addition, three magazines paid me to publish it.  And even though it wasn’t worthy of Wordsworth, it was terrific for Trottier.

Fun with a strait jacket

Years ago, an independent movie producer paid me a paltry sum to write a screenplay.  She gave me a list of twelve parameters, including one car crash with two late model cars, one burn (that is, one character had to be set on fire), and the limitation of just one outdoor location within 50 miles of Los Angeles that was not a building.  I felt so confined.  It wasn’t until I slapped my face a few times and accepted her parameters that the writing process became both a challenge and a joy.

Michaelangelo saw himself as, first and foremost, a sculptor.  When Pope Julius II commissioned him to decorate the Sistine Chapel with frescoes, he was not initially interested or inspired.  And yet, he changed his attitude and the result is considered one of the world’s great works of art.

Do you want to improve your creativity?  Develop and encourage your inner artist and embrace constraints as you would a trusted friend or nurturing parent.  That fresh attitude may free you to be the best writer you can be.

Double Your Creativity in 3 Days: a guide for writers and other fun-loving humans may be purchased at ($7.16 paperback; $2.99 kindle edition) or at my writing web site.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Micro Dating - a new strategy for today's busy couples

My wife and I stumbled on a revolutionary new concept the other day.  Due to the time pressures of work, chauffeuring kids, and doing chores…we were finding that getting together—just the two of us—was becoming more difficult than standing on my nose while writing a blog during a Category Five hurricane.

Then, a miracle happened! 

One day when we realized that we were both free to drive our daughter to flute choir, we decided to have a micro date.  So after dropping our little piper off, we peeled out high-fiving over our precious freedom.  We treasured our 40 minutes together browsing at the bookstore.  Love bloomed in the best-sellers section.  

Love finds a way

But we didn't stop there.  Just the other day, we found 17 minutes and 29 seconds to “take a turn of our estate” (translation: meander through our one-fifth of an acre yard).  We smelled the flowers, watched the bees, picked some tomatoes, and kissed under the maple. And then I sang a verse of “Precious and few are the moments we two can share.”  

Now you can mirco date, too!

Are you having trouble finding time to date your spouse?  Try micro dating, and make every spare minute count. All you need is love.