Just put pen to paper and see what happens!

Sometimes, you might feel like you don’t have it in you to be creative. But if you don’t bother showing up to the keyboard / notepad, then how do you know for certain?

This morning, one sentence fell into my head and I immediately began to analyse it. Deeming it to be rubbish, I ignored it for a few minutes, but it kept on floating around my mind, so I decided to jot it down as a meagre starting point for later.

However, as I wrote it down, something amazing happened. What I wrote immediately transformed into something better and I channeled down more words with great ease. That is the true alchemy and wonder of creating! Often it takes just one little nudge to start an avalanche.

So if you’re struggling to be creative, then don’t lose heart, for the slightest little thing could ignite you again. Be open to anything that motivates you, especially those thoughts that are inspired. Just go with your intuition, put pen to paper, and see what happens!

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Losing Your Creative Ability

Recently, I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, an animated film about a witch-in-training. Aside from being a charming and highly original story (as most Studio Ghibli films tend to be), there was some very useful advice for creative people, imparted by Ursula, a really cool artist who lived in a log cabin in the woods. Here is what she says to Kiki, the young witch who has recently lost her ability to fly:

Ursula: Painting and magical powers seem very much the same. Sometimes I’m unable to paint a thing.

Kiki: You mean it? Then what? What happens?

Ursula: Kiki, please don’t move. It’s hard to draw a moving target.

Kiki: Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself to find out how I did it. But I just can’t figure it out.

Ursula: You know, could be you’re working at it too hard. Maybe you should just take a break.

Kiki: Yeah, but still if I can’t fly …

Ursula: Then stop trying. Take long walks. Look at the scenery. Doze off at noon. Don’t even think about flying. And then, pretty soon you’ll be flying again.

Kiki: You think my problems will …

Ursula: Go away? That’s right. It’s going to be fine. I promise.

[A few hours pass by]

Ursula: When I was your age, I’d already decided to become an artist. I loved to paint so much. I’d paint all day until I fell asleep right at my easel. And then one day, for some reason, I just couldn’t paint anymore. I tried and tried, but nothing I did seemed any good. They were copies of paintings I’d seen somewhere before … and not very good copies either. I just felt like I’d lost my ability.

Kiki: That sounds like me.

Ursula: It’s exactly the same, but then I found the answer. You see, I hadn’t figured out what or why I wanted to paint. I had to discover my own style. When you fly, you rely on what’s inside of you, don’t you?

Kiki: Uh-huh. We fly with our spirit.

Ursula: Trusting your spirit! Yes, yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. That same spirit is what makes me paint and makes your friend bake. But we each need to find our own inspiration, Kiki. Sometimes it’s not easy.

Kiki: I guess I never gave much thought to why I wanted to do this. I got so caught up in all the training and stuff. Maybe I have to find my own inspiration.

This scene in the film spoke absolute volumes to me. Until a few days ago, I too had lost my creative spark and it is so frustrating to lose that natural flow, but there are usually reasons as to why it has happened, such as pushing yourself too hard or losing belief in yourself. It feels as though your connection to the cosmic radio station has gone faulty and you can no longer tune in properly, having to put in so much effort to produce something that once came so naturally to you.

But the advice in Kiki’s Delivery Service reminded me that we all get creative blockages and the best way to combat them is to take a break, switch off and relax. Such creative droughts are not the end of the world and I have certainly bounced back from such situations before, though it can feel like you’ve lost your creative talent forever. Indeed, you could not be blamed for fearing this, but take it from me: once your spirit has been lifted and the blockage removed, you will soar once again.

Trust me, I’m a writer.

Writing Warm-Ups

If you find it difficult to get your cogs turning, then this post may help.

Just like with our bodies, we need to warm up our “creative muscle” before we begin to exercise. Unless you’re very inspired, then it can sometimes be difficult to get lift off. But worry not, for there are ways and means to get your imagination flowing!

Do you have six minutes to spare? Good. Do you have pen and paper? Of course you do.

