Tag Archive for: Creative Process

Sparking Your Creativity

Sparking Your Creativity by Linda Rodriguez (originally published June 2017)
an artist and creative person, I can experience times when I reach
down for ideas, for creative excitement, for images, and come up
temporarily empty. These have usually been times that have combined
lots of creative overwork and lots of business work—taxes,
promotion, correspondence, contracts, freelance editing, etc. This
kind of emptiness and feeling creatively dry can be terrifying, but
I’m now used to it, and I know what to do to refill the well and
spark new creativity. In these circumstances, it’s necessary to
take time to do things to build up new creativity energy within you.
So here are ten ideas to get you started.

Writing—This is the backbone of the creative life, especially for
writers. I’m not necessarily talking about a daily diary. This is a
notebook in which you write about what you see and hear, turning it
into dialogue or sensory description. This is where you can work with
writing prompts from books, workshops, tapes, and DVDs, your version
of the pianist’s daily scales. Set a kitchen timer for a few
minutes and do some freewriting to unload some of the chattering of
your surface mind and move into deeper ideas.

Poetry—I’m a poet, as well as a novelist, but I’ve been
surprised by how many commercially successful novelists I’ve met
who say they regularly or occasionally read poetry as a springboard
for their writing. It actually makes great sense because the poet
deals in imagery, which is the language of the right (creative)
brain.  I know that, whenever I read poetry, it sets my
mind whirling with tons of ideas and images. I have come up with
ideas for entire novels from reading a poem.

Something Very Different for You—If you always read and write
poetry, check out a popular novel. If you’re a mystery reader, take
a look at what science fiction writers are coming up with. If you
read and write literary fiction, pick up a romance novel. Jog your
mind from its habitual ruts of thinking and imagining. Stretch out of
your comfort zone. Even if you don’t like what you read, it should
still shake up your mind enough to start generating ideas, images,
and characters.

Brainstorming—Most of us have been taught how to do and forced to
sit through group brainstorming sessions before. Take those
techniques and a sheet of paper with pen (or iPad or laptop), get
comfortable, set a timer again, and start throwing out ideas at top
speed. Same rules as with the group process. You can’t disqualify
any idea, no matter how unrealistic. You want to generate as many
ideas as you can as quickly as you can. Just list them down the
page—or even use a voice recorder to capture them.  After
the timer goes off, you can go down the list considering the
possibilities you’ve listed. Look for possibilities to combine
aspects of ideas. Write down any new ideas that get sparked by your
consideration of the ideas already down on the page. Choose one or
two promising (or least abhorrent) ideas and freewrite about them in
your journal.

Lists—I love listmaking. Make lists of ideas, of characters, of
backgrounds you’d like to use someday, of isolated bits of dialogue
or description, of actions you’d like to see a character to take.
My favorite is to write a list of scenes I’d like to read—exciting
scenes, action-filled scenes, emotional scenes, surprising scenes,
suspenseful scenes. They don’t have to have anything to do with any
project you’re working on or any character you are writing or have
written. They just need to be scenes you’d love to read—because
scenes you’d love to read are scenes you’d love to write.

a Museum, Gallery, Play, Film, Concert—We writers live and breathe
words. Sometimes we need to get out of our heads and see or hear art
that isn’t primarily word-based. It can be especially fruitful to
go to a film in a language you don’t understand or an art exhibit
of a kind you know nothing about. When we have no words to use to
explain or understand what we’re seeing, our brains are kicked into
another mode of functioning that can become quite generative. Wander
around a gallery or museum and take in the colors and shapes. Sit in
a concert hall or movie theater and let the music or film engulf you
completely, washing through your brain. Come out seeing or hearing in
a slightly different mode.

