By Joanna Davidson Politano
Cracking your heart open and pouring it onto the page can be draining—especially in an industry full of discouragement, competition, and long waits. I’ve had to replenish my creativity several times, and here’s what’s worked:
Change your finish line. Before you are published, that first sale is often the goal. Then you cross that finish line by contract or self-publishing and there’s a whole new set of benchmarks, from awards and good sales numbers to positive critic reviews and future contracts. Striving for these things can be draining because they only multiply. Instead, set a goal that brings you back to why you started writing—the love of spinning a story out of hand-picked words, delight in creating, or the advancement of an important message. Strive for excellence in that rather than a numeric, success-driven benchmark and watch your creativity flourish again.
Post intentional one-liners in front of your face. On a stick-a-note, write out your project’s “takeaway,” describe one specific reader you hope to reach, or note the spark that made you start on this particular project. They say it’s more damaging to be stepped on by a stiletto heel with a narrow focus of pressure than an elephant’s foot. Hone down the important elements of your project or your vision for short, poignant reminders as you write.
Let your imagination run wild by giving in to it. We all encounter ideas that are a little “out there” or not in the writing schedule, but you think, that would be so fun to write! Sink into that idea for a while and give yourself over to it, whether it’s a scene, a short story, or a novel. Explore and enjoy it, knowing that no one will ever see it. Although I’ll warn you, my “for fun” project ended up being my first contracted novel. Either way, a writer’s enthusiasm for a project is utterly contagious to readers!
Do something ridiculously child-like. I have two small kids, so this is easy for me. During the day I race toy cars, read Dr. Seuss, play tag, and sing with abandon. Drawing out this forgotten part of yourself will bring creative power to your writing. No story ever suffers from the candor, energy, or out-of-the-box thinking of a young heart. Let go of your task list and carve out joyful playtime—then take that liveliness and let it spill onto the keyboard.
Return to your absolute favorite books. Sink into them and let the magic you’ve always found in their lines saturate your dry imagination. Dissect what’s effective there and look for general ideas you can use. For example, one favorite author made it impossible to guess the ending “answer” of her book since she had readers focused on the wrong question throughout. It was fantastic and I began thinking of how I could also distract my readers from the truth until the end.
Joanna Davidson Politano freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.