13 Ways to Be Creative When You Feel Unimaginative

You are a creative but when you sit down to create you go blank. What do you do? All creatives have bad days. Sometimes a string of bad days. Do you have a toolbox of ways to be creative when you feel unimaginative? Read on for 13 ways to be creative when you feel unimaginative.

Image shows a imperfect, poorly made snowman that illustrate one of 13 ways to be creative when you feel unimaginative

Give Yourself Permission to do Badly

Often the reason you cannot create is because of expectations you have. Perhaps you need to be creatively private. Or you expect yourself to create when you are undergoing personal upheaval. Maybe you’re ill or too tired.

Give yourself permission to do the work badly. Challenge yourself and deliberately make your creative endeavor as flawed as you can. Allow yourself to fill it with mistakes. Sometimes, a mistake becomes inspiration. And if it doesn’t? Then you’ve learned what not to do.

Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow.

Mary Tyler Moore

Turn it Upside Down

One way to shake loose your creativity is to change things up. For example, if you’ve been writing from the viewpoint of a woman—change it to the viewpoint of a man or a child. If you’ve been trying to design a pattern for a hat—change it up and design socks or shoes.

My artist husband used to take a drawing and literally turn it upside down. It changed the way he looked at the project.

Turn your project upside down. Seeing it from a fresh perspective may kick-start those creative juices.

Look Through Your Inspiration File

You keep an inspiration file, don’t you? If not, start one. As a writer, you might collect clever twists on clichés or plot twists. As an artist, you might have photos of nature or walk through a museum or exhibition. Knitters might have clippings from style magazines. Visual and word or sound based inspirations may unlock your creativity vault.

An inspiration file can be a place like a museum or art gallery or even a shopping mall or park. It can also be websites that inspire you.

Catch up on Housekeeping Tasks

Let’s face it. You’re a creative. You want to be making something, not working on spreadsheets, or balancing the checkbook, or filing papers. Do the taxes. Market your work. Do some or all those “non-creative” tasks you must do in order to keep your creative business going.

Step Away from the Computer

As a creative, it’s easy to burn yourself out. You have deadlines, need the money, or have more ideas than time… One way to be creative when you feel unimaginative is to give yourself a physical break. Step away from the computer for an hour or all day. Take a walk, exercise, swim, play a sport. Even a road trip might be the break your creative mind needs to refresh.

Try a Different Creative Endeavor

man's hands playing the piano a different creative endeavor is  one of 13 Ways to Be Creative When You Feel Unimaginative

When you’re stuck, try a new creative endeavor. If your normal creative endeavors are intellectual, choose a physical creativity. And vise Versa. Water colors, finger painting, hand lettering, cook a new recipe, make a video, or carve soap or wood may open new creative pathways in your brain.

Playing the piano is for me a way of getting unstuck. If I’m stuck in life or in what I’m writing, if I can, I sit down and play the piano. What it does is break the barrier that comes between the conscious and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind wants to take over and refuses to let the subconscious mind work, the intuition. So if I can play the piano, that will break the block, and my intuition will be free to give things up to my mind, my intellect. So it’s not just a hobby. It’s a joy.

Madeline L’Engle

Redecorate Your Space

Is the physical space you work in conducive to creativity? Perhaps, redecorating your space will not only give you a break from your current project—it might help you create a more inspiring workplace. Or, if you are a messy creator, clean it up. Sometimes our physical environment blocks our creativity.

Read a Book

Fiction or nonfiction can be inspirational. Read for escape or information, but not about something that involves your project. Step into a different world for a time. Let your subconscious work by engaging your conscious mind in an activity that keeps it busy.

Listen to a Podcast

You can find a podcast on any topic you are interested in. Listen to one or two podcasts. A podcast may provide new insights on your work. Need a few suggestions? Check out my posts Listen & Learn: Podcasts and Listen & Learn: Podcasts on Writing. You can also google podcasts or search Spotify or Apple Music or any of the other podcast services.

