Creativity Tips for When You’re Not In the Groove

Before I started writing this post, I got up from my computer. I work from home, in the corner of my dining room, and I needed a change of scenery, so I went upstairs to my bedroom to lie down.

I played MahJong on my Kindle. I read a few pages of a book on writing. My cat came to lie on me and purr. I daydreamed a bit, and mused about what I wanted to say to you. 

When I felt like I was done with lying down, I came downstairs. I put in a load of laundry and rinsed some dishes to put in the dishwasher. As I took care of these ordinary household tasks, ideas were simmering in the back of my mind.

None of these things look like writing. But they are an integral part of the process.

You can’t force creativity. It’s messy. It takes its time.

Your creative flow doesn’t adhere to your left-brain timeline of when to do things – whether the deadline is self-created or imposed from an outside source. Being in the creative zone is a blend of many different factors. It’s annoying, but you can’t really count on it.

Plus, there are a lot of things that can throw a monkey wrench in the process. Including intangible woo-woo stuff that might come out of nowhere…

Have you noticed that the past few weeks seemed to be particularly hard? It’s not just me. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who’ve felt it. I think it was the double whammy of  the dark of the moon and dark part of year. It felt really soul-crushing. 

Even so, I was able to finish NaNoWriMo, write blog posts, and do a bunch of other creative work.

But how? Here’s what I do to keep writing – or doing anything creative that’s a priority – in times that feel super challenging.

  1. Pause. Take a mental break, like I did today. Take a brisk walk, do that chore, or read a book. If your time is limited, set a timer. Just having a few minutes to get your mind off what you’re working on often helps.
  2. Be consistent. Keep showing up for your creative work. Sometimes you’ll get a lot done, and other times you won’t. That doesn’t matter. You still need to set aside time and show up prepared to work on your project.
  3. Shift your focus. I suggest having more than one writing project going at a time. Sometimes when my writing on a particular book or topic isn’t working, I switch to a different project. It might mean editing instead of writing, if your creative mojo isn’t flowing.
  4. Play. Approach your creative work with a childlike wonder, rather than an adult expectation of productivity. Try a writing prompt or game. If you get stuck, switch perspectives or jump to a different part of the book. Creative flow is more likely to happen when you’re in a playful, curious mindset.
  5. Nurture yourself. If you notice you’re struggling, rather than just pushing through, ask yourself what you need. Are you drinking enough water? Did you have a nourishing lunch? Punishing yourself won’t make you more productive in the long run. Take care of your needs, and you’ll have more bandwidth for creativity.

What about you? What do you do when the going gets rough? How do you stay in the creative flow?

Starcat’s Favorites: A Writing Win

I did it! I finished writing 50,000 words in November – with three days to spare. I’ve never finished early before. Woo hoo!

The novel I’m working on isn’t done, but I’m taking a few days off from it. I have another book that I’ve been editing, which is wanting my time and attention: Follow the Ebb & Flow: The Law of Attraction and the Tides of Life. Coming soon – as soon as I finish my edits…

Plus there are some fun things to get up to this holiday weekend, like a restorative yoga class, some time with friends, and roller skating!

Oh, and reading. Always reading.

Here are some good reads (and listens) for your weekend:

Heads up, northern hemisphere – cold weather is coming. Here’s how to update your mindset on winter and thrive during the darkest days.

Does laziness even exist? As this article says, perhaps not. “For decades, psychological research has been able to explain procrastination as a functioning problem, not a consequence of laziness.”

Yes, you can run a business as an introvert!

More about mindful eating. Also, picking the best diet for you. Want to go even deeper? Check out this book list centered on where our food comes from.

I LOVE this NPR Tiny Desk Concert with the irrepressible, super-talented Lizzo (lots of swearing, fair warning).

A thought-provoking excerpt from a book, Radical Dharma, that’s going on my to-read list.

Why older women will rule the world. I love that there’s a picture of Dame Judi Dench. And this:  “The new women’s movement is entrepreneurship.”

