Creativity Challenge: The Starting Point, Part 2

If you missed the beginning of this creativity challenge, take a moment right now to pop over there and do the first part. It’s a simple guess, and the answer is coming next, so you might as well try your hand. Feel free to do the second as well, whether coming to this post when it’s new or later. There’s no time limit on participation and no requirement to participate publicly.

Related to the thoughts below, at the point a work is finished (however the artist defines that moment), the starting point should no longer be visible. Many artists do a pencil sketch on the canvas, but it’s erased or buried under the paint once they’re done. Writers tend to have one of three starting points, with the last the rarest: character, idea, or milieu. In most cases, the starting point is invisible by the time the piece is available to read. This is as it should be.

I have the character starting point most of the time, and my readers often mention the strength of my characters. But, if you read the reviews on Goodreads, for example of Trainee where I introduce a method of teaching in my world, you’ll see as many mentions of the ideas that fill in the story.

At the same time, I have written idea stories. They’re harder for me to write because I don’t have a character to hang them on until one comes to life in the writing. I have many drafts of those still waiting for the character to develop…well…character. Ultimately, though, my readers don’t seem to pick up on the starting point.

War Child is an example of that. I wrote it from a prompt about glasses. What the prompt triggered was the thought of going blind not as a physiological effect but as a purposeful magical one. I enjoyed how that story came together, and especially the characters born into it after the fact. My readers have also not set this one aside as somehow different from the others, so I’m guessing the starting point is, as it should be, obscured by the process of strengthening all three aspects.

If you’ve read this far, I’m going to have to assume you went to make your guess (if you were ever going to), so on with the game.

Challenge 1: Doodle Starting Point

My starting point for this doodle was the top left triangle of the kite, though my original starting point was a wobbly spiral I deleted.

Thoughts on the Process

Something–anything–opens up the mind to explore. It’s human nature to ask questions. Just ask any parent about the “why” phase or look into the long history of teaching tales.

As I mentioned above, I actually started with a spiral the first time, but my mousing wasn’t good enough to give me something to work with so I started again with the triangle. I was planning, vaguely, a mosaic of connected shapes, a common doodle for me with pencil and paper.

When I put the second triangle, though, the center line ran long. In using it to draw the third shape, suddenly my mind recognized a kite and everything came from that. The clouds were next, with the second one flat at the top so I put a sun on it. I pondered a non-human holding the kite string, but when I drew the fingers, it was a human hand. The girl came because when I started drawing the hair, it went long. Technically, it could be a boy with long hair but the US cultural assumption is a girl, and honestly, she feels female to me. She looked strange standing on air, so I drew a ground, which left the far right of the picture awfully blank, so I went to draw a playground structure. My first “leg” was so lumpy, I realized it was a tree.

That’s the process for my drawing, but it has many metaphors for writing. The first is obvious: you cannot edit a blank page. By putting the spiral out there, the drawing became something, and something bad. So, I started at a better starting point, which is much different from the blank page because it has already triggered assessment and forward motion. If the writing is hard, put some nonsense out there rather than staring at the blank sheet. Your mind needs a starting point.

Every idea needs a seed. From that seed (in my case almost always a character), the story can build out in many directions starting with questions (either conscious or unconscious). For example, “Is this person human?” “What does this person’s environment look like?” “Is it on Earth?” Compare these questions to the decision to draw clouds and a sun in the sky. Flying kite=wind=weather=clouds+sun. I didn’t consciously think it through in that way, but followed the path regardless.

In the case of my drawing, the kite came first, but the girl is the character of the story, and again, she came into being because she was holding the kite string and then she was running, not standing still (action choices), and her hair is streaming behind her, showing either the wind or her speed or both. Each step in the process created the need for more questions, which triggered more answers that led to more questions.

This is how a story unfolds for me. Unconscious is when it scrolls out in front of me like a waking dream or watching a movie, with me struggling to remember all the pieces. Conscious is when the character appears and I’m curious. In wanting to know more, the pieces start to fall into place until I have a pretty good sense of the overall tale, which, by the way, is what I put into my initial synopsis. This captures the germ of the idea and allows me to go back to it when I’m ready.

Ultimately, learning to explore is the value of creativity exercises. They teach our minds to ask these questions automatically, to see a starting point as an adventure rather than a frustration. It’s one of the things we’ve learned once people started studying why doodling is so common. The researchers discovered that we remember more of what we hear when doodling. There’s still a lot of confusion on this issue, and many have been told it’s disrespectful in school or business situations, but in reality, doodling is an important developmental tool available to us at any stage of our life to encourage us to expand our perceptions and absorb new information.

With that in mind, if you did take on the second challenge, go back to your drawing and think about the decision points. Explore your logic and ways in which the same methodology can help you no matter what project you undertake. Creativity for creativity’s sake is a wonderful thing, but there’s no harm in understanding how to reach that state when you need it as well.

Once again, I enjoy hearing how this worked out for you, so if you’re willing, post a note in the comments about what you learned, whether from observing mine or doing the challenge yourself. If you’re not comfortable posting publicly, don’t let that stop you from undertaking the second challenge for your own growth. Are you ready to start doodling?

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