Ever find yourself comparing your work to other authors?
You might as well admit it; everyone does it.
And to make matters worse, you don’t merely compare yourself to some vague standard of style or quality; some twisted part of you likes to ponder quantity as well. You can’t help torturing yourself with the realization that your favorite authors have their own shelf at the bookstore.
It’s debilitating, but you can’t seem to help yourself.
After all, here you sit, trying to find an hour to write something decent without your boss, your spouse, or one of your kids tugging at your sleeve. And after typing and backspacing for the better part of that single hour, you can’t stop thinking about what’s coming next:
You have to make dinner, fold the clothes in the dryer, pack lunches, take the dog out, pick up the dry cleaning, and buy toothpaste: the sensitive teeth formula without fluoride, SLS, or some other toxic element bent on killing you in your sleep.
And after you get going about it, thinking about all the ways your life conspires to keep you stuck, miserable, and unrealized, the twenty-thousand-dollar question emerges:
Where the f#@& is your muse? Why does she always leave you high and dry at the page?
Who gave her the day off, again?
And worse, how do you coax her back to your tiny, noisy home, long enough to help you scratch out your daily word count?
You know you need a reliable plan. But first, you need to understand how this creative muse business really works.
You Need Down Time
Ever notice how your best ideas happen in the shower (or while hiking the trails at the state park)?
When you’re not thinking, the subconscious wakes up, offering a clear channel for inspiration. When you’re tired, obsessed, or hyper-focused, you end up squeezing the channel, constricting the flow of inspiration.When you’re not thinking, the subconscious wakes up, offering a clear channel for inspiration. When you’re tired, obsessed, or hyper-focused, you end up squeezing the channel, constricting the flow of inspiration. Click To Tweet
Along with your daily writing time, you need to schedule down time. This doesn’t mean multitasking down time like grocery shopping or shuttling the kids to soccer.
It means authentic down time, the stare at your navel in the bathtub sort, the people-watching along the esplanade brand of down time.
You need time to recharge, to slow down and feel good about it. You need to create a gap, a workable space between the stress of thinking and doing, a space where creativity can emerge.
Seek Out Divergent Activities
When was the last time you tried something new?
Habits become ruts, keeping you stuck. Your writing might require a fresh perspective, a beginner’s eye on a brand-new problem or question.
Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. Seek it out. Try a new restaurant in a new neighborhood, a coffee house in a neighboring town. Foster a rescue dog; volunteer at a homeless shelter.
Spend an hour each day in a foreign environment. If you can’t adopt a new physical space, change up your intellectual/emotional space.
Nothing kills creativity like routine, so get out there. Shake things up.
Write in a Different Genre
When I’m burned out from writing lesson plans, blog posts, or my latest book project, I open the folder on my laptop containing song lyrics I’m developing. I love the challenge and escapism that comes with songwriting.
I create imaginary people going through significant events or a catharsis. I love the limited scope of a song, the moment or string of minutes that will change everything for the characters. Each time I finish a session, my mind clears, and I’m ready to focus on other types of writing.
If you’ve immersed yourself in a novel project, try your hand at poetry, short stories, or an op-ed for the newspaper. Working in alternative genres lessens attachments, removing pressures to perform. You’ll find yourself relaxed and ready to explore.
Take a Writing Class
I’m often surprised by the number of self-published writers who aren’t taking steps to improve their craft. While I’m a big fan of indie publishing, I’m noticing an increase in poorly-written books.
Classes force us to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, to work within constraints. They can teach us more than we can intuit on our own.
Besides the obvious benefits, classes give us consistent opportunities to jumpstart our creativity, to think differently, to expand our routine ways of writing, forcing us to develop new tools and strategies in the process.
If you don’t want to invest time or money in an MFA program, consider a community college course, a UDEMY course, an online writing coach.
Take a look at these free, online opportunities:
Seek Out Kinesthetic Activities
Thirty minutes of pruning, planting, or garden weeding sends me back to my laptop with fresh ideas. The exercise coupled with the sights and smells of the garden gets me going in new directions.
What sensory activities could you enjoy?
Mix movement with unique sights, smells, tastes, and sounds.
Try your hand at painting. Open a cookbook, and try a new recipe.
Write a Letter
How many times have you thought about writing an old friend?
Something happens when you hunker down with a piece of paper and a pen. Everything becomes nuanced, your handwriting, your sensory recall, your point of view. Phrasing and penmanship move to the top of your awareness.