Marie Kondo interviews Elizabeth Gilbert – a must-read!

Enjoy your weekend and take it easy on yourself.

Sprinting to the Finish: NaNoWriMo Days 24-27

NaNoWriMo, November 2019, DAY 24 – 2003 words

Dear Diary,

I did my writing in the evening, after a day of making more holiday cards and then going out to dinner with BlackLion and some of his co-workers. No sprints this time, but I didn’t seem to need them. The scenes are rolling out of my imagination smoothly!

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of my characters ends up in a casino in Patterns book 1. Well, there’s now a casino scene (or two) in book 3, as well! The picture shows the game I like, upon which I based the slot machine that my characters are drawn to. With a chosen name like Starcat, there had to be cat magick in my books!

DAY  25 –  1973 words

Dear Diary,

Again I wrote in the evening, and again with no sprints, just writing on my own. The characters seem to know pretty much what to do.

I’m a little concerned that sometimes my scenes are rather passive, with characters thinking and talking more than doing. But I’ve been making sure to leave each scene on an interesting twist or a slight cliffhanger. 

Once again, it’s something to fix in revisions. Now is not the time for that.

DAY  26 –  1558/1879 words

Dear Diary,

I wrote in my bedroom, relaxing in my PJs after a rather busy day. I’m so glad the New Moon finally arrived today. I’ve been on a sort of wild ride, emotionally.

Not about the writing, though. That’s still been going fine. I love having this creative outlet, where I begin to picture the scene in my imagination and then just describe it as it unfolds.

I decided to add up all the words I’d written once again, since I’m getting so close. The first 18K words I wrote this month were actually for the ending of Patterns book 2. When I start a new scene, I often tend to add a few words or a sentence or two to the previous one, as a transition or to make something a bit clearer.

So while I wrote 1558 new words today, I had an overall gain of 1879. That’s 321 words that I did write this month, but hadn’t previously been counted. Adventures in math.

I finished the night at 48,125. I should be wrapping things up tomorrow!

DAY  27 –  2086 words

Dear Diary,

I just finished the word count goal and “won” NaNoWriMo, with a total of 50,211 words written this month! Huzzah! I’ve “won” four times before, but this is the earliest I’ve done so, with three full days still left to go.

It seems a little anticlimactic, though I did have a small celebratory glass of vegan eggnog.

It’s probably because I’m nowhere near done with the current book. I finished writing book 2 early in the month, and now I’m probably one-third of the way through book 3. Which is nothing to sneeze at, really.

I’m going to take tomorrow off – it’s Thanksgiving, after all – and then see how I feel about continuing the story, or whether I want a longer break.

BlackLion is still not quite to the finish line, though it’s in sight for him. I’m cheering him – and all of you who are still writing – on! Go, team!

Ahead of the Game: NaNoWriMo Days 20-23

NaNoWriMo, November 2019, DAY 20 – 1861 words

Dear Diary,

I had a long day today, and got home in the mid-evening. I was going to do writing sprints, but no one was on Discord, and Brent went to bed early. So I just wrote on my own.

It went well, for the most part. I’m liking using Scrivener, rather than a Word document, because my scene notes (such as they are) and character info are all in one place, so it’s easy to jump around.

This book takes place on a cruise ship, and since I’ve never been on one myself, I keep googling for different aspects of what happens on a cruise. Now I’m getting ads for cruises! Not that I wouldn’t go on one – a writer’s cruise would be awesome – but right now it’s just for the book.

BlackLion said I should run a writer’s retreat on a cruise ship. That sounds fun, too…

DAY  21 –  1822 words

Dear Diary,

Today was another slow sort of day for me. I actually don’t have any client work right now – though I wish I did. I still have plenty to do to grow my book midwife business. But today I prioritized my novel, and got my writing done during the afternoon.

