The Truth About Harnessing Creativity

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Image by PureSolution/

Thanks for joining me on the emotional ride we’ve had for the last couple posts. Good times. Who knew paying writers could be so controversial? And if y’all think I have for a moment let this go? *laughs hysterically* Nah, it’s all good. We just probably could all use a drink break.

Blogger and copywriter Alex Limberg assisted me through the holiday season, and now he’s here today while I go get stitches from twelve days of verbal cage fighting. Just so you know? I fight for you guys. I do it for LOVE *sniffs*


Make sure to check out Alex’s free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story; it will help you get the best out of your ideas and create intriguing stories. Today he shares with us a deep truth any creative should be aware of. Ready? 3, 2, 1… Go!


Wherever we turn in our lives, we always see these pairs of two that keep things going:

Men and women. Night and day. Plus and minus. Ebb and flow. Work and leisure. City and countryside. Your left leg and your right leg. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Mickey and Goofy. Calvin and Hobbes.

Wherever you look, the world is held together by two polar opposites that complement and nurture each other, a Yin and a Yang. And in writing, it’s no different.

Whether your writing output will shine or you can throw it in the bin will be determined by the Yin and the Yang of your creative work.

So here it comes, the big truth I promised you in the headline. To me, this is the most important secret about all creative work, and I’m not even going to make you wait until the last paragraph; just take it and run: Your writing needs a creative and a rational side.

Let’s dive in knee-deep and take a look at how you can put each of them before your inner creative horse:

The Creative Side

On one hand, we have creativity.

Creativity is giving birth to something new; it’s risking, not overthinking, it’s the odd straw. A truly creative mindset is a relaxed and very, very playful one – think of a little kid toying around with his toy blocks.

The kid doesn’t sit down to study toyblockology for twelve semesters, he doesn’t calculate an elaborate blueprint for the most correct way to assemble square objects in three dimensional space, and he doesn’t need a teacup full of Valium when his little tower breaks down.

That kid is not analyzing and not second-guessing himself, it just lets his ideas pour out through him. It’s in a complete flow state.

Ideally, you are that kid.

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Image by Sunny studio/

You are sitting down to toy around with your characters, with your ideas and words, self-absorbed, fascinated, totally thrilled by what you are doing, forgetting about the outer world. Ideally, you are experiencing a full-on flow state.

Now this is the important part: In creative mode, you can do whatever you want and your mind is not constricted by any rules whatsoever! No idea is too weird, too bumpy, too far out to be put on paper.

You could write about a cruel, perverted murder, which is something that would repel you in real life; you could write about flying pigs; you could even deconstruct words and sentences and assemble an abstract poem – or an abstract novel (see how I constricted myself here for a moment by assuming that if it was abstract, it had to be a poem?).

You can do anything. You are a big kid!

Creative mode is a state of extreme freedom that most people don’t get to experience very often in their lives – which might be the reason why we like writing in the first place. It’s a free-floating, curious, roaming state of mind. Its freedom sometimes brings out incredible results. No maps, no boundaries. No rights or wrongs. This is creativity.

We are not questioning ourselves in any way in this state, we just follow our gut feelings. No inquiries accepted – in fact, questions seem outright distasteful!

That’s the reason why during brainstorming sessions nobody is allowed to make derogatory comments: You must keep the mood non-judgmental to not choke creative thinking.

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The Rational Side

Then, on the other end of the seesaw, we have the rational mind.

That’s the way of thinking most people use the vast majority of each and every day in their lives, above all in their jobs. They might mercifully allow their creative side to come out a bit after finishing time to have a beer with her, but mostly we are way too occupied. We have to check phone calls off our lists, organize transportation for our kids and file tax returns, and we can’t give our creative side the time of day.

Social pressure keeps our creative side locked up as well: Getting naked in the middle of the street for a round of expressive dance is generally not appreciated within our society. If it was, society would come apart at the seams, so there must be an evolutionary reason why we don’t let that kind of behavior slide.

Rational thinking is very logical and streamlined. Everything has its place and rights and wrongs are clearly defined. If something isn’t right, by default it must be wrong.

There is no room for ouside-the-box; in fact, the box is all that counts. Rational mode is about executing things the right and logical way and in the right and logical order. We have to handle things the way we have learned they work; no experimentation. It’s a problem-solving mindset. As we have many problems (or at least we think we do), we have to employ it very often.

This kind of thinking leads to measurable results. Without it, we would be sitting in wilderness, drooling from the corner of our mouths, using berry juice to paint funny circles on a rock.

