Refilling the Creative Well

There’s a shift that occurs when writing goes from being a hobby to being a potential career and source of income. The joy that comes from 'just writing' begins to be overshadowed by deadlines and revisions and submissions and rejections. It's hard to recapture that feeling from the early days when suddenly you MUST get 3,000 words done to meet your deadline.

Early on, when my only goal was to finish a manuscript, writing was my outlet. I’d settle down on the weekend with a cup of coffee and indulge in writing. It was the way I chose to spend my free time. My joyful "me time." It lifted my spirits, helped my creativity to come to life. It refilled my well.

Now, that’s certainly not to say that writing feels like a chore these day. It absolutely doesn’t! I truly love my job…but it is still a job. That means I view writing with a different lens now—there’s more pressure for speed, more self-criticism, more commercial thinking, and more focus on other activities around the book (like marketing, admin etc.) I can't sit down and write simply because I feel like it, anymore. I turn up to my desk every day like I would at any paying job.

And that glorious time I used to spend on the weekends never really got replaced with anything. For a long time, I found myself without something else to do in order to recharge creatively. So I kept writing, working all weekend (in addition to the workweek) only stopping for social occasions because I wasn't sure what else to do with myself if I had time to spare.

But this is a slippery slope to creative burnout. To be a writer you DO NOT have to write every day. In fact, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a day off.

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Why is it important to recharge your creative mind?

Have you ever felt stuck on a project for no apparent reason? You have a solid plan, the characters are cooperating (for once!) and the words should be flowing freely…except they’re not. This can happen when you haven’t given your mind time to enjoy being creative without the pressure of a deadline/reviews/feedback etc. How do you feel when you create something simply for the sake of personal enjoyment where there’s no expectation of performance? It feels great. Freeing. Motivating. Insert your adjective here.

What can I do about it?

Allow yourself some time to indulge in a creative activity for your own enjoyment rather than feeling guilty about “stealing” time from your writing (I can’t be the only one who’s had that thought!) Of course schedules need to be balanced, but being a writer doesn’t mean you’ve given up any hope of having hobbies. Like anything, creative recharge requires you to make time rather than wait for it to happen…because we all know how that ends!

Not sure what to do to help yourself recharge? Here are a few ideas for things that might help you to gain that creative spark back…

·      Get visual: see a movie by a director you love, go to an art gallery to see the work from your favourite painter, or watch a play. Just because we work with words doesn’t mean we’re not stimulated by creative visuals.

·      Experience nature: I don’t know what it is precisely about being out in a park, but there is something utterly soul-soothing about it. Go for a walk at a pace that allows you to think. Or go to the beach and watch the waves roll in. If you're a more city type, go to your favourite part of the city and find a place to sit and observe. 

·      Make something: As writers, we love to create with words, but making something with your hands is a great way to engage your mind in a totally different way. Try knitting, sewing, drawing, painting, baking, or grab a colouring book and some pencils. The pleasure we get from seeing our efforts to fruition can be exactly the shot of motivation we need to tackle the next bit of our story.

·      Learn something: this is similar to the above. The satisfaction we get from mastering a new skill can be a great release for our minds. Plus, you never know when the knowledge you’ve picked up might make it into a story! If you don't want to commit to a full course in your new skill, there are plenty of options for workshops or single day/afternoon courses.

·      Have good conversation with loved ones: Phone that friend you haven't spoken to in a while, or take some time out with your partner to have a good yarn over a cup of coffee. Investing in relationships and quality conversation (as opposed to the usual surface stuff) can totally change your perspective on things and recharge you emotionally. Writing - as with so many creative pursuits - asks us to draw down on our mental and emotional reserves whenever we work on our stories, and spending quality time with loved ones is a great way to recharge.

·      Zone out: sometimes you just need to do nothing. Chill out with a book, play a video game, get out a deck of cards, have a long nap. If you're pushing yourself to work harder and faster, eventually you'll find your breaking point. I certainly did. Listen to your body. Sometimes all that's needed to recharge creatively, is simply to slow down for a bit. Ask for help, if you need it. Take a day off if you can. Hang up that "do not disturb" sign and be kind to yourself.

One of the best things you can do for your writing is to take care of yourself. Writing stories is a wonderful thing, but it can't be the top priority 100% of the time. Put yourself first, do something just for you and don't feel guilty about it. Happy creating!