Writing steps: creativity and writer’s block

Writers and bloggers alike have said that anything can turn into an idea for a new piece of content. I believe that’s true. Why then is there something like writer’s block? Continue reading

How to get the hang of creative writing

A while ago I wrote about my urge to start writing a book. In this post I’ll share my discoveries about writing. If you’re a seasoned writer, some of what I tell you may not be totally surprising.

Creative writing beginnings

At first, creative writing was like having to crack my head open – Greek mythology, goddess-Athena-born-from-the-head-of-Zeus style.

Creative writing is much like climbing a steep hill

To climb steep hills … (Shakespeare) – Image by Mark Notari on Flickr

If you’re at that painful stage, check my earlier post and do what I did. Or not. Odds are you’re trying to move a rusty lever from rational, business, objective to creative, psychological, inner-world.

Word count – how fast should you write?

There is no rule for word count. The rate at which I produce – or, let the words out – has accelerated since I started. On a really good weekday I do between 500 and 1000 words:

  1. Wake up et cetera.
  2. Commute by train: phone, 1 hour for writing max.
  3. Work.
  4. Commute by train: phone, 1 hour max.
  5. Cook, dinner, TV with family.
  6. Sit down and type: laptop, 90 minutes of writing max. But of course that blog post needs attention – time – as well.

700 words in 3,5 hours is about 200 words per hour. 250+ in extreme cases.

On bad days? 100-200 words. Zero if I don’t find the time.

Finding extra writing time

Now the days are getting longer I’ve wondered myself if I should use some quiet time on Saturday or Sunday morning (not both – please!) to get more words out at the weekends. But I’m not sure yet. Our son has entered another “I just wanna be close to you” phase. Which is endearing but extremely impractical.

Would spending a whole day writing help?

If you’re getting started in creative writing you may find that spending an entire day at the keyboard doesn’t help at all. Why not? I’ve given this some thought.

  • If I could get a full day of writing I could, theoretically, write 8 x 200 words = 1600 words. I wouldn’t call that a good day if it meant sitting at a keyboard for eight hours on a day off.
  • A good day would include 3 hours outside walking or gardening. In reality I’d spend part of those 3 hours doing housework to avoid feeling guilty about the mess after a day spent at home.
  • With 5 hours left, I’d be down to about 1000 words – which isn’t that much better than I do now.

Based on this insight I haven’t tried to write for eight hours straight just yet. Or even five.

First results, quantity-wise

So far (April 7) I’ve produced a bit over 6000 words. Since novels tend to have at least around 100.000 words these words represent 6% of a novel. That’s if I’m lucky and this stuff turns out to be good raw material for the next stage. And if I’m not on a 150K-word writing quest.

Update April 18: I’m now at 12000 words. Possibly because I really got 90 minutes’ value in the evenings in the past week? Anyway this could mean I’ve reached 10% of a novel 🙂

To be quite honest: I have no idea if I’ll be able to keep getting useful stuff out of my head. Hopefully I’ve hit a ‘steady stream’ stage.

What will the next stage of writing look like?

Easy. Rewriting.

I happened to read a post by a fellow blogger about how after writing, at first you’ll end up with “really crappy crap”.* That’s when the fun of rewriting begins. I can’t wait. But first, I have writing to do 🙂

* If that fellow blogger was you, let me know in a comment. You may add a link to your post about “crappy crap” first drafts, because it was obviously interesting enough to remember.

Tip for budding writers

Keep the pressure way down until you manage to move that rusty old switch in your head from ‘business’ to ‘creativity’:

  1. Don’t worry about word count, poetic phrases, or anything like that.
  2. Don’t force yourself into an eight-hour-a-day writing schedule. An hour every other day is fine – just write.
  3. Don’t invest in high-status writing software just yet – the empty screen will stare you down.

Remember my little unpretentious notebook. – which I’m not using any more. I’m keeping it though, as my no-pressure ‘just jot it down somewhere’ option.

Read more:

What does (creative) writing mean to you? Add your thoughts about creativity, writing and the like in a comment and expect a reply 😉

Forget knowledge management – Write Me. {The Creativity Bug}

Of late I’ve been getting the impression that I’m in trouble. And it’s my own fault for starting this blog. It’s also the reason why publishing posts seems to be getting more difficult rather than easier some days.

