Innovation and communication are keys to success in the 21st century economy, and employers consistently call for schools to develop these skills in young people. But among the toughest challenges that educators face is how to do that well — especially how to teach the creative process, the more so at a time of bone-cut curriculum budgets.
As an author of 14 novels for young adults, and a self-employed professional writer for almost 30 years, working with the creative process to get stuff written effectively is what I do. Can I share what I’ve learned about how to do it?
I think I can — and I believe I just have.
After a year of developing the project, I've posted the first set of free, short videos in “Write Alive!”, my new series on simple ways to open up the creative process and develop your writing ability. The first set is called “Writing in the Flow,” and the videos — each just three to five minutes long — are titled “The Unlocking Key” and "The First Secret," followed by the second and third secrets.
All my working life I’ve been fascinated with creativity, and with what comes up inside us to get in its way. Over the past ten years, as I’ve visited schools all over the country as part of reading and discussion projects with my book The Revealers, I’ve been struck by how many young people at this formative age are intensely interested in writing — and by how, in every single school I visit, the great majority of kids’ questions are about the creative process. Where did you get the idea? How long did it take to write the book? Is this your story, or did you make it up?
Early adolescence is a fulcrum time in a young person’s life. It’s when kids struggle on deep levels with whether it’s okay to be who they are, if it’s okay to believe in their dreams, and what they’ll do or sacrifice to fit in and be secure. The best reason to encourage creativity at this time, and to help kids develop their own creative process, is not that so many can become professional writers (or musicians, or actors, or inventors or artists) — it’s because empowering this part of ourselves is hugely important. An adolescent who learns that his or her ideas are real, and that it’s okay to develop and do something with them, is far better equipped to be confident, to find meaningful success and contribute well to any working team, and to build a positive and rewarding life.
So I made the videos. And over the next weeks I will make several more — not because I’ve cornered the answers about the creative process, but because this subject is so worthwhile. And in dozens of creative-writing workshops that I’ve led on my school visits, I’ve had the chance to field-test, refine, and see the impacts of simplifying the keys that I've discovered, over these years, to doing this work well.
For example: almost everyone has some fear, or an inner critical voice, that comes up around writing. A lot of kids ask me what to do about writer’s block. There is, I’ve learned, a simple technique for opening up your creative flow, and at the same time leaving behind that fear. What is that technique?
Middle-school teachers constantly tell me about their struggles to help their students understand that writing is a process, that you need to do a second draft. What’s really going on there? Is there a way to honor the childlike side of us, still so valuable to a seventh grader, that can happily spin out an imaginative tale but recoils at the notion of revising it? How can we keep that side of us creatively alive, yet also develop the adult side (these are actual sides of the brain) that will eagerly rework and rewrite until a piece has become the best it can be?
How do you capture ideas? Do you have to just wait for them, or can we stimulate and develop them in a skillful way? How do you get a longer project, like a book, actually done?
These are subjects I’m addressing in Write Alive! My guiding idea is not to focus on the elements or mechanics of writing, but on the psychology — and mystery — of the process. Are there simple ways that we can open up our creative potential, and learn to work with its mystery?
I have found that there are — and that’s what these videos are about. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting the second set, “The writing life.”
Write Alive! is posted here, on YouTube. These videos are posted for free viewing and sharing, in hopes that they’ll be useful. If you check out these videos and think they’re worthwhile, will you please help to pass the word?