Creativity Boot Camp

Listen up, you dull, lazy, unimaginative bores! I’ve got exactly one blog post to whip your sorry, uninspired butts into the most steely-eyed, creative writers who ever scribbled for this great country.

What’s that? Did I hear one of you say you’re just not creative? First of all, no talking in ranks. Second, you were creative once, back when you were three to five years old. You were uninhibited, freewheeling, and super-creative then. What happened to you? Get intimidated by a little criticism? Did adults often tell you that you were wrong? Did they tell you to stand or sit in neat, straight lines…?

Hmmm. Okay, new formation. I want you to sit, stand, or lie down facing in any direction you want. Still no talking, though. You will listen to everything I tell you. You will do everything I tell you, and you will become more creative. Do you understand? The proper response is ‘Yes, Drill Sergeant!’ I can’t hear you!

To allow for possible penetration into your feeble brains, I will keep these techniques simple. When faced with a writing problem, any writing problem, use these methods. They will work when you believe you can’t think of a story idea, create a compelling character, describe a setting, or get yourself out of a plot hole.


  1. Give me ten. No, not sit-ups. Write down ten ways to restate your problem. Sometimes seeing the question a different way helps in finding an answer.
  2. Give me twenty. No, not pushups. Write down twenty solutions to your problem. Do not stop until you get to twenty. Do not criticize your solutions, no matter how stupid they are. Remember, a stupid idea can inspire a good one.
  3. Move your lazy behind. I mean move Go for a run, or a walk. Your body and brain are one. Moving one will move the other.
  4. Go somewhere else. Move your rear end to a different place. A different room. Outside, maybe. Find a place that stimulates you, where you feel more creative.
  5. Doodle, or do focused doodling like the 30 Circle Test.
  6. Draw a mind map of your problem.
  7. Look at your problem from three perspectives. No, I can’t tell you which three without knowing your problem. It could be three characters, three physical directions, three time periods, or three other perspectives. You figure that out from the nature of your problem.
  8. Shut up. Literally. Go to a quiet place. No TV. No radio. No rug-rats. Quiet. Maybe you’ve been too distracted for the answer to come to you.
  9. Approach your problem using all your senses. You have five of them, most of you. Sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste.
  10. Quit sitting on your hands and use them to build something. Build a model of your problem, with an Erector Set, Legos, modeling clay, Silly Putty, Play-Doh, or Tinkertoys. If you see your problem in a physical way and shape it with your hands, you may think of a solution.
  11. Listen to music. What? How should I know what kind of music will work for you? That’s for you to figure out.
  12. Get help. We leave no writer behind in this outfit. Ask other writers you know, or members of your critique group, if you have one. They may think of answers you haven’t thought of. Remember to help them when they ask, too.

Do not think I came up with these ideas by myself. I got them from experts. You will visit their websites and review the information there. See the postings by Larry Kim, Michael Michalko, Christine Kane, Christina DesMarais, and Dr. Jonathan Wai. Also this article on WikiHow, and this TED talk by Tim Brown.

These techniques I’ve attempted to impart into your mundane, unoriginal skulls will increase your creativity. They will make you a better writer. They will make you feared by your competitors. They will save your writing career. Memorize them and practice them.

Ten-hut! You’re dismissed. Get out there and be creative writers. Never forget what’s been taught to you by your Drill Sergeant—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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The Life Story of a Short Story

AlexandersOdyssey9Hello.  I’m a short story.  Since Poseidon’s Scribe never got around to blogging about the whole short story process, he invited me to guest blog today.  My title is “Alexander’s Odyssey,” and I was written by Steven R. Southard.  My life story is typical of other tales, and might be obvious to many of you, but the steps weren’t clear to Steve when he started.

Idea1.  Idea.  I started as an idea.  You did too, I suppose, but with stories you only need one human with an idea, if you know what I mean.  Getting a story idea isn’t as difficult as most believe.  Ideas are all around you.

Outline2.  Outline.  This can take many forms, not just the standard I-A-1-a-(1) type.  It can be a mind-map, for example.  An outline can keep you focused as you write, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it if the story takes off in a different direction.  Steve used an outline for me, but if you don’t want to, just skip this step.

Research3.  Research.  You might have to conduct research for your story like Steve did for me.  Use the most authoritative sources you can.  Steve didn’t include all the researched data when writing me, just a tiny fraction.  You might enjoy research, but don’t get stuck at this stage.  At some point, enough is enough.

First draft4.  First Draft.  Steve wrote my first draft fast, without caring about quality.  He didn’t even stop to correct typos.  He got it all down, the emotions, the drama, and the character interactions.

Edits5.  Edit.  Steve did several drafts of me where he corrected typos; deleted extraneous stuff; added in foreshadowing, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, etc.  Don’t get stuck at this stage either; some stories never even get submitted.

Submit6.  Submit.  Steve located a suitable market, and had to modify me a bit to conform to the submission guidelines.  After much hesitation, he submitted me.   These days, you writers have the option of self-publishing us stories, so you could skip this step.

