Writing usually involves sitting in a chair and hammering away at a keyboard. It can get repetitive and mundane.
I have often found that when I need a boost of creativity, removing myself from my normal writing environment is a good way to get ideas flowing.
If you’re feeling stuck, try positioning your body differently. Get off that chair, step away from your desk, and try standing at a counter or sitting on the floor in front of a coffee table. Put yourself in a different environment—take your journal outside or carry your whiteboard to the garage to do some brainstorming. Lie on your stomach in the grass and scratch words, carve them, or paint them, and let the stimuli of your surroundings and the tools in your hands guide your creativity in a new direction.
Below, you’ll find some activities that are designed to stimulate your creativity. You’ll use your body, your surroundings, and the tools you’re writing with to get inspired. Try a few and see if they work for you. Give yourself about 20-30 minutes so you have enough time to settle into the writing activity, and then see what happens.
- Supersize it: Get some oversized paper and sprawl out somewhere—like in the grass or on the floor. Use pens and pencils, and write until you fill up the entire sheet. Use big, enormous letters or itty bitty ones.
- Colored Markers: A pack of colored markers doesn’t cost much, and once you’ve got them, you can use them to write on that oversized paper, and that makes the previous activity a lot more fun. Putting down your words in color might spark fresh writing ideas, so use your markers to write in your notebook or journal, on sticky notes, and even on scratch paper.
- Sticky Notes: Try writing different parts of a story or poem on sticky notes. Limit yourself to a few words (for poetry) or just a line or two (for prose). On each sticky note, write a line of dialogue or some basic action (she walked toward the door). You’ll be writing in a tiny space, and that will make you choose your words more carefully. When you’re done, you can have fun patching all the sticky notes together to create a rough draft of sorts. As an alternative, you can use index cards for this activity.
- Chalk it Up: Actually, chalk it down. Most department and toy stores sell big buckets of large, thick sidewalk chalk, which is perfect for marking up sidewalks and driveways. This is a fun exercise to do with kids, by the way. Chalk a poem or a piece of flash fiction. If you want to save it, take a photo before washing it all away.
- Stand and Deliver: There are lots of ways you can write while standing. You can stand at a counter, for example, and write in your notebook. Try writing on a flat, vertical surface by taping paper to a wall, door, or window and then let your words flow. You can also use an easel or a whiteboard for this one.
- Lie on the Grass: The trick is to lie directly on the grass. Do not use a blanket or a towel. Make contact with the green—or physically connect with a texture you’re not used to. If the grass is too damp or dirty for you, then try this on sand or pavement (I bet the pavement’s WAY dirtier than the grass). The important thing is to be outdoors, lying down, and writing.
- Paint Your Words: You don’t need fancy paints or paintbrushes—a cheap set of watercolors from the school supply aisle will do. You might want to use that oversized paper for this one. Paint your story or poem instead of writing it, and if the mood strikes (and you’re feeling artistic), get some images in there too.
- Get Old-School: Use a brush, quill, or dip pen and an inkwell (yes, they still make this stuff) — or get a bonafide fountain pen — and find out what it was like to be a writer hundreds of years ago. Remember, some of the greatest writers in history did it this way, dipping their nibs into the ink: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Emily Dickinson. If they could do it, you can too!
- Scratching on Crayon: This an old trick that school-aged kids love: Use pastel crayons to color an entire sheet of paper. You can use a solid color, make rainbows, big bubbles, or stripes. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. When you’re done, go over the whole thing with the black crayon until it’s solid black. Now you can use your fingernail (or a sharp object, like a paper clip or the edge of a penny) to write by scratching off the black layer, and voila! Your writing reveals a rainbow of color beneath.
- Ambidexterity: Are you right-handed? Write with your left hand. Left-handed? Use your right. It feels awkward at first, but if you concentrate, you should be able to scrawl something legible using your opposite hand (yes, I know this because I have actually done some of these crazy things. What? You think I make this stuff up?).
- Stay at Your Computer: Okay, so you want to switch things up, but you just can’t pry yourself away from your beloved computer? You can still get creative. Try writing in white text on a black background. Or try lime green on a dark purple background. Zoom in and make your text huge, or zoom out and make it miniscule. Write bold or in italics. Find some unusual fonts on your computer and write with those. Try script fonts or big, bold fonts in different sizes.
- Wear Your Words: All you need is a Sharpie (better yet, try some colored Sharpies) and a cheap, white tee shirt. Stretch the fabric around something firm, and start writing. Hey, if you ever become a world-famous novelist, that tee shirt is going to be worth big bucks!
- Make a Mural: You can buy rolls of paper at art supply stores and even at home improvement stores. Roll it out and attach it to the wall. Masking tape works well for this, and a good place for this activity is on a garage door or a wall in a long hallway. Now you’re really mixing things up; you’re standing, writing on oversized paper, using a vertical surface, and as an added bonus, you can get out your colored markers or paints and really liven things up.
- Revisit Your Childhood: Earlier I mentioned writing with paints and paintbrushes. Try doing it with finger paints (I bet you’re going to need that oversized paper for this one). You’ll probably get dirty, so dress accordingly (you can wear that tee shirt you wrote on). This is another great one to do with kids.
- Carvings: You’d be surprised at all the things you can carve — pieces of firewood, an old candle, your kitchen table. I’m kidding. Don’t wreck your kitchen table. But carving words slows down the writing process, which means you’ll put more thought into what you’re saying and you’ll take greater care with your grammar. Use a knife, an awl, or some other sharp instrument to whittle your words.
- Shoe Boxes: Got an old shoe box lying around? I once co-wrote a story with a friend on the inside of a shoe box. Many years later, she found it and showed it to me. The story wasn’t half bad!
I’m sure there’s some scientific reasoning that explains why these writing activities turn up the heat on creativity. I’m no scientist, but I do know when my own creativity is in high gear. I have actually tried several of these unusual and quirky writing activities, and I clearly recall that they got me thinking in different ways. I almost always came up with things to write about that otherwise never would have occurred to me.
So try a few of these out for yourself. Give yourself about 20-30 minutes so you have enough time to settle into the writing activity, and then see what happens.
Are you willing to try any of these writing activities to see if they boost your creativity? Which ones sound the most fun? Why do you suppose changing your environment or writing in a different position or with different tools can stimulate creativity? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing!