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Part III: The Art of Asking ~ putting the ‘quest’ back in ‘question’

Only the curious have something to find. – Nickel Creek, ‘This Side’

Think of the most creative person you know. That person who always sees shapes in the clouds and pulls stories out of thin air. That person who sees the world, not as it is, but as it might be. That person who’s ever filled with wonder & bursting with imagination.

Were these creative souls simply born with it? Perhaps. But then aren’t most children born with a sense of awe, a readiness to absorb information &, most notable of all, a billion questions on their lips? The problem with many of us struggling artists is not a missing ‘creative gene’, but rather a loss of our childlike sense of life as a grand adventure. Thinking we’ve seen it all, we stop looking (see Part II on the Art of Observation). Not wanting to appear ignorant, we stop asking questions. We become jaded, & our imagination just doesn’t work like it used to…But what if we could revive that lost art that comes so naturally to children? The Art of Asking, that is.

There is a direct correlation between Curiosity and Creativity. The one fuels the other, so if you let Curiosity dry up, you can bet your Creativity will sputter out & wind up rusting in the junkyard of your busy, uninspired mind. Unless you choose to embark on a quest that can reverse the hands of time & get your Creative mind banging on all cylinders again.

The Quest for better Questions

In his book for cooking up Creativity, Five Star Mind, Tom Wujec explains the revitalizing power of asking questions:

Inside the word ‘question’ is the word ‘quest’,  suggesting that within every question is an adventure, a pursuit which can lead us to hidden treasure.

Asking questions excites your mind out of its drowsy state by laying an open road before it. Just like Bilbo Baggins startled from his stupor by a troop of adventuring dwarves, your brain secretly longs for a mystery to solve, a quest to fulfill. Asking questions is an invitation for the brain to step out of its routine & into an adventure.

Asking questions gets your brain moving. Wujec explains that a question puts the brain in a state of irresolution, a bit like an itch that demands scratching. And believe it or not, your brain LOVES this irresolute state! If you don’t believe it, just look at the masses of Sudoku & crossword puzzles sold in your local bookstore. The brain sees the challenge & sets right to work to scratch that itch. Before you know it, your creative mind is on fire!

Irresolution is a potent fuel, a source of energy & motivation. – T. Wujec

Asking questions gives you a target & helps you aim. Here’s where you can apply the Art of Asking directly to your writing, & especially when you feel utterly & hopelessly stuck. Asking the right kind of questions can be the hand up you need to get you unstuck & on your way again. So just what are the “right kind” of questions? 

The best questions drive us to see the bigger picture, not just the immediate problem. For example:  Instead of “Why is my protagonist so BORING?!”

Try “What do I already know about this character?”  -or- “How might this character respond in another situation?”

Also, the best questions are open-ended, inviting not just one answer, but many possible solutions.

For example: “In what ways can I make my protagonist more interesting? or more believable?”

It is only fair to mention a Caveat here in bold: Your questions may not lead you to a final resolution… They may even lead you to ask yet more questions!

But that’s OK! In fact, that’s the point! For the creative writer, it’s not the answers but the Art of Asking that counts. Merely asking keeps the creative mind in motion & childlike wonder alive. Mastering this art will take practice-so much unlearning to do before we can have the humility to learn afresh! But the pay-off is enormous. Just consider all the books on your shelves that began with a simple, silly question:

“What if you fell down a hole in the ground & landed upside-down in a fantasy world?”

“What if you walked into a wardrobe & found yourself in in a winter’s wood?”

“What if an ordinary boy discovered he was actually a wizard?”

Do you dare to begin the quest? Who knows where your questions may take you…

Got Creativity?: 3-part series to get your creative juices flowing

Here’s an exercise for you: next time you’re at a ho-hum dinner party, strike up a riveting conversation by asking your fellow guests, “Would you consider yourself a creative person?” Unless the table is comprised of confident, free-spirited, arty-farty types, the answers are likely to lean towards the negative. Most people wish they were creative, but feel they just haven’t got it (it being that mystical creative spark some people seem to be just born with…you know, the J.K.Rowlings among us).

