Letting Creativity Just Slip In


photo by Random Tree

I had a conversation with my mother the other night about the creative process, and I thought ah-hah!… I could write about this.

She was saying how she came up with a poem about apples a few years ago, while driving through apple orchards and then on homewards (she lives in the country). As she kept driving the poem came bit by bit… she said that the words “just slipped in”.

I thought that was a great way of putting it, and it’s how it happens with me, too. Then I was thinking about how I set things up to allow those words and ideas to “just slip in”. Being still or meditative in some way is necessary, but I’ve also noticed that if I provide a structure for my creative product, the goods are more likely to come to me.

Singin’ the blues

I first noticed how structure helps years ago when I was trying to write songs… I found it quite easy to write words to a 12 bar blues. And I think a lot of other people do, too. In fact it’s so easy that writing a blues isn’t even considered writing a song, really (I mean… there are lots of great 12 bar blues songs out there, but it can also be a bit of a cop-out, songwriting-wise, in my opinion). I realised it was easy because the form is so clearly defined—the words just come. The words of blues are usually about how my baby done left me, or something, but at least they probably came easily to someone.

I even wrote a children’s song years ago in the 12 bar blues form, when I was involved with astronomy education at a museum in this fair city. I wanted to write an astronomy song for young children to sing, and was struggling with it. I weakened and wrote it to a blues, but then decided a blues was not really the best choice for young children, so ended up not doing anything with it. It has four verses, but I’ll only regale you with the first:

We thought we’d go up to the Moon one day
We’d take our friends Hip Hip Hooray
What did we see? Some great big craters
And not much else, no alligators
We really had a good time
It was quite a blast
But it’s sure good to be home at last.

Writing books

HeadLice.jpgNext, after a bit of this and a bit of that, I found myself writing children’s non-fiction books—the kind schools buy for their school libraries. Here there was structure for me to fill on several levels. Most obvious was that I had contracts with royalty advances and deadlines—there’s nothing quite like the threat of paying back money to motivate you to complete something! I don’t think I would have ever written any books if I didn’t have a contract first. (I’ve now had 52 books published and 6 more are on the way.)

Also, when writing these kinds of books, I am told the number of pages, the number of words per page and various other specifics. Having somewhere to slot the words in made it MUCH easier to get creative in ways of covering the topics. I couldn’t have done it otherwise, I think.

I also noticed when writing these books, and in other writing, that the rhythm of the words seems to come first, and the words then fill the rhythm in, just like what happens with the blues. For example, a paragraph might go like this:

It would probably start off with a medium-length sentence. Then comes a fairly long sentence with quite a few words and a few phrases in it, to pad it out, because I need an example of a long sentence. Then I write a short one.

So for me the structure comes first and then the words can slip into it. I think a rhyming poem or song is the same… having words that need to be rhymed with brings out ideas we would not have thought of otherwise. I mean… alligators? (I’m not suggesting it’s always good!)


Now I’m doing this blog, and I’m so enjoying being FREE to do what I want with it! I find I’ve settled on a structure, though. I’ve decided to post once a week, late Monday afternoon. I’m deciding by Friday what my next post is going to be about, then I write it over Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

When I need to write and nothing comes, I go for a walk around the block (or around several). If I’m really having trouble I try to still my mind in some way. Having a shower is also good (why do ideas always come in the shower when you are wet and can’t write things down?!)

Then when I do write, I find the rhythm usually comes first and the words slot in.

Comical capers

ComicTemp150.jpgI had quite a few appreciative comments about my comic in my last post This Blogging Life! Thanks everyone! Words like “awesome”, “brilliant” and even “genius” got used—wow! The thing is, the software I used, Comic Life, provided a structure so the ideas could just slip in.

When you open a document in Comic Life, the first thing you do is drag a template onto the blank page, to get your empty boxes that need filling. You collect images you might use and put them in a folder, then you start dragging them into the boxes. Once you’ve filled 2 or 3 boxes, it’s not that hard to start seeing a story… add a few more pics, move some around, experiment a bit more, and Hey Presto! A comic! It’s not like you sit down and think up a whole story and then think up how to make a comic out of it… I’d NEVER be able to do that!

Build it and they will come

All of this reminds me of those words from the movie Field of Dreams where the guy builds a baseball field on a farm, after hearing the words “if you build it, he will come”—and it worked. Maybe we can build structures for our creative projects, on lots of different levels… then the ideas will come.

By the way… I’m not putting Mum’s poem in, as much as I’d love to, because I’m not sure about how to handle internet publicity for her, just yet.

