We’ve all had it happen, that exhaustion of the imagination, the drought, like someone took a straw and sucked up all the creative juices right out of us (okay, that was a weird analogy, but we’re going with it).
I have it happen to me all the time, way more than I’d like. I just don’t want to write. Every word is forced, and comes out horrible and flat because of it. Every second staring at the blank page and blinking cursor feels like agony. I’m like butter scraped over too much bread, as Bilbo would say. A lot of people would tell me to buck up and just keep writing, which isn’t always bad advice, especially if you’re under a deadline. I see the pros of it. Often continuing to write breaks loose a new dam and the juices flow once more. But sometimes we can’t. Sometimes writing on and on drains yet more of our already depleted creativity and leaves us frustrated and ready to give up.
So instead of using up our own supply of creativity all the time, why not soak it in from the unending imagination around us?
This is by no means a new idea, I’ve seen others talk about it, but my first real understanding and awareness of it was a little over a year ago.
I was spending two weeks out of town with my best friend, not writing or blogging or hardly even touching my computer. Merely having a rollicking good time with my partner in crime. Of course, our idea of a good time is shopping for books (there’s no question why were friends).
I had been there for quite a few days already, and as we were on yet another shopping adventure in one of the many thrift stores scouring the bookshelves, a longing slammed right into my very soul. As I slid my fingers over the smooth spines, reading intriguing titles and admiring pretty cover art, I had a sudden urge to CREATE. I wanted to write, make beautiful words, weave intricate and interesting tales and fun characters and wondrous worlds, like the ones I perused. I had not written in a while, and suddenly I was surrounded by stories. Suddenly I was soaking in all the creativity encircling me, and itching to get my hands on a keyboard.
The feeling and experience was so strong and delightful, it stuck with me. Ever since, I’ve been fully aware when that feeling strikes, and have learned how to bring it about.
These days, it comes on me a lot. I work part-time in a quaint little bookstore, so a couple of times a week I get to completely surround myself in imagination. I sell books and shelve books and peruse books and organize books (and yes, sometimes smell books). I see dozens and dozens of titles and covers coming in and out over the course of the day, and my imagination soars. That urge to create sparks almost every time I’m at work. I don’t even have to be reading. There’s something about just being around books and wondering what lies within the pages that fills my creative juices to the brim.
Of course, reading is absolutely a complete, and necessary, source of creativity for writers. Last year I did not read many books at all. I was so consumed in writing the first draft of Burning Thorns and then doing NaNoWriMo, I left myself no time for reading, and I hurt my writing because of it.
I’ve found I always write so much better when I’m reading heavily. I firmly believe our brains retain words, structure, plot devices, etc. even when we’re not trying. Subconsciously, I’m taking in knowledge from well-written books I’m reading at the time and applying it to my own writing. But when I go a while without reading, my writing feels flat and forced. I suddenly forget how to do something as simple as form a proper sentence. In the end, taking time out to read for a while actually helps my own novels, not hurts.
This year, though I’m still reading a bit slower than I’d like, I’m making effort to read at least for a while before bed. Sure, I could be editing, but I need that reading time. To learn, yes, but also to refill my ever dwindling supply of creativity. To remind myself why I love stories so much, and why I want to write my own.
Movies and TV shows can have the same effect (at least well-produced ones). Almost every time I watch ABC’s Once Upon a Time my desire to create is overflowing. That show has such an epic scale and masterful storytelling, I can’t help but soak in its creativity. The Marvel movies do the same. How can a writer not itch to create their own fun, adventurous tales after watching such well-told stories? And what about music? You can’t tell me a beautiful dramatic piece hasn’t tugged at your fingers to write some bittersweet fiction, or an epic score to weave a tale of great heroes and triumphant battles.
The thing is, the world is doused in creative juices. You just have to allow yourself to soak it up. So next time you’re feeling drained, don’t scrape at the bottom of your own barrel. Take a break, but use the break to refill yourself. Go out, visit a bookstore, watch your favorite show, listen to a moving song, read vivaciously, even peruse Pinterest for a while. Dip into the creativity others have already produced. They don’t mind. Because, in turn, you’ll use it to make your own creativity that others can take a drink from.
And the circle of creativity goes round.
What do you do to refill your creative barrel? Who else soaks it up by merely being inside a bookstore (or am I just weird)? Any specific TV show/movie/book/song that overflows your juices? I’d love to hear them!