Creativity is a slippery thing.
There’s nothing so thrilling as being in the flow of the creative zone…until the day your inspiration is gone. Then it’s like you’ve been dumped on the side of the highway. You’re lost, tired, stuck, burned out, bored by your own writing. You can’t hitch a ride with anything that whizzes past you. Nothing whizzes past you at all.
Oftentimes, this state is a signal from your subconscious that it’s time to find a new road into your ideas, to the creative force within you. In fact, your subconscious very much wants to generate fresh stories that aren’t like anything you’ve done before.
But how to find a new entry point into your creativity in the first place?
1. Change your work habits.
Establish a consistent daily or weekly time block for writing, committing to a specific start time, as though you were reporting to a job. This is brain science. Ideas arrive far more consistently for those who develop the habit of work, rather than for those who wait for random inspirational lightning bolts.
Even Flaubert said: “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
Conversely…don’t be consistent at all. If you have an established writing routine but have gotten into an unproductive rut, try writing in several short (even very short) sessions per day. Use a timer. Welcome the restriction, embrace the chaos—especially if you are convinced that you can only write with sustained attention under ideal circumstances, or if you have a day when you can’t meet your normal time commitment.
Oh, and when you do sit down? Kill the internet. Seriously, do not go near it for the duration of your session, by whatever means necessary. Instead, ground yourself—take a few deep breaths, meditate for two minutes, do some yoga poses. The mind is often a monkey climbing all over the wall, and it needs to be tranquilized—or at least calmed and focused—before we can make any headway with it.
2. Let go of the need to be “good.”
Everyone has an internal censor—that nagging voice that tells you to Stop, no, that’s not good enough, I hate that, start over, oh forget it. Another version of this is the sound of your own voice saying: “I don’t know what to write.”
The cure for either of these refrains is to lower your standards. Write something anyway. Write without thinking about what you mean to say, as quickly as you can without stopping (again, a timer can be helpful)—no backtracking or analyzing or judging. Just move forward for now. Put some words on the page. You don’t have to know where you’re going just yet.
And if you get stuck or lose energy? Do something completely different but productive for a few minutes—go for a walk, engage in another creative activity, clean or organize something. But no internet. No. Then back to the page.
3. Expose yourself to fresh material (but find new ways to mine your own depths).
Sometimes we get attached to certain ways of finding story—such as digging inside our left brains, hoping they’ll yield something. Go out into the world with your right brain facing forward, instead.
Spend an hour or an afternoon in a public place you don’t usually frequent, or doing an activity you haven’t done before. Listen. Observe. Take in the conversations you hear, the people who intrigue you, the setting itself, the dramas, large or small, that present themselves, and record them, using all the sensory detail at your disposal.
Another time, explore your personal obsessions on the page, your what-ifs, your memories or other true stories. Explore the fictional ways in which you might join the pieces of these two different realms. Everything is material.
4. Be attached to nothing in your developing story.
If your idea has some basis in real life, don’t be afraid to change “what really happened”; sometimes you need to make your story more true than the truth. If you get stuck, experiment with technical elements. Try changing the viewpoint character to a different character in the same story. Change the viewpoint character’s age, background, gender. Change the point of view from first to third, or even second person. Change the setting. Sometimes an idea suffers from lethargy if there isn’t enough dramatic fuel; add more conflict, drama, trouble.
This is why it’s so important to develop a firm grasp of the elements of fiction, even if you’re not overtly thinking about them when you’re chasing after your ideas; you can only control what you understand and can articulate.
5. Follow the energy.
When in doubt (or when lacking clarity), move toward the energy in a piece of writing, toward anything that intrigues or excites you, even if you don’t know why or where it’s going yet. Intuition is a powerful creative force. Follow the scent, and eventually you will find yourself at its source.
Want to go farther, deeper, and possibly somewhere wilder and weirder? Join me for my six-week class, Organic Story Building, starting October 16.