By: Noelle Sterne
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” ~Sophia Loren
Are you worried you’ll run out of ideas to write about? Do you feel you have to mine old newspaper articles for great ideas? Wonder if your inspiration dries up as you get older?
Here’s the good news: whatever your age, however much or little you’ve written, your creativity is unlimited.
Ideas bombard us constantly. We just have to recognize them. Tom Zender, author, executive, and spiritual leader points out in God Goes to Work, that our marvelous brain recognizes an idea “at the speed of thought, or about 500 milliseconds—a literal split second, the aha moment, the creative nudge.”
That “creative nudge” is always with us, boundless, ceaseless, ever-renewing. You can discover and encourage it in many ways. Here are a few I’ve found.
Creative Nudging Exercises
1. Pick a guy in the park.
You may know this feeling well. Prolific freelance writer I. J. Schecter observes in Fifteen Ways You Know You Were Born to Write: “You see an average man sitting on a normal bench on a regular day and you suddenly feel compelled to write a story about it.”
Maybe on a bus, you can’t help but notice a shy Oriental girl with eyes down. Is she a recent immigrant? Or a budding actress?
In the bank line, you admire a dapper older chap with a handlebar mustache. British ex-pat? An affected and disaffected American?
What can you imagine about their lives, now and before? Start scribbling.
2. Do a voice journal.
James Scott Bell in The Art of War for Writers describes this invention: “The voice journal is simply a character speaking in stream-of-consciousness mode. . . . just let your fingers record the words on the page.” And, I would add, listen to the character first.
You may or may not yet know where to place your voice journal character. If you do, fine. Maybe the shy Oriental girl fits into your latest cozy mystery, or you visualize the dashing man in an essay about gender differences in fashion. If you don’t, no need to panic. The story may come to you as you’re recording the words of this character. Or you’ll file him/her away for later use.
Your unconscious will dangle the portrait in front of you at the exact right later moment. However and whenever you use the character, the voice journal is an excellent practice for loosening your creativity and listening to the dictates of your artistic depths.
3. Plumb your life.
Look at the stages and significant events in your life (take a drink first if you need to). Childhood, adolescence (agghhh!), young adulthood, responsible adulthood, marriage, the failed marriage, glorious marriage, single life, older adulthood…
I recall the devastating embarrassment in fourth grade when I couldn’t see the blackboard and had to go to school wearing glasses. What about the clash you had with your loving parents over colleges to go to, or no colleges at all? Your first real job in the world of work?
A weekend away with your sweetie at the most romantic B&B in the Western hemisphere? An excruciating Thanksgiving dinner with cheek-pinching, relationship-prying, denture-smelling relatives?
Now make a chart—head the columns with every life stage. List the experiences in each that you immediately recall. (Leave room because more will occur to you.)
Choose one experience or event that excites or enrages you. You have the makings of a short story, novella, or, especially as related incidents surface, a full-blown novel. Get going.
4. Keep Score on the Ideas
One writer developed a rather ingenious and elaborate “scoring” system for the ideas that arrive. Here’s his 5-point scale for the emotional charge of every idea:
1 = So what?
2 = Mildly interesting
3 = Hey, not bad
4 = Pretty exciting
5 = YES! Can’t wait to dive in!
He knows that the 4s and 5s will sustain him, even through terrible drafts and dragging middles. When he feels the need to start a new project, he looks at his self-evaluations and, if they’re still in the 4 and 5 ranges, he attacks the keyboard.
Never Too Late
Do you feel it’s too late to write? Or that your ideas will dry up?
- Michelangelo was 74 when he began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (and on his back!) and in his eighties when he designed the dome of St. Peter’s.
- Less than two months before Picasso died at 91, he drew an erotic sketch of a bearded man and woman.
- Even then, as art critic Matt Schudel comments, “his hand was quick and sure” (Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, January 28, 2001).
