“Creativity takes planning in multiple iterations.” —Beth Comstock
We have an idea for an activity or a writing project. We capture the idea and move to the next idea in our project. Then we wonder why the audience didn’t engage during our presentation. Why editors rejected our article or manuscript. Why children yawned during the learning activity.
We can significantly improve each idea if we follow the Blah to Shine method:
Step 1: Blah – idea is lousy to good.
Step 2: Warm – idea is getting warmer.
Step 3: Shine – idea requires sunglasses.
When we paint a room, we make a mess first. We move furniture, and bring in paint, drop cloths, and ladders. Although remodelers expect it in the beginning of a project, few of our visitors enjoy our room. Next, we cover the walls in paint. Then we put away the paint, vacuum the carpet, replace the furniture, and put a vase of flowers on the table. Our room is fresh and inviting. This is the essence of the Blah to Shine method.
Step 1. Expect blah. Even if your first pass idea turns out to be stellar, expect it to rank good at best. That way you aren’t tempted to accept ideas on autopilot.
Step 2. Ask yourself these questions:
- What would make my idea better?
- Is my idea appropriate for my audience?
- Is my idea vague? What would sharpen it?
- Does my idea fit with the rest of my project?
Now replace the blah idea with the getting-warmer idea your answers generated. Expect this idea to be better but not the best (even if it is). Make a habit of moving to Step 3.
Step 3. Use easily available resources to spawn a better idea. We have scads of resources we can access in seconds.
- For a better word: thesaurus and dictionary on the toolbar.
- For information on almost everything: Google Search.
- For specifics: the how-to book gathering dust on the home office shelf.
- For activity ideas: Sunday school teacher’s aid, Bible Study Fellowship’s children’s manual, or other helps issued to leaders or volunteers.
- For sounding boards: critique partner, co-leader, or Yahoo interest group.
- For guinea pigs: spouse, 4-year-old, know-it-all teen, or neighbor.
- For inspiration: prayer.
All these resources can spark the improvement that moves your warm idea to one that shines.
Example: Let’s suppose a writer in 1900 uses the Blah to Shine method.
In Step 1 he writes: The bully shook his fist. “I’m going to beat you up.”
The writer has a workable line. How could he make it better? Is “up” vague? What would better show his audience what the bully plans to do?
This threat is more specific. But in 1900 it may have already been a cliché. Readers want something fresh. How could he make it snappier?
In Step 3 he writes: The bully shook his fist. “You’re dead meat.”
The phrase “dead meat” goes back to 1849 in Emerson Bennett’s Leni-Leoti. However, our 1900 writer remembers a H. L. Williams book he read in 1865 about a man facing such a threat. He blows dust off Joaquin, the Claude Duval of California and finds, “Drop your belts on the ground, or you’re dead meat!” As Williams did, he borrows the phrase, and it works!
I didn’t find “dead meat” on the cliché lists I googled, but today its overuse may throw it into Step 2, a warm idea.
What methods do you use to make your ideas shine?