Five Ways Writers Can Nurture Their Creative Well-Being
Writing something meaningful can be a gargantuan task.
That’s why I asked book coach Lewis Jorstad from The Novel Smithy to teach us how to tackle our writing goals and fulfill our other responsibilities without depleting the creative well.
Lewis, we are ready to learn from you.
P.S. You can check out my guest post How Picture Books Can Save Novelists from the Dreaded Rewrite over at The Novel Smithy.
There’s so much to manage, so much to consider, and so much to worry about. Whether you’re writing a novel, creating a collection of poems, or brainstorming for your next short story, it can easily become overwhelming.
Personally, I’m a novelist, and though I’ve been writing for years, I still have days when the words just don’t flow. Those are the days when I have to reach the deepest into my creative well to keep myself motivated.
That creative well, the magical spark that makes writing so compelling and exciting, is something every writer needs to nurture.
It’s not easy, especially when your life is filled with other commitments; work, family, hobbies, friends, Netflix… We all have so many priorities and sometimes feeding our muse gets pushed to the bottom of the list.
As ashamed as I am to admit it, I can go weeks without reading a book and even longer without working on my sci-fi adventure novel, Wolfdog. Those are the weeks when my day job is running overtime, when my partner gets sick, and when I desperately need a break to relax and play some Stardew Valley. Are all of those things worthwhile? Absolutely! But do they get in the way of my writing? Yep.
So how do I keep my creativity flowing when life gets crazy?
I’ve been doing this for a long time, and while I won’t claim my methods are perfect, these five tactics have made a world of difference in my writing practice. I’ve found that often all it takes to refill my creative well is to pause and give myself the mental space to rediscover my inspiration.
“You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ― Maya Angelou
Five Ways to Refill Your Creative Well
1. Find Your Why.
Why do you sit down to write? In the evenings after work or on bright Saturday mornings, what is it that compels you to curl up in an armchair and put pen to paper?
Yes, you may enjoy writing, but there’s something deeper that makes writing important to you.
That thing is called your “Why.” It’s the deep, underlying motivation that encourages you to write at all. It’s more meaningful than “wanting to write.” Perhaps writing is a form of personal therapy, or perhaps you want to pass on a message. Maybe you want to leave something behind for the next generation, or help readers who are feeling alone. Or maybe you just have a story beating against your chest, demanding to be let out into the world.
You may not know your “Why” yet, and that’s ok. Finding it often takes long hours of self-reflection. But if you want your writing to be sustainable and enjoyable, even on days when everything else in life is overwhelming, it’s well worth the time to find your personal “Why”.
Once you’re found it, take the time to write it down. Keep it on an index card or in the back cover of your notebook, and whenever you question your writing read it to remind yourself why this is important to you. Personally, I write it at the top of each of my drafts. Every time I open the document, it’s there staring at me, letting me know I’m on the right track.
After all, to care for your creative well-being, you first need to know why it matters to you. Once that’s taken care of, it’ll be much easier to ignore the nagging excuses we all fall into when we start losing our motivation to write!
2. Leave Yourself Cliffhangers.
Of course, in the excitement of writing, it’s easy to exhaust all of our creativity at once.
We sit down with an amazing idea in hand and spend the rest of the day hammering out words. By the time we’re done, we’re tired and happy. All is right with the world… but is it?
The problem arises when we sit down to write the next day. Our spark of inspiration is smaller, and we’ve used up all the ideas we had yesterday. Our words feel less magical, and our motivation wanes until we eventually give up. As exhilarating as a multi-hour writing binge can be (and trust me, I'm a habitual binge writer), it’s not sustainable; it exhausts too much of our creativity all at once.
Instead, trust the advice of Hemingway and leave yourself cliffhangers.
“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” – Ernest Hemingway
Just like an author finishes each chapter with a hint about the chapter to come, finish each writing session by jotting down a few ideas for what to write the next day. Like Hemingway said, the key to this is stopping before you’ve used up all of your ideas.
As tempting as it may be to write until you just can’t write any more, try to finish each writing session with an idea or two still simmering under the surface. Leave yourself a few notes on these ideas and then walk away. For the rest of the day that inspiration will germinate and grow until it practically begs to jump onto the page!
