The Spark File: a writer’s tool that worked

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The most interesting part of the experience is the feeling of reading through your own words describing new ideas as they are occurring to you for the first time. In a funny way, it feels like you are brainstorming with past versions of yourself

Stephen Johnson

Have you ever read about a technique that you believe may help you with your creative process or strengthen your understanding of your craft? Many of us do this to further our development in whatever artistic endeavour we are passionate about. If your experience is similar to mine, you may find that you become momentarily excited about an idea but never actually follow through with the practical application of these strategies.

At times, I have wondered if this may be just a sophisticated form of procrastination.

But what happens when you do follow through and commit to trying an idea for a period of time. And then discover that it makes the mark and has real impact.

As a writer, I had been jotting down ideas in random notebooks, my daily journal and sometimes in a notes file on my phone. This has always seemed disjointed and I rarely, if ever have taken much time to review those ideas with more than passing interest. Recently, I came across an article about something called a Spark file. More than casually curious, I then took the time to view a Ted talk by Stephen Johnson, creator of this strategy that he calls the Spark File.

Simplistic in nature, a spark file is simply a chronological record of ideas, thoughts, or creative hunches which excite in some way. Intended for those times when it occurs to you that maybe you should write this down, or research to learn more, or…but never do and those marvellous ideas just float away into some place that must be creative purgatory.

There are likely numerous tools one could use to collect the ideas that in the moment feel important and meaningful but you may not have to time to really sit down and develop them. I chose to use a Google doc because it is easy to use on all of my devices. Working in this way has produced a lengthy document that is really a series of snippets of writing that may be “hunches” or ideas not fully formed but otherwise would be easily forgotten about.

This document contains possible titles for stories I have written, ideas about things to research, edits to consider for pieces already in progress, character sketches, plot devices, questions about point of view, etc. Realistically it serves as a quick snapshot inside my head that tells me a little bit about my writing process, the pieces that I am working on or the dreams I have that I visualize writing about in the future.

The key to making this work is to periodically take the time to review all of what has been entered in your Spark file, take a step back and then begin the search to make associations, find patterns and relationships between the random pieces of writing you have collected over time. I was surprised by the way this actually worked for me. I gleaned enough about my writing process to finish edits on pieces that had stalled and were suspended in limbo.

I suppose the thing I was most surprised by was the manner in which this simplistic tool provided some insight into some aspects of my work as well as the fluid and organic nature of creativity. It seems like more than happenstance that using a loosely structured way to capture some of my thoughts and ideas actually paid off with some results that I am pleased with.

Our creative brains are always available to us and if we can structure a way to capture those ideas that captivate us and contribute in a meaningful way to our creativity, it serves as a roadmap to help prevent getting lost along this journey. And it is always nice when something we read about, and then invest time and effort in, has a real world practical application.

Stay healthy and safe!

“Creating” room in our lives for play

Photo L Meyer

Openness and the ability to access exploratory play are big parts of creativity, but as we get older we become alienated from these abilities. We were all born with this built in imagination. For creativity to work we need to embrace unpredictability. We need to step outside the rules.

David Usher

In this past year our neighbourhood playground has been closed off with yellow warning tape, reopened fully, and now has a barrage of signs with Covid warnings and public health guidelines. Watching small children play with abandon is a fascinating albeit rare event these days. But the manner in which a child creates something, engages in play of any kind is a glimpse into a process that we could all stand to incorporate more often into our own lives.

Spending time observing children in a nearby playground made me keenly aware of how little time adults spend in play. I watched tiny hands piling a mound of sand switching to suddenly run off to gather mounds of sticks then darting back to position them in just a certain way and finally finished with a smooth stone placed on top. To my adult eye this appeared to be a haphazard way of “playing” in the sandbox with the result seeming to be just a pile of messy debris. As quickly as that thought occurred to me, the child decides it is finished and runs off to find her mother to show off her creation. Her exuberance over her creation and excitement to share it with her mother was compelling.

When did we lose our ability to find joy in the most obscure of our creative ventures? If we are makers or creators, we may impose a set of expectations upon ourselves that are not only unrealistic but self-defeating. Do we need to expect that everything we set out to do will find its way into the public domain? Of course not, yet that is precisely what happens for many artists. Our bursts of creative passion are often tempered by rumination, negative self talk that remind us that we are not good enough, creative enough, etc.

The pressure we place upon ourselves before we even sit down to write, or to paint often leaves us in a state of inertia where we erroneously believe it is safer to do nothing than to resist all of this self imposed negativity and persevere. Imagine for a moment if children approached their daily play activities with inappropriate expectations and terror that their sand creation would never be published or purchased. Sounds inane, right? Because it is. And that goes for adults as well.

