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Stupid Stuff Can Jumpstart Creativity

June 9, 2009

Years ago I had an online friend—one of the ones Andrea referred to as a Beta Reader—and on a creative level we really clicked. She would take the wind out of my sails on the rare occasion when I was a little full of myself—and when the reverse was true she was an excellent motivator.

She liked to funnel her rough drafts through me, because she knew I would neither beat her work down nor put it on a pedestal, but would pepper her with questions to force her to better understand her own story. And then she’d tell me it was my turn to give her a draft. She was ruthless and would accept no excuses for why I didn’t have anything ready.

As with any decent creative team over the years of our collaboration we developed a rash of kooky ways to get the creative energy flowing. One of our favorites was to recast a popular movie or some classic literature with unconventional characters. Muppets were particular favorites of ours. I can recall countless—and completely ridiculous—chat sessions doling out famous roles to increasingly obscure fuzzy thespians. Kermit may have been a natural choice for Hamlet, but Statler and Waldorf as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was fun to consider. The Usual Suspects seemed so much more entertaining with Beaker as the mumbling Fenster, and Scooter in his breakout role as Kaiser Soze. And we didn’t stop at just a simple roll call. We had great fun rewriting Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea with Sam the Eagle in the boat.

My point here is not to advocate a new version of the Muppet Show as a way to get around writer’s block, but instead to acknowledge that writing doesn’t have to be on target to be helpful. If you’re stuck on a story…or if a character is being willful…if a plot won’t cooperate…or if the blank page is hounding your every waking moment, maybe it’s time to do something silly. Something off target. Forget out of the box, write out of the realm of logic.

Writing for writing’s sake, with no specific destination in mind, is a fine goal. Once the pump is primed you never know what can come out of the pipe.

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Dale lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his fiancée and four step-children, and spends a good portion of his time trying to locate an absent muse. You can read about him, his family and his struggles at Rough Draft.
  1. June 9, 2009 2:09 am

    As a child growing up appreciating the muppets.. this idea really appealed to me… perhaps we need a Friday fiction where all the characters are from the muppets?

    A great reframe.. thanks for this Dale.

  2. June 9, 2009 3:55 am

    I am not kidding – as I opened up my computer to read your article we had the Muppet Show playing in the background after a long hiatus from the DVD rotation.

    I love The Muppets and I love the idea of using them to move through creative blocks. The picture you’ve included made me giggle – having seen American Gothic years ago … I could see nerfarious versions of Miss Piggie and Kermit in the lead roles.

    I wish I had more brain space available at the present to whip out some witty suggestions for Muppets but birthday party preparations and a thumping headache are sapping the last of my energy this evening.

    Awesome post!

  3. June 9, 2009 5:02 am

    Ah I love occasionally writing silly stories. I once wrote in English class, about a rat who impregnated a person’s ankle to give birth to weird rat baby things. I was just showing off and the rest of my class in hysterics but it was a lot of fun.

  4. June 9, 2009 8:08 am

    Benjamin – in the movie version of your story, sourcing only the Muppet ensemble – who would play the impregnanting rat, who would play the ankle and who would play the weird rat thing.

    My vote for the weird rat thing would be Gonzo!

  5. June 9, 2009 9:57 am

    “Writing for writing’s sake, with no specific destination in mind, is a fine goal. Once the pump is primed you never know what can come out of the pipe.”
    This is exactly how the novel I’m currently working on got started. I was bored,facing writer’s block and was fed up of writing serious stuff. I never intended it to go anwhere, but I’m now at chapter five.

  6. June 9, 2009 9:18 pm

    I suppose Kermit could but Gonzo would definitely play the weird rat thing 😛

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