Writing: When Creativity Runs on Fumes

            If Only It Was This Easy

      WHAT DO YOU DO? It happens to everyone – creative or non-creative. It is indiscriminate in who it strikes and when. So what can be done about rebooting the human CPU so that the programs run effectively without glitches, without viruses in the background draining the precious reserves of creativity?

One thing is for certain, and perhaps even a universal truth (with adequate funding I’d be very prepared to undertake a work/ holiday study), everyone needs change from time to time. Whether that is in the form of a new place, new friends, new dialogue, or simply a switch in mindstate, it is a healthy way to change what you think and how you think. Without novel stimulation lab animals and neglected children grow up psychologically stunted. New experiences are essential to mental well being especially when young but also when we are older and able to dictate what we do on any given day.

Relating to writing, there is a strange dichotomy, a need for routine but also the need for inspiration. Routines allow us to associate a chair with writing for example, so when we sit down, ideally we are in The Writing Zone (with possible parallels to The Twilight Zone). We are mentally prepared for what is to come and through habit we know we will write in said chair at this desk on that laptop. It forms a heuristic – a mental shortcut – cutting down on processing and over thinking.

On the flipside, if we sit at the desk two months in a row and have little change in our life beyond the ordinary, there is a good chance the creativity will plummet off a cliff with all the glee of a leper colony, err, I mean lemmings. Routine is productive to an extent, but there needs to be something outside of that to fuel what happens when you sit down to write. Blank minds don’t write on blank sheets. What you experience away from writing is equally important to what comes out when you do write. On a grand scale your life affects what you write. On the micro scale, each day affects what turns up on the page.

How to refuel? Good question (I am nostradamus!). Every writer will tell you that reading is essential. It’s akin to watching sports and that itch you get to go and play yourself, the need to try it out yourself. A good story, short or long has propelled me into writing many times over. But what if your reading fuel has been depleted also? Like the shuttle heading to outer space shedding the two booster rockets, space and spaced is what comes next. A delirium, an undetectable sickness that could stump each and every expert from neuroscientists to fortune tellers comes into effect. You are a shuttle heading where plenty of men have gone before…space, the final front tears. Doom and gloom…

I’d love to hear what all of you do in this situation, when writing and reading have lost their appeal. This is what I do, roughly speaking: I change up from the written medium and listen to music, watch TV, a film, or videos, anything not related to W+R. It’s almost a cleansing like process. To refuel, paradoxically, I don’t go to the W+R petrol/gas station. I go somewhere else entirely. I go for walks. I might even hoover. I’ll call someone. In essence it doesn’t matter, as long as what I do in times of creative injustice are divergent to what I was doing before. And then steadily, or even suddenly, I find myself writing and reading again whether it’s books, WordPress or editing and working on material.

What’s your solution to creative freezes, how do you get back on beat?

 

lion around 2

38 Comments

  1. I have to be creative in a more physical than mental sense. In addition to being a writer, I’m a pretty good cake decorator and baker, so I shift focus from writing structure to cake structure for awhile.

    I also recently discovered the benefits of listening to delta waves combined with music and nature sounds. They help the brain relax profoundly as well as inspire creativity. A good scalp massage does wonders, too.

  2. Since I write screenplays movies do play a role in inspiring me. I usually alternate between movies and reading to get inspired. And when I ind myselfglued to a desk for too long, I do need to go out. To write about life we need to experience it as well.

  3. Music is a regular part of my life too – playing and singing. I try to balance things so all activities are equally important, whether literary or musical. So there are only rare moments when I’m not doing something creative. Then I’m usually asleep so it doesn’t count.

      1. There’s been a lot of research recently, hasn’t there, of the benefits of music to the working of the brain. I recollect reading an article about how it was being used for treatment of people with dementia.

      2. There’s been a lot of research recently, hasn’t there, of the benefits of music to the working of the brain. I recollect reading an article about how it was being used for treatment of people with dementia.

  4. Having an hour’s commute (each way) does allow my mind to wander and churn through possibilities, but I don’t get that much time to actually sit down and write so I’ve not really hit ’empty’. Being part of a local writers’ group is a good way of poking me to come up with stuff and the most recent topic, ‘the broken sign’, had me scratching my head for a few days (needs a bit more work before I post it on my blog). But seeing how other people take the prompt and head in different directions is really interesting and in turn can spark more ideas.

      1. It’s fascinating, even if you try and second guess what others will do (and then get floored by a sudden twist). Or you might suddenly see another story opportunity that may be the complete literal opposite to what someone else has done.
        The broken sign did take a while to pick up and my first draft is a bit too heavy on the exposition. Won’t take too long to knock into shape though!

