Sometimes you just want to write/draw/paint etc…
But when you put your pen to paper/keyboard nothing flows. But the urge to create is still itching in your fingers? What do you do?
Well here’s a list of what I do!
This is mostly aimed at writers but any of the “tips” can be modified to fit visual artists as well. Some of these are really simple and some of them less so.
P.S. I’ve written about this here, but this is an updated version.
1) Search for writing prompts
This might seem silly at first but let me explain:
A lot of times when we sit down to write, we sit down and work on something we already have in the works. Either an idea we have had in our heads that we just haven’t started yet or an ongoing novel/short story etc…
And sometimes those ideas just don’t want to work the way we want them to right at that moment. It’s not flowing and it feels unnatural. Sometimes you can push through it-and you should try because just on the other side of struggle is genius-but sometimes you can’t. If you try too long you might just start to hate your stories. And no one wants that.
So I advocate visiting prompt blogs, googling “writing prompts” etc…until something strikes you that you think you could write a page or two on. If nothing else it can get you warmed up for the real work you have to do.
This is a good place to start perusing for prompts.
P.S. The above also has image prompts for artists like “Make a wanted poster for your favorite fictional character” and such.
2) Search for Image Prompts
This kind of goes into the tip above but is also not quite the same.
For me, sometimes images will set loose a stream of ideas in my head that form into a story. Sometimes my brain comes up with these images all on its own and sometimes it needs some help along.
When that is the case and Google-ing”writing prompts” isn’t working for me, I will take a minute and think about the kind of story I am in the mood to work on. Is it a vampire story? An epic fantasy? A sappy romance? And I will search for images that might set something off.
One thing I will advocate, however, is be very careful in your search terms. I like looking at Fantasy-esque photos but try typing Fantasy into Google with safe search off. I doubt the images that arise will be the images you are looking for.
3)Change how/where you’re working
Something that doesn’t occur to me as often as I would like it to but that usually helps me to unblock my pent up creativity is to either change where I’m writing from or to change what I’m writing with.
If you are typing most of your work-which I think a lot of people do now-try picking up a pen and paper. If you are a big paper writer try changing the size or type of pen you are working with. I personally tend to prefer extra fine ball point pens so sometimes I will pick up a thick pen to work with.
If what you are writing on is portable then move from your normal spot. Instead of sitting at your desk, sit on your bed surrounded by blankets.
What works best for me, usually, if I’m typing and I am in the mood for typing but it’s not working out is that I will save whatever I am working on to Google Docs (I usually write in Scrivener) and then pick up my iPad and go for a walk somewhere and then open Google Docs and continue from there.
The ways in which you can change how and where you are working are virtually limitless so experiment!
I don’t know about you but usually when I write the first thing it occurs to me to try is fiction. I will try all sorts of stories and such before it will ever occur to me to write non-fiction.
But sometimes, in my experience, the reason I am blocked is because something is stressing me out that I haven’t properly dealt with yet.
I deal with things in writing so do keep that in mind.
I think keeping a daily journal is a good idea because it keeps your mind clear, but that’s not always easy and it’s something I am phenomenally bad at. But, if you have the time to write right this instant than you have the time to journal.
Don’t think too hard about this one. Just write. Write everything that comes to your mind. Write about the fact that you have nothing to write about. Write about that guy you saw on the bus who you think smiled at you. Write about how stressed you are about money. It doesn’t really matter what you write about. Just write. The more and the longer you write the more you may find buried. You might unearth some stresses or thoughts you weren’t even consciously aware of having until you saw it down on paper.
You can also take this time to reach out into the blog-o-sphere. If regular writing prompts don’t work try finding blog prompts. Something non-fiction you can write about with some sort of ease. The point isn’t to write a masterpiece. It’s to unblock your mind.
For this you won’t be actively writing, which may or may not appeal to you at any given moment.
One of my favorite things to do is go somewhere-a park, a ride on the bus, outside a cafe etc… and watch people. Sometimes I’ll sit with a notebook and sometimes not, but I’ll watch people. I’ll watch them in their cars and with their friends and imagine who they are and why. I will picture what their house looks like and then ask myself questions about them.
