How to Stay Creative – and Sharp

and I have been discussing the idea of creativity. Particularly, how a creative writer can make it (even make it big) in this world.

It seems we’ve already faced up to reality: there just isn’t a dream job for us. When doing a craigslist search for a new job, us writers are forced to look at the marketing/PR section. It is the only place where we can find 1.) a decent salary 2.) a potential retirement plan and benefits (not always so) and 3.) something to pay the bills while we write in our free time.

“Free time” for a writer looks differently than that of a therapist, teacher, or researcher. Those people all leave their jobs feeling satisfied, fulfilled, and ready to unwind after a hard day’s work. I know people like that. I’m friends with people like that. They’ve influenced people. They’ve made a difference. They’ve performed creative acts involving their skills, and at the end of the day – they can truly relax and recharge. For us writers, it can be like that – or not.

I’m sure for most of us, we come home wanting to get all that creative energy out of us – but we’re tired, drained, and exhausted from a day of writing technical jargon, or staring at screens, or being mostly alone (which is the plight of a writer, no matter what type.) We want to send out our work to literary journals, but how? We just spent 8 hours working on writing that isn’t creative (or not even working on writing) plus hours commuting back and forth to our home. Plus we have to take care of errands, see people we love, all of that normal human stuff. Given those circumstances, how can us writers stay creative? Where – and how – can we find creativity within our days? How can we utilize “free time” so we can send our stories out for publication?

1. It does help if you have a creative job. Or at least a job where you write something.
I’m lucky in the fact that I truly enjoy my job, and I think it improves me, even as a creative writer. Each day presents a new challenge that I must conquer: making science accessible to the everyday reader. I have to really use parts of my brain that have been untapped since taking “Oceans & Atmospheres” in college. It’s good for me in that it’s a challenge, but I wouldn’t say it 100% fills me. Plus, I lose a good 10 hours a day where I could be working on a novel, novella, or series of short stories. Now that would satisfy me. But still, I write. So I am not rusty or out of shape when it comes to language. It’s easier to start when you’re not stale.

2. Surround yourself with writer friends.
My friend Kelly started a writer’s group nearly a year ago, and it’s been the best thing that’s happened to our group of friends. We meet every other week, on a rotating location schedule. A different writer is in charge of providing a prompt and reading work from a published author. This writer’s group forces me to continually generate new content, as well as read work published by others. Starting the group – and continuing it – wasn’t easy. We’ve had people drop out whom we’ve never seen again. But a core group still remains, and those folks have proven to be good, connected friends to have. Also – extend your friendships beyond a writer’s group. My friend Kelly and I are able to talk about writing whenever we want. We’ve motivated each other to submit to journals, join other groups, apply to school, attend readings, you name it.

3. Listen to music during all parts of the day.
I listen to music as much as I possibly can. With the advent of Internet stations like Last.fm and Pandora, I’m introduced to new music daily. I often feel my stories have a soundtrack to them, and sometimes I’m struck by a certain melody or musical movement. I can’t help but channel a past memory, or an idea, or even just a feeling – and then I know I need to write about it. Even if it’s just one sentence on a scrap of paper, it’s something.

4. Always be (physically) able to write.
There’s nothing worse than having a good idea, and not having a place to put it. For that reason, I follow the cliché writer style of carrying a notebook and a pen. I’ve also written on the “memo” section of my cell phone once, while waiting for someone at the train station. At one time, I took around a recorder with me. And if I have a thought at work, I add it to my Google doc entitled “writings.” Waiting to write something down has caused me to forget some very good lines. Stay prepared.

5. Make time.
Think about anything you’ve ever done in which you’re proud. It took time. It took a certain level of dedication, trial and error, and experimentation – whatever. In order to “succeed” or feel accomplished and good, you had to make it a priority. You had to make it part of the day, or week, or month. Like your romantic relationships or friendships, your relationship with writing has to be built on commitment. You can’t expect open communication from your brain to hand without making it a priority. You can’t expect to cross the finish line (or get published), without putting in a ton of miles (some good, others not).

Good luck being creative. I hope to post some writing exercises to inspire your hand to move sometime down the road. Please talk to us in the comments about how you stay creative and motivated as a writer, artist, athlete, whatever.

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3 Comments on “How to Stay Creative – and Sharp”

  1. November 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Thank you so much, Rose. I wish I had more writer friends, I think that would help immensely. It’s kind of of odd that I have no friends who are deeply intrigued by writing, since it’s something I’ve been passionate about my entire life. In fact, most of my older childhood friends have, at one time or another, good-heartedly made fun of me for wanting to be a writer, which makes me uncomfortable sharing writings with them or other friends.
    I love the music suggestion and agree that it always puts me in a more creative zone.
    Lastly, you hit the nail on the head with the last one. I just need to make time. I get down on myself for not making time for friends, to workout, to cook healthy meals, but I completely let myself get out of writing without any remorse. That needs to change!

  2. November 23, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    Fantastic post, Rose! I found myself nodding my head throughout – especially when you talked about those marketing/PR jobs. Too true. ;) I really need to find a writer’s group in Chicago. I’ve been fortunate that Bobby and my two sister-in-laws have been excited about my novel, but it would be really nice to get some outside feedback while also connect with people who understand the joy, the frustration and everything in between.

    Speaking of making time, I’m off to do that this afternoon. Thanks for putting into words what has been on my mind a lot lately!

  3. Hope
    November 23, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    Thank you for the inspiring and useful read! I find listening to music very helpful too.The other day at my Mum’s art class they had a aromatherapy muse day, where you had to bring in different smells, like curry spice or cut grass, and share with others. It got me thinking about how the different senses can also be of assistance in the creative process. I was really surprised at how effective smells are at triggering moods or memories, and can see it being a useful strategy with writing.

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