Now ask yourself the same question: Am I a creative person? Have I ‘got’ creativity? Chances are if you’re a writer, you at least brand yourself the creative type… after all, isn’t Creativity a writer’s bread & butter? Every jot & tittle of our stories requires a little flex of our creative muscles. We must be creative for our art… or die trying!

But how often do we feel like Creativity lies just beyond our reach? We turn green with envy after reading a great novel bursting with creative ideas we wish we’d thought of, but didn’t… or lose focus and flow in our story because of that dreaded Creative Block?  Do you ever feel like Creativity is evading you? You chase it down like Alice chasing after the white rabbit, but every time you gain on it, it gives you the slip! And on & on goes the relentless rabbit’s chase until your energy tank is running on empty.

This lack or loss or block of Creativity has been the death of many a potential story & nipped many a just-blooming-writing-career in the bud. “If I could just pin down that white rabbit, Creativity!” we cry. For then we might domesticate him in order that, like a faithful pet, he  would come when called upon and do our bidding! But how?

Well I’m here to say, DON’T THROW IN YOUR CREATIVE TOWEL JUST YET! So long as you are human, there is hope. After all, Creativity is one of the features that sets us apart from many of the creatures who share this planet with us… like sea squirts. *(My sincere apologies if I have just slighted any creative sea squirts out there unawares!) Creativity is a wonderful gift, not a pesky evasive rodent. It’s meant to be exercised and enjoyed, and its fruits enjoyed by others.

When it comes to Creativity, it’s not about whether you’ve got it or not. It’s how you use it that counts. It’s a thing to be nurtured, an appetite to be whet, a muscle to beef up. And for the rest of this 3-part series, we’re here to help you PUMP YOUR CREATIVE MUSCLES UP!!!  We may not have the magic key to unlock the Creativity treasure trove, but we can at least give you some tips to start you out on the right foot. We’ll unpack…

I. What exactly is Creativity anyway?  (and how do I get me some?)

II. The Art of Observation: how to seek & find Inspiration

III. The Art of Asking: the writer’s quest for questions

So stay tuned!

**Not yet following Brewhaha? You can sign up on the Home page to receive email notifications when we publish new posts (included parts 1-3 of “Got Creativity?”). If you’re a writer, reader, tea-drinker or wanna-be, we’d love for you to join our growing creative community!




The Oven Fairie

I know I already posted today, but wanted to share little happening in my home. I posted to our blog and decided to reward myself with scones before I settled down to write. The chocolate chips were calling to me and I knew if I didn’t make scones soon, there wouldn’t be enough chips left to make them. I always use half white flour and half wheat flour…that makes them healthy, right?

So I start out with the intention of making scones, planning on making some chocolate mint tea to go with them. So imagine my surprise and horror when I pulled out the pans, and instead of scones, there were COOKIES! The fairie who lives in my oven changed the scones into oatmeal raisin cookies where the raisins are chocolate chips! How dare she!!

Oh well. It’s not my fault I now have a plate of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, which incidentally go very well with Jane Austen black tea. No, not my fault at all.

Happy Friday everyone! Have a fun and safe weekend, and don’t forget to do some writing.IMG_1521.jpg


“‘Someday.’ That’s a dangerous word…It’s really just a code for ‘never.’”

Quick! Name that movie! If you guessed Knight and Day, you are correct! If not, well, better luck next time.

Have you ever used that word? “Someday, I’m going to…” Most of us have, and since you are reading this blog, I’m assuming the rest of the sentence has something to do with writing.

When is your someday? Is it after you graduate? After the kids graduate? Maybe you are planning your someday for after you get a raise or even after you retire.

For us writers, I’m willing to bet our someday almost always has to do with having more time. Let’s face it; writing takes up a lot of time! And worse, it’s focused time, alone time. It’s don’t-you-know-I-can’t-write-and-carry-on-a-conversation time. And who has that kind of time?

However, I think someday needs to be today. Seriously. If you wait around until someday comes around, you take the chance someday will never come, or if it does, isn’t what you thought it was. There will always be demands on your time, but when something is important to you, you make time for it. If writing is important, make time now for it.

