5 Ways to Jumpstart Creative Thinking

I’m in the midst of final tweaks on a book; the tweaks are based on beta read feedback and my wife’s; which is, of course, always right.

For the past couple of days I’ve been struggling to resolve some plot issues that were raised, but really, this isn’t any different from any job where a person has to resolve problems creatively. I remember that some operations orders for various missions required innovative thinking. One direct action target my A-Team was assigned required a lot of “thinking outside the box” a term I don’t like, because THERE IS NO BOX. So that’s the first of the 5 ways:

  1. There is no box. If you think you are constrained by rules, by precedent, by your capabilities, you’ve already failed. You can aim high and miss, or you can shoot low and hit, but the high miss is better than the low hit.
  2. Don’t ignore the obvious. Sometimes I get too smart for my own good. I was just struggling with a plot problem, trying to figure out how to get two characters to meet and exchange information. And in that sentence was my flaw. The key was they had to exchange information; they didn’t have to actually meet. But I was so caught up on them meeting, I was twisting the scene into a knot, when the solution was easy: just call.
  3. Trust your subconscious. As a writer of over 60 books, I trust my subconscious more and more. There is something to be said for gut instinct. Does it feel right? Does it feel wrong? My theory on this, which might be called sixth sense, is that your brain actually is processing the problem, you’re just not aware of all the processing. And you often don’t get the message right away in words or a vision; it comes in the form of emotion. Grab onto the emotion and follow it to the words or the vision.
  4. WDW_B&N copyAsk for help. Even if it’s from someone who isn’t in your creative field. In fact, because they don’t know all your “boxes” they often can give advice you wouldn’t even consider. I call this HALO; jumping in from a high altitude where a person can see the entire picture on the ground, but not be on the ground mired in the problem. They have a different perspective. It’s how I’ve taken my Who Dares Wins program into diverse organizations ranging from an IT start-up in Silicon Valley, to a Fortune 100 company in Mexico City, to a Nursing program at a major university, and so on. The details are often different, but they all have many things in common; primarily people.
  5. Listen to advice. This is a hard one; creative people tend to be rather proprietary. And part of this is being open to advice from places you might not expect it. Everyone has something valuable to share. I often find that some advice I get doesn’t seem to apply at all; until I process it and drop my prejudices against it. Then, it’s often right on target.

BURNERS(Bob_Deb_TN)Those are just ways I function creatively. What about you? What do you do? One that just occurs to me now, as I sit in my hotel room cooling down from my trip to the fitness center, is that I am a big believer in physical activity to stimulate the brain. I figured out the “call don’t meet” while running.

And coming very soon (6 October): burners.






Whenever I took over a new unit in the Army, I would tell the soldiers that they automatically had my respect. And that I would have to earn their respect. They did have to acknowledge the rank, but respect is a different thing.

There are other leadership philosophies. I remember reading Rogue Warrior by the founder of what would become Seal Team 6 and being very turned off by his leadership philosophy: Do it my way!  Of course, I got to the end of the book and realized he was in prison. Years later I did a booksigning with him– both of us sharing a table and we said not a word to each other. Some of it was the Alpha Wolf thing, where we didn’t want to piss in the same yard. I’ve run into that often, although as I’ve gotten older I’ve mellowed a lot.  But also, I just didn’t respect his leadership approach because ‘my way’ is capricious.

I still believe as a leader, giving respects earns huge dividends over going in and demanding respect. It also works in every interaction we have day to day.

I truly believe most people are good and most people really want to do a good job. And feel good about it.

I took over a Battalion Scout Platoon in the 1st Cav Division and was told they were losers and had just failed their last ARTEP (I assume the Army still does those or a version thereof). I watched the denigrating way the outgoing platoon leader treated everyone as we did the inventory for millions of dollars worth of equipment. And I could read their faces in response.

Sure, they had some problems, but they were great soldiers. They simply hadn’t been treated as great soldiers.

Most people rise to expectations or collapse to denigration.

Respect goes a long way toward making our relationships with other people become so much better.

