Creativity’s a wily beast, am I right? It’s so absolutely vital—to business, to art, to life. And yet sometimes it seems like the harder you chase it, the better it hides. It gets even more difficult to find that elusive creative state when the world around us feels uncertain and distracting.
As I write this, the world—and especially my home of NYC—is in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
I sincerely hope that in the near future, this will be a distant memory. But for now, it’s very much my reality, and I’ll be honest … when thousands are sick and hundreds are dying in my own backyard, sitting down to write romantic comedy feels darn near impossible.
And yet. I’m persisting. Not so much because of a looming deadline (those can always get moved), but because I’m aware, more than ever, just now much the world needs joyful entertainment and escapism.
But I’d be lying if I said things haven’t been different, if I haven’t had to learn how to be creative in this current climate.
Here are three things I’ve been doing to tap into my creativity even on days when it feels completely elusive:
Modify your goals
During “normal times” when I’m in the middle of a book, the minimum daily output for me is about 1,000 words. On days where I just don’t feel like it, “I give myself permission to ‘just write 1k.” Considering my normal first-draft output is more like 5k in the first half of the book, and 8k in the second half of the book, 1,000 words is typically my output when I’m on vacation or taking a day off-ish.
But now? As I’m currently listening to cop cars outside my window on 42nd Street, using their megaphone to tell people to “Go Home!” … 1k feels a bit daunting.
My quarantine daily goal is 100 words. A mere tenth of my usual bare minimum. And one day I couldn’t even bare that. I was feeling restless and housebound and heartbroken by the local news, so I told myself: write 10 words. And that’s all I wrote (actually, 11).
But something sort of weird and magical happened when I gave myself permission to do that. Those mere 11 words made me realize exactly what happened in the next chapter. That excitement built up, and the following day, I wrote 6,000 words—well above my 1,000 word average.
Be flexible with your muse, and your muse will be flexible with you.
Get your art on
“Art” was never my best subject in school. Other than getting second place in a coloring contest in second grade (is it weird that I still feel bitter towards Lisa G. and her superior bunny?), no teacher, ever, looked at my sketch of a pair and suggested I may want to pursue art. It wasn’t even my favorite subject—give me a Jules Verne book over a Van Gough painting any day.
But one thing was definitely true—I always felt a little bit calmer after doing whatever assigned art project with pastels, or finger paint, or Elmers glue + construction paper. There were no expectations, no real grade, and I found this incredibly freeing.
I still do.
When writing feels impossible, when my to-do list feels suffocating, when my brain refuses to be nudged in the “strategic, big-thinking” direction, I hit up my art supplies. Which, for me, is my set of Tombow markers and a Johanna Basford coloring book. For my mom, it’s watercolors. For my friend, Lemmon, it’s drawing. None of us count those as our day jobs—there’s nothing inherently valuable about it, and yet at the same time its invaluable.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come away from a few minutes of coloring and suddenly known exactly what happens next in my book, even if I wasn’t consciously thinking about it. At the very least, I come away a little calmer, a little happier. For you, it may be colored pencils, or doodling, or scrapbooking, calligraphy, or making a collage. But there’s a pure magic in creating something just for fun that cures the soul.
Pro tip—whatever you do, do not judge your creation as good or bad or amateur. Simply enjoy the creative process—it’s why I prefer coloring. All my perfectionist nature has to do is stay in the lines to end up with something that feels “pretty damn good!”
Watch, read, or listen to something that makes you feel
Whenever I’m actively working on a manuscript, I avoid reading books in my same genre—it just never feels right to read a contemporary romance while I’m writing one. Plenty of authors do, and I’m jealous. But I’m constantly worried about inadvertently adopting their voice, or letting their tone/story influence mine in some way. I’ve also learned the hard way that cutting myself off from happily-ever-after entirely while writing, is just as detrimental! I know it sounds counter intuitive to pick up the Kindle or turn on the TV when you feel like you should be writing, but sometimes watching a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie or reading a Regency romance (again, I avoid reading anything too close to what I’m trying to write!) is exactly what I need to remind me why I’m doing what I do—to give people that stomach flip, to make them smile. Depending on your genre, it may be to make their heart beat faster, to make them cry, to make them jump. If you’re stuck, don’t be afraid to let yourself feel those things. In order to have to create we have to remember why we’re creating. That’s something you feel, not something you think.
“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.”— Dieter F. Uchtdorf