10 Things That Help Me Unblock Creativity

I’ve been sort of in a funk lately. Not like, depressed. But just feeling like the story I want to tell wasn’t going well.

For me, I’m doing well with everything or nothing. While the writing wasn’t going well, I wasn’t having much success with other things either. I was feeling disorganized, as if any item I put on my “To Do” list went off and died there. I was struggling with eating healthy, and wasn’t taking my dog for regular walks.

It wasn’t that I felt unmotivated; far from it. I wanted to accomplish all those things, but when it came down to it, I found myself reading a book or playing a game on my phone (I love 1010!) or aimlessly surfing the internet. And then the day was gone, and I’d managed to check off one thing.

Two weeks ago, I couldn’t do what I’d planned to, and was sort of forced to steam vac my carpets. (Let’s just say I have lots of pets and leave it at that, okay?) And it felt kind of good to move around and play music really loud and sweat and have something tangible I accomplished.

None of that week went as planned, but I got lots of things done. And then the following week rolled around, and all that motivation I’d stored up but hadn’t used just kind of burst to the surface.

I decided that I needed to clean off my desk and make my workspace a bit more appealing. In the midst of doing that, I saw my kaleidoscope collection and realized that I haven’t looked through them in a while.

In the past, when I’ve been searching for inspiration, I’ve sat down and looked through a kaleidoscope. More recently, I take out my phone and play 1010! It’s not the same.

I found my fountain pen, disassembled and cleaned on my desk, and realized that I haven’t been using that either. I love my fountain pens.

With all the other life clutter going on, I decided it was a good idea to make myself a list of things I love, so that next time I’m in a funk, I can remember to reconnect.

  1. Kaleidoscopes– Looking at the swirling colors is a form of meditation for me. I can slow down for a moment and just concentrate on one thing. If you want to get metaphysical, I can also remember that like life, they’re beautiful and constantly changing.
  2. Fountain pens– I started using a cheap plastic fountain pen when I was in my teens, and I just love them. Actually, I love all pens: gel pens and sharpies and nice ballpoints. But I have a special love of the smooth writing of a good fountain pen. I love to see ink on my fingers.
  3. Journaling– I seem to get away from this just when I need it the most. I’m trying (again) to make it a daily practice. I always use the excuse that it’s hard when life gets busy. But when isn’t life busy?
  4. Doodling– I’m trying to get more into art journaling. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, but am TERRIBLE at it. (No, seriously, visual art is something I’m bad at.) But I’m okay with loving something and being terrible at it. Lucky for me, Pinterest has about a million boards for inspiration on the topic. Right now, I’m mostly working with banners and arrows. Gotta start somewhere, right?
  5. Stickers– I can’t draw, but I can put stickers on everything.
  6. Healthy eating– I really do feel better when I eat better.
  7. Logic puzzles– While just playing random games isn’t all that helpful (and is actually a time waster, I know!), logic puzzles use the logical part of my brain. I guess that makes my whole brain work better? I don’t know; I just know that mindful game playing works for me.
  8. Coloring– For me, coloring is like meditation. I can’t draw, but I can stay inside the lines. The biggest decision I have to make is whether to use the blue or the purple crayon. It helps me turn off my conscious mind for a little while. Sometimes, that’s the space where answers find me, instead of me looking for them. Adult coloring books are a thing now. You can find them anywhere, even Wal-Mart and Amazon.
  9. Taking a Walk– We have a lovely greenbelt near our house. Getting out and listening to the birds sing and the breeze moving through the trees is relaxing, and sometimes helps my brain get moving again.
  10. Candles– There are more and more articles out there about the benefits of aromatherapy. It can help improve mood, help with wakefulness, even help with physical issues like headaches! I love burning candles and filling my office with scent. Because it’s what I do when I write, my brain knows that when it smells vanilla candles burning, it’s time to get to work.

What kinds of things help you unblock creativity?

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When Writing Isn’t Going Well

IMG_9029I have this great novel idea. I’ve been nurturing and taking notes on it for months. I know my characters, I know where the story is going and how it gets there.

I sat down at my computer to start this novel recently. And suddenly, it’s like my brain is coated in molasses.

This will be my third (hopefully good) book. I wrote my first (bad) novel in high school. If I’m counting all the way back that far, when it’s complete, this will be book number seven (I think). So I’m no stranger to sitting down and writing 70,000 words or so.