So as Aretha Franklin sings:

11 Bestselling authors in one bundle– pay what you want

There are only 2 days left to get in this really good deal.  Books from the likes of Alan Rodgers, Brian Herbert, Bruce Taylor, David Sakmyster, Bill Ransom, Laura Anne Gilman, Jan Herbert, Kevin Anderson, Doug Beason, Dean Wesley Smith, Chris Mandeville and an anthology edited by Hugh Howey. It also includes the first book in my Atlantis series which is now linked not only to the five Atlantis books that follow, but also to the Nightstalkers and Time Patrol books.  I’m bringing my universes together!

Here is the link and the covers are just below.

The motif is disasters, but the bundle covers a wide range of fascinating topics.  Stop by and take a look. A deal like this doesn’t happen often.

All Covers Large

Just finished another Write on the River Workshop and it was wonderful.  Lots of great ideas and input from the four participants. I’m in the process of revamping the Workshop and we’re seriously considering adding a Retreat to those who’ve already been through the workshop, where people come and just write all day with breakfast and lunch laid and then we have a group dinner.  More to come!

And don’t forget:  6 October is Burners. It is available for pre-order at Amazon and iBooks. And after Burners I’ve already got the schedule for next three books in the series:  Prime, Centre and Chaos. Each will follow less then three months after the previous book!

Very, very excited about this series.

Nothing but good times ahead!


A writer’s reflection Saturday morning at Write on the River

IMG_2414Another beautiful day and my iPhone awaits me– not for a phone call, as I talk on the phone only when absolutely necessary, like calling 911, or something on that level; perhaps an alien landing. But because there are probably 30-40 voice recordings on it from the wee hours of the morning, when I wake up, my mind full of thoughts about my Work In Progress (if I don’t record them at that moment they are lost to the sandman, my brain is a sieve, as my wife constantly reminds; seriously I can head up the stairs to get something and forget what it was by the time I get to the top of the stairs), and I need to go through them one by one, organize them, and then get back to editing. There’s also interesting tidbits like: Call garage door guy and replace the opener that caught on fire from the bird nest built on top of the halogen light in it.

But I’m taking a break for a moment and reflecting. Some people live in the past (often regretting), some in the future (often worrying) and the fortunate ones live in the now. Since I’ve written books about time travel and my current WIP is set in a dystopian future (as if that isn’t a trend!), and I’ve written historical fiction in mid-19th century, it seems I’m all over the place.

indexI often joke when I present at conferences that writers are not in the bell curve and we’re usually not on the good side of it. My mind is a dark and dangerous place. Some writers are fascinated by character and often stick with either a main one or a cast that they carry through multiple books– such as Sue Grafton. Others by place– you can link most of Dennis Lehane’s fine novels to Boston. Michael Connelly to LA and sometimes Vegas. Susan Mallery to Fool’s Gold, a place she invented. Others to theme.

imagesIf I had to pick one thing that fascinates me, it’s the mind. I’m on line with the concept in Albert Brooks’ brilliant Defending Your Life in that we consciously use very little of our brain’s capacity. It’s that other chunk that fascinates me.

I have to admit in most of my books my protagonist has been either Special Ops or ex-Special Ops (aka Dave Riley, Horace Chase, Mike Turcotte, Eric Dane, etc.) But I’m evolving (or it could be my wife co-wrote this with me). This current book, burners, is actually the first where the protagonist has no military connection at all: a burner, a young woman who cleans ‘tein vats 12 hours a day, every day, until her approaching Deathday: which is 31 days away at the start of the novel, at the age of 25, the median on which Dealer has predicted she and all other burners will die. There is some variance (I hated statistics in school), but not much.

It is as it is.

Theme is also important. It took me a long time to understand that– 20 or so books– I’m a little slow. Last night I was editing burners (technically the title isn’t capitalized) and I saw the theme I had when I started the book really reverberate. In this country the gap between the top 1% (actually, the top .1%) and everyone else is growing larger and larger. Is anyone really that important? Is one life so much more valuable than others? I believe it’s unsustainable, so I’m trying to write about a society that is unraveling because almost everyone is supporting that top .1%. Except it isn’t about money in burners; as you can tell, it’s about life expectancy.

So I’m taking a little time this morning to go out and sit on the deck and enjoy river as the bass boats go roaring by, the hawks fly overhead,  and, right now, the crewing team from the University of Tennessee goes rowing by with some yahoo coach in a power boat on a bullhorn yelling at them to go faster.

It is at it is.


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