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!
Today is Thanksgiving and as such I’m guessing that most people in the USA have unplugged and are busy spending time with family and friends. Or, maybe spending time with family and friends is driving you to distraction and you found your way here. No matter what you find yourself doing today, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.
This year, I am grateful for so much in my life. Last year at this time, my husband was living away from us as he cared for his dying father. It was hard to watch my father-in-law’s decline, it was hard for my girls to have their father away for so long, and it was hard for me to balance everything on my plate without my partner and best friend. This year, while we are all saddened by the loss of my father-in-law and all of our deceased loved ones, it was a joy to see my family gathered together on the holiday.
My husband has been my biggest champion and supporter. I tend to a be a person who wanders from the beaten path, and my husband has always helped me clear a new trail and encouraged me to keep trekking. When I first told him about my desire to write, he pushed me to follow my dreams. Each day he makes it possible for me to work on becoming the writer I want to be through his continued support and enduring belief in me. I am truly thankful to have found such a wonderful life partner.
I am grateful for so much else, I feel it would be impossible to write it all down in a post. And as we talked about being thankful today, and my girls and I decided to keep gratitude journals through the rest of the year (with an option to continue into the new year – I felt like biting off a smaller chunk of time helped make the concept manageable for the younger ones). The girls voted to keep the list for each day to five items, and today I feel the challenge of narrowing my long list to such a small number. But I am grateful to be doing this exercise with my children. As we face many personal challenges and changes in the next year, focusing on the positive aspects of life feels like the right way to end 2015 and begin 2016 – and what better day to begin than Thanksgiving?
Here is my entry for today:
Today I am grateful for…
- Time spent with my family laughing around the dinner table
- My husband’s unwavering love and support
- My writing tribes, including the amazing #PlatChal peeps
- Vegan pumpkin pie with coconut whipped cream
- Fleece-lined tights with cozy, comfy feet
Do you keep a gratitude journal? Or have specific things you are grateful for today? I’d love to hear about them and/or the ways you record their presence in your life!
I want to thank everyone who entered my November Giveaway! I am amazed by the number of entries and can’t wait to see what happens in December when my next giveaway begins!
CONGRATULATIONS to Patrise Henkel! The Random Number Gods have favored you today, and you have been selected the November Giveaway winner! You will receive a copy of my favorite book of writing exercises, What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. Message or email me with your contact info, and I’ll get your copy on its way to you pronto!
I would love to send a copy to everyone who entered, but sadly I am only one writer with limited resources. If you are looking for a book of exercises and didn’t win, pick up a copy of What If? here or here. And let me know what you think!
Be sure to look for my DECEMBER GIVEAWAY!
Greetings from #NaNoWriMo Land!
I’m in the thick of things with my first ever NaNo, and it is going better than expected! Of course, it’s only Day 4 but so far, I’m ahead of my word count goals and I’m not getting caught up in my typical perfectionist trap. Go me! I’m also doing the #NovPAD (November Poem-a-Day) Chapbook Challenge from Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest. I’m using NovPAD as a way to get the creative juices going each morning before diving into my NaNo writing after work in the afternoon. So far, so good. My Day 3 poem is kind of “eh,” but I’m looking at everything produced during the month of November as raw material and fodder for revision in the months to come.
In honor of all of this seat-of-the-pants writing, I thought I’d offer a #Giveaway focused on boosting creativity and getting you to step outside the comfy, familiar box that most of us find ourselves writing in whenever we’re pushed for time. As such, I’m giving away a copy of my favorite book of writing exercises, What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. Don’t worry, I’m not giving away my personal (well-loved, dogeared) copy – this is brand-new and shiny, straight from Amazon.com.
This book is the best.
I’m not saying this is definitively the best book of writing exercises and prompts ever. Just that it’s a-mazing. Phenomenal. Okay, yes. I’m saying it’s the best.
My opinion may be due in large part to the fact that it is one of the first books I used when I embraced myself as a Writer with a capital “W” instead of a mere daydreamer. But it’s also due to the fact that this book really is wonderful. There are more than 75 exercises in the book, and unlike most prompt/exercise books out there, What If? provides explanations, objectives, and student examples. It really is a gold mine for writers of all levels.
Even if you are thinking, “Great, a fiction book. I don’t write fiction.” Don’t despair! Doing the exercises in this book will work that creativity muscle and the cross-training will result in improved writing no matter your genre of choice. From poetry to memoir, this book will work wonders for you (if you do the work – you can’t just pet the cover and smile pretty … you have to write). And since it’s free, you have nothing to lose and much to gain!
“What do I have to do to win this amazing book?” you are probably asking. It’s simple. Here are the details:
- You must be a resident of the US (or have a US shipping address).
- Get one entry by commenting on this blog and telling us your favorite writing prompt or exercise (from any source, even one you dreamed up today).
- Get another entry by posting about this Giveaway on Twitter. BE SURE TO INCLUDE ME, @TheKatMcCormick, IN YOUR TWEET SO I CAN GIVE YOU CREDIT!
- You can Tweet once per day until the Giveaway ends and earn one entry per day on Twitter. (If you start today (11/04) you could earn over 20 entries!!)
- Do all of this before the Giveaway officially ends on Tuesday 11/24/2015 at 10pm Eastern.
- I will select a random winner and announce the winner on Wednesday 11/25/2015 on Twitter and on my blog.
That’s it! Easy as pie. Good luck and happy writing! I’m looking forward to reading your comments and Twitter posts!