Writers in all genres and fields rely on their creativity. Whether it’s creating a fantasy world, coming up with new and interesting blog topics week after week, or finding a way to make technical manuals more interesting/useful, being creative is the difference between crafting something that’s humdrum and creating something that makes a mark and gets people to say, “Wow.” Unfortunately, creativity is very shy and elusive. She seems to hide the best just when you need her the most. There are ways to lure her out of hiding, however. If you need some ideas to coax your creativity to come out and play, here are thirty-one ideas.
- Museums. Art museums, history museums, science museums, or even local interest museums can relax you and get you thinking in different ways. Seeing how other people express themselves and tackle problems can give you inspiration. You can also draw inspiration from the exhibits themselves by imagining the story behind a painting, or creating an alternate history for that caveman exhibit, for example.
- Read. A writer should always be reading, as much for craft as for inspiration. Read fiction, non-fiction, art books, travel books, magazines, comic books, manga, graphic novels, or anything else that captures your fancy. The more widely you read, the more new ideas you’re exposed to. Almost anything can get you thinking creatively. Pick something that interests you and read it or look at the pictures.
- Drawing/sketching. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil. Or, if you have a digital drawing tool, you can use that, too. It doesn’t matter if you’re any good or not. This isn’t to sell; it’s only for you. Just moving your hand across the page or creating something colorful can trigger your creative muscles.
- Freewriting/journaling. You can make up stories, blog, write about your feelings or the problem you’re trying to solve. Whether you keep an official journal or just scribble when the urge strikes, the act of putting words on the page can get you thinking in different ways. That seeming nonsense you scribble today could be the beginning of tomorrow’s story.
- Modeling clay/Play-Doh. You don’t have to be a kid to mold things out of clay. Part of what makes this activity fun and creative is that it uses your fingers in addition to your brain. It’s relaxing and fun and the tactile sensation of the clay in your fingers can be satisfying. So what if your horse looks more like a chair? Just mold something and let your writing brain relax for a while.
- Coloring books/painting/crafts. As with drawing or modeling, the point isn’t to be great, the point is just to play and experiment with color, patterns, and techniques. It’s also very relaxing which gives your subconscious a chance to step in and work on your problems.
- Play with your kids’ toys. (Or buy your own.) Legos, Lincoln Logs, blocks, and Erector Sets are all great for letting your mind run wild and building things just for fun. You can build fantastical houses or cars, or try for something truer to life. Even action figures can be fun if you craft stories for them.
- Movies. A great movie can immerse you in a different world and give you great ideas for everything from stories to blog posts. Watching the bonus features on a DVD can give you insight into how directors and actors made the movie come alive. You get to see the creative processes of others.
- Music. Listening to music or playing music is both relaxing and can be used to create a mood. If you’re trying to relax, pick something lighter. If you’re trying to solve a tough problem, maybe you opt for something more aggressive. Even if you’re just listening for fun, hearing how the artist put the lyrics and melody together can give you some inspiration. Listen to genres you normally skip for exposure to new ways of thinking and composing.
- Pinterest/Instagram. Spend some time looking around Pinterest or Instagram and you can’t help but be inspired by the creativity of others. Pretty much any subject is represented and people are doing all kinds of neat things on these platforms. The goal isn’t to imitate, but rather to see what is possible and let that fuel your own imagination.
- Exercise. Your brain benefits from the extra oxygen, endorphins, and other health benefits of exercise just as much as the rest of your body. Exercise can relax you and allow a solution to a tough problem to emerge from your subconscious.
- Go shopping. (Buying is optional.) Looking around craft stores or book stores can expose you to new ideas or ways of doing things. Flip through some magazines or books on a subject of interest. Look at the craft supplies and get some fresh ideas about how things could be put together or see all the different media that you never knew existed. Look in some boutique jewelry/accessory stores and check out some of the handmade items. Flea markets can be wonderful places for checking out crafts and handmade items. You’re not there necessarily to buy anything, merely to see some new things and expose yourself to new ideas.
- Do something different. Just doing something different can inspire creativity. Drive a different way to work. Write in a different location. Visit a local attraction you’ve never seen before. Try to write with your opposite hand. Anything that takes you out of your daily rut can spark creativity.
- Write down your ideas. Keep a small notebook handy, or use your smartphone to record ideas as soon as you get them. I even keep a notebook by the bed because I often get good ideas right before I drift off to sleep. You always say you’ll remember, but how often do you forget that great idea you had? Write it down, then follow up on it later.
- Tune into your senses. Really pay attention to what you see, smell, hear and taste. Most of the time we’re too busy to notice, but experiencing things through our senses is a great way to get creative. Getting out in nature is a great way to do this and get some exercise. Take a walk, garden, or bird watch. When you’re outside, your senses have a lot more to take in than when you’re sitting inside.
- Make a collage. Take some old magazines and cut out pictures related to the problem you’re trying to solve or something fun you want to represent. The act of putting the collage together can reveal new thought patterns or things you hadn’t thought of.
- Learn something new. Your brain loves to learn and everything you learn becomes fodder for future creative efforts. Take a class in a subject you’ve always wanted to study but which has no practical value to you. (Bonus: In a class you’ll also meet people who think differently from you.) Read in a genre you don’t normally read. Learn about a subject that you know nothing about. You never know what will spark an idea.