Brainstorm with Someone

Find a mentor or a creative like you. Talk out your creative block. Often talking out your problem or block will clear it all on its own. Sometimes a second viewpoint will see things more clearly than you. Or ask a question that inspires new thoughts.

Take On A Creative Challenge

Creative prompts or exercises can develop your skills and open fresh paths of imagination. There are writing prompts online, art prompts, or you can make your own prompts and exercises. Don’t do the prompts because practice makes perfect, but to explore your skills or develop your skills.

Be A Child Again

woman hanging upside down from tree limb --a different perspective is one of the 13 ways

Have you ever watched a child play? No? Then go to a playground or ask a family friend for permission to play with their children. Children play with energy and unending imagination. They don’t fetter themselves with the need to be perfect. They just have fun. Energize your imagination and be a child again.

Don’t Give Up

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. B.F. Skinner

Creative blocks happen, not because you lack imagination but because something in your creative or personal life needs addressed. Look at your project and life upside down so you can see where you need to make changes. Use these 13 ways to be creative when you feel unimaginative. Don’t give up, keep working on your dreams. You are creative even when you don’t feel imaginative.

Because There Are Lies, Secrets, and Scars

The plot is what happens to your character. The story is about how your character reacts to the things that happen. It’s simple cause and effect, right? Hold on there. It’s not quite that simple. For the most effective story your forces of antagonism (see this post) and your character’s lies, secrets, and scars (see this post) are interwoven. Easy for me to say. Difficult to do. Until you have the golden ticket. What’s that golden ticket? Because there are lies, secrets, and scars and opposition, there is a unique plot.

Because There are Lies, Secrets, and Scars you can create a unique plot. Learn how.

Writers often worry about a story being “done to death.” It’s easy to believe there are no new stories in the world. One look at all the titles in Amazon can overwhelm you. Let’s rephrase.

There are no new story concepts in the world. A story concept is reducing the story to the basics. Concepts include: the revenge plot, the detective story, the space marine story, and so on. There are hundreds if not millions of stories about revenge. That’s the test. If it’s a concept, there are lots of other stories like it.

So how is a writer to make his story stand out?

You make choices. Your choices create a plot.

Choose Your Adventure

You choose what your story concept and theme are. Those are often generic. Your choice of which forces of antagonism you’ll use to structure your story makes your story yours. Which lies, secrets, and scars you choose for your protagonist and antagonist won’t be the same as anyone else’s. This combination of choices sets you up to create a unique plot.

Episodic vs. Cause and Effect

An episodic story lacks plot. Sam sends Mary a dozen rose and then Sam visits her and then Sam proposes to her and then they lived happily (or unhappily) ever after. Not very compelling, is it?

Remember how I said the lies, secrets, and scars of your character are your story’s third rail? And that third rail is what keeps the story train moving. (See the post Lies, Secrets, and Scars Make Better Characters)

If the lies, secrets, and scars are the third rail, “because” is the train’s engine.

Because is a conjunction meaning “for the reason that or due to the fact that.” (Dictionary.com)

Watch what happens to the “and then sentence” when you replace the “ands” and the “thens.”

Example:

BECAUSE Sam’s doesn’t trust himself to tell Mary he loves her, he asks his best friend, Jack, to give her a dozen roses and say they’re from Sam.

BUT Jack, determined to have the Mary first, gives the roses to Mary saying they are from him.

THEREFORE Sam decides he can’t trust anyone, ever and won’t talk to Mary or Jack.

BECAUSE Sam doesn’t trust anyone, he moves out of town and vanishes.

BUT years later, Sam returns to town after his father dies and discovers that the love of his life, Mary, married Jack.

THEREFORE when Sam receives a message from Mary stating she still loves him, he must decide if he can trust the message, Mary, and himself.

As an off-the-top-of-my-head example, this scenario isn’t as strong as I wish it were. But I hope you can see how the tension builds and the conflict gets deeper and deeper using this technique.

