9 Tips on Becoming a More Creative and Productive Writer

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Dorothy Parker famously said:

“I hate writing. I enjoy having written.”

Don’t we all? We love the end result, the feeling of accomplishment and creative fulfillment. But the hardest thing for most writers is the simple act of getting started. Here’s the usual scenario:

A great idea pops into your head while in the shower. By the time you’re dry enough to turn on the computer, you’ve forgotten what it was. Stare at the blank computer screen. Nothing.

Get up and fix a cup of coffee. Nothing. Check email. Check your Facebook page. Read other people’s Facebook pages. Resist temptation to play Angry Birds. Got to write something. HELP!

Here are five quick tips for getting yourself unstuck (followed by four more tips on how to apply them in the real world) …

  1. Take notes
  2. Try freewriting
  3. Draw a mind map
  4. Play with your dog
  5. Give thanks

1. Take notes

Creativity and innovation cannot be planned. Ideas can come out of nowhere, often at the most inopportune times (see shower, above). Be prepared to capture those ideas when they occur, rather than straining to recreate them later.

Keep a notebook and pen or recording device next to the bed, in the kitchen, on your desk. Use Evernote on your computer, tablet, and/or smart phone. This free app collects information from everywhere and compiles neatly into one place for later retrieval by keyword search.

From pictures to web pages to travel itineraries, everything is stored for easy access.

2. Try freewriting

This technique is designed to prime the pump, to get something flowing, even if it makes no sense.

Just write, stream-of-consciousness style, anything that comes into your head. Don’t think about style, grammar, or punctuation. Just keep writing. If an old nursery rhyme or silly song surfaces, write that.

Before long, you will have emptied your brain of the clutter and some ideas that make sense will come to the surface. Voila! You’re writing!

3. Draw a mind map

Most people know what mind-mapping is. The easiest way to describe it is an outline in picture form. The key using mind-mapping effectively is to create your own personal style, not try to follow someone else’s format.

First, do it in color — lots of colors. Get a set of colored pens on your desk and keep plenty of scratch paper handy. Start with keywords and add images if you want. Jot down every topic or idea in no particular order. Later you can go back and number them in an order that makes sense.

Now you have an outline — you’re organized and ready to write.

4. Play with your dog

Or your cat, hamster, goldfish — whatever.

Not writing when you think you should be writing creates stress which effectively shuts off the flow of creativity. This creates even more stress, and the beat goes on.

Break the cycle.

Go outside and throw the ball for Fido. Watch the hummingbirds in your garden, feel the breeze on your face. (Note: this method does not work in Minnesota in January.) Don’t have a goal or a time limit. Just be.

5. Give thanks

Feeling creatively blocked makes you cranky and anxious, as though the world and all its muses are conspiring against you. Instead of giving in to a “poor me” attitude, write down all things you are grateful for.

Start with the job you have that requires you to write in the first place. Expressing gratitude produces a positive energy flow. As you start to feel happiness in your heart for blessings large and small, you will instantly relax.

When you feel good inside, you are open to creative energy.

Why are these five ideas important?

Because the success of your entire marketing strategy hangs on your ability to apply creativity and innovation in ways that will save you both time and money.

Creativity in writing is an important first step, whether you’re blogging, tweeting, or writing a client proposal.

But, like dropping a pebble into a pond, once you develop the ability to turn on your creative juices, the impact will spread to other parts of your work life and to the people you work with.

Here are four ways to spread that creative wealth throughout your work day, your team, and your entire organization.

  1. Play
  2. Brainstorm
  3. Collaborate
  4. Take risks

6. Play

Children are the most creative beings on the planet. Take a page from a child’s book and design a work environment where people feel free to get a little crazy.

For example, did you know that you can buy wall coverings and even paint that you can write and draw on? What if people felt free to draw on the walls of your office?

Make your workplace a space where creativity happens naturally.

7. Brainstorm

Get people together for weekly brainstorming meetings.

