Years ago, my mom and I took art classes from a family friend. Magnificently eccentric and unapologetically spontaneous, her approach to teaching art transformed my view of all creative ventures. While her classes did little for my sketching ability (by no fault of hers, I assure you), her style and exploration continue to mold my own attempts to expand my work in writing.
At the start of each class, she would assign us small tasks designed to strengthen the creative side of our brain. These tasks varied from blind sketches of items we were allowed to touch but not see to partnered activities drawing scenes or objects described by our counterpart.
I have found I am my most productive when I continue similar practices with my writing. Here are a few of the strategies I most frequently turn to:
While it’s not going to add to your word count, pick up a hobby or craft that lets you create when your words are failing you. Sometimes I design things based off of my work-in-progress, but not always. I’ve found that exercising my creative brain in any way helps me by accessing those creative juices in different, more tangible ways.
When I’m in a funk, going on an adventure (mini or more elaborate in nature) is fantastically inspiring. As I alternate between writing this blog and working on my novel, I am on a plane ride to (finally!) explore the Wizarding World at Universal Studios. Of course, these (ye gads! My poor bank account!) expensive trips can’t happen all the time, but there is no shortage of day trip destinations to check out. My favorite in Northeast Ohio? Stan Hywet, Squire’s Castle, and Holden Arboretum!
This is a good one to utilize while exploring, but if traveling isn’t an option, use a photograph of a selected locale instead. Then, describe it in every nitty-gritty, messy detail you can. Most of these descriptions will never get used in my actual novel work, but they have always helped knock loose some aspect of a problematic scene.
Similar to the scenery expansion, I love to go people watching and make up mini-stories about a person or two who catch my eye. What’s their name and back story? Where did they come from, and where are they going? What is their vision for themselves, or what dreams have they abandoned and why? Again, not one that necessarily provides fodder directly for my works-in-progress, but one that kicks that characterization part of my brain into high gear.
Collaboration and communal writing
Building a circle of writing friends has been magnificently beneficial to my writing. In addition to offering moral support and a sounding board for ideas, we frequently issue each other writing challenges. Some of these are prompt-based complete with minimum word counts and deadlines, while others are shared writing projects taking turns writing a sentence, paragraph, or chapter to create a storyline where we are each trying to outwit the other.
We always establish rules, of course, such as requiring power plays to be foreshadowed (and thereby possibly countered preemptively, if the counterpart catches the clues), or a requirement of some sort in our character (like always speaking in metaphor).
A few turns in to a collaboration challenge, and I find myself really stretching the possibilities of my characters as well as my skill in plying my craft.
I hope you find these tools useful! Also, a bonus perspective shift I picked up in art classes: Never start with the fingernails!
Translation? When you are working on a sketch, don’t get bogged down in the small details. Get the general form of your work done first, then go back over it and begin adding in details. The fingernails should be the last bit added. One of the hardest things for me to overcome in my writing was letting myself get distracted and overwhelmed expanding on these “fingernail” sort of details early in my stories.
The result was a lot of frustration and several works growing so convolutedly out of control as they became engorged with extraneous details that I set them aside to “work on later.” Add the details once you know where the story itself is going.
Happy creating! Back to my 10-weeks-to-a-novel I go!