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Be Creative When Your Brain Is Fried

image of bacon frying in a pn


Want something to generate some fun, original ideas even if your brain is out to lunch?

Look no further.

You can, with this technique, change your creative context. I’ll tell you just how in a moment. But first, let me make a confession. I’m a loose-constructionist when it comes to defining “creativity.” For me, a creative idea does not have to win you Nobel Prize, get you on the Today Show, or put you in Forbes Magazine. If it’s new to you, then you’re off to a good start.

Creative Clash – Banging Words Together

Most of us have heard of or tried brainstorming, and that’s a great, mind-mapping tool. But what about producing a new idea when you’re brain-storm has proven to be a drizzle and not a gully-washer? What if you need something a bit more mechanical that doesn’t depend, at least at first, on inspiration?

What then?

I’m going to suggest to you that you do a variation of an idea that I first came across in Ray Bradbury’s The Zen of Writing. Bradbury talks about how many of his ideas came from lists. He would just sit down and write a list, not a mind-map or anything other than a plain old, one-idea-to-a-line list.

Got that?

So just make a list, one word to a line. If your brain is shot, then just write down what you see or hear in your room or on your TV screen. (Didn’t think I knew it was on, eh?) At the moment, my list would be: books, table, dog, green, washing machine, rug, dinner, flowers, wine, horses. You can keep going if you want, but 10 topics will do.

Now it’s time for step two, creativity with word-clash.

Word-clash is taking the first word and banging it against every other word on your list. So, you’ll write book-table, book-dog, book-green, or book-washing machine, and on and on. Some of these may be meaningless, but others may be the beginning of a metaphor or other cool idea. You might even have a new invention on your hands. Book-washing machine sounds like just the thing when your favorite anime’ has been handled by a niece with sticky, strawberry-jam hands. Book-table doesn’t inspire anything new, but book-horse could mean a couple of different things. It might be a text on horse-shoeing, or some other aspect of horse ownership, or it might be about how to gamble on the ponies.

There are no right answers, only interesting possibilities.

The point is to crack open your ordinary frame of reference and get you to place familiar ideas or objects in unfamiliar places. This, when it works, is the stuff of metaphor. The power of poetry comes from these insightful connections. You can explore this power by just randomly banging some words together.

Don’ underestimate the power of this tool. And you don’t have to wait until you are fried to try it. Another variation is to cut the list in half, and put the pieces side-by-side. Yet another variation is to take a dictionary, randomly open it to 10 places and stab your finger down on a word. Take what you get, or cheat a bit, and build a list.

That’s your assignment for the day. Take the 10 words or phrases and do the clash. Then you put the jumble of ideas under your pillow to sleep on it. If nothing else, maybe the tooth fairy will foul-up and leave you a quarter.

Or a book-washing machine.

It’s worth a try.


Self-Talk and #Creativity

Image of a horse that looks like it's talking... and telling you off! Don't get too near, or you may lose a body part.

If something is “true,” then you got it straight from the horse’s mouth, right? And what could be more “true” that your ideas about yourself?

Or not.

If you don’t read one line further, grab this take-away.

Don’t talk yourself out of being more creative.

Self-talk, that little voice inside your head, has much to do with whether you take risks and up the chances of finding a new ways to tackle old problems.

One of my favorite books on creativity lists 10 reasons that people talk themselves out of being creative. The author, Roger von Oech, studied creative people in the course of getting his master’s degree at Stanford University. He was looking for patterns or causality that made people more creative. What did his research find?

Of course, correlation is not causation, but if you were to guess, would you think that income, IQ, ethnicity, gender or a really-high World-of-Warcraft ranking could best predict whether any given person is creative?

Well…. if you said yes, well, you didn’t win the door prize.

What matters most, von Oech found, was this: creative people believe they are creative, and the resulting behavior that flows from this one decision makes all the difference.

I’m going to revisit von Oech’s book, “A Whack On The Side Of The Head” in my next few posts. Aside from an unfortunate title, the book has a lot to commend it. I’ll be distilling what I think are the main points, but if you’re eager to get ahead of me on this, then pop on over to Amazon and grab a copy. It’s available used, new in print and in Kindle, too.

Until then, be kind to yourself, and grab yourself one of the magic feathers that Dumbo used to talk himself into flying, because most of the battle for creativity is won or lost by just deciding you can do it, at least that’s what one Stanford researcher thinks.

And, with apologies to all my friends and family who graduated from Cal-Berkeley, I’ll have to take my hats off to Stanford, that “little-school-on-a-farm” in Palo Alto.

@toolkittocreate @robblightfoot

Rock Your #Writing

Image of book cover for Rock Your Writining









Here’s a quick shout-out to a website that’s full of practical, doable advice for fiction writers.

Much of what’s said applies to nonfiction, too.