I also got to see a lovely longtime friend who I don’t get to spend time with very often. We had a wonderful dinner together, and already made plans to hang out again soon. She bought me dinner as a belated birthday gift, as she wasn’t able to come to my party back in September. I’m so grateful for her!

Oh, and today I received a check from a local shop for sales of my books, which always feels lovely and validating.

DAY 22 –  1919 words

Dear Diary,

I got up early to go to a women’s biz networking breakfast, which takes place monthly. It was a lot of fun. There were eight of us, and I reveled in hearing the women’s celebrations when we did check-ins. It made me feel like I’d soon have some biz wins of my own.

But then I had the second prospective client this week decline to work with me, and I was just so upset. I had a bit of a meltdown. I know I need to be patient as I grow my business. I have external steps to take, I’m doing the inner work, and I’m constantly learning – but it’s hard. Especially at (nearly) the dark of the moon, during the darkest time of year. Again, probably TMI, but there may also be hormones involved.

My win turned out to be that I still did my writing. It’s much easier now than at the beginning of the month. This new book is flowing smoothly so far.

DAY 23 –  2522 words

Dear Diary,

Today is better. I received some good business news, which helped improve my spirits. I also took the time and space to nurture myself.

BlackLion and I did our writing together this afternoon. I wrote a scene that followed my main character through a performance with her Vaudeville troupe. It was super fun to write! I drew on my own experiences with being in such a troupe, a few years ago.

The scene was long, as you can tell from today’s word count. I’m now ahead of the game, at 42K-plus words total! The NaNoWriMo site says that if I keep up my pace, I’ll finish my 50K early. I’m all for that!

I want to keep writing this novel even after the month is done. We’ll see how it goes. In the past I’ve needed a break come December, but this time around is so different that all bets are off.

More, Please: NaNoWriMo Days 17-19

NaNoWriMo, November 2019, DAY 17 – 1982 words

Dear Diary,

I like Sundays because that’s usually my day to sleep in a bit. Not that I get up particularly early most days. I’m not a morning person.

Today BlackLion and I went to the casino with my parents and brother. We played the slot machines and had lunch together; it’s one of my Dad’s favorite outings, though we only do it two or three times a year, usually. In my first Patterns novel, I have a scene where the main character goes to a casino and falls into a trance while playing the slots.

Anyway, we did our writing in the evening, with sprints and such. I’m enjoying this new book as it emerges. I’ve been planning each scene shortly before writing it. It seems to be working so far.

DAY 18 –  1902 words

Dear Diary,

I knew today would be a busy day, so I got my writing in this morning at the coffee shop. I had cinnamon herbal tea, which was delicious and warming. The writing went smoothly, and I even had time to take a look at my arc for the series as a whole, and make some notes and adjustments.

Then I worked at the radio station, and afterwards we went to my parents house to make holiday cards. We have quite a collection of stamps, paper, ink pads, and cool sparkly things. It’s a fun hobby.

But I was tired by the time we got home, and glad I’d already written. Mondays are long.

DAY 19 – 2121 words

Dear Diary,

I woke up in a funk today. I’m finding it challenging to adjust myself to the long nights and cold damp weather. I’ve lived here all my life, but it still gets me sometimes. Then again, it could be the peri-menopause. Heh heh.

As the day went on I felt better, and an evening yoga class definitely helped.

Did sprints with the crew on Discord, and the scene came out pretty well, I think.

I always forget how much creative bandwidth writing 50K words in a month occupies in my psyche, even though it only actually takes up an hour or two of time each day. I’m thinking about, and sometimes worrying about, my book even when I’m doing other things.

But it’s worth it.

Take a Break: NaNoWriMo Days 14-16

NaNoWriMo, November 2019, DAY 14 – 2055 words

Dear Diary,

No sprints tonight. They hadn’t started yet by the time I was ready to write, and Brent wasn’t home. So I just wrote my scene by myself.

