We all know that creativity is hard, especially when you are staring at a blank paper. Here are a few techniques that should help getting those creative juices flowing, inspire problem solving, and be a lot of fun!

Where do ideas come from? Well, its 10% magical inspiration, 20% luck, and 70% creative problem solving. I”™ll admit there is nothing more exciting than that initial flash. You see something that sparks your brain and in just a couple heartbeats you have a powerful scene, an intriguing character, or an entirely new world.

And it”™s all yours.

It”™s beautiful.

Now what the hell do you do?

That”™s where the 70% comes in. How can you get from brilliant flash to fleshed out story idea? How can you get those creative juices flowing in the first place? Here are six basic starting points, or things to remember. This isn”™t “12 steps to a more successful sandwich” or some other pop-psychology, self-help book. This isn”™t an exhaustive list of rules that will make you the next J.K. Rowling or Steven Spielberg. These are just concepts that have helped me (and many others) get from blank sheet to story draft without wanting to jump off a mountaintop.

1. Clich̩Ӫs

Whenever you are thinking creatively, write down your ideas in a sentence each. Don”™t stop at one, force yourself to write down five, six, even ten solutions to your problem. Most of them will be crap. Some of them will be bizarre. A few might even cause more problems than they solve. That”™s totally cool. Remember: the first three things you think of will be what you saw on TV last night, or read in a book last week, or heard on the radio. Simply cliche. Solutions four and five will start to be original, but might be unorganized or confusing or bizarre. It”™s only after you”™ve let your brain spit out these misfires that you force your creative self to come up with something original. You”™d be surprised what your mind can do when you challenge it.

B.T.W. ““ that technique came from Walt Disney. I”™d say he knew a thing or two about creative ideas.

 2. Writing Prompts

Yeah, we”™ve all seen them and we all have this strange love-hate relationship with them. I”™ve personally never used them in any major project. But they are perfect for stretching your creative muscles. First, take a prompt and give yourself thirty minutes. Just write whatever comes off the top of your head. A scene? A character? An opening line? An outline? Doesn”™t matter. Just force yourself to think about something other than the story you”™re writing; force your brain to try something new. Even if you only do this for 10 minutes before you start writing for the day, you will find it a lot easier to get into that creative place, solve problems and focus. Plus you never know, the next bestseller could come from, “If you”™re looking for trouble, she just had her legs waxed.”

3. Fit together the puzzle.

This is my favorite thing to do. The best part of the process for me.

Okay, now you have this collection of awesome images: a man standing in the rain, a reluctant alien invader, an expired piece of cheesecake, and a ninja wearing a slap bracelet. No one else understands it, but you see these four things so clearly, and they are powerful. They burst with emotion and you just know they are the backbones to a story begging to be told. (Or I just picked four random things and threw them into the same sentence). Either way, the challenge stands.

Take these four images and build a story around them.

Even if this isn”™t your normal process — if you like to start and the beginning and let the characters tell you where to go ““ this will be incredibly beneficial because it exercises the other half of the brain. Use creative logic (no the words aren”™t mutually exclusive) to piece these elements together. Start by choosing one to stand in the climax or the end and then ask questions going backward. Or, write down as many questions as you can about each of these images. Now, start answering the questions. Make it internally consistent. It doesn”™t have to be realistic, but it does have to be believable.

We probably aren”™t going to crack the code to Ridley Scott”™s next blockbuster, but the skills we learn (and the exercise we give our brains) makes all the difference in the long run.

4. How would you…?

My wife and I like to play a game: “How would you start a story here?” Or, when we see someone new, “What story would you put them in?” Its fun, but most of our stories are absolutely terrible. That’s fine. It’s about thinking creatively and seeing the mystery in the world around you. To switch things up, but will also say, “Okay, now how would you do a ____________ story?” I write fantasy, and she writes thrillers. It’s good to think outside your own box: for me that means, “how would you write a thriller story that starts here?” Don’t even worry about keeping the ideas. Just have fun.

5. Mix genres

We tend to get comfortable. We are human beings after all. I write fantasy and I love imaginative fiction. I tend to stay almost entirely in that realm. But, let’s not forget that every good story has elements of suspense, mystery, fantasy, thriller, and whatever else you can think of. Use these — and let them get your creative juices going. Pick two random genres. How could you put them together? A Western Fantasy? A Romantic Thriller? A Historical Mystery? Something that is a little out of your comfort zone. I don’t mean you to write the entire novel, or even flesh out the story. Just let your mind wander in those directions.

 6. Warm up the car.

Just like when you start your car early in the morning every winter, you need to get your creativity going. Don”™t think of it as a flash of lightning. Remember, its 70% hard work. Ask lots of questions. Be curious about the world. Never stop putting pieces together. Use some of these techniques to warm up your creative spirit before you start writing or working on your serious project.

The ideas will come ““ and they”™ll fit into a story only you can tell.

Hit me up with comments below.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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