Ever get stuck in your own brain when you’re trying to be creative? Here are my Top 4 favorite online resources that help me shake things up when I feel like my mind is in a rut.
Oblique Fucking Strategies
Based on a set of ideas by composer Brian Eno (Music for Airports), but with additional profanities, this virtual “deck” of expletive-loaded creative strategies offers advice ranging from “State the problem as clearly as fucking possible” to “Cut a vital fucking connection.” Their purpose is to disorient your thinking if you get jammed, by re-framing your process and your ideas to help you surprise yourself. I keep a small box on my desk. It has a bright orange satin ribbon. Inside the box, dozens of slips of paper with these strategies written on them. No matter what you’re making, if you get stuck, try applying one of these strategies, and look at what it shows you. You might not keep the results, but trying any of these approaches will teach you something about what is (and is not) working about your writing.
Jose Rivera’s 36 Assumptions
This is, without any competition, my single favorite resource to recommend for playwrights. Rivera, one of our greatest living stageplay writers, (and someone who I had the good luck to work as a dramaturg for during my time at American Conservatory Theater), compiled a list of 36 things he assumes about writing. He explains “The following is an unscientific, gut-level survey of the assumptions I have about writing plays, in no particular order of importance.” At their weakest, the results are provocative, and at their best, they are a bright beacon for any scribe to swim towards.
App of 100 “Lenses”
Jesse Schell’s “The Art of Game Design” is one of the most grounded and practical books you’ll encounter about the creative process. In it (among other things) he describes 100 lenses through which you can look through to view a game that you’re making. It’s a kind of cheat sheet of perspectives, to help you get outside your assumptions and into the mindset of someone encountering your work for the first time. I believe these lenses apply not just to games, but to any creative project that involves communicating with an audience. Each “lens” offers a few interrogative questions that help you pinpoint ways to improve your work. You may think you’re seeing your writing from every possible angle, but have you asked questions like “What details in my work stifle imagination?” or “Does this work have flaws that readers like?” There’s a free app for Android with all the lenses… although I think the book is well worth the investment.
The Public Domain Review
Looking for content that hits you from deep in the left field, jarring loose new ideas and unexpected connections? Serving as a sort of intellectual jukebox, the Public Domain Review serves up a wild assortment of cultural artifacts from the past. They vary from oddball 1940s animated shorts to passionate political diatribes from the 1600s. The only common ground? They’re all copyright-free, which makes them fair game for adaptation and remixing. Gorgeous illustrations and surprising persepctives abound; I double-dog-dare you to spend forty minutes on this site without getting inspired.
I am primarily a playwright, but as you can see, only of these resources is specifically built for playwrights. One is made for composers, one is meant for game designers, and another is simply a collection of information for curious people. You’ll have your own favorites, but when I’m stuck, what I want most is a break from my mindset, a breath of fresh air, and these are a few of the places I go to get it. I mean, you know, when I need to reach for something beyond the act of “leaving the house.”