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February 2, 2016

Nourishing Our Creativity to Help Our Writing

A palette of water colors with text: Writing as Art

Writing is an art form, and yet I don’t usually think of myself as an artist. Maybe that’s because when I think of art, I think of visual arts or musical arts, and I’m utterly incompetent at both.

(I draw stick figures, and I don’t play an instrument or compose music beyond humming when I’m happy. *smile*)

Logically, I know there are plenty of other forms of art, but I have to remind myself to include them—along with writing—in the “art” category.

I mention this obvious fact because it occurred to me how all types of artistic endeavors have the concept of a muse or a gut feel for when something is working—or not. Then I started wondering if we could use that general “artistic muse” concept to help us with our writing, especially when we suffer from writer’s block.

At some point in time, most writers will struggle with writer’s block. Maybe we’re not sure what should happen next in the story. Maybe we’re not sure how to get from where the story is to where the story is supposed to go. Maybe our muse or our characters aren’t speaking to us.

Regardless of the specifics, when faced with writer’s block, we need to do something to shake up our subconscious or walk away from the computer. Sitting at a keyboard and staring at a blank screen for hours at a time leads only to frustration.

Many blog posts suggest ideas for how to get unstuck in our story, get in touch with our muse, or deal with writer’s block. Today, I want to focus on one technique in particular.

Changing Our Creative Playground

Whether we call our subconscious mind simply our subconscious or our muse, one way to kick start our subconscious muse is to give him or her a different creative outlet. (Yes, I know muses are traditionally female, but mine is male, and he made me include the him. *smile*)

Sometimes we can jump into another writing project:

  • brainstorm a new story
  • work on a blog post
  • beta read for a friend

But sometimes that’s not enough. Writing of any kind might have become an exercise in pulling teeth, and we might have no ideas—about anything.

In extreme cases like that, it can be helpful to remember that creativity is creativity, across the arts. As writers, we’re often creative in areas outside of writing. And spending time exploring those hobbies can get our creative juices flowing too.

Improving Our Writing through Creative Hobbies

There are many ways non-writing creative hobbies help us develop skills that we can carry over to writing. For just a few examples, consider:

  • Visual arts, whether painting, photography, or computer graphics and animation, provide us with an opportunity to observe details, like how a change in light or color can affect our interpretation.
    Compare to: how one tiny tweak can cause a domino effect in our story.
  • Dance gets our blood flowing, and coordinating our movements with the rhythm and beat forces us to listen to something subtle.
    Compare to: how our subconscious can be very quiet and subtle.
  • Playing a musical instrument can help us see the beauty and patterns locked up inside the notes on the page.
    Compare to: how we create subtext behind the words of our story.
  • Composing music draws our muse into a form of storytelling where emotions reign even more prominently than using words.
    Compare to: how connecting with our emotions can help us feel our way through the block.

Breaking Writer’s Block through Non-Logical Thought

Beyond those traditional forms of art, any project where we have to make decisions based not on logic but on our gut feelings can get our subconscious back into gear. We can find a way to tap into our instincts almost anywhere:

Designing a Garden:

  • Which flowers should go where?
  • What color patterns do I want?
  • Do I feel like tomatoes or zucchini this year?

Decorating a Room:

  • Which paint colors will be the perfect not-too-light-not-too-dark shade?
  • Should this chair go here or there?
  • Is it too cluttered?

Organizing Our Closet:

  • Are these jeans too out of style?
  • Will I be that size again?
  • Do I have anything to go with this shirt?

Personally, I’ve painted and decorated rooms, I’ve created faux stained glass, I’ve gardened, I’ve sewn, I’ve done landscape and home design, and on and on. I designed my own website, and I enjoy taking landscape photographs.

Whenever we use our instinct to accomplish things, we’re forcing our subconscious to speak up. We’re asking our muse their opinion, and we’re listening to their answer. This give and take can strengthen the connection between our conscious mind and our subconscious mind.

If nothing else, we’re assuring our muse that we want to hear what they have to say. That, in turn, can encourage them to share more of their ideas. And a vocal muse might be just the thing we need to break through our writer’s block. *smile*

Writing as Art

Why is any of this important? Because maybe by thinking of how writing compares to other art forms, we can work out problems.

If a scene isn’t working and we can’t figure out why, maybe stepping back and looking at our writing like a sculptor will reveal whether it needs to be built up or carved away. Or if an emotional scene is reading flat, maybe thinking like a music composer will help us focus on which emotional notes we need to hit harder or draw out longer. Or if the tone of a scene feels off, maybe thinking like a painter will point out where the scene is too light or too dark.

We all know writing isn’t an exact science, but even beyond that, the techniques other types of artists use to solve their problems might help us too. In short, if you’re anything like me and don’t usually think about writing as being a “true” art form, maybe it’s time to change our attitude. *smile*

Do you think of writing as an art form? Which art forms do you think writing is most similar to? What other creative outlets do you have? Have you ever used them when you’re suffering from writer’s block or when you’re burnt out on writing? Have they helped or not?

