Getting Creative on Demand

by Tobias Showan
published in Writing

When we started our website, Final Deadline, we made creativity our business. For those looking to get creative, here are four simple steps from the murky pool of our collective wisdom.

1) Panic!

So the deadline’s tomorrow and your wordcount is still smaller than your bank balance; the more conventional advice might be, “Don’t panic.”

This is completely unhelpful. Of course you’re going to panic! Feeling anxious while telling yourself you shouldn’t be, leaves you feeling both anxious and guilty as well. You obviously have to remain calm, but allow yourself to experience your real feelings on the inside. If you can just acknowledge and accept your emotions, your fear will subside that much faster. Get that over with, then we can move on to step two.

2. Be unsentimental

The next thing to do, if you’ve not already done it, is get rid of the daft-but-prevalent notion that ‘creativity’ is in any way blessed or spiritual or mysterious. Creativity is a meaningless word, all it really entails is taking old ideas and banging them together like a toddler learning to use cutlery.

You don’t want originality and you don’t want perfection: Always remember that every seemingly perfect enterprise that ever was, was in reality riddled with compromise and flaw. You aren’t waiting for the Muse to descend and you’re not planning to enter some kind of deep creative trance. Your attitude should be that of the technician who just wants to get the job done.

There are big advantages to going in with this mindset. Once ideas aren’t sacrosanct you’ll feel better about throwing them around. It increases your ability to tolerate mess. Mess on the page, mess in the mind. Mess is good. Mess causes things to happen that weren’t planned for. Then hapless outsiders to the process see the results and call it ‘creativity’.

3) Think around the problem

Once you’re no longer worried about doing it right, it’s normally much easier to slap something down and get somewhere. Sometimes though, you still find yourself staring at a blank page. You’ve left a mental handbrake on somewhere.

This is where you’re in fact being your own worst enemy. See, the unconscious mass in the back of your head is ready and willing to work on the problem – it just needs time to get on with it, without your demanding, overthinking forebrain cramping its style. It doesn’t have space to come up with something to write while you’re sitting there pestering it with questions like, “Why aren’t I writing?”

At Final Deadline, one of the more unexpectedly useful tools we came up with was Know Thyself – a guided writing exercise to flesh out your characters. We thought it would be mainly used for planning, but we hadn’t guessed it would be a positive battering ram for writer’s block.

Know Thyself gives the writer a task – writing-related, but distinct and separate from the plot. It’s perfect because it occupies your conscious mind in a useful way while leaving your unconscious to work. And here’s the best bit – the diversion is just related enough that your unconscious can jump back in at any time once it’s reached its conclusion. A spark flashes and you suddenly find yourself churning out the paragraphs without even remembering how you started.

If you’re writing non-fiction, the point still stands: find something else you can be doing that fills your head with knowledge about the problem without immediately demanding answers to it.

4) Be very afraid

On the whole, stress is bad for creativity (if you feel stressed, refer to step one). But if on the eleventh hour you still find yourself checking Facebook, you’re missing the vital ingredient: fear. Nothing will make you more creative more quickly than mortal fear. Fear is a natural part of the writing process.

Your brain is an incredibly adaptable machine capable of wrestling with notions far beyond the comprehension of any other animal – but there are only a small few concepts it truly understands. The idea that, “Submitting a piece of written work at an hour later than originally intended is not a good thing,” means very little to your brain. Fear speaks to us at a baser level.

Racing everything at the last minute unavoidably results in sub-par work. It would be nice if we could simply tell ourselves we need to be finished a week in advance of our actual deadline. But the back of the brain isn’t fooled because we can’t bring forward the fear as well.

Use fear to spur you on. Set deadlines with consequences. If you know you won’t enforce them yourself, make someone else responsible. That often gets awkward, so Final Deadline offers the Sharp Edge service as an alternative – it’s proved to be our most effective tool.

There’s a lot more we could say, but that’s all we have time for. Good luck!

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Tobias Showan created Final Deadline as part of an ambitious assault on Writer’s Block. The war is long and bitter, but he shall prevail. Check out the site here.

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