4 Ways to Jump Start Your Creativity in 5 Minutes or Less
Feeling blocked? These 5 techniques will have you creating in no time.
Every morning I set my alarm for 5:45am — two hours before the rest of my family wakes up — so that I can write for a while without distractions. Most days I wake up ready to roll. But some mornings I’m not so lucky. I wake up completely blocked. And no amount of coffee or eye rubbing helps. This is a problem, because my livelihood quite literally depends on writing as much as possible (I’m a freelance writer with a day job). I’ve therefore spent years reading books and essays on how to force my creative juices to flow when I’m not in the mood for it. Here are 4 techniques I’ve found to work wonders, and all of the can be done in 5 minutes or less.
List alternate uses for a common object
This technique is always my first go-to, because it’s the easiest to do in those early morning hours when I’m still feeling sleepy. I look around the room and zero in on an everyday object like a shoe. For the next couple of minutes I write out as many alternative uses for a shoe as I can. The first couple are always a bit obvious (fly swatter, doorstop). But after a few minutes, the possibilities seem endless as my brain starts to open up and see familiar things in new ways.
Write the alphabet as slowly as you can
I learned this exercise from Lynda Barry’s excellent book, What It Is (not an affiliate link). Using a pen and paper begin to write out the alphabet as slowly as you can, from A to Z. As you watch the letters slowly materialize, take note of their curves and right angles, how one section of a letter fits with another. As with the first exercise, the point of this one is to make the familiar as strange and new a possible.
Imagine you’re a stranger
This exercise is helpful for breaking through a particularly bad bout of writer’s block. It works by helping me to get out of my own blocked brain and into the head of someone else. To start, I do a quick internet image search using a bland description like “man in hat” or “woman in flowery dress.” I choose an image that grabs me and stare at it for 30 seconds, taking in the subject’s facial expression, posture, clothing choice, and setting. I then open my word processor and imagine going about my day as this person. I imagine where they’re spending their day, what kind of job they have (if they have a job), what they’re most excited about, what worries them. The quality of the writing doesn’t matter, so let the typos and repeated words come. The point of the exercise isn’t to produce beautiful prose; it’s to spend a few minutes seeing the world differently than usual.
Free write an alternate ending to a well known story
This is another go-to exercise for mornings when I’m really blocked. I think of a popular fairy tale or a recent plot of a favorite TV series and spend 5 minutes rewriting the ending. For this exercise to work well it helps to alter the tone or mood of the original ending as much as possible: If the original ending was happy, I rewrite it as tragic. If it was a sad ending, I rewrite it as joyous or even funny. As with the last exercise, I don’t worry about quality. My goal is simply to get my brain thinking in fresh ways.
Everyone gets blocked sometimes. So the next time it happens to you, don’t despair — try one of these exercises. Not only are they short and reliable — they’re a lot of fun, too! Good luck!