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Thursday, October 3

Break out of the Box and Escape the Rut: Tips to Boost Your Creativity

By Shanna Swendson, @ShannaSwendson

Part of The Writer’s Life Series 


JH: You can't keep up with your creative output without receiving creative input. Refilling the well matters. This month, Shanna Swendson shares another batch of 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
In my previous post, I shared some creativity boosters. Those tips only scratched the surface of ways you can improve your creativity. Here are a few more things to try.

Shaking things up can help shake up your brain.


Write at a different time, in a different place, in a different way. If you usually type, try dictation or writing longhand. Write in crayon on unlined paper, so you can feel like a child again and aren’t constrained by rules. Work outdoors or in a different room. If you usually get dressed before working, even at home, try wearing pajamas when you work. I’ve also seen a recommendation to use a different font than you normally use for writing—one of the fun, silly ones. Be sure to change your document to a more professional font before submitting.

Changing your non-writing routine can also help shake up your thinking.


Just brushing your teeth or doing some other routine task with your non-dominant hand can affect the way you think for the rest of the day. Get up early or late, take a different route for your morning walk, or visit a place you’ve never gone before. Cook and eat a new food, eat breakfast for dinner, or eat in a new place. You can’t expect to find new ideas while you’re in a rut.

Take a vacation break.


This is part of why vacations are important. The root of the word “vacation” is “vacate,” which means “to empty.” It’s about emptying your mind of old things to make room for new things. The critical part of a vacation for mental renewal is the change of routine—stepping away from your usual habits and doing different things, even if you’re staying in the same place.

It’s also important for the creative life to refill the well. You can’t create non-stop without absorbing some creation. It may feel lazy to take a real break, but you’ll do better work if you make a point of doing so every so often. Take time to read things you enjoy, even if they have nothing to do with your work. Watch television shows or movies, go to the theater, listen to music or go to concerts, visit art museums or botanical gardens. Find the things that inspire you and make a point of doing them. Remind yourself of what you like about stories, what made you want to write in the first place, and go back to those things every so often.



Find Your Creative Triggers


Every person has different creative triggers, the things that make your thoughts pop. If you find your own triggers, you can use them when you need a mental boost. For some people, it’s water. They get their best ideas in the shower or when walking beside or boating on a body of water. Others may get inspiration while driving or exercising. You may find yourself mentally creating while you’re falling asleep at night or waking in the morning—that twilight time of the brain when you’re neither fully asleep nor fully awake. Take note of when you come up with your best creative bursts, and when you need a good idea, do these things.

We keep hearing that we need to think outside the box to really move our work to the next level. If “the box” is your brain, how do you get outside it to shake up your thinking? Adding a dose of randomness can help—something you don’t choose for yourself. Here are some things to try:

Play “radio roulette” (or iTunes shuffle)


Listen to music in a way that you don’t control what song comes up next, whether on the radio, on a streaming service, or using shuffle on your own music collection. With each song that comes up, try to apply it to the project you’re working on. Does it (or could it) reflect what’s going on with your characters or the story? I find this really helpful when I’m plotting a book because it can send a story down a path I never would have thought of on my own.

Flip open a book or magazine and see if there’s anything on the open page that could be made to apply to your story.


You can do a similar thing online by getting random articles from Wikipedia or an “I’m feeling lucky” search on Google. Even if nothing applies directly, it can send your thinking in new directions.

Some writers use Tarot cards to jolt their thinking or to consider new connections.


Any kind of cards with pictures on them that you can spin into stories (like those used for children’s games) can also work for this exercise.

Brainstorm with someone else to get away from your usual thought patterns.


The outside input will force you to think in different ways, even if you don’t end up using the other person’s input. Get the other person to ask you questions about your ideas, and the other person’s perspective may allow you to see your ideas in a different way.

Really, a lot about creativity comes down to change, getting out of your usual thought processes and making new mental connections. To become more creative, get out of your ruts and routines and do something different.

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.

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