The first and only rule is that there are no bad ideas. Have a specific topic, whether it’s how to save money on office supplies or how to save a client that’s about to jump ship. Write everything down on a white board (or the wall!). When people feel free to share their ideas, you’ll be surprised what comes out. Once the ideas get rolling, synergy happens. People will play off one another and expand and improve each other’s ideas. Resist the idea that you don’t have time for such things.

Rather than being a time-waster, brainstorming meetings actually save you time — time you can invest in making your business more productive and profitable.

8. Collaborate

Follow up your brainstorming meetings with innovation teams. These teams can be anywhere from two to four people who take on ideas generated in brainstorming sessions and make them work.

Circle back to the entire team with progress reports, which keeps the creative flow moving and rewards people for taking action. Collaboration can happen either in person or in a virtual environment, using one of the many electronic tools available for online meetings, yet another time and money saver to add to your arsenal.

9. Take risks

In order to succeed, people must have the freedom to fail. If you and your people are afraid to take risks, you’ll plod through your work days without much enthusiasm and excitement.

With nothing to feed your creativity, your marketing goals (and eventually your business) will wither. In order to address serious risk-taking deficiency, one company established a “Golden Turkey Award” (since copied by many others). This award was given to the individual or team with the most spectacular failure. Given publicly, the award encouraged people to learn from failures rather than bemoaning them.

Are you working from a place where risk and potential failure are forbidden? How’s that working out for you?

Over to you …

Applied creativity is the first step toward better organization, better time management, greater business success, and better writing.

These nine tips are a starting point, the first steps toward becoming a more creative and productive writer.

What steps are you taking today?

About the Author: Richard M. Hartian is a semi-retired Mortgage Banker, Real Estate Investor and Real Estate Managing Broker. He is now taking his experience from over 30 years of successful and very profitable business practices and sharing it with others. You can find more of his writing at Winning Agent and Money Press.

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Comments

  1. Over the years I have come to accept one truth—every great idea I have I forget…unless I write it down. No matter how brilliant it is right now give it a few hours and you’ll be grasping at straws.

    • Ha, Nick, so true. So many of those great ideas come at a time when it’s not the most convenient time to record them…

    • I agree with that, for the most part, but then I can also relate to Stephen King’s claim that he doesn’t keep a notebook because if an idea was good enough, it would stay with him.

      • That, I know for sure, would be the ruin of me. I’d obsess about so many ideas I had but couldn’t remember the exact thought.

        That happens more often with public speaking. I’m always saying “the first time I said it was the best time why didn’t I record that?”

      • For me, the worst thing is when you have a half formulated idea in your head that just keeps bugging you. I can never put my finger on it and just get a fuzzy kind of outline – the general idea of a story.

        I always get worried that I’ve wasted a great opportunity, but just end up forgetting the idea after a week of clutching at straws.

    • Neil Shattles :

      I keep notebook in my back pocket, note cards or papers n my front pocket, boxes and drawers full of everything from a sentence to a concept, jotted down. And spiral notebooks–3 of them–in my tote bag, with some of these ideas and concepts actually fleshed out.
      Latch on to those ideas, put them down, somewhere where they’ll stimulate you later…

  2. Getting a first draft down is the hardest part for me. It helps to write on a personal deadline, saying “I have 15 minutes for this next section.”

  3. This post really spoke to me. Freewriting especially is a method that is too often overlooked. Really allowing yourself to let loose and write anything – that’s the key there – can get you some of your most creative ideas.

  4. I hate that quote by Dorothy Parker. It’s like a baseball player saying “I hate playing ball. I love having played.” Or a chess player saying, “I hate playing chess. I love having played.” Really? You don’t like to write? Get another job, then.

    Sure, writing is hard, but there is a pleasure in the fight with the written word. Connecting the dots. The act itself is a reward, as is the end product. So I love writing, AND to have written.

    Otherwise, good article Richard. :D

    • I love that Dorothy Parker quote.

    • Demian, Dorthy’s quote fits her personality, wit (or humor). But it does speak to so many that find writing a struggle, or like you said hard (which really captures why I started with the quote).

