Editor’s note: this is a guest post by writer’s coach Cynthia Morris of Original Impulse.
There you are, bent toward the computer screen, hands poised above the keyboard. Your writing stride has faltered, and you’re stumped for the next best words. Soon you give up, flitting around online instead of finishing that great article.
Even the best writers get stuck sometimes. We’ll often try to solve that by continuing to peck away, hoping things will come clear. I’ve found the opposite to be true. Extending your hours in front of the screen and shuffling words around endlessly doesn’t always help. I advocate slipping away for a little fun to refresh your writer’s spirit and solve common writing problems.
Creative excursions fuel your writing
Writers and artists need to continually access inspiration from the world around them–and not just the online world. We also need to unplug from the constant stream of information as well as the driving force that makes us work long hours without break.
Creative excursions help you hear your own creative pulse. These mini adventures refresh your perspective, need not to cost a lot, and pay back enormously. Some of my favorites include: walks in the Botanic Gardens, visits to art supply stores, to museums, bookstores, the library and time in nature.
They’ve helped me refresh my writing so much that I’ve created workshops that use the urban environment as classroom and inspiration. The curriculum for my Curious Excursions includes creative tools to point the way to inspiration–and to help you have more fun.
Whether we’re in Paris or Boulder, our mission is to fill a journal in one week–to drive past the inner critic and capture inspiration in one small journal. The results? Participants glow when they feel more connected to their own creative expression. Each notebook is filled with ideas, swatches of color, and inspiration to be tapped later.
When I’m journaling regularly, I relax, open to my surroundings, and make new, fresh connections. You’ve probably experienced this, too: when away from the computer, you find your best ideas.
Make time for play
Not everyone can pop over to Paris or Boulder for a week, but you can still glean inspiration from familiar surroundings. Set yourself up to make the most of time away from the computer to refresh your writer’s perspective. Here’s how.
1. Schedule your own excursion dates in advance. Book an hour or an afternoon for a getaway with your inner artist. Try one per week, or create your own week-long excursion using my methods during a seven-day period.
But getting out is just the first step. How to capture any inspiration you receive while out there? Develop your inspiration antennae to draw the juju–your unique creative frequency–in.
2. Carry a notebook with you at all times. (I know, I don’t need to tell you this. But I’ll remind you.) Use whatever notebook you want, but don’t get so fancy that you’re intimidated. Your journal is your place to be messy, to explore, to capture insights and to play.
So you’ve got your excursions planned, you’re armed with your journal, now it’s time to add some of my creative tools.
A handful of creative tools for your excursions
I’ve pulled three of my creative excursion tools from my e-book, The Creative Toolkit for the Traveler. You already know the writing exercises, so here I offer non-verbal ways to overcome common writing challenges.
1. Sensual Focusing. Choose a different sense for each of your excursions. Today, pay attention to all the smells. Tomorrow, sounds. Practice identifying and describing them in unique ways.
By honing the senses, you attune yourself to the impact your surroundings have on you. This makes you a better writer, and you become a person who feels and appreciates the nuances of life more.
Try it: This week, choose a different sense each day, ending with intuition. Spend each day focusing on how you register and describe that sense’s effects. Do a ten-minute free write riff on each one.
2. Color focusing is a great right-left brain exercise. Writers need the ability to shift back and forth between the brain’s two hemispheres: feeling and perceiving things, then bringing them into form through the cognitive process of writing.
Choosing a different color for each day is a fun way to isolate your focus. It’s cool to see how your mind will pinpoint colors simply by telling it to observe the world in a certain way.
Then, by naming the colors, you push your description skills to come up with fresh ways to specify a common color. It also feels good to saturate your vision with color after facing the black and white of writing.
Try it: Choose a color before heading out for the day. Notice and record every version of that color. Red: traffic light, convertible, brick, dress, scarf, stop sign, etc. See how this changes your perception even when not practicing it.
3. Doodling and drawing. I know, I hear you groaning now. Many among us like to claim, “I can’t draw a straight line.” But sketching is a “gateway skill.” Among its many benefits, drawing can help a writer stay focused when she can’t get away from the computer.
Often when we’re writing an article or a scene in our novel, we sit at the keyboard and don’t know where to go next. We sense there’s a critical piece missing, but we can’t see what it is.
We’re likely to start surfing–visit our Facebook page, swing by HootSuite, watch a couple short videos. But while this fosters connection with others, it rarely leads to our next writing move.
Have your notebook near the computer. When you’re stumped, either turn toward it or walk to another seat, or preferably, head outside. Doodle abstract designs or sketch the tree or shrub in the backyard.
I can almost guarantee an idea for your next step will arise as if by magic. You’re exercising the right hemisphere of your brain, and allowing your left hemisphere to relax. You’re not filling your mind with others’ thoughts; you’re giving space to your own.
Try it: Start a doodle journal, or just draw in your regular notebook. Keep it by your side and in spare moments–waiting at the post office, on public transport, while tea is brewing–get quiet and sketch something.
This is not about producing a sketch you’ll frame and hang on the wall; it’s about relaxing enough to allow new associations to arise.
Dead simple but powerful
These creative tools are simple, yet the results can be profound–new insights, new directions for your work, ideas for articles, series or marketing strategies.
And you may have noticed, they’re all designed to help you slow down, pay attention, and enjoy your world more. So if you’re saying, “I don’t have time for that!” guess what–it’s time to make time. Your creativity depends on these interstices where you have space to breathe.
Try them out, and make up your own. Bring a writing pal and remember, the more you can play and open your mind, the more inspired your writing will be.
What works for you on your creative excursions? Share your creative tools here, and let us know how often you embark on your own curious excursions.
Cynthia Morris plays in many media–illustrated journal, video, photography, dance – to keep her writing fresh. Author of Create Your Writer’s Life, Cynthia also publishes a blog and Impulses, a bi-weekly newsletter, and she’s putting the finishing touches on her historical novel set in Paris. Cynthia has been coaching writers and artists since 1999 through her company, Original Impulse. Join her for a Curious Excursion this year in Boulder or Paris. Tune in to your juju at www.originalimpulse.com.
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