Cross-Training for Writers

Inspiration proving elusive? Sometimes the best thing a writer can do is walk away from the keyboard or their notebook, and indulge in an activity that has nothing to do with writing. Like a runner who spends time lifting weights, or a swimmer who does yoga, a writer can benefit from switching up their schedule and doing a bit of cross-training for their creative muscles. Stretch in new ways, exercise areas of your brain that normally lie dormant, and see how it improves your overall creative output.

Books on creativity often refer to this as “refilling the well.” When we call upon our minds to create on a regular basis, we are training them to be even more creative, teaching them to produce on demand. Sitting at the desk each day, we make creativity a habit; our bodies show up to work, and our imaginations are expected to follow. But creativity cannot function in a void. The more we demand of our imaginations, the more we must care for them by providing raw material for inspiration.

But I read! some writers insist. And yes, reading is vital, but reading alone won’t keep your pump primed. When you’re working on a short story or a novel, the tale you weave is based on life and the world around you; even fantasy stems on some level from reality. If your experiences of life come primarily from books, you are feeding your brain with another writer’s vision — some author’s interpretation of the world they live in. Reading shows you how others practice their craft; it does not provide you with raw material for your own creative efforts.

So what should you do? Explore other arts, for a start. See the world through a camera lens. Take a drawing class or a cooking class. Listen to music and see how the sounds echo through the world around you, feel the emotions they evoke. Wander through a craft store and buy bits and pieces to play with. Find a museum that has a costume exhibit and study how people have dressed through the ages. Go to a fair or festival and people watch. Go to art exhibits and make up stories to go with the paintings, even the abstract ones.Attend the theater and see how the actors put life behind the dialogue, then go home and read the play to see how much of that life exists in the words themselves.  Put yourself in the thick of things, but keep your mind tuned in to everything going on around you.

You don’t have to stick to the arts, of course. How about a sporting event? A zoo? An auction or estate sale? Ask yourself questions about the people you see, the items for sale. What are their histories?

Let your brain fill up with all the images and sounds and smells around you until the ideas start piling up. When they threaten to spill over, go back to your keyboard and let them fall.


2 thoughts on “Cross-Training for Writers

  1. Yes! Reading is great and inspiring, but it is essential to interact with the real world in order to boost your creativity, as well as your mental energy. Staring at text all day is draining to your brain.

    Plus, doing these other activities will stretch and fill your brain in ways you didn’t expect. It’s like working a different muscle in a workout. It may not be what you’re used to, but it will make you stronger overall.

  2. I’ve taken up woodworking and have discovered it is better than fiction in a number of ways: 1. It is utilitarian (a philosophical judgment, I know, but that’s the mood I’m in after reading 125+ books thus far this year); 2. Just about anybody can determine whether a piece of furniture is well-made or not; and 3. In woodworking, it makes a difference whether the craftsmanship is good or not.

    It is also an excellent refuge as my frustration with writing is reaching a fever pitch.

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