The Past

Because links the character to his past decisions, actions or beliefs. His past is always influenced by his lies, secrets, and scars. He makes decisions BECAUSE of his belief in his lies, secrets, and scars.

The Opposition

But is the opposition, the thing that prevents your character from achieving his goal in the scene and the story. This is where unintended consequences can come to play. It can be a case of collateral damage, something the protagonist didn’t foresee. These actions originate from the character’s state of mind OR from the antagonist.

The Consequences

Therefore is the consequences. It can be an internal or external event or a reaction. It always includes a decision (or refusal to make a decision). This is the “how the story events” go forward. Until the next bit of opposition.

Choose Your Tools

Because, But, Therefore are tools you can use to construct a solid plot. There are many other tools that you can use. This is the one I prefer. Will you try this one?

The “because, but, therefore” construction keeps me focused. Because there are lies, secrets, and scars the plotting process is more focused. And because their past influences the choices I make for the characters, a unique plot is born.

How to be Awesome Reading Your Story Aloud

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Reading fiction aloud can sound like music. Reading prosody, is the term for that musical style of reading. In other words, it’s reading with expression.  And reading with expression is how to be awesome reading your story aloud. 

But as a writer, we spend a lot of time alone with our thoughts and our keyboards. Preparing to give a reading can be daunting. You’re filled with questions and doubts. Where do I start? What do I read? How much do I read? How do I get through the reading without sounding like an idiot? What do I wear? Stop. Take a breath. This is your guide on how to be awesome reading your story aloud.

 

First hint: Don’t hide behind your book.

Learn how to be awesome reading your book aloud
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Talk to Your Host

Preparation begins with knowing more about what’s expected. Ask your host: will you be sitting or standing? At a table or a podium? Will you use a microphone? Do you check in? When and where? Is it okay to sell books after the reading? Can you ask for signups for your email list? Is it okay to bring props or bookmarks? How long are you expected to read?

Sometimes how long you read is a set amount of time chosen by your host. Sometimes you get to choose. If you have a choice and are a first timer, it’s a first novel, or you can’t/don’t want to be on stage for long, choose a 20-30 minute reading time.

Decide on What Your Reading

First, know your audience. Read from the book that suits their niche. Next, find a section of your book that reflects the tone of your book, one that needs little set up, and contains interaction between two characters with different goals. It can be a funny section, a sad section, or an action/suspense section. Long sections of backstory or description do not work well when reading aloud. Aim for a length that will give the audience a feeling of a complete scene. Sounds hard, doesn’t it? Make several choices. Play with them a little.

Read your choices aloud one-by-one. Occasionally, you’ll find that the section you love the most is the least entertaining to read aloud. Choose the one that is the most entertaining to listen to. (you may need a friend to listen and help you decide) Chances are you’ll hear one aloud and realize it’s the best choice. When you’ve made your choice, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Prepare Your Manuscript

How to be awesome reading your book aloud
I mark a pause with a hashtag, underline words I tend to stumble over, and slash to indicate which words I need to enunciate more clearly.

If your reading selection needs some setup, write one. Make the story introduction as entertaining as the storytelling. Devote no more than two or three short paragraphs to the setup. Shorter is better.

You may need to revise your reading selection a bit to take out the narrative that slows the oral storytelling down, or to make sentences easier on the tongue. That’s okay. Do it.

Print out your selection (Don’t read from your electronic device it’s too easy to lose your place.) Make sure your manuscript is double-spaced with wide margins and an easy to read, large font. I use 14 pt, Ariel. Use what makes it easy for you to read.

Read it aloud again. Record this reading. Then listen to the recording. As you listen, mark places on the manuscript where you need to use an emotional tone. Mark words that you tend to stumble over. There will be places where you should slow down or speed up. A time when you should lower and raise your voice. Devise a consistent method of marking these places so you remember what those marks mean.  I write a note to myself at the top of every page: “Slow Down.” When nervous, most of us speak faster and faster. This reminder does the trick for me. Secure the pages together. You don’t want a page to go missing in the middle of a reading.