What’s so powerful about this is that, by sitting down every day already equipped with an idea, you make it that much easier to get into the flow of writing. This flow state helps the words come naturally and gets your creative brain working. Instead of sitting at your desk for thirty minutes struggling with writer’s block, you’ll be ready to go from the start!
3. Experiment with New Forms of Writing.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t experiment much. I like my green, grassy fantasy trilogies set in dense forests with magical streams, complete with elves, dwarves, and orcs. Essentially, I’m a huge Tolkien nerd. However, this can leave me stranded. What should I do when I get into a writing rut?
I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience. You aren’t feeling inspired by the things you normally enjoy, but you’re unsure where to turn. Fortunately, there’s a trick for getting back into the groove.
You need to experiment with new forms of writing.
If you’re a novelist like I am, perhaps you sit down and write poetry once a week. If you’re a poet, write a short story or two every year. Not only should you challenge yourself with different types of writing, but you should also challenge yourself with new subjects. Pick a genre you rarely read and try to come up with a story for it. Better yet, go out and read novels in that genre to get some inspiration!
In fact, the idea for my sci-fi adventure novel, Wolfdog, came from one of these experiments (sci-fi isn’t normally my strong suit) and has become one of my most beloved story worlds. If I'd never taken the time to experiment, I might never have discovered it. Not only has this trick helped me practice and hone my writing skills, but it’s also kept my mind fresh and engaged with new ideas, and it can do the same for you too!
So take the time to embrace experimentation and write new things whenever you can. Of course, if you’re looking for ideas, here’s a handy list of prompts to try out:
- Write a haiku about an exotic animal
- Create a character who lives in a magical version of the 1920s
- Brainstorm a sci-fi story world set on the Moon
- Write (or cross out!) a blackout poem about the seasons
- Make up an entirely new mythical creature
4. Read… A Lot.
In the opening of this article, I mentioned that I often fail to find time to read. That failure has taught me something important; reading is truly the best way to learn to write.
While it’s not uncommon to hear quotes from famous authors about the importance of reading, it wasn’t until I started neglecting my own bookshelf that I truly understood why reading is so important. As a writer, failing to read is like a painter failing to visit museums and art galleries. We learn so much by seeing how others create art.
These observations help us learn what we like and dislike, informing our own work and encouraging our creativity. Not only that, but reading helps motivate us to write even more. If they can do it, why can’t we do it too, right?
So here’s my challenge for you: Find your writing idols and read all of their work!
Look at what they do well and think about what you would change. Let their unique stories and wordplay inspire you and don’t feel constrained or limited trying to make everything you write unique.
Embrace and borrow other’s ideas and use them to inspire your own. After all, “immature artists copy, [while] great artists steal.”
5. Reject Perfectionism.
Probably the second greatest sin of writers (after not reading), is perfectionism.
We all want our writing to be perfect. We sit down with a magical image in our heads and expect that image to translate perfectly to the page. Problem is, it never does. Fortunately, that’s ok.
If you want to be a happier, more fulfilled writer, let go of your perfectionism.
Embrace the idea that your writing will always be growing and improving. Far from being a bad sign, flawed writing is natural. Each draft you write will have something wrong with it, but more importantly, each draft you write will be better than the draft before it. The 12th poem you write this year will be better than the 2nd.
Instead of being overwhelmed by these flaws, find ways to ignore them. Personally, I keep a document on my computer dedicated just to problems I find in my writing. Whenever one crops up, I jot down a note and move on. It satisfies my brain that I’m doing something, but doesn’t actually disrupt my work. When it’s time to edit (something I only tackle during designated editing breaks), I already have a list of things to work on.
By allowing yourself to make mistakes and fail, you give yourself the opportunity to learn. If you gave into perfectionism, you’d never sit down to write at all.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here—and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.” – Anne Lamott
All together, these five tricks represent the biggest changes I’ve made in my personal writing practice over the last few years. I hope that, by applying them to your own writing life, you’ll find them just as beneficial and nurturing as I have! :)
Lewis Jorstad is a book coach, developmental editor, and certifiable history nerd who teaches others how to tell compelling, memorable stories over at The Novel Smithy. When he isn’t working on his sci-fi adventure novel Wolfdog, you can find him playing old Gameboy games or trying to explain the nuances of Feudal Japan. You can also check out his free ebook, A Rulebook for Happy Writing Habits, and grab a copy for yourself. You can even follow him on Pinterest!