Instead of defining what we will do with our art before we even create it, what if we just make space in our lives for play, to just create, and become just okay with that. If something emerges that we could send into the world, then perhaps we will do that. But otherwise, it is the process of creativity in and of itself that should be what is of importance. As humans we can be creative in every aspect of our lives. So if we can’t write, or shoot a photograph, or collage or paint a masterpiece, perhaps we are cooking or gardening or bringing pieces of creativity to our work lives.

Relearning to create like a child is a gift that we all deserve to give to ourselves. Although it may seem that taking precious time for exploratory play is frivolous given our daily responsibilities and obligations, we will lose out on those creative leaps that occur when we give ourselves permission to let our imaginative powers loose. Finding those sparks that light us up can be possible when we relax our perfectionistic expectations and learn to lean into the moment. Letting your play flags fly may take us further than we think. And no matter the result, it can’t hurt us to play a bit more often.

Stay healthy and safe!

Be bold…do everything you can to support others right now

Photo by Samson Katt on

I believe we begin every day anew with an empty cup. It’s up to us to fill it with beliefs, thoughts and action that inspire and honour the journey we all share.

Polly Simpkins, The Cup of Karma Project

Countries in various parts of the globe made hard choices a number of months ago to do everything in their power to stop the coronavirus in its tracks and for the most part they have been successful. These choices helped them achieve better outcomes from both a health and an economic perspective. Recently, several countries have done a remarkable job with vaccines leading the way for a path forward for all of us to emulate.

Some countries though are in a constant struggle with how to implement public health measures that will not be met with resistance, protest and outright animosity. The majority of people, albeit, tired of restrictions and isolation follow the rules in order to protect themselves, those they care about and others in their communities. But it has become an uphill battle with people becoming more entrenched in their positions on whether or not they believe vaccines are safe, whether or not masks save lives, and those who claim that Covid 19 is not real continuing to spin their fantastical tales.

Imagine a world where we all agree we are in the same boat together, pulling on oars together in synchronous fashion. Our ship would glide through these turbulent waters as we worked hard not only for ourselves but for one another. Instead at times, we seem to be spinning in opposite directions with some of us pushing, others pulling, with the result being that we are going around and around.

This is a global problem and we need to do more of the good and decent things that we do best and less and less of those that are harmful to ourselves and those around us. Until we decide to put all of our best efforts into ending this pandemic, it won’t end. It will retreat briefly, only to flare up again and again. It is up to each and everyone of us to lead by example and encourage and support others if they are struggling.

Letting go of misdirected anger, animosity, and harmful rhetoric would be a wonderful place to start. Putting faith in our collective efforts, respectfully agreeing to disagree, and thinking about what we could each do that would make an indelible impact upon our future. Working together to resolve the pandemic would give us the encouragement needed to take on the world’s climate crisis and the myriad of other critical issues that require our urgent attention.

Every individual can make a difference. Collectively, we just need to believe that we really want to.

Stay healthy and safe!

Learning to accept the roller coaster of emotions

Photo by L Meyer

Emotions are celebrated and repressed, analyzed and medicated, adored and ignored – but rarely, if ever, are they honoured

Karla McLaren

Being successful in the management of one’s feelings is an ongoing process. Few of us ever reach that vaulted and imaginary finish line, where we have mastered times of inner emotional turbulence. Most of us endure times where we might struggle in managing some of the more difficult emotions that humans experience. It is challenging during these ongoing stressful times to not periodically fall into a dark, dangerous pit of negativity or a false, shrill sense of pseudo optimism often referred to as “toxic positivity”.

Having become more isolated from face to face interpersonal interactions during the “third” wave, it can seem overwhelming to sort out the day to day emotional roller coaster ride that at times seems as if we are hanging on by the tips of our fingers. When we do see people important in our lives, it is all too easy to gloss over or avoid expressing our authentic but unpleasant emotions.

For a period of time, many people were describing the “silver linings” that they were finding during the pandemic. Some of these were profound but many so called silver linings could only be described as inane. But the reality for most of us seems to have become a suspension in time. Where we might be simply languishing. Waiting without an understanding of what might happen next. Finding the future path forward muddied and unclear, along with a plethora of feelings – both negative and positive ones. Some okay and some not so okay.

But they are just feelings. Fleeting moments of emotion that we can learn to manage. The urge we might have when confronted by negative feelings is to outrun them, subdue them, numb them, and this is something that many of us experience but struggle to acknowledge. Fear of pushing others away when we need them the most leads us at times, to downplay those moments when we are experiencing negative feelings.

Humans struggle to listen to one another at the best of times. During the worst of times, this becomes a critical skill to support those we love and care about. Creating opportunities for the expression of emotions regardless of what they are, is a kindness that we could all use more of. Easing the hardship of times where emotional expression is a struggle for someone may be an unexpected gift.

Finding our way forward to accept that emotions are fluid, both positive and negative, and that we all share them as a part of our human experience can only be a good thing. Having a world full of people who will listen to what you need too share, is an even better thing.

Stay healthy and safe!