Plan Ahead

Decide what you will wear—something that represents your characters or setting? Something dressy or very casual? Whatever you choose, make certain you are comfortable wearing it. Choose something that you feel you look your best when wearing it.  How will you style your hair? Makeup—yes or no?

Decide what props you will bring. Published book(s) or cover flat(s), bookmarks, and business cards are a good start. You can have story-related props on display. Giveaways can entice people to come to the reading but they won’t necessarily be readers. Treats may be something you’d bring. Know how and where you will display your props.

Be prepared to introduce yourself. —It doesn’t have to be more than a line or two. Certainly no more than 5 minutes. Practice introducing yourself. It can feel awkward at first. Practice it until you’re comfortable.

Make a marketing plan for your reading—let your readers know that you’ll be doing the reading. Remind them several times. Ask friends to be there to root for you.

Be prepared for the possibility of no audience, a tiny audience, and a humongous audience. There’s no predicting what will happen unless you’re as well known as George R.R. Martin.

Practice, Practice, Practice

  • Use your timer so you can pace your reading
  • Have a glass of water at hand
  • Record your practices.
  • Listen to the recording—are you speaking loud enough? Are you enunciating clearly?
  • If you are not adept at changing voices ala an impersonator, don’t try. You can change your volume, your tone, or the pace with which you speak to indicate different characters.
  • Do what your characters do—shake a fist, whisper, smile, frown, whatever.
  • Match the emotion in your face and voice to the words you’re reading.
  • Use a timer. If you typically read a little long, try trimming words out of the manuscript. If you read short, add more pages or even another scene.
  • Stop the reading at a place that will make your readers want more. (That’s one of the ways to be awesome reading your story aloud. )

The Day Before

  • Make certain you have your props, your manuscript, your props, and your clothes laid out.
  • Verify the location and time of your reading.
  • Don’t practice this day. Relax. Do whatever you enjoy and will help you relax. Get your hair done? A manicure? A movie?

The BIG Day

  • Double check that your props, your correct manuscript, your props, and your clothes are ready.
  • Take a drink in a spill-resistant container. Water or tea with a little honey and lemon will help soothe your throat and voice.
  • Get ready and be at the venue 10-15 minutes early.
  • Check the layout. Are the microphones working? Test and adjust the microphone to best amplify your voice as you read.
  • Set up your props and/or giveaways.
  • Smile. Breathe. It will be okay.

 

Show Time

  • Smile.
  • Connect with your audience. Sit in an open, friendly way—in other words, don’t cross your arms over your chest or clench your fists. Make eye contact. Say hello. Thank your audience for coming.
  • Introduce yourself.
  • Take a breath. You’ve got this. Read.
  • Some members of your audience will love it even if you read the phone book. Be prepared for people to get up and move around during your reading. Don’t let it throw you. Someone will be intrigued by your book. That someone is your reader. Smile at that one!
  • Pause at the end and smile again. (Did you get applause? AWESOME!)
  • Thank your audience for their attention. (You will want to send a written thank you to your host after it’s over.)

Congratulations!

Remember that reader, the one who hung on every word? He thought you and your story were awesome. That’s a great feeling, isn’t it? Hold onto that feeling. Reading aloud is one of the many ways writers can connect with readers. In fact, it can get a little addictive. (Ask me how I know.)

I will be at ConQuest, a science fiction convention this weekend. I’ll be reading from my debut novel, My Soul to Keep, on Saturday, May 26th at 3 pm. I’ve done all the things listed above and I know I won’t give a perfect reading. I’m human. I’ll stutter or mumble. But I also know there will be that one person in the audience that gets it. So when you prepare to read your story aloud remember. No matter how many times you stumble over a word, or fumble a page-turn, you will be awesome reading your story aloud to somebody.  And be ready to do it all over again.