Try this. There are 168 hours in a week. Can you find two for your writing? You’re a writer, you’re supposed to be creative, so think creatively! Here’s what I came up with off the top of my head (or, er, the hours I’ve been composing this in my head…)

  • Rent a movie for the kids once a week and write while they watch
  • Go to bed an hour later twice a week, or get up earlier (unless you are like me and you turn into either a zombie or Dr. Jekyll one hair away from morphing into Mr. Hyde. In that case, please sleep!)
  • Here’s something radical: don’t go on social media for a day! Every time you start to go on social media, do some writing instead
  • Carry a journal and a pen with you everywhere and anytime you have five minutes, do some brainstorming or outlining. Use your lunch hours and all that time waiting around for appointments or people
  • Make an appointment with yourself and keep it as if it was a doctor’s appointment
  • Anything else you can think of! Like I said, be creative. For most of us, the time is there if we make writing a priority

Get a calendar and flip ahead to a year from today. Writing just two hours a week, you can have a 50,000-100,000 word first draft done on that date. That’s better than finding another year gone and you still no closer to your writing goals, don’t you think? Revise it in the next year, and voila! Time to start looking for agents instead of waiting for someday.

A Time to Critique, A Time to Create: how writers cork their own creative flow

Let’s get brutally honest for a moment, shall we? Writing– I mean really going for it–is terrifying! Each and every time you sit down to put words on page, you’re actually transcribing a little piece of you: your wildest dreams, your deepest desires. So what if you don’t like what you see looking back at you? What if your reflection exposes you to be not the creative genius you’d hoped and imagined, but a failure…a fraud?

And that’s just the first cause of anxiety… (Who wouldn’t want to be a writer?!) As if looking at your own work wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, if you have any hope of publication, at some stage you will have to cast your story–that rather revealing extension of you–before the eyes of complete strangers! Or worse… People you know!

“Oh, I never tell anyone I know that I’m writing a novel. They might ask to read it!” If only I had 5p for each time I’ve heard an aspiring writer say those words, eyes wide with horror at the very thought. I know I’ve said them, and far more seasoned and successful writers than I are just as guilty. Well then, you might reasonably conclude, it’s only natural! The nerves, the fist-fulls of hair and palm-to-forehead moments… it’s all part of the writing process! Indeed it is, and yet anxiety may be the very thing that’s putting a stopper in your creative process.

You may be carrying a parasite: a little monster I like to call The Horrible Whatiffer.

The Horrible Whatiffer comes along to gawk over shoulder as you transfer ideas to page in the form of a rough draft. Just as some new scene is about to blossom…“Wait!” he wails. “What if it’s over-the-top? What if it’s too long? Too slow? What if it’s not what the market’s going for these days? What if your characters are a bit flat? What if… it’s just. plain. dumb?”

Oh yes, if you’ve ever tried to create anything, you’ve heard the measly, meddling voice of The Horrible Whatiffer. His antics are enough to make Shakespeare want to drop his quill, crumple his parchment and curl up in a fetal position on the floor as he beats his brow and sobs “No one will ever want to read this RUBBISH!”

Hey, it might have happened for all we know!

You see, The Horrible Whatiffer is Absolute Death to your creative process as as a writer. There is nothing more paralyzing to creativity than over-loud, self-critical thoughts. They drown out the sound of our creative thinking and lead to self-destruction. And self-destruction is the very bane of creativity. One of the other will have to go.

There is only one solution: You must destroy The Horrible Whatiffer before he destroys your story… your joy of writing… YOU! Shakespeare did it, and here’s how. Imagine a big, bald tattooed bouncer. Use your creativity! Make him as repulsively scary as you like. Now set him to work in front of the VIP creative party going on in your mind every time you sit down to draft. When smarmy old Horrible Whatiffer comes whiffling along with his party-pooping, negative notions to gate crash: POW! Mr. Mental Bouncer gives him what’s coming to him. And the creative party can go on in peace! It takes practice, but it’s well worth the discipline to keep your story alive and moving forward.

“But,” I hear you protest, “aren’t we writer’s supposed to self-critique? Isn’t it our job to chip away at our ideas until they become the perfected story we can present to the world with pride?

