Fiction Writers: How Do You Jump-Start Your Creativity?

Some days, we come to the blank page with the fires of creation burning bright in our hearts. Other days, we sift through the cold ashes and wonder what the hell happened to our creativity. As writers, we depend on our creativity — it’s the fuel that makes us work. Waiting for inspiration is a sucker’s bet. The majority of the time, we have to make our own inspiration, and that involves jump-starting our own creative engines so we can get back to writing.

Meditating in Madison Square Park, Manhattan, ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone has techniques that work for them. Here are a few of mine. When you’re done reading them, I’d love to hear about yours.

Read

Yes, read. Simple and perhaps overly obvious, but it works.

Thirty minutes with a good piece of fiction often motivates me to get writing. A moving passage, a brilliant plot twist, a tense scene — they make me want to get to work writing something at least as good. A half hour with a crappy book motivates me even more, because I end up thinking “I can do better than this drek.” Then I have to put my money where my mouth is, lest I mock myself remorselessly until I make myself cry. And then I run away. From myself. Metaphorically. At that point, it’s easier to just get writing.

Meditate

When I’m feeling tense and overstimulated, I often take ten minutes or so to meditate. I turn off the computer, unplug the phone, and clear my mind. Meditation empties the mind and relaxes the body. It encourages focus and increases my awareness once I come back to the world.

I won’t lie — I find meditating in the information age to be damned difficult. I’m in front of a computer all the time (both for work and recreation), and the Internet provides endless informational stimulus. Email, IM, social media, and blogs can shatter focus into a million addled pieces.

Many writers have to unplug entirely to get anything done (I know one person who basically closes her laptop for the entire month of November and writes a novel draft by hand). If you’re in a distracted environment and the words aren’t coming to you, try removing the distraction.

Write Some Flash Fiction

A piece of writing doesn’t have to be long to be self-contained and satisfying. Sometimes a quick piece of fiction is all we need to get the creativity flowing. Flash fiction is awesome because it introduces severe limitations and forces you into writing the most evocative prose possible in a small space. There are plenty of contests out there, where one can write in response to prompts and read the work of other writers. Here are a few of my favorites:

A quick Google will probably find you even more. And if you don’t feel like entering a contest…

Use a Generator

If you want to get inspired to write a quick piece of fiction, there are plenty of resources out there. My favorite is Seventh Sanctum, which has a whole series of writing prompts, from the simple to the ridiculous. Or you can use any number of other creative tools to get the words flowing.

Take Hallucinogens

Okay, not really. Come on now. And drinking booze at the keyboard is overrated, too.

Watch a Movie Trailer

One of the things I used to do, before trailers started giving away the entire story, was watch a movie preview and then write a synopsis of the story as I would have written it. It’s gotten trickier since the reboots and remakes started taking over, but there’s some fun to be had there as well. Obviously, this works best when you haven’t seen the movie before, but even re-imagining a favorite movie can get your creativity going.

Listen to Some Music

Music is a close cousin to meditation. I write and work to music, and am surrounded by it all day, but usually, it’s just background noise. When I want to get inspired by music, I shut off all other sensory input and just listen. An evocative lyric or rousing musical passage can inspire an entire scene. In fact, my first novel was inspired front-to-back by Synergy’s album Audion, which I listened to non-stop for the entire first draft.

 So how do you jump-start your creative engines?

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  • Reading and music are definitely two things that I rely heavily upon. Pandora.com has been a Godsend!

    I’ll also take a break to play with the dog, have a training session, etc. Depending on the project, a dog is involved (I’m bowing to the inevitable of my subconscious, I suppose), so getting mannerisms and body languages to remember how to describe can sometimes spark something.

    I actually get ideas in the shower, frequently. I’ve thought about buying some of those bath crayons so that I can jot them down and not forget.

  • Colin Kerr

    When I need fresh ideas, I have a few stand-by fountains.

    Go for a long run. After a few miles, my blood is flowing, and I think I can do anything.

    Explain what I’m doing in detail, even if no one is listening. Putting the words out there can change the way you think about something, and make you consider different perspectives.

    If I’m in a jam, I sleep on it. Something about sleeping helps me assimilate what I’m working on. It’s not always an option, but when it is, problems are always simpler on the second day.

  • I love all your ideas, Daniel! I’d especially love to learn how to meditate: how do you do it? I can’t imagine writing 50k in longhand over 30 days 😮 Aww don’t cry, I’m positive you CAN do better than a lot of the drek out there 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing your ideas, I will have to try some. Sometimes if I need to jumpstart my creative writing I do something else creative like sketch or piece a quilt or go for a hike taking photos. The act of making a narrative through other means gets me pondering how I would translate that story to the page. The physical activity helps too.