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Thursday, August 8

Writers: Give Your Creativity a Boost

By Shanna Swendson, @ShannaSwendson

Part of The Writer’s Life Series 


JH: We can't always tap into our creativity on demand, and it's a good idea to engage in activities that help refill our creative wells. This month, Shanna Swendson shares tips on boosting your creativity. 

Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about and became a novelist. She’s written a number of fantasy novels for teens and adults, including the Enchanted, Inc. series and the Rebel Mechanics series. She devotes her spare time to reading, knitting, and music.

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Take it away Shanna…

Shanna Swendson
Shanna Swendson
Whether you’ve got a bad case of writer’s block or you want to take your writing to the next level, you could probably use a creativity boost. I’m always looking for that extra edge, so I’ve done a lot of reading about creativity and tried a number of creativity boosters. Here are some things I’ve tried and how they’ve worked for me.

First, the physical side, since there is a link between the mind and body, and if you want your brain to function at its best, you need to take care of your body.

Exercise


Studies have shown that physical activity can boost cognitive performance. In other words, you think better after you’ve done some kind of activity. So, take a walk or turn on some music and dance before a writing session, and you’ll probably have better ideas and be more productive.

I’ve definitely found this to be the case. My word count goes up substantially on days when I take a walk in the morning and take breaks to move throughout the day. I don’t know for sure that I’m more creative, since that’s hard to judge, but the words seem to flow more freely. It helps that I use my walking time to think about my story, so when I come home I usually have the next scene worked out.

Hydrate


You perform better mentally when you’re hydrated, so be sure to drink plenty of water. Caffeinated beverages don’t really count for hydration, so as much as I consider tea to be the elixir of life, I have to drink plenty of water, as well. 

You may not realize what a difference being hydrated makes to your thinking until you get used to drinking plenty of water and then have a day when you don’t drink as much. You’ll be surprised how sluggish and spacey you feel. That’s your normal state when you aren’t properly hydrated.

Then the mental side of things. Sometimes you have to trick your brain into stretching itself. 

(Here's more on On Maximizing Creativity)

Play


Engaging in some kind of playful activity before a writing session can help loosen up your brain so that you’re more creative and open to new ideas. This does not mean getting lost in computer solitaire. It’s more about doing something child-like to free yourself of your adult constraints. 

For a bonus effect, make it a physical activity so you also get that exercise effect. Play fetch or tug-of-war with your dog, play hopscotch, skip rope, play a make-believe game with your children, send a Slinky down the stairs, spin a top, fly a kite. You get the idea. 

I don’t do this as often as I should, but I do have a hula hoop that I use when I take a break, and that’s a playful way to get some activity between writing sessions. I also have a top I play with when I’m thinking, and there’s the little army man with a parachute to drop from upstairs. I don’t know if it makes my writing any better, but it’s nice to insert a little fun into the day and make myself laugh.

Listen to Music


The claims of the “Mozart effect” have been somewhat debunked for making children smarter since the effect doesn’t last long after the music stops, but while you’re listening to classical music, you’re more likely to get into a “flow” state that allows you to tap into your creativity and increase your productivity. Jazz also works. It has something to do with the complexity of these kinds of music. 

I definitely have found that this works. My word count goes up when I listen to classical music when I write (I was listening to Mozart while writing the first draft of this post). For me, it has to be instrumental music so I don’t stop to listen for the words or sing along, and it works best when it’s not a familiar piece. I find the “classical for focus” type playlists and stations on streaming music services to be most effective. Then it’s somewhat random and generally unfamiliar, so I almost don’t hear it consciously as I work.

Some authors use movie soundtracks as writing music. I’ve found that they work best for setting a mood for a particular scene, but they don’t send me into the flow state as well as classical music does, possibly because I find myself focusing on the music and thinking of the movie scenes that go with it.

Do Something Else Creative 


This is especially good when you’re blocked because it keeps you in a creative mindset without staring at the blank page in frustration. Draw, paint, cook, knit, sew, sing, play an instrument, dance. 

I find that singing is good because the deep breathing involved helps get more oxygen to the brain and works almost like exercise. Practicing the piano also works because it’s a new skill, which is another thing that can help you think better. 

Studies show that children who study music do better in school, so it stands to reason that adults who do so may also perform better.

You may notice that there’s a lot of overlap. There are things that involve physical activity and creativity, so you can boost your performance in a lot of ways with one activity.

This is only scratching the surface of things that can help rev up your creativity. Next time, I’ll have some more things to try. 

About Enchanted Ever After

Katie Chandler’s wedding day is coming soon, and that makes this a very bad time for rumors about magic to be stirring among the general public. As Katie delves deeper into an online anti-magic underground movement, she starts to suspect that there’s something more going on. Katie’s got to track down and stop a dire plot—and fast. Otherwise, society will be forever altered, and Katie’s wedding day could be ruined in this conclusion to the Enchanted, Inc. series.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for these tips. It was just the thing I needed to get the creative juices flowing. One thing I do know is that when I write with music playing in the background I do a whole lot better.

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  2. Oh my gosh! I've been a fan of Enchanted Inc forever. I loved reading what helps you create your writing magic! Thanks for sharing!

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