The answer is a resounding “YES!” Only make sure you’re bringing in a self-critical eye at the right time (ie. NOT whilst writing your FIRST DRAFT!!!). The writer wears two different hats: The creator cap that corresponds to our creative right brain hemisphere, and the editor cap which alerts our analytical left brain hemisphere. New writers often try wearing both hats at once, but this is a fatal error. Each one has its time to shine– the left brain helps the right brain turn all of its fluttering fancies into some sort of coherent plan. But then it’s time to swap hats and let Mr. Editor take a backseat while Mr. Creator right brain drives. Eventually, after the drafting phase, Mr. Editor will return to the scene to analyze, problem solve and tweak away to his heart’s content while Mr. Creator gets some well-earned R&R.

What Happens When the Right Side of the Brain Crashes,,,

And so you see, the balance between creativity and self-criticism is like a dance! But it’s entirely up to you, the writer, to make sure self-criticism isn’t stepping on creativity’s toes. That would only throw off the whole process and put you back from achieving your goals. So next time you sit down to draft, put self-criticism in his place, or you might just have to call your mental bouncer on him!


The Writer’s Bogeyman: THE S.T.A.R.T….duh duh duh

Have you ever noticed that the longer you try to evade starting something, the bigger, scarier and uglier The Start becomes? Whether it’s your next novel, or next chapter, or even something so simple as your next blog entry, you will have to clear that monster of a hurdle looming larger and larger the longer you put it off: The Start.

We’ve all heard it said before, “starting is the hardest part of writing” (or just about anything in life, I might add). But why should that be? After all, most of us have discovered that once we look the beast in the eye and take him full on by the horns, like the pilgrim Christian facing Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation, scary Mr. Start turns out to be nothing more than a little pussycat. He is easily put in his place, and we, the pen-bearing pilgrims, are permitted passage into the heart of our novel, chapter, blog…or whatever the writing journey that lay ahead may be.

And yet, the next time we meet Mr. Start at the beginning of some other road, we melt all over again as if we’d never conquered him before.

Might I offer my own little bit of personal insight as to why I shrink time and time again from the starting line? For me, it’s pretty simple really: I fear failure. In order to fail at something (say writing this blog), I must first begin or start that something. So, (says my self-preserving but rather boring side), if I don’t start, then I can’t possibly fail! Eureka! Or not…

So essentially, the big bad Start Bogeyman is a monster of my own making! He is my best effort at self-sabotage. As long as I build him up in my mind as a grizzly, menacing, unconquerable beast, then I can find one-hundred reasons per hour why I should just put off meeting him… just a little longer…maybe till I’ve got a stroke of inspiration…or a big wave of energy…or a publisher coming after me with a large stick…

But I think a much better idea than sapping all my creative juices turning pussycat into Apollyon would be to make a little adjustment to my thinking cap. For example, I might try sticking these handy dandy words to my brain with mental post-it note:Success-Failure-Quotes-7Note the little word going, ie. getting started! Learning to embrace failure is a BIG topic for another blog post (or a thousand), but here’s the gist: failure will be part of the journey to getting it right. That’s certain. But what is equally certain is that you and I will never get it right at all if we DON’T. START. SOMEWHERE!

Trust me, I’m preaching to the choir. The sooner you start — that first line, word, capitalized letter– the sooner you can get on with the journey. Who knows what adventures might be in store!

So, all ye fellow writers or wanna-be-writers out there, I dare you: Pick up your ballpoint sword, look that blank page squarely in the eye, and….(drum roll)…. START!

You’ll soon be asking yourself just what you were so afraid of.

Raise a mug to new beginnings & blank pages

If you’re dipping into Brewhaha for the first time, we salute you! We’re new to this wonderland of the world wide web, but we couldn’t be more excited about what’s in store. Why, we’re like a a bubbling kettle, just screaming to be poured out into a delicious cup of tea! (ok, that was the last tea metaphor, I promise).

So thank you for visiting us in our earliest days. And watch this space! We promise many more blogs about the writer’s journey, book reviews and tea suggestions to come.

And on that note, in honour of launching our writer’s blog, stay tuned for the next post on STARTING!

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