      Thanks for getting into the ring…;-)

    • Demian,

      I couldn’t agree with you more dude. Why is it posh to be standoffish about what you do?

      I’m also sick of writers bitching about writing…

      …I sell insurance, what would you rather do?

      To add to the list, I’ve found listening to Gangster Rap from the 1990s to be a great method of nudging creativity. There were a lot of seriously talented poets with boatloads of aggression creating amazing art in those days.

      Hanley

      • I don’t think it’s necessarily standoff-ish, because I feel this way at times in recreational activities I do. I ran a 1/2 Marathon two weeks ago where it was brutally warm out. I can tell you with certainty that I hated running during it, but was definitely enjoying it after I finished. ;-)

        • I can relate. My last race was in 80 degree weather and at mile 8 all I wanted was a 2 liter of Coke and a pizza. Yet, you have to admit, for the most part, you enjoy the run. ;)

  5. Steve Smither :

    Great ideas about how to bring out your inner creativity…

  6. Play with your dog!

    That’s classic and it’s the one thing I do when writing that we both love :-)

    Hunter actually knows the look on my face when I’m in lala land and a good roll on the floor is coming…

    And it works.

    Thanks Richard. Good post.

    • You’re welcome Charles…there is something to be said for hanging out with “man’s best friend” – You can clear your mind quickly. Had a German Shepherd…Still missing her.

  7. I agree with Demian Farnworth.
    I like free writing and it’s the best way to become creative writing :)
    Otherwise, this is good article.

  8. I love that Richard M. Hartian quote.

  9. Hi Richard,

    Great article. One of my daily rituals for creative inspiration is taking a walk. I try not to think about anything in particular, instead, I thoroughly take in the scenery. I find this helps to unleash a lot of my subconscious thoughts-which I can then use in my conscious state.

    I also draw inspiration from the shower-this seems to be common for a lot of writers. There’s a way to jot down your ideas without soaking your bathroom floor from hoping in and out of the tub to grab a notebook and pen.

    Aquanotes are waterproof notepads that you can stick to your shower wall-so you’ll never be at a loss for your great ideas.

    • Walks, hikes and runs work for me. The shower I reserve for solitude. Interesting idea about the waterproof notes. That would be an interesting picture to see the outcome after a good note taking session.

  10. Ha! I was in the middle of writing a post and just lost the flow. Then voila! Your article appeared in my mailbox (procratination was setting in as I checked my mail). I love the point of “play”. Sometimes I just have to back away from it all and recharge my creative juices. I return feeling inspired and ready to begin again. Great ideas!

    • See procrastination works in our favor;-) All kidding aside, as my first post on Copyblogger, wasn’t sure I wanted to go this deep. Glad you liked the article Stephanie….

  11. Great tips.

    I definitely agree with taking notes. Often times I think of ideas for a post in the most random places at the most random times, so it helps to have something to capture those ideas to be put into play later.

    Sitting down and trying to think of post ideas never works for me. Like you said, go play with your pet or something that gets your mind off of whatever you’re working on, and an idea will most likely pop into your head when you least expect it.

    Jake

    • Thanks Jake, just goes to show you that some of your best ideas come when you are not trying. I tend to use my smartphone to make a quick note so I don’t lose the idea…

  12. Exercise gets my brain working. I have taken to having a notebook beside my stationary bike. Goes back to the idea of taking notes. I have forgotten so many great epics. Now I work hard to have a pen and paper always around.

  13. I love the simplicity of this. Sometimes the best way to be productive at writing is to NOT write. Feeling obligated or mandated to create something valuable and incredible this instant is often the roadblock to creating something spectacular. I find that getting outdoors for a bike ride or a hike allows me to return to the work space with new creative ideas and a spike in productivity. Great tips here!

  14. Jutta Harms :

    Taking calculated risk is a good approach for any extraordinary success in life. That also applies to writing of course. It is probably one of the hardest things to do because you never know the exact outcome.

