If you do try people-watching, take care not to be too obvious
If, like me, you sometimes sit and stare at a blank page for an hour or more without writing a word then give up, you might want to give some of these tips a try. I’ve tried them all and found them useful at one time or another. Some are fairly conventional ideas for productivity, others are just things that have helped me.
Listen to music
You might listen to your usual favourites, let the would or the notes inspire you or conjure up images in your mind. If I’m really stuck, I like to try something completely new. I sit somewhere I don’t usually sit, or listen to music I don’t normally like, or something that’s new to me. I get out of my comfort zone. That’s a great way to boost creativity. When my kids were young, occasionally I used to sit in their rooms while they were at school, or listen to their music, just as a new experience to try and get the creative juices flowing. Or you might pull out something you haven’t listened to for a very long time: songs that were out when you were a kid, or maybe your parents.
Go for a walk
I know this is a commonly prescribed antidote to lack of creativity, but it does work. Go out in the pouring rain and release your inner savage, or go out and enjoy the wonders of nature, or walk along the city streets and visualise your gumshoe on the trail of a bad guy. Physical activity wakes up the body and gets the blood flowing to the brain. Even if you don’t come back from your walk full of ideas, at least you got away from your desk for a while and got some fresh air.
Eavesdrop on other peoples’ conversations
This is a great way to pick up ideas and hear dialogue ‘in action’. It’s also a great way to get punched on the nose if you’re too obvious about what you’re doing. Try not to let them see you making notes, and don’t get so absorbed in their conversation that you exclaim along with their friends. Snatches of conversation half-heard and half-remembered can provide great what-if moments. A writing tutor I had in Australia recommended mystery writers pick a person at the mall and trail them. Again, I cannot emphasise this too much, please don’t do this, it’s a terrible idea. You will get locked up or punched on the nose. (But hey, great stories, right? Do they have a self-publishing programme in prison?)
Visit a gallery or museum
I once attended a writing workshop at a museum where we were encouraged to write short pieces about some of the exhibits. These included Neolithic artefacts and a Victorian christening gown. It was not only a great idea but a memorable experience, plus really good to mingle with other writers. Go to an art gallery or a museum or country house with your trusty notebook and your camera/phone. Take a look at what lies behind the glass and imagine the people who touched, created, discovered, used or found a particular item. People those empty halls with characters: what do they say to one another? Make sketches. Write descriptions. Take photos, or buy post-cards from the gift shop.
Look through the images on Pixabay or Shutterstock or other image sites
See if anything intrigues you or inspires you to write a short story, a poem, a simple description or analyse your own feelings when you look at a picture. What does it make you think of and why? How do you feel? Check out Morgen Bailey’s story writing and poetry writing daily prompts too.
Do you collect anything? If not you, does someone close to you have a collection?
Spend some time writing about the first item in the collection and how it was acquired or obtained. Who did it belong to? What was the last item to join the collection? Why is it so important to the owner of the collection? What would happen if someone stole the collection? How would that make you feel if it was yours? How would you get it back? What would you do? How far would you go?
Sit somewhere different to your usual writing spot
This is a little bit like the music one. It’s about changing stale habits. I usually write at my desk, but sometimes I like to go out to a café or pub to write, or I could even write in a library. I could write outside if the weather is fine. In the past I have even sat in my son’s bedroom at his desk and written for hours. A change is as good as a rest, we are told, and a new ‘venue’ can help to get things flowing, and could offer a fresh perspective on your writing. You could also try using a different notebook or computer, a different pen or write at a different time of day. Try the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning. I’m right-handed, and I once wrote with my left hand for a couple of hours just to try and get inside the mind of the character, to see a different kind of script on my page, it was like reading someone else’s work.
Pick a story from your local newspaper
Write it in your own words; be an investigative journalist and try to think of a new outcome or a way of finding out more, or imagine you are interviewing someone featured in the newspaper, whether a sports’ personality or a victim of a crime. Find a new slant on the facts on the page. Or create mini-version of your own newspaper, with you writing all the features.
Go to the library
And have a rummage through the reference section or any section that interests you; poke through the periodicals and have a nosy at the noticeboard. Observe people. Listen to people. Try to see yourself from the outside, as if you were a stranger. Sit at one of the desks and read or write.
Visit a graveyard
Sounds a bit depressing, I know, but graveyard are wonderful places for atmosphere, and you know – they’re outside – so think of all the fresh air you’d be getting. Wander around and read a few headstones. Look at the style of the gravestones. Try to imagine the people buried there, the lives they lived and how they died, picture their families, their homes and workplaces. Sit in the church or graveyard for a while and try to imagine who might have sat there before you. How did they feel? Can you hear the whisper of an ancient mass? Or the sound of spirits lurking in the graveyard?
A little relaxing meditation could release some stress and pent-up anxiety in your life, enabling you to refresh yourself mentally. Sit comfortably on the floor, with a notepad and pen in front of you, turned to a fresh page. Close your eyes. Spend a few minutes breathing deeply and slowly until you feel you could almost doze off to sleep. Then without thinking about what you are doing, take up your pen and begin writing – something, anything, just don’t try to analyse or make sense of any thoughts, but let the words pour out of your pen as if there was nothing between your brain and your notebook. Music or candles and incense sometimes help with this process. I’ve often actually fallen asleep doing this, and woken to find myself still clutching my pen and notebook, but sometimes I’ve written and written and it was as if I was watching someone else doing it. It’s cathartic and intriguing.
All of us have times when we can’t seem to write the way we want to, or maybe not at all, or the words aren’t giving our inner self the satisfaction we need. Don’t worry about it too much but allow yourself the freedom to know when you need to rest and do something else, or when you need persist, and to try to help things along.