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The Joys of Mental Sex: Lesson III

November 25, 2009

I.                   Generative Model of Creative Flow Basics

The Generative Model came out of the category “theory” and was renamed “model” in 2003 when continuous studies over two decades consistently produced the same results. The origins of the model are not new. In fact, prelims to the theory date back to ancient Greece and Aristotle’s commentaries on cause and effect that were later picked up by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century with the birth of Scholastic Philosophy.

 The first time I saw the Generative Model, it was 1982 and written in theory form, which consisted of a sixteen page mathematically equation that was Greek to me. Thankfully, the articles and studies it sparked poured out within a few months of the original publication and translated numeric formulas into words. I’m going to break down the final model into basic English form addressing the pertinent points relevant to us as writers.

 Feel free to ask questions about any of this if you need to.

 Competing behaviors produce new ones

            Thoughts, ideas, and actions are all behaviors. Anything that incites use of one of the five (for some people six) senses, incites behavior.

  • The combinatorial process is orderly and predictable

             For every cause there is an effect/action. By learning to control stimuli and causes, we can control effects/actions.

  • By influencing the type and number of competing behaviors, we can accelerate the creative process and direct it toward useful ends


That’s the theory in a nutshell. Sounds easy enough, and truthfully as you gain understanding of the process, it makes perfect sense and becomes easy to apply.


Implications of Generativity
  • Everyone is creative. Everyone is capable of influencing behaviors to generate creative control.
  • “Creative” people have special skills. Every creative person employs stimuli that produce creative flow whether they can identify how they do it or not.
  • Anyone can learn these skills. Eureka! The reason for this class. We’re going to take a look at these skills and help you find the ones that work for you. We’ll also take a look at the barriers that block the generation of creative flow so we can discover how to bash them into oblivion and recharge you productivity as a writer.


II.                Strategies for Enhancing Creativity

  • Capturing – These are skills that allow us to attend to and preserve new ideas. Sometimes a thought is with us but a moment before another overrides and buries it. Try as we might, we have difficulty recapturing that idea. The trick here is capturing the idea for future use. In the end, we all have different methods we are more comfortable with.


I’m a pen and paper gal. I carry index cards and a pencil wherever I go. I like the index card for several reasons. For capturing purposes, it makes the ideas easy to organize and file. Some people carry notebooks.

 During my unfortunate post-wreck, nonfunctional fingers periods, I used a mini tape recorder.  I discovered an easy to use tape recorder built into my new ntc PRO2 phone. If I want to dictate an idea while I’m driving, it’s possible with a one punch smartlink. Of course, I try to get these onto index cards as soon as possible, so I can keep them organized and not record over them. After a visit to Faulkner’s home (a trip any writer would enjoy), I got into the habit of writing notes on my walls. Every time I finished a book, I had to repaint the walls. I don’t recommend this to everyone. I’d be in a fix if the house burned down.

 For everyone there is a different capturing method that works best for them. I do my entire first draft of my manuscripts longhand. For me, it’s the fastest way to write the story. Also, I tend to correct typos as I go along, even if I don’t catch them all. It made using an AlphaSmart a real pia for me and also slowed me down when creating the first draft. Now when I finally get around to typing it, I’m doing first draft revisions as I go along.

The method works for me. It may not work for you. The trick to capturing is to do so within your comfort zone. You must become so comfortable and familiar with whatever method you use that capturing becomes habit or second nature to you so that you never again lose the random thought or idea that may boost you story.

 Assignment: Identify your primary capturing technique for random ideas. Use it at least three times over a 24 hour period. Then identify two additional capturing methods you can use as fail-safes is case your primary option fails or is not available.


  • Challenging – New ideas come when old ones compete. The more competition present, the more possibility for new ideas. One of the greatest challenging mechanisms is failure. Why? Failure makes us upset. Failure makes us seek options/push harder/try just about everything to succeed. If we can remind ourselves that failure is a stepping stone to success, we come to celebrate failure as much as success for both the lessons it teaches us and the drive it forces on our spirit to succeed. Goals and objectives (a whole course in themselves) are another method of challenging, as are paradoxical problems and riddles. We’ll address these and other methods of challenging later when we discuss barriers to creativity.


  • Broadening – Competing ideas have to come from somewhere. The right education leads to new ideas – allows us to direct and focus our creativity. Never think you’ve learned enough about your time period, character professions, craft, etc. that you can’t learn more.

 One of the definitive Theological works on the mysteries of God and Creation ever written is the Summa Theologica by “The Dumb Ox” (aka: Saint Thomas Aquinas). Roughly translated, the last line of the multivolume work reads, “And all this is straw.” What the angelic doctor was telling us is no matter how much we know, we can never know all. 

