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 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.
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!
“Stay at Your Computer” is the easiest for me :). It’s scary how much addicted I am to it. But on other hand all good things come from it, seriously. I read, I write, I work, and I manage using it.
But seriously, some of the ideas are really hit home with me and made me think – like “Eat Your Words” and “Wear Your Words”. Hmm… very creative 😉
Very helpful – thanks for sharing!
Yep, it gets harder and harder to pry oneself away from the computer, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s all the more reason to try one of the other ones? Heheh.
Gotta be careful though. I find that I stay at the computer so much that I don’t make the time to write and get distracted too much. Sometimes, you just gotta take a step away from it all and get away from the technology to get the writing in gear.
That’s the truth! It’s so easy to just be on the computer 24/7. Sometimes we have to make a special effort to step away.
I have been trying these ideas at various times over the years and find it to be fun to write in different ways. I had a friend who worked at a print shop for a while. He made these three foot by three foot “notebooks” and used jumbo pencils to create some of his work. He seemed to have a blast with it. He said it made him feel like he was in third grade again. I think he was trying to unlock the childhood wonder he had lost. I say keep writing.
Ooh, those notebooks sound like a lot of fun. We get mentally and physically used to a certain way of writing (or typing), and when we break out of that mold, not only does fun ensue, it also opens up new pathways to our creativity, which can be pretty exciting. I think the activities that work well for children, like finger painting, are especially helpful because when we think like children, our imaginations can really go wild — and that’s good for our creative writing.
Melissa, I love this post and the posts like these. I am a subscriber to this blog, and I love your blog because of the combination of creativity and usefulness. I’m not saying this particularly well, but thanks for what you do.
Thank you so much, Jessica. Comments like yours always lift me up. This post is not my usual fare, and I woke up this morning wondering if it was too silly or over the top. The only thing keeping me grounded was the fact that I have tried many of these activities so I know they really do work. I appreciate your compliments, and I thank you for reading.
You’re on a roll this week, Melissa. What a FUN post! I used to write all my letters with a dip pen and differently colored inks. (Fountain pens, of course, you fill once and the write until they’re empty.)
Another good one? Use your left hand if you’re right handed, or vice-versa…
Thanks, Deb! I had to use a dip pen and ink for a few projects in art class, and it’s much harder than I would have thought. You have to keep dipping and dipping. I did do some writing with it, just to see what it was like, and it was strange but kind of cool.
I love the idea of writing with a fountain pen. I use to love writing with them and even took calligraphy classes. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll have to dig mine out. 🙂
Calligraphy has always impressed me – it’s so beautiful! In our fast-paced world, it’s hard to imagine that people actually once wrote everything like that.
Yes, standing at a writing easel! I’m still trying to put something like that together. I’ll let you know if I make good progress 🙂
What a fun list!
Standing up and using oversized paper with markers is actually my favorite of all of these (I think). Using your arm to make bigger motions as you write (or draw) feels a lot different!
My favorite unusual writing tip have nothing to do with writing:
Spend two weeks with Indian shamans drinking witches brew and having spiritual revelations–thus changing your entire outlook from the deepest trenches out. Nothing will ever seem normal again. I wouldn’t recommend this to those with fragile psyches.
Cool Post! Excuse me while I write poetry on someones face 🙂
Bobby, that sounds very Jim Morrison.
I meant “has nothing to do with” hahaha!
It’s strange, but just the idea of trying to write on different paper, in super-size, or with anything other than my computer keys or my standard blue bic and lined paper makes me queasy. I’ve become so fixed in my way that these standard tools pull me into state. When I sit at my keys, or have my purple notebook in front of me, the words come. In any other form I sit there a bit dumbfounded, as if I’ve no idea what these strange tools are for.
Doing other creative arts with these medium is wonderful to flex my creativity. I just can’t begin to write that way. Draw, squiggle, paint, color, craft, but not write.
It’s interesting how we all form our own way of doing things and sometimes, habit becomes ingrained and unchangeable.
I think doing other creative arts is just as useful as doing any of the writing activities on this list. As long as we step away from our usual routine and mix things up, our creativity will shift a bit.
I’ve done #10 in an art class in high school, and would write lines of poetry with both hands, or write it upside down, or backwards as if I was in a mirror. I enjoyed the projects that involved writing in my art class, and we even got to go super old school with the pen and ink!
I did #8 when I was a wee child and although it was messy, it was fun.
And another thing to carve that I still find to be good clean fun: soap!
Great ideas though and I really want to take a stab at some of these someday. Probably when it’s warmer outside because I don’t think I’d enjoy laying face down in the snow for very long.
Soap is a great idea for carving! You’d probably need a fine, sharp tool though, so you could carve tiny letters. Speaking of snow, what about writing in that? I’ve only been to the snow a few times in my life, so I have no idea if that would work.
I don’t really like spending more time than I have to in cold weather, but it is possible to use snow that has frozen over as a hard writing surface (either due to freezing rain, or snow that started to melt and then freeze again). I’ve never tried it, but if you can stand on it without it breaking, it should be strong enough to write on. Writing or not, untouched frozen snow is extremely beautiful under a full moon. Perhaps I’ll write a poem about it so you can see for yourself.
As for the soap, I will have to dig out my sculpting tools and buy a few cakes. I’m thinking Ivory would be good. It floats!
