Sunday, March 24, 2013

How Do You Get Good Creative Ideas?

Creative ideas originate from the natural siftings of thoughts that take place in our minds. We’re all constantly sorting through random phrases and images that cycle through our brains. It’s a bit like the process of leafing through your photos on a personal computer, or on a smartphone. One thought leads to another in a somewhat arbitrary series of links and responses to external stimuli. The trick in coming up with a creative idea you can use in your writing is to differentiate from your other random thoughts, and then seize on that good idea when it occurs. Immediately begin to identify and/or develop it. If you can’t, write it down electronically or in a notebook, so it doesn’t dissolve back into the bubbling brew of your mind.

Here’s an example. The other day I was driving to pick up my son from school, listening to radio station KCSM, the jazz station in the San Francisco Bay Area. I don’t even remember what I was listening to, but it made me think of the way that your intelligence is supposed to improve when you listen to music. The original study of this, I remembered, had to do with children listening to Mozart. Then I started remembering a story I’d read in the magazine Catamaran Literary Reader about endangered California condors and how large their eggs were, almost like dinosaur eggs. That led to a thought about the movie Jurassic Park and cloning dinosaurs, and before I knew it was thinking about the possibility that scientists could actually clone humans who had lived in the past from a lock of their hair, and that took me to the idea of cloning Mozart.

I realized that small thought was different from just repetitions of what I’d previously read or seen. That's key in recognizing a creative idea. That thought took me to an idea of a short story about cloning Mozart. Getting an idea like that is like trying to peel off a clear plastic sticker from its adhesive back. It’s incredibly difficult to get the edge of the sticker to separate. You finally get just a tiny corner to come free, and you have to stick your fingernail in as fast as you can before that sticker flops onto the back again. Once you’ve got your fingernail under it, you have to keep disengaging the thought from the background of shifting thoughts that it appears on.

So my thought about cloning Mozart immediately took me to the question of who would raise him? Wouldn’t they choose a musical family in Austria who could cultivate him to become a classical musician? But what about siblings? Maybe the siblings might already be musical and grow jealous of young Mozart II. That and the parents over-bearing insistence that he be again the prodigy he was capable of becoming might cause him to rebel, to become an unsuccessful bebop saxophonist trying in vain to imitate Charlie Parker, and then maybe to renounce music altogether and settle in Flagstaff, Arizona, to become a dry wall specialist.

When I got home, before I started writing the story, I Googled “cloning Mozart,” and discovered that a writer named Jonathan Rausch had already had this idea and developed it far more thoroughly that I could’ve, as “In 2003, They Secretly Cloned Mozart.” Rausch added many wrinkles I wouldn’t have thought of, such as a Czech billionaire who undertook this project in secret in order to get Mozart to finish his never-completed Requiem. OK, so it wasn’t the most original idea, but the point is, to get a creative idea, you have to stand just a bit outside your own thoughts and casually pay meticulous attention to them, so you know when you’ve got a fish on the line, an idea you've never heard of before, and one that readily lends itself to development. When you feel that nibble, don’t walk away, make sure you reel it in.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka

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