- Unplug. Sometimes our creativity is drowned out by all the electronic noise we surround ourselves with. Turn off the TV, computer, iPad, and game station and enjoy the silence. Go outside and enjoy nature, or really concentrate on your projects. You might be surprised at what emerges from your brain if you give it a chance to think.
- Meditate. Meditation doesn’t have to be a formal affair or last for hours to be effective. Simply quieting your mind and focusing on your breathing can relax you and allow your creative juices to flow. You can also meditate while walking if you don’t want to sit still.
- Play. Work a jigsaw puzzle, play a board game, go outside and play tag with your kids, or get out the Twister mat. Playing, either alone or with others, is a big key to creativity because it is relaxing, sometimes involves physical activity or learning something new, and uses parts of your brain that don’t get used during your daily grind.
- Ask, “What if?” In any situation, ask yourself what happens next, or imagine the situation to a conclusion. What happens if that car doesn’t stop at the intersection? What happens if you were to just keep driving instead of taking the turn for home? What happens after that guy leaves the bank with the woman he was talking to in line? Imagining what comes next, or how a situation will evolve is not only fun, it can be the basis for new stories or articles.
- Get ridiculous. In any effort to boost creativity, getting ridiculous is almost mandatory. If you’re asking yourself “What if?” or making up stories about paintings, don’t censor the answers. Don’t draw only “real” things. Don’t limit yourself to things that make sense. Get weird and then follow that weirdness with more weirdness. It may come to nothing, but most fiction is based on ideas that don’t make a whole lot of sense at first. Much non-fiction is based on ideas that were taken to their extreme, as well.
- Volunteer. Choose something that’s outside of your normal skill set. Maybe you help build a house, work in a soup kitchen, or work at the animal shelter. The further you get from your normal job and environment, the more likely you are to encounter situations and people that feed your creativity. Plus, you’re doing something helpful.
- Clean something. I know, it’s probably not your favorite thing to do, but I get some of my best ideas while cleaning and organizing. There’s something about the physicality and mindlessness of the work that lets my subconscious step in and work through a problem. Also, there’s creativity to be found in bringing order to chaos and de-cluttering your environment. Less crap around = less stuff to worry about and more time/room for your creativity to flow.
- Just start. Many times we put off approaching the page because we’re not “inspired” or feeling creative. But it’s often self-fulfilling. The more you put it off, the worse it gets. However, if you just jump in and start writing, you’ll often find yourself sinking into your creative zone with little effort and the ideas will start to flow. Just put your butt in the chair and work. Even if what you’re doing seems tired and like it’s been done a million times before, it may eventually morph into something better, as long as you don’t give up.
- Surf the links. I don’t generally recommend wasting time on the internet for writers because it’s a time suck. But if you’re struggling for ideas, try some random surfing. Pick a topic or idea and Google it. Pick a site, then follow some links on that site, then the next and so on. See where you end up. Chances are it won’t have anything to do with what you originally searched, but it might be interesting nonetheless.
- Stick to a routine. It seems counter-intuitive, but there is something to be said for sticking to a routine. When your life is organized and predictable, your mind has more time to work on creative ideas. When everything is chaos in your world, you’re often too tired and frustrated to work creatively. Get up and go to bed at the same times. Organize your home so that things are clean and easy to find. Set a time for your writing and minimize disruptions during that time. Streamline your daily routine so that as much as possible is on auto-pilot and requires minimal decision making from you. Yes, you want to mix it up and try new things, but creativity also flourishes when everything else is taken care of.
- Work with and support other writers. Maybe it’s time to collaborate on a blog post or article and mix up your ideas with another writer or illustrator. Maybe you join a writer’s group and get and give some feedback. An online writer’s discussion board can be a good way to see how others work and what they do, as well as offer some support to your fellow writers. Post your struggles and see if others can help.
- Take risks. Write outside of your genre. Try poetry, if that’s not normally what you write. Put your work somewhere where you wouldn’t normally showcase it. Enter a contest. Submit to markets you normally avoid. A risk might not pay off, but even if it doesn’t the act of trying can expose you to new things and people that you might be able to draw upon later.
- Break the rules. If the conventional wisdom on a topic is, “Do X,” think about what happens if you don’t do that and then write about it. If “everyone” says that you must adhere to certain guidelines, challenge those guidelines and see if there’s a better way. If your genre carries certain expectations, see what happens if you go against them. Mix genres and tropes in new ways. Add illustrations/photos in unexpected places. Yes, rules are there for a reason, but often the most creative and unexpected works break them in some way. And even if you aren’t successful, you’ll have pushed the envelope and opened yourself to a new way of thinking.
- Just give up. If you’ve tried everything and your creativity still isn’t coming out of hiding, just give up. Accept that she’s not coming out right now, for whatever reason. Go on about your life. Table your projects for the time being. Accept mediocrity. Not everything you write will be mind-blowing or hugely original and that’s okay. Sometimes you just have to meet a deadline with whatever you’ve got right now. Chances are that when you give up and accept that your creativity has gone off on a round-the-world cruise, she’ll show back up when you least expect it.
Try a few of these and see if they spark new ideas. Just be careful not to let them take over your life. It’s easy to spend a lot of time reading, surfing the internet, or coloring and claim that it’s important because you’re boosting your creativity. At that point, it becomes procrastination which is unhelpful. Set a timer. When it goes off, you stop your activity and get back to writing (or at least real life). Chances are that your creativity will respond to your efforts and you’ll soon be back to having fun together.
(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)
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