Creativity is not a bottomless well

For a very long time, I was a firm believer that writing every day was the best recipe for staying sharp, focused and creative. Some days you write for hours, other days only a few minutes.

But I’ve recently started to believe that writing every day may not always be the best approach. By all means I think you should TRY to write every day. But forcing yourself to sit down and write when your creativity is drained or you are simply burnt out seems like walking against the current when you could very well walk with it.

J.N. Duncan posted some blasphemous words (read: insightful words) on this topic recently:

I for one, completely believe in the notion of creativity being a thing that ebbs and flows, a tank that can fill up and run empty. If you are tapped out, putting your butt in the chair is a waste of time.Yep, I said it. Sometimes writing every day, no matter what, is not the best thing to do. In fact, I think it can be counterproductive. Attempting to force yourself, just putting down words for the sake of putting down words, even if it’s crap and will be edited later, can not only be a waste of time, but have a negative impact. When the mindset isn’t there, you’re better off doing things that will help refill that well of creativity.

I believe quite firmly that there is a major difference between forcing yourself to “power through” a tough time while writing, and forcing yourself to write when you are literally out of juice. You need to be able to know the difference. (A nice discussion in the comments of Duncan’s post touches on this too) Things like fear and procrastination are situations where you need to “power through.” But being uninspired, unmotivated, bored with and distanced from your writing might mean you need to take a day off. Recharge the batteries.

Sometimes this means doing something totally and completely unrelated to writing. Doing new things is one of the best fuels for creativity. But, going back to my initial goal of TRYING to write everyday, I think there are some simple things you can do that while not literally writing, can help fill that creativity well while simultaneously growing yourself as a writer.

If I decide to take a day off from my MS, I attempt to do one (or several) of these things:

Read a book
In the same way I try to write everyday, I try to read everyday too. You can stay on top of what is happening in the industry. You can lose yourself in an amazing story. You can become inspired by different writing styles, tenses, characters, plot progressions… I could go on and on.

Critique others’ work
I’m pretty certain that critiquing the works of others makes me a better writer. When I spend time thinking about the character development or  pacing or dialog in a WIP, it helps me be more honest about my own work as I write/read through/revise. Not to mention, what goes around comes around. I’ve talked about this before. We are all on the same team here. Help each other.

Write a blog post
If I am out of creative fuel, I’m not always out of literal fuel. When I am unable to immerse myself in my own story, I can certainly blog about others (book reviews, industry happenings, posts like this one). Writing what is on your mind can inspire others and spark some interesting conversations. And in turn, it may be just what you need: writing that is not MS writing.

Creativity is a well. If there is an inspiration drought, if no rain has fallen in weeks, chances are you will run dry. You are not a failure when this happens. You simply need to step away and let that well fill back up. Duncan says it best here:

[I] know the well is getting full when the ideas start coming up during all times of the day, and more importantly, I want to open up Word and get those words on the page.

Try to write everyday, but don’t force it. If you know what you should be writing, have it all in your head and are excited about it, and instead feel tempted to blow three hours on twitter, FIGHT THAT. Push through. It all comes back to knowing the difference between a dry well and distraction. Stay inspired. And stay focused.

So tell me, do you write daily, or do you take days off? Do you struggle with keeping the well of creativity full or do you believe it is bottomless? Do tell!

 

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