When your work involves being creative, it can be hard to come up with new ideas day after day, hour after hour. To maintain a creative life, you need to feed your creativity. Visit new places, look at new works of art, eavesdrop on new conversations, read new
books/articles/posts, try your hand at a new kind of project … the list is endless.
But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we get stuck. We need a little help to keep that creative fire burning. I use three million and ten different tricks to help myself out of
sticky situations. Okay, that might not be the exact number. But as I’ve mentioned before, I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. In fact, I stuff them into every pocket, hat, bag, and even undergarment that I own! The one I’m about to share may seem strange at first. You might wonder how what results will possibly work with your particular project. That’s okay. Let it sit and simmer for a while. Keep it on the back burner because I promise that at some point when you’re stuck (which happens to the best of us) it’ll be ready and waiting for you to turn up the heat.
So what is this different little trick? It’s called “On This Day…” and its inception came from my many years of homeschooling and teaching writing to children. When my girls were in grade school, I made it a habit of having them start each day with a journal entry. Young children almost always benefit from a prompt to help focus their wide-ranging thoughts. Heck, many adults do, too. During school hours, at least once per week I used the “On This Day”-prompt where I took an event (or offered a list of events and let them choose one) and asked the girls to use it to write creatively in their journals. Being a writer, I always joined in during journal time and wrote my own entry. I found that sometimes the historical event filled in a blank spot in a story or essay I was writing. I didn’t necessarily use the event itself, but rather the idea it sparked.
Because it was so helpful, I’ve returned to this trick whenever I’m stuck in a story and need a little help lighting the creative fires again. During NaNoWriMo last year, I used my “On This Day”-technique when considering what might be going on in the world around my characters. It helps me to have a picture of possible events in their lives, even if they don’t all make it into the story. I also use it to spark questions and thoughts for my characters – where might this or that lead? And, I’ve used this trick to inspire drawings and encaustic paintings. For example, reading about an event in history during Prohibition led to a wax painting involving wine and dancing.
Finding information for “On This Day” is extremely fast and easy. I have several daily journal books I used when homeschooling that had interesting and different kinds of information for the day (e.g., Today Hershey produced its first chocolate bar!), and sometimes I still pull them out. But more often, I use the internet because it is simple to gather additional information on a topic if it strikes a chord. I can see this being especially helpful for historical fiction writers who might want specific historical details.
- This Day in History (from History.com) – categorical (e.g., Art, Hollywood, War); contains links to more information
- This Day in History (from InfoPlease.com) – chronological (short list)
- Today in History (from HistoryNet.com) – chronological (short list); includes a “born on this date” list
- On This Day (from the NY Times) – choose a date; includes more recent history than many other sites
- This Day in History (from the International World History Project) – chronological; no hyperlinks except for selected topics; includes lesser-known historical events
Once you have the list, how does it work? Let’s take today. October 10th. Many things happened on this day throughout human history. I like to look at a long list of possible events because usually something strikes me and my brain is off and running. Today, the event that jumps off the page at me is that on October 10, 1935 Porgy and Bess, “the first great American opera,” premiered on Broadway.
Whoa. I love this opera. I used to sing songs from this opera in middle school concert choir. How did I forget that today was the day it premiered? Okay, I probably never actually knew what day it premiered, but nonetheless… reading about this event triggers a host of thoughts and creative avenues for me – even though on the surface it is not at all related to my current writing project.
As I follow the thoughts, I jot notes to myself. Many don’t get used, but I write down – without judgment or too much thought – everything that comes to mind for 5-10 minutes. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote for today:
- In middle school, I learned “Summertime” (song from P&B) for concert choir – I then got into the opera and insisted on seeing it in person; led to trip to the city where we got lost – what if the main character does similar… what happens when she’s lost?
- What if the main character wants to play Bess in the high school production but she isn’t black? Or maybe it’s not P&B but some other show … What happens? How does she go about getting the part? How do others react?
- What if the main character is trying to write an American opera and uses P&B as the basis/inspiration – what could this be about? What is relevant today from P&B? What has changed? How can I change the opera to be new? How does impact the M.C.’s life?
You get the idea.
I think everyone can benefit from trying this technique at least once. It may not find its way into your story or art the first time, but the brainstorming process that results from looking at “On This Day” forces your brain into creative mode. And in creative mode is always a good place be.
If you try this technique, let me know how it goes! And if you do something similar, please share! I’d love to read about it in the comments so I can tuck it up my sleeve or into a pocket when I need another trick!
