Friday, August 6, 2010

Writing Tip of the Week - How Our Creative Minds Work by Mary McCall

One of the most common questions I’ve received as a creativity trainer from writers is do I have to write every day? From a creative perspective the answer is no. The important thing is to be creative every day. If you need to write every day from a discipline perspective, that’s a different matter.

Generative Model of Creative Flow Basics

The Generative Model came out of the category “theory” and was renamed “model” in 2003 when continuous studies over two decades consistently produced the same results. The origins of the model are not new. In fact, prelims to the theory date back to ancient Greece and Aristotle’s commentaries on cause and effect that were later picked up by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century with the birth of Scholastic Philosophy.

The first time I saw the Generative Model, it was 1982 and written in theory form, which consisted of a sixteen page mathematically equation that was Greek to me. Thankfully, the articles and studies it sparked poured out within a few months of the original publication and translated numeric formulas into words. I’m going to break down the final model into basic English form addressing the pertinent points relevant to us as writers.

• Competing behaviors produce new ones

Thoughts, ideas, and actions are all behaviors. Anything that incites use of one of the five (for some people six) senses, incites behavior.

• The combinatorial process is orderly and predictable

For every cause there is an effect/action. By learning to control stimuli and causes, we can control effects/actions.

• By influencing the type and number of competing behaviors, we can accelerate the creative process and direct it toward useful ends

That’s the theory in a nutshell. Sounds easy enough, and truthfully as you gain understanding of the process, it makes perfect sense and becomes easy to apply.

Implications of Generativity

• Everyone is creative. Everyone is capable of influencing behaviors to generate creative control.

• “Creative” people have special skills. Every creative person employs stimuli that produce creative flow whether they can identify how they do it or not.

• Eureka! Anyone can learn these skills and be creative.

The Creative Process & the Flow Army

• The Imaginative Phase

The Scout: This is our Discoverer, our Inner-child. She is filled with wonder and everything is a mystery and a delight. She is not logical, practical or staid. She wants to know all and loves to play. She is always looking for a new experiences and thrills in discovery. Her favorite questions are “Why?” and “Why not?”

This is our role for searching out new information & resources.

The Strategist: This is our Virtuoso or Muse-Minder, poet, artist, story-crafter. She accompanies the scout on expeditions with pad and pencil to capture discoveries. Her favorite question is, “What if?” She plays with metaphors, ambiguities and paradoxes. She takes the fruits of discovery and weaves one thought to another until she develops an attack plan or story idea/structure. She finds ways around obstacles. She crosses mountains, fords streams. She takes the hero and heroine on an adventure and their happily-ever-after (or if you write sifi: planetary distruction) is her reward.

Caution: Once the Strategist starts crafting, she needs some alone time, unless she gets absolutely stuck on a plot point and cannot move onward without asking for help. Don’t let the Scout run out to discover something like the color of the Clan Macrae plaid, unless it’s vital to the plot. Your Scout has so many “Why” and “Why not” questions that she’ll try to put you in perpetual research mode if you’re not careful. All non-plot related questions can be discovered later. Don’t let the Commander, of the practical phase below, evaluate until the story structure is finished. What seems pointless or unnecessary during mid-planning may make more sense when the Strategist is through. NEVER let your Soldier jump in and start writing without a letting your Strategist complete the battle plan (or whatever prelims are necessary if you are a pantser), otherwise your troops may end up in disarray. You could end up with 3 nice opening chapters and no end for your story.

Let your Strategist do her job in the way that works best for you before you write. This is our role for turning resources into ideas.

• The Practical Phase

The Commander: This is our judge, adjudicator, internal-editor and advisor. She evaluates the plans of the strategist, determine the feasibility of execution, and dispatch the plans to the Soldier after answering the question: Will this story work? Then after the entire rough draft is written, the Commander wants to know: Did this story work?

This is our role for evaluating & enhancing plans.

Note: The Commander is what some people will tell you is an analytical left brain function… The letters BS come to mind. Analysis, logic, patterns, etc. are all part of the creative process. Michelangelo started with raw stone and worked on David until the statue was smoothly polished. Never forget that and editors will like you more. They expect the manuscript you send them will be polished too.

The Commander is also your critique partner’s best friend. Your job when critiquing isn’t to write someone else’s story. It’s to evaluate what’s working and what’s not working. To point out where the craft is slipping or the characters don’t make sense, etc. Never overlook the importance of the Commander, but like all commanders, don’t let her try to control the other creative phases. Let her do her job when needed and not interfere when she should be taking a break from the war room.

The Soldier: This is our virago (or if you are male, warrior), our champion. She acts on information from the other three to implement the ideas and put our masterpiece together. She takes the battle plan and implements it with ruthless determination. She writes. And writes. And writes. Sometimes the story takes an unexpected twist. She may get help from the Commander or Strategist. Then she goes back to writing and writes through to the end. This is our role for carrying ideas into action

These are the four mindsets within the creative process. They apply whether you are writing a book or planning a backyard garden. Knowing what mindset you are in and what mindset you should be in will help you master creative flow. These mindsets in proper mode will not only help you write, they will help you set goals and meet goals.