Rational thinking sets barriers. It lets us steer towards clearly defined goals and manage our daily duties. It separates the successful from the failed and it lets us question and therefore improve things. It’s judgmental. And in this life, more often than not, we need to judge in order to be able to take well-informed decisions.

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The Balance

Now where does all of this come together for our, the writers’, purposes?

Here is the trick: To bring out your best writing, you have to establish a healthy balance between your creative and your rational side!

You depend on your creative side to make your stories fruitful, imaginative, and mesmerizing. Without creativity, your story might read “technically” correct, but totally bloodless and dull. You might avoid using quotative verbs with adverbs during dialogue exchanges, the rhythm structure of your language might be precisely calculated, your characters’ psychology might be structured logically, so congratulations – but your writing will still put even the most avid reader to sleep!

What are you even writing this for?

Somebody with the mindset of an accountant might have that problem, especially if he has been working as an accountant for three decades and has thus completely trained his mind to rational thinking.

Then again, look at the other extreme: Without any rationality, your writing will be frayed at the edges, shapeless, not compact. It’s like it’s too much, not cut at the borders where needed, no separation between the well-made and the awful parts.

And what happens if you don’t select, if you don’t judge and separate the successful from the failed? It all ends up out of shape and overshooting the mark – in other words, a big mess.

Selectivity gives you a chance to check if the story is following rules that have proven effective. That means cutting a scene if it’s overwhelmingly long and running out of juice, crossing out a metaphor if it has missed the mark, trimming back a character trait if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the character.

It means cutting everything back to levels that make sense, just like you would cut a bonsai into rectangular shape to fit it into a box.

This “trimming” part can be difficult to do, especially for inexperienced writers. They often love to put their stories to paper, their creativity is overflowing, but they haven’t developed a sense for the “complete shape,” for the rules of the trade yet.

It will come with practice. It will come if during editing they will question their writing and think about story elements and whether each one is in the right place or not (check out my free ebook, it’s the ideal tool to help you distinguish).

Don’t question yourself during the original writing process though; while writing the first draft, give yourself permission to do anything – just like that little kid gives himself permission to do anything! During revision, be more present with your logical mind and challenge yourself. Take educated decisions about what can stay and what has to go.

This is exactly what Hemingway would have meant, had he indeed said: Write drunk, edit sober.

Creativity is chaos. Rationality is order. If you find the right balance between the two of them, people will not only be fascinated by your stories, but will also want to read through your entire tale.

And Yin and Yang, which are essentially just two slightly distorted, happy smiley-faces at peace with each other, will shine down on you knowingly.

Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check your creative story output with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

That was some empowering truth about creativity.

And now it’s your turn: What gets your creative juices flowing? Do you find it difficult to cut down your beloved stories? What’s your biggest problem when you try to balance your wild creative side and your inner thinking nerd? Will they ever be friends and go for a coffee together? If they do, will you join them? How does it feel to be schizophrenic? Come on, let us know in the comments already!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  Branding for Authors (NEXT SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans. Also Blogging for Authors THIS SATURDAY.

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  2. As someone who works in data science all day and then has to come home and be creative, I definitely feel the need for a good balance. Sometimes it’s as easy as getting a little creative with work presentations and other times it’s going a little over board with the writing and art after work. The real challenge is balancing order and chaos IN the writing, itself.

    • Vanessa Fowler on January 12, 2016 at 11:10 am
    • Reply

    Thank you for this post. It’s hard to get the balance right!!

  3. I love the creative mind process and the scenes it produces. However, I am heavy on the rational side and can tear my creativity to pieces if I allow it free rein. I think too deeply about the how’s and can ruin a great plot in an instant. Any suggestions on how to tame back that rationality? There really is an art to balancing the two! I just haven’t found it yet. 🙂

    1. Take your time to think of absolutely nothing, shuffle your routines around, connect with creative people, read, play and keep the constant mental garbage of TV and internet (social media) out of your mind. 🙂

  4. Great post, and timely for me because I’m running a series on my blog about creativity and innovation in novels (or lack thereof!). I wish more writers would lean more toward the creative and less toward the rational. Shake things up a bit. ?

    • christinamercerbuzz on January 12, 2016 at 12:40 pm
    • Reply

    Love this! I’m an accountant and an author (and I’m ambidextrous!), so I guess that makes me balanced (or insane, lol!). Always love your posts and share them all around! Such good “stuff” here 🙂

  5. What a perfect post for where I’m at. I’m working hard on editing the first book in a series…then I get deterred by writing a brand new book (that has nothing to do with the series) in the end of December…It was so nice to get those pure creative juices flowing…but now I’m back to editing.

