How Writers Can Improve Their creativity

I haven’t felt creative since I was six years old.

I stared at the participant’s response, my stomach sinking into the seat beneath me. 

I’d joined Caroline Donahue’s course Write Free* as a beta tester, alongside 200 writers from all over the world.

One central activity asked us to recall the last time we felt truly creative.

My response? Yesterday.  

Considering Caroline’s platform, the title of the course, and the types of people who’d be interested in it, I had expected most of the responses to be similar to my own. They were not. Far from it.

Most participants said they hadn’t felt creative since they were a kid (most citing ages under ten). A huge sector of the group were professionals: academics, editors, and teachers; their age ranged from mid 30s to mid 40s, and most were female.

The reason for their lack of creativity? Work, kids/family, putting other people’s needs before their own, and lack of time.

Why had so many people supressed their creativity and how do they get it back?

Before answering the latter, we have to understand the former.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that contemporary, western society doesn’t value creativity.

Here in Australia, at least, arts funding is constantly getting cutting which means that writing festivals, literary journals, and theatre’s and dance companies continue to be stripped of vital funding.

While the internet allows artists to connect directly with their audience, said audience expects that art to be free.

As Lisa Mitchell sang, ‘they figure it out / that we’re gonna do it anyway / even if we don’t get paid.’

Our perception of art and creativity as foolish and silly pursuits can be traced back to a schooling system that prioritises route learning, memorisation, and the obeying of rules (the opposite of creativity) over non-linear, questioning, critical and outside the box thinking.

The intention of industrialised education is to produce workers that then keep the system churning, but a capitalist system also depends on the innovation of individuals to create new businesses, inventions, products, and systems, but how can this occur if people are incapable of thinking creatively?

If consumers don’t value art and creativity, then why would an aspiring artist respect or honour their urge to create?

Right, now that you know why you’ve perhaps neglected your own creativity, let’s get to the business of re-establishing this relationship.

Connected to your creative-self sounds a little too new-agey, even for me, so let’s go with improving your creativity instead.

Improving your creativity really only requires two things: time and effort.

You don’t need a lot of time, at least not in the beginning, but you do need to put in some effort.

What does this look like?

Here’s some simple examples:

  • Day-dream while doing the dishes. Take a recent funny moment or event from your life and fictionalise it. Exaggerate it. Make it enormous. Change what happened to make it even more dramatic.
  • When hanging out in waiting rooms or while waiting for a friend to arrive for lunch, pull out your phone, open the notes app, pick a topic, and list out ten ideas related to said topic: ten new inventions, ten dinner recipes, ten opening lines, ten character names, ten inciting incidents, ten ways to describe a sunny day – whatever.
  • When you read a news article, play the what if? game. What if he didn’t get caught? What if they passed this law instead of that? What if it wasn’t an accident? And so on.
  • When listening to music, use the mood or a particular line or the message behind it as a ‘story kernel’ and build the rest of the story from this starting point.

As adults, we don’t usually engage with this type of imaginative play, but these exercises can help limber up our otherwise ridged ways of thinking.

To further improve your creativity, you must consume creative content: good books, uplifting and inspiring podcasts (fiction or non), and articles.   

When we see what others are creating and how they create it, we see what is possible for us.

Finally, you must make time for creative practice. Decide what that creative practice is going to look like, the amount of time you can reasonably dedicate to it, and establish a reward system.

For example, you may pick up a writing exercise or prompt book and decide you will dedicate thirty minutes, two times a week to completing the set activities. At the end of each session, you give yourself a sticker, watch a supportive YouTube video, have a cup of tea, or read a few pages of a book.

As time goes on and you become more confident and more willing to dedicate larger chunks of time to your writing, you can create more elaborate goals and rewards. For example, you may dedicate an hour before work each morning to working on a short story or novel, then on Saturday morning you meet a writing buddy for breakfast. 

Improving your creativity, engaging with your imagination, and starting a creative practice can seem daunting if you’ve neglected this aspect of yourself for some time, and while our present culture has become accustomed to instantaneous results, there is no ‘hack’ for creativity.

The only thing that is required is time and effort. Not the sexiest ways to end a post, but perhaps the most truthful. 

*currently unavailable.



Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)


Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

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