    • Jutta, as long as those risks that you are taking are the “real you”, the outcome is irrelevant. I’d rather be the real me, then always trying to figure out what works…

  15. Thanks for the reminder about mind-mapping. One of my homework items from my business coach was to create a mind map.

    I carry my BlackBerry and pens and pads of paper with me so I can write down my ideas.

    Another technique I use is to pay attention to the conversations around me. Yep, I’m an eavesdropper. ;) You would be surprised how many article, eBook, book, and blog post ideas you can find if you just listen.

    I do need to play more. In fact, I think I’ll start right now.

    Have a great weekend!

  16. Note taking and free writing are the biggest ones for me. In Evernote I have notebooks for Blog Starters and one for Sermon Starters. Any brief thought that something is a sermon or blog idea goes in of my starter files. I resist the urge to ask, “Is this really a good idea?”

    Then when writing I can pull an idea for my starter file. If I am not sure what direction to take, I will spend time free writing about the topic. After awhile clarity usually falls into place.

  17. Taking notes are the best!

  18. Love Evernote! Love brain-dumping, not afraid to be risky. Somedays I can write 20 headlines others I am dry. If we write about what we are passionate about it usually flows. Nice post Rich.

  19. I talk to people about my niche and then pull blog post ideas from those conversations. Since I started doing that , I have yet to run out of ideas. In fact, sometimes it feels like I have too many. ;)

    • What a great place to be in Malinda! Your spot on too; other people are a great source for new ideas. Especially the ones that currently follow you.

      I’ll send an email out once in a while to someone who comments asking them what they would like to see on my blog…besides blowing them away that I just did that, they give some of the most unique ideas I’ve not thought of.

  20. Bart Butler :

    Recommend reading John McPhee’s April 29 New Yorker column, “Draft No. 4.” He brings to life the terrors and insecurities that come with creating a first draft of anything — and how it starts getting easier as you move through subsequent drafts. But you’ve got to persevere and get through that first draft — even if it’s not great. “You can’t make a fix unless you know what is broken.”

  21. I heard that it takes 30 minutes for your creativity to start flowing. So great advice to sit down and write. Sooner or later the switch will flip on.

    • And a lot of folks quit before they get to 30 minutes :(

      • I must not be as experienced as most because Mind Mapping is new to me.
        In describing and writing concepts and ideas down are they meant to be in reference to a current idea or is mapping meant to put all of your ideas and concepts on one page?

        • Generally speaking you take an idea, and write, draw, color or whatever else comes to mind around the idea while connecting with lines or diagrams what links together (thoughts that are similar).

          When done, you should have what you need for a well thought out post that stays on topic…

  22. Bradley Eggers :

    This post would have been very helpful yesterday…I had a great idea for my next blog post late last night. Didn’t write it down and found myself at the gas pump today remembering I had a great idea but not remembering what it was. Time to put my iphone to use. I’ll start with step 1. Thanks, Rich.

  23. Great tidbits one and all! I am a big fan of “play” as inspiration for writing. My personal best play habit is to do a quick ride on the mountain bike. Nothing to do but steer, pedal and think.

    Thanks for the post.

    Chris
    @ChrisDoelle

  24. Great article Richard! I want to incorporate #6 into my office TODAY. I could be so much more creative and productive if I could write on my walls! Do you think my landlord will mind? Oh, and I definitely need to do more of #8.

    • I used some of that paint, but not for me, for the kids. It’s really a blast. You can get a chalk board, white board and even paint that is magnetic!

      I’ll work with you on #8….

      Best of success to you sweet lady…Rich

  25. Scott Walters :

    I’m a math guy who always had problems getting started writing. I always appreciated the talents of authors and the written word. I think these tips will help next time I need to write.

    Thanks,

    Scott

  26. I often get the best ideas in the middle of my work day. I tend to jot down the half-formed sentence on my paper to-do list. Now, it’s just a matter of training myself at the end of the week to transfer those thoughts into a Word doc!

    I’ve never tried the “write whatever comes to mind” technique, but I can certainly see how it would be helpful. :)

  27. “A great idea pops into your head while in the shower”

    Check out AquaNotes (waterproof notepad for the shower). I’ve been using them for awhile now, and it’s an idea lifesaver!

