One thing leads to another – unlocking creativity

Some people have known all their lives that they wanted to write fiction – I’m not one of them.

2014-05-03 08.15.48I’ve always been comfortable with the written word. It’s probably because I was lucky to benefit from a good education, acquiring a solid grasp of language and grammar at an early age. I was luckier still to be taught at senior school by an enthusiastic trio of English teachers who instilled in me a love of books and a passion for the theatre. Outside the demands of the classroom and homework, I even wrote for pleasure – but not fiction; I became part of the small team who edited and produced the school magazine. Throughout my adolescence I picked up pen-friends around the world and I loved receiving and sending rambling missives about all the things that challenge, delight and perturb teenage girls.

In my working life, I’ve written just about every kind of commercial material you can imagine – marketing letters and email campaigns, RFPs and proposals, fact sheets, newsletters and case studies, white papers and websites, blogs and brochures and much, much more. But, until the last 5 years or so – no fiction. (Okay, careful now, I know some people might regard some marketing material as drifting perilously close to fiction, but let’s not get into that one.)

2012 58 D002 Jan 12After decades of focus on work and commercial concerns, including pushing hard for career changes and then going freelance on the back of a redundancy, my creative brain – if it ever existed – was thoroughly submerged beneath layers of analytical and practical thinking.

But things began to change in 2007. A friend of mine had taken up paper-crafting and was finding it a relaxing and creatively satisfying hobby. At the time, I thought it all seemed a bit inconsequential, although to be fair, that’s probably the point of a hobby. But the cards she produced were mini works of art, utterly beautiful and such a pleasure to receive – I still have every one she has sent me. So one day, I took the plunge and bought myself a basic card kit and at Christmas 2007, I produced a very unremarkable collection of handmade Christmas cards.

I moved forward from my early attempts – licky-sticky card-making. I searched out You Tube videos and watched crafting telly; I bought magazines and strained to see the experts at work at crafting events. Gradually I began to get into the experimental and creative type of card-making my friend so much enjoyed – and I loved it.

C001 Xmas 09 MoiraFor me, it’s an enormous pleasure to design and create a card for someone I care about. I’m not focussed on any one kind of card-making; I enjoy trying different styles and learning new techniques. And I’m a sucker for a seemingly endless selection of supplies – things like paper, inks, tools, dies, paints, foils and miscellaneous accessories.

Until I started playing with inks and paper, I honestly believed I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. Card-making is where I realised I had a creative side to my brain and more than that, it was desperate to be liberated. And if I could apply it to making little works of art for my friends, why couldn’t I apply it to my long-favoured creative environment – the written word?

You don’t know until you try, so in Autumn 2009, I attended my first Arvon Foundation course – called ‘Starting to Write’, and I… started to write.

I began with three short stories, one of which amazingly won Writing Magazine’s monthly prize and was printed in the magazine. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Within a few months of typing my first few words of fiction, I’d received a cheque. Prize money or payment for publication – whatever you call it, I was elated.

And with that £200, the genie was out of the bottle.

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Wide awake at 4:00am

creativity inspiration ideas writer's notesWhen are you at your most creative or imaginative?

For me, annoyingly, my most productive moments – creatively speaking – seem to occur around 4:00am. I’m not generally insomniac, but I see 4:00am on the clock more than I would like. It’s a peaceful time where I live; nocturnal traffic is too distant to be audible and only slivers of light peer round the edges of my blackout blinds. There’s a chill in the air; the window is open a crack, as I can’t sleep in a stuffy room.

That’s when creative ideas emerge… like how to address a plot weakness, develop a back-story or reorganise a critical scene to make it more compelling. The still of the night seems to drain away all distractions and allow a flotsam of thoughts to float to the surface. Sometimes they’re fully formed and logical, prompting me to wonder, why didn’t I think of that before? Sometimes I get the germ of a new idea, something that takes me along a more lateral train of thought. Sometimes come daylight, I filter and discard; but often, those 4:00am shoots warrant nurturing.

I’d rather my creative fire came alight at a sensible time of day, perhaps as I sat in front my PC, ready and waiting to capitalise on the outpourings of genius, ideally just after I’d made myself a nice cuppa.

But no, 4:00am it is for me.

The chance of my recalling these inspired creative ideas when the sun comes up without some prompting is… well, zero. I will remember I thought of something, but by the morning, I will have no clue what it was. It’s a lost idea, layered with the frustration of knowing something promising was within reach, but slipped away.

I tried the advice you see everywhere – that writers should keep a pen and paper by their beds so they can make notes whenever inspiration strikes, write down their dreams and so on. But that would involve switching on a light and grappling for my reading glasses, all of which pulls me from a somnolent state into full-blown wide-awakeness, which guarantees I won’t get another wink of sleep until about 3 minutes before the alarm goes off.

Tried it, doesn’t work for me; but something else does. My tool of choice has become iPhone voice messaging. I record semi-coherent notes to myself whilst hardly having to peek through my sleep-sticky eyes.

This morning my iPhone held evidence of last night’s creative spurt; a drowsy ramble through a bunch of ideas for blog posts. Yes, I’m embarrassed to admit, I was awake at 4am thinking about what to write in this blog. But I got a dozen fresh ideas out of it; that’s not bad for a few moments of ruptured relaxation, is it?

I’d like to know, do you have a favourite moment, place or environment where creativity strikes? Is it a time of day or night? Is it about being in a particular place – a daily walk, a favourite cafe maybe? Do you need solitude or companionship, the presence of a pet, a backdrop of music, the hum of family activity, or the serenity of silence? Do you carry a notepad and pen for those moments, or a voice recorder of some kind, or do you trust your memory? Post your ideas as comments – they might be a help to others.