We writers are a creative bunch, aren’t we?
Except when we’re not.
Whether it’s writer’s block, existential burnout, deadline pressure, family stuff, Trumptastic distractions, or who knows what – sometimes the juice just isn’t in the orange, you know?
So what then?
What’s a deadline-facing writer to do?
Leave it to 10 writers in a number of fields to offer time-tested tips on how you can kickstart the creative engine again and rev it into overdrive.
Josh Rachford, writer at Boom Chicago
Make a big list. My close friend John McNamee, a television writer and cartoonist for The New Yorker, makes a long list of ideas when working. The key is to give yourself a number of ideas to hit, whether they’re good or bad, and then keep going until you’ve hit that goal. Let yourself write down any idea without judging it. Out of 50 ideas, many will be good, and maybe even a few will be great.
Max Robinson, writer for FishTankBank.com
I take the bus into the office every morning, and I try to listen to an audiobook during my journey. It’s the perfect way to get my brain thinking about a variety of vocabulary without having to actually read a book (which I find to be quite a laborious task early in the morning).
Len Saunders, author of seven books
First, I look to get inspired. For me, I like to read short quotes from famous and respected people, whether current or from hundreds of years ago. These short words of wisdom cause my brain to recharge, and I’m motivated to create.
Second, I jog in any weather. It clears my mind, and my creative juices start to “run” freely. Exercise is a good way to stimulate brain activity and creativity.
Ben Taylor, freelance writer
My No. 1 tip to boost creativity is to let the subconscious work away on ideas for stories and articles, and not force the conscious mind to do all the work. As an example, I write for numerous publications and for my own websites. I’m often faced with article titles that don’t particularly inspire me and skeletons of features that look all but impossible to flesh out. In these cases, I will make a point of stepping away.
Ideally, I do this overnight, ensuring I have a good look through the content I need to produce the following day before I sleep. I often find that the ideas have crystallized by the time I’m ready to write again the next day. In the absence of a free night, a walk around the block can sometimes be enough.
I tend to do the actual writing part very quickly once I get started, but I’ve often spent just as long (if not longer) on the thinking part.
Katie Derrick, content writer for Cuuver
Brainstorm with work colleagues, friends, or family – simply just discussing what you want to write or particular topics will get your mind racing with ideas. While this may seem that you’re being unproductive because you’re not writing, it’s a really good way of sparking creative ideas, preparing your mind to write some compelling content.
Jordan Harling, lead copywriter for Wooden Blinds Direct
I walk while I’m working, letting my mind wander as my legs go on autopilot. This is a tactic used by many great thinkers throughout the centuries including Charles Darwin, Ludwig van Beethoven, and even Steve Jobs. Anecdotally, I’ve found that just by simply taking a reasonable stroll (often just down the corridors of the office and back) it becomes a little easier to think, and a longer walk during lunchtime can really help unblock the brain. Studies back this up as well – Stanford University found creative output increased by an average of 60 percent while walking.
Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics
Have a side-hustle or hobby, however small, which does not have to do directly with writing. A different field of interest brings with it many other types of chemical reactions and connections in your brain. In order to avoid stagnation on all fronts, you need to keep things fresh. And this means taking part in things which may not be connected to the written word, but which excite you and draw you.
JF Garrard, president of Dark Helix Press
Sleep. I overwhelm myself on a daily basis, and there’s never enough time in a day to finish everything. If I sleep and rest, I can recharge myself and do better the next time I hit writer’s block.
I also listen to video game music or movie soundtracks. These types of music open up my imagination when I’m writing dramatic scenes.
Pat Mills, writer at making-nice-coffee.com
The No. 1 thing that has helped me over the years and I still use to this day? The old three-word Nike phrase: “Just do it.”
Feeling uninspired and lacking in mental energy? Just do it.
Fretting over another BS excuse why you can put it off? Just do it.
In my experience, creativity doesn’t come from some spark of genius or inspiration, it just comes from writing a lot and sifting out the good stuff.
Rhonda Sciortino, author of seven books
Even in the driest times, I can trigger a nearly uncontrollable flow by thinking of a specific person to whom I’m writing. When I don’t know someone personally who can benefit from what I have to say, I imagine a person who needs what I have to say. The more clearly that I imagine the person and his or her life circumstances, the more details and color I can add to my writing.
Bonus tips for getting unstuck
What are my own tactics for getting my creativity firing at Star Trek-style warp speed? Three things.
1. I play with my kids’ big box of Legos. Sometimes I build things related to what I’m supposed to be writing about. Sometimes I’m just having fun while some distant part of my brain troubleshoots my writing block.
2. I cartoon, sketch, or doodle – it all helps me organize my thoughts. It’s kind of my own primitive mind-mapping technique.
3. I ask myself “How would [insert name of prolific writer I admire] handle this?” And I channel them as best as I can right through my block and often a good bit further. “Becoming” Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and/or Christopher Hitchens has helped me a ton.
Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of 20 books, and he runs the creative writing program at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Web: ryangvancleave.com.