When I sat down to write this evening, I had just 1021 words to go to make it to 25,000, which is the halfway point as far as word count goes. I finished tonight’s session at just over 26K. Since tomorrow is the halfway point in time, I decided to give myself a well-deserved break.

Some dear friends are in town, and I want to hang out with them, anyway. I’m taking tomorrow off from writing.

DAY 15 – 0 words

Dear Diary,

I had fun spending time with my friends. We shopped – I got a copy of The Magicians by Lev Grossman, which I’ve been wanting to read, with a gift card from my birthday. We ate. We enjoyed the pool and hot tub in their hotel. We chatted and laughed a lot.

I didn’t work on my book at all, or think of it much. I did talk about it a little with one of my friends, who’s also a writer. He’s not doing NaNoWriMo, per se, but he does have a goal of writing every day this month.

Whether or not you’re in the midst of a month-long writing challenge, I feel like days off are valuable, to rest and reset the imagination. I’m feeling ready to jump back in tomorrow.

DAY 16 –  2107 words

Dear Diary,

Back to the evening word sprinting, with BlackLion and the online Maine NaNo crew. It was productive and fun.

I’m still “pantsing” this book so far – in other words, writing by the seat of my pants, without knowing much about what’s to come. It’s working for me so far, although the romantic sub-plot seems to be dominating the recent scenes.

That’s okay. As they say, I’ll fix it (if necessary) in revisions.

The New Book: NaNoWriMo Days 11-13

NaNoWriMo, November 2019, DAY 11 – 2006 words

Dear Diary,

Monday again, and a holiday at that. I’m feeling much better, and my shift at the radio station didn’t tax my voice too much, which is good. I thought about writing in the morning, before I left, but that didn’t happen. Based on when I’ve checked in, the NaNoWriMo website has labeled me a night owl, doing most of my writing in the evening. Which is quite true, this time around.

Once again, sprints are totally working for me. I can’t believe I never tried them before! From now on, I’m recommending them to all my writing clients…

DAY 12 – 2161 words

Dear Diary,

Again with the nightly sprints! It’s nearly a new habit now.

Tonight I came up with a new character, completely spontaneously. Her name is Pepper. I’m learning about her as I go. Fiction is so much fun.

Sometimes I get weird about fiction and have a lot of resistance to it. I think that’s because writing long-form fiction is a relatively new thing to me; I’ve only been writing it for the past five or six years.

This time around, NaNoWriMo feels entirely different to me. At first it was the shift to not planning in advance, and the struggle to finish book 2. These past few days, though, my creativity has been flowing freely. I’m going to enjoy it and try not attach too many expectations.

Easier said than done, probably.

DAY 13 –  1996 words

Dear Diary,

BlackLion and I have been doing 15 minute word sprints together. I like that length a bit better than the 10 minutes that our NaNo crew have been doing – those feel a tad too short. In a little over an hour, I’d completed another scene and made a good word count.

Each scene is being planned as I go, which is new. I’m kind of liking it. I do think about the book during the day, when I’m not writing, which contributes to the as-yet-unseen plot. Hey, if Stephen King doesn’t plan and he’s had huge success, I think I’m in good company.

I had a fantastic strategy meeting with my biz coach today. I’m being careful to build my business such that I always have time to be working on my own books. I love it.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing books, as long as I live. I started late, so I don’t really think I’ll get sick of it. My books are my retirement plan.

To the Bridge: NaNoWriMo Days 8-10

NaNoWriMo, November 2019, DAY 8 – 1896 words

Dear Diary,

I feel crappy. Hack, hack, sniffle, sniffle. Standard head cold. Yuck.

Still, thanks to hot soup and Tylenol, I wrote a goodly amount of words this evening.

Also, in Googling for standard word counts in my genre, I found an article one shouldn’t read while still writing drafts (this one’s about urban fantasy, my genre for the Patterns books I’m working on). Luckily, my novels pretty much meet the criteria so far.

