A Strategy for Pumping Your Writing Full of Creativity

A Strategy for Pumping Your Writing Full of Creativity

“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.” — Brian Sutton-Smith

We’ve been programmed to believe that the opposite of play is work.

Even worse, we’ve been conned into thinking that hard work is the only way to succeed at anything. The more hours we put in, the better our chances of making it, right?

Wrong. All that results from that approach is further depletion of the already bone-dry creative well. Smart work coupled with lots of playtime is the answer.

The “smart work” part of this equation has already been covered six ways to Sunday, so today I’m going to focus on “playtime.” Because let’s face it, playing is way more fun than your average productivity hack.

Why you need an Artist Date

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron explains that if artists wish to have any hope at all of continuing along our chosen path, we must fill our creative wells by going on weekly Artist Dates. This idea resonated with me and when I decided to make it a regular practice, the benefits were immediate and impressive.

Unfortunately, I let my habit slip, and soon it had been more than a month since my last Artist Date. And if I’m entirely honest about it, the Dates prior to that were erratic at best. In short, I wasn’t taking very good care of my Artist, yet I was still expecting her to produce great work. Sound familiar?

The Artist Date rules are pretty straightforward:

  1. You have to go alone.

  2. It can’t involve chores (no combining your Date with your grocery shopping).

  3. It must be a minimum of two hours long.

  4. You need to go on at least one Date a week.

The Artist Date is your time and yours alone. Do anything you want, as long as it’s fun and completely unrelated to work. Go see a movie, take a pottery class, spend the morning browsing at a craft market; it’s entirely up to you. By immersing yourself in new and different situations you’re filling your creative well with inspiration and fresh ideas. (Click to tweet this idea.)

Here are a few ideas for your next Artist Date:

Unplug yourself

When The Artist’s Way introduced the concept of Artist Dates in 1992, only Zack Morris had a cell phone and it definitely did not run on 4G. Nowadays, we expect each other to respond to texts within a nanosecond. Our smartphones are always on and it’s almost too easy to respond to emails at 10 p.m.

This is no way to treat your Artist. We need to get out there and experience the world without distraction. To know ourselves both as artists and individuals, it is imperative that we unplug on a regular basis.

Commit to unplugging for the duration of your Artist Date. If you’re feeling radical, you could even try unplugging for an entire weekend — or even a month.

Go back to basics

When did you last write without using an electronic device? A six-week creative writing course I recently took went old school for all of the exercises. My hand ached by the end of the first session, but given the creativity that streamed forth uninhibited by the likes of backspace buttons or Ctrl-Z, I bore the pain happily.

If you’re stuck on ideas for your Artist Date, here’s a simple idea: treat yourself to a new journal and pen (even a few colorful markers if you’re feeling wild) and head to your favorite coffee shop for some creative fun. Check your judgments at the door and just let it — whatever it may be — flow. You’ll be amazed by what appears on the page.

Take your Artist to a writer’s retreat

Consider the many benefits of retreating to a creative space with like-minded souls, a place where inner critics are banned and “work” is a dirty word; somewhere you can reacquaint yourself with words and stories, maybe even fall in love with them again. A writer’s retreat is a fantastic chance to reconnect with your Artist and make uninhibited progress on your writing.

If you don’t have the time or money to indulge in a writer’s retreat, what about finding a creative writing course like the one I mentioned earlier? Sometimes having a safe space to share your dreams, hopes, fears and that messy first attempt at Haiku, is all it takes for you to begin writing with abandon again.

Now what?

Consider the importance of play in relation to your art, be it painting, sculpting, solopreneuring or writing. Make a commitment today to take some time out to just be, in whatever way feels right for you.

“Creativity lies in paradox: serious art is born from serious play.” — Julia Cameron

Filed Under: Craft


  • deb palmer says:

    Sold on this idea! Thanks.

  • Elissa Hunt says:

    Unplugging isn’t an issue for me; there’s limited-to-no cell reception where I live. I have a cell phone– somewhere. It’s for emergency use while traveling.

    I don’t know where I’d take my Artist for a date. No coffee shops within 30 miles. No theater. No market. Not much of anything, really, except miles and miles of wind-dancing grass and juniper, undulating foothills, and snow-capped mountains.

    Me and the Artist go for daily rides (weather permitting). The mind wanders as the the horse steps along. We study the sky, the clouds, the raven in the tree, the coyote skulking by, the color, the light, the shadows. Leather creaks, horse wuffs, the raven awks and flaps away. Back at the barn, saddle and bridle come off and wads of shedding winter hair are combed, brushed, curried, and otherwise removed from the horse, who seems happy to see me and the Artist covered in it.

    Does this count as a date?

    • Elissa, your surroundings sound like the perfect place for an Artist Date! I’d definitely enjoy a daily ride with my Artist 🙂

    • Angela says:

      Wow Elissa…I’m a little green I’ll admit. Who wants coffee shops when you have what you do!? Thank you for sharing, I was right there with you. Does it count as an Artist Date? Hell Yeah!!!

  • Such good advice! I’d never really heard of Artist Dates before, but the concept totally makes sense. Especially unplugging. If I leave home without my phone I tend to panic, but when I get back to it I inevitably discover that I haven’t missed ANYTHING important. I should probably just deliberately leave it behind more often!

    • Angela says:

      Hey Katharine. We need time to ourselves, without distractions, and the best way to do that is to leave your phone at home. Because as you so rightly point out, the chances of missing something important are slim to zip. I hope you enjoy your first Artist Date!

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