What Readers Want

Time and time again you’re told to identify your reader, to write what readers want to read. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could look into a crystal ball and find the perfect reader for your book? what readers want, lynettemburrows.com, crystal ball by Jeffrey Beall

Have you tried to research what the reader wants? An internet search will give you more than 29 million results! Are that that many things readers want? Yes and no. The things readers want are greater than the number of readers. So what’s a writer to do?

Learn the basics.

1. We are born storytellers. Our sense, or need for, story is inborn. Need proof? How about 40,000+ year old cave paintings? How about the questions we ask? How was your day? Did you see the whopper I caught? Did you hear the whopper I told?

2. Learn about the psychology of story.

3. Learn what a story is.

Tell your best story.

1. Understand that your job as a writer is to tell a story about a character who wants something desperately and to make her struggle to achieve that goal.  If there is no struggle, no obstacles, no opposition, there is no story.

2. Learn how to craft a story, There is tons of advice out there on the wild web. Don’t just go with web learning. Find books by authors whose stories you love. I have a list of resources here.

3. Hone your craft. Learn to write a scene.

Learn who your readers are.

1. If you don’t have a mailing list or anything in print yet, look at your own reading habits. Pick one of your favorite books and look it up on Amazon. Look through the reviews for that book. What did the reviewers love? What did they hate?

If you’ve already got books out you can do several things.

Mine your mailing list. What can you learn from the names and addresses? What can you learn from comments left on your blog or emailed to you?

Use tools like the ones this post suggests.

Interview your readers. Or, look at the reviews you’ve gotten. Did your readers love your characters but think your setting was weak? Did your readers love the secondary characters? What did they not like? Careful with this one, you’re not looking for negative reviews, you’re looking for what your readers didn’t like or wanted to see more of.

2. Know the genre of your story. But my book is a blend of several genres you say. Sorry, you have to pick one that is your primary genre. Why? Because when you go to buy a breakfast food at the grocery you don’t go to the this-and-that aisle. You go to the meat section or the cereal aisle, then you make a selection. So you choose one primary genre and you make certain the obligatory scenes for that genre are present. Help your readers find your story.

Can’t decide which genre is your primary? Go to Amazon or other book sellers and look at the descriptions of books that are like yours. What’s the genre? Still can’t decide? Get a refresher on the basic genres and try again.

3. Study the bestsellers lists. No, don’t follow the trend. Read the best sellers in your genre. Figure out why readers love those books. Don’t copy the books, but take the elements that make them popular and use those elements in your own fiction.

Refine. Refine. Refine.

1. Improve your craft. Always. Get feedback from peers and professionals. Learn more about the craft.

2. Practice. Practice. Practice.

3. Listen to your readers. Always. That doesn’t mean give them exactly what they say they want, it means listen. Honor them by writing the best story you can with the elements that they love.

There are hundreds and thousands more references available to you. Reach out. Search for them. Get to know your readers. Your readers will thank you.

To help us all get to know readers better, I am running a series of Reader Interviews (with a tip of the hat to the Actor’s Studio). These aren’t limited to my readers. I’ve asked friends, family, anyone who reads to take part in this. Please help me thank them for their time and candid answers by reading and commenting. Look for the first in that series next week.

 

Image courtesy of Jeffrey Beall via Flickr.com

Fun with Words

Weekends are often devilishly devine. We have wickedly good fun, clean dirt from our homes, watch friendly competitors, and otherwise turn ourselves inside out trying to do more, be more, have more. Then comes Monday. Monday is the antithesis of the weekend. So today, let’s talk about phrases that pair two words that are the antithesis of each other. That’s right. We’re talking oxymorons. Rather, Dave and Randy are singing oxymorons. Have a listen.

The Oxymoron Song

There are countless numbers of oxymorons. How many did you identify in the song? How many in this post?

In my unbiased opinion, the singers weren’t awfully good but the song was seriously funny. This wasn’t my only choice, but by a minor miracle I chose it. I was clearly confused.

Please don’t be passive aggressive or noticably absent, leave a comment below. Surely Dave and Randy and I didn’t include all the oxymorons out there.

Let’s have more fun with words. What’s your favorite oxymoron?