10 Ways to Get Your Creativity Flowing

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Everyone has times when they need to be creative (even those of you who swear you were born without the creativity gene). Whether you’re trying to turn random ingredients into dinner, or are writing an epic novel, creativity is part of life. But there are times when the creative energy seems to burn out and your perspective on your current project has gone stale. If you need help getting the inspiration flowing again, here are ten things you can try to renew your creativity…

Don’t Force It: No matter how often people claim to work best under pressure, stress doesn’t produce quality results. Unless you’re aiming for quantity rather than quality, trash those arbitrary goals (1000 words every day!), take a deep breath, and relax. Don’t be afraid to walk away for a bit (whether it’s for a five-minute break, an hour-long nap, or to start a new project entirely), if you need to. It’s amazing how well the ideas come when you’re not forcing them.

Try Something New: When your comfort zone feels tapped out, it can help to look for inspiration elsewhere. If you’re a painter, try listening to (or playing) music. If you’re a writer, bake something. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s something out of your ordinary. Creativity begets creativity, and being creative in a new way can spur you on in your usual field.

Take a Walk: Interrupting desk (or wherever you do your best work) time with a walk may seem counter-intuitive, but a Stanford study found that a person walking, whether on a treadmill or out in the world, “produced twice as many creative responses” as someone sitting. The benefits continued even after the walk was over. The next time you need to brainstorm, consider doing it on the move.

Travel: Ideally this will involve foreign shores and exotic cultures, but it doesn’t have to. Go as far as you can, even if that’s just a few streets over. Check out a part of town you’ve never been to. Try a restaurant that serves a kind of food you’ve never had. Meet new people. Go exploring. Be open to new adventures and see how far you go, even if the actual distance is short.

Be Inventive: Try this exercise: take everyday items and come up with as many unusual uses for them as you can. What else can you do with hair ties, forks, or a shoe, for example? Imagine yourself in different situations (desert island, post-apocalyptic…) trying to make the most use of everything in a world with few resources. This re-inventing of common items is a form of creative thinking that can then lead to more creative breakthroughs.

Get Inspired: Enjoying other people’s work and ideas can prove inspiring. Spend time in museums, art galleries, and libraries, going to concerts, taking classes, reading new or favourite authors, or poring over your favourite websites and magazines. Even people watching can be a great source of inspiration.

Create Without a Plan: When you’re stuck, start making something, even if it’s “just” doodles or stream-of-consciousness journal entries or putting together fabrics you like. As you create aimlessly, ideas will start coming to you and you’ll likely be inspired to complete an old project or start something new.

Be Prepared: Ideas can happen anywhere, and often when you’re in the middle of something else. Make sure to always have with you a way to record all your ideas: a sketchbook, notepad, app–whatever works for you. If you have to, drop whatever else you’re doing to get everything down while it’s fresh (the Muse doesn’t linger and you will not remember later, no matter what you tell yourself!)

Work Somewhere New: A change of scenery can sometimes be all you need to light a spark. If any part of your work is portable, try taking it to a park, coffee shop, or anywhere else that appeals to you. Or try rearranging/redecorating your office/work space.

Change Your Perspective: Consider your project as though you’re someone totally different (whether someone specific, or just a generic “character”). How would that person approach the project? What might they see that you don’t, and what would they do about that? See your work through their eyes.

Have you tried any of these techniques? What did you think of them? Do you have any other suggestions to add? Please share in the comments 🙂

 

 

 

The Edgy Art of Books

Sometimes a book’s charms are more subtle than what you find on the cover or between the pages. If you’re not familiar with fore-edge painting, prepare to be delighted. Fore-edge paintings are hidden scenes or designs on the edges of books; you can see them only if you fan out the pages.

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Fore-edge paintings date back to the 1600s but now there’s only one commercial painter left (Martin Frost). I hope someone else takes up this profession because it would be a shame if this art form is lost.

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Watch this short video featuring Martin Frost:

Learn more about fore-edge painting:

A Centuries-Old Art Form Hides Within the Gilded Pages of Antique Books

On the Edge: The Hidden Art of Fore-Edge Book Painting

Wikipedia: Fore-Edge Painting

40 Hidden Artworks Painted on the Edges of Books

 

Weird Habits of Writers

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I recently read an article about 11 weird habits that all writers can relate to, and I’ve got to say they weren’t wrong. Dramatically staring into space while thinking about what my characters will do next? Check. Ending up on security watch lists thanks to my online research? Check. Losing track of time, dates, and reality itself thanks to working from home immersed in a fantasy world of my own creation? Check check.

Reading the list got me thinking about my own odd habits, which I’ve decided to share. After all, as the article pointed out, writers spend a lot of time alone–why not take a moment to bond over our mutual strangeness?

My Weird Habits as a Writer:

Seeking Out Mindless Activities so I Can Think: When my hands are busy but my mind is free to wander, that’s when I come up with some of my best ideas, solve problems with my stories, or mentally write entire passages (my phone is handy–and more likely to be nearby than pen and paper–for getting it all down before I inevitably forget). Mindless activities I recommend: weeding the garden, easy crafts, cleaning the house, ironing…

Telling Myself Stories to Help Me Fall Asleep: I’ve had trouble sleeping my entire life–the one thing that’s almost guaranteed to get me to sleep is telling myself a story in bed. It’s been the same story for a while now, with minor variations. Strangely enough this repetitive storytime actually does help with my writing. Every so often I’ll get an idea for a new character, or notice themes I should explore.