  28. Here’s a freewriting trick that has worked for me more than once. If I just can’t think what to say about Subject A, I start by typing, without pausing to think, “I can’t write about Subject A. Nope, impossible to write about Subject A . . .” After doing that for a while, I switch to “I can’t write about Subject A” and then I add “because . . .” Often times, I find myself perfectly able to write about WHY I can’t write about Subject A, which then tends to free up solutions in my brain.

  29. Wow.

    It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, but this made me want to start again! Thanks for the tips.

  30. Neil Shattles :

    My best ideas come from unexpected sources. Just be ever vigilant; learn from where you are and what you see. It’s out there–inspiration is everywhere. But–as others have said–make a way to write it down or record it! Many thanks, Richard.

  31. What works for me is reading. Non-stop reading about my niche or just random blogs will make me want to write and makes the process really interesting. I can write best when I have read enough to be able to find words that will flow. One of my bad habits is trying to edit in the middle of writing. I struggle with that. But great notes from copyblogger that I will keep in mind. Thanks for that insight.

  32. Very succinct article!

  33. There are a some great ideas in here, but this article is going to mislead people about what creativity is. Random creative insight happens, but you said…

    “Creativity and innovation cannot be planned.”

    That is factually false information. Yes they can. It’s like saying, “becoming a good guitar player cannot be planned.” As skills, creative thinking and innovation can and should be planned. Read Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. It’s a great introduction to what creativity is and how it works.

    “Children are the most creative beings on the planet.”

    Do you really believe this? In a competition between children and adults on some sort of creative challenge, the adults would lose?

    Many children are more imaginative than some adults because they haven’t been conditioned by society, and imagination plays a key role in creativity, but creative adults are much much more creative than children because their brains are more fully developed.

    I’m surprised to see this on Copyblogger.

    • So much to say about your comment, but I’ll leave it at this – tomorrow at 3pm I want you to sit down and be creative without any forethought or work. Don’t start early, start on time and come up with a masterpiece.

      Have you ever seen a grownup build a castle out of a packing crate?

      Children are more creative because they are less inhibited. They do not have preconceived ideas about how things “should” be that get in the way

      Learning to play the guitar is a mechanical skill, so of course it can be learned. Creativity is not a mechanical skill. You can train your mind to allow more creativity to happen, but I don’t think you can sit down at your desk with your calendar on Monday morning and say, “OK, from 2-3 o’clock this afternoon I’m going to be creative.”

      • You’ve got to be kidding.

        “sit down and be creative without any forethought or work.”

        Why would anyone fail to come up with creative ideas if they tried to do so at 3 PM? What mystical force would stop them?

        “Have you ever seen a grownup build a castle out of a packing crate?”

        No. Have you ever seen Dubai or a Tim Burton movie? Anecdotes don’t help much.

        “Learning to play the guitar is a mechanical skill, so of course it can be learned. Creativity is not a mechanical skill.”

        Creativity is a skill of the mind that can be learned. It is not a magical, elusive force you can’t look in the eye. Anyone can plan to sit down at 3 PM and generate dozens of creative ideas towards solving a problem or creating something new.

        The book Thinkertoys lists about 15 creative thinking techniques to help people do just that. It’s very good.

        You contradict yourself too. Freewriting and brainstorming sessions can’t be planned? They wouldn’t generate any creative ideas at 3 PM? They must be done spontaneously?

        Oh, and take it easy with the condescending “So much to say about your comment…”because you’re arguing against a lot of research you don’t seem to be familiar with, not just me.

  34. Hello Richard

    Thanks for the great post. I read paragraph three and thought “Yep, that’s me”.

    I am forever sitting down to start typing an article, and next thing you know I browsing Youtube or Facebook.

    I find it hard to get started when writing. But, once I have written the first paragraph it gets easier.

    Sometimes it helps me to start an article somewhere in the middle and go back to the first paragraph later.

