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Thursday, January 30, 2014


Christine Finlayson spends her days conjuring up fictional characters—and devising ways to get them into trouble. When she’s not at the computer, she loves to photograph all things weird or wild in nature, explore the trails and beaches of the Pacific Northwest, and compete in triathlons. Learn more at Christine and her books at her website and nature blog

Where did my creativity go . . . and how do I get it back?

On New Year’s Day, my daughter set out her painting supplies: three canvases, a full set of colors, new paintbrushes, and an artist’s palette.

“I’m ready,” she announced, squeezing out the first tube of paint.

“Don’t you want to sketch things out first?” I suggested. “Decide what you’re going to put on each one?” After all, she only had three canvases, and they weren’t cheap. If she made a mistake . . .

“Why?” She gave me a puzzled look. “I’m making art. I’ll just see what happens.” And with that, she dipped her brush into the paint and started tinting the canvas brown. Out came Bilbo Baggins.
I saw no fear in her, no anxiety that the critics might not like her rendition. Instead, she breathed excitement. It was time to CREATE. Oh, the joy!

I envied her.

When I was my daughter’s age, I’d loved creating things, too. I wrote and illustrated picture books, made puppets, sewed doll clothes, experimented with Styrofoam balls and sequins, and spent endless hours crafting dollhouse furniture. (Note the book and old-fashioned typewriter in the photo!)
But somewhere on the road to adulthood, the pure joy of creation—the spontaneity and whimsy—had disappeared.

So on that cold January day, I wondered: Was it too late to add a New Year’s Resolution? I want my creativity back.

Creative Writing
Like most fiction authors, I rely heavily on imagination. Without it, stories wouldn’t come alive. But after my first mystery novel, Tip of a Bone, was published, life became more complicated.

Creative writing time had to be balanced with book promotion. Under the steady stream of numbers—Sales up? Fans? Likes?—anyone’s creativity could falter. And mine had. It became harder and harder to shut off the analytical left brain and let the right brain roam.

I wanted 2014 to be different, a year of thriving creativity. So after that New Year’s Day epiphany, I decided to try four things and see what happens. Maybe you’d like to join me in this experiment!

#1. Find the quiet. 
When our minds fill with clutter—errands, appointments, bills to pay, emails to answer—it’s tough for creativity to break through. Not surprisingly, my writing is most productive when I leave town . . . suddenly, there’s a quiet space inside, ready to be filled with innovative ideas. Recognizing this, I’ve planned several writing retreats this year. I’ll head to the Oregon coast and take time to watch the waves roll in.

When leaving town isn’t an option, I’ll do morning pages, the quickest way to get rid of those nagging thoughts. I’ve vowed to slow life down, too—stop and smell the roses, savor that cup of coffee, and watch squirrels play from my office window.

#2. Make a bucket list.
As the Queen of To-Do lists, I have papers littering every flat surface, each one with tasks to complete. But this year, I’ve added a “Things I Want to Do” list.

By giving wishes and yearnings equal weight—missions to check off—I’m hoping to do more of them. Arrange a Police Ride-Along? Check. Attend Left Coast Crime? Coming up. Sip daiquiris in Hawaii? On the docket.

Have you made a list of things you want to do this year? (For inspiration, check out BucketList.org. You’ll find all kinds of interesting ideas, including: Draw funny faces on eggs, take pole dancing classes, swim under a waterfall, and visit Pompeii.)

#3. Do things that are frightening.
I’m not talking about haunted houses and horror movies—but saying “Yes!” to adventure and stretching outside of our comfort zones. Doing any new, intimidating activity makes us feel more alive. Last year, for the first time, I zip-lined through the jungle and had a book published. Both scary. Both stimulating.
This year? I may canoe through the Canadian wilderness, swim across a river (an organized event), or explore a seedy neighborhood to research a character. Whatever your adventures are, know that shaking things up can spur creativity. Get ready!

# 4. Exercise more regularly.
Working as a writer (or any desk job) means hours of sitting still. The new wisdom suggests that sitting is terrible for our health, but it can also stagnate the mind. Shifting from mental tasks to physical activities forces the brain to move in different ways.

As a triathlete, I’ve learned that training takes time, but the regular swims, bikes, and runs also enhance my creativity. More than once, I’ve had “Aha!” moments in the middle of a workout—That’s where my story needs to head! Now I can fix that scene!  It’s wonderful to be able to solve sticky plot problems—while moving.

2014 will be the Year of Creativity. Let the experiment begin!

I appreciate this chance to visit Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers today, and I’d love to hear from you. What inspires your creativity? How do you keep it flowing? And what do you do to jumpstart creativity when it falters?

Tip of a Bone
Buried bones, a missing eco-activist, and a deadly fire? It’s not what Maya Rivers bargained for when she moved to the Oregon coast to reunite with her brother Harley. Yet when Harley is accused of an unthinkable crime, Maya insists on adding “amateur sleuth” to her career options. She soon discovers an eerie clue…but the closer she gets to the truth, the the closer a murderer follows.

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Andrea Cooper said...

Great post! I definitely need to exercise more. :)

Christine Finlayson said...

Thanks, Andrea! It's funny . . . right after I submitted this post, my own exercise program went erratic. It's tough in winter! Now that I'm on a deadline, I squeeze exercise into the evenings and try to do more "chair exercises" and short walks during the day. One good chair exercise is to stop every hour or so and stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, etc. about ten times--without using your hands. It's gets the blood flowing!

Cathy Shouse said...

