With the pressure to get all the many many tasks done and with most people writing on the side, on top of actual paid work, it can be very easy to slip into task mode as well while writing. We only have an hour or two and we want to get as much done as possible in the little amount of time we have. On top of that, we want it to be good.
And so we settle down for the writing session with an aim to finish editing that chapter or to write the first four paragraphs of the story. And that sort of discipline is often exactly what is called for, but it is not always the best way to be creative.
First of all, as soon as we turn something into a task (eg read three pages of a good book each night), it becomes less appealing. This frame of mind means we often focus on ticking the chore off our list, rather than on being open minded to possibilities.
So what do we do? In reality, most of us can’t just write when we feel like it, or spend our writing time doing whatever draws us. Further, while turning our writing into work can have its downsides, complete open-endedness (eg “draw whatever you like”) has been found to discourage creativity.
So here are some exercises that can add play and take the taskiness out of writing, without holding us back from the productiveness we usually need. Remember, play on its own stimulates the brain, relaxes us, and opens us up to possibilities. Playful writing exercises also prepare us to have an alert and joyful approach to our writing. So do give yourself five to ten minutes at the start of a session for play – it may eat into your productivity in the short time, but it ultimately ensures better writing.
- Switch up your routine. If you always read over the last two pages you wrote, then edit line by line, try doing it differently. If you write for two hours non stop, trying working in ten minute bursts and force yourself to take a break after ten minutes. If your routine starts with constructing that perfect first line, then taking it from there, instead skip the first line – do it at the end.
- Play a game of What If. What if I deleted this chapter all together? What if the main character just suddenly died? What if I skip to a different chapter? What if I told the story backwards? Just mess around with possibilities for a few minutes before diving into your work, and see how that releases you from writing in a routine way. Perspective-shifting is key to original thinking.
- Write a nonsensical sentence. Just write the most random thing you can, before you get started on the hard chunk of your writing. Doing this can help you get into the play frame of mind.
- Look at a creative piece of art or photography. List what you love about it. Feeling inspired can also spark our creativity.