Thursday, April 25, 2013

The (In)Complete List of Tips to Stay Creative

One of the most miserable questions with writing is the inevitable one of creativity: "How do I stay creative? How do I avoid writer's block? How can I keep writing?"

Personally, I'm of the opinion that writer's block is just creative fatigue (or sometimes fear), and the best way to keep writing is just to grit your teeth and move ahead—it's easier to edit a poorly-written page than an empty one—but even so, it's good for creative muscles to stay limber. So I'm gathering as many tips for staying creative as I can, and leaving them here. It will probably grow. For now, I'm organizing it like an exercise regimen, because it's the closest metaphor I can think of.

Let's get straight to it, then, shall we?*


Cramps happen in the body, but they can happen creatively, too. Limberness can help prevent stiffness in your creative output.
  • Make lists.
  • Make charts.
  • Make maps.
  • Make diagrams.
  • Sketch things.
  • Have a way of keeping track of ideas, even if it's just jotting them down on your cell phone or in a notebook. (Actually, notebooks are great if you're into the romanticized writer trope.) This isn't initially a way of getting great ideas, at least not at first. But it's helpful in the long run. If you don't treat any ideas as worthwhile, you train yourself not to have any more of them. Quantity's no guarantee of eventual quality, but it can certainly help.
  • Think deeply about things—even silly things (especially silly things). Why do you believe what you believe? Why does culture function this way and not that way? What would happen if—?
  • Entertain every idea to the fullest extent you can manage. Even if the idea amounts to nothing, you've made your ideation more flexible and robust.
  • People-watch in the least creepy manner available to you. Make up stories about what they're doing, where they're going, and why—always why.
  • Surround yourself with creative people. Make them your friends. Bonus points if they're actually fun to be around.


For a while, I thought I was really good at this. Put simply, I'm an art glutton. I can watch TV all day if you let me. I sucked, though, at thinking about the art I kept ingesting. There was no consideration in my consumption. That's crucial. You can't just watch things or read things and expect it to make you a better writer. As in love, so in art: engagement is a big deal. (That's a horrid joke and I'm ashamed of it.)
  • Ingest art you love. What about it appeals to you? Why does it resonate? Try to see past the curtain. What's going on behind the scenes?
  • Consider art you hate. (Don't do too much of this or it might seep in.) Why don't you like it? What about it conflicts with your own artistic sensibilities?
  • Analyze successful books, movies, or shows. Pick them apart mentally and with friends.
  • Try to think in archetypes. Break stories down to their tiniest parts and see what they really are. A good way to do this is to transpose stories. "This is about a football team in west Texas, but what if it's just the same as King Arthur's court?" Alternately, check out this compilation about how Taken and Finding Nemo are almost the same movie, in a way.
  • Find some music you can listen to without becoming distracted. I'm partial to ambient music, like Embers, the Album LeafExplosions in the Sky, or Port Blue, but that may not be your style. Peers of mine will often listen to music that reflects the mood they're trying to write in, be that slightly frenetic or folky or stately or whatever. The key is that it not distract you from what you're writing.


Once you're limber and well-fed, the really tough part of actually doing stuff comes around. This is where most of us get a bit gun-shy (or maybe that's just me). It's necessary, though. We must work at it. It's not enough to be a creative genius or an incisive thinker if you never do anything with it.
  • Write.
  • Keep writing.
  • Take a break—but try to do this only after you've actually done something. Creativity is like a muscle. It's good to rest it after a workout, but if all you do is rest it, nothing gets done.
  • Write some more.
  • Get feedback from some of the creative friends you made back in Staying Limber.
  • Keep writing.
  • Finish things.
  • Edit the finished things.
  • Edit some more.
  • Believe in what you've made.
  • Get more feedback.
  • Remember: no one is obligated to care about your story, so it's your job to make it as brilliant as it can possibly be. Edit some more.
  • Stay focused.
  • Write.


Nomming on the Galactus Burger with an XXL packet of fries and a 72-oz. bucket of sugar water, augmented by the Double Death by Chocolate Shake, is explicitly forbidden in the codes of exercisers everywhere (even though none of the above items technically exists). Same thing with creativity: there are some things which simply aren't wise to do. They'll gum up the works hard and fast.
  • Time-waster sites. I won't list them here (since that would only give us more things to use for time-wasting), but it's not as if they're hard to spot. Odds are good that as soon as you read "Habits to Avoid," you thought of one. One helpful tool for preventing Internet time-wasting is the Stay Focused Google add-on.
  • Most video games. While I won't deny they can be fun, and even sometimes a form of storytelling, most of them are a numbing agent. They're doing you no good.
  • Mindless television.
  • Beating yourself up. Self-hatred is a pretty standard human problem, but indulging in it isn't going to do you any good.
  • Hating what you make. Also nearly universal problem, but a terrible habit to keep. If you start hating what you make, take a step back from it.
  • Shooting down ideas for not being "good enough." Doing this trains your brain never to think of any ideas. Play with any idea that crosses your mind.
  • Stopping in the middle of something. This is, by far, the hardest one for me. In my entire life, I've finished exactly 1 (one) longterm project. It was 332 pages, single-spaced, and it was awful, but it was finished. Finishing things is a critical habit to have.

Miscellaneous Encouragement

*If you happen to be a creative type, but not the writing creative type, good for you! Parts of this aren't quite going to be geared toward you, but in general if you replace "write" with "make stuff," you should do just fine.

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