Your 4 goals are things I've been working toward as well. The quiet part is what I find challenging and that doesn't just mean externally. It means to stop mentally flogging myself with "the rules" and comparing myself to others. And I'm going to follow the advice of amazing writers, not just all the aspiring and beginner writers like myself. As an example:
“Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.” ― Joyce Carol Oates
Thanks for affirming some of my thoughts. Best of luck in 2014.

Christine Finlayson said...

Hi Cathy,
That's a wonderful quote from Joyce Carol Oates--and so true! I was just talking about this with a writing friend--when we're caught up in a story as readers, we don't stop to ponder the beauty and skill of the writing.

Making a quiet space continues to be a challenge for me, too, and shutting off internal editors can be really tough. Doing the morning pages has helped, as does asking myself, "What's the worst thing that could happen if I throw out the rules and do X?" You might be surprised by the answer!

P.S. I loved your phrase "mental flogging." A perfect description.

Angela said...

I love your approach! I think that simply by being aware of the need to shake up your brain by shaking up your life, it happens. Even little things like waking up before dawn (if you don't normally, of course) open the brain. Now I just have to take my own advice....

Christine Finlayson said...

Thanks, Angela! Shaking things up and getting out of ruts is so important. I often read about authors who set the alarm for 4 a.m. so they can write before heading to their day jobs. It's appealing because the house would be very quiet . . . but I haven't tried it yet. Maybe I'll take your advice and set the alarm next week!

Marilyn said...

You've struck a chord with this inspiring post, Christine. Many writers, including me, feel exactly the same. I find that exercise and quiet time always stir creativity. As for doing something scary, I vowed some time ago to do at least one thing a year that I was scared to do. Ziplining is one! That will be this year. It's all working for you, as Tip of a Bone clearly shows.

judyalter said...

Thanks for making me think. I'm always working toward that quiet time, but something always is on my to-do list--a blog, a book review, a newsletter. Maybe I need to put quiet time first and work other things in as I can. And your arrow hit the mark with exercise--I've been using a broken bone in my foot as an excuse but now out of the orthopedic shoe, I can and will get back to yoga...and walking.

Christine Finlayson said...

Hi Marilyn,
I was terrified to zip-line, but it was so much fun. I'm ready to go again! Of course we did pick a spot with fairly low lines, using our kids as an excuse. :) (Can't scare the kids!)

I'd love to hear how your zip-lining adventure goes!

Christine Finlayson said...

Hi Judy,
A broken bone is a truly valid excuse for not exercising! Really glad to hear you're on the mend.

I'm starting to learn that my to-do list of tasks will never go away, so including things on it that are important to me and creativity-inspiring (whether that's quiet time or fun activities) is one way to combat that. If they're on the list, they have to get done, right?!

Unknown said...

Nice list and well-timed as I just forewent my exercise class today and have a growing to-do list that isn't populated with want to-dos. Time to retool before I get buried.

Writer of Wrongs said...

It's almost cliched to strive to be "in the moment" but as writers that is what is necessary to recreate a situation for our readers. I find that when I'm stuck, I head outside for a hike or, more recently, go scuba diving. The solitude and beauty of the environment allows me to refocus. I read Tip of a Bone and love how you incorporated the setting and environmental issues into your story. Thanks for a wonderful reminder that play is not just a child's activity!

Anonymous said...

I think you speak for many of us. Thanks for laying it out more clearly. And here's to a good 2014!

Christine Finlayson said...

Paula, you've long been a source of creative inspiration for me--"out with the clutter, make space for the new"--so I'm glad to return the favor. Here's to re-tooling that list of tasks!

Christine Finlayson said...

Writer of Wrongs: yes! Spending time in nature is high on my list, too. Hiking through the woods or watching a river flow always help me find peace. Your diving adventures sound amazing!

Christine Finlayson said...

Thanks, KM. Wishing you a great 2014 as well!

celticfiddle said...

NIce goals and blog! Working on my bucket list...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

"I'm making art--I'll just see what happens!" Oh, my goodness..I am printing this out and posting it. BRILLIANT.

And the Oates quote, too, Cathy.

What a wonderful post..I so agree about the exercise part. And sometimes, even just standing up from my desk gives me an idea! I guess it's my mind relaxing..

thank you!

Christine Finlayson said...

Celtic fiddle--I'm thinking about enhancing my bucket list, too. Just took another peek at the BucketList website. Some of the popular suggestions included: ride an ostrich (!), Do the No Pants Subway Ride (!!), and the slightly bittersweet, Fall in Love. :)

Christine Finlayson said...

Thank you, Hank Phillippi Ryan! It was one of your recent guest posts -- about how constant checking of sales numbers can be the road to crazy city -- that inspired me to make 2014 different.

Off to make soap with my daughter... :)

Anonymous said...

Had to look up the term "morning pages" but have actually done it and found it helpful. Writing by hand slows down the process and builds in some quiet time. Great suggestions.

Christine said...

Thanks for commenting, Pat! I learned about morning pages from The Artist's Way and have found them very helpful. Sometimes I'm surprised by what comes out.

Linda Andrews said...

I'm afraid if I make a bucket list the universe will think it's time for me to go. I'm not ready. I like your idea of exploring a new place. Thank your daughter for the inspiration, I too used to just create, now I see that I've become a little too left brained.

Christine Finlayson said...

Hi Linda, I'll pass your kind words onto my daughter. Thank you! It's hard sometimes to break free of the left brain, but I've also found that when I do spend a day being 100% creative, either writing or playing wit craft supplies, I feel very ALIVE at the end of it!

Kelly Blackwell @ Heres My Take On It said...

What a wonderful post! This is just the kind of eye opener I need. I have to think about new things to share each week on air and when it comes down to writing, I feel spent. This will help get me on my way. Thank you Christine!