Creativity on demand seems like an oxymoron. Creativity is spontaneous! Unpredictable! Wild! And yet authors around the world regularly bow down to deadlines, demands, and a need to be p. So how are we supposed to expect creativity to happen when requested?
Fortunately, this is why we have … SCIENCE!
Creative Problem Solving
Scientists have been studying creating problem-solving for decades. In that time, they’ve figured out a few things we can use to defeat writer’s block and get our creative juices flowing. Here are a few suggestions you can use whenever you’re waiting for inspiration to strike.
1. Don’t Fixate on a Specific Idea
If the words aren’t flowing, it might be time for a brainstorming session! Brainstorming means ALL ideas are captured; you’ll narrow them down later. The best (and worst) thing about brainstorming is that you don’t stop to consider whether an idea is good or not.
If you’re a fiction writer, let’s say you’re stuck on how to end a scene. No problem, let’s start throwing ideas out there.
- End the scene with a fight
- End the scene with a fight with a cat
- Have a cat bring kittens into the room
- Have one of the characters be deathly allergic to cats and run away
- Have the cats be deathly allergic to one of the characters and run away
(Really, I could do this all day.) Maybe one of those ideas will work. Perhaps they’ll spur a different thread to chase. Maybe they’ll even inspire a whole new project.
But let’s say you’re a technical writer. Surely this level of creativity is not going to work for you! Well, wrong. Let’s say you have a client that has you holding the pen for a technical report. That report is supposed to offer recommendations for how to solve a problem. The engineers, however, don’t think they (or anyone) can solve the problem. Now, what do you do? You brainstorm.
- Maybe another industry has had a similarly intractable problem. Can you think of any? How did they solve it?
- Maybe something fundamental about the technology would have to change. What is it?
- You’re now queen of the universe – what things would be different to make this problem disappear?
2. Play Games
Word association games are particularly great, especially if you make it a point to focus on unexpected associations. For example, if someone says “glass,” an expected association would be “break.” But how about “glass” and “opera”? Or maybe “glass,” “silver,” and “mirror”? Those are probably less likely to be top of mind, so they might inspire some creativity to make those associations.
Another game that works particularly well for people who function better when their hands are as engaged as their minds is the Messy Desk game. (This may have a more official name, but Messy Desk is what I’ve always called it.) Either put things on your desk or look at what’s there. Let’s say there are sticky notes, paper clips, a coaster, and a pen. What can you make with this stuff? Trust me, there are a lot of possibilities, and playing games is one of the oldest ways to express and learn creativity.
3. Embrace Taking a Break
One of the most tried-and-true ways to reset your brain is to walk away. That means moving away from your desk. Go outside. Play with the cat. Do the dishes. Whatever you choose, do something completely different from staring at your screen or a piece of paper waiting for lightning to figuratively strike. Sometimes, your brain needs to let ideas percolate outside of your conscious consideration. You need to give yourself the time and space to let that happen.
These tips come with one crucial caveat: Set a time limit. Don’t let these exercises become an excuse to avoid your commitments. For me, 30 minutes is usually more than enough for brainstorming and games, though I might take longer if I’m doing them with others (which is always more effective, if not always possible). If 30 minutes of creative games don’t work, I shift to taking a break and finding other ways to be productive.