Creativity 101

I’ve participated in many book events, and made more presentations than I’d like.  One of the most frequent questions I get is how I come up with my ideas for the stories I write.  These people flatter me by saying I’m creative.  John Irving said the secret is to take something in life that’s ordinary, and exagerate it…then exagerate it again. Mary Higgins Clark said she often reads stories in the newspaper and asks herself “what if?”   I think being creative is nothing more than a willingness to let go, use your own experience, and guess, deduce, play make believe, and don’t stop.  An exercise I often do involves strangers.  For instance, while I’m taking my morning walk I’ll see another person, either in their front yard or also out for some physical exercise on the street.  I’ll conjure up some description of the stranger as I continue my walk.  Here is an example.  I saw a young woman yesterday, probably in her thirties, walking four dogs on leashes.  Clearly a professional dog walker by the command she held over them.  She had dark brown hair, pulled back in a pony tail.  She was lean and muscular.  Reasonably attractive and wearing cotton shorts, t-shirt, and Nike running shoes.  And so I begin with my story.  She wasn’t raised in the neighborhood, because she’d be embarrassed if people who knew her when she was young believed that all she amounted to career-wise was a dog walker.  But her interest in animals tells me she came from a small town, probably in Texas . . . a town like Huntsville or Brenham.  Yeah, Brenham for sure.  She lives alone, and her job with her dog clients give her a chance to interact with other breathing beings on a regular basis.  She doesn’t trust people like she used to, and has sworn to herself that she’d never allow a man to break her heart again.  In the summer she works in Sedona, Arizona, as a guide in one of those pink jeeps.  As she lost her faith in humans, she became more attracted to nature.  She’s sorry she moved to a big city, but financially she’s doing okay.  She rents a garage apartment for a hundred and fifty dollars a month from a friend of a friend of a cousin, and she makes enough money from walking dogs to pay for her food and other essentials.  Her parents dies four years ago, and the proceeds from the sale of their property is in the the bank in CDs.  Over three hundred thousand dollars.  She wonders if she’ll ever be married, but she’s unwilling to take any chances to meet men.  So she reads a lot, and spends a lot of time on the Internet looking at web sites dedicated to nature.  Maybe she’ll meet more friends at the gym where she works out four days a week.   Maybe the friend of a freind of her cousin whose garage apartment she rents will introduce her to an acceptable man she could date.  She’s patient.  Her goal is to survive and live a healthy life.  She eats a lot of salads, and red meat only once a week.  The man who broke her heart didn’t mean to hurt her.  They dated for six months, and she thought this was the one she’d marry.  But the one he really wanted, the woman who broke his heart the year before, came back, and without much thought he took her back into his heart.  And that’s when she moved here.  Her name is . . .  hmmm.  Jennifer.  Jennifer Parks.  And that’s sort of how the process works.  Just start guessing, deducing, describing, and don’t stop, and make it real in your mind.  Gee, I hope Jennifer meets a good man soon.  She’s really nice.  See, I actually believe I know her.

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