The Creative Process

It’s one thing to judge a cow, it’s quite another to create one

Except that metaphor is not quite right for writing stories because cows don’t apply much cognitive skill to their moo-making. So perhaps it’s better to say it’s one thing to test-drive a car and it’s quite another to design and build one.

In the first instance what you need to be able to do is be aware of your experience–the handling and acceleration, the accessiblity of the controls, the voom-voom of the car’s lovely body. In the second, you’ve got to come up with the dang acceleration and voom-voom in the first place.

Consumption and creation are different skills.

One of the reasons why I was wandering around in the bushes for so long was because I didn’t know the principles or process of creation. When it did work, it was by accident.

You don’t want cows, cars, or stories by accident. Of course, maybe cow love can’t be helped. But stories can.

Here’s how.

Creative Q&A

The third great mystery to writing killer stories is that creativity is nothing more, NOTHING MORE, than asking questions and coming up with answers.

Of course, that’s another one of those generalities that can’t do you a lick of good without the specifics. What questions do you ask? What form should your answers take? And how do you know when you’ve got the right answer?

You remember the four basic parts of story, right? Well, five, if we include text. But you remember them, right?

Just as you can’t bake a cake until you have flour, eggs, butter, and sugar, you don’t have a story until you have setting, character, problem, and plot. Leave out the sugar (or any of the other main ingredients) and you’ve got something, but it ain’t a cake. Leave out problem (or any of the other main story ingredients) and you’ve got something, but it ain’t a story, much less a killer one.

So you’re going to be asking yourself questions about those four parts of story. And you’re going to be providing answers. And you know you don’t have a story until you’ve got something that sings for all four parts.

  • What’s the setting?
  • Who is the character?
  • What’s the problem?
  • How does Character try to solve it?

Simple, right? Well, no.

The only good answers are ones that zing

Here’s why you can’t get answers from a story cookbook–your answers to the four parts have to carry current. They have to stimulate you. You’ve got to feel the “whoa” and “cool” and “dude” along your shoulders and down your back.

Any old answer to setting, character, problem, and plot will not work. You can’t mix and match stock items and get good product. Because the answers have to make you feel first. You’re the first audience. And you’re not going to be able to share any emotional effects if you don’t feel them in the first place.

So when you’re providing answers, you MUST follow the zing. You must keep coming up with alternatives until you get one that carries current. And even then you can push on to get the second and third right answer, all of them sparking and juicing your heart, so you can pick and choose.

Maybe we can learn from the cows after all because your art must be guided, not by your head, but by your heart.

So how do you use your head in the service of your heart?

You do it in 3 steps.

  1. Capture the Zing
  2. Ask Questions
  3. Provide Answers

And you follow these 7 creative principles:

  1. Always follow your zing
  2. Practice farmer’s faith
  3. Search for the 2nd and 3rd right answer
  4. Expect the writer’s trance to come and go
  5. Remember: writer’s block is a gift–embrace it!
  6. Improve you model and ability
  7. Make enough time

We’ll dedicate a lesson on each one of these.


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