According to David Eagleman, every single creative act can be reduced to 1, or a combination of, the following kinds of action:
Blending is one of my favourite techniques for coming up with new ideas, stories and poems. Today I will unpack my creative process for the short story Sisyphus Moon (the entire ebook of short stories can be downloaded as a FREE pdf here).
The story is a short suspense tale where the reader is never quite sure what is going on until the very end, and even then, there are a few possible explanations. Essentially, a mysterious character is busy with a repetitive task, falls asleep and find that he has to start all over again at the beginning.
The blend here is my ideas about the boring, soul-eating nature of many modern office jobs with the Greek myth of Sisyphus. But the origins of the idea were nowhere near as intellectual as this.
How I got the idea for the story: Sisyphus Moon
When I was still living in Cape Town, South Africa, somewhere around 2000/2001, I climbed the Lion’s Head peak to watch the sunset one afternoon. That day was also to be the rising of the full moon.
Once the sun had dipped below the horizon (amazing, but a story for another day) everyone turned 180 degrees to look at the mountain range on the horizon behind us. And there, the full moon slowly emerged in a sort of U-bend between two peaks.
As the moon slowly rose, it looked like a giant marble, gently rolling between the peaks. I saw it and I immediately thought of the myth of Sisyphus. The moon looked exactly like the kind of rock that poor Greek was supposed to roll to the top of a hill.
Once the moon had cleared the mountains and the city bowl was spotlight with its glare, we all ambled back into town. It wasn’t until a few days later, during a conversation about work and drudgery and meaninglessness, that the image of that moon once again popped into my consciousness… A Sisyphus Moon, I thought, is a metaphor for meaninglessness. It waxes and wanes, waxes and wanes and there is no special reason for it, It just is what it is… Ahh, but WHAT IF it was someone’s job to remove the moon, piece by piece?
And that was it, the idea for the story was born.
It’s a classic blend: simple, striking and familiar. While not everyone knows the name of Sisyphus, many are familiar with the core of his tale. In other areas it can look like this: Adding elements of a business model from one industry to meet the needs of another, fusing separate technologies to create new devices, software or appliances. In problem-solving what it often means is bringing more process or issues together to solve the broader problem, and thereby solve your specific problem.
In short, the Blend is a powerful and far-reaching creative process. My short story example is all well and good, but it goes so much further. Next time you are stuck as yourself: what elements do I have in-house, right now, that I could combine in order to solve this current problem? What can I bring together and repurpose? I think you’ll be surprised by the effectiveness of this line of thought.