Write Me. The Creativity Bug

For a long time some alien but at the same time eerily familiar presence has been chewing on my mind. As I lived my life it evolved with my experiences. From time to time it seemed to fade away. This presence consisted of flashes of a story. A long time ago I’m pretty sure there used to be a different story in my head. But whatever happens, after a while something will come inhabit the space between my ears and haunt me.

Blogging – the winding path onto the moor of creative fever

When I first started blogging here, focusing on business topics, there was no problem at all. A lot of energy went into writing, editing, improving the structure of my posts, coming up with suitable images, and the like. But now…

  • Every time I start a new post about some business topic, the spectre of creativity whispers into my ear “Don’t write about that. Write the story.”
  • Every time I try to make a sensible post out of a potentially complex issue, my story will inch closer and tell me “Forget knowledge management. Write Me.”

Write Me.

To be honest, I’ve even made the tiniest of starts online. Since I’m so used to putting my thoughts onto a screen I no longer feel comfortable writing on paper when it comes to ‘big stuff’. So when I heard about a tool called PressBooks, which is based on WordPress, I went to have a look. I got an account (private) and checked the features. Then I made a few ‘posts’. And finally I started writing. Just to be writing.

Um. I got two crappy sentences out. Ugh.

I came up with several possible reasons for that.

  1. It’s fiction whereas I’m used to non-fiction. It may be ‘an historical novel’ or it may be fantasy – I’m not entirely sure. If it’s history this is going to take some serious research.
  2. Maybe paper is better at this stage? I used to ‘mommy-blog’ (keep a journal) offline 😉
  3. I’m used to writing in English for non-fiction. Whether that’s going to work for fiction – I have no idea. I do know fiction is going to send me to the far corners of my English vocabulary. It would be the ultimate challenge. I like challenges. But is this one going to be too big?
  4. This story is mine. It’s lived inside my head for ages. My experience in writing those two sentences was a bit like, well, a warning. Like a first contraction. A warning that if I start this, I won’t be able to stop the process of going into full literary labor. A warning that it’s going to be painful. And messy. And if I ever manage to get out a first draft I’ll be up to my elbows in nappies and goo.
  5. Why oh why does it feel as though this story might take up a whole book? It might’ve been easier to raise a short story through infancy.

In short, it feels like I’m peering down from a dizzying height – I’ve just moved one foot slightly and dislodged a few pebbles. As I watch them tumbling down something, someone, is asking me: do you quite sure you want to find out how far down this will take you? Also, part of me is saying “Are you kidding? I don’t have time for this sh*t.”

Bitten by the creative writing bug

Why does this feel like the scene in ‘The Matrix’ where Neo is offered the two pills, one of which will show him how deep the rabbit hole goes? Having all these thoughts milling around like a herd of nervous sheep can’t be good for anyone’s budding writing process. Why is this so hard?

In deference to my personal creativity bug I have bought a little notebook just so I can try and sooth the writing itch for now, whenever I’m commuting by train… For jotting down anything that comes up. I’ll focus on ideas rather than sentences. If I’m lucky, my efforts may result in one tortured sentence per page to start with. Possibly 😉

Worst case scenario – if there’s such a thing as a worst case here – is that I continue to produce crappy sentences for a long time. But I don’t think it matters so long as it helps me scratch this infernal literary itch.

P.S.: I’ve tried out my little notebook and I’m loving it. Because it’s unpretentious. It doesn’t tell me “Listen. I’m important. So whatever you put on my pages had better be worth my space.” It’s small – a bit over smartphone-sized, and the lines start right at the top to fit in as many lines as possible. No extra room for headlines. No nothing. It’s perfect.

How do you cope with the creativity bug? Do you blog about anything and everything – or do you find that things well out of scope keep nudging you saying: “Write Me” ?

Money and the infinite pursuit of innovation

Having a couple of million dollars in your bank account takes the urgency out of your drive to innovate… Just last Tuesday I ran into this piece of Stanford research. It shows that an initial public offering (IPO) on the stock market has a negative impact on the level of innovation in a company. I get that. Being rich might even make a lot of bloggers lazy 😉

But.
I wonder where true inventors go after they leave such a company. Do they spend the rest of their lives hanging out by the pool side? Somehow I don’t think so. So why do they leave? An IPO – or the presence of money – seems to cause a shift in a company’s priorities away from creativity. In this post I will explore the issue (without suggesting I did any kind of thorough research myself).

