10 Ways to Jumpstart Creativity and Get Your Writing in High Gear

Jumpstart Your Writing!Last Wednesday evening, I was taking out the trash when a werewolf passed me on my driveway. The left leg of his Levi’s was torn and red with blood, and I could hear the neighbor’s Akita still snarling in the distance. The werewolf shot me a world-weary look, stabbed a clawed thumb back over his shoulder, and said, “I really hate that guy.” Then he limped into a tangle of honeysuckle and was gone.

True story.

Well, true in my head.

For people who make a living from their creative faculties, what happens in the mind may be the difference between enjoying filet mignon at Chez Nouveau and making do with a drive-thru mystery-meat taco. Generating that creative spark and fanning it into flame is exhilarating when “on” and miserable when it just ain’t happenin’.

To come up with an ad tagline that sells a gazillion widgets for a client, or to build a world for your soon-to-be bestselling novel, requires two types of actions. Spark your imagination through physical actions, and follow them with directed brainstorming.

Five physical actions that foster creativity:

1. Change your environment
Take a walk in the woods or grab a cotton candy at an amusement park. Camp out in the mall or chill at a local jazz club. But most of all, when hanging in a different spot, observe. You’ve stifled the cell phone, right? Good. Watch people. Note interactions. Guess at motivations. Put yourself into the lives of others you see. What are they thinking? Why are they here? Or consider the lilies, the wildlife in a wild place. What is it like to dwell in that place?

2. Listen to classical music
Not Norwegian death metal, but the stuff of Chopin and Rimsky-Korsakov. The Mozart Effect may be overblown when it comes to creating toddlers who can do calculus, but listening to music has been shown to stimulate the brain. And while jazz or—ahem—Norwegian death metal may be your typical music of choice, trying classical music may be a change for your creativity’s better.

3. Read a book on an unfamiliar topic
Know nothing about quantum physics? Ignorant of Eastern European history? A neophyte in myrmecology, etymology, speleology, phenomenology, or cryptozoology? Well, what are you waiting for? Read up on something new. Plants thrive when fertilized, and so does your creativity. Give it something to grow in.

4. Take a hot shower
I’ve lost track of the number of times others have confessed an idea came to them in the shower. I’m not alone in considering that warm, wet spray to be a creative juices stimulator par excellence.

5. Record your dreams
Keep a notebook by your bedside so when you wake from a dream, you can jot down a few specifics of that nocturnal sojourn. Just a few details will help you recall it in the morning. Dreams are an excellent source of strange imagery that might foster unusual ideas or even complete stories.

Five mental activities to spark creativity:

1. Ask, What if?
What if everything were edible? What if cats could travel through time? What if the president was an alien? What if your neighbor’s dog got into a fight with a werewolf? Take the ordinary and transform it into the extraordinary with this simple question. It doesn’t matter the topic. Just get in the habit of asking this and see how it helps grow your creativity.

2. Consider contrasts
If trees were blue instead of green, how would that change the world? Or if women were taller and larger than men? How are a lion and telephone alike? Different? How might featuring the worst of a product highlight the best? (Consider the acclaimed “Lemon” ad campaign for Volkswagen or the “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” ads for Apple.) Contrasts produce intriguing directions.

3. Anthropomorphize
Your office chair has feelings; get in touch with them. Your kid’s guinea pig has a day job. How did it go for him on his PowerPoint presentation to the big boss? Does an elevator get sick of hauling people in its innards? Your personal diary just connected with an online chat site. What juicy details did it divulge and why? Turning the inanimate into the animate and ascribing human traits to non-humans generates clever ideas and has been a source for many creative ventures.

4. Be the stranger in a strange land
Imagine you’re an ant in a kitchen cupboard, traveling through a land of exotic spices. Or you’re an amnesiac dumped in Madagascar without any reference points. Or you came from the Andromeda Galaxy to Earth. Consider a different vantage point or pair of eyes and explore a familiar landscape in a new way.

5. Think like a kid
They say the darndest things, don’t they? That’s because no one has stamped their creative process into the ground yet. That little kid in you lives on. What was the world like when you were a kid? How is it different today? As a child, what commonplace event or item inspired you or created a sense of wonder? Be at that event. Hold that item. Be a kid again.

Tickling the creative muse isn’t hard. Explore these 10 physical and mental activities and see what new worlds you might envision.

C’mon. Ask yourself, What if I gave these a try?