A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Creativity for Authors
I was recently accorded a professional honor by the editors of Psychology Today. They invited me to author a recurring blog on creativity (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/contributors/anthony-d-fredericks-edd). The column examines why creativity is often a challenge and how certain strategies can change readers’ lives as well as their thinking. Ever since I first began writing professionally almost 40 years ago, creativity has been both a passion and a constant search for literary innovation. My quest has yielded a plethora of transformative practices that have led to several celebrated books.
And, so, for this month’s column, I would like to offer you three creative writing techniques. These are some of the most productive strategies I’ve used in my own writing, and they offer you similar experiences in your desire to write children’s books (and get them published). Feel free to share these with friends and colleagues, too.
Journey Through New Fields. We frequently get comfortable . . . way too comfortable . . . in our chosen occupations. Architects see the world through the lens of a drafting table. Plumbers see the world as a leaky pipe. Teachers see the world as a classroom. Lawyers see the world as a courtroom. Move away from your “comfort zone” and look at the world with a new (and refreshing) lens. If you’re an artist, watch a carpenter at work. If you’re a dentist, read a book about archeology. If you’re a computer programmer, visit a children’s museum. If you’re a seamstress, take time to talk with a physical therapist. If you’re a videographer, have a cup of coffee with a blues guitarist. Like most people, you’ll see the world a little differently and you’ll also be able to generate new ideas a little more easily. New lenses give you new vision. Change your outlook and you’ll change your perspective.
Steal It. Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, makes a case for stealing ideas from others. No, he isn’t talking about plagiarism or stealing another creator’s intellectual property. He points out, quite emphatically, that there is no such thing as an original idea. All creative work builds on what has come before—something tagged “creative” is just the juxtaposition of two or more ideas that have never been combined before. He enthusiastically pens that “Nothing is completely original . . . every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.” The trick is to collect as many different ideas as you possibly can and put them together in wild, random, nonsensical, silly, ludicrous, harebrained, and cockamamy patterns or arrangements to create your own idea. In short, the more ideas you collect from various sources, the more possible combinations you’ll be able to make. The trick is not to look for the best ideas (that prejudgment will stifle your creativity), but to look for all kinds of ideas from a wide variety of sources and resources. Creativity results when you put two or three of those ideas together in a unique and distinctive combination.
Another Mind. As a children’s author, I’ll often visit a park, a playground, or even a shopping mall. I’ll see a group of children and identify one (the one with the yellow t-shirt, for example). I’ll give that child a fictitious name (“Mitch”) and then imagine how “Mitch” would view a book I’m working on. What would he say, what would he think, and what improvements would he offer? In an airport, while waiting for a flight, I’ll randomly select someone (a harried businessperson sprinting up the concourse, a teenager waiting for a cup of coffee, a mother guiding three kids into a restroom). Again, the person gets a fictitious name and I imagine having a conversation with her or him about a current writing project. How would they suggest I handle the first chapter? How would they describe this book to a friend? What else could be added to the main character? Interestingly, there’s some compelling research to suggest that we think more creatively when we are able to remove ourselves from a project or problem. By putting myself into the mind of someone else, I’m able to trick my brain into seeing a writing project in a new way. Take some time, on a regular basis, to people-watch and imagine how they might handle a situation or challenge in your current project. Seeing a problem with a different set of eyes may reveal different kinds of solutions—ones you normally would not see.
Final point: Creativity is not a noun; it is always a verb!
A retired educator and prolific author, Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He has also penned the critically acclaimed Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/3kl74YQ). [“If I could give this book ten stars, I would!”]
My two favorite nurses!