The first part of the warm-up is called “clustering”. It involves picking a word at random (or getting someone else to pick a word for you) and then spending three minutes writing down as may words as you can. The words that you write down can either be linked to the original word, words that follow off from other words, or completely random words that pop into your head – just keep going non-stop until the three minutes are up!

For example, if I started with the word “egg”, then I would come up with words like “chicken”, “farmyard” and “yolk”, as well as more abstract words like “beginning” and “philosophy”. By now, your mind should be warming up, so now it’s time for the second part of the exercise!

From your cluster of words, choose the one that jumps out to you the most, without hesitating. Once you have picked the word, then don’t change your mind about it. And from there, spend the next three minutes doing “free writing”, which involves just putting pen to paper and writing whatever is triggered by the word you have chosen. What you write doesn’t even have to be related to the word and you certainly shouldn’t worry about the quality of the writing. Just write for three minutes straight without stopping or hesitating.

Hopefully, when you have finished this exercise, then you should feel slightly more alert. Now that your cogs are turning, you should be able to apply yourself to any task that requires focus. Or at the very least, this warm-up should make it easier to start something!

Nurturing your writing voice

To write efficiently, you need to call upon your writing voice.

If you are not in tune with your inner writing voice, then you can lose track of how the prose flows and sounds. But when you use your writing voice, you kind of narrate as you go along, which helps you to gauge if your writing is good enough. In other words, you are being both the writer and the reader at the same time.

I’m not suggesting, of course, that you read out loud. Just acknowledge what you’re writing in your head, rather than just spewing any old nonsense onto the page. Authors speak in a certain way on the page, which differs from how people speak orally, so it’s important to get into that zone.

On days when my writing voice is absent, I find it very difficult to string sentences together and produce quality writing. To remedy this, I usually grab a notepad and do a writing warm-up, spewing words onto the page until the sentences become more coherent and I rediscover my writing voice.

How much description is necessary?

I suppose it depends upon the type of book that you’re writing!

Traditionally, authors usually did a lot of description along with massive preambles, which most readers today would find quite cumbersome. These days, most people simply don’t have the time or the concentration for too much description and prefer to be thrown straight into the action!

So far, the description in my books has been very minimal, as I am acutely aware that the patience of most modern readers hangs by a thread. Of course, if you hook your readers with the story and characters then they’re more likely to stick around, but nobody wants to be bogged down by too much description! As long as you paint a clear picture for your readers, then you have done your duty as a writer.

The description should enrich and supplement the story, not distract from it! If I ever feel that the description is going off on a tangent then I reign it back in, unless it’s important to the narrative. However, some genres naturally lend themselves to more description, such as science fiction and fantasy. In these cases, the readers usually crave as much detail as possible about the world that you’ve created.

But regardless of where your story is set, try to keep the story flowing at all times and prevent your description from stalling things. Rather than have a solid paragraph describing something, try feeding the information to the reader in dribs and drabs. Not only will they appreciate you for it, but they’ll probably remember the information much better too!

The Flow of Writing

Writing is such a precarious thing.

Some days are naturally better than others, though there are usually some clear ingredients that make for good productivity. Concentration, focus, drive, passion… these are all things that help to spur you along. But I find that the best way to be productive is to lower the pressure.

Writing is meant to be fun. You’re meant to enjoy it, right? So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it done. It shouldn’t be a chore and you have to accept that some days your creative juices will flow better than others. I try not to be too hard on myself when I have a slow day, because your flow will always return, usually when you’re not thinking too much about it.

Being hard on yourself only stagnates the flow. Writing a book shouldn’t feel like you’re writing an academic essay, so relax and enjoy it! Self-doubt creates mental barriers and writer’s block, so be confident and stride onward. Yes, some writing days are slower than others, but at least you’ll be making progress. Every word is progress.

However, I’ve come to learn that some days are quite simply a lost cause. So you have to learn when it is worth sailing against the wind or abandoning ship entirely. Of course, it is usually worth sticking around, just in case the wind catches your sails!