Four Tips for Staying Creative During Tough Times

Hello, friends! I apologize for the lengthy absence–yikes, six weeks since my last post. I didn’t drop off the face of the earth, I promise. If you read my last blog post, you know we’ve been battling illness at our house along with the standard sudden pandemic lockdown and homeschooling turmoil. As you may have experienced yourself, the chaos and uncertainty make keeping up with regular creative activities a bit harder than usual.

What can we do about this mental block? Maybe you’re one of those lucky few enjoying a sense of blessed respite and spare time during this pandemic–if so, savor it! But if you’re like me, and wondering how on earth you can accomplish anything right now, much less meet your creative goals, I have some tips today that will hopefully help get you back on track.

Tip #1: Set a schedule and/ or a daily goal.

You know how a jellyfish out of water becomes a shapeless blob? That’s basically what happened to my daily routine once the skeleton of regularly scheduled activities vanished. Shapeless blobs are good at drifting and lying around, but not at accomplishing anything.

To combat this problem, I try to run my day as close to my old routine as possible. Wake up, get ready (yes, including clothes other than pajamas AND make-up), eat breakfast. Mornings are spent homeschooling kids and prepping meals, then after lunch, when my little guy has his nap, I aim to squeeze in a little writing time between rounds of my kids’ questions. Late afternoon is finishing schoolwork, chores, overseeing music practice, and dinner. Once bedtime hits, if I have the energy, I try to get a bit more work done.

You can be as regimented or relaxed about your schedule as you want. In my case, even this loose bit of scheduling gives the day enough shape to plan on time for creative work, making it more likely I’ll actually get something done. When your subconscious knows there will be space for creativity ahead, you’re more likely to be ready when that time arrives.

An alternative is to set a daily goal–some small task you think is reasonable to get done that day. Once you’ve made it a priority, then you’re more likely to do it when you have some spare time.

Tip #2: Keep a running list of things to do that will move your projects forward.

The reality is, on some days, lack of time or scheduling isn’t the problem. Sometimes it’s motivation, or clarity of thought, or distractions like the lure of lying on the couch watching just one more episode of Jack Ryan. Right now, with so much going on around us, it’s perfectly normal not to feel very creative. But if you want to make a career of writing, you have to keep going in spite of a global pandemic.

What’s helped me here is having a list (mental or written) of various things I need to do to keep my projects progressing. When you have time to work, evaluate what kind of mood you’re in and what task sounds appealing, and run with it. If it’s a good day, and I’m well-rested and brimming with ideas, I’ll work on revisions or brainstorm ideas for my next book. But if I’m feeling down or overwhelmed or blah, maybe it’s a better day to tackle something less creatively demanding like updating my website or doing some research. In either case, I’m still moving closer to my overall goals.

As you create your own list, think about how demanding each activity is in terms of time and creative input. Here are some possible areas you might consider:

  • brainstorming/ outlining
  • writing a first draft
  • revising/ editing
  • marketing – creating ads, setting up a review team, making marketing tools like bookmarks, etc., or researching options if you’re pre-published
  • research – for a book, to find a literary agent, to look for publishers, etc.
  • social media – updating your profile, creating posts, etc.
  • blogging
  • website maintenance
  • service – beta reading for others, offering a free query or chapter critique, volunteering as a contest judge

Don’t neglect that last category–helping other people out not only keeps you involved in writing, but it also feels good to know you’re making a difference for someone else.

Tip #3: Look for alternative ways to spark creativity.

Sometimes no amount of scheduling or reading over your options will do the trick. Maybe your brain simply refuses to cooperate. Or maybe you have a deadline and desperately need to do difficult creative work like writing a draft, but you can’t muster the words. In cases like this, you might need to take a break with a different activity entirely to give your creative mind a rest.

It’s amazing the way the brain works. You give it a problem to tackle, and it will crack away at it in the background without you even knowing it’s at work. Then, poof, solution! But this magical creative method works best when your brain is refreshed, and often when you’re occupied with something other than trying to write.

Here are some activities you might try to spark your creative right side of the brain:

  • reading or watching movies/ TV – analyzing other people’s plots and characters can give you a lot of insight into yours
  • craft books to gain writing skills
  • taking a nap – some of my best mental work happens during a good afternoon doze
  • showers – many writers swear by a hot shower!
  • exercise
  • spending time outside
  • journaling
  • listening to a podcast, writing-related or otherwise
  • participating in an online writer’s group
  • almost any activity that keeps your hands busy but your brain free – folding laundry, washing dishes, knitting, drawing, coloring, etc.

Tip #4: Lower your expectations (be kind to yourself).

We all know this pandemic has changed nearly everything about our day-to-day life experience. But individually, we have faced or will face other exceptionally hard times in our lives. At moments like this, it’s even more important than usual to give ourselves grace.

Maybe your brain just isn’t in a creative place right now. Maybe taking care of your family and yourself is all you can manage. That’s okay. You might need space right now merely to get through doing school or work from home, and cleaning off all those packages from the grocery store. Your creativity won’t vanish. It isn’t gone. It’ll be there waiting for you when this time passes and you’re ready again.

Here’s another way to think about it. How would you encourage a critique partner or writer friend who’s struggling right now? What would you tell them? I doubt you’d say, “If you can’t write right now, you’re a big failure.” Or, “You’ll never get published if you can’t pull yourself together.” No, you’d say something uplifting and encouraging, because the last thing any of us needs is more pressure or stress. Creativity and stress aren’t friends with each other.

Apply those same thoughts to yourself. Write a letter to your creative right brain if you like. Tell your muse it’s okay to take a break. Celebrate any small victories and let the losses go. This time may be a dark and painful valley, but the sunshine and mountaintop will come again.

Let your creative mind breathe, trusting it’ll be ready to dive back in when the time is right.

I hope you’re hanging in there and staying healthy right now! If you’ve been able to get writing work done, do you have any tips to share? Until next time, stay strong, and enjoy the journey.

Image credits: and, CC0 license.

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