We chose The Switch by Beth O’Leary for the June Zoella Book Club and immediately fell in love with her cosy writing style and characters.
Beth is a Sunday Times bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages. She wrote her debut novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from her job at a children’s publisher.
She now lives in the Hampshire countryside and writes full time. Today we’ve invited Beth on to the blog to talk about creativity and she’s given us 5 top tips for getting it back when you’re feeling blocked.
Whatever your creative outlet might be – whether you’re a writer, a crafter, a baker – we all have days when we feel like our creativity has gone out the window. So, what can you do to get it back?
This was the absolute dream! But it also meant… I really needed to come up with a new story.Beth O’Leary
As an author, there’s nothing quite as scary as the feeling of having no new ideas. When I got my first book deal for my debut novel, The Flatshare, my publishers bought another book from me, yet to be written. Suddenly I was under contract: I was being paid to write. This was the absolute dream! But it also meant… I really needed to come up with a new story.
One morning, my boyfriend walked in to find me sitting on the sofa, staring at the wall and squinting. ‘Umm. What are you doing?’ he asked. ‘I’m trying to come up with an idea for a book,’ I told him. ‘Is that how it works…?’ he asked.
It totally isn’t, obviously. Since then, I’ve learnt so much about how to boost my creativity. That idea for my second book, the book that would become The Switch and would be optioned by Stephen Spielberg’s production company – it definitely did not come from staring at a blank wall.
It only fully emerged when I’d stopped trying to force it.Beth O’Leary
It came when I had stopped thinking about the problem; it crept up on me by degrees, and it only fully emerged when I’d stopped trying to force it.
So, here are my top tips for getting your creativity back…
1) Stop trying. This is so counterintuitive, and if you are having to be creative on a deadline, it feels like the last thing you want to do. But I’ve discovered that if I step away from my laptop and completely let my writing go, that’s when the ideas start popping up again. See if this works for you: try taking a break for as long as you can, and just take the pressure off yourself. If nothing else, a bit of restful self-care time may well make the problem feel less stressful.
2) Get inspired. Try something out of your comfort zone – for me, that often means reading a genre I wouldn’t normally choose, like crime or historical fiction. Whatever your creative task, try seeking inspiration from an unusual location. Maybe it’ll encourage you to approach things from a different angle, and something totally random might just spark a new idea.
3) Give yourself headspace. It can be hard to let your mind wander in the modern world. Social media, emails, whatsapp messages that are waiting for replies… they all pull at our attention in the little pockets of downtime we have in the day. Try allocating yourself some time each day to just be. I recommend having a long bubble bath with your phone out of the room – I’ve lost count of the number of plot problems I’ve solved in the bath!
4) Sleep more. Often a really good night’s sleep seems to make it easier for me to think laterally and come up with something original. And scientific research backs this up: for instance, this Nature study set participants a mathematical problem, then sent them away for eight hours. Those people who slept in that time were twice as likely to spot a hidden, abstract rule that allowed them to solve the problem simply. Sleep also gives your brain the chance to dream, which often provides creatives with inspiration: Jimi Hendrix wrote ‘Purple Haze’ about a dream he’d had, and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight started with an image from a dream too. So, maybe going to bed earlier could be the key to unlocking your creativity again!
5) Write down what you do come up with. It might just be a fraction of an idea, or something you’re almost certain is no use at all, but jot it down anyway. Those little grains might well grow into something bigger. And if you keep doing this all the time, not just in your uncreative spells, then you could end up with a pool of material that you can come back to when the ideas aren’t flowing quite so freely. I have a document called ‘book ideas on the go’ which is full of scattered half-concepts, odd phrases and a lot of absolute nonsense. But the book I’m writing at the moment, The Road Trip, grew from a tiny idea on that very document, jotted down more than three years ago. Sometimes the kindling for your creativity has been there all along, just waiting for one tiny spark to set it going.