Chess, my Grandpa, and Creative Thinking

“Do you want to play white, or do you want to be black?” My grandfather worked as a draftsman designing submarines. He has a keen understanding of math and strategy. When I was growing up he used to play chess with me all the time… and he would win usually within five moves.

chess article

One night (I think it was after one of our small family birthday parties) my grandfather had beat me best out of three games again. He has this great laugh that just made me smile when I lost and left me confounded as to how he always beat me. Being the reader I was I had started reading a biography on a famous chess master. It was a long time ago but I think the chess master was Bobby Fischer, and he had drawn a chess board on his ceiling. He would lie awake at night, strategizing how to improve his game.

That night as I lay awake in bed I could not get out of my mind how easily my grandfather had won those chess games, so I visualized a chess board on my ceiling. The mind is a powerful thing. If creatively utilized in quiet moments it can generate solutions to problems standard problem solving might miss. By visualizing the potential chess strategies and guessing at my grandfather’s counter moves I was able to figure out how he repeatedly won against me.

The next time I played chess… I won! We ended up having so many fun, competitive matches. Some of my best memories. My grandfather picked up a used trophy of a golden horse. Each time we played a chess game the trophy was at stake. We jotted down our matches in a little notebook, each time letting the winner take the trophy home.

Chess, my Grandpa, and creative thinking are all linked in my mind. Chess forced me to be creative. Chess forced me to contemplate the potential outcomes of each move before I made it.

Today I approach writing in much the same way. I sit back and contemplate scenarios, character development, and moral implications. It is important to think strategically. Often we desire to rush a creation when, instead, all that is needed is thoughtful strategy. Maybe instead of immediately attacking with the queen, we move out our knight and bishop to set up the field.

Question: How does strategy play into your creative thinking?


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Most obvious thing about me is how much I love reading and writing. This is truly my passion and has been for almost as long as I can remember. I know that sounds cliche, but it is true. Growing up in a conservative Christian home I learned to value God, intelligence, and life. I am always learning. I am a husband and a father of three young children. I love my family and my life. God is good and I attribute my success to His provision.

Great fantasy stories are a lot of fun. I write the stories that I want to read and am fortunate enough to have several published novels under my belt as well as more in the pipeline.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “Chess, my Grandpa, and Creative Thinking

  1. Hey, Mr. Appleton!
    I was just wondering if you “write on a whim / by the seat of your pants” or do you outline your entire story. I was curious because in my novel I’m working on I already have the direction I want my story to go and the choices I want my characters to make, instead of creating the story as I go.

    • Hi Alexis,
      I would identify more as a “seat of your pants” writer, although I will usually plot out the major ideas of the story. On occasion I’ve used an outline yet the characters and the plot usually change out my ideas and improve upon them.

      Some of the best stories grow like a plant that the writer is tending. You can nourish it, encourage it in a certain direction, but the imagination will ultimately create something better than you envisioned. All that is required is time. I try not to rush the process.