Maybe you’ve been lucky and never drawn a blank when sitting down to write. But if you’re like me, you’ve sat. And sat. And looked up prompts. And doodled. And refreshed your coffee. Or tea. Or water. Or whiskey. You’ve told yourself, “Go!” then stared numbly at the screen. So you surfed the net, checked and deleted email. Answered the phone. Did the dishes. Dreamed up fanciful and creative menus for your family that you’ll never make. And decided to go to bed early (or late).
And promised yourself that tomorrow you’ll be able to get something down.
If this is sounding a little too familiar, I have a trick that helps when you find yourself thinking, “I have nothing to write about.” I’m going to describe it as it relates to poetry, but it could be used with any genre. I have found that when I’m stuck with nothing for my fiction, writing poetry can help shake things loose.
Okay, ready for the trick? Here it is:
Write the opposite.
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “What? This gal has really lost it. Write the opposite of what?!”
Let me explain…
Take a poem – any poem. It can be one you’ve written, it can be a classic, it can be one you love, or one you hate. Go through it line by line and write the opposite of whatever the sentiment is in that line.
Here’s an example using Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken:”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both ….
To write the opposite, I could do something like this:
In the purpled woods, two roads collided
and glad was I to find the path so clear ….
That is an off-the-cuff example that could use (a lot) of work. Regardless, it demonstrates what I mean. At least I hope it does!
To complete the exercise, I would go through every line. If all of sudden in the middle of this task something sparks and I’m inspired, I might drop the exercise and run with my new idea. If not, I’d keep at it, line by line. Then revise and make changes, look for better words and better imagery.
And at the end of the day, I’ll have a poem. At the very least, I’ll have made good use of the day and worked my creative muscles. Writing the opposite it harder than it sounds. It forces you to be creative, look for ways to describe emotions, places, and people. And it can result in some phenomenal poetry!
Don’t believe me? Give it a try! And let me know what you think.
I’m curious – what do you do when the muse is silent? I’d love to hear other tips and tricks!
This is my first year taking on the month-long challenge that is NaNoWriMo. And so far, I’m pleasantly on track. Not ahead, not behind. Right on target. But every day, the words come more slowly. The looming mountain ahead feels higher and steeper than it did week one.
Bottom line? I’m starting to get worried about finishing.
So last night, I took a few hours and did what procrastinating writers everywhere do best – I surfed the web. And read. And surfed. And read some more. And I found some of the best tips for finishing NaNoWriMo on the web.
Because I want you to finish, I’m hoping my wasted writing hours will mean less procrastination for you. Take advantage of my surfing trip and check out these helpful articles and posts for finishing NaNoWriMo.
My personal favorite way to write when the well appears dry? NaNoWriMo Word Sprints on Twitter. I don’t know what it is, but just having that page up while writing motivates me to plow through and have something on the page before they yell, “STOP!”
Note: I’m only including five of the many, many, MANY articles I read because, well, the truth is you need to be writing and so do I!
When you’re through reading the wise words of these WriMo sages, get writing! The end is near – so write on!
TIPS FOR FINISHING NANOWRIMO
brought to you by World-Class Procrastinator, Kat McCormick…
- From WritersDigest.com – Halfway There: Finishing NaNoWriMo Strong by contributor Cris Freese
This tidy article offers creative and inspiring tips from past finishers and writers to get you through the second half of NaNo. My personal favorite? Bring wine!
- From Writability – How I Won NaNoWriMo in 9 Days by writer Ava Jae
I know what you’re thinking… nine days?! You and I may not be aiming to pull off a 9-day feat (or if you’re behind maybe you are), but regardless of timing the tips and tricks used by speed writer Jae will help you power through toward the finish line.
- From Write It Sideways – How to Get Past the NaNoWriMo Danger Point and Finish Your Novel by author and coach Hillary Rettig
This article offers some tips I’ve read before, and some I haven’t – but they are presented in a different light that made something “click” in my brain. I especially like the tips about writing nonlinearly and examining your fears and pitfall (procrastination-busting at its best).
- From Kirsten Lamb’s Blog – 8 Elements to NAILING Your Plot & Owning NaNo by, you guessed it, Kirsten Lamb
While this post is not specifically about finishing NaNo, Lamb points out flaw that will stop you from completing your story and provides insights on what is needed to avoid/fix them. I especially appreciate the section on the core story problem (or lack thereof).
- And last but not least, from CreativeLive – How to Break Through Writer’s Block: Show Up & Bring a Pen by Hanna Brooks Olsen
What I like best about this post is how straightforward it is – if you want to break through the shiny ribbon at the NaNo finish line, there is only one thing to do – WRITE! Olsen does offer some tips on how to write when the words don’t want to come, but overall this article was a swift kick in the rear for yours truly.
Any of these tips resonate with you? Or if you’re a past finisher, please share your best tip in the comments section and stop a WriMo procrastinator from spending more precious writing time surfing the web …