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January is International Creativity Month, a great time to remember where the magic happens in the creative process. If we’re honest, there’s two drastically different sides to writing fiction:

  • OC (obsessive compulsive)—the linear, orderly mindset required for tracking the details that make a novel rich and believable
  • Happy place—where stories start and creativity takes flight

Imaginative rocket made of school supplies

Getting lost in the necessary details

We have to think linearly, assess the plausible, and be orderly and organized in execution to write good fiction. As Mark Twain so adeptly explained, “Fiction, after all, has to make sense.”

Writing a novel requires tracking story structure, character traits and arcs, setting and world building details. And maybe more! JK Rowling created an overall spreadsheet for the Harry Potter series, as well as spreadsheets for each individual book. The following image is of Rowling’s hand drawn spreadsheet for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

JK Rowling's outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Rowling’s grid outlines the chapter, month, chapter title, with an explanation of how that chapter relates to the over-arching plot of the book. There are columns for each of the book’s six subplots (prophecies, Harry’s romantic interests, Dumbledore’s Army, Order of the Phoenix, Snape and crew, and Hagrid) as well.

Remembering all the necessary details across hundreds of pages can bog down the heartiest of writers, especially when under deadline. Luckily, there’s a cure!

Creative rejuvenation

Creativity is innate to everyone. Much of what is perceived as “writer’s block” is temporary amnesia, we’ve forgotten the pure joy of having fun. When your creative fuel tank sputters on empty, try the following steps to blast your creativity into orbit:

  1. Do something silly, like running up the Down escalator, jumping on the bed, or having a food fight. Breaking up your routine with something random and unexpected, opens a creative doorway.
  2. Make a creative mess. A BIG one! Nothing breaks the bonds of orderly stuckness quicker than doing something that’s the total opposite.
  3. Skip. Everywhere. For an entire day! We stop skipping around the age of 10 or 12, but no one knows why. Scientifically that is. I think it’s because that’s the age we start forgetting how to naturally have fun. Skipping for an entire day will force you to remember what it was like to be naturally happy. Instant creativity is the result.
  4. Do something your 12 year-old self loved to do. For me it was rollerblading, but do whatever made you happy at that age. Again, it’s about tricking yourself into remembering what it’s like to be naturally happy. Then, the creative faucet turns on with firehose force.
  5. Give yourself permission to do NOTHING for an entire day. This is harder than it sounds. In our overachiever society, we’ve forgotten how to slow down and live in the moment. For more about this creativity enhancing practice, check out The Art of Doing Nothing, by Veronique Vienne.

Tranquil spa setting