My 4 Rules for Enhanced Creativity . . .
. . . and nailing the word count
By Michael Cairns
In the last twelve months I’ve written 1,374,000 words. 732, 400 of those have been since January this year. This has enabled me to publish eight distinct works, blog three times a week and have a virtual drawer full of manuscripts eagerly crying out for editing. Many writers struggle with getting words out so I thought it might be helpful to share a few things that have made this possible and, more importantly, done so without leaving me feeling drained/miserable/tired or otherwise funky.
1. Form the habit.
There are many creatives for whom the concept of combining art and habit is counter-intuitive, almost as much so as combining art and money! But just as money may enable you to create as much as you want, habit makes the creation easier, even when you don’t have all the time in the world.
I have a number of simple habits. They take, on average, 21 days to form, but realistically, you’re looking at one or two months to really bed it in.
- Choose a time. For me it’s between 7:30 and 8:10 every morning.
- Find an effective way to get into the flow before hand. For me it’s drum practice for twenty to thirty minutes directly prior to writing. Drumming is great because it works both sides of the brain, but jogging, yoga, skipping, trampolining or alligator wrestling are all just as good.
- Sit down and write. Depending on how easy creating comes to you, you might put down 20 words and you might put down 2,000. It doesn’t matter, so long as you are creating.
- Repeat. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Imagine your source of income depends upon you doing this every day. It won’t always be the most fun in the world, but if you are passionate about your writing, then do it.
2. Always be Dreaming
As a child I would spend my lunch and break times doing slow walking laps of the playground as me and my friend took turns to tell one another stories. Mine would inevitably involve GI Joe and, depending how long break time was, a dragon or two. Once I moved to London, I’d stroll around town watching people and inventing stories for them. Or I’d sit in coffee shops and figure out all the relationships between the people working there.
More often than not though, I find myself dreaming about me. About winning the lottery or discovering the cure for something horrible. Maybe I’ll take a trip to the moon via a chance encounter with a strange but compelling creature with three heads. Honestly, the lottery one is more popular than the three headed dude, but it’s a close run thing.
I love dreaming. There’s a film/book/movement called The Secret that is, in essence, all about dreaming, only with some substance behind it. Use your free time to dream. Fan fiction is a great tool, because it gives you ready-made characters with which to dream, but you don’t know any of them as well as you know yourself.
3. Read, watch and listen, consciously.
This one’s easier said than done. I struggle massively to do this, mostly because I’m a sucker for a good story and find myself lost in anything I’m taking in. I’m the guy who got to the end of The Sixth Sense and went ‘No way, you’re kidding me?’ while my brother nodded off half an hour in, having already figured it out. But consciously digesting art is a fabulous way to enhance your creativity.
A quick exercise to do is this:
Choose a TV show at random and put it on. While you watch have a pad of paper and a pen beside you. Note down the following things:
- Character names, defining characteristics, relationship to the protagonist/antagonist.
- Setting including weather and other relevant points – this one particularly matters if you chose The West Wing, which you should, because it rocks.
- Plot lines as they occur. For brownie points, you can do this with the timings as well.
- Dialogue. Any particularly juicy dialogue that crops up. You can also say why you liked it. (see point about West Wing above)
This process becomes much easier once you’ve done it a few times. I was worried the first time that it would drain the magic from what I was watching, but it did quite the opposite. I started to appreciate the different facets of storytelling in much greater detail and came away hugely inspired.
4. Live well!
Between my teaching day job and my writing, I work 13 to 15 hour days, five days a week and between six and eight hours over the weekend as well. Around a 70 to 80 hour working week. I spend quality time with my family and I feel amazing!
There are however a few very simple things that must be adhered to in order to keep the clock ticking efficiently without going cuckoo!:
- Sleep. When I finish work around half nine or ten, I go to bed and read. I don’t stay up an extra hour and surf rubbish on the net. I sleep. If I’m lucky and my daughter and wife sleep as well, I’ll do almost eight hours till the alarm goes off at 5:45.
- Eat: I eat freshly cooked, homemade food 99% of the time. I don’t have refined sugar, I eat lots of vegetables and fruit and I ration my chocolate to less than my body-weight on a daily basis. I also drink lots of water.
- Exercise: in my job I walk an average of 7km a day. I also drum every single morning and spend the weekends being beaten up by my 3 year old daughter. And being an airplane.
- Laugh. I do my utmost to make my students laugh as much as possible. When I succeed, I normally laugh as well. When I fail, they laugh at me and that sets me off as well.
Your creativity is directly linked to your well-being. If your body isn’t functioning properly, for whatever reason, the synapses in your brain will stop working. End of story.
I should probably also mention that writing has become as essential to me as breathing. I love it, it feeds my spirit and my mind so, whilst I definitely work hard, it doesn’t feel like hard work. It’s vital to be doing something I’m passionate about, that is wholly authentic.
So over to you. Do you follow any of these? Do you have your own methods for ensuring creativity? Please let us know in the comments below.
Chocoholic Michael Cairns is a writer and author of the superhero fantasy series, The Planets and science fiction adventure series, A Game of War. A musician, father and school teacher, when not writing he can be found behind his drum kit, tucking into his chocolate stash or trying, and usually failing, to outwit his young daughter.