By Tara Kingston
As a child, I loved to write stories. I was the girl in school who always kept a freshly sharpened pencil ready to put to use in my trusty notebook. Whether the teacher declared it creative writing time in class or my thoughts wandered away from long division, I loved writing about the characters and settings my imagination conjured. Years later, as a teacher, I’d find myself covertly jotting notes about characters and plot ideas during long faculty meetings. While others may have been discreetly glancing at their phones or pining for the seconds and minutes on the clock to pass just a bit faster, I appeared to be taking notes, mentally bouncing in and out of the announcements, keeping up with the speaker, but allowing myself the momentary luxury of a wandering mind.
When I eventually decided to put those notes on characters and plots to good use, I dove right into writing. I greatly enjoyed bringing the heroes and heroines and villains to life on the page. My imagination flowed.
Until it didn’t.
And then, there comes that moment when you stare at the computer screen, feeling a bit like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. My inspiration and creativity had taken a hike. And sending my editor a document filled with “All work and no play…” wasn’t an option.
At first, I struggled with what to do. I vented to my critique partner. Went on a tidying spree. Decided to revamp my filing system. Watched movies featuring my go-to hero inspirations (Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and just about anything with Gerard Butler) in hopes of kindling a spark in my weary brain. It all helped, if only a wee bit. But it wasn’t the answer I needed to stir my muse from hibernation.
I realized that I feel much more inclined to be creative when my body has experienced movement during the day. Exercise stirs my pulse, and evidently, my creativity, especially if I can also include a dose of fresh air and nature.
Now, I try to walk every day that weather permits. I live near the mountains, and a brisk walk in the clean air on country roads (and hills…did I mention the leg-burning hills?) is good for my soul and my muse. I love to hike with my husband, especially if our route takes us near water. There’s a lovely trail along the river near our house that leads to a small waterfall—that path is a go-to destination throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
I also love to take long bicycle rides with my husband. I’ve started to post pictures of some of our rides on Instagram. We love rail-trails, and we’re fortunate to live near several of them. A twenty-mile bike ride through the countryside on the same path a Victorian train once took stirs my imagination while it soothes my soul.
Kayaking is another outdoor activity we enjoy that sparks my creativity. Paddling along a scenic river, breathing in the fresh, fragrant air and drinking in the scenery, allows thoughts and worries to ebb and creativity to get a foothold in my mind.
Even when the weather’s too bad (I live in the snow belt), exercise gets my creative juices flowing. I actually came up with a story idea while taking a step aerobics class years ago. The kernel of a plot that grew into the first book in my Her Majesty’s Most Secret Service series, WHEN A LADY DECEIVES, first popped into my mind in the middle of a step routine. I don’t recall the songs that were playing in the background, but I remember doing knee lifts and “u-turns” on the step bench while pondering the idea of a female journalist undercover in Victorian London. More recently, a character name came to me in the middle of Zumba. Little did the graceful instructor leading the class know that while I was flailing about like Elaine on Seinfeld in almost-time to the music, I’d just figured out what to name a villain in one of my books.
Now, when I’m feeling stuck, I lace up my shoes and get moving. Exercise clears my head and allows the creative thoughts to flow.
When you’re feeling stuck in a mental rut, what activities clear your mind? Whether you’re writing a book, helping your child come up with a science project idea, or deciding on a new paint color to brighten a room, the ability to be creative comes into play. Leave a comment about your go-to tactics for getting your creativity back on track—one commenter will win a $10 Amazon gift card.