Exercises in originality

Last week I started this fun writing exercise I found out about on Twitter.  It’s called Five Minute Friday.  My husband asked me why I was doing it on Thursday night if it’s called Five Minute Friday.  I said, “I don’t know.  That’s just what everyone is doing.  It’s something I found on Twitter.  Don’t over think it.”

“Real” was the first writing prompt.  I wrote furiously while the timer ticked away on my phone.  I was so panicked that last minute, it might as well have been Four Minute Friday.

I read a few other FMF posts, and it was funny how many people had the same ideas about the word “real.”

This week’s prompt was “break.”  I tried to think of a story from my life that would go with my word.  That seemed to keep me calm and at least writing for that last minute.

Again I read through a few of the other FMF posts, and again I saw some of the same ideas and themes being repeated.

Then it hit me.  This is an exercise in not only fast writing but originality.  I flashed back to memories of a photography class I took at our community college several years ago.  

Each week we were given a photography assignment.  We would go out and take pictures of the prompt we were given and turn in our best three shots.  And each week the teacher would put up all of the shots on the screen and scroll through them, making comments and looking for teachable moments.

I was absolutely amazed at how unoriginal we were.  We were all somewhat creative people.  We were taking an art class for fun, we couldn’t be completely uncreative.  But everyone had such similar ideas every week.

After week two of everyone coming back with almost the same photograph, I made it my mission to bring something original in.  I began to care more about whether or not my photo looked like anyone else’s more than if my photo was “good.”

It was harder than it sounds.  Almost every week, I failed at being original.  No matter how hard I tried to come up with an idea that no one else had about our assignment, at least one person in the class would have an idea like mine.

Out of at least a dozen assignments, I think only one or two of them, I had an original photograph.

I was really proud of this photo because it looked different than the other "window" photos that the other students brought in.  I printed it and put it on my wall.  It isn't that great of a photo.  The sky is washed out, and the electrical line is distracting.  But it has some good things going for it.

I was really proud of this photo because it looked different than the other "window" photos that the other students brought in.  I printed it and put it on my wall.  It isn't that great of a photo.  The sky is washed out, and the electrical line is distracting.  But it has some good things going for it.

Here's another photo I remember taking in to class that was original.  It was for an assignment called "shadow."

Here's another photo I remember taking in to class that was original.  It was for an assignment called "shadow."

I was so disappointed to find out that I’m not as original as I thought I was.

We all have these human brains that think in patterns.  We live our life in patterns.  Sometimes very predictable patterns.  

And. It. Is. Boring.

I want to be creative.  I want to be different.  I bet you do to.  How do we do that?

Here’s some ideas I’ve had:

1.  Practice.  The original idea might be the 5th idea you have or the 1,000th.  If you stop at your first idea, I guarantee it’s not original.

2.  Engage in different types of art.  I get inspiration from other writers, but some of my very best inspiration comes from other sources of art - music, modern art sculptures, television shows, movies, and photography. 

Me in NYC with my favorite Modern Artist's Claes Oldenburg 60's sculpture Floor Cake.

Me in NYC with my favorite Modern Artist's Claes Oldenburg 60's sculpture Floor Cake.

Music is the best.  I love it.  When I’m listening to something new, I can feel my brain working, analyzing the mood, lyrics, percussion, bass, melodies.  I’m listening to see if it goes where I expect or am I surprised by an unexpected note.  Is there a bridge I didn’t see coming?  I’m a total sucker for these artist tricks: handclaps, xylophones, or harmonicas.  Any of those gets instant love.  Try listening to music you’ve never heard before and really listen.  It’s fun.  NPR Music is a good spot.  They have First Listen where they share new albums for free and Tiny Desk Concerts where lesser known artist perform in their D.C. offices.

You can see from Baby Gaby's face that listening to new music gets your brain going.  Ernie was new stuff for him.  Ah the days.  He's so little and cute here.  My baby is getting too big.

You can see from Baby Gaby's face that listening to new music gets your brain going.  Ernie was new stuff for him.  Ah the days.  He's so little and cute here.  My baby is getting too big.

3.  Look at it from a different angle.  This works well in photography.  You change your angle, and you change your photograph.  This works in writing too.  You can work to change your point of view.  How do other people see this issue?

I’m still such a writing newbie.  I’m still figuring out ways to make my writing more creative.

What about you?  What inspires you?  What tips to you have to get your creative ideas flowing?

Here's a song I heard for the first time yesterday.  I love songs that tell a story.  I feel like I know this guy now.  And I'm super nostalgic about NES.  I got a Nintendo for my 13th birthday.