DAY 9 – 1721 words

Dear Diary,

I felt really sick today. Low energy, lots of coughing, not much of an appetite. I didn’t do much other than read magazines, rest, and watch Victoria with BlackLion, for most of the day. I thought I might skip writing altogether.

But then I wrote, in the evening, right here in bed. Mostly, I confess, because I didn’t want to have to make up the missed day tomorrow, or scramble to account for it later in the month.

I got in on the online sprints again. It really does help to have other writers (virtually) here with me, sharing their word counts and doubts and general silliness. I’m getting so close to the end of book 2.

Now to watch one more episode of Victoria and then crash for the night.

DAY 10 – 2243 words

Dear Diary,

I’m feeling a bit better today. After breakfast, BlackLion said we should sit down together with Scrivener. We bought the software over the summer, but hadn’t used it yet. I was impressed with how he set up his novel in there at the beginning of the month. So he showed me how to set up book 3 in Scrivener, and where to put my notes on the characters and such.

I don’t know if it’s my Virgo side, or what, but I got so inspired by organizing and getting ready for book 3, that I just sat here and finished book 2!

I wrote 2243 words, and at a whopping 120K total, Patterns of Regret is finally drafted. It’ll need a lot of work in revisions, but it’s complete. I feel so happy and relieved.

Now to start book 3 – working title: Patterns on the Sea – which feels terribly exciting. Sometime this month, though I didn’t capture it in this log, I remember saying to myself “I hate writing. Why am I even doing this?” Today, though, I’m fully in love with writing once again.

You know, just the normal ups and downs of the creative process… At least I can laugh at myself.

Just Keep Swimming: NaNoWriMo Days 5-7

NaNoWriMo, November 2019, DAY 5 – 2250 words

Dear Diary,

I voted today. I worked on my business. I took a yoga class with BlackLion at our favorite studio, and we made “breakfast for dinner” together afterwards.

And yeah – I wrote some more words. BlackLion and I did another word sprint, and then I just kept going afterwards, and ended up with a nice word count. I’m focusing more on the word count than the quality of what I’m actually writing, because I’m still not solid about this book’s ending. But I know that I can fix it during revision time, so I’m not worrying about it too much.

Reward for my writing session? Reading some more of Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. Such a great series! His world-building is fantastic.

DAY 6 – 1706 words

Dear Diary,

I was feeling kind of “off” today. I got a lot of biz stuff done, and some work for my part-time gig at the radio station, too. We went to Mom & Dad’s for the weekly family dinner. When I came home, the only thing I really wanted to do was go to bed.

But BlackLion urged me on, again, so I decided to write at least a little. I found an email from the local southern Maine NaNo leader saying she was running some word sprints on Discord (a cool app where you can chat with others who have interests in common). So BlackLion and I jumped on and did short word sprints with them for a little over an hour, and I ended up writing a bit more than the daily target. Again, the quality may be lacking – a lot of the scene was just conversation, which seems a bit boring, perhaps – but I can fix it later.

Also, Black Lion finished writing book 2 of his sci-fi trilogy tonight and is on to book 3. Celebrating with him! (In spirit, anyway – I’m taking my tired body to bed).

DAY 7 – 1910 words

Dear Diary,

I woke up with a cold. This is my body’s way of telling me to slow down. So I did. I’ve been sitting in the comfy recliner with my laptop, surrounded by books and journals. Percy cat has been keeping close tabs on me; he’s a healer. I had leftover soup for breakfast.

A bonus to slowing down is that I wrote in my journal, and came up with some new thoughts and ideas for book 3.

I took a nap this afternoon, and when I was waking up, still in that liminal space between dreaming and waking, I heard my own voice, dictating a story as part of my dream. I remembered that, at heart, stories are what it’s all about, for me. That’s been the case since I was a little girl. It reassured me that I can do this novel-writing thing, and do it well, even when I don’t have it planned out in advance, like I do with my non-fiction books. Perhaps especially then, though that remains to be discovered.