  5. I also make music, so usually changing it up a bit – focusing on music more for a few days, then on writing, etc. – works for me. Ideally I manage to work on music in the morning and write in the afternoon. But that’s usually only when I’m not swamped with “real-life” work, i.e. my paying job (translating), which can pretty much suck any inspiration right out of me sometimes.
    I’ve hit a dry spell recently, though, and I often manage to get rid of those by changing the scenery: packing up my laptop and heading out to write somewhere else. Even sitting in the park or in a pub will usually do it, though it’s better to travel, of course, if I can afford it. Taking some time off and going for a long walk and thinking about whatever I’m working on, maybe just jotting down an idea or two while I’m at it, works as well. Jotting down stuff (and whistling musical phrases into my phone) has proven as a treasure cove of life-saving material many times, and often I’ll come up with the best ideas while doing something extremely tedious, like shopping for a new pair of pants or something like that 🙂
    In any case, in music as well as writing, for me it usually boils down to forcing myself to write (either text, lyrics or music) even though I don’t exactly “feel like it”, because just sitting around and waiting for the muse to come a-knocking has, at least in my case, often proven to result in just some more useless sitting around (as well as in many a nasty hangover). On the other hand, I’ll usually get sucked into whatever I’ve forced myself to work on after a few minutes and keep at it easily for at least a few hours. If even that’s too frustrating, just plotting out a rough plan of what’s ahead for a few days instead of doing any actual work will get me going again.
    Sometimes, though rarely (fortunately), even that fails, and then it’s time for a break – just not working on anything creative for a few days and the urge will certainly come back soon.

    1. Being able to switch to music must be a great thing, I’m what’s known in the business as musically-retarded.
      And I always have something nearby to record notes and thoughts too, never know when a good line or idea might strike.
      “because just sitting around and waiting for the muse to come a-knocking has, at least in my case, often proven to result in just some more useless sitting around” < yeah if I waited for inspiration it would rarely show up. I'm getting better at sitting down at the lappy top and concentrating, turning the net off, radio off etc.
      Is book three being strangled by translating or is it coming along?

      1. Coming along quite nicely, actually. Again, after it was on standby for about a month – something bothered me about it, probably because it’s a bit complicated, so I started doubting myself, worrying that I may have bitten off more than I could chew… But then I finally figured out all I had to do was sit down and put a rough plan on paper. Erm, screen. Especially because I had to fit it together properly with the music album that’s supposed to go with it, and it too has taken some unexpectedly intricate (and dark) turns. Just like the novel, so that’s fine.
        Since this is novel 3, it’s safe to say now, judging from experience, that I can write about half a novel without much planning, but about halfway through there comes a point when I have to stop, look back, and come up with at least some semblance of a plot outline until the conclusion (whether I end up sticking to it or not). Otherwise keeping all that crap in my head makes me too nervous to write comfortably… I’m sure you know what I’m talking about 😀
        So yeah, I’m back to a (quite OK for me) daily quota of around 2000 words.
        I don’t feel too bad about the “lost” month, though, because I did a lot of work on the album during that time, so at least there’s that.

      2. Thats mega productive with the album producing too.
        And i went through the exact same thing, got to 40k words and then the story got ‘sticky’ there were details i needed to iron out (not literally, that would be crazy) that were funking with my zen or something, that wouldnt allow me to continue unless sorted. So nearly done that and can begin writing again.
        Im excited to see where your dark twists go, sounds like it might be almost the opposite of pendulum pet. All the best getting ir completed, look forward to reading it.

  6. To this day, my fumes have never left me. On the contrary, I have sometimes, too much to say, and impatient words have learned to wait in line (for some, never make it out). Now if I could find a way, to sell them, I could be filthy rich one day 😉

  7. I’ve hit this point recently – I’ve no interest in anything I’m writing, and reading anything is either boring or stressful (why didn’t *I* write that excellent sentence?!). I’m trying a week of near-cold turkey: no writing, although I can make notes of phrases/ideas that strike me. It’s already helping me rearrange a few things in my mind

    1. I think its essential to do that sometimes. Not sure if you are similar, but I get really into something then burn out usually, so I fluctuate between bursts of productivity and then quiet spells.

      1. I rarely find the time to overwork like that – but seem to have managed it recently (particularly with what might become a novel – I’m just a bit exhausted by it). Once I start something I’m usually quite interested in it until I see it through, or at least I plough on and sort out the bits I skipped over in the edit. An enforced break, and either some very trashy fiction or plenty of decent TV is the way. And remembering that no-one is *making* me write – so I should concentrate on what really sparks my imagination, and if that for a while is nothing at all, then so be it.

  8. Personally, in my own experience. Everyday for me is a creative flow on so many wild things. I listen to music mostly experimental or electronica noise. And I also read…and I got a lot of ideas and that fuels my energy to write everyday. I’m always fueled with ideas and I always write them down. Not once do I refuel. 🙂

    I like your perspective. 🙂

  9. I play with words without the pressure of turning them into a story. Those literary doodles sometimes spark a short story or few funny paragraphs, and they always remind me why I love writing.

    1. Cool, that’s a good wa to do it. Not having the mental pressure to produce is liberating in itself.
      I tend to get to a point where nothing works and that’s when I depart from W+R for a spell.

  10. I keep a long list of short fiction. I always have something to toy with. I find it better to force myself than to make excuses. Your mileage may vary. Not all of them turn out to be gems, but the act of writing seems to make those neurons fire for me.

      1. Both. I love to read it when I can find some. It’s making a decent comeback with the advent of self publishing. I worked on two of them this morning. They need some work, but they exist as drafts now. There are some decent paper magazine that still carry short form too.

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