How to Maximise Your Creativity | Step 2: Creative Thinking

Nurturing your creativity and motivation to write is an important part of being a writer. How can you do that? Using the Componential Theory of Creativity. Time to explore the second component.

Inspiration is a fickle friend. If you don’t treat it firmly, it can feel like it’s there one minute, gone the next.

Is there a way to make yourself more receptive to inspiration and more creative in your thought patterns? There may just. That’s where the Componential Theory of Creativity comes in.

Um, recap please? Since you asked so nicely.

According to the Componential Theory of Creativity, everyone with normal abilities can produce creative works, and that our social environment, such as where we live and work, can influence just how creative we are and how often we channel that imagination.

The theory itself is made up of three parts, all necessary for creativity:


So now that you’ve refreshed your memory as to what the Componential Theory is, time to put it into practice.

Creative thinking being part of a theory of creativity is no real surprise. To be imaginative, you need a way of thinking—a cognitive style—that allows you to be flexible and inventive.

Cast your mind back to Step 1: Expertise. Though expertise in an area contributes towards creativity, it isn’t enough alone. You can be “technically good,” even exceptionally so, but if you don’t have creative thinking skills, you won’t produce creative work.

So what is creative thinking? Essentially, these skills include:

A way of thinking that’s open to taking new perspectives on problems

This could involve being able to break away from preconceived thoughts or expectations about a problem—in other words, being able to put aside your initial assumptions or beliefs and come up with a new approach to a problem.

Applying “heuristics” to try out new ways of thinking

Heuristics are quick ways to make decisions, like mental shortcuts. Creative heuristics are particularly good at getting you to think in new ways, ones you might not have considered before.

Teresa Amabile gives the examples of, “when all else fails, try something counterintuitive,” and, “make the familiar strange,” as creative heuristics. These techniques can lead to some pretty creative solutions, and I think they produce interesting results when applied to writing. Just think of what using these two heuristics as prompts can do for your story.

Heuristic: A problem-solving technique that allows you to make quick and efficient decisions, though it doesn’t always produce the best—or correct—results.
A style of working that lets you be persistent and energetic in carrying out your work

Being determined and enthusiastic about your writing is another feature of a creative thinker. It could be marked by the ability to concentrate during your writing sessions (not always easy) and returning to your stories time and time again.

Cautionary note: there’s a difference between being persistent and being stubborn. If a strategy isn’t working, creative thinkers will abandon it and adopt a more productive one, or put the problem aside for a bit before returning to it with fresh eyes.

Where Do Creative Thinking Skills Come From?

To some extent, the skills listed above are a result of personality characteristics, such as self-discipline, independence, perseverance, willingness to take risks, acceptance of uncertainty, and not really caring about others’ approval.

You can, however, increase your creativity skills through different techniques that develop cognitive flexibility and intellectual independence. Here’s an example of one method: Cognitive Flexibility and Mindful Movement Patterns.

Over to You

Think about any problems you currently have or recently had in your story. They could be plot problems, uncooperative characters, world-building roadblocks—anything that’s stumping you.

To overcome these problems, maximise your creative thinking skills and, from there, your general creativity levels, try applying these challenges to your story problems over the next week:

Check your assumptions

Take a moment to write down your assumptions or expectations about the problem. Once you’ve done that, think about what you could do to break away from those assumptions. Could you do the opposite? Something else entirely?

For example, if you’re trying to unpick a muddled timeline in your story, you might write down the assumption that the timeline must be told in chronological order and that it must make sense to the reader from the start. One solution to your timeline problem may be to tell the story in a non-chronological order, gradually revealing details to the reader like pieces of a puzzle.

Use two creative heuristics as writing prompts for your next scene
Example 1: “When all else fails, try something counterintuitive.”
Example 2: “Make the familiar strange.”

In the first example, you may scupper your character’s efforts to solve a problem and, in frustration, they try something that seems the opposite to what they should do—and it works!

Using the second heuristic as a prompt, you could write a scene in which you describe a very familiar object, maybe something as mundane as your socks, in a way that makes it strange and different.

How would you use the creative heuristics in your writing? Any sudden insights because of them or other heuristics? Let me know in the comments below.

Just keep going

When you’re trying new approaches to your story’s problems, don’t give up if the first few new or counterintuitive solutions you come up with don’t seem to work. Go at them with a different strategy.

For instance, instead of pondering each possible solution for a long time, you could try to write as many down as quickly as possible, without censoring yourself. Often the best, most creative ideas come when you’re writing quickly.