Reject7.  Rejection.  Actually, I didn’t get rejected the first time, but I know the feeling.  I don’t understand why writers take rejection so personally; the editor is rejecting me, not you.  Just shake it off and submit your story to some other market.  Keep us moving!

Accept8.  Accept.  I was pretty happy when an anthology editor accepted me, but Steve was positively giddy.  I’d never seen him so thrilled and, frankly, the details are embarrassing, so I’ll just move on.

Rewrite9.  Rewrite.  The editor suggested Steve change me a bit.  He agreed the changes would do me good, and made them.  I’ve seen Steve agonize over suggested changes to other stories, though.  I’ve even seen him push back against the editor.  In the end, they always reach agreement and Steve signs the contracts.  I guess he could always refuse and walk away if he wanted.

Launch10.  Launch.  These days, publishers don’t just publish us, they launch us.  It does make me feel like a rocket going off, sort of.  Again, Steve seems really happy when a story launches, and again it’s awkward to watch.

Market11.  Market.  If I’d been picked up by one of the top publishing houses, they’d spread the word about me.  Steve didn’t send me there, so he had to do it.  Boy, does he hate that part, though I’ve heard some authors like marketing.  Use social media, newsletters, writing conferences—anything to advertise.

Read12.  Read.  My favorite step.  When a reader buys me and reads me cover to cover, that’s what I live for.

Reprint13.  Reprint.  When the rights to me reverted back to Steve, he submitted me for publication as a reprint.  After three rejects, another market accepted me, but asked for significant changes.  My reprint version states where and when I was published the first time.

Spin-off14.  Spin-off.  Oh, I hope, I hope I can get spun-off into a novel, a play, or even a movie.  Hey, a story can dream, can’t it?

That’s my story.  Forget about Steve, or Poseidon’s Scribe.  Address your comments to—

                                            Alexander’s Odyssey

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December 8, 2013Permalink

Use Mind Maps to Solve Your Writing Problems

The concept of mind mapping has come up in my blog entries before, as a suggested tool to help writers.  I’ve said you can use mind maps for outlining, to improve your creativity, and to solve pesky plotting problems.  But what exactly is a mind map, and how does it work?

A mind map is a way of organizing and illustrating thoughts about a topic.  I learned about the technique from reading Use Both Sides of Your Brain, by Tony Buzan.  It contrasts quite a bit from other note-taking methods like the I.A.1.(a)(1)(i) outlining method you learned in school.  I’ve found it to be more intuitive, less messy, and easier to remember than other methods.  I use my own variant of mind mapping any time I need to organize thoughts:  note-taking during meetings at work, planning my day, planning a vacation.  And, oh yeah, I use mind-mapping to aid in my writing.

How do you construct a mind map?  I’ll give only a quick description here; I recommend you read Buzan’s book, or at a minimum read descriptions of the technique elsewhere online.

  • Start in the center with an image of the topic.
  • Write key words around the central image using upper case letters.
  • Underline each key word.
  • Use lines to link the underlined key words to your central image and to each other to illustrate connections.
  • Use images and symbols throughout, in addition to key words.  (Don’t worry if you think you can’t draw decent pictures; no one but you will see your mind map.)
  • Use multiple colors to separate thoughts, and to link similar thoughts.
  • Continue branching out from the center, expanding the thoughts and linking related ideas.

The best way to explain what that all means is to show you a mind map.  I’ve said you can use mind maps to solve writing problems, so let’s see a hypothetical example.  Let’s say you’re Jules Verne and you’re working on a book with a working title of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  You’re outlining the major events of the book and you want to finish with an appropriate, memorable ending, one with a big impact and one that fits the novel’s major themes.  You could make a list of possible endings, then go back and list pros and cons for each option, then choose the best one.  Or you could construct a mind map.

(Set aside for the moment, that [1] mind-mapping hadn’t been invented at the time, and [2] Verne did not write in English.)

In a more complete mind-map, Verne would have continued branching from each option, with pros and cons.  I’ve violated a few mind map rules in this example, but my overall point is for you to see how you could use the technique to aid your writing.

Stuck for an idea what to write about?  Write down key words that resonate with you, even if apparently unrelated.  Go fast and fill up a page with words and pictures.  Now pause and look for natural associations.  Re-do the mind map if necessary to keep it clean and neat.  Now, in a different color, try connecting some unrelated ideas.  Do any of these clashing notions suggest a possible story?

Not sure how to plot your story?  Mind-map the story’s scenes, with branches describing why they occur and how the characters change or learn things from each event.  That should make it apparent if you have unnecessary scenes, scenes in the wrong order, or if you’re missing some scenes you need.

Possible uses for mind-mapping are limited only by your imagination.  In other words, there are no limits.  Can you see yourself using this technique?  Have you ever done so?  Share your ideas about mind-mapping by leaving a comment.  This blog post has been brought to you by both the left and right sides of the brain of–

                                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe



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