#5onFri: Five Highly Effective Ways to Reboot Your Creative System

by Savannah Cordova
published in Writing

Well, we’re almost two weeks into October, and none of us can deny it: summer and all its trappings have officially come to an end. Even the excitement of back-to-school season is long gone, leaving only the dreary repetition of short, shivery days on top of already-stressful schedules — not to mention the perpetual challenge of finding time to write.

You, dear reader, may be especially discouraged from writing if you’re still emerging from a “summer slump.” Because after all, if you couldn’t manage to get any writing done during the longest and sunniest days of the year, why would your autumn fare any better?

Redemption is why! If you didn’t write a single paragraph over the summer, now is the perfect opportunity to make up for it. By now, you should be sufficiently rested and creatively juiced-up to write without burning out — and by December, you may even catch up with the lofty goals you made at the very beginning of the year.

This post is here to give you the jump-start you need to revitalize your writing for fall. Here are five reliable ways to reboot your creative system and get your nose back to that grindstone (or your brain to the… mindstone?) as soon as humanly possible.

1) Enter writing contests with imminent deadlines

Personal anecdote time! After graduating college, I spent months attempting to write a novel, only to find myself incapable of progressing past a few pages. While this was frustrating, it eventually led to the revelation that — like a small child — I needed external pressure and the possibility of a reward in order to accomplish anything. This was why I’d excelled at essays in college: the looming threat of a deadline, combined with the tantalizing promise of praise.

Hoping to simulate college-essay conditions, I turned to writing contests. First I entered a bi-annual contest run by NYC Midnight, then a quarterly contest with Owl Canyon Press, and finally a weekly short story contest at Reedsy, which is where I really found my rhythm. If you’re sensing a pattern here, you’d be right: the closer the deadline, the more driven I was to write. And of course, the more I wrote, the easier it was to keep the words flowing.

As it turns out, many writers face exactly the same conundrum I do. So if you’ve been struggling to write without a hard deadline, definitely give contests a whirl! Besides imminent deadlines, I’d recommend seeking out competitions with cash or publication prizes to help you stay in the game. Also, look for contests where the judges offer feedback in addition to prizes. That way, whether you win or lose, you’re guaranteed to improve your craft.

2) Try writing back-and-forth with a partner

This tip derives from the same essential philosophy as my first: that just a little bit of pressure can work wonders for your productivity. However, in this case, the pressure comes not from a contest deadline, but from an actual person you know. This might sound terrifying to the shy, self-critical writer who would normally die rather than let anyone else read their work, but trust me: having an accountability partner is one of the best ways to get your own writing into gear.

Writing partners can take many shapes and forms. But what I’d suggest is perhaps the most radical version — rather than merely serving as sounding boards for each other, you and a friend should start up a project together. You write back-and-forth in chronological order, such that your partner literally cannot write their next scene until you’ve finished yours.

This might sound pretty intense, but that’s exactly why it’s such a good strategy! When you’re only accountable to yourself, it’s way too easy to slack off and fall behind — even a standard critique partner won’t necessarily keep you in line. But when you have someone else depending on you to continue a shared story, you can’t ignore them without feeling guilty… and as we all know, guilt is one of the very best motivators out there.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your collaborative project should be the ONLY project you work on. Feel free to have other ongoing pieces that you write independent of your partner. The partnership aspect just ensures that you’re always writing something, so you won’t fall back into another period of stagnation.

3) Experiment with a new genre or form

Another supremely effective way of boosting your creativity is to start a new project that’s unlike anything you’ve done before. And I don’t just mean the next idea in your mental Rolodex! I mean, if you usually write science fiction, try your hand at memoir; if you’re a strict literary realist, let loose with a little freewheeling fantasy.

It can be particularly helpful to move from a speculative genre to a non-speculative genre (and vice-versa): each has its own qualities that will feel incredibly liberating if you’re typically entrenched in another niche. For example, switching from realism to fantasy frees you from the constraints of having to make everything believable, because fantasy is inherently unbelievable. Even if you end up with a totally bonkers storyline, at least you’ll have written something fresh and unique, that you actually enjoyed creating.

The same applies to the form in which you tell your story. You might consider shifting from longform to shortform, or you could even go from writing a story to writing a script! This might seem counterintuitive if your ultimate goal is to write a novel — but again, the thrill of a new medium might be just what you need to produce some truly transcendent ideas.

4) Read authors who excite (but don’t intimidate) you

When I’m feeling creatively stymied, it extends to everything literary: not only do I procrastinate on my writing, but on my reading, too. I don’t want to be reminded of all the great work out there, and I justify my avoidance by saying that it’s better not to compare myself with others. But this ultimately worsens the vicious cycle — the less I read, the more sluggish my brain becomes, and the harder it is to adjust when I eventually get back to writing.

So if you’re like me, resist the urge to spurn books and watch Netflix for hours on end. Instead, abandon your current “To Read” list and find something that genuinely excites you! This might be a recent release from an author you already know and love, a book you’ve wanted to read forever but haven’t yet, or anything that piques your interest within the first few pages. If you’ve got a good feeling, go with it.

The only caution I’d give here is not to delve into anything too dense; otherwise, you’ll end up right back where you started, intimidated and discouraged. Even if you’ve always wanted to try Proust, now is not the time. Reading something fun and digestible (like the latest celebrity memoir) will help you remember why you wanted to be a writer in the first place, and have you back on the creative wagon in no time.

5) Give yourself some time off

My final tip is probably not what you were expecting to hear in terms of proactive advice, but honestly, sometimes the best thing you can do is simply take a break from writing. If you’ve been blocked up for weeks on end, you’re probably overworking yourself and overthinking all your ideas into unusable mush. And if that’s the case, it’s okay to stop pushing for a little while.

The important thing to remember here is to take a discrete break, just like any vacation from work. Set a hard time limit — two or three weeks, max — and pledge not to think about writing at all. Don’t check your usual forums, don’t swap feedback with any other writers, and don’t so much as glance at your manuscript. You want a clean slate for when you start back up again.

And when you do, don’t let yourself fall back into the same bad habits that may have led to the initial block! Change your location, if you feel like that was a factor, or get some writing buddies to encourage you. You might also think about using a site blocker or time management app to completely cut out distractions (though I know for me, this is more of a last resort).

Indeed, you are the only one who can accurately evaluate your writing quality and productivity. So be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, and do everything you can refresh yourself when you hit a slump — hopefully, these tips are just a jumping-off point for your next creative breakthrough.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

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