The Three-Legged Stool of Creativity – The Last Leg

Filling the Well -or- The Care and Feeding of Your Muse
Part Three of a three-part series on helping creativity flow

All three legs

You can only stare at your computer screen or scribble words on a page for so long before you start to go wacky. Ask Stephen King. Or his character, Jack Torrance.

Don’t let it get this bad, fellow writers!

There are a bunch of ways to fill the well/care for your muse (pick your metaphor). Julia Cameron, whose book, The Artist’s Way, was mentioned in the first post of this series, recommends Artist Dates. For an artist date, you set aside maybe an hour a week to do something fun, but you need to do it by yourself. No significant other, no kids, no pals. You explore some new, interesting thing without having to worry about what anyone thinks of you, or of the experience. It’s a great idea. It’s also more difficult than it sounds. It’s not usually hard to participate in your Artist Date once you get there. What’s difficult is committing to take the time to do it. It’s easier, as Cameron says, for most of us to work at our art than it is to play at it. I’m not that good at it myself, but I have actually tried this in the past. Some of my artist dates have included:

  • Sitting in a bookstore and looking at gorgeous art or travel books
  • Going to Naper Settlement, a local living history museum
  • Pulling out a kid’s set of watercolors and painting, even though I suck at it
  • Bird watching
  • Driving to Starved Rock State Park to hike and take photos
  • People-watching at Union Station while jotting notes about people and my surroundings

The Union Station trip was a particularly good idea. It was a week or so into NaNoWriMo, and I was hating every word I’d written. I couldn’t face the page anymore. After a few hours of writing about something other than my novel – something no one was going to read – I came back refreshed and ready to write on my novel again. It was like magic.

You don’t need to fill the well all by yourself. Hanging out with other, like-minded people can be energizing, too. There’s no way I would have stayed as committed to writing if I hadn’t found my writing group, The Journey. We support each other as a group. In addition to working on our craft together and commiserating, we also find ways to have fun. Various activities have included visiting The Art Institute or Morton Arboretum, seeing live theatre, starting our own reader’s theatre group to read Shakespeare plays together, learning archery, going out for drinks, and playing games. And when possible, we try to find ways to organize a potluck lunch or go out to dinner.

So there are at least two ways to go – solitary or social. I recommend both. If you haven’t already started a muse-feeding, well-filling practice, try the one that’s easier to manage, and try to do it at least once a week if you possibly can.

Write A Random Story With Cheryl!

When we were at Capricon, Cheryl and I went to a panel called The Short Story As Art Form, with Donald J. Bingle, Clifford Royal Johns, Kelly Swails, and Joy Ward. Afterwards, Cheryl said she might be interested in trying her hand at short stories, but it would be easier if she were writing them to order. That is, if her friends assigned her stories to write within certain parameters, she’d find it easier to get started.

No problem. I love telling other people what to do. I could have gone to the internet for ideas. There are plenty o’ writing prompt generators out there, like Language is a Virus and Adam Maxwell’s. However, I created this story randomizer for her, just because it’s fun to come up with lists and categories.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Cheryl!

Here are the rules:

Pick at least 2 (and up to 5) of the following categories:

  • Genre
  • Character
  • Attribute
  • Problem
  • Setting

Once you’ve decided how many categories you want constraining you, pull out your gaming dice, if you have them. If you don’t have many-sided dice, you can use an online random number generator, like this one. Roll whichever kind of dice the category calls for, and note the result.

Genre (roll a 10-sided dice)

  1. western
  2. traditional fantasy
  3. urban fantasy
  4. magic realism
  5. science fiction
  6. steam punk
  7. mystery
  8. thriller
  9. paranormal
  10. romance

Character (roll a 20-sided dice)

  1. orphan
  2. wizard
  3. soldier
  4. peasant
  5. king or queen
  6. prince or princess
  7. charlatan
  8. rogue
  9. priest
  10. teacher
  11. lawyer
  12. accountant
  13. witch
  14. vampire
  15. giant
  16. engineer
  17. sociopath
  18. doctor
  19. artist
  20. crime boss

Attribute (roll a 20-sided dice)

  1. beautiful
  2. brave
  3. cowardly
  4. blind
  5. deaf
  6. mute
  7. wise
  8. selfish
  9. intelligent
  10. stupid
  11. greedy
  12. generous
  13. meek
  14. arrogant
  15. vain
  16. humble
  17. officious
  18. helpful
  19. curious
  20. blasé

Problem (roll a 10-sided dice)

  1. theft
  2. natural disaster (e.g., hurricane, earthquake, flood)
  3. killing
  4. unrequited love
  5. a lie
  6. betrayal
  7. illness
  8. old age
  9. separation from (a) loved one(s)
  10. the apocalypse

Setting (roll a 20-sided dice)

  1. city or village
  2. forest or jungle
  3. farm or ranch
  4. temple or church
  5. battlefield
  6. hospital
  7. office
  8. coffee shop
  9. mountain
  10. shore
  11. space station
  12. abandoned ruins
  13. haunted house
  14. locked room
  15. laboratory
  16. cemetery
  17. ship
  18. polar wilderness
  19. castle
  20. school

I’d hate for Cheryl to get bored, so I rolled for every last freaking category. My results were 9, 15, 17, 2, and 9, in that order.

So: I am suggesting she write a paranormal story about an officious giant who’s dealing with a natural disaster on a mountain.

Here’s what I’d do if I were Cheryl: I’d ask me who I thought I was kidding. However, I might roll my own results and see if I could live with the story the dice suggested. Or…I might just look at the lists and pick my favorite answer for each category, or otherwise come up with a combination I found interesting. If I ever find out what Cheryl did with this little exercise, I’ll let you know.