    • DeAnna Browne on January 12, 2016 at 2:49 pm
    • Reply

    Love it. It’s a hard balance to find.

  6. I think of these two sides as the jester and the steward: one is dancing on the tables and hitting people over the head with a pig’s bladder while the other is… managing things. That doesn’t mean I have the balance right, mind you.

    Also, while I hate to sound like a stuck record, I feel I must say that schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder are actually two different things (despite the common usage of the former to refer to the latter).

    1. The jester and the the steward… ha, nice!

      I thought multiple personality disorder was one of many forms of schizophrenia. Will look into it before I mention it again in public in any form.

      1. Just to be extra confusing, the etymology of the word schizophrenia does mean “split mind”…

  7. I like Deboriah Makarios description of the two sides. And she’s right schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders are two different things, not that I hold that against you.

  8. Thank you for sharing your post on creativity, I found it to very insightful

  9. Reblogged this on Mysticalwriter and commented:
    Just read a post from, there is a lot of awesome points made as well as being very insightful. Thought I would share with you all.

  10. Finding a balance is important and while I’m still learning, I think I’m at least headed for the right direction. One great example of creativity taking lead is, at least for me, NaNoWriMo because there’s no time for questions or doubt. Rational side gets to kick in afterwards. I try to keep this mindset during other months too because if I don’t get the whole story down on paper before starting to shred it to pieces, it’ll never get past the first couple of pages.

    1. Good point; time pressure kills all the doubting little voices in your head at once. Simple and very effective recipe.

  11. Well maybe then it means, we should become somehow the pilot of our thinking plane and be able to turn it the way we want. Like a programmer that I want to be, we must first become free and think about something cool that just blows up the mind and then get back to rationale thinking to know how to get the desired software in existence….ummm….cool

  12. We definitely need both creativity and rationality for our writing – both that wild creative flow, and that measured rational editing process. However, I think the struggle for me is when I’m looking at edits and I need to come up with a creative solution. I get bogged down sometimes. It’s hard to keep the two sides of writing working in tandem.

  13. I have enjoyed your posts! I have nominated you for the Liebster Award

  14. You make perfect sense. Now to find the perfect balance of each! Thank you, Alex.

  15. I used to weep like a baby when I killed my darlings (okay, so maybe I didn’t actually weep, but I did walk around all sad and lost and confused when someone offered constructive criticism.) Then I started editing other people’s work. And writing book reviews. Now, when I edit my own stories, I just wince, delete, and move on if something isn’t right. Because I know that while following that story on a gut check allows me to explore spaces I’ve never visited before, when the little alarm in my head goes off to warn me that the story isn’t working I need to listen.

    Editing and reviewing allowed me to hone my objectivity. So I continue to do all three — write, review, and edit — all to become a better writer. Rationally and creatively. When I find that fine balance, it turns into a beautiful thing.

  16. I hope I’m not repeating what someone’s already said, but while working on the first draft of my novels, I just write. My goal: get the story down. I’m not too worried about plausibility or does my description of Dupont Circle (in D.C.) match reality. That’ll come later while revising. I suppose that defines the two sides Alex is referring to.

    1. I think writers should do that more. I find if I slow down and over think I wreck my story.

  17. Ah, yes, balance.

    After nearly 20 years of writing non-fiction and website software, recently I stuck my big toe into the waters of fiction. Writing fiction is freeing, I realized, so I waded in knee deep. I could write anything! Or, so I thought in the beginning.

    Then I find out even fiction needs structure – provided I’m writing for the enjoyment of anyone other than myself.

    So now I’m regrouping.

    This article helped.


    1. Have fun swimming!

  18. Awesome article, Alex! You never fail to deliver. 🙂

    I have been facing this issue with balance.

    When I give my creativity free reign, I tend to get too attached to the ideas (even the horrible ones that lead nowhere), and usually end up with first draft stories that only get shelved. But the other side of the story isn’t that cool either. I just end up analyzing my story to hell and back again, which leaves my creative tank high and dry.

    Thanks for explaining this concept of balance in such an in-depth way. I am taking away a very important message today. And I am going to start using it immediately. 🙂

    1. When you recognize this seesaw for what it is, you already win, Valeria. Happy writing!

  1. […] Source: The Truth About Harnessing Creativity […]

  2. […] The Truth About Harnessing Creativity – Alex Limburg gets about a bit (see link below on body language and dialogue. Here he guests at Kristen Lamb’s blog. […]

  3. […] For more on the balance of rational and creative thoughts, check out this post from Kristen Lamb. […]

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