Infallible Cures for Creative Burnout

Hemingway got his creative juices flowing by sharpening pencils. John Steinbeck did it by writing warm-up letters to his publisher. Douglas Adams ("Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") took baths. And I think it was copywriter Herschel Gordon Lewis who recommended staring into the mirror for 10 minutes trying to convince yourself you're about to write the best copy you've ever written.

Everybody has a different way to get started. Here's one …

Exploit the Power of "Automatic Thinking"

Your brain makes connections between concepts automatically. So harness that power by creating your own random events, like so …

Take a hat and fill it with random words. Or flip open a dictionary and point. Don't dismiss your first choice. Use it to answer questions about your sales challenge …

How does the random word apply to your product?

How doesn't it apply?

Ask questions. Force connections. The more you come up with, the more ideas you'll have to work with in the end. Here's a similar technique …

Jumpstart Your Imagination With Analogies

Friends and family members often beg me to stop torturing analogies. Poor heathens. Why? Because analogy – the art of finding similarities between objects where they don't necessarily apply – is the soul of creativity.

Take Sir Isaac Newton. A few folks think that he got lucky when an apple hit him on the head. Not so. Newton started developing his Principle Laws of Motion thanks to an apple, yes. But only because he noticed it falling at a moment when he glanced up to look at the moon. "Moon … apple …" he thought. "Whatever pulls fruit from trees must also be strong enough to hold the moon in orbit."

Combining dissimilar objects also helped Johannes Gutenberg come up with the printing press. He combined a winepress and a die punch.

How to Stay Creative Around the Clock

The real secret to keeping your edge is to prevent your imagination from stagnating in the first place. Try one or more of the following:

  1. Keep a journal. Write three pages every morning. Doesn't matter what. And carry it with you during the day, just in case.
  2. Add "change" to your routine. Move your desk across the room. Walk a different street. Read someone else's magazines (but ask first).
  3. Study a new technique every week. Change brainstorming techniques the way some people ought to change their toothbrushes – often.
  4. Chill. Ever get an idea while driving? Taking a walk? While in the shower? The subconscious does a lot of work while you're relaxing.
  5. Paint, draw, play music. Skills that force you to think creatively – but to do things alien to your routine – can jumpstart a slumbering mind.
  6. Think in squares and circles. Put one idea in the middle of a page. Write related ideas around it. Use lines and shapes to map out the connections.
  7. Practice more problem solving. Musical people often learn languages faster. People who do crossword puzzles live longer and stay sharper. The mind, it turns out, is a muscle.
  8. Pick a hero. Start by imitating the creative greats who went before you. It's an excellent way to learn.
  9. Read. I don't see it, but Walt Disney called Reader's Digest a "gymnasium for training the mind." Even better might be to read the front page of the WSJ every morning – and history books and science books.

In the next issue of The Golden Thread Online, AWAI Board members Paul Hollingshead, Don Mahoney, Bob Bly, Michael Masterson, and I will share with you our techniques for jumpstarting our creative engines.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: October 8, 2001

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