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The Creative Compas
The Creative Compass : Creative Compass Q & A with Millman & Prasada

Writing & Creativity

A Talk with Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada, Authors of The Creative Compass

Q: How can The Creative Compass help writers and artists who seek inspiration but struggle with self-doubt and inertia?

The Creative Compass

A: In The Creative Compass, we set out to demystify the process of writing and creativity. That means overturning the expectation that great writers necessarily produce great first drafts. It also means accepting that the surge of inspiration we may feel on finishing a draft won’t last if it’s born up by the illusion that our writing must either be wonderful right now — or it won’t ever be. Instead, we find more fulfillment and success when we become aware of ourselves as passing through a cycle of five universal stages: Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine, and Share. Self-doubt becomes more manageable and inertia less overpowering, when we recognize drafting as an intermediate stage and understand that all writers learn to lower their expectations on the way to achieving greatness.

Q: You write that something mysterious and important happens when we connect with “sticky ideas” – what are sticky ideas and why do they matter?

A: We all know how difficult it can be to come up with a good idea, but we also benefit from acknowledging that we can’t actually use many of our good ideas. What we’re really looking for are “sticky ideas,” notions, visions, or goals with which we deeply connect, ideas that take up residence in our imaginations. Every great story of invention has a sticky idea at its base. And every attic, basement, or computer hard drive holds a graveyard for merely good ideas that didn’t quite mean enough, so they never came to fruition.

Q: As you describe it, after writers dream up an idea and complete a draft, they need to develop and refine — what’s the difference? Isn’t it all just revising?

A: It is all just revising, but the word “revise” tells us nothing specific. That’s probably why writing teachers often become exasperated when students seem attentive to pleas for “revision” — and then consistently fail to produce better work. In editing and screenwriting, however, we discovered a term and a way of working that reveals what many writers aren’t doing: in order to write better, we need to develop our work, the all-important third stage between drafting and refining.

Development often requires new writing as well as editing and cutting. More specifically, it includes replacing weaker ideas with stronger ones; restructuring our latest drafts by shifting paragraphs or entire sections; and/or incorporating flashbacks and combining characters to streamline plot. In contrast, we use the word “refine” to describe those edits we make when it’s finally time to attend to syntax, grammar, and punctuation, to choose the right words in which to convey a story, or ideas, now thoroughly known.

Q: Sierra, your first book profiled creative artists while you worked as a journalist in the Middle East – how did these experiences contribute to this book?

A: I don’t think I could have written the same book had I not spent several years living in Lebanon and talking with artists there. The Middle East and the realm of creativity often strike newcomers as equally nebulous. We talk about both in semi-fantastical ways that promise to make each easier to understand but that are not particularly accurate, truthful, or useful to the first-time traveler or inexperienced practitioner. In order to write about life overseas, I had to abandon myths about Arabs and the Arab world, and in order to write at all, I had to abandon myths about inspiration, talent, and voice. I’m glad that I was able to write about my experiences traveling and living abroad in this book, because they are so relevant to writing and creativity even though they are rarely presented in this light.

Q: Dan, you describe learning to ride a unicycle a few years ago. What does unicycling have to do with writing?

A: To cite a Zen proverb, “How we do anything is how we do everything.” Learning to ride a unicycle at age 60 has everything to do with writing, because it turned out to be what Sierra first named a “master metaphor.” Put simply, certain accomplishments can, somewhat mysteriously, transform our sense of who we are and what’s possible. When we draw upon this master metaphor in the midst of another challenge, we relate two experiences in a way that amplifies the probability that we’ll push through to success in new endeavors. I wasn’t sure why I felt compelled to learn to unicycle, and at first it felt impossible — two key elements of a master metaphor in the making. Sierra recognized her own master metaphor in living in the Middle East and learning to speak Arabic. Though we found these master metaphors at very different points of our lives and careers, they played a similar role: restoring our faith in our own ability to make progress and energizing our daily efforts. •

Next: Allegiance to Story »

Dan Millman and Sierra PrasadaThis article is extracted from The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication copyright ©2013 by Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada Millman. More »

Updated 12/4/13