Sometimes they work together. Sometimes they work alone. Whether you think of them as analytical or creative, they are all vital to victory.

My first book, Highland Treasure, releases tomorrow from Eternal Press I welcome you to enjoy the book and take part in my Launch Contest between 8/7 – 9/6/2010. The grand prize is a Nook.

Mary writes humorous and adventurous historical romances with spicy love scenes set mainly in the medieval Highlands and England. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and served as the first PRO Coordinator for RWA; founding president and current online campus chairperson of Hearts Through History Romance Writers; member of Celtic Hearts Romance Writers; member of The Golden Network; past conference chair and vice president of River City Romance Writer; ESPAN; Faith, Hope & Love, Inc. She has won or placed in over 43 historical romance contests and is a past Golden Hearts finalist. A member of Sisters in Crime and the Malice in Memphis chapter of SinC. , she loves history, has a particular fondness for the Greek through Medieval periods, and is glad research for her books has finally utilized her ability to speak Ecclesiastical Latin. Mary resides in Memphis, Tennessee with her Maltese dog: Regina Benita Catarina. Visit her blog, website or e-mail her

Can the Highlands survive a gifted soul with a tendency toward mischief?

Leonce MacPherson became chieftain after an unknown Norman slaughtered his father and clansmen. For two years he’s raided Northumbria seeking vengeance while a dream woman promises the return of his great sword, stolen in the massacre.

After escaping an abusive father, Lady Hope Nevilles, unknowingly the Gifted MacKay of her generation, has lived with animals for friends in wild Northumbria. She longs to flee to her mother’s native Highlands and find a place away from capture and torture.

When her father steals Leonce’s son, Hope takes that as a sign to journey to the Highlands. She returns the boy and the great sword to Leonce, who recognizes her as his dream siren. When he tricks her into marriage, will she keep her vow to kill herself rather than submit to any man? Can she learn to trust as her father's sin haunt her future? When she learns the truth of her ancestry and gifted spirit from a clan enemy, will Leonce accept the news, or will distrust and jealousy doom their fragile union?


Big Mike said...

Hey Mary

Fellow CB author here, Big Mike. I don't know if I have to write every day, but I sure want to. Why? I have a very demanding Muse. If I leave her along to her own stimulation for too long, she becomes very nasty, pulls out the whip and cracks hard when I return. Will say that, although I may not write EVERY day, while I'm in a WIP story, the creation of scenes and ideas is 24/7 (even when I sleep). I can be driving down the run, watching TV, having a cup of coffee in a crowd, anything can be the catalyst for a scene, and that's a good thing. Just my TCW.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

Blind Consent, “The answers are buried in the secrets of the past.”
Forgotten Children, “Only Sara knows the truth.”
Tainted Hero, “Sometimes good people do bad things.”
Veil of Deception, “Sometimes truth cuts deeper than a lie.”
The Treasure, “A lonely heart can impair one’s judgment.”
Rimfire, "Some things are better left unknown."
Essence, “How far would you go?”

Nicole North said...

Wonderful post, Mary!! I enjoyed it! Congratulations on your book release! I wish you many sales!

Kelly A. Harmon said...


I'm with Big Mike: I want to write every day. For me, it's a matter of keeping the words flowing. I also like the continuity of voice I can achieve by writing daily.

Love the cover of your book. Quite attractive.

Pat McDermott said...

Very interesting post, Mary. I enjoyed the military comparisons to the different creative compartments of a writer's brain. I write almost every day, though I do take a "meltdown" break for a week or so when I finish a manuscript that has required my undivided attention for months. Then it starts all over again. Congrats on the release of your first book!

Gail Pallotta said...

Hi Mary,

That's an interesting way to look at creativity and writing. I do write something almost everyday, but I think that may be because it's a part of me. My husband says I have pretend people and events running around in my head, and I have to let them out. I think he's right. Congratulations on your new book!

Anne Patrick said...

Great feedback, everyone! I, too, try to write everyday. I don't always get ur done though. Sorry, that's the Okie in me coming out.

Like Big Mike, my Muse is constantly on the move. I can even be mowing the yard and come up with an idea for a plot or scene.

I want to thank Mary for her wonderful post, and I invite everyone to come back next week for another Writers Tip.

EA said...

Great post, ladies. I do wish I had the "gumption" to write every day, but sometimes it really is share laziness, I peg it as exhaustion, that keeps me away from my stories days at a time. Then the writing bug bites and I'm typing away for hours at a time. Usually after everyone else has gone to sleep.

Great article and thank you for sharing.

Margaret West said...

Loved the post, Mary. very informative. Good luck with your book.

Angelica Hart and Zi said...

We write every day... Z: No you don't. A: Yes, I do, grocery lists, to do lists, Post Its...that's writing. Z: Sheesh!

That said, great post, loads of information that was very interesting.