Sounds like snow should be added to this list. I probably wouldn’t sit out in the freezing cold writing poetry in the snow, but it does sound romantic in a way. I’d love to read a poem about that!
You mention in your post a bit of wonderment as to why these activities get our minds whirring with writing ideas. I think the big thing is that they all involve a rich amount of creativity. As we get older, we seem to put our imaginations on the backburner and place more focus on the hard reality. But imagination’s where all the good ideas are!
I recently skimmed a book that talked about how children are playing more video games today and not really going outside as much. The book worried that this movement towards more concrete games would cause kids to lose more of their creative edge.
I’m going to try some of these ideas and I’ll let you know how they go!
Yes, there’s much worry about kids today and how being immersed in technology will affect the way they think and function. It’s a legitimate concern, I think. I also think that as a result, creativity may become a more highly valued commodity in the future. I’ve already seen incredibly talented people give up their arts and crafts to pursue video games, and it’s rather sad.
Hi! I don’t know if this is really unusual, but none of my writing buddies did this. When I told them about it, it really helped them.
Play “the Sims.”
I know that sounds weird, but the Sims is a great writing tool if you just need something to get you started. I’m not suggesting you use it for your full time writing.
Example : I had made a family, and put it on fast forward. The mom had the baby when no one was there expect the maid. So I wrote a story about how the maid delivered the child, and that was a springboard for my novel.
The game is also great if you’re having trouble making up surroundings, like a house, office building, park . . . its endless!
Oh yes, I used to play this game (warning: it’s addictive). I do like the idea of generating story ideas through game play – the Sims and many other games are good for this.
Don’t take writing for granted. Train your children to learn writing so that they won’t have a hard time catching up in their writing class. Effective and easy writing techniques await your children.
I agree that the best time to instill love of reading and basic writing skills is during childhood.
Hmm, very interesting, writing and the art of kinesthetics. I’m going to put a few of those ideas to use with my squirrely elementary writing students!
Back in the day “before computers”, I found an old typewriting for sale that had been used for data on a cruise ship. It had a carriage almost three foot across and I’d buy cheap “drawing paper” and with that device I could write an article of a few thousand words on a single page. The scan was at least three hundred words across. Amazing how it changed the flow. Might try that with a computer by using the smallest type font available and then only enlarging it upon completition. Wouldn’t really be the same as a type writer but….might be interesting.
Also remember reading about Hemingway writing only standing up. That might account for his short sentence structures. Ha.
That’s wild! I have never heard of a massive typewriter. It’s definitely unusual and sounds like a lot of fun!
Typically when I see so many comments I keep on going. I think to myself that this person has had plenty of comments they don’t need mine as well. Of course time is a factor. I visit so many blogs a day and leave so many comments that I just don’t have time for them all.
This morning is different. You showed up in my email with such a great title I had to open it. You tickled my curiosity and then I wasn’t disappointed by the content; I was happily intrigued.
Thank you for sharing such wonderful ideas! I will be passing it on.
As a kid I used to take stacks of blank paper, fold them, and staple them into an empty book like shape. Then with the space provided I would write a story and draw in illustrations here and there, all the while being conscious of where in the story I should be based on the pages left.
This article has just inspired me to go revisit my childhood in that sense and see if I can write something all in one day.
I used to try different hobbies and crafts — everything from scrapbooking to knitting. In the end, I decided to just focus on my writing with whatever spare time I have. However, one of my favorite crafts was making books and bookmarks.
When I was in grade school, we learned that Leonardo DiVinci used to write everything in his notebooks backwards. He was left handed so it was easier for him. Being a young artist myself, I was fascinated by this and practically wrote everything backwards. (It came really easy to me.) It’s actually fairly easy to write backwards in cursive.. at least for me. The trouble came when I wrote all the answers on an entire history test backwards and my teacher gave me a 0% because she didn’t want to read it. (My first F… shocker!) My mother thought I should have gotten extra points.. Haha. I still love to write backwards. I send letters to friends to frustratingly decode in the mirror. Might be a fun one to add to this list.
Wow, I imagine it would be difficult to write a large block of text backward, but it certainly sounds interesting!
I’ve dictated a couple stories while going on long hikes. For some reason, hiking gets me in a story-telling mood. Like any first draft, the results are rough and rambling, and the transcription takes a significant amount of time. However, I’m pretty happy with the results, and it’s a great way to combine two of my favorite things.
I’ve been meaning to search for a speech-to-text transcription app because I’d like to try dictation. However, I don’t want to transcribe manually (so tedious). Siri certainly handles it well; maybe a new iPhone is what I need. You might look into some kind of technology that you can use to automate the transcription process too.
You’ve done it again. This post is simply too much fun. Here is one other way that I’ve found to be creative about the process of writing. A number of years ago my daughter gave me a wonderful tin box which held magnetic words. Not letters, words.
They work on the refrigerator but mine are on a vertical surface above the desk. They are scattered about in a major disarray now. As a family we’ve used them to leave messages, write poetry and very short stories. Also, one of my favorite tricks is to glance over the board and look for a word that sets off a whole line of thought. I love my magnetic words.
My daughter purchased my words at a small book store in Durango, Colorado. I found this site which seems to have a similar set in a plastic box. http://www.mywordmagnets.com/
I love magnetic words. My family had them on the fridge back when I was in college. Good times!