But for some reason, this one is just fighting me, and it’s making me wonder: should I be writing something else right now?

For weeks, I’ve been sitting at my computer, forcing myself to write 500 words or so, and then when I felt battle-weary, I’d get up and do something else, hoping that physical activity, organizing, cleaning, would jar the words out of my brain.

It hasn’t worked though. Oh, I feel ready to sit down and write, but the minute I do, it all dries up again, and the molasses is back. I thought about taking a break from this new book, maybe starting something else. But abandoning a book is the reason I have approximately 1,356,791* unfinished novels on my computer.

So, with my last two books, I forced myself to finish, and I think they turned out pretty good. With this one, I’ve decided to abandon the beginning. I almost always rewrite my beginnings anyway. (Why are beginnings so hard?) I’ve skipped ahead to the first plot point, and am writing from there. It seems to be working at least somewhat better.

Sometimes writing is so much fun! Sometimes it’s easy! And the ideas flow! And the characters speak to me and we have tea parties and share secrets!

And sometimes writing feels like walking forward into a hailstorm when the wind blows you backward and turns your umbrella inside out. Sometimes the characters have locked me out and hung up a sign, “Fictional People Only.”

But I still love it.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

Fellow writers, what do you do when the writing is not going according to plan?

*This number is slightly exaggerated.

When Writing Isn’t Fun

Sitka, Alaska

Sitka, Alaska Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I mostly love to write.  Putting words on paper to communicate an idea is exciting for me.

Last week, I came back to blogging after taking an unexpected month off.  It’s just that writing wasn’t fun for a little while.  I’m fighting with my novel.

I wrote a novel, and I thought it was pretty good.  I thought it was mostly finished.  Then I had my critique partner read it, and his feedback was unexpected.  He didn’t feel that the main character had growth or change, and made suggestions for changes.  A lot of changes.

At first I was upset.  I wanted to disagree.  I learned early on in getting critiques that not every criticism is valid.  A lot of it boils down to differences in taste.  I like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and you prefer vanilla nonfat yogurt.

(That’s not even ice cream.)

But in doing some critical thinking about the book, I had to agree with him.  So I went back and tried to make changes.

And I ran into stumbling block after stumbling block.  The story is no longer fun, and I don’t feel like the characters are talking to me anymore.  I’ve tried all the usual things I do to start a conversation with them, but they’re remaining stubbornly silent.  The story just isn’t going anywhere.

In the past month, while I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been trying to write that story.  Trying is very different than succeeding.  Or, in the immortal words of Yoda,

“Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Yeah, he was so right about that.

I have other novels that would like my attention, but putting aside the one I’m working on feels like giving up.  I’m not a quitter, so I don’t want to stop working on it.  When do I admit that taking a break from it might be a good thing?

I think that time is now.  Putting it aside and quitting aren’t the same thing.  I’ll come back to it.  After all, I’ve been trying (on and off) to write that particular novel for about 20 years.  It will keep.

In the meantime, I’ve learned some things about plot and conflict that I hadn’t thought through in the past.  I’ve always taken the lazy approach to writing, figuring that because writing comes easily, I never had to learn the mechanics.  I honestly think that’s why I’ve never completed a novel I’m happy with.

I’ve written three novels (if you don’t count the three I wrote as a teenager).  All three of those novels have critical plot issues.  Yes, they can be revised.  But as with everything else in life, it seems harder to revise a novel than it would be to write the damn thing correctly the first time.

So here I go, off to a new and different project.  Maybe after putting this one in a drawer for six months, I’ll come back to it with a fresh eye and new energy for editing.

Rekindling that Flame

Yay, fire!

Yay, fire!

You may have noticed that I’ve been absent from blogging for almost a month now, and before that, I’d been pretty inconsistent.  I’d still been working on my novel, sorta.  Actually, I wanted to work on it more than I actually did.

I’d sit down at my computer, then stare at the screen for awhile.  I’d type something.  No, I don’t like that.  Delete.  Type something else.  No, I don’t like that either.  Maybe I should go back and edit the beginning.  Maybe that will get the creativity flowing.  It got to the point where I’d more or less paralyzed myself.

I’m one of those people who either does it all, or does nothing.  So I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t editing.  I wasn’t blogging.  I wasn’t getting much productive done in my personal life either.  My motivation was completely blah.

For me, I have to get to a crisis point in order for anything to change, and I got there last week.  I decided I was a crappy writer and maybe it was time to just give up.  Stop writing my novel.  Stop writing short stories.  Stop blogging.  Just enjoy reading other people’s work and realize that not everyone can be a writer.

Lucky for me, I woke up the next morning and though, “Well that’s bullshit.”

Excuse my language.

Maybe my novel isn’t ready to publish today, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be next week or next month or next year.  Maybe it will be ready when I’m 90 years old.  Who cares?  I enjoy writing.

I’ve had a few short stories published.  I enjoy writing them, and it’s good practice.  So even if I never have another one published, writing as a hobby is much better than playing hours of Candy Crush.  While I do enjoy Candy Crush, I can’t call it productive.

And blogging?  Well, it’s good practice too.  Through my blog, I’ve connected with other cool writers.  And who knows? Maybe my words will encourage someone else who’s going through a similar crisis.

A Beautiful Thing

Bahamas... this picture is a mini-vacation.

Bahamas… this picture is a mini-vacation.

I’d hit a dry spell with writing for awhile, where I mostly couldn’t think of any fiction.  I tried to find ideas for stories… and nothing.  I’d try to sit down and write, and it just didn’t work for me.

It didn’t help that I’ve been busy.  I started a new job, it’s Christmas, and I’ve been sick.  But a funny thing happened the other night while I was making Christmas cookies… an idea popped into my head.  I saw these two characters, clear as day in my head.  I knew who they were, what they wanted, and why it would be hard for them to be together, even though they wanted to.  The beginning, middle, and end came to me.  They’re in my head; they talk to me during the day.  They tell me their secrets.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had something so compelling in my head, and I’m pretty excited about it.  I still don’t have time, but because it’s important, I can find time, even if it’s only 20 minutes.  I guess in some ways I’ve been blocked.  I’ve been writing blogs, but three years into it, it’s a routine for me.  I’ve never quite made the fiction writing part of my life into a routine, probably because it’s more fun than chore.

So I have a new story in my head, and I’m making new friends.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Breaking out of the Rut

Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Last month, I wrote a post about being stuck and struggling with writing.  I forced myself to do blogs through it, but it got me to thinking about writing in general.  I started blogging in part as a way to make sure I write every day, but also to gain some exposure for my writing, as eventually, I’d like to have one of my novels published.

We recently got back from 10 days on vacation, 7 of which were on the Holland Amsterdam cruising to Alaska, then sightseeing in Vancouver.  I found a secret, which I’m going to share with you.

Going on vacation is great for breaking out of a writing rut.

I know.  Shocking, right?

I had so many ideas while I was on vacation, and was glad for the notes app on my iPhone and also the notebook I carried.  The day we cruised along Tracy Arm Glacier, I had so many ideas at one point that I could barely keep up with my own brain, and I kept switching between my camera and my notebook.  I also took lots of great pictures, which I find great for inspiration and for helping me describe stuff, as I’m not the most visual thinker.

Breaking out of routine really is great for breaking out of a rut.  Later this week, I’ll post all about my vacation and I’ll add pictures.  Probably more than you care to read/ see.

Drawing a Blank

“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” -Edwin Land

DSCN3701I’ve been drawing a blank about what to blog about lately. I have an idea, and sit down to write about it, but then don’t like it for one reason or another. I don’t like my tone or I feel as if I’m going off on a tangent.

I guess we all probably feel that way sometimes.

Maybe it’s because I was on vacation last week. Before I went on vacation, I had no problems writing blogs, and I did a bunch ahead, figuring that I’d have plenty of time to write more ahead so I wouldn’t have to come up with something once I was back to work.

Oh, I was so wrong.

I didn’t do any blogging during my vacation. I tried to brainstorm, and even sat down a few times. Though I did come up with a few, I didn’t think they were very good.

So here I am, writing about not having anything to write about.

As I usually do when I have a question, I turned to Google. This is what I came up with:

Combat Writer’s Block

Fight Writer’s Block

I found the first link the most helpful, and ended up sitting down and writing 5 blogs throughout the day.  The most important thing when drawing a blank is to  just keep writing something, because eventually, something decent will come out.

What do you do when you get stuck?