Paint, Knit, Spin, Sew—Even better than looking at art is making
it. Sink your hands into clay or fiber. Splash ten different colors
next to each other, taking note of the changes each new color
creates. Feel the texture of the fabric, thread, yarn, fiber as you
work with it to make something new. Take a penciled line and see what
you can create with it. All of this also kicks in the right brain,
the imagistic, creative part of us. Stay in beginner mind without
worrying how “good” your art will be. This is—and should
be—play, completely carefree and innocent.

for a Walk—Physical exercise is always a good thing for us
sedentary word slugs, but even more important than its many health
benefits are the creative benefits of simply moving your body through
space. As you move around, your brain begins to get unstuck and to
move, as well. A nice, long walk outdoors (preferably in scenic
surroundings) can often jumpstart the solution to a creative dry
spell. Sometimes a sterile period can arise from being overstressed.
Walks are one of the best ways to counter such stress and relax the
mind and body.

Flowers/Rearrange Some Belongings—In the Chinese art of feng shui,
rearranging 27 items will start stuck soul energy flowing again.
Moving belongings into new configurations, trying for a more pleasing
pattern, has long been a cure for the blues and the blahs. We are
pattern-recognizing and pattern-creating organisms. To change the
habitual patterns that surround us charges us with new energy.  A
smaller, simpler version of this is to gather or buy some flowers and
assemble them into flower arrangements that please our aesthetic
sensibilities. Spending a little time in creating pleasing, artistic
arrangements of flowers or accessories will provide a creative boost
to stuck energies.

to Lunch with a Creative Friend or Two—Everyone has one or more
friends or acquaintances who are creative sparklers. Like the child’s
fireworks favorite, they give off showers of sparks, or creative
ideas, constantly. They are positive and upbeat and always focused on
possibilities. Spending some time with them will leave you filled
with ideas, energy, and excitement. It’s always worthwhile to give
them a call and set up a relaxed lunch in a nice place. Rather than
complain about how dry and sterile things are for you right at the
moment, ask them what’s new with them and what they see as
possibilities for the future.  As they take off shooting
into the blue yonder, follow them wholeheartedly and build on all
their ideas. You’ll walk away at the end of lunch with a big smile
on your face and a bunch of ideas bubbling in your unconscious.
Cherish these friends, even if they are unrealistic and immature.
Their wild, creative energy is invaluable when your own has
temporarily deserted you.

or more of these ten methods should start your creative powers
working once again. I’ve never had to go through more than a couple
of these at a time to get my creative mojo stirring. Post this list
near your desk, and don’t spend any time or energy bewailing it
when a creative dry spell hits. Just reach for this and try whichever
of these ideas looks most appealing at the time. If the first doesn’t
completely prime your creative pump, move to another of them.
Creativity never leaves, but sometimes it needs a spark to start the
engine running again. So spark your creativity!

