Friday, June 22, 2012

Sparks of Creativity

I usually write my blog posts on Thursday so I can let them sit awhile before I publish them on Friday. But yesterday was crazy. All my kids are home for summer vacation now, and yesterday we went strawberry picking. In my old house, we lived pretty close to a strawberry field, and so we would pick up a quart or two whenever we wanted some, and go once or twice to buy enough to make homemade strawberry jam (once you've tasted it, you can never go back to store bought). But we don't live anywhere near a strawberry field that lets you pick your own now, so when we went yesterday I knew it might be my only opportunity. 40 quarts of strawberries later, I thought we might have enough. J

A LOT of strawberries 
It was hot and humid yesterday, and we spent the entire day hulling strawberries and turning them into jam. Did I mention that this year's strawberries seem to be smaller than usual? Every now and then my heart would flutter with panic at the thought of writing a blog post. Usually I've got a topic in mind a few days before I write, but not this week. If you could have heard what was going on in my brain, it probably would have sounded something like this:

I really need to think of a blog post topic. OK brain, think of one. Good heavens, I can't even think of one. Usually I have a handful of ideas by now, and I can't even think of ONE. Come on! Blog post topic, blog post topic...

It turns out that's not the best way to think of ideas. Who knew?

Creativity is not something that you can batter into submission, whether your deadline is a blog post or a looming deadline set by your editor.

8 Ideas To Spark Creativity:

Just get started: 
Yesterday, before the strawberry picking, I got out of bed determined to exercise. I really didn't want to, but I forced myself out of bed, got dressed and turned on the DVD. When I heard Jillian Michael's voice say, "Let's begin with arm circles" I felt a surge of relief. I'd finished the hard part--getting myself there. Creativity works the same way. Brainstorm ideas. Pull up that document you need to edit. Start writing, and don't let yourself stop even if you're only typing "I don't know what to write yet" over and over. The magic can't happen until you begin.

Start a routine: 
When parents are training their children to fall asleep on their own, experts recommend a 5 step routine to get them in the right frame of mind. A bath. Pajamas. A snack. Teeth brushing. A few stories. A prayer. A drink of water. Some songs. Cuddling. Whatever works for your family. The same pattern can work with getting yourself in a creative frame of mind. Meditate. Listen to music. Get a drink of water. Read a chapter of a book (ONLY if you have the self discipline to put the book down after one chapter!). Look at pictures. Stretch. Go on walk. The possibilities are endless.

Get moving: 
Ah, snow! Doesn't it look lovely?

My best moments for creativity occur when I am hiking or snow shoeing. The mindless nature of putting one foot in front of the other, the physical exertion and being taken out of my daily routine all combine to open my mind up in a way nothing else can.

Do something new:
Several of the blog posts I looked at suggested that you should live abroad. This may be extreme. But doing the same thing day in and day out can numb your creativity. If you can't fit living abroad into your life right now, even little chances to break out of your normal routine can pay big dividends. Read a book in a genre you wouldn't normally choose. Take a different route to work--or a different form of transportation.  Listen to new music. Write with pencil and paper. Take a class.

Be repetitive: 
Mindless tasks allow our brain to wander to far-flung places. Some of my most brilliant flashes of insight come while I'm doing the dishes. Other people swear their genius comes while they are in the shower. But in order for that to happen, you've also got to:

Lately, I've been filling my mind constantly. I listen to audiobooks or music while I'm doing dishes. I watch TV while I'm folding the laundry.  I've become almost frightened of my mind's own chatter. It's only now, as I'm writing this, that I see the correlation between that and my own recent lack of creativity.

Perhaps if we'd spent yesterday hulling strawberries in silence instead of turning on Avatar: The Last Airbender episodes, this blog post topic wouldn't have been so hard to come up with. (Or maybe it would have been even more difficult, since my children would have deserted en masse and left me to do it alone.)

 Sleep on it: 
It's almost miraculous the way sleep works. I've seen my children have panic attacks over a difficult piano piece or math problem, and yet the next day they can do it with ease. Panic is a particularly awful state in which to get something accomplished, but perhaps even more importantly, our subconscious minds keep working on problems while we sleep.

Relax and play:
Perhaps this is just a variation of the "do something new" idea, but it's important enough that it is getting its own entry. Henrik Edburg said, "Go out and do somethingwith your friends or family and just relax and have a lot of fun. Doing thisfor a day or an evening can recharge not only your creativity but also yourmotivation and general sense of well-being for days or weeks to come. " (

Don't forget: laughter boosts creativity. Find ways to make yourself laugh every single day.


  1. Going on walks is my number one way to work through story problems and fine-tune ideas. Every day that I'm at work, I go on an exercise-type of walk up and down the big hills around my office. I used to walk with a group, but then the group wanted to move away from my favorite walking route because it was too boring. But that's the point, I told them. That way I can walk and focus on thoughts and not worry about taking a wrong turn. They ended up going the other route, but that's fine, because I think better when people aren't talking to me.

    (I must come off as such a cranky person: "DON'T TALK TO ME, I'm creating!") :)

    1. I'm the same way, Sabrina, but my poor, poor kids have to put up with my crankiness. They don't have the option of walking where they want. :)

  2. Great suggestions.

    Exercise is great for me. I've solved so many plot issues while running, that going on a run is an essential part of my creative process.

    For topics on blog posts, I suggest checking out Hatrack. I've gotten a lot of my blog topics from the interesting conversations on Hatrack.

    1. That's a good idea, Mary Ann. My participation at Hatrack pretty much disappeared when I added The Prosers, but I've been missing it.

  3. Damn, this post is so awesome I want to print it out, shred the printout and snort it.

    It's to the point about an issue that I find is far too often turned into a myth, namely creativity. Sure, some people may be more creative than others, but you learn that. It's a way of living so to speak.

    And on living abroad...

    I've lived in Germany before I moved back to Bosnia and I spent a fair amount of time in Paris, Vienna and Amsterdam. It does help to travel a lot, but is by no means a must.

    1. Stefan, that compliment made me giggle. My teenage son was so impressed with it that he told everyone we had dinner with tonight.

      You are exactly right about creativity being a way of living. When I mindfully arrange our lives to allow creativity in, instead of just demanding it of myself, everything goes more smoothly. Thanks!

  4. On our vacation, my family picked strawberries and then ate them on the beach in Carlsbad. It was brilliant.

    I dig this. Creativity is so difficult to catch sometimes, and this is some great bait.

  5. This is excellent advice. My #1 issue lately has been the first you posted - just get started. Thanks tons for the incentive.


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