  35. I love the mention of play! Such an underutilized tool for creating in our culture. Ideas can be so much fun until you’re forced to express them coherently :)

  36. Oh man content is such a killer for me at the moment. I can spend the whole day researching how to imporove copy that I’ve found spending the same amount of time working on copy is way better. Still… Richard a very good article!

  37. Thank you for the post. I also use free writing to ignite creativity. I also walk along green streets, take deep breath or dance freely with my favorite music. It’s good ways to be comfortable and then more creative.

  38. Great ideas. I’d include taking walks, playing music, and practicing art or photography in the mix.

  39. As for me, before I go writing on anything that I want to share, I visualize everything that goes into my mind and from that on I go into writing and try to pick up the pieces to assemble a picture that my reader would understood….

    Great post

  40. That opening quote from Dorothy Parker threw me for a loop. Is this a common sentiment among writers? I’m hesitant to call myself a writer. I have a degree in Applied Mathematics but I did take a few writing classes along the way. I’m fully onboard with Dorothy Parker. However, I do aspire to be a good writer, and maybe even some day call myself “a writer”. But I always thought that since I find the writing process so painful that it’s probably not something I should pursue. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • I always smile at Dorothy Parker quotes because . . . well, because I find her funny/witty/clever. I enjoy most parts of the writing process (research is fun for me and interviewing is, too). Perhaps the most painful part for me is getting down the first draft and then I like moving the pieces around to see what version of an article works the best and flows most smoothly.

    • This is just my personal opinion Jerry, but here are my thoughts to your question — people that hate to write, tend to write about things they don’t love or are not passionate about. Write about what you love (who you are) and forget about what you “should” (should should be a 4-letter word – yep pun intended). Write for you, not your audience (I’ve checked out your blog; sprinkle your personal life into what you write. it will become more interesting to you, maybe even therapeutic). For others, they will be able to relate…that’s just me thinking out loud.

  41. <<< Jig dancing that I found this article! I am brand spanking new to this content writing job and I really needed this pep talk! In the past, just writing for my own pleasure, there was zippity-doo-da pressure. Now I have deadlines and have to write about things such as dentures. It is stretching my brain beyond comprehension to write a 500 word article on tooth extraction which captures the audience, remains accurate and somehow isn't as painful as the topic itself!

  42. All work and no play – make Jack a dull boy..
    I really liked your point about – “Play with your dog”. Whether it is writing or doing any of your other job all the time can make you really stressed. We should all take a break from work and do some other activity to feel relaxed. It really helps and increase the productivity..

  43. quick question, how does someone play with their goldfish? other than that great article!

  44. I am a professional writer who knows how to pen down great ideas and philosophies, however this post has encouraged me to become more and more creative in my work each day.

  45. Archan Mehta :

    Really enjoyed reading this post: sounds like the story of my life.

    I have always been a dreamer and a rather absent minded fellow: I fall into trance-like states, the source of new ideas and inspiration. That’s why I keep a note-pad and a pen ready at hand.

    You never know when the muse will strike or run away from you, so best to be prepared.

    Creativity can also be a product of serendipity.

    William Wordsworth, a beloved, nature’s poet wrote his most famous poem on “Daffodils” when he was out and about for a walk in the great Lake District of old England.

    William saw daffodils dancing in the breeze and the rest, as they say, is history. Only goes to show that fortune favors the bold and it is best to be prepared for any eventuality.

    Thanks for your contribution here and please keep on writing and look forward to reading your work in the future.

  46. I really like the point you made about giving thanks. Not a lot of people take the time to reflect on the sheer fact that they can write and that they have enough creativity to write. The act of reflection is vital.

  47. A change of scenery helps – the walking-the-dog and Wordsworth examples testifies to this. Just getting out of the office into the local coffee shop, or even moving away from your desk into a quiet meeting room, can help.

    I guess it’s about a ‘different environment that helps’.

    My best blog posts are written on aeroplanes for some reason. I keep a list of ideas in OneNote, and then produce all the blog posts in mid-air!