A guest blog post by Mitchan!
Do you have problems beginning that new story percolating in your head? Are you feeling afflicted with writer’s block? Are you stuck on a scene with no idea how to move forward? Do you feel that your current ideas are stale and trite? Perhaps the Disney method can help you!
If you work in business or design, you might have heard of it before. The Walt Disney method is a creative strategy designed to find and develop unconventional ideas. While inspired by the way Walt Disney worked, the method itself was proposed by Robert Dilts in 1994.
In the Walt Disney method, the creator divides thmself into three separate roles: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic. These three roles must work separately in three stages:
First, the Dreamer brainstorms ideas in a focused way. The more the better. No limits or restraint. There are no “bad”, “stupid”, or “impossible” ideas; you can embrace the crazy and the stupid as much as you want. It’s still a focused brainstorm: you’re dreaming for an objective, say, a new amusement park attraction, ways to get your characters out of a pinch, the funniest and/or most character-focused problems you can add to your story… anything you need ideas for.
- Instead of sitting down and writing or typing your ideas, walk around and record yourself saying your ideas out loud. Speak without pause for 5 or 10 minutes. Look above the horizon to stimulate your creative brain. Some business websites recommend setting up different rooms for each stage of the process, so why not try a change of space? Go outside or to a room different from the one you usually work in.
Once you’ve got loads of ideas, it’s the Realist’s turn. The job of the Realist is to look at the Dreamer’s ideas and think: How do we make them possible? The Realist doesn’t say “No”. It’s not the Realist’s job to say whether an idea is bad or won’t work. In this role, you must assume anything is possible and limit yourself to asking: How can I execute this? For our amusement park example, the Realist would select and bring in specialists who could make plans to turn a crazy idea into a real ride.
- Listen to the recording you made in the previous step. Without discarding any ideas, start with the most interesting or promising ones, and develop them. Write a rough draft or the details of what would happen in a scene. Do the necessary research. Reorganize scenes as needed. Try working on a whiteboard with markers and post-its: a place where you can stand up and look at your ideas in front of you.
Once you have a solid proposal, or in a writer’s case, a complete first draft, the Critic comes in. The Critic’s job is to detect and correct flaws, mistakes, and risks (something crucial if you’re making an amusement park ride!). This is the moment to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work, what stays and what goes.
- Sit down with the printed-out draft on the desk, where you can look down at it, and use a red pen to mark places that need re-working or any contradictions in the narrative. Tighten the phrasing and clear up confusing details. Clean up the draft.
The stages then repeat as needed: for more ideas, go back to the Dreamer, then develop them, then edit again.
The changes in position help to change your own perspective on the work, to dream or execute or evaluate more objectively.
You probably already do something similar in your writing process: you have an idea, make an outline, write a first draft, then a second, a third and fourth and so on. You have alpha and beta readers who help brainstorm ideas, develop them, and correct the draft.
Personally, the most helpful takeaway of this model is the neat separation of the roles. The Dreamer and the Critic cannot work in the same stage: criticism stifles creativity. When I’m outlining, brainstorming, or writing a rough draft, it helps me to keep this in mind. If I find myself getting judgmental about my story, I take a deep breath and tell the Critic to shut the fuck up. Whenever I’m blocked, I’ve found it often comes from me being too critical in a stage of the process when I need to be dreaming or just executing.
Of course, the three roles are equally important in the creative process. Without the Dreamer we wouldn’t have new ideas; without the realist we would never do anything with them; without the Critic the work wouldn’t be as clean and clear as it can be.
I have used this method before to write a stand-up comedy routine, which requires a lot of crazy ideas and well-developed set-ups and punchlines, but it can work for any creative needs. I have also applied the brainstorming method to develop the heist in my upcoming story in She Wears the Midnight Crown, as well as to think up character-based conflicts for previous fanfiction and original stories.
As with any other strategy or method, it’s up to you to try it, use what works for you and discard what doesn’t. I hope this can help you if you’re stuck, or at least inspires you to try something different!
Have you ever used the Walt Disney method? How was your experience? Would you do anything differently? Are there any other methods that work better for you that you’d like to recommend? Let us know!