8 Proven Ways To Be More Creative And Improve Your Writing (With Scientific Evidence)
Writing a book is hard.
It’s a long and complex process that requires commitment, routine, and energy. However, even when everything is in place, your creative ability is still fundamental to producing a good book.
The problem is that creativity is an elusive beast, and it can come and go at a moment’s notice.
In this article, you’ll discover proven ways to be more creative; you’ll learn how to ensure you are creating better ideas, and you’ll find out ways to ensure that you can conjure up your most creative self each time you sit down to write.
Sometimes you need more than routine
Writing a book is often as much about process and routine as it is about creativity.
You don’t have to look far to find famous writers who are quick to talk about their routines and habits, often crediting these routines for their success.
Here’s what Stephen King has to say on the subject:
"Here’s the thing, okay? There are books, and there are books. The way that I work, I try to get out there and I try to get six pages a day. So, with a book like End of Watch, and … when I’m working I work every day — three, four hours, and I try to get those six pages, and I try to get them fairly clean. So if the manuscript is, let’s say, 360 pages long, that’s basically two months work. … But that’s assuming it goes well."
The problem comes when the routine starts to fail and the ideas dry up. Some would call it writer’s block, but it is often a lot more complicated.
To kickstart your creativity, whether to overcome writer’s block or just get a project going, you sometimes have to ditch your routine and try something new.
Below is a list of things you can do to be more creative and, in the process, become a better writer. These are all proven to work and are supported by robust scientific studies.
Break Your Routine
Writer Jack Cheng says that “one of the biggest advantages of having routines is what comes out of breaking them.”
If you are looking to boost your creativity, one of the first things to try is doing things differently. This can be a simple as relocating your desk or as drastic as going on a writer’s retreat.
The key is to understand that you will force your brain into new patterns by altering your day-to-day routine, allowing you to see problems from a new angle.
Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology explains that “you want your physical and social surroundings to change. If it’s the same old stuff on the walls and your desk -- and the same people you’re talking to -- that’s not necessarily good for creativity.”
Travel for Inspiration
One well tested and proven way to boost creativity is to travel. The Covid-19 has limited most people’s travel, but even the small changes can have a big impact.
There’s scientific research that provides evidence that travel helps people be more creative.
Columbia Business School Professor Adam Galinsky, has conducted multiple studies into travel and creativity. In one study, he looked at the fashion industry, examining 270 creative directors of fashion and asking journalists and industry experts to rate the creativity and innovation of the products produced by these directors. The study found that the directors that travel the most created the most original products.
This means that if you are looking for a creative boost then a trip might be the answer.
Go for a Walk
Orson Scott Card, loves a good walk.
He is quoted as saying, “Take care of your body. Writing is a sedentary business; it’s easy for many of us to get fat and sluggish. Your brain is attached to the rest of your body. You can’t do your best work when you’re weak or in ill health. It’s worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.”
But don’t take Card’s word for it.
A study, published by the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, consisted of four experiments involving 176 college students and other adults who completed tasks (including walking) and then measured creative thinking.
The vast majority of people demonstrated improved creativity after any type of movement. However, creativity was boosted by up to 60% after walking.
It’s true, playing the computer game Minecraft will boost your creativity.
Over the years, there have been many studies linking gameplay and creativity. It is widely accepted that encouraging children to play games will boost their learning and creativity.
The same is true for adults.
Iowa State University carried out a study that compared the effect of playing Minecraft, with or without instruction, to watching a TV show or playing a race car video game. Those given the freedom to play Minecraft without instruction were most creative.
Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology, who ran the study, felt that simply the act of choosing to play a game made you more creative. He said that "it's not just that Minecraft can help induce creativity. There seems to be something about choosing to do it that also matters."
One way to boost your creativity is to make notes. In other words, create a system to record your ideas when they occur. What matters is that you develop the habit of recording your ideas.
Do this agnostically; you are not trying to define if ideas are good or bad (that’s for later); you just write them down.
Bill Bates says that “it doesn’t matter how you record your notes, as long as you do.”
There’s science to back this up with a 2011 study showing that note-taking significantly improved recall and, most importantly, helped to ‘better identified the relationships between ideas’.