- Writer Phyllis A. Whitney published her last book at 93. Jessie Foveaux published her first book at 98—incidentally, it was a childhood memoir.
Herman Wouk, 103 at this writing, published three books in his nineties and his memoir at 100. In Stephen King’s story “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive,” published in The Atlantic in 2011, Wouk says, “The ideas don’t stop just because one is old. The body weakens, but the words never do.”
If They Did It, We Can, Too
One of my favorite and most heartening books is called Late Bloomer: 75 Remarkable People Who Found Fame, Success, and Joy in the Second Half of Their Lives. Author Brendan Gill draws portraits of many now-famous people who achieved their milestone accomplishments and fame late in life. You’d be surprised. Here are just a few: Harry Truman, Paul Cezanne, R. Buckminster Fuller, Julia Child, Ed Sullivan, Charles Darwin, Pope John XXIII, Edward VII, Mary Baker Eddy, O. Henry, Mother Teresa, Miguel Cervantes, Jonathan Swift, Charles Ives, Edith Wharton, Sir Alexander Fleming.
Gill comments on their “lateness”:
They are people who at whatever cost and under whatever circumstances have succeeded in finding themselves. . . . If the hour happens to be later than we may have wished, take heart! So much more to be cherished is the bloom.
A timely and current follow-up book by Rich Karlgaard (publisher of Forbes Magazine): Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. With many stories, he recounts the development of ridiculously early bloomers and encouraging later ones and the skewed values that drive our worship of the early wonders. To later blossomers, he gives hope—with chapters, for example, on “A Kinder Clock for Human Development,” “Worth the Wait: Six Strengths of Late Bloomers,” and “Slow to Grow? Repot Yourself in a Better Garden.”
Create at Any Age
So, be kind to your rate of development, whatever it is. Recognize your developing strengths. And if you’re feeling on alien soil, repot yourself in a nurturing, blossoming garden.
The next time you fear loss or shriveling of your creativity or panic at the “lateness” of reaching your writing goals, remember the late bloomers in so many fields.
Experiment with one of the exercises I suggested, or devise your own. Trust your inner richness. Brilliance blooms and increases as you keep writing. Your inexhaustible and integral creativity continues with you at any age.
Bio: Dr. Noelle Sterne
Author, editor, writing coach, writing and meditation workshop leader, spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 600 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, short stories, and occasional poems.
Academic mentor, editor and coach, with the Ph.D. from Columbia University, she helps doctoral students wrestling with their dissertations and publishes articles in several blogs for dissertation writers.
Noelle has delivered requested presentations on academic writing at several universities and is a regular contributor to Abstract, the blog of the Textbook and Academic Authors Association (TAA).
Author Magazine, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Coffeehouse For Writers, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, Mused, New Age Journal, Pen & Prosper, Ruminate, Sasee, Story Monsters Ink, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Coaching, The Write Place At the Write Time, Unity Magazine, Writer’s Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest.
She also contributes pieces to other national and international publications on dissertation issues and writing. In July and August 2018, she, was one of six webinar presenters for its “Writing Gym.” Her topic: “Get Started, Continue Your Draft, and Finish.”
Eons ago, she published a children’s book of original (groanworthy) dinosaur riddles, Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (What do you get when dinosaurs crash their cars?). Riddles from the book appear in several elementary school language arts texts, and the book was featured on PBS’s Reading Rainbow.
A Chicken Soup for the Soul podcast (May 16, 2017) featured her story “Time to Say Goodbye” from a 2013 volume: https://chickensoup.podbean.com/e/tip-tuesday-why-you-should-remove-toxic-people-from-your-life-and-how-to-do-it/_
Noelle’s book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011) contains examples from her practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings.
Her book, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) is an invaluable resource for doctoral candidates.
As part of pursuing her writing dream, Noelle’s mission is to help other writers reach theirs and create the lives they truly desire.
Taking her own advice (hard as it may be), she recently completed her first novel.