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47 Comments on "Nourishing Our Creativity to Help Our Writing"

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)
I know what you mean, Jami, I have to work at remembering writing is an art. As much as our colleague Janice Hardy says “Things can be well written but not a story” it’s hard to appreciate your storytelling when lack of technical skill keeps people from enjoying the story. I think my envy of illustrators and musicians in particular makes me feel like my art (writing) is limited in what it can do. Maybe it’s because it’s easier too see visuals and hear music than words alone. I feel like writing on it’s own is inferior, even though I know intellectually it’s not true, So much of our world is visual and audible, and the blind and deaf communities aside, that’s hard when your art does neither on it’s own. Music can exist without lyrics, visuals can tell stories without words, what can words do that visuals and sound can’t? I’m probably asking the wrong question again, Jami, but that’s what my heart feels, even if it’s not the “Right” question to ask myself. Poetry certainly is art conveyed through words, but not everyone can, or wants to write poetry. I’ve played with it, but it’s not my thing, and it doesn’t help that trying to work in meter drives me nuts. Even free verse poetry needs meter. When someone who writes more poetry me than me says I achieved good meter, it’s likely out of pure luck on my part. Plus, while you make the point of listening… Read more »
Davonne Burns

I’ve had to argue with people that yes writing is indeed an art form. I do love your suggestions for getting through a block. I enjoy painting/drawing, gardening and cooking so those are usually the things I turn to when I need a creative break. Actually now that I’m thinking about it, this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m in desperate need of a creative recharge now that my book was finally released. Thanks to you I now have some ideas.
^_^

Carradee

Tbh, I’m increasingly finding that consumption of real food seems to do the most good for me. But I know I’ve reason for being odd, in that. [wry smile]

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Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Yeah I get what you mean by not considering writing a legitimate “art”, but if I call it “literature” instead, it feels more like an art to me, because…”the literary arts”! Lol. Hmmm I don’t actually get writer’s block anymore, and I don’t really draw for the sake of freeing my creativity; I draw just for the pleasure of it. But to add something actually constructive to this discussion, lol, in drawing, I find it very nice to vary what kinds of things I draw. I had been almost solely into drawing human figures and faces, especially the latter, for about 4-5 years… But recently I started drawing Pokemon, and woah it feels different in a very pleasant way! When you draw, you pick up on the different “rules” of drawing (especially animal-shaped) Pokemon vs drawing human beings. E.g. in how you draw animal-like legs and torsos, or faces with muzzles vs. human faces, etc. But I admit that I do have some prior experience in this, because in my childhood, I was more passionate about drawing animals than in drawing humans (in contrast to many of my classmates), so I already understood some of the “principles” in how to draw animal limbs and bodies, etc. So anyway, though I don’t know how drawing Pokemon will improve my ability to draw human faces and figures (or to write better), I do believe this experience of drawing something very different, will enhance my drawing skills in general. And who knows, this… Read more »
Christina Hawthorne

An inspiring post. Thanks, Jami. I think of writing as an art and a craft, but then all arts have a more conventional cousin. Music is linked to math, drawing to engineering, and so on. Too, the arts exist on a color wheel, each influencing the other if mixed. Thus, I may turn to music, drawing, or photography for added inspiration, but then my words may do the same for a musician or painter.

I often avoid the word “muse” because some writers blame their inactivity on the gremlin they can’t control. Still, we’re using it here so I’ll use it. Our muse lives in a room where a blank screen equals a dark, cold room. Want to brighten the environment? Open the curtains and invite friends. My muse is often visited by Beethoven, The Beatles, Hozier, and others. Too, Leonardo or Bierstadt might stop by. Today, you visited. Thank you.

Paula Millhouse

I do consider writing an art form, especially when I turn my eye toward edits. Crafting the right sentences makes me happy (and my muse is male too, BTW, Jami.)

Writing/editing feels a lot like composing to me.

I paint, and it is good to get away from writing and create pictures. I combined those skills last year by painting a fantasy map my editor included in my latest release – every fantasy world needs a map,right?

*One important tip – if you’re suffering from Writer’s Block, have some blood tests done. Not exactly artistic, but I found out I was suffering with a critically low Vitamin D level last November when I had to drop out of NaNo2015. Now that I fixed the deficiency, the Block disappeared.

Mike

The Taoist would argue that every method and every process is part of the Tao.

So in addition to music, we could add acting, calligraphy, rock climbing, and martial arts. All these disciplines teach us to focus and make sound choices. The “art” emerges as it all becomes second nature and flows naturally.

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

You wouldn’t believe how topical this is for me right now! I stalled a while back and I recently started compiling pictures and photos of the places in my book as I see them in my head. It’s frustrating at times when I’ve not been able to find exactly what I want but overall it’s been very rewarding to have those pictures in front of me as inspiration. My pièce de résistance though is my recent venture into arts and crafts. My book features a book that has been hidden away for 150 years so I bought a relatively cheap embossed journal and transformed it into how I visualise the book (or at least as much as I could on a budget!). The idea was that creating a major prop would serve as inspiration. The problem though is that it’s supposed to be mysterious but when you’ve made it pretty much from scratch and the whole process has had you tearing your hair out, it takes all of the mystery out of it! Still pretty proud of the end result though :-p (incidentally, I posted a photo of it on Twitter if you want to check it out!)

