I have creativity on the brain this week (there are worse things, right?)—and maybe you do too. The kids are back in school and new routines are settling, making space at last for the muse to stretch its legs.
But there’s more to it than that. For one thing, I’ve been working on an idea for a new novel—at the stage where I’ve become a terrible listener, half of my mind somewhere else and my body soon following, slinking off to my laptop to dash down things that may or may not make sense to me next time I look.
For another, I’ve just had a sneak peek at the new book forthcoming from Julia Cameron—yes, the Julia Cameron, queen of The Artist’s Way!—and am thrilled we’ll be bringing you a fantastic excerpt right here on Career Authors later this week. (You won’t want to miss it!)
Don’t you just love the serendipity that can happen at this stage? When you stumble upon the right headline or photo or overheard bit of conversation at just the right time? So it was when I found myself rereading a story I’d told in one of my old editor’s letters at Writer’s Digest. I came for the nostalgia—I always get a bit weepy about how fast my kids have grown when a new school year starts—and stayed for the message.
I hope you will too:
One of the most popular toys in our household these days is a set of remote control bumper cars. One is red, one is blue, and to win a round of this game, you need to crash into your opponent’s car at just the right spot to eject the little helmeted driver.
We acquired said bumper cars around the same time that our youngest learned to walk. She’d toddle after the cars, squealing with delight as she tried to catch them. There was no stopping her, so she became a part of the game, a sort of wild card. “The baby is the X factor,” we’d tell visitors as we handed over the controls.
A few weeks into the bumper car phase, I overheard my preschooler explaining to a neighbor that his sister is “the X factory.” I laughed, thinking that his dad and I needed to explain our jokes better, and then forgot about it—until I entered the living room days later to find him engrossed in an elaborate system of play. He’d lined up an activity cube, blocks, tiny cars, an airport runway, robots, animals and other seemingly unconnected toys, all strung together from one end of the room to the other.
“What are you playing, buddy?” I asked, curious.
“This is the X factory,” he explained. He spent the rest of the evening busy on his assembly line, manufacturing imaginary Xs.
To watch a child at play is to witness creativity at its purest. What would we create if we didn’t have so many preconceived notions about the world around us? If we didn’t ascribe meanings to certain words or situations, if we didn’t already know the purpose of actions and objects and even the role of particular people in society or our lives, how might we interpret things differently? What kind of magic might we bring to the stories we put on the page?
Our challenge as writers is to view the world day after day with fresh eyes, to assume nothing, to reinvent what our readers think they know, to all at once meet expectations and defy them, satisfy and surprise. It’s no easy task, and succeeding at it doesn’t happen by accident. Just like other aspects of the craft, creativity itself can be studied, practiced, invited, nurtured.
Sometimes it seems life is full of too many X factors these days, doesn’t it? When the rest of the world is weaving out of the path of chaos, desperate to keep those little drivers in their seats, maybe the best thing we can do for our writing is step away and create our own X factories.
That’s how we assemble the stories that readers will want to escape into.
How have you been studying, practicing, inviting, and nurturing your creativity? Let’s keep the discussion going on Facebook—we love to hear from you.