Sometimes the muse is hanging out on our shoulder, and the words just pour onto the page. And sometimes, the muse has taken a lunch break … or maybe a long vacation. How do you spark creativity in those situations?
First of all, let’s define creativity. Dictionary.com says creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” Creativity is not just limited to the arts. It also has to do with invention and the sciences and the way you live your life every day. Being more creative in your artistic life can help you innovate in other areas of life as well by expanding the way you think. So how can we expand or shift the way we think?
(Disclaimer: try not to use these things to put off actually writing)
- Change your routine. It doesn’t have to be something major; it could be as small as going to a different grocery store, taking a new route to work or school, or making a new recipe for dinner.
- Read. If you’re writing, you probably read more than the average person already, but reading new stories almost always gives you a different perspective, at least briefly. Read in your genre to see what others are writing about. Read outside your comfort zone in genres you’d never write in – they will have a different feel than the genres you’re comfortable with. Read nonfiction; I’ve found some of my best inspiration has come from nonfiction that helps me to look at the world in a different way, especially books about how the world works, like Outliers, Freakonomics, and most recently, The New Geography of Jobs (one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in years). Books on writing are always a great source, too, like Writing Irresistible Kidlit, Save the Cat, and On Writing.
- Do something new. Novelty helps your brain create new neural pathways. Go on a little adventure – take a class, go to a new restaurant, go on a trip, learn something new.
- Journal. Observe what’s going on around you. Observing things in detail and/or organizing them into an order of events makes you look at them more closely than you normally would. Free write in your journal; this is also called stream of consciousness writing. It acts like a warm up for your brain. You can set a timer, maybe 5 minutes, and don’t let your pen off the paper (or your fingers off the keyboard) until the timer goes up. This might result in a little babble, but there may be some gems in there, too.
- Change your associations. Associate with people who have similar goals, who work in the same field; these type of associations foster innovation and creativity (there’s a whole section on this in The New Geography of Jobs that I mentioned above – such a great read!). This might mean joining a writing group, going to book signings and book festivals, and going to literary events and conferences. This might mean blogging and visiting blogs of people with similar interests and goals. You could also read books written by writers, agents, and others in the publishing business (this includes listening to audiobooks in the car – such a great use of traffic time).
How do you spark creativity? What have I left off this list?
#4 is one of my favorites. You’re right: I end up babbling most of the time, and usually about whatever happens to be bothering me at the time, but it helps me clear my head and let the actual writing process take over.
Sometimes the babbling in stream of consciousness writing brings some great ideas to the surface!
One of my critique partners once told me, every day read something “good” (open to interpretation) — then sit down to write. It really does help. Even in the blogging world, reading blogs helps me generate ideas for posts. Great tips!
I sometimes find myself unconsciously imitating the writing style of authors I’ve just read — so it’s important to get some “good” stuff in the mix, like you mentioned.
I agree with all of these! Every morning I read a chapter or section in a writing book (right now I’m reading “Writing in Flow” by Susan Perry) and then I do “morning pages” (Julia Cameron advocates these in “The Artist’s Way”). Sitting down to write in a different chair or place is also good.
I’ve heard so many great recommendations for Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way — I’ll have to check it out!
It’s great…and you can go back to it over and over…:-)
An inspiring list, Christi. A creativity sparker for me is to view some really great works of art in media other that what I practice (photography). My wife, Louisa, and I visited LA last week and spent two wonderful days at the Getty Center, absorbing an almost overwhelming array of really great work.
Another creativity enhancer, I find, is visiting thoughtful blogs…like yours.
The Getty is so gorgeous! I went on the architectural tour some years ago, and it was fascinating. You’re right about different types of media being great creativity sparkers. Thanks for stopping by!
These are great, and I felt the strongest response to suggestion one actually. The rest I already do quite often and I can affirm the joy of reading non fiction! What else? Hanging out with kids, turning off everything electric for a set amount of time, doing something creative that would not be your usual mode of expression (for me that’s drawing, or sewing).
Doing something creative outside of what you usually do is a great way to get yourself thinking a little bit differently — especially things that are non-electric, like you mentioned.
I love your list, Christi, and can’t think of anything you’ve left out. This is so inspiring! I want to try a new way to work – and I definitely want to read The New Geography of Jobs. I saw a comment above about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Your post made me think of that book too, which I read many years ago. The part I remember best from that book is taking yourself on artist’s dates – just going out to do something fun, no purpose, no “to do list,” just to enhance one’s creativity. I think your list is very similar. It reminds us not to “beat ourselves up” as writers by chaining ourselves to our desks all the time. The creative well is replenished by doing all sorts of things – taking a trip, doing “nothing,” reading out of one’s genre, etc. It all counts – something we shouldn’t forget. Thanks for a great post!
Taking yourself on “artist dates” is such a fun idea! It sounds like a great excuse to push yourself outside your comfort zone now and then.
Thx, Christi, for your inspiring insight into how to spark creativity. I never thought that reading non fiction could help, but you are right. On the same notion, I find that peeking into the lives of people very different than my peers or me has a similar effect. Blogs are great for this.
It’s crazy how many different kinds of blogs there are out there; it’s a great reminder of how incredibly different people can be.
Great tips! And I SO LOVED Outliers. I’ve been recommending that book to everyone I know–even to strangers! I find that getting out in nature is a huge boost to my creativity. I love birds (except when they poop on my windshield), so taking a walk and listening to their twittering helps.
I love being out in nature, especially in the mountains whenever I can get to them. Being in nature is so calming; it really helps wash away all the craziness of everyday life.
i love your list Christi 🙂
Thanks for visiting, Vikki! 🙂
Great post. Reading, watching wildlife, listening to music, looking at art–those are the ways that spark creativity in me.
Watching wildlife is something I got to do much more often when I lived in Arizona than living in Southern California. I especially miss the adorable baby quails that were everywhere in the springtime in Tucson, following their mama quails in lines like little bouncing golf balls with bird feet.
I attend Phoenix Comicon every year and sit in on all the writing workshops. Most of these writers are writing sci-fi and fantasy, which I don’t write or normally read. But their insights, writing processes, advice on dialogue, and writing inspirations are all so helpful and spark my creativity. Attend writing conferences if you can, they really get inspiration flowing.