Since the start of our first COVID-19 shutdown in DC back in March of 2020, it’s felt like everything has existed in a constant state of freefall. Though I have tried for a consistent daily routine, I haven’t had a traditional 9-5 working schedule since leaving my communications job at the end of 2018. Prior to last March, I was able to go to coffee shops and local libraries, really anywhere, to work since working at home isn’t where I’m most inspired. But since being relegated inside, my partner and I kept up with self-isolation for the sake and safety of others, I’ve definitely struggled to boost creativity.
So, one of the things that has helped me keep my creative engine running, even when it feels like I’m running on just fumes, is leaning heavily on my creative community. Whether that’s been with fellow writers, readers or storytellers, staying engaged with your imagination and the imaginations of others can make all the difference so you can boost creativity and creative pursuits.
Some of the ways I’ve been doing so have been
Writing collaboratively with 1 or 2 other people
Even beyond this last almost year in self-isolation, there have been many moments in my storytelling where I have felt completely and utterly stumped by the words on the page. Either that or I’ve gotten stuck on how to get my characters to the other side of a certain situation and no matter how many times I try to rewrite their dialogue or their approach, it doesn’t come out right and I quickly lose the motivation to continue working on it. And that’s even after I’ve tried stepping away from the project for a little while.
So, to try and get unstuck and get my motivation back up, I sometimes take my character out of that circumstance altogether and write them into something else with someone else. It’s what my online RP (role-playing) friends and I do often with the characters we’ve created for our RPG (role-playing game) where we play-by-post and write collaboratively through a scene back and forth. That way, the only character you have control over in this small story is your own, and you can see in real time how your character responds to different situations and characters. Doing that can help you push through your creative speed bump in whatever you were stuck on by reminding you of exactly who your character is and what they are capable of.
Keeping up with my monthly writing group
In the years before I joined my current monthly writing group, it was very easy for me to experience long periods of being unable to boost creativity whatsoever. Because there was nothing driving me to actively use my imagination, like a monthly deadline to either critique someone’s piece or present one of my own, I would sometimes go months without putting a single word down on paper that wasn’t related to my job. But with my writing group, there has been something to look forward to and be engaged in every single month.
Even in this period of self-isolation and quarantine when all of us in our group have felt that strain of not having the energy to produce creative work the way we used to, we have still found ways to engage when we virtually come together. Whether it’s through sending short stories or articles on craft for the group to read and discuss together, we hold each other accountable to continuously be tapping into our creative selves even when we aren’t actively producing anything.
Talking craft and character development with others
Whether it’s been with members of my writing group or with any of my RP partners, or even just my partner and our friends within our COVID bubble, I try to always engage in talking about the craft of writing and storytelling, and character development. It comes up the most, of course, whenever we’re watching a television show or a movie, including any and every rewatch. And while it would be easy to engage with these things passively, just watching for entertainment or an escape, I’m always paying attention to the arcs of every single character and the arcs of the stories.
Not only have I been able to pick up on patterns of storytelling from this that I’ve used as inspiration for my own writing, but I’ve also learned about what kinds of devices work for audiences depending upon what message the creator was trying to get across. Not to mention how those things can be interpreted differently from person to person when whoever I’m watching with has a completely different take away than I do. They’re some of the richest conversations I’ve had about character and story.
As much as we’re told that writing is a solitary venture, I don’t necessarily believe that that’s always true. Sure, when it comes to actually putting words on the page, only one person can do that. But the whole rest of the equation is consistently boost creativity, by engaging with other creatives, to ensure that you’re getting the most out of the stories you think up and the best versions of them. And that engagement, whether it’s with other creatives or just with other people, can sometimes be exactly what we need to refuel our creative engines and keep our motivation up, especially when we need it most.
Jenn Walton is a writer, editor and storyteller based in Washington, D.C., whose fiction works are housed mainly in the speculative genre. She has completed her first novel project that explores, through the lens of a failing utopia, what happens when society gives in to its fear of the other. She previously wrote for a communications firm where she drafted and edited sponsored and organic content for top-tier academic institutions, Fortune 500 companies and leading philanthropic organizations that has run in The Washington Post, USA Today and the Atlantic. For more from Jenn, please visit her at her website or on Twitter.