Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Creativity Boosters

In my writing posts, I've been talking about what to do when you hit the hard part of a story, whether you're stuck or distracted. To wrap up the series, today I'm going to share some creativity boosters that can help whether you're stuck, uninspired, or just want to juice up your work. Some of these come from actual scientific research that I picked up during my years in my previous career as a medical writer and some are things I've picked up or tried in my current career as a full-time novelist. Not everything will work for everyone, but I don't think there's anything potentially harmful in here, so give it a try and stick with what works for you.

1) Get some exercise. There have been a number of studies showing that physical activity increases cognitive performance and creativity. It makes sense that more blood flowing to the brain will help it work better.

2) Listen to -- or better yet, make -- some music. There's something about music that has an effect on the brain and wakes up parts of the brain that aren't used in other activities. This is especially true when you play music. There can also be a meditative quality to playing music that can spark creativity.

3) Dance. This combines #1 and #2 -- physical activity plus music -- in a way that really gets the creative juices flowing. Before a writing session, try putting on some tunes and dancing around.

4) Use your non-dominant hand for some routine daily activities, like brushing your teeth. This is one of those scientific research things. Supposedly, using your non-dominant hand forces your brain to forge new pathways, and when new things in your brain light up or when a different part of your brain is used for different things, creativity increases. This is also supposed to help you in forming new habits -- if you're doing things a different way, the new habits you're trying to form at the same time are more likely to stick because they become part of the brain rewiring itself.

5) On a related note, change your habits or routine. It's hard to think outside the box when you're living inside the box. Change the order in which you do things, take a different route to work, eat something new or different, write at a different time of day. The change doesn't have to be permanent. You just want to shake things up a bit.

6) And this leads to … take a real vacation. That doesn't necessarily mean going to a new place. The word "vacation" means an emptying. The idea is that your mind gets "full" from everyday life, and every so often, you need to do a kind of emptying to release it all and make a fresh start. You can get the same effect at home by changing your routines and taking a break that actually feels like a real break. This is something good to do between projects, if deadlines allow. Instead of writing or even thinking about writing, refill the creative well by doing other activities. Go to the theater or a concert. Have a picnic and walk in the woods. Try to not think about work for a few days. If you can do so without twitching, take a break from social media.

7) Do something else that's creative -- dance or music are good, but there's also drawing and painting, coloring, woodworking, sewing, baking, etc. Create something tangible.

8) Learn something new -- this is another one of those brain exercises. Picking up a new skill requires your brain to work in different ways. Learn a musical instrument or foreign language. Take a continuing education class in a subject that's always fascinated you but that was too impractical to study in college. If you don't already play the piano, learning piano hits multiple creativity boosters -- it's making music and learning a new skill that requires you to use your non-dominant hand (I'm currently learning to play the harp, which does the same thing).

9) Meditate, or just be still. Creative brains tend to be going a hundred miles an hour in every possible direction, with multiple mental "tabs" open. A lot of writers think in narrative. It's good to every so often let all that go and just be. Take some time to sit still and let the thoughts flow in and out without trying to direct them. You can try actual meditation where you don't think about anything, or you can use this as thinking time. The idea is to just relax and be without feeling like there's something you should be doing.

10) Play. Studies have shown that a session of play before a work session improves work performance and creativity. So before you sit down to write, act out a scene with the action figures on your desk, play fetch with your dog, get out the bubble soap and make bubbles, dress up some dolls, or do something else childlike and fun. I don't know if video or computer games have the same effect. The study I saw only mentioned real-world active play. I think the problem with video games for this is that they have an immersive, hypnotic effect, but I'm not a gamer so I haven't tested this in real life. I can vouch for the soap bubbles, though. I think the idea is that doing something silly and childlike before you start to work gets your mind into that mode, so you're less likely to let "adult" constraints hold back your creativity.

Obviously, some of these tips work best at certain points of a project or between projects, some have to be incorporated into a creative way of life, and some are probably best for giving yourself the occasional boost.

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