Training Creativity

Creativity erupts from some people like magma from a volcano; it requires no encouragement and you couldn’t stop it if you tried. Loathsome aren’t they? For most of us creativity is more like a puppy. It will frolic and play around the room, it may chew up our favorite slippers if left unattended, or it may wander off, curl up in its bed and nap. We have little control over what our cute little Muse will choose to do, and it rarely chooses to help pull the dogsled we call a Work In Progress.

But, through the use of some training and encouragement Muse can grow into a useful and dependable companion.

Housebreaking Your Muse

The first step is to instill some basic rules about what is and is not acceptable. This will take some patience on your part, and some flexibility. Muse may scratch at the door at 3:00 AM, ignoring him because the floors are cold and the bed is warm is not a good idea. You don’t want this to become a habit, but occasionally answering the call is better than the alternative.

Keep a notebook handy for jotting down those flashes of inspiration that bark in the back of your mind while doing important non-writing tasks that cannot be abandoned in order to open the door for Muse.

Leash Training Your Muse

It is lots of fun to roll in the grass and let Muse lick your face, but eventually you will need to get her adjusted to the fact that all of life is not a constant frolic. When you sit down to your keyboard to go for a literary jog, it is best if Muse will trot along beside you.

Unlike a puppy, use of a choke collar is discouraged; for Muse is a delicate creature. Positive reinforcement and rewards work well. Take occasional breaks from the W.I.P. run to allow Muse to play. Chaining the both of you to your keyboard for eight or more hours a day is not good for either of you. Go for a walk, take a look at the world around you, let Muse play among the scenery.

Teaching Muse to Come When Called

If Muse is reluctant to join you when it’s time to write – sometimes the W.I.P. is about as enticing to Muse as a bath – try some free-run exercises to entice him. There are many; here are just a few:

1) Pick up the daily paper, select three headlines at random and challenge yourself to set a scene or write dialog between characters based on those headlines.

2) Pick two rival historical figures, put them in a confined situation; perhaps a life boat at sea, and imagine what they would say to one another.

3) Imagine how the world would be different if something common did not exist – say any and all paper products.

Letting muse off the leash to play for a bit often encourages him to be more cooperative and less inclined to run away when he knows you expect something of him.

Include Plenty of Play Time

Keep Muse fit and invigorated by spending time reading good writings of others, enjoying a variety of art and music, and getting involved with children. Youngsters are a veritable fountain of imagination. Play with them. Allow your muse to wrestle and run with theirs. We were like them once: unfettered, freely imaginative, seeing and exploring the wonder that is our world.

Feed, nurture and love your Muse and it will become your loyal companion.



Allan Douglas

Allan Douglas

Allan Douglas has been an author, writer, and prattler since the 1970’s. Published mostly in magazines but has three books to date with more on the way.  He lives on a mountainside in the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee with his wonderful wife, a genius border collie and a Prima donna hound dog who is queen of the mountain. He serves as an ordained Elder and Session Clerk (writer of minutes) in his church, is a master woodworker/furniture maker, and once dreamt of sailing the world in a Bristol Channel Cutter and writing of his adventures.  Stories about this and his life as a mountain man wannabe are posted to his Simple Life Prattle blog.  He also offers advice to writers at The Write Stuff. His latest book is Writing for Profit or Pleasure, Where (and how) to Publish What You Write.

Connect with Allan 

Web Site | Twitter: @AllanDouglasDgn


Books by Allan Douglas:

Writing For Profit Or Pleasure

Writing For Profit Or Pleasure

Writing for Profit or Pleasure, Where (and how) to Publish What You Write.



Please join the discussion below.

24 thoughts on “Training Creativity

  1. Pingback: Getting Sirius About Creativity | The Write Stuff

  2. Allan, many thanks for writing this entertaining and helpful essay. Playtime! I love what you say about engaging children’s imaginations. We certainly need to learn from them and be reminded how to find and rebuild that connection to our own free spirit . . . which should still live somewhere inside us . . . buried beneath all that life-slog. That’s why we need people like you to remind us to hunt for it. Thanks again~

  3. Becoming “responsible” does tend to cause us to bury that imaginative, creative, free-spirited side. But sometimes all it takes to rediscover it is a 5 year old and a big tub of Legos: the old fashioned kind where you could build whatever you wanted without the constraints of a “set”. Your imagination doesn’t care if your spaceship is mottled blue, red, yellow and green.

    Thanks for the invite Terre!

  4. Woof! Woof Woof arfarfarfarf :::tail wag::::

    (Translation: Really great essay. Love the humor in this, as it takes a sometimes bugaboo (the muse that runs away) and makes it easy to train to sit and heel. Thanks Allan).

  5. What a great post! I like this: “Muse may scratch at the door at 3:00 AM, ignoring him because the floors are cold and the bed is warm is not a good idea. You don’t want this to become a habit, but occasionally answering the call is better than the alternative.” I interviewed a wise Native American songwriter two years ago who told me if you keep ignoring the muse’s knock, she at some point will stop coming around. Oh, and as to your comment above, I kept my childhood LEGOs and have bought more for my son, and when I need a creative spark I dig them out and play with them solo!

    I’d suggest adding to this list some gentle training of your muse. My childhood dog “knew” that every day at 5 pm we’d go for a walk; her little biological clock would have her find me at that time. Now my muse knows we go for a creative walk every morning at around 6:30 am, and she needs no coercing or cajoling to be there for me.

    • Hey, Patrick, I can relate. You say LEGO; I say Crayola. There’s something about the smell of those wax crayons that transports me back to that budding stage of expression. Invigorating.

      Lucky you; no clockwork Muse for me. From mere nudges to soul-seizing; night or day. The songwriter you spoke of was right. It can be demanding, but it keeps you vital. I wish I had the time to realize half of what I imagine let alone find a way to communicate it. My guess is that most creative people that have day jobs feel this way.

  6. Pingback: The Mechanics of Creativity | The Write Stuff

  7. Great analogy, Allan.

    A recorder is a great idea to keep bedside for 3 a.m., too. Has anyone invented waterproof paper? I get lots of ideas in the shower. :-O

    • How about magic markers on the shower wall? No, huh?

      I have a digital voice recorder that I use for interviews and have thought about keeping it with me for those flashes of genius when a notebook is not convenient – like driving – but somehow just can’t bring myself to record myself. Odd, since I do a weekly radio program. Pondering that now…

      Thanks for joining in Mary, always a pleasure.

  8. What a delightful post and discussion, Allan. I love the idea of my Muse being a puppy. And since “play is the work of children”, then we should all play a little harder.Thanks for this great reminder that play is essential to our creative process.

    • Thank you for your kind words both here and on Twitter Kathleen. You’re right of course, and it distresses me when I see parents pushing kids into being “mature” too soon. Kids need to play if they are to develop their imagination – and adults need to be a little childlike once in a while too.

  9. Pingback: Creativity Tweets of the Week – 01/27/12 « The Artist's Road

  10. Pingback: Wisdom of the Writerdom: Undercooked novels don’t taste as good as raw steak. | Grigory Ryzhakov. The right to write.

  11. Pingback: Creativity? Me? « Allan Douglas Allan Douglas

  12. Pingback: Creativity? Me? « Random Thoughts Random Thoughts

  13. Pingback: Creativity? Me? » Random Thoughts

  14. Pingback: Getting Sirius About Creativity | Random Thoughts

Leave a Reply