Creativity is mind-altering: Part 1

I’m starting to plot my dreams

I am an amateur writer, a hobbyist but I’d be lying if I said that getting a novel published or placing in a major short story competition wasn’t my ultimate aim. But if somebody could see into my future and tell me that I am never to gain this level of success would I still write? Yes. I would.

Because I like what creative pursuits do to your mind. I like the way they rewire the brain to see the world in a different light. I love words and stories and so writing is the perfect fit for my creativity. But any artistic pursuit can sharpen your perceptions and make you more appreciative of the amazing world around you.

I am in a special (I was going to say unique but that would be presumptuous) position to recognise the difference between the creative mind and the non-creative one because you see for over fifteen years of my life I worked in a job that sapped all my imagination. It required that I hunch of a microscope for seven hours a day and scan stained slides for precancerous and cancerous cells. This work required expertise and high levels of concentration but at the same time was extremely routine, repetitive and non-social. It was like a process worker checking intricate items on an assembly line but with higher stakes. By the end of the day there was no part of my brain left for roaming free. Not only didn’t I write during that time but I didn’t read either (except for bedtime children’s stories) I wanted all my spare time to be spent doing things non-myopic.

When this period of my life ended I had a lot of catching up to do. I read adult and children’s classics and the latest bestsellers. I slowly, tentatively began writing. I had to learn from the ground up. My free-learning 70’s education hadn’t taught be much about grammar and punctuation* let alone active voice, point of view or plotting (what did I learn in English?).

An amazing thing happened. The world became more interesting. My mental health improved. I enjoyed the company of my own mind and its meanderings. I also enjoyed the company of others more. I listened more. I became more empathetic. Even bad times have their up-sides -they provided experiences and character insights that could be stored in my writer’s toolbox.

My daughter is an amateur actress and comedy writer. She’s had some tough typical 20-something problems to deal with since leaving home, no money in a rich city, relationship dramas, big nights out that go wrong , witnessing colleagues abuse various substances and the inevitable dramas of house-sharing. On these topics our conversations often start quite fraught but somehow we always end up looking at the incidents at distance as if viewing a play that was put on for our individual benefit. We use phrases like ‘It was interesting to see how people act in those circumstances’ ; ‘It was a struggle but I’m glad I experienced it’ or even the less subtle; ‘It’s great material for a sketch.’ For my part I listen eagerly to the language my daughter uses and the conversations she relates. Should I ever write my YA novel these snippets are precious insights. All this may sound callous and voyeuristic but the ability to see creative value of a situation can remove the sting from confronting events.

I had a strange experience a few nights ago I had a dream, a crazy irrational dream as is normal for dreams (I’m not a believer in dreams having any real meaning, symbolic or otherwise) Somewhere in the middle of this dream I became aware that it was poorly devised. My subconscious rebelled. This wasn’t a story, let alone a good story. My writers mind required consistent characters and a resolution. I began shaping the dream into some sort of logical plot. It was still a wacko story, which I realised when I woke and wrote it down. It involved my family moving to a rough neighbourhood and me trying to convince them it was for the best (we’ve got a northerly aspect!)despite the neighbours having continuous wild parties while wearing animal heads (analyse away). However the memory of the writer in me invading this dream then vainly attempting to plot it fascinated me and was really the only thing about the experience that was significant. Writing has rewired my brain to see potential stories in many places even during my sleep.

Children, in general are natural storymakers, although I worry that the screen age is having a deadening effect (that is a whole other topic). As adults we get bogged down with day to day responsibilities and often abandon our imagination.

There are plenty of my peers who have taken to the latest diet trends and adopted regular exercise routines in order to boost their health but I think we sometimes overlook the value of exploring the imaginative part of our brain for our own well being

Many of you who are creatives may have been so all your life so you may take all this for granted. But if you reflect would you be same person without that outlet? Those like me who have come to creative pursuits later I would love hear if it has changed your life.

My next few blogs continue to explore this question of how creativity can alter the mind in a positive way and how we can extend our powers of imagination.

*OK, I know some are going to say after reading this I still haven’t mastered grammar and punctuation. But believe me I am better than I used to be.

The Children Act

by Ian McEwan              Published 2014 (Vintage)             Adult Fiction

Score:         9/10            Genre: Law, relationship and ethical drama

Fiona, an ambitious, childless family court judge makes ruling on whether Jehovah’s Witness boy should be forced to take a blood transfusion to save his life. Book explores the fraught consequences of her decision against the backdrop of her own troubled marriage.

Moral dilemmas abound in this book, motivating this reader to ask the questions; Would I have made that life choice? That ruling? Reads like a fast-paced BBC law drama episode as quite short at 55,000 words. Minor plot qualm – the way the revelation at the end was exposed – seemed a bit contrived. Thought-provoking but not high- brow.

Recommend for: Everyone but especially those interested in ethics and easily digestible books. Book clubs will find many discussion points arise from the choices Fiona makes both in her private and professional life.

Use to writers: Demonstrates how tight writing can fit meaningful plot, character development and backstory into a short novel. Clever combination of broader ethical/legal issues with personal character stories ie Good example of how to keep reader’s interest on several levels.