 Never stop learning. The quest for the unknown is the greatest treat you can feed your muse.


  • Surrounding – We respond to the environment and everything in our surroundings. Here again, different things for different people. Bright colors for sticky notes make me feel good. Blue and purple ink when writing longhand makes me write stories faster. Black ink slows me down. Background music can be a positive or a negative. I write my best love scenes with ALW’s Phantom of the Opera in the background. The rhythm and underlying beat, the flowing and passionate segments, the lyrics, everything about it screams sensuality.

 When I get around to typing a second draft, I always use one specific laptop that has no connection to the internet. Why? Anchoring. Anchoring is a strong association between a person, place, or things and certain behaviors. I have one computer I use for the internet and another laptop for forensic work. These activities are anchored to these computers and my office. My writing is anchored to a laptop I can use anywhere and I never access the internet with my writing laptop.

 Assignment: Identify one thing you can do enhance your surroundings to increase your writing productivity. Identify three things in any part of your life that are anchors and the activities they are anchored to.


  • Catharsis – Sometimes we have too many ideas catapulting around our brains. These ideas are competing with our productivity and need to be cleared from our minds. However, we don’t want to lose the ideas we’re generating.

 There are several methods for addressing this. Some people use free-writing. They start with a blank page and just start writing whatever comes into their mind whether it makes sense or not. This method clears the clutter and they can come back to their writing with a fresh perspective and less bombarding thoughts. While an excellent and proven method, I prefer another.

 I do a form of free-writing with my good old buddies – that’s right: index cards. When I do this, I set aside two hours for two to three evening and start off with about 500 to 1000 blank cards for each session. The trick is to put no more than one idea/thought or whatever on each card. On the fourth evening, I go through all 2500 to 3000 cards, separating and categorizing them. I rarely throw any cards out during this process. Once done, I shuffle the cards and do the same thing again for a total of three evenings. I’ve had entire story plots, character sketches, dialogue, etc. fall out this way. When you get down to it, this is matter of individual brainstorming. I must point out this is a learned skill. The first time I tried it, I did well to fill out 200 cards in two hours. As I’ve gotten used to it, I’ve become more productive with the method. The advantage with this over simple free-writing is the ability to categorize and rearrange the thoughts.


These are the five basic skills for enhancing creativity. We will discuss their applications and uses more as we go along. On Friday I’ll post the phases of the creative process and how they apply to writing.


Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and Happy Writing!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2009 8:53 am

    Fascinating, Mary!!! I’ll be back later to read more when I have time to absorb it all. Beautiful blog, by the way!

  2. November 28, 2009 10:08 am

    Can you elaborate on this a bit? Do you have something specific in mind when you do this? Just curious about what sort of things you put on the cards. Re: the separating/categorizing, does this mean you sort them by characters or plot? Not sure I understand what happens after you shuffle the cards. Are you using the shuffled cards for additional brainstorming?

  3. November 28, 2009 6:29 pm

    Hi Penny:
    Excellent questions. This is something I started doing as a result of free-writing experiences that left me frustrated. I got rid of the clutter in my mind but knew some of that clutter contained ideas that could be applied to character development, my current wip or future stories. The idea of sitting down and pulling out the thoughts I wanted to save and then organize them seemed like an unnecessary step that could have been prevented if the thoughts were separated from the beginning. I’m a big proponent of The One Minute Manager. I’ve had an affinity to index cards since my first science fair project in the fifth grade (well before the age of computers, but I doubt this would work with one notes).

    It’s important to keep in mind that this is an exercise that potentially encompasses all the methods mentioned for enhancing creativity.

    Each idea is captured on its own card.

    You need to be alone, comfortable and as relaxed as possible. If you feel comfortable outside and enjoy the song of babbling brooks, birds and crickets, surround yourself with nature. If you enjoy yoga, stretching, or dancing and it helps you relax, do that first. If you find certain music conducive to relaxed mental acuity, play it in the background. (In 1997 Don Campbell’s book The Mozart Effect was released and has probably had as much effect on the education of children as on creativity. I highly recommend it, and I may add a lesson on some of the key elements of various types of music and their effects on creativity and inner harmony. If silence works better for you, use it. Find a favorite chair. The main thing you need to do is to surround yourself in what makes you comfortable… without putting you to sleep. I also have a tendency to use multicolor cards. I like colors – both for cards and ink. They mellow my mood and help my acuity and productivity.

