Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Connections: Getting from point B to A

Creativity is about making connections. I read that in the brains of creators, synapses fire with much greater frequency. Close your eyes and think of a time-lapse camera displaying a connect-the-dot drawing done in the blink of an eye. Now multiply this vision, and imagine dots rapidly connecting on hundreds and thousands of DIFFERENT drawings—all done simultaneously. That is my brain, and the stimulus can be overwhelming. I am the annoying person who is always reminded of something else. Possibilities are everywhere: in my daughter’s classroom project, in an offhand quip from my husband, in double entendres, in rhythm and wordplay, in a radio interview, in a newspaper article, in absurd spellings, in junk and ephemera, in children’s toys, in an incident observed in the park, in lines and shapes and textures and colors—all are waiting to be transformed into picture books (by me, of course). Ecclesiastes 12:12 “…the making of many books hath no end…”

I’m convinced that with practice, anyone can become more fluid and flexible in generating ideas. A friend and stand-up comedian recommended a book that has great exercises for artists and writers looking to make connections. It’s called, Cartoonist’s and Gag Writer’s Handbook by Jack Marlow.

I read an interesting post on “The Waves of Creativity. Check out http://playgroundblues.com/posts/2007/may/17/waves-creativity/”. Brain synapses vibrate at different frequencies, leading to different “states of mind.” Beta is associated with being tense, alert, or afraid. Alpha is a state of relaxation without loss of awareness. Theta is a daydream state and Delta is a state of unconsciousness (sleep). Too often I am tightly wound, and in a Beta mode. While others are navigating from point A to B, I am desperately trying to go from Beta to Alpha. I juggle a variety of jobs. Some work doesn’t require me to delve as deeply. Design work demands less concentration than illustration, and at this point, because it’s still so new, writing requires me to plunge to even further depths. For this reason it’s the easiest to let slide.

My writing ideas wait patiently though. When I finally claim time to explore the connections I have made, I often start by brainstorming. I make lists of anything that seems connected to my initial idea and then begin research, following various threads to see where they lead. All tangents are interesting and I try to keep open, to see what emerges. I read, highlight, and take notes. Eventually something begins to stand out and capture my attention. I am finding and building my story or concept. The process can take a long time.

Since the 32-page picture book format is deeply imprinted in my brain, I pace my ideas in a layout from the start. Often a story presents itself to me in pictures before words. Another book I highly recommend is Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulevitz. At some point I dare to put words down on the page. It’s easier to improve imperfect jottings than to wait for perfection before beginning. I pull out a thesaurus or rhyming dictionary to find alternate words, and then shuffle my writing around in a little dance--cut and add, cut and add. It’s all a tug-of-war/wrestling match experience. Many of my ideas are for concept books that need a sketch dummy to accompany the text. I am telling in two ways: word and image.

When a story takes some kind of form, it’s a good time to test the idea out with a critique group. Other writers and illustrators can help unlock sticking points, help clarify an idea, send it in a new direction, or bring added elements that take the work to a new level.

I am now aware that the acquisition of a project does not mark a completion point, but a rebirth point. Enormous development occurs between signing the contract and publication. It may be easy to articulate how an idea began, but identifying all the layering and altering components is much trickier. Many sources and people help to take my electrochemical brain connection on it’s path to become a book.


Edie Hemingway said...

Christy, you've made some very interesting points for me to contemplate! And may I quote you in my writing workshops? "It's easier to improve imperfect jottings than to wait for perfection before beginning."

Christy said...

Thanks, Edie. Absolutely, quote away! I used to teach art to middle school kids. They would stare at blanks pieces of paper with intimidation, and I would say, "Just make a mark."

Lauren said...

Amen! Christy-- Great description of the process!

Stephanie said...

I love that,about improving imperfect jottings. I have so many of those written down. A friend actually bought me a little notepad and now I carry it everywhere:)

David LaRochelle said...

I agree, Christy, that people can learn to be more creative. For many years I taught brainstorming and creative problem-solving classes to students during the summer and on weekends, using techniques that I had learned when I was an elementary school teacher and had in-service classes on working with gifted kids. The work that I've done with two problem-solving programs for kids, Odyssey of the Mind and Destination Imagination have also helped me to become a more creative person. If you ever have a chance to observe either of these programs for students, I'd highly recommend it.

Christy said...

Thanks, David,
I Googled those two programs and they are very interesting. Must have been fun and rewarding for you and the kids. We potatoes really must meet sometime and keep these great dialogues going. Perhaps we should have a CONTEST to see how we can make it happen?

Diane Adams said...

Of course, David would win the contest:)

David LaRochelle said...

I wouldn't count on that, Diane! We have some pretty creative potatoes in this group (even if my friends do call me the "Prize Vulture").