9 ways to jumpstart creative thinking (and writing)

9 ways to jumpstart creative thinking (and writing)

March 22, 2013 |  by  |  Wordbliss  |  ,


Peanut butter and jelly. Lucy and Ricky. Tax season and accountants.

Some things are simply made for each other.

Let’s add “writing and thinking” to this list of inseparables. Sure, you can think without writing (even hold whole conversations in your head), but I guarantee you can’t write (well) without thinking.

In college, a phrase in a lecture seared itself into my memory: “Learning to write is learning to think.” As a full-time word wrangler, I’m fully convinced writing absolutely requires a healthy dose of mental gymnastics! Speaking of which, here are some exercises I find helpful.

9 tips for thinking– and writing – creatively:

  1. Doodle, dude. Perhaps it’s the intersection of right brain meets left, but when I let myself play with a pen, I’m often surprised at where my pen/marker/crayon takes my words.
  2. Cozy up with a respected magazine. I keep a stack of magazines nearby when I’m writing, so I can meander through prose others have written. I can’t tell you how many times a well-crafted phrase in National Geographic popped a new idea into my head.
  3. Hone in on visual details. Consider what stands out in the scene or depiction you’re looking to describe. Clever wordologist Amy Taylor shows us a lot here: “A card-carrying member of the public library and ruthless Scrabble player, Amy’s wordological tendencies emerged at a young age.”
  4. Chop difficult points into bite-sized chunks. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Whether it’s a school report or a proposal for your boss, break apart massive thoughts into puzzles parts, and find fun in piecing it together. Bit by bit.
  5. Get off the screen. A recent Nielsen report found Americans spend 34 hours a week watching TV- almost a full-time job! Whether you’re glued to a computer, tablet, TV or smartphone – give your eyes and brain a break. You can’t improve creativity when sucked into the tube.
  6. Marry two unlikely ideas together. Some of the most creative people I know are really matchmakers. Or perhaps they’re alchemists, concocting same-old ideas in new ways? Either way, hopefully that gives you an idea of what I mean.
  7. Ditch a project for a day. Sometimes I get to the point I’m thinking too hard and my brain feels fried. If there’s wiggle room before a deadline, I set aside the writing project and return (hopefully) refreshed the next day.
  8. Talk to yourself. I won’t tell if you don’t. While typing, if you get stuck, something about verbalizing thoughts makes them register differently. When you don’t know what to say when writing, you may need to hear it. 
  9. Juice up your verbs. Being an interesting thinker, speaker, and writer, has everything to do with the words you use. Want to jumpstart your writing? Squeeze in eye-catching verbs.

Now tell me: What are your strategies to get in the creative zone?

Image credit: © Jenny Solomon | Dreamstime Stock Photos


  1. Great list, Crystalee! I’ll have to take the marrying of two unlikely ideas and use it myself. I forgot where else that idea was brought up, perhaps a TED Talk?

    As for how I get my creative flow going will sound a little cliche… I take a walk! Especially nighttime walks that will really get me in that zen mode and things just sort of come to me. It takes very little conscious effort and it doesn’t really matter if I’m going in circles or if I’m just going straight.

    • Thanks for your comment, Vincent. Love your idea for a nighttime walk. For the “marry unlikely ideas,” I came up with that myself while writing this list, but it probably is out there in the ether somewhere. Sometimes it seems most ideas have already been articulated!

      Keep coming back. I love your insights, friend.

  2. What a timely article! I’m in the middle of writing a manuscript for my research project and was looking for writing inspiration on your blog. I think people underestimate the importance of showcasing excellent writing skills in scientific publications. A really great idea can easily get lost in the presentation. I found your tips helpful and will definitely be incorporating them in my writing routine! Thanks!

  3. Love this list! Glad to hear talking to yourself is a good thing as I find myself doing it all the time (mostly when no-one else is around). Ha!

    I also find putting some music on – perhap something you don’t normally gravitate to – can provide some of those light bulb moments. And, not over thinking things (of which I am very quilty of) seems to take away some of that self inflicted pressure to create.

    Off I go, talking to myself, to write something, anything at ritewhileucan.com
    The door is always open for new visitors, do make yourself at home.

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