Hitting Delete

path—writing—it’s not linear. Sometimes the way forward is shrouded in mist. Sometimes
a fork appears out of nowhere. And, sometimes, I follow the wrong trail.
would be nice if I realized the wrongness of the trail right away. I’m not that
so, I recently tossed most of a book.
won’t go into the angst that went into that decision or the number of days I
spent looking for something to salvage. In the end, the wrong path is the wrong
I thought I’d share with you what the wrong path (in all its unedited glory) looks
Grace liked the sunny yellow hats and coats. Maybe she liked the symmetry of
twelve little girls in two straight lines. Maybe she related to a distant,
doting father. For whatever reason, my daughter’s favorite book, since the time
she was old enough to turn the pages, was Madeline.
            I liked Miss Clavel, the woman
tasked with the thankless job of keeping order.
            I was definitely channeling Miss
Clavel when I opened my eyes in the darkness. An uneasy feeling had pulled me
from a sound sleep. Something was not
            My feet were on the carpet and I was
halfway across the bedroom before I remembered Grace was spending the night
with her friend, Peggy.
            I’d awakened Max and he was
            “Should I call?”
            “I think I should call.”
            Max settled his head back onto his
paws. He had no opinion.
            I glanced back at the clock radio on
my bedside table. The numbers glowed a soft yellow.
            I dithered. It was too late—or too
early—to call. I was being ridiculous.
was not right
I picked up the receiver and
            “Hello.” Blythe was talking but she was at least half-asleep—at least her
voice was.
            “Blythe, it’s Ellison Russell. I am
sorry to call at this hour, but I have the most horrible feeling something has
happened. Are the girls all right?”
            “How would I know?” Blythe sounded
noticeably more awake.
            “They’re at your house.”
            “No.” She was fully awake now.
“They’re at yours.”
            My stomach lurched. “They went to a
concert and Grace assured me they’d be back at your house by half past twelve.”
            “They went to a movie and are
spending the night with you.”
            My stomach tied itself in a
complicated, painful knot. “I’ll call you back.”
            I dropped the phone in the cradle
and flew down the hall to Grace’s room—Grace’s empty room. With Max at my
heels, I descended the back stairs, raced to the family room, and flipped on
the lights.
            Grace wasn’t there either. A choking
fear took hold of my throat, cutting off the supply of air to my lungs.
            I lunged for the phone. “Hello.”
            “Mrs. Russell?” asked a stranger’s
            “Yes,” I croaked. “This is she.”
            “My name is Mary Jansen. I’m calling
from St. Mark’s.”
            The hospital. My knees crumpled and
I slid to the floor. “What’s happened?”
            “You need to come.”
            “What’s happened? Is Grace all
            I waited. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t
move. I prayed with every cell in my body. Please,
let her be all right.
            “She’s fine but we had to give her
a sedative.”
            “A sedative?”
            “She was hysterical.”
            Grace didn’t get hysterical. “Why?”
            “Her friend—”
            “No. Her friend, Debbie. She found
            She found her? I’d found enough dead
bodies to know what came next. “I’m on my way.”
            I hung up. I should have asked what
happened to Debbie. I should have called Blythe. I should have checked on Peggy.
But panic pushed those thoughts from my mind until I was in the car, speeding
down dark streets toward the hospital.
            I parked in the Emergency Room lot
and exploded through the doors.
            The waiting room was dotted with
people who were so sick they’d ventured out at two in the morning. I felt their
pained gazes settle on me as I ran to the check-in desk. “I’m here about my
daughter, Grace Russell. Where is she?”
            A woman with tired eyes looked up
from some paperwork. “If you’ll have a seat, I’ll check with doctor.”
            There was no way I could quietly
wait. Not for so much as a second. I had to see Grace, whole and unhurt, right
away. “I can’t wait.”
peered over the top of her glasses at the half-full waiting room. “It won’t be
            I didn’t know the woman sitting
behind the desk. She didn’t know me. It was time for the big guns.
            “My mother is Frances Walford, she’s
the chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees—”
            The poor woman paled.
            “I don’t want to call her—” that was
the understatement of the decade “—but I will. I need to see my daughter. This
            The woman stared at me as if she
couldn’t quite believe Frances Walford’s daughter would fly into the hospital
in the middle of the night, her hair an unholy mess, her limbs covered in paint-splattered
blue jeans and a wrinkled shirt. Mother was always perfectly turned out.
            The woman stared an instant too
            I reached for the phone. “Nine for
an outside line?”
            That got her moving. “This way, Mrs.
            Ignoring the resentful gazes of those
still waiting, I followed her into the Emergency Room.
            She led me past bustling nurses and
slow-moving doctors to a waxed curtain the color of old oatmeal. A uniformed
police officer pushed out of a chair positioned next to it.
A police officer? The blood raced
away from my head in a giant whoosh
and remaining upright was suddenly a challenge. “What happened?”
“You’re Mrs. Russell?” he asked.
“Yes. What happened to my
daughter?” I reached for the curtain.
He reached too. “If we could talk a
“After I see Grace.” I yanked back
the curtain.
Grace lay on the hospital bed with
a blanket drawn up to her chin. Her eyes were closed and she snored softly. I
breathed my first real breath since I’d called Blythe. Grace was all right.
Unharmed. Alive. And I was going to kill her.
Now I turned to the police officer.
“What is going on?”
He shifted his weight and frowned.
“Your daughter and a few of her friends snuck into a bar.”
“A bar?” I was definitely going to
kill her.
“Have you heard of Dirty Sally’s?”
Did I look like the kind of woman
who frequented a place called Dirty Sally’s? I smoothed my messy hair. “No.”
“The girls say they went to listen
to a band.”
Grace was as good as dead. And
grounded. And she was never, ever spending the night at a friend’s house again.
She’d be putting her dead, grounded-for-life head on her own pillow every night
until she went to college. “How did they get from the bar to the hospital?”
“One of the girls your daughter was
with got herself into some trouble.”
“Debbie Clayton.” It figured. Of
all Grace’s friends, Debbie was the flightiest. “Is she all right?”
“Your daughter found her in the
alley behind the bar.” The expression on his face was as serious as the
punishments I planned for Grace.
Found her? I tightened my hands
into fists. “What happened to Debbie?”
“The doctors are with her now.”
At least she wasn’t dead. I sank
onto an empty chair. “What happened?”