    This is also an exercise in broadening and challenging. There is a learning curve involved in making it work for you. Writing 250 – 500 thoughts on index cards isn’t easy the first several times you do it. I still remember some of the “dumb” things I wrote the first time. “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” “Where’s the beef.” (Am I telling my age?) Well, guess what? I still have cards that have things like that come out. We live in an information-overloaded world. Sometimes we have to get rid of the clutter, while realizing clutter has its own place in creativity. During my first foray, I also had cards that said “Roman ruins with maze unearthed beneath 12th century castle.” “Neapolitan Mastiff in house of Cicero.” “Now I have written so much for Christ, give me a beer.”(This is what monks used to write on manuscripts at the end of the day in the middle ages and it was apparently stuck in my brain).

    Remember that as you release ideas, they become stepping stones to new thoughts. When more than one thought is competing, you generate creative flow. The thoughts that I eventually began jotting down were unexpected. “Selling baby body parts.” “Internet sales.” “Infant found in garbage by housekeeper.” “Oncology nurse disturbed by Labor and Delivery M&M Report” (Morbidity & Mortality). “Cop on case has adopted black FBI brother.” “Baptized in Blood.” “Traditional Catholic heroine.” “Agnostic hero.” “Mary fills a monastery.” (The story of my dating life). “Christmas with family and six dogs.” “Angelic priest.” “Stigmata.” “ScrewtapeLetters.” “Swineherd.” “Hell Central.” “Evil = Live backwards.” This went on.

    On some cards, I might have one word, others a phrase, and others a sentence. It’s very important not to put more than one thought on a card. You can put them together in any order you like later if one thought flows from another. But sometimes, you’ll find these ideas come in random order. Some thoughts repeat – write them a second time, so they don’t pop up continuously

    When I do this, I set a time limit and a card limit and I stop at whichever comes first. My goal may be 500 cards in 3 hours. When one of the limits is reached I stop, put the cards away, and do something else. The next day, I repeat the process without looking at the completed cards. I generally do this for three or four nights in succession. Then I skip a day.

    Now I’ve got 1500 -2000 cards filled with ideas. It’s time to organize the cards and make sense of all these thoughts. Soon we’ll talk about patterns, paradoxes and other things that play into this. But I start sorting the cards in ways that seem to make sense at the moment. I’m looking for patterns, character traits, clues – anything that might be useful for any book I want to write now or in the future. I do have one extraneous pile – repeat cards. These do not go back into the stack. A card like “where’s the beef” may seem nonsensical, but don’t discard it yet. It may end up being the commercial on the TV when one character calls another and may provide an analogy to something within your book.

    After shuffling them and reorganizing them for three nights, you’ll be surprised at how productive this can be for a writer. Two books fell out of the above mentioned cards. One was about the REAPERS, an internet ring selling fetal organs and tissues over the internet to the highest bidder. Another was about a demon-obsessed (not possessed – the difference is free will) serial killer whose guardian demon was failing, so Satan stepped in and took over the case. When books based on those premises turned out to be romances, I figured I wasn’t cut out to be the next nurse to write Cherry Ames-type mysteries.

    When I do seminars for corporations, we actually do this as an exercise. I give them 100 cards and send them off for an hour. When they come back they are excited, because in their competitive world, it gives them a brainstorming method that doesn’t risk someone else stealing whatever innovation they’re working on at the time. Writers without critique partners/groups or brainstorming buddies like it because they can often see plots taking shape. Pantzers seem to love this method.

    But for anyone, if it does nothing else, it clears the clutter so writing and other tasks can be approached without mental distractions. (Sometimes I even remember where I put important things that I put where I wouldn’t forget them, but then did).

    We all have fragmented ideas floating around or lost in our brain. This is one method for finding them and capturing them in a usable manner. It does take some discipline. Make an appointment with yourself to do it and keep it. (Of course, I never make an appointment opposite NCIS. I’m a Gibbs fan). Most people find it worthwhile to give the method a chance. Some people won’t like and it may not be for them. We’re all individuals and different things work for different people. The important thing is to be willing to give alternative methods an honest try. If something doesn’t work, move on to what does.

  4. November 28, 2009 7:44 pm

    Thanks for the explanation, Mary! I do appreciate it. Sounds like a great method for de-cluttering the mind. I totally agree–my brain is crammed with info overload, so much so that at times it all seems sort of melted together. Hopefully your index card method will help me sort stuff out.

    And I’m definitely old enough to remember “plop, plop” and “where’s the beef.” 😀 The other day I was thinking about a commercial jingle that I hadn’t heard in a while, but I can’t remember which one. Should’ve written it down. 😀

    Thanks for posting your workshop! I’m looking forward to learning more. Thanks again!

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