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A Writer’s Creativity Kit

posted: 10.26.10 by Traci Gardner

diet cokeUsually I write this blog at my desk, in a cluttered room that doubles as my bedroom and office. I work in Dreamweaver on Windows. An icy glass of diet soda is always within reach. I reach for the glass unconsciously while I work. If it’s not there when I reach for it, I lose my focus completely.

The television is always on, even if it’s muted. If it’s a weekday, I’m probably listening to the NPR station. Nights and weekends, you might find me listening to (or half-watching) old movies, football, or a WWE wrestling match. There is always a soundtrack. I default to the classical music channel if necessary, but I never work in a quiet room.

Why all this detail on my writing setup? I happened upon Jonathan Fields’s “What’s Your Creative Modus Operandi?” on the Psychology Today blog page, and I began wondering about the creative setup that writers prefer—and what we as teachers can do to accommodate students’ needs.

Fields shares a list of things that can affect creativity and includes his preference for each item. He called his list “Optimal Creative MO.” Here’s a handful of items from the beginning of his list:

  • Sound—moderate background noise, classic rock, love writing to Led Zeppelin
  • Light—bright, sunny setting, preferably with sunlight on my face and body
  • Time of day—early morning (5:30 am), then again late in the evening.
  • Location—crunchy, low-key cafe, home-office, or Soho House in NYC.

Notice anything about the list? It’s filled with things that students (and many graduates in the workplace, I suspect) may not be able to change or control.

Often we ask students to do creative thinking and composing in spaces that are unlikely to match their optimal creative MO. What can we do to ensure that they still have what they need to do their best work?

First, have students think about their experiences and describe their optimal creative MOs. Use the list on Fields’ entry (and post responses on his blog entry as he suggests) or customize the list for your specific situation.

Once students are more aware of what they need in order to do their best work, ask them to construct a sort of Writer’s Creativity Kit—a list of the things they would ideally carry with them. My kit, for instance, better have a bottle of Diet Coke and an iPod in it. The list can touch on choices as well, such as choosing a desk by the window.

Finally, talk with students to find out more about what they need to do their best work. Maybe you’ll find some simple things that you can do to help them—like turn off the overhead lights or allow extra time for them to get out iPods before you ask them to begin writing in class.

We’re rarely in a position to give students everything they need to do their best work. After all, there are some things we simply cannot change. (Believe me, I’d eliminate all 8:00 AM classes if I could.) But we can help students become more aware of what they need and encourage them to make adaptations. If we’re successful, students may able to do some of their most creative thinking and composing even when the situations are less then optimal.

[Photo: Diet Coke by Dawn Huczek, on Flickr]

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