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Taylor Clogston


I’ve struggled with this for a looong time. These have helped me:

  • Step outside your comfort zone regarding what stories you consume. I used to read books that had a very narrow set of fantasy tropes, so my stories all felt like a rehash of the same stuff. When I started reading books I didn’t think I’d like at the recommendation of people I respected, I realized that not only did I love many things that I thought would be boring or dumb, but that there was so much more to literature than what I’d been reading all my life. If you’ve only ever tasted salt and pepper, you’ll never be able to come up with a dish using ginger and chiles.
  • Put restrictions on your projects. If you always find yourself writing stories about an orphan who overcomes tremendous odds, decide that your next story (it doesn’t have to be a long story) will be about someone completely different. Restrict yourself out of the things you lean on the most, at least on occasion.
  • Deliberately combine things that don’t obviously go together. There’s a fantastic Game Design Conference session titled Practical Creativity where Ralph Koster, creative direction of Star Wars Galaxies, describes creativity as what happens when you actually mix oil and water together. Anyone can look at Lord of the Rings and ask “What if Sauron was the good guy?” but I’d say “true” creativity is asking “What if you took all the themes of hope, perseverance, corruption, and loyalty and you applied them to a Texas ranger accompanying a schoolbus of kids during the apocalypse?” Or maybe that’s also too obvious.
  • Give yourself the freedom to “doodle” and “sketch” writing. It’s okay to journal down a scene that’s completely disconnected from any story anyone will ever read just to give yourself the freedom to explore an idea or a quirky way of describing a character. Experiments that only you will ever judge can help you expand your comfort zone when it comes to writing new things.

Last year, to give myself a break from my “serious” project, I started writing a serialized martial arts story that I intended no one to ever see. Giving myself the freedom to write dumb things and combine them in ways I’d never have allowed myself to before created the starting point for the richest worldbuilding I’ve ever made, not to mention the first proper novel I’ve ever finished.

Consume lots of different kinds of stories, restrict yourself from the creative choices you know you overuse, and combine new things in an environment where you’re as free from judgment as possible (unless you decide to clean it up and ask for other people’s feedback). I promise you’ll discover a creative muscle that has always been there but just needed the right kind of exercise.

"...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

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