August 9, 2009

Ten Ways To Boost Your Creativity

As I’m blog-hopping, I read a lot about different kinds of creative endeavors and people wondering how to deal with getting stuck in the middle of a project. I don’t have that problem to any serious degree, my problem is more one of time management, (hence the blog-hopping), but I’ve uncovered a few things along the way that can help me get unstuck if I find myself wallowing around in a project that just isn’t going where I think it should.

I have a tendency to think too much, to not relax enough to let my creativity flow. So I procrastinate. But I’m not really blocked, per se, just stumped for a while. So here are a few things that have worked for me, to get me unstuck when my mind won’t cooperate. My muse would do just fine, if my mind wouldn’t keep getting in the way. It tends to want to micro-manage whatever I do.

Most of the suggestions below apply to writing, but they can also apply to any creative pursuit such as painting, music composition, organizing a spreadsheet, decorating a house, planning a meal, creating jewelry or other artwork, or just feeling stuck in your life in general.

Journal: It’s just for you, nobody’s going to read it, it doesn’t have to be perfect or even make sense. If you’re an artist, doodle. A musician, write nonsensical lyrics. A cook, write weird recipes. Give yourself time to let your mind roam free, without any goal of producing something worthwhile. Just sit down for five or ten or even twenty minutes and write whatever comes to mind. Do it several days in a row and see if a theme emerges. I bet it will :).

Free Associate with sticky notes: Get a pack of sticky notes and write just one thought or word on each. See what arises out of your subconscious. Then lay them out in some kind of order (but don’t stop to think about it or consciously organize the words), right on the spot. Do this on a piece of posterboard, or cardboard, whatever you have handy. Use different colors for different thoughts or moods if you want to. Stick them on the board where your impulse tells you that you need to put them, even if it doesn’t make sense. Later, you can go back and try to figure out the association(s) between the words.

Better yet, do this with a couple of friends. Each get a different color of sticky notes, and play it like a board game, where you each take a turn. One puts a sticky note in the middle, with a word or phrase on it, and you build a spider web of sorts from there, with words that come to you as a result of whatever you see on the board overall. You don’t have to respond to the last note posted. Again, later you can go back and see if any pattern has developed. But while you are posting the sticky notes, don’t stop to think. Just go with whatever comes into your mind.

Imitate/play with your pets: Animals have instincts. They don’t stop to think, should I do this, or should I do that? What if I make the wrong choice? They just “do.” Or, “be” as in the case of a cat basking it in the sun. When a cat basks, it basks. If a threat comes along, the cat will deal with it. If hunger arises, the cat will do the same. The cat doesn’t worry about what’s for dinner. The cat just “is.” And if a cat goofs up, misses the mark or whatever, they always shake it off, lift their heads and walk away unconcerned. I’ve always admired that skill.

Try being like a cat or a dog sometime, and just go with what your instinct tells you. If you goof, just shake it off like a cat does. Your instincts will get better over time.

In the short term, playing with a cat with something soft attached to a piece of string can be soothing and relax you enough to let your mind change gears. The same goes for rolling around on the floor with a puppy or playing fetch with a bigger dog. The point is to give your own mind a break.

Push a child in a swing: This is a wonderful opportunity to get some sunshine, exercise, spend quality time with your loved one, and make a child happy. Meanwhile your mind is free to wander. If you can do this while playing a simple board game or building blocks, more power to you. Or you can put on a video like Winnie The Pooh and hold the child in your lap. The child is thrilled you’re spending time with him or her and your mind is free to relax.

Clean your house: This includes folding laundry, sweeping the floor or (I recommend) washing it by hand (as opposed to just sailing through with the mop), doing dishes, dusting, or anything you can do without having to think about it. Your hands and body are in motion, you’re burning calories, your house is getting cleaner, and your mind is again free to wander. Painting walls works for this, too. Or gardening, or weeding. Or simply watering the plants.

Read/view/listen to something totally different from what you are working on: If you write non-fiction, read fiction. If you write fiction, read non-fiction, or read something in a genre totally different from yours. Good writing is good writing. Bad writing is bad. You can learn something from every book you read, good or bad. Reading is also a passive activity. Writing and editing are active. Again, it’s a way for your brain to switch gears and relax.

If you do art work, go to a show or page through books in a totally different medium. The same goes for music. Listen to something totally different from what you are trying to create. Either go to a concert you wouldn’t ordinarily be caught dead at or listen to some CDs. Not with judgment, but just for the experience. If you feel like your life is in a rut, go do something you’ve never done before. Just one step outside the box is enough to get you kick-started into trying new things again.

Take a nap: Pose a question in your mind about whatever is blocking you, ask for an answer to the problem, then forget about it, let it float away, put on some soft music and go to sleep. This does not always work the first time, or even the first few times, but eventually you will relax enough for your subconscious mind to come up with a solution.

Brainstorm with a friend: You can do this by phone or email. Play what if. What if my character did this? What if I re-wrote the scene from another point of view? What if I turned the painting upside down, or composed the song backwards? Think outside the box. Or, in a personal situation, play “What is the worst that can happen?” Eventually you’ll come up with scenarios so outrageous you’ll both be laughing, and who knows, you might unveil a kernel of truth or a new idea along the way.