Cathy Yardley brings over a decade of commercial writing experience to the table. She’s got more than a dozen books in print with major publishers, and during this time she was holding down a 40-hour-a-week job and raising her child. Sort of makes it hard to gripe about not writing because you don’t have the time. 🙂

She accomplished this by making a thorough study of books on time management, productivity, writing and motivations. She then distilled this knowledge into several concise volumes.


Her series is on Kindle books, and covers how to write more each day. This is not the usual rah-rah stuff, it’s got specific processes and techniques and freebie worksheets. Cathy also covers plotting, editing, writing for specific genres, and crafting effective book proposals. She has a volume dedicate do taking stock of where you are in your writing career and then adjusting your promotional efforts to match. She tailors this advice to whether you’re working towards getting placed with a major publishing house or going the indie route. She speaks from experience.

Best of all, her work is also on, and she is a lively and very funny reader.

This series is very reasonably priced and definitely worth a look-see.


30 Days To A Book: Writing Your Nonfiction Book in a Month


Photo of Grant Faulkner

Grant Faulkner

Grant Faulkner

NaNoWriMo – Founded by Chris Beatty. Literally woke up one morning and wanted to do it. Didn’t want to read a bunch of how-to books. He went down to the library and looked about, picking up Catcher In The Rye, about 50k. And thought he could do that in a month.

Then he called some friends and met. This is one of the traditions. It’s like losing weight. Your friends will ask you if you’re not there. They would drink a lot of coffee and not let anyone go to the bathroom without their word quota. Of 21, 6 succeeded. They also do word sprints and the one who writes the most gets a small prize

He found that the biggest barrier separating people from their artistic dreams isn’t a lack of talent, it’s the lack of a deadline.

Writing for quantity instead of qualiy brings about both. Every draft is a shitty first draft.

3. Enlightenment is overrated: it’s not worth waiting around for.

4. The #1 excuse is being too busy. Being busy is good for your writing.

5. Plot happens: “You intuition knows what it wants to write, so get out of the way.” Ray Bradbury

6. Writing is it’s on reward

Photo of Nina Amir

Nina Amir


Wanted to write novels, but had a pratical mother who insisted that she learn to write well, AKA get in as a non-fiction writer. She started as a magazine writer.

Nina has done NaNoWriMo, but wanted to keep writing in the off season. So she created a nonfiction challenge to write nonfiction in November. She wanted to have a deadline. Deadlines are your friend.

Nina has found if you plan it goes faster


Write Daily

Make up Missed time

Eliminate distractions

Leave additional research for later, just make a note and do NOT go on the internet. Researching is not writing.

take advantage of group energy

Take advantage of accountability – FB page, Forum, Buddies

Dont think you need to write for long periods, short periods work, 1,500 words a day, 45k a month.

Consider writing a short book

Stay inspiried, read the blog,

Check Nina’s blog for ideas and inspiration. You can get her book for free at Smashwords – EN73H at Smashwords. You can search her name at


The Write Nonfiction NOW! Guide to Writing ….

Q and A – Kate Chynoweth moderating. She asked how you can tell when it is time to change direction if you hit a slump?

Photo of Kate Chynoweth

Kate Chynoweth moderates 30 Days to a Book

Grant – good question. The first week is fun, and many hit a wall in week 2. This is the lesson of writing. You must show up even if you are not inspired. This has value beyond the month of November. What happens is that you clench-you start the day with no idea. But this is the time to be playful, get away from your ego, the word sprints are helpful. You have to write for 10 mintues and it’s amazing what happens when you write fast. It’s like improv. You get a word and just write on it.

Nina – Agrees. Now, with Nonfiction you have a lot of choices. You have the opportunity to change to another chapter or subheading. This is the big advantage of working on a planned structure. But she gives herself permission to write crap and finish a section. Just plow through it and come back later. Your mind is taking over, and it may be better than you know. You may be surprised when you come back later. Stopping does not help. This is what you do at any other time. This is what you don’t want to do. You want to make yourself work through it. Think about it, When you get a publishing deal, you have a deadline. It’s about getting out of your way and getting the words down on paper.

Kate – I want to speak a few minutes from an editing perspecitive. You don’t want to censor and over think. But when you get started, respect the basics of writing. For example, just use the word “said.” Don’t write in purple prose. Use basic terms. Don’t get hyperbolic.

Secondly, have basic notes on the characters as they come together over the months. Scrivner has a template. Even the basic character traits can shift if you’re not mindful. The voice and physical traits, the personality and emotional makeup, don’t go all over the place. If you have something explained in dialog, don’t explain it in narrative later. Be sure when you move forward quickly, don’t tell what is being said. Top tips.

Kate helps with the next stage when they have their draft. But before you get to that stage, look at the work. What does NaNoWriMo suggest?

Grant. Yes. The people who are most successful are somewhere in the middle. The people who have thought about it a bit and some character notes. And what you produce is just a rough draft and it must be revised.

Kate – Q and A