Sue Coletta

Thinking of writing as art, which it is; I don’t disagree, reminds me of “those” people who always put “creative” in air quotes. Oh, you’re “creative” as if that explained so much.

dolorah

I like the idea of doing something else creative to kick start the writing muse. Sometimes I think my muse is on permanent holiday. Its not so much a lack of ideas as a lack of inclination to flesh them out in a story.

Kylie Day

I also find that nourishing creativity is a great way to help my writing. My solution to those times when I feel writer’s block approaching is to knit. I come up with new ideas when knitting – whether it be names for characters, how to describe something, new settings or scenes, plot twists, etc.

I will definitely try some of the options listed in your post, too. My closet has begged me to organize it for months now, but I haven’t done anything about it yet *grins*.

Sophie Playle

Great article, Jami. I’ve just shared it with the subscribers of my newsletter 🙂

Kristin Rockaway

Such a perfect article. Thanks, Jami!

I *do* think of writing as an art form, and doing so has helped me immensely in terms of shaping my stories and getting “unstuck.” When I had to rewrite 40,000 words of my novel in a very short period of time, I turned to The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield (who’s a writer). It discusses “resistance” and “the muse” at length, and provided just the motivation I needed for a tough job. It’s a very short read and I highly recommend it to all writers!

As for other creative outlets — I keep a small unlined journal with a faux-wood cover on my desk. The spine reads “Writer’s Block.” Whenever I’m feeling stuck, I turn to a fresh page and doodle. 🙂

Sara L.

Funny, I’m working on a guest post about how writers can benefit from using adult coloring books. 🙂

Like you, I’m not artistically inclined in areas other than writing, even though I love listening to music and find so much beauty in photography, paintings, etc. (I used to dance years ago, but stopped when I didn’t feel like being in recitals anymore.) But I know a number of people who draw, paint, write music, and so on to help keep their creative juices flowing or to get themselves “unstuck” from writer’s block.

That said… I jumped onto the adult coloring book bandwagon last year; and even though it’s not necessarily as skilled as other art forms, it helps you focus and engages your senses of touch and sight while you’re essentially creating something aesthetically pleasing. It’s fun and relaxing, and it could be a good “change of playground” if I ever get stuck with my own writing.

Joanna Aislinn

Hey Jami,

This post came at a much-welcome time (that seems to be waxing and waning for far too long a period now–but of course that’s beside the point). 🙂

I like the coloring book idea too, but knowing me it will sit there. I definitely agree with the idea of getting away from the keyboard when I’m just too frustrated to be there. (My issue is I wind up using that reason as avoidance–also beside the point.)

Having said all that, I have found the concepts in Roz Morris’ (1st) Nail Your Novel book to be helpful. Getting into a task that doesn’t require conscious thought can help my mind wander into characters and story. (It’s remembering to jot down any flashes of ideas later that can be the rub–geez! I have issues, lol.)

Finally, since creativity seems low and avoidance high, I’ll be sharing this at my blog this week. Thank you!

Cynthia
Ah, the old “my art is better than your art” argument. This post really resonated for me. I struggle these days with rhuematoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, both of which rob me of energy and concentration. I use crochet to get help me with the rough spots where I can’t write. For a long time, I told myself that writing wasn’t really a creative pursuit. My crochet had languished in the closet for a decade or so. Then, my husband died and I found it while cleaning out a closet. I noticed immediately that when I was in pain and couldn’t write, the crochet forced me to sit still (a good thing when in pain) and concentrate details. Once I put my work down, I was able to go back to writing with a lot more focus and sometimes new ideas. In crochet, you spend a lot of time counting but you can also do other things. You can carry on conversations, watch t.v. and think about all kinds of things, like story ideas, scenes, and characters. I also sew and love painting rooms but I’ve found, with my current health problems, that crochet has been a kind of salvation. When I finish a piece, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I think everyone needs a secondary outlet for creativity, even if it is just building model airplanes out of a box. The mind, as you point out, needs a break at times to reset. When we come back to the… Read more »
cinnamonb

Hello Jami and all –
I don’t get here often, but this was a good post (and discussion indeed. I thoroughly do believe writing is an art —— and takes its place alongside the other arts you all have mentioned.

I do blog and have found myself often thinking of visual ways to express my thoughts on a topic. Of course I have very limited graphic skills so I can only do so much in that regard, but it does appeal sometimes as something different to explore. I have also done a coloring page or two and that is quite a fun activity.

I love Mike’s idea that ” The “art” emerges as it all becomes second nature and flows naturally.” Guess I just wish that happened more often 🙂 There’s no feeling like when the writing is flowing and the poem, story, novel or whatever vehicle is almost writing itself.

Is there an answer to Taurean’s question of “what can words do that visuals and sound can’t?” Great questions such as that really make us think! I guess words, visuals, sounds can all do what I personally feel art can do: it can challenge us, inspire us, connect us, aggravate us, make us laugh, bore us —— it all depends on the piece of art, and the responder. (that’s just my two cents 🙂 )

Anyway, best of luck Taurean – and everyone with your projects.

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