A ruddy hue stained his cheeks. “Your
daughter says Miss Clayton was raped.”

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders and the Poppy Fields Adventures (book three, Fields’ Guide to Voodoo, releases February 28th).

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean–and she’s got an active imagination. Truth is–she’s an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.

An Hour in the Life of a Writer

By Kimberly Jayne

I’ve just had an incredible idea. Instead of my characters discussing whether an old prophecy is true, my protagonist is going to give them proof! Oh wow, this is so good. No, not good. Phenomenal!

Fingers poised over the keyboard, imagining the firestorm about to ignite. Bwaa-ah-ah! [rubs hands] 

They’re not going to see this coming. Head is exploding with visions of giddy readers whisking through pages to see what happens next.

Where to start. The sanctuary? Yeah yeah, that’s a great setting. Creepy, dark, ominous. Who’s in the scene? The entire coterie? Or a private meeting? This is “big splash” time—the mob it is.

Only I can write this scene! [cracks knuckles]

Must get coffee to fuel the next hour of writerly genius. Happy dance like nobody’s watching.

Ooof! Ottoman! I meant to do that.

Barista machinations. Stretch left, then right while staring off, dreaming of Viking River Cruise. And lunch.

Oy. Forgot to do dishes. You know how you love a spotless kitchen, princess. Bet you’re done by the time the fragrant black nectar of the gods is ready.

Winning! Coffeemaker is dribbling with all the vigor of an eyedropper.

D’oh! Buzzer. Go change the load. Bet you can beat feet back here before the jug-o-joy is yours for the slurping. Hurry, before wrinkles set in.

Oh, jeez, the poor cat is starving. Ate her morning portion already. She deserves a treat. Heeeere, kitty kitty. Where are you? Oh, sorry, did I wake you? Give mama a hug. Look what I got for you.

Did I just rub my eyes? Must wash out so baby blues don’t look like puffer fishes.

Yikes! Girlfriend, drag a brush through that hair. What the hell? Marionette lines?

Coffee is probably cold by now.

Yup. Nuke event #1. World’s most annoying microwave beeper.

[Sip] Tongue fry!

Creamer for cooling? That creamer has sugar. Like, 7 grams. But it’s almond cream. Caramel. Your favorite. Look how bloated you are already. You need to get to the gym. Later. Or next week. Is it March already? How long has this stuff been in here anyway? [sniff, shrug] Just a splash. Oops. That was way more than 7 grams.

Ouch! What was that? I should sweep one day soon.

Butt in chair, butt in chair, butt in chair.

Yes, ma’am! Fingers psyched to move like lightning in World’s Most Creative Writing Session.

[slurp] Yum. No guilt now.

Where was I? Headed to the sanctuary? Yeah yeah. Making them do something epic…

Oops! Eagle eye has spotted a typo. Hmm, should that be a gerund? Oh, there’s another one. Is that an appositive? Now, there’s a good sentence for ya. Is it lay or lie?

