This is probably one of my favorite things to learn about people who are in the creative fields. Whether its actors, musicians, artists, dancers, writers, photographers – they all have a different answer.
Although I don’t consider myself a full-blown creative, I do spend a lot of time creating things in a field that prides itself on creativity. Being a writer, especially during a fast-draft time like NaNoWriMo, has led me to discover a lot of things that help refill my creative well.
Over two pretty significant NaNoWriMos, I’ve noticed specific things that fuel the inspiration and creativity without also giving me an inferiority complex about my writing. These things might not work for everyone, but they’ve been helpful to me in times of creative dry spells.
consuming other fiction
This tends to be a hit or miss for most people. You’ll hear a lot of creatives say that watching other people do what they do helps inspire them personally and creatively. Others insist that they never look at things in the area of their work until after they finish a project, for fear of copying someone else or realizing that their work sucks in comparison.
Personally, I find that other fiction helps, though I do have to be cautious about what genres I’m consuming. I tend to stick with fiction outside of what I’m writing, just so I don’t confuse my work with someone else’s or end up feeling like I can never compare. Like this year, writing a romance mystery means that unfortunately, I have to stay away from my beloved mystery genre until I’m done with the book. And since there’s a 95% chance I’ll be continuing into December to finish the draft, I’m gonna have to stay away from mysteries for two whole months. It’s a hard time, you guys.
But really though, I’ve noticed that exploring other genres has been helpful when the words are hard-pressed to make an appearance. Currently, I’ve been reading the Locke & Key series by Joe Hill, which is a wonderful graphic novel series that I think deserves more hype. Learning from something that operates in a completely different format has helped me think through character dynamics and pacing in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have. And since the story lies mostly in the thriller/horror genre, I’m learning a lot about tension, which helps me write romantic tension for my story.
I’m also still on my re-watch of Teen Wolf, and the reason why I’m avoiding finishing it is because the show’s ending sucks. And while I’ve determined that the writing isn’t actually that good, I do love one of the primary romance storylines in the show and I think it’s one of the most well-written ones out there. It’s one I pull inspiration from when I think about the little things between two people thats makes others realize there’s something special going on.
The show I’ve really been watching a ton of during NaNoWriMo is Phineas & Ferb. It’s a vastly different kind of story than what I’m writing, but that’s why it’s so great for me. Not only does is focus on kids having fun during summer, it has almost nothing in common with my story and allows my brain to notice other things about storytelling or character expression. Plus, it’s a great show in general and a real throwback to my elementary and middle school days.
Occasionally, I’ll watch some play-throughs of video games that have great storytelling. It’s an underrated way to learn about writing and pacing that I’ve really come to enjoy over the years. Some favorite games I’ve watched people play include What Remains of Edith Finch, Sally Face, Little Misfortune, Detroit: Become Human, Firewatch, and Undertale. Each of those games does a wonderful job at letting the player discover things at just the right pace, and I’ve learned a lot about how that ensures that I’m letting my readers discover things at the right pace too.
Ever since I started doing NaNoWriMo, I’ve had a very close relationship with writing music. I prefer scores over music with words, but I know of plenty of writers listen to regular music and create playlists for each project or character or scene they’re working on. Something about hearing music helps me stay focused and gives me a better feel for what I’m working on at the moment.
I always start each new project the same way – My Dear Frodo from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s the first song on the movie’s score list, and I see it as the beginning of a grand adventure that not only affects Frodo, but a ton of people around him. That’s how I want the beginning of my story to feel, so it’s the song I start with. Over time, it’s become a tried and true comfort when I feel stuck. Going back to the beginning of my playlist (which has 3,356 songs to date) never fails to refill the creative well I’m drawing from.
Depending on what I’m writing or if I’m going for a certain mood/feel, I’ll jump around in my playlist. Happier scenes usually mean I’m listening to Disney or Pixar music, action scenes are often from the MCU scores, and somber scenes somehow keep pulling me back to Soul Surfer.
