Wednesday, May 26, 2021

7 Ways to Stay Creative Every Day


Quick pastel pencil and watercolor study on Arches paper. 20 minutes.

Stay creative every day. It's a great idea, but how do you really put it into practice? Especially on the days when time goes by like quicksilver and you barely have time to breathe, let alone work on your novel or latest series of pen and ink marine sketches.

Life has been a lot like that for me this last month. I'm lucky if I get to revise a single WIP page a day. Don't even mention editing a full chapter. But none of that means I've given up on my creativity or any of my on-going projects. What it does mean is that I've had to maintain momentum, keeping the ball rolling on the days when my time and energy are so limited it seems I will never complete a single project this year.

After a lot of trial and error, though, I've discovered seven things I can do to keep my creativity afloat on both the good and bad days, starting with: 

1. Eat breakfast. Lunch and dinner too. Not only is a balanced, healthy diet good for boosting your spirits and stamina throughout the day, it can also be an overlooked source of daily creativity. Preparing meals that you enjoy on both a culinary and visual level can easily go beyond just finding something to eat. How about sketching, photographing, or writing about your favorite meals before or after eating? Who knows, you might end up with a cookbook, or a memoir. If nothing else you can add the same meals to feed your fictional characters on the written page. I love books that make me hungry for a serving of pad thai or a plate of brie and fresh garden pears. For some helpful ideas on how to use food in your writing as well as what to cook for yourself, visit my posts on how to use food in your writing, along with vegetarian meal suggestions and how to make The Colonel's Muesli for the best breakfast ever.

2. Find time to sit still and do nothing. Call it a nap, meditation, or sheer idleness, but it's good to sit still, close your eyes, and release the need to "stay busy" for at least 15 minutes a day. Be comfortable with letting the world spin for a bit without feeling that you have to help push it along. Once you've learned to relax into "non-action" you'll also be amazed at how many ideas and solutions to creative dilemmas will come to mind.

3. Spend 20 minutes making friends with your tools and materials. Experiment. Play. Scribble some pastels on toned paper. Arrange some magazine cut-outs into a quick collage or a found poem. Freewrite with purple gel pens. The key is to go fast. In under half an hour you'll have accomplished at least two objectives: 1) You've exercised your creative muscles, and 2) You will have a piece of art or writing that can either be considered a finished piece or a starting point for further exploration. And all on the day you thought you'd never get anything done. A genuine win-win.

4. Read. I can't imagine a day without reading--fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenplays--and I hope you can't either. Literature feeds the soul. To me it's as important (maybe more so!) as food. The only downside to falling in love with a wonderful book or story is wanting to stay with it, "just one more chapter!" Which is usually when you realize you've been reading so long you haven't done a thing to foster your own creative pursuits. My answer to this is to set a timer for when I want to read during the day (30 minutes is perfect), or I use reading as a reward, what I get to do after I've written my own word quotas or filled in a few sketchbook pages. Another tactic is to read only at night, choosing a book over a movie or TV program.

5. Declutter. Toss or recycle at least one item a day: an old piece of mail; a worn-out T-shirt; a spool with 10 inches of thread left on it. We all have things that are unnecessary, taking up needed space without adding anything in return, or belongings that we can't stand having in our lives any longer. The other night I overhead someone say, "If you don't like it, throw it away." At first I was a little shocked, but then it made total sense. How can you maintain a creative life with things that disturb you, or that keep you stuck in some debilitating way? Surround yourself with only what inspires you, or as Marie Kondo teaches, "brings you joy."

6.  Develop a "limited" journal style. While journaling is always an excellent creative pursuit in itself, it can easily be neglected while we're immersed in a larger project. Either we're too busy to journal, or worse, feel we don't have anything to write about. My answer here is to think in terms of 12. Open your journal and number from 1-12, leaving as much space between lines as you think you'll need to express a full thought. When you're finished, jot down twelve amazing things that happened during the day. Or twelve things you liked about the book you're reading, or twelve things you don't like. Twelve things to be grateful for. Twelve possibilities for your next WIP scene. Twelve things you'd like to paint or draw. Use any of the twelve points as subjects to journal about in more depth when you have more time.

7. Set out what you need to accomplish your next day's work. Before you go to bed each night, choose what it is you want to do with your creativity the following day or weekend. Perhaps you want to work on a particular chapter of your WIP, or you want to prepare a collection of magazine headlines to have ready for a found poem. Decide what you need to have available to fulfill your task and then assemble the pieces, laying everything on your desk or work space in advance. Set out your notes, your chapter drafts, your fountain pens, reference photos, paper and paints in one convenient place. When you're ready to work, every pen, dictionary, and chocolate bar is there for you, no excuses and no wasted time hunting down your tools.

Tip of the Day: Staying creative every day is really about living creatively every day. Paying extra attention to things we might not regard as inherently "creative" can turn the ho-hum into the spectacular. Choosing to wear our "good clothes" for an ordinary outing; adding extra sparkle and personality to an email; making a gift for a friend; planting a summer garden--it all adds up to a wonderful, and creative, life. Enjoy!