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Write On: How to Keep the Words and Ideas Flowing

For writers, the creativity cycle is a real thing. Some days the words pour out of us and other days we have to fight for every one. Those fighting days can be discouraging and make us feel like maybe we aren’t cut out for this writing thing. And while they will occasionally come to us no matter what we do, there are things you can do to make them less frequent.


1) Write Regularly: If you can manage every day, that is great. But if you can’t, make it a priority as often as you can, hopefully several times a week. I took a few short vacations in the last six months where I didn’t write at all while gone, and when I returned I found it very hard to get back into the swing of things.  Even after just a week off, I struggled to find ideas and words. In one case, this “block” lasted several weeks! Talk about discouraging. When we write regularly, we keep our creative mind primed. It sees ideas more readily because it knows it’s supposed to be looking for them. It finds words more readily because “muscle memory” kicks in. And while this might sound a bit “woo-woo,” I think the creative mind works better when it feels prioritized. “Writing is important to her, so it’s important to me!” The more you write, the more you write. Find time for it as often as you can.

2) Have a Separate Writing Space: Not everyone will have room for this, but if you do, it’s a great way to indicate to your brain that it’s writing time. Hopefully this space will be away from reminders of the “real world” so that you’re brain can really focus on the work and free itself from your everyday demands. Thinking about laundry never helped anyone be creative. I don’t have room for a separate writing space, so I write in my home office, the same place where I do my editing work. This isn’t ideal because it is easy to get distracted by work emails and Post-It note reminders I’ve left myself for my next work day. Also, my brain easily slips into editor mode in this space, which isn’t great early in the creative process. (More on this in the next item.) But I make the best of it. I clear out work paraphernalia so it’s harder to see it. I always leave the space for a while after finishing work so I can shift modes from editing to creating. And I take a moment to remind myself that it’s time for Editing Erica to step aside and make room for Creating Erica. If you can carve out a separate space for writing, do it! If you can’t, do everything you can to make the space you do use conducive to creative work.

3) Keep Your Editing Brain Off Early in the Creative Process: While it is true that good books (and poems and songs and short stories) aren’t written, they’re rewritten, there’s a time for that, and it isn’t when you first start a project. Striving for perfection is a sure way to kill creativity. When you are first getting your ideas down, it is best to let the brain run free, to get into the flow, and not to criticize what you’re doing. Will the plot be fully formed? No. Will the sentences be perfect? No. That’s not the point of a first draft. A first draft is where you are figuring things out, where you are searching for the story. I think author Shannon Hale says it perfectly: “I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” If you start to analyze and critique too soon, you’ll scare your creative brain into thinking it isn’t good enough. Just create. There will be plenty of time for editing later.

4) Step Away from the Computer If You’re Stuck: While it is important to write regularly and make your writing a priority, there are times when the best course of action is to step away. If the words just aren’t coming and it all feels like a slog, taking a break can give your brain space to work things out. I frequently get ideas while exercising or showering or swimming. (I think my brain thinks this is funny. “Hey, here’s something you really need to write down. So I’m going to tell it to you when it is completely inconvenient for you to write it down.”) And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck while writing, unable to find a solution, and when I wake up after a night’s sleep, the answer is waiting for me. My brain just needs me to butt out for a bit every now and then so it can figure things out. In addition to exercising, showering, and sleeping, reading and listening to music can also help get a sluggish creative mind moving. There’s nothing quite like immersing ourselves in words and emotions and ideas to jump-start our own imaginations.


Every writer will have periods where writing feels hard and ideas are hard to find. But you can ensure they don’t come around too often by clearing the way for your creative mind. What are some of the things you do to help keep the words flowing?




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