* * *

The Green and Gold

The wattle’s out at the moment… here are some photos I took on Saturday, in our local parklands. We go there for a walk nearly every day (we didn’t go today – too cold! …brrr)

1 GreenGold.jpg

2 GoldenTree.jpg

Frank in a pale gold fairyland
3 PaleGoldFrank.jpg

4 creekFrank.jpg

and a golden pathway
5 GoldenTunnel.jpg

* * *
Anyway, comments are most welcome! And happy creating everybody!

34 thoughts on “Letting Creativity Just Slip In

  1. Writer Dad

    I’ve never heard anyone say it that way before, but I couldn’t agree more. In every one of my children’s stories, the rhythm just bounced out and the actual words came next. I know exactly what you mean.

    Writer Dads last blog post..The Great Equalizer

  2. Vered

    These photos are gorgeous!

    “Also, when writing these kinds of books, I am told the number of pages, the number of words per page and various other specifics. Having somewhere to slot the words in made it MUCH easier to get creative in ways of covering the topics. I couldn’t have done it otherwise, I think.” I found this interesting. I do have some structure on MomGrind- I post 3 days per week and tend to participate in Best Shot Monday and Wordless Wednesday. But other than what, I write whatever I want. I also write a corporate blog, and I find that much harder to do, BECAUSE I’m required to follow certain rules and formats and SEO guidelines. It’s much easier for me to write when I am free from structure.

    Vereds last blog post..I Am Watching You

  3. Urban Panther

    Wow to all your publications, and upcoming publications. Rock on! I do and I do not have structure for my blogs. Since the Lion and I co-blog, we brainstorm on ideas. Good thing, since we are posting 6 days out of 7. Coming up with that all by myself would be hard on the brain. Then, if the Lion writes his first, and I’m doing the rebuttal, I have something to bounce off of. If I’m writing mine first, it tends to drift in. First the general idea, then the specific idea, then fragments of clever and witty sentences. This usually while I am doing something physical, but mindless, like gardening, housework or running. Then I sit down at the laptop and start to write. This is where it flows into a coherent story. There is style structure built in, that I no longer think about. One of my dad’s hats was editor, so I learned proper writing technique at an early age. If I was to write a book (waiting on the book deal *smile*) I would definitely use a structured top down approach: theme, chapters, sections, paragraphs.

    Urban Panthers last blog post..A night at Navarra

  4. Robin

    @John – Hi and welcome! Thanks on both counts – I like the ol’ MistyLook (theme).
    @Al – yeah the parklands are great. I walk in the streets though if I am trying to write, because I need to walk by myself, and we always go to the parklands together.
    @Evelyn – thanks! The book-writing thing is always more impressive to other people than it is to me – I’m prouder of other things… oh well!
    @Writer Dad – Hi and welcome! Yeah (about the rhythm) – it’s not a huge thing – it’s just something I noticed.
    @Vered – We are very lucky to have the parklands nearby! I’m really enjoying being able to write what I want on this blog – but I wouldn’t have written those astronomy books if I hadn’t had some structure (because I don’t naturally think about that material all the time).
    @Urban Panther – great to hear how you do things. I get ideas when I am doing something “mindless” too!

  5. Marelisa

    Well, now we know something new about you. Fifty two children’s books under your belt and more to come, excellent! I’ve written about creativity in my blog and what I see here are two important techniques: one is expansive (going for a walk in the park and allowing the ideas to “come to you”) and the other is restrictive (creates a constraint and forces your mind to focus).

    That park looks like a great place to go for a walk!

    Marelisas last blog post..The Elasticity of Time (Part 3)

  6. Rita

    Those are quite some credentials you have! Tres impressive (as the High School French Student would say!)
    I just want to remind you – don’t get so caught-up in routine. Though for selfish reasons I wish you would blog more frequently, if it’s not there for Monday – I’ll be waiting for you on Tuesday…and it it happens to show up on Sunday instead…well, that’s prety darn good too!
    Best to you,

    Ritas last blog post..I’m Not Happy

  7. Shamelle @ TheEnhanceLife.com

    Hi Robin,
    I also have a similar blogging rhythm. On average I post one a week on Mondays. I use the week-end to write a post. If I have more than 4 blog posts in my “ready to go” pipeline (Which rarely happens! I do have a full time job!) , I publish one on thursday as well.


  8. Robin

    @Marelisa – thanks Marelisa – I think those are good ways of looking at it – and yes, the parklands are really wonderful.
    @Natalie – Hi there and welcome! Yes – I found non-fiction for children to be more interesting than I thought it would be. My first books were about astronomy, and I was blown away by the artwork and design the publishers did – I was expecting something much more dry-looking.
    @Rita – Hi! Glad to see you! Somehow having the routine actually helps me to have ideas (and not panic if I don’t). If I really can’t post, I just won’t, though.
    @Shamelle – Hi there! That’s really interesting that you have the same rhythm as me – the prevailing wisdom seems to be that you need to post at least 3 times a week. Cheers!


