I’ve been working as a writer since I was 19 years old, which is … well, a lot of years. One thing I’ve never had any trouble with is ideas.
As a magazine journalist, then a freelance writer, my whole job was predicated on new ideas. And I learnt very quickly how to tap into the conversations around me to ensure that I always had a fresh feature idea ready to go at the drop of a hat.
As a children’s author, the premise is similar – ideas for stories are woven together from our passions, our interests, people around us, snippets of conversation. So I’ve always got two or three potential novel ideas swilling around in my mind.
But in 2022, I became tired after a tough few years personally and professionally. (Then again, I think we were all pretty tired, right?)
I found that my old way of doing things wasn’t working for me anymore.
Yes, the ideas were still there, but the joy in pursuing them was missing. So I decided that 2022 would be my year of trying different things to tap back into the creativity that drives so much of my life.
These are a few of the things I tried that help to kickstart that creative process again for me. Maybe they’ll work for you too!
1. Write something different
So far, all of my success as an author has been in middle-grade novels. My particular blend of adventure, mystery and ‘almost’ history has brought me eight novels published across three series, here and internationally.
I began 2022 ready to redraft another novel in this vein – but quickly found that it wasn’t working for me. It’s not that the novel won’t be great with more work, rather that I couldn’t face the work at that particular time.
So I switched gears, and began writing picture books. In fact, I wrote four picture books in 2022. I also wrote poetry (very, very badly) and two short stories.
I wrote enough different, shorter things to ensure that my writing muscles stayed in good shape, without undertaking the marathon that a novel can be.
And now, with 2023 underway, I’ve written the first two chapters of a new middle-grade novel and, yes, begun the redraft of the troublesome book.
Takeaway: if you’re finding no joy in what you’re writing, switch gears. Ideally, you’ll have finished a first draft of your problem manuscript because you need to get to The End to even know what you have. But then put it aside and try something different.
2. Try a different artform
As Australian Writers' Centre CEO Valerie Khoo will attest, one way to unlock creativity is to deep dive into a different area of the arts – and, in typical Valerie fashion, her career as an artist has blossomed.
With a great deal of trepidation, I decided to give it a try myself.
To put this in perspective, I am not a painter and will not be challenging Valerie for her artist’s crown any time soon, but I got out the watercolours and spent a happy hour trying to capture what I could see.
And I really enjoyed it.
For one thing, I was so busy concentrating on not making a complete mess that I forgot to worry and overthink it. And, secondly, it made me really look at the street outside my house. The shapes. The colours. The details.
I had to consider composition – what would I put in, what would I leave out? I had to think about the fact that layering watercolours is not easy and requires patience lest you end up with grey sludge.
In short, it’s a great way to shock your brain into a different perspective.
Takeaway: just because you think you’re not good at visual arts is no good reason not to paint or draw or collage. It’s a great reminder that the process is just as important as the finished product – and that’s a terrific lesson for writers.
3. Look at your habits
I have a great writing habit. I have taught myself over many years to show up at my computer and start writing, assuming that the Muse will show up at some point.
What I had lost track of, however, were all of the other habits that I used to support this practice.
I used to walk my dog for an hour every day. Just me, the dog, and my thoughts. But during the pandemic, I became consumed by audiobooks and began listening to them everywhere – in the car, during my walks, while I cooked.
So instead of me and my thoughts on my daily walk, I was taking in someone else’s words.
I also used to garden a lot because I had a big, country garden that required constant weeding. Weeding is a very meditative task, allowing my thoughts to wander while I waged war on the onion grass.
But I moved house and my new garden is smaller, tidier and requires far less maintenance.
Having become conscious of these two things over the past year, I’ve taken steps to redress the balance. I leave the headphones at home during my walks at least a few days a week. I make time to sit and think rather than relying on the mindless tasks that used to create that time for me by default.
Takeaway: Producing words is just one part of writing, and filling your creative well is not just about topping it up with extraordinary works by other people. Make space in your day for your own thoughts. Daydreaming is an essential part of weaving story threads together.
If you want to boost your creative mojo, Dare to Dream is a powerful course for writers who want to unlock the door to their subconscious and find joy, inspiration, vitality and empowerment in telling their story. This online course is created and presented by award-winning author Kate Forsyth. Over 6 hours of video lessons, Kate will inspire you to find your voice and tell your story!
Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al’s next middle-grade novel will be out in July 2023. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.