Oh yeah. Sanctuary. Lotsa people. Prophecy revealed.


Nuke event #2.

[bouncy cell ring]

Hey there! Oh, yeah yeah, writing like a banshee. What’s your last hour of writing been like?

Kimberly Jayne writes in multiple genres including humor, romantic comedy, suspense, erotica, and dark fantasy. Her latest foray into a dark fantasy released in episodes is as much an adventure as the writing itself. You can check her out on Amazon

In addition to writing for the Stiletto Gang on the first Monday of the month, you can find her blogging about the writer’s life at ReadKimberly and on her usually irreverent sister blog, Fragrant Liar, where she prattles candidly about life as a reluctant midlifer in these modern times.

Eating Apples in a Bathtub

The author of Death of a Cozy Writer , G.M. Malliet is an Agatha Award Winner, recipient of an Anthony and Macavity Nomination for Best First Novel, recipient of a David Nomination for Best Novel, and an IPPY Award Silver Medalist (Mystery/Suspense/Thriller). Death of a Cozy Writer was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Books of 2008.

Is there anyone who by now does not know the story of how the Harry Potter series was conceived? Just in case: J. K. Rowling was on a train from Manchester to London in 1990 when the idea for the boy wizard suddenly came to her. As she relates it:

“I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.”

(Notice that she sat and thought. She wrote none of this down; she just let the ideas bubble away.)

But is this really how it happens? The idea for a beloved character just pops into your head? Or has the idea been there all along, percolating away, inspired by nothing more than a face in the crowd from months before, or a phrase overheard in a café? Some insignificant event that may not even have registered at the time? This question fascinates and vexes authors, who are always asked where their ideas/characters come from. In reply, we mostly go into blank-stare mode, or give some glib answer (“the idea tree”). The fact is, no one knows.

What is certain, however, is that a train ride is the world’s best conductor, so to speak, for the creative process. I think it’s because you are trapped. You can’t be distracted by the sudden urge to do laundry, or paint the house, or go make a cup of coffee. In order to do these things, you’d first have to throw yourself off the train, and wisely realizing that would be unwise, you are thrown back instead on your own thought processes.

This trapped concept doesn’t work—for me, at any rate—on airplanes, because I am too busy helping the pilot keep the plane aloft by aiming uplifting prayers towards the cockpit, and it definitely doesn’t work in cars, distracted as I am by some idiot changing lanes at high speed without using his turn indicator (just yesterday I saw a bumper sticker I loved. It said, “If Jesus Were Here, He’d Use His Turn Signal”).

You’d think the same “trapped” concept might work while you’re in the dentist’s chair, but it doesn’t seem to pan out that way. A dentist’s chair does seem to send my brain into high gear, however: What’s that noise? What is that big silver thing he’s holding now? Is that a needle—good heavens, is that a needle? Is this guy old enough to be a dentist, anyway? I wonder if I look like Hannibal Lecter in this rubber mask? Will this be over soon? What’s that noise?

In other words, it’s like having a hyperkinetic four-year-old trapped inside your head: It’s lively in there, but it’s hardly creative.

But on a train, the forward movement is restful. I’m freed from all obligations and distractions, especially if I’ve left the computer at home. Combined with the sense that I have been granted permission to just sit and daydream, that does the trick for me every time. Plot twists invented; characters who announce themselves, fullblown. It is pure bliss for a writer.

Agatha Christie wrote that her best ideas came to her while she was sitting in a bathtub, eating apples. Believe me, I would try this if I thought it would make me half as ingenious as she was, and I’d be willing to bet some mystery authors have tried it, but somehow I think this technique was unique to Agatha. Other authors swear by washing the dishes as a surefire generator of ideas, but that doesn’t really work for me: I just want to get the chore over with, not daydream. Walking? Sometimes works, but not really.

Maybe if I ate apples on a train while sitting in a bathtub…would another story as good as Murder on the Orient Express come out of it?

Please visit me at http://gmmalliet.com/

G.M. Malliet