“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experiential skill….To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advances.” Albert Einstein
Our friend Einstein knew a thing or two about solving problems, so it may be wise on our part to ponder—and apply!—his take on problem solving. I know, I know! We’re not exactly solving mind-boggling math equations or mastering physics, but we writers all have our share of dilemmas that need decoding.
You may be struggling with an opening to a story or novel that just doesn’t sing and dance. It seems flat, even stale—not a promising scenario. Like me, you may be a pantser not a plotter, and written your way into a story that meanders. Your plot is jerry-rigged and creaky. Or you may have conjured up a set of characters who seem two-dimensional instead of full-souled and lively.
Don’t despair or tear out your hair! Just remember this simple little equation: Problems=Possibilities!
Let’s unpack Albert’s advice to see how this transformation from problems into possibilities can work for us:
Forget solutions: Instead of focusing on how to solve the problem—on the outcome you want, get creative about the problem you’re facing. When you concentrate on the problem rather than the solution, you free yourself to re-envision your story in exciting new ways.
Raise new questions: Be bold! Be fearless! Be confident enough about your work to ask yourself new questions about a thorny problem it’s presented you with. Could you put the end at the beginning? Could you turn give a character a hidden agenda and turn him or her into a false enemy—or a false friend? Could you reorder your chapters so the story flowed more smoothly and propelled itself forward?
Welcome new possibilities: As soon as you ask new questions, you start shaking things up and open the door to new possibilities—fresh ways to energize your story and characters. The possibilities are endless, aren’t they? Sometimes we’re so invested in what we’ve written we’re wary of changing things up. But sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. When we ask ourselves the simple question: What other possibilities are there here? things open up. Then we’re free to explore. How can I make this character more vibrant or this plot point sharper and more propulsive?
See with new eyes: Seeing “old problems from a new angle” takes ingenuity and a willingness to experiment. Often we write a story or novel from beginning to end, but find that an “old problem” keeps cropping up. Something’s just not working well. Instead of just ignoring it, or working around it, the best approach may be to tackle it head on.
Ignite your imagination! Play around. Have serious fun! Let yourself explore and innovate. Turn problems into possibilities and write on!
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