Create a collage: This is one of my personal favorites. Get a piece of posterboard. You don’t have to use the whole thing. A half or a quarter will do—whatever you have time for. Go through magazines and tear out whatever appeals to you. Then arrange them on the posterboard, and see what emerges. If you do artwork, simply mix and match colors. If you write, you can create collages for your books, your characters, or yourself. This will work for any situation you can’t seem to get off of your mind. For more information on creating a collage, see my blog post and/or read my article on the Musings Page of my website.

Go to a conference or a workshop: Even if it’s not in the area you write or paint or cook or do crafts in. Learn something new, or revisit an old interest. Get inspired by what others are saying and doing. I’ve never been to a workshop or conference or class that I didn’t come home with a host of new ideas. Sometimes just being around real live people who do the things you do and think the way you think is enough.

Leave your own suggeston on boosting your creativity or comment on Liana's to be eligible for a copy of the DVD "Sleepless in Settle" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Liana Laverentz is the author of three contemporary romances with The Wild Rose Press, Thin Ice, Jake’s Return and Ashton’s Secret. Thin Ice is a 2007 New Jersey Romance Writers Golden Leaf Award winner, a 2008 EPPIE winner for best contemporary romance, and was a nominee for Best Romance of 2007 at Long and Short Reviews. Jake’s Return is a 2008 Golden Leaf Award winner. Her third release, Ashton’s Secret, is a murder mystery romance.

Liana is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Washington Romance Writers, and Pennwriters, Inc. Liana also hosts a monthly chat on the Long and Short Reviews Yahoo Group the first Thursday of each month, where we discuss ways to find our balance between writing and Life, which tends to get in the way of our writing more often than not. She does the same on Tuesdays at The Bookspa Yahoo Group. Everyone is welcome to attend. For more information, go to


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

WElcome to my blog and thanks for posting for me. I love your list of things to do. One of the speakers I heard at National...I forget who...said that the reason we can think out situations when doing housework or driving, is because our physical side of the brain is working, the part that uses the motor skills, but our imaginative side isn't, so we can think clearer while doing a physical activity. Unlike working on the computer....

Thanks again!

unwriter said...

Very good tips. I write humor and many of my stories deal with bringing inanimate objects to life (my latest is a food fight hosted by the refrigerator).

I have to think outside the box because I lost the box. Whenever I hit a blockage, I look for some other thing that is normally not animated and make it do something outragous (you spell it).

P.L. Parker said...

I write while I'm at work. I keep another screen open and when ideas come to me, I switch over and write them down. At the end of the week, I send all my notes home and put them together. Works very well for me and keeps me from overloading.


Anonymous said...

Loved all the suggestions!! I've also written down five words and made myself use them in the ms where I'm stuck...worked for me.


Skhye said...

Hey, my cats worry about what's for dinner. And I can think in the car, while vacuuming, etc. because I don't have to think about everything else. LOL I find just jotting down ideas when they come to me is the only way to remember them when my daughter spots me and starts talking. Again. And again...

Mary Ricksen said...

Great suggestions for the times when I am brain dead.

Mona Risk said...

Hi Liana,

I agree with all your suggestions to boost your muse, except: clean your house. That's what I do when I am really depressed. I've discovered a while ago that if I don't clean my house, my DH who's an organization freak will do it, so why bother?? I prefer not to disturb the good training I finally gave him.

To boost my muse, I read the chapters I already wrote, and I start writing anything that pops in my mind. Eventually the ideas flow. I may delete some, edit a lot but it's there on the screen. With this technique I never run dry. For me the problem is to find the time to write all the stories and scenes I've already written in my head. Sometimes they linger there for months.

liana laverentz said...

Thanks, Anna Kathryn, for having me here today. I'm glad people are enjoying my tips. It is that, that the physical side of the brain is working, and so we can think more clearly with the creative side.

An excellent idea, unwriter, even if you're not writing humorous stories about inanimate objects! Anyone could try it for a creative exercise. Conversation with a toaster, or something like that! Best of luck to you in your writing.

How nice that you can write while at work, Patsy. I know of a few people who are lucky that way :)

liana laverentz said...

Thanks for stopping by, Skhye and Mary and Mona. I, too, think while driving, but didn't want to put that in as a suggestion :) I've missed the exit to work while thinking.

I clean when my brain doesn't seem to want to work for anything else. But if I had someone to clean house for me, I'd find something more fun to do to boost my creativity!

Hope you get a chance to put all those stories on paper, Mona :)

robynl said...

I like the brainstorming with a friend as someone else can say something which might spark an idea in your brain and so on.

I find that I, not a writer, go and jot down things on a list whenever I come up with something I want to do, want to remember or if I think it is a good idea about something. In the morning or whenever you can go through it. I've been known to get up once I'm in bed to do this.

Paty Jager said...

I find by choosing certain music to listen to when working on each project, I get pulled into the story quickly by the music.

Interesting blog.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Congrats to Paty Jager. She won the 'creativity booster' DVD "Sleepless in Settle."

Thanks for everyone who stopped by and for Liana for sharing all the tips!


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

too bad we can't go edit our comments....