This article, written by Denise Agnew is from the March 2020 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
Anyone who has tried and succeeded in writing a book knows that sometimes tried and true methods for keeping creativity flowing don’t always work forever. Circumstances such as illness, divorce, births, deaths, and other stressful situations can temporarily upend the ability to get words on paper. A writer doesn’t even have to experience a life-changing event for creativity to dry up. To jump start it, use new hacks.
If for some reason you don’t have a deadline, create one. If you find the book isn’t getting done, don’t let lack of a deadline give you an excuse to not finish. Pick a time frame you think is reasonable to finish and stick to it.
Grab a battle buddy. Make a pact with another writer that you’ll email or text them every day and tell them how much you’ve written. Accountability boosts your creativity. If you want to put a page count on the commitment, that’s even better. Start slow and commit to three pages per day for a week, then consider four pages a day the next week and so on. Ease into the page count so there isn’t too much pressure but you’re still getting something accomplished.
Read! The number of writers who decide not to read anything while working on their own project is astounding. Consider reading outside your genre. Focusing on something that isn’t in the same genre you’re writing can open you to fresh ideas and inspiration.
Sensory deprivation: silence and closing the curtains
Many writers listen to soundtrack music. This is excellent, but silence can prove equally golden. Experiment with noise-canceling headphones for a writing session. Extreme quiet can force your brain to concentrate on the task in front of you.
If you have a writing area with a window view, what do you see? Is it a beautiful vista? A metropolitan sprawl with tons of traffic? Beautiful scenery can help with inspiration, but it can be as distracting and counterproductive as an ugly view. Try closing the curtains. You might have to turn on the light, but the view won’t keep snagging your attention. Like the noise-canceling headphones, lack of a view can force your imagination back to work.
Contrary to popular belief, many writers don’t like to look at people, places or things when they venture out. The real world can sometimes be a bit too much.
If you’re one of these writers, try giving your observation mode a chance. If something catches your attention, pause and write it down. Take note of the weird, funny, or even distressing things you find—they could produce inspiration for projects. You don’t have to tote an eight-by-ten spiral notebook. Consider a petite notebook that fits in a handbag or use the notes application on your phone. Or, you can use a reminder application on your phone set to ring later in the day that reminds you of that detail you noted while out and about. Give it a try.
Change what you say to yourself before you sit down to write. Replace any “I should write” statements with “I choose to write” or “I want to write.” If the nasty voice in your head tells you your writing sucks, or you are not as good as ABC writer, replace that lie with “I am a great writer” or “I’ve got this.” Design a desktop wallpaper for your computer with “I choose to write” and/or “I want to write” and display it when you’re feeling blasé. Switch it out with another wallpaper declaring you are a great writer and you’ve got this. What you say to yourself can make a difference.
Examine your writing space
Are you happy with your writing space? Many of us would love a large, glamourous area to dream up stories. Jot down ideas on what your dream space would look like. Go wild and don’t hold back. Make it as elaborate and as long as you wish.
This is where many writers throw up their hands and say, “This is ridiculous. I’m never going to get an office like that.” Just hang in there a moment. When you’re done with your fantasy writing space, see if there is any part of that dream office you can incorporate now. Each month see if there is something else that can be incorporated. Any step you can take toward making your office more of what you want increases your ability to create and believe in yourself.
Buy a new chair
Speaking of offices, is your chair lumpy from age and falling apart? You might need to treat yourself to a design that supports you in a more comfortable fashion. If the chair you have now isn’t cutting it, and you can afford it, make this investment. If you’re not currently working in a place where you’re using a real office chair, consider the dining chair/recliner/couch you’re using. Is it really supportive and comfortable? If not, try moving to a different spot in your house.
Take those breaks. Really.
Have you been denying yourself breaks because you think you can push through another hour? Every hour, take at least five minutes to leave your chair. Walk around, grab a drink or a snack. Do a couple of stretching exercises. Chances are if you move a bit and switch your mind to something else, you will feel refreshed and ready to work again within no time.
Be creative in another way
Is there another creative endeavor you long to try? Do it. Consider it play time. Want to color? Do it. Drawing or painting? Try it. Whatever it is you want to do, indulge yourself. If you’re concerned, you might do this other project rather than complete your writing, use it as a prize for accomplishing your daily writing goal.
If you are a by-the-seat-of-the-pants writer, you might have tried mind mapping and believed it was too left-brained. A program like Scapple might be what you need. Scapple is designed to work more for the writer. It’s created by Literature and Latte, the same company that designed Scrivener writing software. You can even use it for brainstorming not related to your writing. Scapple allows you to map out ideas you have without forcing you into specific patterns or shapes to represent ideas, character names, or other story-related associations. To see if you like it, download the software and use it for a short trial.
Hang out with supportive and positive writers
Spend less time listening to naysayers and Negative Nelly people. If you feel bad about your writing or the writing profession after hanging out with another writer, consider spending less time with them. A constant or daily bombardment of negativity about the industry isn’t going to boost creativity. Try turning lists you are on to digests if they aren’t positive. This way you can scan the digest titles and scroll by if it isn’t something you are interested in.
Been hearing a lot of “musts” and “shoulds" from other writers or gurus proclaiming to be experts? They might be right; but they could also be wrong. There are a ton of “how to” opinions in the writing world. Let it rip and do it your way. Forget the “should” and “musts” and discover the methods that free you to write what you want and how you want.
Accomplish a small chore
Been putting off unloading the dishwasher? Do it and then get back to writing. Be sure to do the writing first if all possible, then do the small chore.