This article, written by Denise Agnew is from the June 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.
In April and May, I detailed how authors found a way to push through hard times and continue to work. This month focuses on ways you can discover inspiration, even during a pandemic.
Let’s get personal
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, my generally calm interior started to wobble. I felt a little like the heroine of a disaster movie, preparing to jump over an enormous crack in a glacier shelf as it hangs by one inch of ice. I was startled and disappointed that my steel backbone wasn’t holding me up the way I wanted. After all, I’m in an advantageous position in comparison to many. I can work from home and my husband has a secure job where he can also work from home. However, I didn’t factor in that extra stressors might toss me off balance.
Even before COVID-19, my stress level started to rise in December when we discovered my dog had a mass cell tumor in one of his legs and would require surgery, chemo and radiation. Taking my dog for radiation in Tucson, which is 175 miles round trip, exacerbated my stress. For three weeks, I dropped my pup off at the vet on a Monday and he’d board there all week because he was receiving treatments every day. Friday I’d return to pick him up. (The good news is the treatments worked well and my dog is now healthy.)
The stress took its toll, and I started meds in February, after being diagnosed as having a mild case of hypothyroidism. Between the stress and starting meds, I lost more weight than I intended.
What’s the point of me revealing this about myself? I expected the stress to block my creativity. It did, but not as much as expected. I’ve worked on a screenplay, and I’ve even started a new novel.
Here’s what I did to keep the creativity flowing—I focused on intuition.
I spent many years denying my intuition always works far better than if I try to “logic” myself into a decision, even though evidence repeatedly showed I made my best decisions by following my gut. Now I’ve become far better at allowing my intuition to guide me in everyday life, including how I approach my muse.
I’ve discovered many writers struggling with creativity have abandoned their intuition, or perhaps they have never used it.
This means when my intuition told me to write a “pandemic time period” romance, I went with it. If instead I’d told myself no one will want to read that story in the coming months or years, I wouldn’t have started it. My guess is there are dozens of writers out their struggling to create even though they’ve got an idea calling. Take advantage of this inspiration. Don’t allow yourself to allow “logic” to stifle creativity by telling yourself the idea isn’t worthy.
Why do we deny intuition has value? Answer—it’s too uncertain and scary. In the Western world, we are geared toward an “outline until your eyes bleed” work process. Even when people tap into their intuition, they don’t always know that’s what they are doing. Maybe now is a good time to experiment with an outside-of-the-box approach.
How can you experiment with letting your intuition lead your creativity? Here are a few tips:
- Experiment with writing by the seat of your pants. If your writing is feeling clogged up during the pandemic, consider trying to write a story without an outline. It can be a story just for you. Let it rip and allow yourself to play. You never know where that story could evolve, and that’s a good thing. Go with inspiration and not logic to free up space for new ideas.
- Grab some paper and solitude. Take a favorite pen, paper, and schedule time when you won’t be disturbed. If you are locked in your house with other people this might prove a challenge. Schedule it anyway and don’t allow others to derail you. If the weather allows, you might go outside. Put on favorite soothing music, or “theme” music that goes with a story idea you already have. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and let images roll around in your mind’s eye. Don’t try to make those ideas conform to a story. When the timer goes off, immediately write down the images, thoughts, and feelings that came to you. Don’t be concerned if the things you wrote do not seem to embrace a coherent story idea and sound like gibberish. Don’t trash it even if the ideas seem mean-spirited or contrary to the way you’d like to think of yourself. Most of us try to be good people, and therefore we repress recognizing that we don’t always have charitable thoughts. Write it down anyway. You might find a story idea or tidbit immediately. If you don’t, that’s okay, too. Save what you wrote. These ideas and images might be useful for a project down the line.
- Do more reading, not less. If there is an old favorite you haven’t read in ages, why not read it now? Oftentimes, reading something you loved (yes, even a children’s book) can rev up your creativity. Don’t overthink. Just enjoy. If an idea comes for a new story, or if it inspires your current project, it is all good. Write down the idea, no matter what, even if it sounds wild or is out of your typical genre.
- Look to your dreams. If you remember your dreams, immediately write down what you recall as soon as you awaken. Not every dream may evolve into a story down the pike, but you never know.
- Reconnect with nature. Depending on your current weather, can you sit outside for a few minutes or take a walk? Even a gentle stroll could refresh you physically and get your creative blood flowing. If your weather isn’t cooperating, what can you write down about that weather that could shape or change a current project or inspire a new project?
- Watch some television. In our productivity-oriented world, people sometimes say watching television is a waste of time. Can it be overdone? Of course. Moderation is key. When I mentioned reading more and not less, I think that also goes for television. If there’s a beloved movie or series that always makes you feel good or gives you creative ideas, why not find some time to watch it? Binge on whatever provides comfort and satisfaction.
- Write down what makes you feel good. Simply acknowledging what lifts you up can refresh your memory of it and could generate creativity and a sense of profound well-being. Many times people use journals to express their unhappiness. See if you’re spending equal time to remind yourself of what is working right in your world and how grateful you are.
- Acknowledge possibilities. Write down every idea you’ve had about something you want to create in your writing world, even if it seems impractical. In our society, we often downplay loving to do something and devalue that experience. It goes straight back to the idea that if you enjoy doing it, it must somehow be unproductive or not worthy. I’ve coached a number of writers who’ve discovered that they want to write about XYZ and haven’t because of outside influences and fears about what other people will think.
I hope these ideas give you some inspiration. Now is the time to discover new facets of your creativity you’ve always wanted to explore.
Denise A. Agnew is the award-winning author of over 69 novels and screenplays. Denise’s novels Love from The Ashes and Blackout were optioned for film/TV by Where’s Lucy? Productions, Bright Frontier Films and MDR Entertainment. Denise is a Writer/Producer (Where’s Lucy? Productions, Happy Catastrophe Productions, Bright Frontier Films), a paranormal investigator, Reiki Master, and Certified Creativity Coach. As a creativity coach, Denise assists anyone in the creative arts to maintain lifelong creativity. You can find her at www.deniseagnew.com and www.creativepencoaching.com.