Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Creative (Writing) Spirit: Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

Originally Posted on Yahoo! Contributor Network August 15, 2008

I was about eight years old when I learned that a paragraph consisted of one central thought. One afternoon my class and I were sent home with assignments to write paragraphs on each of five spelling chapters.

Words in each chapter were completely unrelated to each other and writing the paragraphs was difficult, but I somehow managed to complete them. Emotionally exhausted from trying to connect words like forehead, apron, paw, jaw, and jail, I leaned back several hours later with a feeling of utter accomplishment. My little third grade brain had figured out a way to make all the words connect - a man in jail wearing an apron with a picture of a forehead, a paw, and a jaw on it - how clever was I?

And then my mother came in to rant about the teacher who kept me up all night with homework that she believed should have been completed at school. She grabbed my papers, and second by second, as she read through each sentence, I watched her angry demeanor transform into maniacal laughter. As I listened to my hysterical mother and watched her waterfall of tears, I realized that her laughter was at my expense.

I expected my mother to gloat over the intelligence of her eldest daughter because of my flawless writing skills. Instead she rewrote, in a matter of minutes, the assignments that took me several hours to write, separating each chapter into several paragraphs. I knew I would be expelled. She also insisted that my understanding of my teacher's instructions was wrong.

Not only was my understanding wrong, according to my mother, but also my perceptions were, how did she put it, warped. For years she introduced me as her weird daughter. And I believed it myself until I read a key chain with written words: I'm not weird; I'm gifted.

Having been blessed with an abundantly creative spirit, I feel confident that the creative process begins with distorted perceptions, truths realized, and realities unexplored. My mother had to be wrong. I was an unrecognized genius, because my assignment taught me how to successfully connect dots where no dots existed - magical thinking at its best!

Creativity IS magic. It begins in the brain and resides in the spirit. If you think of the brain as a muscle, imagination is its exercise. Forcing the brain to think creatively REQUIRES an imaginative spirit - an ability to take two seemingly unrelated ideas and mesh them together as if they were meant to meld. Creativity also means blending two or more ideas to create a fresh spin on an old idea, forming patterns where none existed before. Creativity arises from making surprising observations, connections that might not previously have been made.

Creative endeavors that tap into emotions result in laughter, tears, thoughts, and memories. Think of comic geniuses such as Chris Rock or Robin Williams. Their minds move so fast (remember this was originally written in 2009) they could dodge speeding bullets with their brains. Instead they whip their words into frenzied creations that marvel audiences who explode with laughter.

Architecture, art, music, gourmet foods, and an endless list of creations that inspire and awe people are results of imaginative thinking.

Creative teachers combine various senses - sound, sight, taste, touch, and smell to help students learn and remember. Students are more likely to absorb information when teachers use creative techniques that rely on more than one form of sensory stimuli.

While some of us are just naturally capable of unusual thought processes (or weird as my mother might say), others could stand to use a little help. To strengthen the mind muscle, I've designed a couple of exercises for the creatively challenged (examples for the first two exercises are listed below. The third exercise is too long to provide an example for this article):


Grab a third-grade spelling book. (Obviously, I'm borrowing this one from my own experience.) Take the words from a chapter and write one paragraph using all of the words in that chapter.

Example (borrowed from a now defunct web presence, Third Grade Spelling Words): Words from the 21st chapter are: friend, tried, believe, died, night, said, Friday, thought, Saturday, again, eight, people, does, tired)

I went to bed early Friday night because I was tired. My friend wanted to spend the night, but my mom thought it was too late. When I awoke Saturday morning, Mom said she thought that eight people were involved in an accident. One was my friend. "Does that mean they died?" I wanted to know. She ignored my question. I tried again. "I believe your friend is OK," she said, wiping a tear from her eye.


When you have time for only a short exercise, use this one:

Write down the first word(s) that come(s) to mind.
A food.
A scent or odor, pleasant or repulsive.
Something you have seen recently that has impacted you. It can be beautiful or gruesome.
A texture you find pleasurable, and one you find irritating.
A sound you find pleasurable, and one you find irritable.
Now combine the elements to write one paragraph.

Example: (I chose crab legs, skunk, a red and gold sunset, velvet, itchy wool, a baby laughing, motorcycle engine blaring) As the red and gold sunset sank beneath the horizon, and as I was getting ready to sink my teeth into some delectable crab legs, some souped up motorcycle, its engine blaring, ran over a skunk outside my front door. Like a whining child wrapped in itchy wool, I sulked until I heard the baby, wrapped in luxurious velvet, laughing.


Pick a place. Examples might include a deserted island, a cave, a museum, a carnival, a cruise liner, a horse and buggy, or a hot air balloon.

Now choose one song from any one type of music, such as Rock and Roll, Blues, Country and Western, Hip Hop, Oldies, Christian, Jazz, Rap, or New Age.

Add two different types of people. One can be somebody you know: your mom, dad, daughter, son, co-worker, friend, enemy, or neighbor. The other one should be somebody you don't know: political figure, famous person. One will be someone who is close to you and who trusts you with every fiber of his or her being. The other will be someone who is not particularly fond of you.

Choose one mood for each person: calm, frenzied, catatonic, tense, amorous, giddy, helpless, happy, sad, or sleepy, for example.

What is the weather in your residence - cold and rainy, hot and humid, perfect, freezing cold, light and breezy, snowy?

Choose an area on the planet different from the one in which you have been residing.
Now that you've made your decisions, put all of the elements into the following scenario and write a story based on it:

The area of Earth upon which you have been living is in danger of being obliterated by a gigantic asteroid. You are in charge of convincing your friends to abandon their lives as they know it and join you on your quest to gather their friends and family together in an Exodus that will take them to a different part of Earth where they will be protected. In your project, which you have named the Rebearth Project, however, everything you have ever known to be true is questionable and the music you once found enjoyable is now beginning to annoy you. You hear it in your head unceasingly and don't know the source of the music. You also don't know how to turn it off. Sadly, nobody else hears it. You've never had any training in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, and you realize that the people following you trust you to get them safely to your predetermined destination. You, however, don't have a clue how to get them there. How will you rescue them without them thinking you've lost your mind?


Gathering thoughts together to create new thoughts allows your mind to stretch into areas previously unvisited. But creativity takes more than a stretch of the imagination. Just because something is different doesn't mean it's something others will find appealing or worthy of notice. A chocolate covered onion, for instance, is creative, but distasteful. Then again, even though you might never be able to sell it in stores, you may be able to sell it in a story about aliens from the planet ChocOn. (The planet Chocolate Onion, referred to as ChocOn, was ejected from the Milky Way Galaxy due to its liaison with Pluto, who was demoted to dwarf.)

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