Saturday, March 21, 2015

4 Steps to Spark Your Creativity

Tapping a Pencil
Look familiar?
(Image couretsy of Rennett Stowe.)

Some writers really crank it out. Russell Blake puts NaNoWriMo champions to shame, birthing 7,000 to 10,000 words per day. Others take it slower: maybe a single chapter per week, or one book per year.

How much you should be writing is up to you, but you really need to try a few different approaches before you figure out what's best, don't you? Here are four guidelines you can follow to get the best work out of yourself:

1. Read. A lot.

Rule #1: Creativity doesn't occur in a vacuum. It should go without saying, but the more you read, the more inspiration you'll find to write. Reading really gets the creative juices flowing, especially fiction. According to a study published in 2013, "Compared with peers who have just read an essay, [people who have just read a short story] expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity."

It's also vital to understand the scene you want to be involved in. Read the works of your peers and contemporaries to keep a finger on the pulse of what's current, and read older literature to see what's been done before. This will give you a full vantage point — and lots of ideas.

Have you ever reached the end of a story and thought, "That's not how it should have happened"? That's your mind taking the creative reins. You don't just want to be along for the ride, you want to be in the driver's seat. Take that energy to your own writing and show those other writers who's boss.

2. Set Triggers and Develop Habits.

One technique most writers seem to share is that they have a set time and/or place where their writing happens. Stephen King goes to his office every morning and doesn't leave until he's reached his quota. Anne Lamott makes herself stay focused on her writing, even if everything in the world is trying to distract her. I go to my favorite café, perch on a tall stool at the bar, and slowly sip my espresso until I've filled the requisite number of pages in my notebook. Some days, it takes a second demitasse.

You can turn writing into a Pavlovian reaction for yourself, but you have to really make yourself repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat until the association sticks. When it finally does, that trigger — your cup of coffee, favorite song, exercise routine, or whatever — will set your brain to "write mode" like a charm.

If you're looking for some inspiring ideas to trigger your creativity, consider "temptation bundling." You might just get better by doing more.

3. Set Assignments.

If the empty page is what corks up your brain, try establishing beforehand what you mean to produce that day. You can set a word limit or minimum number of pages, or you can work through an outline one step at a time: "Today, I'm going to write the chapter in which the protagonist risks it all, only to be defeated by the antagonist. Tomorrow, I'll write about the protagonist back at square one."

Just like writing tomorrow's to-do list today can help you rest better and start the next morning clear-headed and goal-oriented, knowing what you need to write before you begin can be a key to avoiding writer's block.

4. Experiment.

If writing to an outline isn't your thing, and maybe the blank page feels more thrilling than intimidating, or maybe if you just can't make yourself write your assignment, a little play time might be in order.

Kill all your characters. Make them drop like flies, one per sentence, then chase the last one around the page until they're cornered and pleading for their life. Record their last words.

Write about a new city that suddenly rose out of the sea. Have one of your characters receive a piece of mail from one of your real-life friends. Write a dialogue-heavy scene at a dive bar for robots. Write the first words that come to your mind until you start forming complete sentences.

Just Keep Writing.

Don't ever be afraid to crumple up a whole day's work. Every word you jot down is good practice for the next time. Immerse yourself in reading and writing, be strategic, and be silly. The rest will come naturally.

Remember, as long as you're writing something, you get to keep calling yourself a writer. But if you stop...

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