We’ve all been there. Staring at the blinking cursor on a blank page. Wracking our brains for an idea. Begging Google for “creativity tips for writers” and foolproof ways to “beat writer’s block.” Feeling aggravated that we’ve finally carved out some time from our busy lives to write, only for that damn cursor to taunt us, mock us, make us question our talent.
I wish I could tell you this post will help you defeat the blank page once and for all. But I’m not a snake-oil saleswoman who tricks innocent writers for views or shares. All I can do is share the creative writing tips that work for me in hopes they’ll work for you, too. (And also remind you that you’re still a “real writer” even on those days when creativity is low and writing seems impossible.)
That’s enough of my rambling — on to the creativity tips!
6 creativity tips for writers, by a writer
A few of these tips are common knowledge. Most of them come from my own experience, and some even come from my dear friend and virtual assistant, Emily. (Gotta give credit where credit is due!)
Try waterproof crayons for capturing ideas in the shower
If you’re one of those people who only gets bright ideas whenever you take a shower, why not invest in some waterproof markers or crayons? Crayola makes a cool range of bathtub crayons. Sure, they’re technically for kids, but there’s a reason why Julia Cameron uses the term “artist child” throughout her iconic book, The Artist’s Way.
Markers and crayons help you remember your big ideas after you step out of the shower. This creativity tip works best for people who live alone or with roommates who wouldn’t think you’re absolutely batshit for scribbling all over the shower tiles. (So if you live with parents or people who wouldn’t take too kindly to this, maybe try some of the other creativity tips for writers listed here instead!)
Alternatively, you can use a waterproof notepad and pencil to capture those shower thoughts. Some notepads even let you tear off pages so you can take them with you. (Plus, you won’t piss off your parents/partner/roommates. Win-win!)
Use brackets while writing
This is one of my favorite creativity tips for writers and comes from my very own arsenal. When I’m writing, I don’t want to break my flow to look something up or search for the right word on PowerThesaurus. But I also don’t want to forget I need to do something later to finish the scene.
So I add these brackets right in the middle of the sentence:
- [research] — look something up later
- [finish] — finish writing the scene later when I have more information/direction
- [flesh out] — add more details/imagery
- [wc] — stands for word choice; basically means, “I think this word is weak but I’ll fix it later”
This keeps me in my creative flow, preventing tab-switching and falling into an internet research wormhole. Plus, whenever I go back and edit, all I need to do is search “[” to find all the loose ends that need tying up.
Here are a couple of examples of how I use brackets in my WIP:
Lucy, one of my main characters, grows up in the late 1940s, early 1950s. She’s often watching TV and reading magazines. To breathe life into the story, I know I should research some popular TV shows and magazines from that era.
But I’m in the middle of writing. I’m in the flow state, damnit! I can’t stop now!
So instead, I write [research] right in the middle of the sentence and keep on going.
I even use brackets to stand in for something I don’t know the answer to, like this:
“Samuel’s [car] led the convoy — Samuel and Betty’s parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews, plus the family members of the Ramblers — up to Charlotte.”
This reminds me I need to go back and figure out the make and model of Samuel’s car. This scene is set in the 1960s, so I need to choose something that not only suits Samuel’s budget, but also his style and the era. But if I break creative flow to do that, I’ll hinder my own progress.
My bracket “system”, if you can even call it that, is my favorite creativity tool. You might choose to use pipes, greater than/less than signs, or something else. Whatever you choose, I recommend sticking with one symbol you wouldn’t ordinarily use in your draft.
Choose a font that inspires creativity
I’m big on document design and formatting. If my draft has inconsistent font families, text sizes, colors, and spacing, I can’t focus until it’s fixed. Probably sounds a little extra and counterintuitive to the creative process, but that’s just the way I operate for both professional and creative writing.
I tend to write using polished, “bookish” fonts (Lora is my font of choice for Escape Artist). But I recently read a post that suggests these fonts hinder our creativity:
Other comments on this Tumblr post noted that using “bookish” fonts affects the way our brains perceive our work. Because published novels often use those fonts, we expect our own work to be just as polished. Or we believe our half-developed novel is an affront to the “official” font and will never be worthy of publication. That’s why we might get frustrated or experience writer’s block.