Getting the music to match what I’m writing pours into my creativity at the same time I’m using it, and the act of listening to my scores has become a very special part of my writing process. Unless I’m working on a project, I don’t allow myself to listen to anything on the playlist. And that maintains its place as a constant source of creative inspiration when I do write.
The two years that I’ve done the best in NaNoWriMo creatively have been the years where I’m most open about my writing with other people. 2017 is still my best year and still the draft I’m proudest of, but 2020 is on its way to being a solid second.
While I am a rather solitary writer in the sense that I don’t enjoy doing it around other people or in groups, I’ve come to depend on having a small community of people to depend on. Maggie, my closest writer friend, was the beginning of this. Our status as roommates during 2017’s NaNoWriMo meant that we were constantly talking about our work and progress with each other, which was encouraging for both of us. Well, I can say that for myself, but I think she would agree. Moving forward since then, she’s been a big part of my writing support system because she knows me well as a person and writer, but she also knows my work incredibly well. And I like being able to send her little scenes here and there of things I’m proud of.
My writing group, which expanded from three people to five, has also been a big part of this. I wrote a blog post awhile ago about how impactful they were to my development as a writer in 2017 and how they’ve continued to push me. That remains the case even now. Outside of Maggie, they know my work better than anyone else, having read awful short story drafts from class and the first draft of Project Ceiling Cat. One of them did NaNoWriMo with me in 2017 and another is doing NaNoWriMo now.
Having a roommate who keeps me accountable also help vastly. I’m glad that mine always asks about my progress during November, as it often helps me process pieces of the story out loud. It’s also fun to see someone who isn’t a writer get excited about my work and see her reactions to the discoveries I tell her about. She might not always get my ramblings, but I appreciate having her there to listen while I drone on and on about character backstories and why two people can’t be together yet (AKA my love of keeping love interests apart for as long as possible).
Lastly, the online writing community has wedged a special place in my heart. I found NaNoWriMo because of a YouTube video, which slowly led me to discover a whole community of writers. In 2015, I became part of that community when I did my first month-long vlog about what NaNoWriMo was like for me. Upgrading a little in 2017, I did (semi) weekly vlogs and a recap of how I felt after winning. This year, I’ve committed to uploading writing vlogs each Sunday during NaNoWriMo that are impressively long considering that I never feel like I have footage of anything. And I’ve made it a huge point this year to participate with other people via livestreams. While I can’t see anyone except for the host, talking to other people in the chat is a lot of fun and we have a great time.
doing other creative things
For someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person outside of the writing sense, I find myself trying a lot of creative things. Which honestly, has been another thing that has kept me going during the month.
Bullet journaling has been a part of my life for almost four years now, and it continues to be a really simple outlet. I keep three journals on a decently regular basis – my personal bullet journal, my reading bullet journal, and my writing bullet journal. As I’ve started to use all three at once this month, I’ve really noticed that the days I use them all are days when I’m really productive with my word count. Something about having to switch to using pen on paper makes it easier for me tap into creativity in a new way. And I don’t try to be fancy with it. My writing journal is currently just a list of sprints times and word counts, but it’s been helpful because I get a break from using my keyboard to write something down physically.
Keeping up with Bookstagram photos and having gotten back into filming for YouTube has also been really fun and helpful. Neither are my strong suit, and I’ll admit that I’m rather boring with my shots. But the act of using an entirely different medium to express something keeps my creativity full. I enjoy getting to use photos as a break time in between writing as I plan out my feed or edit photos. Over the weekend, I’m usually editing my writing vlog for the previous week. Seeing how much I’ve done in a week is really motivating and refreshing, and it takes my mind away from the words I’ve already written or have yet to write that day. And the days when I film or edit videos entirely unrelated to writing, I really get to take a break and enjoy making something different.
For people who are in the creative field or spend a lot of time working on creative things, I think this is a valuable thing to think about. It’s hard to create all the time when you’re not also being inspired and re-filled at the same time.
Of course, this isn’t the same for everyone. Other people will have vastly different things that refill their creative well. I think it’s a lot of fun to see what inspires and refuels that spark that pushes you to keep creating. It’s a bit of trial and error to see what works for you, but it’s 100% worth it.