And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around

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Float On: 5 Exercises to Get Your Imagination in Gear

Fall is my creative season. The back-to-school mentality is so deeply ingrained that even now, after I’ve been out of school for years, I still get revved up for new projects and creative endeavors. Even so, I often lament how hard it is to do what came so easily when I was a kid, or even a teenager – let my imagination loose and just go with it. I am so distracted with my newsfeeds and emails and texts that I hardly get an uninterrupted moment to just…float.

They say boredom is good for creativity, so I’ve been trying to work on carving out a little time each day to drift off and see what my mind comes up with. Here are some things that I’ve done that have helped me feel like a kid again, bringing back that enthusiasm that reminds me why I want to write, why I want to draw, why I want to make stories. I’m curious about what else helps people “untether” their brain for a bit and float into a narrative or a character or a mood…

  1. Walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood nearby – and leave your phone at home. What catches your eye? What odd thing do you notice? What kind of people live in that little house that you’ve never noticed before? What about in that house with the crazy cow skull hanging on the front porch, surrounded by neon lights? (True story. Love you, Davenport Street. ❤ )
  2. Listen to music without lyrics. I’ve long been a film soundtrack junkie, and sometimes it’s even better if I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t associate the music with any existing narrative or moment. I’m so used to multitasking that it’s refreshing to drop everything (and yes, shoving my phone in a drawer), busting out my old school iPod, and listening to music with no distractions. Ideas may float in or out, or maybe it just sets me into a mood. I’ve noticed that the desire to be creative and make stuff seems to naturally return to me when I play more music and watch less tv. Maybe that’ll be my mantra. More music, less TV.
  3. Rewrite a fairy tale. If you thumb through a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a lot of the stories are pretty sparse, or have weird moments of dark humor (or just darkness in general) that you might have missed as a kid. Take one that intrigues you and run with it. Change the setting, tell it from a new point of view, or fix that ending you hate. It can be a short exercise, or who knows, maybe you can spin it into a novel. Those fairy tale rewrites are all the rage these days.
  4. Open a dictionary. Get a dictionary, open it to a random page, and then try to write a story with as many words from that page as possible. You might set a timer for 15-30 minutes, or you might just go as long as you can.
  5. Study some art. Go to a bookshop or library and dig into some art that intrigues you. A nearby art museum can also be great for a morning or afternoon of inspiration- just make sure to bring your notebook! You can even make a challenge for yourself and do some timed free writing about a specific piece.

I know these are sort of generic- I keep being reminded that I am the most creative when I:

  • Free myself from distraction. (For me, that’s turning off my phone and my internet. Arg, so hard!)
  • Make the time to write down ideas when they come to me. Ideas will always come at the most inconvenient time possible. It’s Creative Law. So, barring any safety concerns, I am trying to get better at taking the five minutes and jotting it down, then sitting down later and sifting through my notes so I can expand the ones with potential.
  • Stop making excuses and put pen to paper. When I was younger and in school, I had so much structure to be creative in. There was always work to put off- characters to draw in the margins of my notes, stories to dream up as I avoided homework. Now that I’m adulting, I come home from work and have the afternoon in front of me to do whatever I please. It takes a lot of discipline to park my butt in the chair and write. I wish I could say I did it habitually every day, but…I’m still working on it.

Good luck on your writing and other creative endeavors. This is the season for dreaming…so float on, friends.

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When we saw each other in person about a month and a half ago, my brother and I made a creative pact to send each other stuff we were working on every other Friday. I’d send him my latest fiction writing, he’d send me a rough cut of a song he was writing or producing. Well…we both suck at discipline, so I sent him the following email:


We are sucking at sharing our creative progress with each other. Since you have sent me NOTHING I will assume that you have not been investing the time you need to be in order to become a music-creating virtuoso!!!
I have been equally bad. Please find enclosed a detailed doc of character sketches I created while trying to flesh out the brothers in my story. I am very excited to get this rough draft done. BEFORE 2014 I WILL HAVE A FINISHED, COGENT DRAFT!! That is my goal, and right now it looks approachable. I already have over 35,000 words (rough words), but I have a solid direction and a couple interesting twists, I think!
SO. I demand something from you by Friday, or we’re not siblings anymore. 😉
Happy creative time,
P.S. I don’t care how busy you are. Everyone’s busy. Fuck everything. Do music shit. 
I posted this as a public declaration that I will get my goddamn rough draft done by December. And as a public motivation for all of you who are procrastinating on one creative project or another. Find the time. Go do it. And now I’m going to go practice what I preach and write a scene involving a key baked into a cake and some city guards on the prowl for criminals.