As much as I love my austere serif fonts, I’ve tried writing in Comic Sans, and I stand by it.
If you’re in your first draft and you’re feeling playful, this creativity tip will come in handy. Because I use Comic Sans for drafts still in progress and development, I know exactly which chapters/scenes need my attention most. Making progress is easy and frictionless.
Plus, I don’t fixate on perfecting every detail in the first draft. As much as I hate to say it, writing in Comic Sans keeps me focused on finishing the first draft instead of fretting over third-draft problems.
Dabble in another art form
Burnout is real, whether you’re a full-time creative writer or you’re a “jill-of-all-trades” writer like me who writes for your day job, your side hustle, and your hobby.
There’s a fine line between showing up to do the work even when you don’t feel like it and forcing creativity when you’re burned out and need rest.
When burnout hits, redirect your creativity into other art forms. My preferred alternative is scrapbooking, collage specifically:
Sitting at my desk on a Sunday morning with a fresh cup of tea and my art supplies fills me with just as much joy as writing. While I do take some care to craft my collages — matching colors and styles for a cohesive look — I also allow myself to play. I don’t set myself a time limit, force myself to finish a collage in one sitting, or even create something “good”. I just create for the sake of creating.
Next time you’re in a creative rut, close the laptop or notebook and pull out the craft supplies.
Remember, art takes on unexpected forms. Creative video games like Minecraft and Animal Crossing are just as good for your creativity as papercraft. (Just be careful not to overindulge!)
Keep a notebook handy at all times
You’ve heard this creativity tip for writers a thousand times. But it’s worth repeating.
As much as I love using Notion for writing and just about everything else, no app can replace pen and paper for capturing ideas in the moment. Period.
Think about how long it’ll take you to pull out your phone, open the app, navigate to the right page, and type in your idea. A few seconds longer than it would to just whip out a notebook and jot it down.
I know, I know — I probably sound like a bit of a traditionalist. While I’m a device-addicted millennial through and through, I know every second counts when harnessing creativity and capturing ideas.
And when I say keep a notebook handy at all times, I mean it. Keep it in your pocket, your bookbag, and even by your bed. Dreams inspire ideas, specifically story ideas. It’s such a common phenomenon that it’s almost cliche. Keep that notebook and pen on your nightstand so you can jot down those ideas that hit at 4 AM.
Some — if not most — of your ideas will be “bad” or just plain incomprehensible. Write them down anyway. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself for forgetting ideas I thought were useless at the time.
Turn up the tunes (if you want)
This one might seem a little unconventional. But I’m aware that not all writers can focus with music playing.
I can’t listen to music with lyrics while writing because it makes my brain all tangled. However, fast-paced instrumentals put me in focus mode unlike anything else.
If you can stand listening to music while writing, put on an upbeat playlist and go to town. Rodrigo y Gabriela is my go-to. (Seriously, I could probably listen to them every day until I die and never get tired of it.)
You’ll find a ton of chill lo-fi playlists out there. I adore instrumental lo-fi, but I think it has its time and place. If you want to get creative, upbeat is the way to go.
That said, you don’t have to listen to me if you don’t want to. If zen playlists work best for inspiring your creativity, by all means, listen to them.
Which leads me to perhaps one of the only creativity tips for writers worth remembering: Do what works best for you. The tips I’ve listed here might not do diddly squat for your creative process. And that’s okay! Everyone’s process is different. Keep experimenting until you find that sweet spot.
Creativity tips for writers: wrapping up
I hope these tried-and-tested creativity tips for writers serve you well on your journey. I’ll admit I’ve yet to try waterproof crayons, and I often forget where I put my pocket notebook (and my keys, and my wallet…).
All that just to say I’m not perfect. Sometimes, I forget to write down ideas. I try to force creativity after a long workweek when opening my laptop is the last thing I want to do. But I’m trying my best to be better. And sometimes, that’s all that really counts.
Tried any of these creativity tips for writers? Which ones work for you and which ones don’t? What would you add? Meet me in the comments and let’s talk creativity!