Stirring Up Creativity

I’m happy to report that I’ve had a couple of days where I’ve been able to get back into writing my new book on the Eucharist. Like See Yourself Through God’s Eyes, I think that this book is going to be very personal. Although it’s all about him, I seem to be writing from what’s happening in my prayer. Hopefully, that means that the content of the book will flow directly from the tabernacle.

At the same time, because of time limits, I’m writing at full stretch, and sometimes when I do that, my creativity dries up after a few days. I think I let the pressure build up to the point that my creative side no longer feels it has the “space” to play around or try something new. These are some of the things I have tried in the past and will use this week to stir up my creativity:

Great music helps set the mood. Typically, I like to write to dramatic music–often from film soundtracks. It has to be loud enough to drown out surrounding distractions, without lyrics so that I cannot sing along, and set the right mood. Gladiator’s soundtrack works for almost any kind of writing. For my screenplay set in Victorian times, I used a lot of classical music and soundtracks of movies based on the novels of Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility, composed by Rachel Portman, is one of my favorites). For this book, I haven’t found the right mix yet. I can play almost anything for a while, but then it turns into a distraction.

Walking. I use both short walks to break up the fatigue of sitting in one chair for hours on end, and longer walks where I try to start with an empty mind and gradually find myself either unwinding or filling up with ideas. Treadmill walking doesn’t really do the trick, but we’ve had a warm enough winter that I’ve been able to get out to take walks almost whenever I can squeeze in the time.

Reading good writing books. I recently finished Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark. It has 50 writing tools and tips, some of which are basic and others which I’d never really thought about before. The chapters are short, so my writing time isn’t taken up by reading.

Coffee shops. For me, coffee is my daily “way in” to writing. I almost never write without a mug on my desk. Going out for coffee is too expensive to do often, but when I really feel blocked, distracted, or discouraged, I pack up my laptop and head to the nearest Starbucks. Not only do I like their coffee, but the Starbucks that I tend to haunt are very community-oriented, welcoming the struggling writer and anyone else who wants to sit at a table for a couple of hours. There are a couple other independent cafés here in Toronto that have welcomed me to sit for a while, including Cranberries Café (warning: the desserts are decadent!) An alternative to coffee shops (if they are too much caffeine or too much money) is writing in any unfamiliar place. NaNoWriMoers in Toronto write on the subway every November, but I haven’t tried it. I once wrote on a park bench, but that’s off-limits for most of the year. I get a lot of writing done at airports when I travel, and trains are wonderful–I’m held hostage in my seat, but I can look out on the world as I travel by.

Journaling. It’s easy for me to get so focused on the book that I kind of get in to a “push it out as fast as I can mode.” But actually, that’s when I do my worst, ego-driven writing. Journaling reminds me that it’s okay to free write, to simply put down what’s on my mind. It’s also a great way of working out the concerns or problems of day-to-day life so that they don’t distract me from the deeper writing. At its best, my journaling leads me into prayer.

Prayer. I don’t just pray because I’m a Catholic nun. As a person and a writer, I need that deeper connection to God and to my own soul. How can I write what God wants me to write–especially about a mystery like the Eucharist–if I’m not “connected” to him directly, deeply, daily? How can I allow the Spirit to lead me if I don’t open myself to his presence and inspirations? Part of this openness is letting go of the controlling, egotistical self that wants to write for all the wrong reasons: to impress others, to prove that I’m okay or smart or whatever… These false motivations lead to writing that isn’t transparent and authentic.

Prayer is much more than a tool for creativity, but sometimes it’s the best one I have. I regularly struggle with a writer’s insecurity. I don’t ever think I’ve seen prayer recommended as the way to blast through it–but it’s the way that’s most often worked for me.

What tools do you use to get your creativity going, especially when you’re in the middle of an intensive creative project? I welcome new suggestions and I’m sure other readers would too.

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