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Write More Creatively by Dodging These Creativity Killers

Fellow scribes, if you want to write more creatively, you have to stop killing your creativity. These tips will help you find and flex the creativity muscle that will take your writing from good to grrreaat!

“Why is ‘How to Kill Your Creativity’ a great title for an article?” asks Vancouver-based publication coach and freelance writer Daphne Gray-Grant. “Because ‘kill’ is a sensational, attention-getting verb. Good verbs almost always lead to good writing.”

That’s one of the best pieces of creative writing advice: use strong, jaw-dropping verbs. If you struggle to write creatively, read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Reni Browne and Dave King. The more you know about editing, the higher your chances of writing creatively and getting published.

5 Ways to Kill Your Creativity

Guest Post ~ Daphne Gray-Grant

So there I was, sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for my appointment. Actually, it was much later than my allotted time because the doctor was outrageously tardy. Staving off boredom, I methodically went through all the messages on my iPhone – even Tweetdeck – then I started looking for something new to read. Fortunately, the slush pile of magazines included the hidden gem of the December 2009 Psychology Today.

An article titled “How to Kill Creativity” immediately grabbed my eyes. Brilliant! First, let’s talk for a minute about why this headline is so effective. Number 1, it tells you exactly what the article is about. If you’re not intrigued by the topic, you’ll skip by it; if you are interested, you’ll know to read the article. Keep in mind that eliminating readers who won’t be interested is just as valuable as attracting readers who will be. We’re all busy people and don’t have time to read things we don’t care about.

Number 2, “kill” is a sensational, attention-getting verb. Good verbs almost always lead to good writing. Number 3, headlines beginning with the words “how to” generally attract readers because they know the article is almost guaranteed to be specific and practical. Number 4, it’s a negative headline (who would ever want to kill creativity?) The five-year-old in all of us gets a big chuckle out of negatively. As well, the more mature 25-year-old in all of us understands that negative lessons are just as valuable as positive ones.

In fact, the headline was so good, I borrowed it for this article.

Okay, now let’s move on to the text. I’ve taken the five ideas expressed in the original magazine article, and added my own comments, focusing strictly on why they kill creativity in writing.

Know exactly what you’re doing before you get started

Writing is the act of discovering what you think. It’s not so much recording as it is working things out. This is exactly why I am so wildly opposed to making outlines. Outlining presumes that you can figure out every idea in advance. If you want to write more creatively, I encourage you to use a mindmap – a much more freeing and less nailed-down approach – and then be open to whatever changes occur when you write. As a friend of mine likes to say: “Changing your writing is an opportunity, not a root canal.”

Be careful not to offend

I worked in newspapers for a long time and I can guarantee that whatever you write will almost always offend someone. If you’re working for a client, I’ll admit it usually doesn’t make sense to offend him or her. But remember: You’re not chiseling your words onto a stone. Your work can (and should) be changed later. But, for now, turn off that censor inside your head and write whatever you please. Don’t kill your creatively by worrying about who might be offended.

Get permission for everything you write

We writers are delicate little flowers. We need sun, water and nutrients. A rough wind can ruffle our blossoms. The last thing we need is permission to bloom.

Write More Creatively by Dodging These Creativity KillersWriting and publication are two separate matters. Don’t mix them up! Just as you shouldn’t worry about who you might offend, you should never get permission to write anything. If you want to write more creatively, write for yourself and worry about the necessary permissions when you edit.

Run it by everyone first

I’m old-fashioned this way, but I don’t show my writing to anyone until I’m 99% satisfied with it. I didn’t show a rough draft of my book, 8½ steps to writing faster, better to anyone – not even my husband – until I had a rough draft finished and self-edited. At that point, I sent it to a dozen trusted friends and colleagues for comment. Then, and only then, I sent it to a professional copy editor. That’s the correct order to follow.

Criticize yourself at every step

All writers have their own internal editors. And they are almost always our harshest critics. They seem to especially enjoy being abrasive when we’re writing. Stop and think about how you talk to yourself when you write. Do you say things such as, “This is so bad, I’m embarrassed to show my writing to anybody.” Do you berate yourself with, “I’m not making any sense here” or even worse, “This sucks”? Your internal critic does have an important role to play — but not while you are writing. That comes later, when you’re editing.

When you’re writing, of course you don’t want to kill creativity! Instead, you want to breathe life into it.

What your biggest creativity killer? Comments welcome below…

A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to The Publication Coach.

Gray-Grant also contributed 5 Essential Tips for Better Writing From a Publication Coach, here on Quips & Tips for Successful Writers.


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12 thoughts on “Write More Creatively by Dodging These Creativity Killers”

  1. I have recently written a first draft of my novel and than an unillustrated children’s book. I have tons of ideas for more than ten more novels. These characters and stories speak through me every day and my biggest thing is I make excuses and do not honor my gift and in a way that affects me more than anything else. I am not sure if it is fear of failing and not being successful or if it is just pure laziness. I know in my heart this is what I have been called to do yet I do nothing about it. How do I kill that nagging sense of fear and honor the voice of reason?

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment, Aidy. I think writers are super-critical of themselves, which will definitely stop them from writing creatively.

    For me, it was editing as I wrote. The publication coach convinced me it’s far better to just write from beginning to end, and edit later!

  3. Your list is spot on! A big creativity killer for me is over criticizing my writing–which is a huge article killer for me! But, just as you suggest, passing that article around for a peer read is always insightful–makes for better writing actually, now that I think about it 🙂

  4. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Uppal,

    The best way to contact Daphne is through her website, The Publication Coach. I don’t know if she checks her comments here.

    Here’s her email, which I found on her Contact Me page:

    daphne (at) publicationcoach (dot) com

    Try emailing her directly. Or, go back to her site and re-fill in your information. Sometimes those online forms are wonky 🙂

  5. Hi Daphne, I found your article about writing better and more creatively useful and interesting. I am waiting to receive your free Newsletter and for that I had filled the required information. But so far no response.I don’t know what is amiss? Please help.

  6. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Sefcug ~ thanks for sharing how you write. It’s always interesting to learn how other writers write!

    Missy ~ glad these creative writing tips helped. Daphne Gray-Grant is an amazing teacher, encourager, and coach.

  7. My big problem is not wanting to offend people. Even when I write comments on articles, I worry I’ll offend someone! So I was glad to see the that tip for writing more creatively.

  8. My creative writing exploits so far have basically been responding to prompts from various writing prompt sites.
    I do have several blogs related to computer user groups, and edit a newsletter for one of them.

    That said, everything you say above is how I approach my writing.

    Typically, I just start writing on a sheet of paper, move it to a plain text editor (to keep formatting from distracting me), then move to a word processing program for finalizing, and finally post to my blog or the newsletter when proofread and satisfied.