Creative Cross Pollination

Today’s post is a special treat – a guest post from Jennie Nash, author of The Only True Genius in the Family, which was published earlier this month by Berkley Trade.

Creative Cross Pollination, or How Knitting, Painting and Gardening Can Help You Become a Better Writer

by Jennie Nash, author of The Only True Genius in the Family

Writing is a thing that you necessarily do by yourself. Even if you’re sitting in a crowded Starbucks or the reading room of a fantastic library, you are the only one who is going to decide which word to put down next, which scene to write next and which project to see through to completion. In a great essay entitled, “The Talent of the Room,” Michael Ventura put it best: “Writing is something you do alone in a room. Copy that sentence and put it on your wall because there’s no way to exaggerate or overemphasize this fact. It’s the most important thing to remember if you want to be a writer. Writing is something you do alone in a room.”

The strangest thing has happened to me, however, during the writing of my last two books. Around about page 100, I start to obsess about getting up and going out, and the places I always fantasize about going are places where I could make some other kind of art. I’d think about going to the art store and buying giant tubes of paint, going to the yarn store and buying bags of merino wool, or taking a class in how to throw a clay pot. I became mesmerized by the idea of starting a new project – something with color, something with texture, something that’s just more tangible than words on a page.

I used to fight the impulse. I thought that a “real” writer would just stay in the room and finish the story. What I found, however, is that if I allow myself the freedom to wander, creatively speaking, it always helps my work. Spend a little time in a bead shop stringing chunks of turquoise on a wire and you’ll understand something about rhythm. Run your hands over some bright red baby alpaca yarn, and you’ll learn something about texture. And if you need a reminder that failure is an inherent part of creativity and that throwing out a few hundred words (or pages) isn’t the end of the world? Try turning a chunk of clay into a bowl.

I know that writers have to work alone in a room, but I also know this: the more experiences of life we can take in there with us, the richer our work will be. I no longer shy away from the urge to create something besides stories – to play with color, texture, pattern, rhythm, and taste. My fifth book is coming out this month, and I’m in the middle of my sixth…and I also have some horribly misshapen clay bowls on a shelf, some painfully thin scarves in a drawer, and a few paintings on my bathroom wall that feature a rather hideous shade of olive green that I mixed right on the canvas just because I thought it would be fun.

About the Author

Jennie Nash lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and two daughters. She is an instructor at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Visit her website,, to read first chapter of her new novel, The Only True Genius in the Family. Visit Meet Your Muse, Jennie’s blog about creative inspiration.

Other books by Jennie Nash:

The Last Beach Bungalow, a novel about a breast cancer survivor who falls in love with a house.

The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming: And Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer, a memoir about love, loss and lingerie.

About Guest
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12 Responses to “Creative Cross Pollination”

  1. Deb says:

    I definitely agree with this cross-pollination concept. I took an elective in black+white photography so I could take photos to accompany my writing if the need would arise. The final portfolio project was to tell a story in 6 photos without words.

    Now I always take photos at events even if I know I can’t sell them with the story because they remind me of things, impressions, to communicate. Related to this, I started sketching again just for the fun of it (inspired by Woolgathering). The act of sketching really sharpens how you look at things so you put down the important elements and the viewer knows what you attempted to sketch.

    Congratulations to Jenny on her publication. I’m looking forward to the book.

    Debs last blog post..More Superstition

    • I used to do a lot of sketching and I have always wanted to take a photography course. I used to play music as well. My sense is that the more creative you are, the more creative you’ll be. Of course, there’s also a fine line between trying different things and spreading yourself too thin. I used to have so many hobbies that I never completed anything. Over time, I scaled everything down and now my focus is (obviously) on creative writing. But yes, it’s definitely good to season one’s writing with some art or music, or anything creative.

  2. I love the term creative cross-pollination, and I definitely agree with it. I get a lot of my ideas for writing when I’m out taking pictures, because I find an image in my viewfinder that I want to carry over to the page.

    Gabriel Gadflys last blog post..Kisses For Nemo

  3. Marelisa says:

    Hi Jennie: I’m putting the finishing touches on my ebook on “How to Be More Creative – A Handbook for Alchemists” and I completely agree that creative excursions can help you regardless of what task you’re involved in. You never know when a foreign film might give you the missing piece to your novel, or if you’ll find inspiration for your marketing campaign at the circus, or maybe overhear a conversation at a coffee house that helps you solve a problem you’ve been having.

    • It’s so true. I’ve been trying to pay close attention to conversations lately to see if there is anything I can use for story ideas and dialog. What I’m finding is that overheard conversations or even conversations in which you’re actually a participant are great for humor. People do say the funniest things…

  4. --Deb says:

    I like this a lot–because different kinds of creativity all feed into each other. I think that when you stick to just one creative outlet, it grows stale … unless you augment it with other things to make it “fresh” again.

    –Debs last blog post..Pet Names

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly, Deb. I mostly doodle in my journal but I’ve been eyeing my dusty old guitar for awhile now and thinking about picking it up again. It’s just so hard on one’s fingers! Ouch.

  5. ScreenwritingforHollywood says:

    “I’d think about going to the art store …”
    That sounds a little too familiar.

    Thanks for the advice Jennie. I definitely struggle with how much artistic wandering to allow myself.

    (Nice guest post, Melissa.)

  6. J.D. Meier says:

    Well put.

    I think of lot of the best works are a mash up of rich experiences. It comes from drawing from a variety of skills and experiences and playing at our work.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Test Your Decisions Against Reality

    • It’s true – you never know what will inspire your next writing project. I get a lot of ideas from conversations and people, and from fiddling around with other creative activities. It’s always an adventure and a discovery.