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Practice the 5-minute “what if?” exercise to enhance your creativity

We’re all born creative thinkers, but sometimes it’s easy to think we aren’t when we’re stuck on a plot or trying to figure out a piece of dialogue for one of our characters.

Part of losing our sense of creativity comes with growing up. When we were kids, we didn’t worry so much about everything having to be logical or correct.

As Michael Michalko says in his book, Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, our minds are marvelous pattern recognition machines. We’re taught to see what we think we “should” see. This helps us be more efficient in many ways. But it’s also why we can read through a page of copy multiple times and miss typos. Our brain compensates and “helps” us see the patterns of what we expect to see.

But it’s possible to train yourself to think more spontaneously and creatively. As writers we’re always asking, “what if?” It’s one of the best ways to think outside the norm. It also improves hypothetical thinking skills.

Shelley Carson, Ph.d and author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life, suggests practicing a “what if” exercise every day to hone our imaginative abilities.

Put ideas together that don’t make sense. It’s how most great inventions came about. And as it turns out, the same “what if” question that was good for inventing the TV and the Hubble Telescope is also good for writing stories.

Exercise: Look in the newspaper or watch the news on TV and select a story. Set a timer for five minutes. Now, change one facet of the story. Forget reality, logic or what makes sense. Visualize the consequences of your scenario. This exercise can also be useful when you’re considering ideas for a scene or feel you’ve written something that’s too predictable.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I believe the originator of the “what if” idea was Roger Von Oech, author of “A Whack on the Side of the Head.”

    April 30, 2012

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  1. Want to be more prolific and creative? Learn how from these three posts | onewildword

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