How to Force Innovation (Hint, don't force it!)

This is a piece I wrote a while ago for Newsaratti (which by the way shut down, yeah, sucks, I know!) This is still incredibly true and useful for all professions. I'm posting it here mostly to remind myself how to restart when I get stuck, but also because it might help someone else out there too!

Innovation and creativity are the two most valuable things in business and in life. We are constantly solving problems, constantly trying to make our brains pound out new solutions for our changing lives. 

So what happens when you get stuck? When a problem is staring you in the face and you can’t get over the hump. How do you force your brain to be creative? How do you get unstuck, and find a perfect solution?

Look at it upside down.

Or inside out, or backwards. Artists and photographers have known this trick for centuries. When you’ve been staring at one thing for two long it gets muddled in your brain. You can’t even tell if it works anymore, let alone if it’s good. When an artist turns his painting upside down, he can see the relationship between shadows and light, he can see the abstract forms and colors, rather than just a bunch of water lilies on a pond. Find a way to turn your project upside down. Whether you follow your steps from Z to A,  look at it from the consumers perspective, or read each sentence of your proposal from end to beginning, you must change your viewpoint entirely. There, you might find the answer your looking for.

Talk it through with someone outside your group

Laymen are great at helping figure out solutions to problems, and not because they have great ideas. When you explain your problem to someone else two things happen: one, you have to explain your project from start to finish in a way anyone can understand, and two, they ask questions. These two processes combined are incredibly helpful in jump starting creativity. Often times just by explaining the problem to someone outside of your work group, you discover where you went wrong. Maybe you veered off track somewhere, or need to push further in one area, or had an original idea that you never tested and you’re only now remembering it. The layman’s fresh take on your problem could dislodge the mental block you’ve had all along

Input equals output

    Great artists look at a lot of art, great writers read, great inventors study other inventions. The more you look at what other people in your industry are doing the more your brain might say that’s cool, but what if…? No idea is entirely unique. Each invention, each theory, and each innovation is built upon years of good ideas before it. Why disregard everything your competitors are doing when you could just build on it. From store front design, to touch screen technology, to great art, people have built on the innovations of those before. That’s what they’re there for.

Do it at the same time everyday

In his book “On Writing” Steven King talks about training your muse to show up at the same time everyday. He’s not talking about a little sprite that shows up and fills your head with magic,(though he might as well be). He’s saying that your brain is a muscle, and when you train it to be creative, it will be. When you’re creative at the same time of day, everyday, your brain knows when to work, it kicks into action and pumps out ideas. Whether you’re a nighttime innovator, or a morning creator, find a routine and stick to it. The results are powerful.

Do something else

Read a book, listen to a podcast, go to an art museum, color in a coloring book. Do anything that lets your brain run in the background. Ever heard of the shower principle? Your best ideas are prone to come when you’re not thinking about them i.e. In the shower. You have a powerful processor in that skull of yours, give it a while to run in the background while you look at something beautiful, or listen to something interesting. Sometimes those stimuli will spark something you hadn’t thought about before and the answer will come.

In the end innovation isn’t something that can be forced, only nurtured. Pounding your head against the same desk isn’t going to do anything for you. Step back, change course, and get your brain thinking about something new.


C. L. Brenton

How to write a story (Five simple, no brainer tips)

As I go to author talks, seminars and tutor writing at my local high school, I am amassing a wealth of very simple, boiled down tips for story writing that I wish someone had taught me when I first started. Whether you're considering writing a memoir at the end of your life, or you're starting your storied journey at the beginning, I hope these tips help you as they have informed my own process.

Exploring Emotional Honesty

Think about the most emotional experiences in your life: children are born, people die, you get mugged, robbed, raped, your house burns down. Now I don't blame you if you don't want to write about those experiences, but you would be missing out if you didn't use them.

People love reality shows for a reason. They love loooking into other people's lives and imagining how they live. Have you ever been sucked into someone's facebook feed you barely know, or become fascinated with the comings and goings of your mysterious neighbor? Humans are intensely curious about other humans, and your life experience is unique from any one else's. That is what you're selling. These are the meaty emotions you have to farm. The more honest you can be about your own emotional life, the more engaging your story will be. Period.

Just Write it

Write your story as fast as you can. No one said you have to write it in order (though I wrote a novel out of order once and it was a huge pain to piece together later.)  Write about your emotional moments, write about a specific moment and twist it slightly to make it more interesting. Maybe in your emotional birth story your baby comes out as an alien instead. How would that change that emotional story? Whether you're writing westerns or scifi, romance or upmarket fic, honesty sells. Remember, honesty does not necessarily mean accuracy. You can be honest without being truthful.

Be the Reader

As you write, pretend you're reading the story instead of writing it. What do you the reader expect to happen? What do you want to happen? Let that inform you as you go. Chances are, you've been subconciously dropping hints along the way, and you don't want to disappoint the reader once you have them flipping pages to see what happens next. Remember the cardinal rule of story telling: Don't show the gun in the first act if you don't plan to use it in the third.

When (not if) you get stuck, ask yourself two questions: What does my character want? And how is this going to end? Both questions can help drive the story forward, and help you make better decisions.

Plot is Just a Game

There's this game I used to play on long road trips called Fortunately/Unfortunately. One player starts a story with a plot item - once upon a time there was a polar bear. The next person starts the next sentence with the word unfortunately. (Unfortunately he was very fat.) The next person starts with the word fortunately. (Fortunately all the ladies loved a fat polar bear.) And on and on until you reach a conclusion. Usually you'll want to determine the number of sentences you'll write before you come to a conclusion so your story doesn't trail on forever.

If you play this game with yourself and your own storyline, you'll have a pretty good plot outline to start with. Your character will struggle through adversity, get little wins, and come out a hero.

Talent = Practice/Time

Your first story won't be amazing, nor will your second, and nor will your third. If you're at all concious, you'll realize this. This will disappoint you. Good. Be disappointed. It will push you forward.

Keep writing, and keep editing your work (more on editing soon). One day (with practice) you'll be a better writer, and that version of you can go through all your unpublished work and edit (or rewrite) the concepts you love into something new. 

Writing is learning and growth, and above all it's a journey. Having a finished book is not as satisfying as the work that goes into writing every single day. There is always another book to write, and the next one, we always promise ourselves, will be better.


P.S. It usually is.