I originally posted on Twitter on January 18, 2016, but in an effort to consolidate all the ideas I have that I think are good into one place, I'm posting it here too.
My creativity flows best when it goes from unstructured to structured. My stories start as a fascination with a subject. Then, I start to research. The research leads to the world gaining a reality as the facts in the research form a cohesive whole. That leads to realistic stories. What's more, I've found that the realism revealed in research is often more fascinating than something I would have come up with on my own.
There's still a lot of room for creativity. I'm not making documentaries, but reality-based fiction stories designed to elicit questions. The research defines the world, but the story, plot, and structure are all determined by me.
Sometimes those stories lead to a dead-end. When they do, I slowly remove structure, starting with the stuff I added, until the solution presents itself.
The primary strength learned through the craft of writing is know what works, what doesn't, and why. It's about learning taste.