Just write that letter. You might be surprised by the pen-to-paper flow.
You don’t have to send it.
Hand write the letter you wish you could send to an old lover, friend, or colleague. Afterward, type it up, and save it in a private folder on your computer.
Keep a Journal
While we’re revisiting the magic of the analog, written word, it’s important to honor the power of journaling, the ancestor of the modern blog. Before tackling your daily butt-in-chair writing goals, try warming up with a journaling session.
Revisit the prior day’s events, and spend some additional time spelling out your plans and aspirations for the coming day. This low-pressure ritual provides a great start for the day, giving the mind a chance to ease into gear.
Some authors begin their days with a gratitude journal, recording five different things each day, things that inspire them, things, people, or events that they’re thankful for.
If you need a little push, check out Catherine Price’s Gratitude: A Journal, containing 365 days of prompts, quotes, and space for recording your thoughts.
Break Out the Writing Prompts
Compile a list of prompts, or bookmark a series of writing prompt websites.
Writing prompts free us from unnecessary struggle. We waste valuable time worrying about whether we’re capturing the right scene the right way. Answer the prompts without judging or monitoring your progress to bypass the critical mind.
Start or Join a Book Club
What’s better than giving yourself permission (and a healthy push) to read a new novel?
Throw in some tapas, wines, beers, or other cocktails, and you’ve successfully created down time and a literary support system. Because you won’t want to disappoint your group, you’ll finish that novel and discuss it with passion in front of your friends.
Each novel you finish adds depth and color to your writing toolbox. You can learn about style and technique from the best and the worst offerings.
Join an existing club, or send a request to your friends on social media.
Try Meditation and Sound Therapy
Science tells us that meditation reduces stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression, leading to increased energy, optimism, and self-awareness. For me, the power lies in meditation’s ability to enhance focus.
After a 15-minute session, I can write for sustained periods with better concentration. Creativity returns, and I find myself able to find and sustain the flow state.
After more than a decade in the workforce outside of the classroom, I remember feeling anxious and overwhelmed when I returned to college. I turned to meditation soundtracks to help me read, summarize, and study.
Eventually the soundtracks became part of my writing ritual as well.
Whether meditating in silence for 15 minutes before writing or listening to a low-volume alpha brain wave soundtrack while writing, my focus improved significantly. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out Dr. Jeffrey Thompson’s soundtracks on Amazon.
I also enjoy hemi-sync soundtracks from the Monroe Institute. Put on your headphones or earbuds, and allow the binaural beats and music help you relax. Avoid theta or delta level soundtracks while writing; they take you too deep into meditation.
If you find binaural beats disconcerting, try listening to Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach. Choose a BPM (beats per minute) between 50 and 80 to enter an alpha brainwave state.
Avoid dissonant, jarring compositions.
Try Your Hand at Memoir Writing
If you prefer active rather than passive methods for enhancing creativity, start with a memoir exercise. Begin with a scene from a randomly-selected age from your past, and reconstruct the details.
Accessing old memories while naming, qualifying, and recording, stimulates multiple brain areas simultaneously. You may find yourself so engaged that you forget about your other writing.
There’s something about fusing past and present on the page. Time slows down, and you find yourself able to access innumerable details with the clarity and focus to actually get them onto the page.
If you’re new to memoir writing and need a little coaching, check out these titles:
- Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art by Judith Barrington
- The Art of Time in Memoir by Sven Birkerts
- Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones
Read a Memoir
If you’re feeling blocked or uninspired, try reading ten minutes of a master memoirist.
Memoir helps us connect to our own stories, to our own stores of experience and wisdom. When we’re able to try on the worldviews and encounters of another author, we begin to stir our own memories, opening up dormant avenues for exploration and expression.
Consider the following titles:
- Mary Karr’s Liar’s Club
- Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes
- Night by Elie Weisel
- Dave Eggar’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Watch a Foreign Film
Experience cinema in a different language.
Force yourself to rely on subtle clues: settings, facial expressions, movement, and music to open up new creative channels.
Take this experience to the page, and see where it leads. Describe the characters’ experiences without the benefit of language.
Pause and freeze a scene. Find a way to layer it into your current writing project.
Now, it’s your turn.
What’s your favorite technique for stimulating creativity?
Share it in the comments below.