That’s not all. There’s also evidence (https://nesslabs.com/note-taking) to suggest that notetaking helps you better remember ideas and create more ideas that can be used at a later date. There’s also proof that handwriting notes and drawing supportive pictures aid creativity.
It is believed that collecting objects is one way to help improve creativity. These might be objects related to your writing, but it might equally be an unrelated collection.
In short, making a collection of just about anything can provide the intellectual and sensual stimulation necessary to inspire your creativity.
Phycologist Robert Root-Bernstein explains that ‘making a collection-a collection of just about anything can provide the intellectual and sensual stimulation necessary to inspire your personal creativity.’
There’s also lots of anecdotal evidence to support the collection theory, with some of the greatest thinkers being avid collectors. Charles Darwin was obsessed by beetles and created one of the most important collections of British beetles to date. Writer Vladimir Nabokov collected butterflies. Giorgos Seferis (Nobel laureate for Literature) collected seashells, and the artist Joan Miró collected siurells, clay whistles from Mallorca, Spain.
The list goes on.
Set a Deadline
Creating a self-imposed deadline can improve your creativity.
Research from Harvard University looked at the impact of deadlines on the creative process. This project, which looked at twenty-six creative project teams in seven different companies in three industries, discovered that setting a deadline produced more creative results.
However, it is not all good news.
Professor Teresa Amabile from Harvard University, in a different study, discovered that people who worked in creative industries were mot creative and productive when working under deadlines that didn’t feel too short.
In other words, setting a self-imposed deadline will make you more creative, but make sure you feel you have enough time to finish your project.
Read a Book
A 2013 study, published in Creativity Research Journal, demonstrates that reading helps boost creativity.
Researches said about the study that “these findings suggest that reading fictional literature could lead to better procedures of processing information generally, including those of creativity.”
In the study involved one hundred participants were assigned to read either an essay or a short story (out of a set of eight essays and eight short stories matched for length, reading difficulty, and interest). Afterward, their cognitive ability was assessed. The results suggested that reading fictional literature could lead to better processing information procedures.
In laymen’s terms, this study proves that reading fiction makes you more creative. So what are you waiting for, if you want to be a more creative writer get reading!
Be Kind to Yourself
We have already seen that walking can help with creativity, but many studies prove exercise will make you more creative, including this study and these studies.
In addition to exercise, it is also important to sleep well. The link between sleep and creativity is less well established than exercise, but the evidence (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301350667_Sleep_and_creativity_a_literature_review and https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/sleep-creativity-theory/560399/) points towards the idea that getting enough ‘good’ sleep will make you more creative.
There is also growing evidence to support the idea that there is a link between food and creativity. This is a complex area of study but there is already a strong correlation between glucose and how it impacts creativity. This is just the start. There is evidence that Vitamins C, B, and E all help with creativity, as do antioxidants. There is even some evidence that cinnamon can have a positive impact.
The short answer is that eating well, drinking lots of water, exercising, and getting enough sleep will help you become more creative.
Take a Break
It is easy to fall into the mentality that you need to ‘grind’ to become successful. You don’t have to look long on the Internet to find advice that you need to ‘outwork’ the competition.
The reality is that this is poor advice if you want to be creative.
The scientific evidence points strongly towards the fact that taking regular breaks will make you more creative.
A recent Scientific American article puts it clearly when they explain that research shows that ‘downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.’
The way you take breaks is important and one of the most effective ways to relax is a ‘movement break’, with evidence showing that a 5-minute walk every hour will help with creativity.
Author Micheal Taft is adamant that building downtime into your routine is essential. He says that "getting out into nature on the weekends, meditating, putting away our computers now and then—a lot of it is stuff we already know we should probably do. But we have to be a lot more diligent about it. Because it really does matter."
What About the Rest?
In this article, I have (so far) outlined the key ways in which you can boost creativity, that are supported by strong, peer-reviewed scientific evidence.
However, there are many more ways to boost creativity that lack scientific support but have strong circumstantial evidence.
Below is a list of common methods to boost creativity that lacks scientific evidence but do seem to work.