How to Use Creative Outlets
to Enhance Your Writing
by Patricia Fry
(Published in a special creativity issue of Writer's Digest Magazine, 2003)
I've noticed that my writing has improved since discovering creative gardening. After designing a new flowerbed or replanting a pot, I'm more productive in my office. Even taking a short break to pick snow peas or tomatoes results in a more fruitful afternoon of writing. I began to wonder, how can this be?
I wanted to know if this phenomenon was unique to me and, if not, why the pursuit of creative outlets seems to enrich the quality of one's writing. So I polled over a dozen working writers. Here's a collage of their responses.
Sheri' McConnell is the founder of the National Association of Women Writers (naww.org) and a fulltime writer, herself. Admittedly well disciplined, McConnell makes it a habit to spend time away from work pursuing artwork and home decorating. She says, "I mainly do these things because I have a passion for them. And, yes, this helps me with my writing." She explains, "When I get burned out, these creative outlets replenish my soul."
While writers pursue a wide array of outside activities, we tend to choose those that foster a sense of accomplishment. Journalist, Lori Joyal explains it this way: "The plants are blooming, the bread has been baked, the floor is washed. With writing, sometimes gratification is months away, if it ever comes at all."
It isn't just creative endeavors that arouse a writer's muse. Engaging in mindless tasks also gives one a fresh outlook toward his writing work. What do you think about while washing windows, stirring a pot of beans, driving a nail or folding laundry, for example?
Shirley Kawa-Jump frequently relies on ordinary tasks to ignite her imagination. A freelance writer, author and co-owner of WritingCorner.com, she finds it difficult to stay creatively refreshed with two small children at home. She says, "Sometimes I find inspiration in the mundane—just planting flowers or waxing the car."
Moira Allen, author and editor of Writing-World.com, agrees that, in order to be most effective in one's work, a writer needs to shift gears. She says, "Writing can sometimes be frustrating. I find it helpful to turn to some sort of manual creative project like needlepoint where I can both exercise a different part of the creative process and be able to see visual evidence of progress."
Author Alice Wisler believes that writers are always working whether they are washing dishes or riding on a train. She says, "Redecorating a room seems to release the chemicals in our brains to better our writing—so we can redecorate our words."
Writing is an obvious channel for self-expression, but it's not the only one. As Joyal says, "For me, activities like cross-stitch, cooking, gardening, playing the piano and even cleaning are different ways to express myself and to let out some energy and clear my mind." She says that when she returns to her writing, words generally come more clearly into focus.
Terri Mrosko operates Enhanced Communication, a writing and desktop publishing service and iwritesite.com. She also values outside endeavors. She says, "I find now more than ever that my other outlets are imperative for my sanity. My head gets so bogged down with writing ideas, I need ways to refresh and empty my brain for a clean start. The endorphins created when enjoying my other passions, feed my thoughts and definitely enhance the way I communicate in my work."
If you sometimes suffer from burnout or frequently experience writer's block, maybe you need to pursue more outside activities. Here are some ideas for enhancing your writing.
- Shift your focus. You already know that some of your best story ideas come when you're away from the computer. The next time you experience a decline in creativity, get away. Go take a hike, brush the dog or hem your daughter's new skirt. It's when you stop trying to force words that they begin to flow.
Some writers rely on outside influences in their work. Author and journalist, M.J. Rose, says, "Only half of my writing gets done by sitting in front of the computer. Almost every other activity I do, brings me closer to my characters and my story. Rose has a different technique than most. She takes her characters along when she goes swimming or takes long walks.
She says, "I look at the place through her eyes, try to hear what she is hearing and think about what is troubling her. I don't try to force this stuff, and I don't focus on it. But when I next sit down at the computer, there are all kinds of discoveries that seem to appear on the screen as if by magic."
- Walk Away. While you may find it difficult to stop working, it's often beneficial to your writing success.
Wisler talks about a time when she was forced to leave a troublesome writing project. Even though it wasn't going well, she really wanted to stick it out and try to finish it. She says, "During a busy day which included making dinner for guests, I felt something bubbling inside. Sure enough, later that night at the computer, the words were there, ready for me to get them out."
- Add to your repertoire of creativity. McConnell is a fan of creative activities. She says, "I definitely think that writers should take the time to pursue various creative outlets outside of their writing. Spending time on activities such as painting and gardening encourages them to find their center and to contemplate what really matters to them. It's not only beneficial to ones health/psyche, but it is also beneficial to one's writing."
Is there something you'd like to do but you've been putting it off while you build your writing business? Maybe now is the time to indulge yourself. Build a birdhouse, make a beaded bracelet, design some greeting cards or learn calligraphy. This might be just the key to more successful writing projects. Not only is it good for your brain to shift gears, but it's good for your body to change position.
- Choose ego-building activities. There's at least a smidgeon of insecurity in every writer. That's why it's important for us to participate in activities that we do well and that we can complete within a relatively short time. After laying a brick path to the birdbath, for example, pruning the rose bushes or framing a prize photograph, a writer returns to work feeling a sense of accomplishment and increased confidence. Of course, this spills over into his/her work.
- Take time to do nothing. Leave your office and do nothing more than meditate, play bubbles with the kids or sand your birdhouse. Don't consciously think about your current writing project. Put yourself in the moment. You'll be surprised how fresh your thoughts will be when you return to work.
Mary Embree is the founder of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and works fulltime as an editor and author. She takes a day off each week and says, "I always come back with new ideas and renewed creativity."
- Strive for balance. While planning your writing breaks and creative outlets, be sure to consider the whole self. Get plenty of rest, eat properly and regularly, exercise, pursue a variety of interests, socialize and embrace spirituality. As Mrosko says, "Balance is key to enhancing all aspects of your life."
Patricia Fry is the author of A Writers
Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press,