Are they married? Do they have kids? What do they like to do when they think they are alone? What secrets do they have? Do I think they had an easy life or one filled with obstacles? Why?
Find someone who fascinates you-for whatever reason-and then write about them. You aren’t giving them a plot or anything. You’re just creating a character from someone you see.
Hey, maybe they’ll show up in your next novel?
6)Change your playlist
I think we, as artists, occasionally underestimate the influence the world around us has. It’s easy to get lost in our own little minds and tune out what else is happening.
But even if most of you is tuned out, not all of you is. Part of you is picking up the sounds around you and while it might not be hurting you, it might not be helping you either.
I don’t usually write with music until I’ve lost myself in what I’m working on but when I start the impact that changing my playlist has on my writing has shocked me every time.
I like loud rock music. I just do. Evanescence is one of my favorite bands to listen to because I know every song by heart and can sing them at the top of my lungs without actually thinking about what I’m doing. I rock back and forth in my chair and write and write and write.
But, strangely enough, Evanescence isn’t always the right music to listen to. Rock music isn’t always the right music to listen to.
I know. Shocking.
Try using Spotify and making an unlikely playlist. Fill it with piano music or folk music or game soundtracks. Just try something new. Do a search based on a song you like but don’t normally listen to. You might be surprised at what comes up.
The reason I advocate Spotify and not Pandora, by the way, is because you can actually make playlists or listen to full albums on Spotify which makes it easier to control what you are listening to but, for all intents and purposes, Pandora could also work for changing up your music habits and depending on how you work it might even work better.
You never know what new music might unleash in your brain.
7)Try something new
So you want to create but your regular medium isn’t working. You’ve tried everything you can think of and still you find yourself unable to create even though you know something is itching to come out of you.
Try changing your medium.
If you write, try and draw. Don’t focus too much on quality, just on kind of creating something you see in your head.
I am awful at anything visual related. I can’t learn by watching things, I can’t draw a tree to save my life, I can’t paint. I can’t do anything relating to visual art. But, sometimes, I want to give it a shot.
Think of something you want to draw(or print out something you want to trace, even) and work on that instead of focusing on trying to write. Let a different, and yet adjacent, part of your brain work out the creativity for a while.
8)Write outside of your genre
Usually I write Fantasy of some sort. I write in all different genres of Fantasy-Epic, Urban, Angelic(which I just made up but it’s the only description I can come up with for one of my stories) etc…I like Fantasy. I read a lot of Fantasy among other things.
Which, obviously, means you might occasionally find yourself in a rut.
For this, I advocate stepping outside of your normal genre. It doesn’t even have to be far outside of your genre. If you normally write adventure epic fantasy, try writing an Urban Fantasy short story.
If you read in a lot of different genres-which I think all writers should-try writing in something else. I have a novella that I am working on that is Sci-Fi. It’s not something I’ve ever attempted but I’m having a lot of fun researching and creating new technologies.
Try something new. You might have something better in you than you ever thought!
This is another tip where you are not specifically writing, but the act of doing something related to writing but not actually writing might help you along.
Research things for your story. Research the mythos your world is based on.If you are creating your own mythos research lots of myths throughout history to get a good, rounded baseline.
Research historical characters who share traits to your characters.
Research something wholly unrelated to what you are working on but something you are interested in. (One of my in-progress stories came about when doing research on Greek Mythology just ’cause)
Learn something you didn’t know about a person, culture, place etc…that you didn’t know. Delve deeper and deeper. If nothing else, you now have baseline knowledge for something in the future.
10)Take a story you hate and re-write it
Chances are pretty good that if you are a writer than you are also a reader. And chances are equally good that if you are a reader you have picked up a book with an awesome premise that is just badly done. It happens a lot.
So re-write it. I wouldn’t suggest ever submitting it for publishing(at least not until you have re-worked it seven or eight times into something wholly your own) but you probably already have a base plot line down in your head, right? As you were reading the story you were probably thinking “They should have done this. How come they did that instead?”
So do it your way. It’s therapeutic and gets you writing even if it serves no other purpose.
You can also do this with movies, by the way. Any story with a premise you love with story-telling you hate.
Hope you find at least some of these helpful.