Watching (a lot of) TV: Sometimes it’s background noise that works a lot like any other mindless activity (see above). Sometimes it’s inspiring, giving me ideas to consider. Sometimes it’s instructive, helping me with pacing, or seeing aspects to storytelling that do or don’t work. Sometimes it’s just entertaining, which is also important.

I’ll leave it there, although there are more (so many more). What weird habits do you have as a writer (or in general)? Share your weirdness…

(Note: This is a re-post from 19 February 2018. If you’re looking for something new to read, how about my free short story “Blood Magic”https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146 or my novel Love Lies Bleeding, available in paperback and e-book at most online booksellers.)

Mental Health Break

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Like so many people (especially the ones in creative fields), I struggle with anxiety and depression. Usually it’s manageable (I’ve actually found that some mild anxiety helps me write). Every so often, though, for reasons that aren’t always clear, the scale tips from manageable to overwhelming. If you’ve ever had severe anxiety or depression you know the feeling of deep despair that leaves you searching for a reason to get out of bed. If you haven’t experienced that kind of bleakness, then consider yourself lucky (not blessed, or motivated, or magically able to control your emotions–just lucky).

This past week has been difficult for me, both on a personal level and because of events in the wider world. One of the events that made the week so bad (for countless people besides myself) was the tragic suicide of Anthony Bourdain. I didn’t know him, but he’s been part of my life for a couple of decades now. He was an inspiration, something of a kindred spirit (other than that time on No Reservations when he decided hipsters were okay), and a truly decent human being. I’m not exaggerating when I say we’re all worse off without him.

I wish I knew how to break the cycle of depression and anxiety. I do my best to deal by working on it as best I can and trying to work around it the rest of the time (with varying levels of success). If you’re suffering from any kind of mental illness or distress, the first thing you should do is see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed–there is help, from support groups to therapeutic techniques to medications, and more.

If you’re in crisis, you can get help right now (always keep your local hotline number nearby). In Canada, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is: 1-833-456-4566, or text 45645. You can also chat here: http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/

There’s also good info here: https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/
If you’re not in crisis but are struggling, here are some things that work for me. It’s a good idea to experiment to find what works best for you.
Shower and Get Dressed: It might not seem like much but it can make a noticeable difference to your mood. And if nothing else, you can say you got up and faced the day. On bad days, that’s a major accomplishment.
Leave the House: Many people (myself included) withdraw when they’re depressed. If you feel like you can’t deal with other humans, then go for a walk on your own. Somewhere green and peaceful is ideal.
Get Something Done: Pick a task to complete no matter how small, and do it. It can be anything that makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. To avoid being overwhelmed, keep a short and easy to-do list handy for times like these.
Indulge Yourself: Do something you enjoy (as long as it’s nothing harmful). If you have a tendency to feel guilty about “doing nothing,” then try interspersing the fun with simple, but productive, tasks (see above).
Spend Time with Pets: You’ll both feel better. If you don’t have a pet, try hugging a plushie. Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of a soft doll or pillow.
Avoid Things (and People) that Make You Feel Worse: This won’t work long term, but for a day when you’re already feeling crappy, it’s a necessity.
Write a Letter: Sit down with pen and paper and write a letter to someone you like but haven’t spoken to in a while. Think of some positive things you can share (they can be as simple as a great movie you saw or your thriving houseplant).
Plan a Trip: It doesn’t matter if you can’t go because it turns out planning trips makes people happier than actually going. So have fun planning your dream vacation (or  research anything else you’re interested in).
Have you tried any of these? What works for you when you’re feeling depressed or anxious? Share in the comments.

What to Do when Your Plot Falls Apart

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Imagine this: you’ve written the first (or second, or third…) draft of a novel and it’s going well. You’re editing and rewriting at a good pace, happy with your progress. But suddenly the realization hits you that a major plot point of your book is all wrong. For whatever reason a part of your story–maybe even one the entire book hinges on–no longer works. Now what?

This happened to me recently. I wasn’t happy with the ending of my current book and I wasn’t sure why. Then the crushing awareness that it was all wrong and had to go. Not only did I have no idea how to change it, but any changes I did make would have major repercussions for the next book too. Cue the panic.

I think it’s safe to say most writers experience this situation at some point, but if it happens to you it can be disheartening to the point of making you want to give up. If you’re suffering a plot fail, don’t worry. Despite the initial panic and frustration, there are things you can do to help you through it.

Take a Break: It doesn’t need to be a long break. Spend a few hours or a few days focusing on other things. Give your mind a rest from writing while your subconscious keeps thinking about it. Before you know it you’ll be coming up with new ideas and solutions without even trying.

Brainstorm: If the thought of ignoring your writing (even temporarily) stresses you, then brainstorming might be more your style. Try these brainstorming techniques for writers and keep working on the issue until you figure it out.

Think About It: Is there actually a problem with your story? Sometimes writers are convinced their book is terrible when the real issue is anxiety or insecurity. Maybe your plot needs only minor tweaking–or maybe it’s fine as is. Take a deep breath and a step back before considering whether the problem is your plot or your perception.

Talk it Out: Find someone you trust and tell them about it. Explain your concern with what you’ve already written and see what they think. Getting a second (or third) opinion can be really helpful, and sometimes simply saying things out loud is enough to trigger solutions. Don’t forget writers’ groups and forums–they can be invaluable sources of advice and support.

Hire an Editing Service: Editors can do more than check your spelling. Many offer services such as story consultation or manuscript critique. If you’re stuck and nothing else is helping, professional help might be the key.

As for myself, a combination of taking a break, thinking about it, and talking it out helped me overcome my plot issues. My book is still a long way from being done, but at least it’s back on track.

How do you get through when your plot is causing you problems? Share in the comments.