This article, written by Denise Agnew is from the February 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.
Writers who are blocked creatively look for tools to restart their flow. Even if you aren’t blocked, your writing might feel stale and uninspired. Here are some tools you might not have considered that can give you a boost.
Timed mind dump
Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way philosophy is to dedicate several minutes each morning to writing down everything in your thoughts, which can include good or bad things. The idea is to dump all of that on the page before you attempt to create. This process can be healthy not only for general life stress, but also for feeling fresh and inspired. Writing in a paper journal uses a different way of expressing yourself than an electronic one, so if you usually create on computer, give that a break and use paper. You may find it helpful to give yourself a specific amount of time to write these morning pages. If you’re feeling extremely blocked, try for just 10 minutes. Put a timer on and stick to it. Build that up and see if you can stretch it to 20 minutes and write away! Even if you are not experiencing writer’s block, you may find a 10-minute journaling session is helpful before starting your real writing work.
There is a difference between oracle cards and tarot cards, which you can read about here. Whether or not you believe that oracle cards can enlighten you about everyday personal matters, the cards can help you tap into intuition and your right brain.
I own three oracle decks. If a project is giving me fits, my process is this:
- I gather all three and write down whatever questions or concerns I’m wrestling with.
- After closing my eyes, I consider which deck calls to me, open my eyes, and select the deck with my questions in mind.
- I shuffle the cards and select three cards from various spots.
- I turn over each card and note the symbolism. Does anything jump out to me? If it does, I write it down. I do this with each card.
- Afterward, I consult the book that comes with the deck and look up the listed meaning for each card. If there is other wisdom contained within the book for the meaning behind each card, I also write this down.
Often I find a new kernel of inspiration each time I use the cards. There’s no requirement that you have more than one deck. Although you could use tarot cards in a similar way, I find oracle cards better for this experience because of the flexible meaning of each card.
How do you choose an oracle deck right for you? It can be a little confusing, because there are so many oracle decks available. Select a deck that appeals to you visually. Explore photos of decks on Amazon and Pinterest. New Age stores almost always have some.
Writing prompt books
Maybe you don’t have a single idea for a novel, short story or screenplay. You’re completely stumped. You may need a writing idea prompt book. There are dozens out there, including ones geared for certain genres.
As an example, I took a horror writing prompt book and went through the entire book, writing down each prompt that sounded fun. Then I selected the one that called to me to try first.
Silence or noise?
Many people write in silence, afraid music will disturb their flow. Try making a special soundtrack of music for a book. Songs with lyrics might be distracting, but often writing with soothing classical or “themed” music can inspire a writer.
Or if you’ve always had music or a noisy coffee shop in the background while you work, try using silence. That could mean noise-cancelling headphones or closing the door to the room. Change things up and disrupt the status quo so your creativity has a chance to come through.
In the category of “not music but a little noise” is something I discovered on YouTube called ASMR. These videos are visual but also include sound. I discovered these clever things watching a favorite YouTuber who likes to read with ASMR on their television. I tried one called Leaky Cauldron, a Harry Potter Ambience. Another great one is Ancient Library Room with relaxing thunder and rain sounds along with a crackling fireplace.
Read or watch a favorite
Writers are often told, especially at the beginning of their writing journey, to read in the genre they want to write. That alone might not stimulate you to pick up a pen or grab your laptop.
You could find it more creatively stimulating to reread a favorite novel or short story whenever you’re hitting a rough patch and regardless of the genre you’re currently writing. Or watching a favorite movie could do the same thing. You don’t have to experience full blown writer’s block to need that zing of inspiration. My personal favorite to boost my creativity is to read The Taking by Dean Koontz. I read the first chapter and I’m often inspired to write immediately.
Play like a child
Many writers want to create the perfect story the first time out. That means they might outline like crazy and pick away at it. The problem isn’t whether you are an outliner or a by-the-seat-of-the-pants creator. It’s the idea that your story isn’t perfect that terrifies you into fiddling with the story right out of the gate and sucking the excitement out of creation.
Give yourself permission to play like a child on the first draft and write with freedom and the singular idea it is all for you. Forget about typos, grammar, spaces … all of that. If the idea of writing that way throughout the whole story is too terrifying, set a timer. Tell yourself that the first hour is for pure play. Let it rip. Chances are you might enjoy it so much you’ll continue playing past that first hour.
When you reach the end of your manuscript, you’ll have the satisfaction of completion. If this is something you’ve never done before and it terrifies you, try it on a short story project and see if it doesn’t provide you with a jolt of creativity.
Be open minded
Creative people are often considered open minded, but sometimes they aren’t when it comes to stepping outside of the box to bolster their own chances of creating. Consider the methods above, even the ones that don’t immediately appeal to you.