  9. Kelly@SHE-POWER


    You’re not just an author, you’re like a super author. 52 books published is amazing! How did you get started doing this kind of thing?

    Like you, I started my blog to FREE write and escape the monotony of copy writing brochures and websites. But I have trouble putting too much structure in at SHE-POWER. I currently have 56 draft and basic idea posts filed away for use and the reason there is so many is because I often start to complete a post, find the magic isn’t there, so I abandon it and do something else.

    Sometimes the second idea will be drafted and written final product in 60-90 minutes, while I may have spent hours trying to ‘make’ the first post work. I have tried to learn from this recently and not fight my flow. Now, if it isn’t working, I just abandon the post to the drafts section and go for a run, do anything else except write. I soon find the right idea comes to me and I know what I have to say that day.

    I really liked this post. It had a soothing meandering quality that you don’t often see online, but I like.

    🙂 Kelly

  10. Stacey / CreateaBalance

    Some sort of structure/preparation also helps my creative flow. My structure is pretty carefree and I try to be sure I have the right tools at hand (caring a pen and notebook with me so I don’t lose those whimsical thoughts that quickly come and go, having paints and a canvas in my home, placing my journal on the counter so I see if every day, etc). In a way, it’s preparing for opportunities to create.

    Stacey / CreateaBalances last blog post..I Love You….Your Turn

  11. Ari Koinuma


    That’s one of the better posts on creativity I’ve read. It’s a funny thing — creativity seems to desire harnessing in order to be unleashed.

    I’m a songwriter at heart, and I love the challenge of writing children’s songs for a charity organization called Songs of Love http://songsoflove.org I got sent a profile of kids with serious illness, and I wrote and recorded a personalized song for them, in about 3 weeks. The organization had all kinds of structures and protocols of how to write a song — but I never missed my deadline! And some of the songs turned out great, and most of them turned pretty well.

    A completely blank canvas is hard to get going on. Limitations and concrete problems can get me creative like no other.


    Ari Koinumas last blog post..How to Get Ready to Meet Your Soulmate (Digest)

  12. Lance

    For me, it’s sometimes that the thought “just slip in”. And a flow does get going. I had that tonight on my way home from work. Other times, there’s nothing happening.

    So, I like what you’ve said about creativity just slipping in. With a little structure, the creativity of an individual can accomplish much and go in many different directions.

    And, you are a very creative person Robin!

    Lances last blog post..5K Race Report – Hills Edition

  13. Peter

    Hi Robin,

    Really enjoyed this article. I can see why you liked my article “Eckhart Tolle’s Guide to Writing” – your writing process sounds very similar to Tolle’s!

    Also, love those pics of the parkland. There are some beautiful spots here in Vancouver, but as you know the Australian flora and fauna is very unique. Ahh… Australia… why is it so far away?

    Peters last blog post..Six Scientific Ways to Create True Happiness

  14. Davina

    That is terrific that you’ve written those books! Awesome!
    As for letting creativity just slip in… I need a shoe horn these days. I have about 13 (yes 13) incomplete drafts for my blog. I’ve been working on one today, funnily enough, about creativity and am getting nowhere… sigh. I LOVE those photos you shared. Maybe if I stare at one long enough the doorway to creativity will open. HELP!

    Davinas last blog post..Bears Come Calling

  15. Robin

    @Kelly – I feel a bit embarrassed, now – 18 of the books were for 6 to 8 years, and only had 2 or 3 sentences per page (I suppose they had to be good sentences! hehe). You just approach the publishers – email me if you would like more info.
    @Stacey – yes – I think those kinds of preparation are providing structure, too.
    @Ari – thanks! That’s really interesting about those children’s songs.
    @Lance – thanks – interesting that you had thoughts slip in while on the way home, like Mum did.
    @Peter – hi there and thanks! – you’ll have to pop back some time.
    @Davina – ha ha – come for a visit and we’ll go for a walk in the parklands.

  16. Harmony

    You are rockin Robin! Thanks for the tips.
    If you are writing for clients, as I do a lot, I have found another tip is if I am suffering from NWS (no word syndrome) for one project, I can begin typing on the page designed for the project I am stuck on- but write for another project I have something to say about.
    The very act of writing, of movement, of creative flow or at least gibber jabber releases words on the original project without much effort.
    PS. Be sure to cut the misplaced text before sending to client!:-)

    Harmonys last blog post..The Eclipse

  17. Natural

    Looks peaceful and I love green. The weather here in NJ is so fab right now. Hot days and cool but not cold nights. Just good ole grab a comforter and snuggle weather.

