'Tis the season for setting fresh resolutions for the new year!
A few days of downtime over the holiday season gave me the space to think about my writing and publishing goals for the upcoming year. Lingering in the back of my mind, however, was the gnawing awareness that, to achieve my goals, I'll need to grapple with a powerful but invisible force working against me. It's a force Steve Pressfield gave a name to in his classic book on creativity, The War of Art: the "Resistance."
"Resistance" can come in many forms: It can be procrastination, fed by an array of distractions, like social media. It can be the heavy gravitational pull of the day job that pays my bills and allows me to support my family. Or, sometimes, "Resistance" is the feeling that the well of ideas and inspiration bubbling in my mind that I draw from when I need to write something has simply dried up.
I've written before about this topic, and have offered all forms of advice gleaned from the pros I've spoken to on my podcast about finding creative inspiration, developing better habits, and becoming a more productive writer. While I still recommend dipping into those strategies -- reading books on the craft of writing, experimenting with freewriting exercises, committing to a time and place to write every day -- there are a few other personal hacks I like to use whenever I need to summon my creative muse and -- to put it less poetically --pull my reluctant body back into a chair and place my hands on the keyboard again.
So here they are: Seven quirky, quick --and entirely free --ways to find inspiration and break out of a creative slump:
1. Read free Kindle samples.
One of the many incredibly convenient features Amazon offers book buyers is the ability to download a free sample chapter or two before deciding whether to commit to making a purchase. Reading free Kindle samples allows me to explore new ideas and sample them, hors d'oeuvres-style, before committing my money and time to the entire book.
I've availed myself of this powerful feature for many years now, and, while it has enticed me into spending stacks of money on books, it has also saved me a lot of money on books I might have purchased if I hadn't had the chance to read the sample.
2. Watch a TED Talk.
TED Talks are in no need of a hard sell: They are inspiring, informative, and compact capsules of wisdom from some of the best thinkers around. While they do feature their fair share of scientists, I find the pool of TED talkers skews more towards creative types, and often includes authors of both fiction and nonfiction -- people I'm always interested in watching and learning from whenever I'm in need of inspiration and ideas.
3. Watch a Masterclass trailer.
Don't have much time to sit through an 18-minute TED Talk? Try a snack-sized trailer video advertisement by Masterclass, the premium online learning platform.
Masterclass remembers when I visited their website so now they are feeding me video ads directly in my Facebook feed. While videos from other advertisers I have no interest in might annoy me, I am actually grateful for the chance to watch very well-produced short clips of some of the most successful authors of our time talk about their craft.
I've watched trailers featuring Judy Blume, the young adult author of classics like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge, and James Patterson, one of the most prolific and highly-paid novelists of all time. Recently, Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame, and Margaret Atwood, the award-winning Canadian author, launched their Masterclasses with trailer videos introducing their courses.
These are just teaser videos, of course, and they intentionally (and understandably) hold back their best secrets and strategies for paying customers. But these short videos might just give you the inspirational spark you need to drag your body back to your desk and start hammering out some words.
4. Watch Conan O'Brien (or whoever makes you laugh).
There's nothing more cathartic than a having a hearty laugh, one that makes you lose control of yourself momentarily, or which even puts tears in your eyes. That's what the comedian Conan O'Brien does for me. There's nothing scientific about this observation, but just yesterday, after watching him in a hilarious skit, a stream of ideas for writing topics came to mind which had me grabbing my Evernote app so I could jot them down before they disappeared.
You might not like O'Brien's brand of humor. That doesn't matter, of course. The point is, find someone who tickles your funny bone and watch a clip or two on YouTube, Facebook, or wherever you find them.
5. Listen to a thought-provoking podcast.
Gosh, I love podcasts! It's my turn-to medium for absorbing new ideas and learning about thinkers and artists I had never heard of before. The magic of podcasts is it's the only format I know that allows me to truly multi-task. I can take in an episode of the James Altucher Show in which he probes the lives and minds of successful authors and other influencers in hour-long interviews, or listen to Seth Godin's brilliant podcast Akimbo, in which he digs beneath the surface of modern culture and offers his witty and insightful take on things, all while doing mundane tasks like driving to and from my daughter's school, or peeling potatoes and carrots for a pot of chicken soup I'm making.
6. Listen to 80s music (or classical, or rap, or whatever you like).
I rarely listen to music while I'm writing, though occasionally I'll listen to instrumental music videos on YouTube to get into a state of "flow" so I can tune out the world and focus on my writing.
However, if I'm looking for some inspiration, I'll binge watch music videos from the 1980s on YouTube. Why the 1980s? That's when I was in high school and college and was the time I collected cassettes and CDs of music from my favorite alternative rock bands, like Depeche Mode, Modern English, The Smiths, or Simple Minds, to name just a handful of the groups I listened to (and still listen to).
You may find your inspiration from Bach or Mozart. Or maybe you listen to Kendrick Lamar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper.
While I can't actually see or monitor what's going on in my head, and I don't understand the science behind it, I do know from experience that listening to music definitely fires up dormant areas of my brain and helps stimulate the flow of memories and associations that feed ideas to my conscious mind.
7. Switch from coffee to Wulong tea.
While coffee has been my morning ignition switch for the past several years, I've recently rediscovered my taste for Chinese teas like Wulong and Pu'er. Fresh Wulong leaves steeped in steaming water offer an earthy and aromatic alternative to coffee beans. And don't under-estimate Wulong's caffeinated punch: A cup or two can power longer writing streaks for me than coffee -- and without the more precipitous come down that usually follows a coffee high.