So I had some more soup for dinner, homemade vegetarian split pea this time, and waited for BlackLion to get home. We wrote, and again I got a good word count – and this time, I’m a little bit more satisfied with the content, too.

Oh, and I finished reading Oathbringer, which was amazing. Sick days aren’t all bad.

Resistance Is Futile: NaNoWriMo Days 1-4

NaNoWriMo, November 2019, DAY 1 – 2878 words

Dear Diary,

I thought I’d write about the process of writing during this November, for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). Because, you know, 50K just isn’t enough words (is there a sarcasm emoji?). Actually, it’s because, on my 5th year doing NaNoWriMo, going for my 5th “win,” I find myself struggling.

I usually prep a bit, in advance of the start of the month. This time, thanks to an inspired idea BlackLion had, I even ran a little impromptu planning session, where 4 of us gathered online to prepare together. During that workshop, I discovered that the novel I thought I’d be writing this month was sorta, um, the wrong one.

Yeah. Originally I’d conceived of my contemporary fantasy novels as a series, and I sketched out some brief plot notes for the first 5 books. Later, after receiving the advice to wait and start publishing them only after the series was complete, I decided to shorten the process, making it a trilogy. I can always write another trilogy if I choose, and if the readers want more.

When I looked at my notes last week, I discovered that what I thought I’d be writing for book 3 was originally intended as book 4. Oops.

I couldn’t decide whether to shift book 4’s content to book 3 – which would alter the original arc of the series – or just write what I’d already planned for book 3. Confused yet? I was.

So I stopped planning.

When November 1st came along, I didn’t start my new book. Instead, I started working on the ending of book 2. More on that tomorrow. I’m tired.

DAY 2 – 0 words

Dear Diary,

I have a confession to make. No, not the fact that I didn’t write today. I didn’t, because I was out and about all day. But I knew that in advance and planned ahead for it by writing extra words yesterday.

The confession is that I’ve been avoiding finishing book 2 of the Patterns series. Like, for most of this year. Not that I haven’t written other stuff, like the non-fiction book that BlackLion and I are co-writing – but I’ve avidly avoided the ending of Patterns of Regret. Why?

Well, it turns out that I hadn’t really fleshed out my antagonist well enough to know why she was doing the crap she was doing to the heroes. That impacted the ending. It was too wishy-washy, and I wasn’t sure how to wrap things up. At my request, Quester read the story and gave me some feedback. After that, I actually scrapped an epic battle scene I’d written last November, based on the fact that it just wouldn’t have happened that way.

At the writing retreat I led this summer, one of my clients was writing a Tarot book for a deck she’d created years ago. In order to re-familiarize herself with the deck, she offered book-oriented readings to everyone. In mine, she read the cards for my mysterious antagonist, and together we came up with a whole back story, motivation, personality – it was so freaking cool!

I typed up the notes from the reading, which I’d recorded, and made some more notes, but still didn’t get back to finishing the book draft. Until now.

DAY 3 – 2250 words

Dear Diary,

Today’s writing session was blessedly easy. I’d been thinking about my novel’s ending yesterday, while doing other things (yeah, writers daydream a lot). I wrote up some notes for a couple of the remaining scenes, and the words poured out.

I love it when that happens.

It was Sunday, so I had plenty of time and could write in the middle of the day, when I was still fairly fresh. I also got lots of other stuff done around the house.

The time change is annoying, but at least it’s the one where I get an extra hour of sleep.

DAY 4 – 962 words

Dear Diary,

Mondays are always super busy for me. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d write today at all. I figured I could make it up tomorrow.

But when I got home, at 8:45pm, BlackLion challenged me to do a writing sprint with him. We’d set a timer and just write. We decided on 30 minutes.

I got 962 words written in that time! It wasn’t a whole scene, and I don’t know if it’s any good, but it’s easier to edit junk writing than a blank page. 

Thank goodness for writing buddies.