7 Ways To Rekindle The Joy Of Writing

FROM MIKE TYSON TO ALBERT EINSTEIN: Why Writers Need To Goof Off And Space Out

by Ruth Harris

"Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth, "observed philosopher-pugilist, Mike Tyson.

Not just boxers, Mike. Ditto for writers.

Whether you're a plotter or pantser, you start out with some kind of plan. That plan might be a theme, an idea, a concept, an image, a main character, a villain, a plot or plot twist, a setting, an outline or beat sheet. Then you begin to write and at some point you realize you’re on the receiving end of a punch in the mouth, because—

So then what? How do you punch back and rediscover the joy of writing?

The first thing to understand is that creative work by definition is "disorganized and non-linear" and that the writer's job is to make order out of chaos—a process that happens in the conscious and the subconscious. Both must be given time—and the proper conditions—to perform at their peak.

The second thing is to remind yourself that, despite your fits of insecurity and self-doubt, you're a creative person. Research in cognitive psychology and the personal experiences of other highly creative people point the way to some of most effective, time-tested behaviors that will help tame the process and allow you to experience the joy of writing.

1) Goof off. 

Seriously. When the going gets tough, the tough take a nap. Or a shower. Try that new recipe you've been thinking about. Build a model airplane. Weed the garden. Go to a party, an art gallery, a museum. Watch a movie, catch up with the news, phone a friend. Go to a concert or the ballet or a baseball game.

Or, God forbid, do the dishes, take out the garbage or get out the vacuum cleaner because when, you're feeling uninspired, housework is more appealing than writing. At least for a while.

The reason is that sometimes you get ahead of yourself and need a little time (aka "goofing off") to catch up. A Stanford psychologist explains why spacing out is good for you and your work and suggests three ways to disengage.

Bottom line: when you're feeling stuck/blah/blocked/burned out, get away from your desk. Stop beating up on yourself and go do something else. I've told my DH at least a million times that a body in motion is a mind in motion. (Who says living with a writer isn't one thrill after another?)

Best of all? Take a walk. A Stanford study shows that walking improves creativity.

Don't forget: Albert Einstein was known for the theory of relativity—and for taking walks around the Princeton campus.

2) Change speeds. 

If you write on a computer, switch to a pad and pen. Slowing down can make a difference and there seems to be a more direct connection to the brain when writing by hand than via a keyboard.

Blogger and short story writer, Lee Bourke, tells why creative writing is better with a pen.

According to psychologists, writing by hand can make you smarter.

3) Caffeine. 

A Starbucks run provides the kick start magic for many and it's no surprise that writers plant themselves at a coffee shop with their laptops or notebooks—the kinds with keyboards or the old fashioned pen and paper variety.

Balzac was known to indulge in fifty cups a day but new research questions the effect of caffeine on creativity. Another approach disagrees and points out that caffeine is effective if you use it correctly.

For me, a cup of freshly brewed Darjeeling, Assam, Keemun or Green Jasmine does the job. However, it might not be the mild dose of caffeine that helps. Instead, leaving my desk, going into the kitchen, warming the teapot, boiling the water, measuring the tea, and waiting for it to brew breaks the hyper-focused oh-shit-now-what?-cycle and allows the idea I need to bubble up from my subconscious.

4) Brainstorming. 

Turning to a reliable brainstorming partner, a parent, sibling, cubicle mate can rescue you from a glitch. In my case, my DH (lucky man). Very often, it's not what he says. It's what I say. Turns out I had the solution all along; I just didn't know it until I started talking about my current problem/dilemma.

Other brainstorming techniques include mind mapping, listing, and cubing. Those approaches and others are described in a Writing Center article. If one technique doesn't work, try another. And the another until you get where you want to be.

Want to write a book in thirty days? Here's a guide to brainstorming methods that will get you going and keep you on track.

Wanna really go for it? Influential English author, Michael Moorcock, explains how to write a book in three days.

To help you get started (or keep you going), here's a list of 24 of the best, most popular brainstorming and mind mapping apps.

5) Read. 

Science shows that extensive practice in reading or writing is related to high creative performance. Duh. So read widely and often. 

6) Nail The Blurb. 

Sometimes I get lost in the trees and need to step back and see the forest again. You, too? Writing the blurb is a way to regain the perspective you've (temporarily) lost. Besides, after your cover, blurbs are the second most important selling tool you have for your book.

Here's advice on how to write a brilliant blurb and the difference between a blurb and a synopsis.

Joanna Penn reminds us that a blurb is basically a sales pitch and offers advice about how to make your blurb shine—and sell.

I'm a long time cover copy writer, so here's my take on how to write a killer blurb.

7) Indulge. 

Booze, wine, chocolate have been tried and found guilty of putting that inner scold/second-guesser in its place and unleashing the imagination. Just don't get so loaded you can't read your notes the next day or so fat you can't waddle to your computer. But you already knew that, didn't you?

Go back to work and give it another try. It's gonna be fun. Really. After all, Albert Einstein, who figured out the inner secrets of the universe, also figured out the inner secrets of creativity: "Creativity is intelligence having fun."

by Ruth Harris (@RuthHarrisBooks) February 28, 2016. 

Ruth Harris is a NYT million-seller and former Big 5 editor.

How about you, scriveners? Has your writing ever lost its spark? How did you get it back? Have you tried any of these methods? Do you have any advice to add?


If you're interested in what Anne is up to this week, she weighs in with David Gaughran, Orna Ross and Sangeeta Mehta on the future of literary fiction in a post at Jay Lemming's blog. Is Literary Fiction Heading the Indie Route? And of course you can find her at the Camilla Randall Mysteries Blog. This week she talks about When Real People Wander into a Novel.



Love And Money, sweeping in scope yet intimate in detail, is a story of family, secrets, murder, envy, and healing--originally published in hardcover by Random House.

"A SPECTACULAR, RICHLY PLOTTED NOVEL. Racing to a shocking climax, this glittering novel is first-class entertainment, a story of love and money, and how both are made, lost, and found again." --New York Times

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