  18. Natural

    i also wrote a children’s book, which i have yet to submit, but my daugther loves it…i have a few incomplete books, but this made me LOL
    there’s nothing quite like the threat of paying back money to motivate you to complete something!
    also thanks for the software link, i’ll have to look them up when i get home. it was totally cool…your comic post.

  19. Cath Lawson

    Hi Robin – that’s a whole heap of books. You make the writing and making the comic and stuff sounds so easy. But I bet it’s not as simple as it sounds.

  20. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

    I like your realization about creating the structure first so that the project has some guidance. You’ve also shared the key to productivity for the self-employed. It’s the same. Once we stick to a structure discipline isn’t a chore.

  21. Urbane Lion

    Robin: I am truly impressed by your publications. It takes a lot to be able to let your creativity take the lead when you have contraints such as structure, budget and others. Oooh God, I just love the Australian vegetation and scenery. We are planning to visit my brother in WA in 2010. Can’t wait!!!

    Urbane Lions last blog post..The Naked Lion

  22. Karl Staib - Your Work Happiness Matters

    When we stop forcing creativity and allow our emotions lead our actions we can create natural creativity. We need to push ourselves to try new things, but we need not be afraid of what others think. I’m still working on this myself, but as I put more of myself out there in my blog the easier it gets.

    Karl Staib – Your Work Happiness Matterss last blog post..Notice the Every Day WOW

  23. Robin

    @Harmony – hiya – that’s a really good tip! I find writing just anything helps to get things moving, too, if I am stuck. My publisher sent me my books for proofreading today, just when I DON’T have time. Groan. (and says she wants them back quickly because my editor is pregnant. Really!)
    @Natural – Sounds like you are having late summer like ours – and our autumn. Hot clear days and cool nights. Great! You must get that book published! and I’m looking forward to a comic!
    @Cath – the books weren’t easy – in fact I find it very difficult work. The comics come fairly easily but I put quite a bit of (enjoyable) time into them.
    @Tom – It’s an interesting thing, because I have deliberately not had much structure for a long time – but the structure crept in where it was needed. For example, I have been a big believer in staying in bed for as long as I like in the morning, for a long time – which a lot of people would frown on.
    @Urbane Lion – Thanks U.L. – will you make it over to the east coast? Melbourne tends to empty out in January, because everyone goes away for the summer school holidays.
    @Karl – yes I think it gets easier as you do it more – I’ve noticed that with my blog, too.

  24. Chris

    Hi Robin,

    The great thing about your posting pattern is that I haven’t missed anything since your last post. Thank God!

    Anyway, all the things that you have done are the things that I want to do. I want write a song and I want to write a book. But in order for me to do all of these things, I must have structure.

    Also, thank you for “Comic Life” I’m goign to give it a try and have fun with it.

    Lastly, thank you for being a great friend!

    Chriss last blog post..To Blog Or Not To Blog

  25. Robin

    @rainer – you’ve got mail about my name (I’m feeling a bit reserved about it coming up in searches at the moment – though it is on my ‘about’ page)
    @Chris – Oh Chris – I value your friendship so much (though I’m replying here so late you probably won’t see this). I’m looking forward to your comic – I have been hoping you do one with your family pics.

  26. Jannie Funster

    I sure like when the words just slip in too. And when you stop hammering at them they usually do.

    True about the 12-bar blues and it’s twice as easy as easy , ’cause you mostly repeat all the lines twice anyway.

    Writing a book – probably will never do that.

    Blogging – yes!!!

    Jannie Funsters last blog post..Does It Mean I’m Crazy?

  27. Fannie Junster

    Well, I WAS here on this post before! Wow, 10 months ago. We were still not more than aquaintances then, Robin. So I did know you wrote books. (But forgot, sorry.)

    I know you so much better now. !

    And LOVE your kids’ song! Super lyrics in that craters / alligators. Kids would just love those, yes.

    Would you and Frank please movr to Austin? Thanks, appreciate it. We don’t have any of those Maori Wrasses here but we do have lots and lots of things you both would love here. Trees. Organic stuff to eat and wear. Beer. Donuts. Nice air for breathing.

    Oh, and I can think of wonderful rhymes for wrasses, but maybe not so much for the kids’ songs. 🙂 🙂

    I think you’ll like my post tomorrow – well, actually today… “10 Great Mysteries Of The Universe, 2” If I ever get to bed I’ll be posting it in about 6 hours from now.

    And you’re already at lunch time or so as I post this.

    To bed!
    .-= Fannie Junster´s last blog ..Goin’ For The Page Rank Juice =-.

Comments are closed.