Encourage Creativity by Turning Work into Play

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Bobbi 2016by Barbara Florio Graham

This is the third in a series of five articles about how you can increase your creativity to achieve your goals. The aim of this series is to help you sharpen descriptions, refine settings and characters, expand a basic plot or focus on the primary elements of a plot that has become unwieldy, develop better imagery and word choices, and develop clever promotional ideas to help your book stand out from the others.

It would be best to read these in order, beginning with the introduction, which appeared in the Fall 2015, Byline. I deal with a different concept in each article.

These articles are not structured the same as the online course I teach. Do consider taking that tutorial, which is customized for you with specific comments on assignments. I offer it on a flexible schedule to suit your busy life. Go to my website to see the full description and testimonials.

Writers sometimes think they have to spend all their time researching and writing, but most bestsellers were written by authors who had other full- or part-time jobs. John Grisham was a lawyer who got up early in the morning to write for just an hour each day before heading off to the office. J.K Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter.

Creative ideas can come at any time, but there are specific ways to spark creative thinking. I encourage those who take my online course to use all their senses and to gather specific items to help the creative process.

Here are a few things you ought to have in your office:

  1. A fish tank or fountain, or, if neither of these is possible, a large photo or poster of a waterfall, lake, or ocean scene
  2. Visual images, including photos, posters, and calendar pictures (especially of nature scenes or animals) in your line of sight, so you see them when you look up from the keyboard
  3. Colored pencils or markers and unlined paper
  4. A selection of toys

Instead of thinking of your current writing project as work, consider it as play. Allow yourself to experiment with new ideas, jotting them at random on unlined paper, using different colored markers. Pick up a toy and manipulate it. Don’t select a Rubik’s cube or anything else that requires orderly thinking; you want something childish that you’d be embarrassed being seen with at a coffee shop!

Are you working on a novel and having problems with your characters? Try dressing a Barbie doll or using scraps of fabric and scarves on a teddy bear. Creating apparel using safety pins to hold it together works better than using ready-made outfits. Use items from the kitchen as hats and things for your characters to hold or sit on.

A really useful tool for creative thinking is PlayDoh, but you can use any other substance that allows you to construct something fanciful. Don’t have a practical or realistic goal as you do this. Just let your fingers and palms dictate what feels interesting.

When Einstein was a boy, he spent hours constructing tall towers out of playing cards. No one knows if that influenced his later brilliance, but it got him in the habit of imagining the impossible.

You can achieve similar results in terms of connecting your hands to your brain by playing in the kitchen. Try foraging in the fridge or cupboards for ingredients for soup. The more you have to cut, mix, or touch carrots, celery, onions, etc. the better. Use your bare hands as much as possible, because the tactile sensations will help connect to your right brain. Don’t measure or use a recipe, as that defeats the purpose.

While you’re doing any of these things, have instrumental music playing in the background. Listening to music with words or having the TV on will engage your left brain and encourage logical, orderly thinking, which defeats the purpose of the exercise!

Be careful not to allow your grown-up left brain to insist that you settle down and be serious. You have to let the wild child in your right brain explore without limits until you come up with the ideas, images, character traits, descriptions, and plot points you need.

There’s time later to find the jewels hidden among the frivolous suggestions. You’re panning for gold, so don’t be afraid to sift through a lot of dirt!


Barbara Florio Graham is an award-winning author, publishing consultant, and marketing strategist. Her popular workshop on creativity has won accolades from participants all over the world, and is now taught as an online tutorial. See the wealth of free information on her website: SimonTeakettle.com.

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