Money Creativity Matrix

IPOs seem to cause a shift to urgency (left) at the expense of R&D activities

Why do innovators leave after an IPO?

At one point in my career I was working at a, well not a start-up because it was a couple of years old, but still a company in the early pioneering stage. Characteristics:

  • Most people around are actively trying to improve the product, or they’re helping out on the stuff that needs to get done.
  • No one gets excited over quarterly reports, but they do get wowed by anything that will make the product easier or more fun to use because everyone wants people to know it and love it and, yes, buy it too.
  • The bottom line is that there is no budget but you’re allowed to tinker. If you have an idea, you check with your boss (the owner/entrepreneur) and he may well give you permission to invest your time, energy, and intelligence. So long as the dull must-do tasks are taken care of too.

Creativity scare #1: investors’ risk adversity

The moment IPO and suchlike is around the corner this all changes. Inventors become the engineering department. That may sound like an important part of the company, but more and more people within the company get interested in things like marketing and quality control and business process management. Which basically means more rules. It means that if you are really excited about something you thought up, you need to make sure you’re talking to the right person by the coffee machine or risk:

  • watching their eyes glaze over as they say “Oh – yeah. That’s great, really great”.
  • having them say stuff like “I’m not sure that’s allowed/safe actually”.

That’s exactly the kind of situation that might, apart from no longer having to worry about money, cause this:

“I find that the quality of innovation produced by inventors who remained at the firm declines following the IPO and key inventors are more likely to leave.” (Shai Bernstein)

Key inventors – that doesn’t sound like people who were in it just for the money. These are the born tinkerers.

Innovations that do pass the risk-and-legal test may have been compromised at an early stage – any part deemed risky is replaced by add-ons to bits that were invented at an earlier stage. It seems that investors want you to do what you’ve proved yourself to be good at, only more of it, and without risky adventures now that their money is involved. Think sequels 🙂

Creativity scare #2: a sense of urgency

Marketing talk on its own is unlikely to scare innovators away – start-ups all try to come up with a viable product. What else is there? An innovator is motivated by curiosity – wanting to find out how things work, how problems can be solved, products might be improved…

A shift in your company’s mindset from opportunities to threats (to the investors’ money, for example) will lead to decisions based on a sense of urgency. Especially if you have the money to act immediately – you find yourself buying a company that has the necessary tech rather than wasting time trying to figure it out yourself. Added effect is that such an action knocks out a potential competitor, or allows you to effectively monopolize a couple of relevant patents.
Invest wisely – don’t gamble.

How to pull off the combination of money AND the pursuit of creativity

There are at least two things you can do to safeguard creative processes in your company:

  1. I found this sentence: “Firms with more entrenched managers, whose greater job security makes them less likely to be sensitive to market pressures, experience a smaller decline in innovation novelty, and interestingly, their inventors are less likely to leave the firm.” I could translate this as “Firms that don’t get completely taken over by shareholders don’t scare their inventors away as much.” Make sure your company has solid management before even considering going to the stock exchange.
  2. Don’t interfere with creative processes by throwing risk and legal stuff in at an early stage. Let innovators tinker and give them credit for being good at it. This is what companies like Google understand. Inventors, while liking the idea of having enough money to live a comfortable life, need to know they are allowed to tinker (part of their time). There’s nothing quite like someone asking themselves “I wonder if it’s possible to… How about if I try…” and taking off. This is ‘flow’ for inventors. Mess with that and you should not be surprised if your inventors pack up and leave.

If you don’t like the sound of ‘letting them tinker’, you need to accept that your top innovators will turn elsewhere to do what they do best.

Source: Research paper No. 2126 “Does Going Public Affect Innovation?” Shai Bernstein, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, December 2012.

P.S.: I just found myself wondering how this relates to blogging vs. corporate blogging. What do you think?

I hope you found this post of interest! Please add your thoughts about innovation, creativity, and tinkering in general in a comment – what else could you do to keep inventors on board?