Creativity Training Part 3 – Brain Training

Alison Strachan

A guest blog by Alison Strachan

A pursuit in any creative endeavour is incredibly hard. We continue to push ourselves to find time to create and amid the chaos, we challenge ourselves to keep inventing, keep being innovative and keep doing it consistently. If, like me you grab any spare minute you can, how then, do you achieve all that?

We need to work our creative muscle – our brain!

Some of the best ways to do this once we have some story ideas is to brainstorm the themes and elements of your potential story in order to create not just new ideas but different ideas; ideas that speak to you and make you want to write.

In the first Creativity Training Post we explored ways in which we can coax our brains to keep feeding ideas and how to be prepared when you get them.  I used mind mapping software to document these ideas and now have a fairly good idea at where a possible story could go.

Here is an example:blog 3I have collated the main concepts of this mind map into a neat sentence (which can be a brain training exercise on its own) but for today I’m using this as an example so that you get a good picture of what the story could be about.

“A young woman, heartbroken after a shock marriage breakdown, pushes aside her pain by restoring her families’ land and gardens only to find more than she bargained for there.”

When I look at this sentence I think, yeah, I’ve got an idea for a fair story here. There is something I can build on. My Muse on the other hand says, eh. I would rather my Muse be jumping up and down waiting to get started and bursting with enthusiasm for my project.

How do we tackle this problem and find the spark that ignites our Muse?

This exercise is one I’m sure you have heard of – the extended metaphor. It is one of many tools that writers use to add depth to their stories. It involves likening something to another, like a simile, but without using the words ‘as’ or ‘like’.

You could use a number of elements in my story above, to create comparisons and metaphors.

  • The crumbling relationship with the protagonist’s soon-to-be-ex-husband vs the dilapidated land/gardens
  • The healing process she undergoes is just like the healing process she must help her land/garden undergo

These two ideas don’t stretch us very much. They are pretty easy comparisons to make. Let’s try for something less obvious by thinking about the components of the garden and the situation. You can make another mind map here or not – up to you.

  • Rocks, plants, insects, nature, circle of life, flowers, sunshine, rain, pebbles, vegetables, shovel, dig, trowel, leaves, petals, nutrients
  • Walking out, turning back on someone, healing hurt, working through something, letting go, heartbreak, shock, baring souls, losing hope, searching for self, learning to trust

Adding in the people involved, I came up with an extended metaphor using these two things for comparison.

The husband/wife and an insect; a praying mantis to be precise. This is a snippet of what I came up with.


There was a knock at the door and panic coursed through Rickard’s body.

“What time was your plane again?” He asked his wife. It had been delayed.

Her head swivelled, mantid bug-eyes stared back at him for a moment. “It was only delayed an hour,” she said as she studied him. The pincers on each side of her mouth twitched hungrily, but she remained put.

“You’re running out of time.” And so was he. “We should get moving.” He shuffled, trying to break free of their post-coital tangle. Naomi’s stick-legs tightened their hold around him as she sat up. Her arms pursed in praying position in front of her chest.

Ready to strike.

Rickard knew why his wife was waiting as soon as he took his next breath. She’d successfully kept him busy enough that he hadn’t been able to warn Melissa. And he knew she’d let herself in, see him beneath Naomi and everything would be finished for him.

In another surge of panic, he tried to push her away. “I…” He began. What was he supposed to say? I can explain. It isn’t how it looks. Yeah, right. He twisted his body towards Melissa as she appeared in the doorway.

“Ricky,” she said, sounding the least bit surprised to see him in this compromising position. Her antennae flittered. There was a moment of silent acknowledgment between the two women as Mel began to rock from side to side, sizing her prey.

“Mel. Naomi…” He looked between them. “Please.”

In a moment Naomi shot a barbed arm out, holding Rickard down. His skin crawled as the claws at the end of her long leg dug into his flesh. Then Melissa launched forward and pain seared his neck as they bent in to eat him alive.


I’m not sure how well I achieved that, but you get the picture. The point of the exercise is not whether you succeed but to push your brain to try a different approach to things. The more you practice the better.

Try writing an extended metaphor drawing comparisons with these elements:

  • A shovel and heartbreak
  • Building a garden wall and search for self on the other side
  • Arranging stones in the garden and letting go bit by bit
  • Raking leaves and baring souls

I’ve been talking a lot about efficiency in these posts. Using tools to help us keep our work pumping out in the short spaces of time we have available. By far the best advice I’ve ever been told is not to concentrate of fitting everything in, but to simplify things so that it is easier to keep the ideas flowing. Being creative is not necessarily about well worked complex thought processes, it is about giving ourselves the opportunity to lay out our ideas in a way that is easy to understand, easy to build on and easy to share. I guess that is why I love mind mapping so much.

You can virtually do anything with information using mind maps. Challenge yourself to keep adding two (or more) words at a time, which connect with an original concept, without repeating yourself. See how many arms of a mindmap tree you can create before you have to get really creative in order to keep going. Or you can pick random words (or images from your visual mind map) to create your own extended metaphor or story prompt.

I hope these suggestions got your brain ticking away. What other things do you do to keep your ideas fresh?

Alison Strachan has been writing for many years. She considers herself an amateur writer, making progress with honing her craft, learning about the publishing industry and finding her voice. She is passionate about the environment, animal welfare and wants to make a difference with her writing.

She shares tips and excerpts of her fiction at Writing My Truth. You can also stalk her on Facebook, Twitter (@writingmytruth) and Pinterest and read the prequel to her fantasy novel here.

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