10 Ways to Spark Creative Connections

I shared yesterday that my writing coach challenged me to use the intuitive side of my mind for my first approach to problem-solving during the month of March, and how doing so has been challenging, educational, and surprisingly beneficial.

h.koppdelaney-3 Photo Credit

One unexpected benefit came by what I like to call the “red car” effect—the tendency to notice red cars (or anything else) the second you start thinking about them. By keeping the idea of intuition/right brain thinking top of my mind for the past month, I began to notice it more often. By noticing when my intuition was engaged, I was better able to take advantage of the insights it offered.

I also started to notice some of the approaches that helped me to engage the more intuitive side of my mind when writing, and thought I’d share them with you. Hope these are helpful!

Ways to Access the Unexpected
  1. h.koppdelaney-4The first step: Don’t settle for your first idea. When plotting a book or drafting a scene, often the first idea that pops into your head is the most obvious—which means it may be the first idea to pop into your reader’s mind as well. Although you don’t want to take this concept to the extreme (sometimes the bell ringing at the end of the school day really does mean that class is dismissed), simply asking yourself to consider options is a great way to spark a story insight.
  2. Fish from a word pool. Next time you feel stuck, pull a handful of random phrases from a “word pool”, a collection of evocative words and phrases that may trigger a creative leap.*
  3. Engage your artistic side.Kick off a writing session with a five minute freewrite inspired by an image. You can relate it to your work in progress or not—the point of this exercise is that it engages the intuitive part of your mind, priming it to help you out in your writing. Here are a few sources for amazing imagery to get you started.*
  4. Craft a collage. This is a great exercise to do at the start of a project. Choose images that speak to you even if you don’t know why; arrange and rearrange; and don’t limit yourself to pictures, but consider adding fabric, stickers, pieces of tissue paper, feathers, plastic “jewels”—whatever catches your fancy and feels right.
  5. Indulge your senses (mindfully). Did you know that the sense of smell provides the most powerful link to memory of any of the senses? This phenomena, known as the Proust effect, can trigger memories and emotions to inspire your writing. Take a field trip to your local candle store, farmer’s market, botanical garden, or farm and sample smells for a direct connection to those nonverbal synapses.
  6. Visit a dictionary of dream symbols. Dream symbols are remarkably conserved across cultures and through history, which is why paging through a listing of dream symbols may bring up an image that resonates with the character or scene you’re working on. Revisiting your own dreams or exploring others’ can also evoke emotion or mood and help you access your writing in a more intuitive way.
  7. Dream from a character’s point of view. Approach this as a waking dream: freewrite using images your character might imagine, without trying to make sense. Consider warming up by writing out a dream you’ve actually had, to get the feel of how dreams progress, unconstrained by the normal rules of time and space. Need inspiration? Check out that dream dictionary in #5.
  8. Unexpected_by_kiyomisaAsk questions. Collect a list of questions that might normally be used for character generation or as writing prompts, and scan through them until you find one that speaks to you. (Yep, I’m all about those touchy-feely intuition words in this post…) Write to it and see where it takes you.
  9. Distract yourself. We’ve talked about this before, but it bears another mention. After you’ve gone as far as you can using your analytical, logical approach, distract yourself with an activity that is repetitive and relaxing. Take a walk, take a shower, work on a puzzle, do yoga, meditate. In his book Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer reports that alpha waves are essential for creative insights. What generates those alpha waves? Relaxation. If you’re stressed and tense, you ain’t gonna make any great creative connections.
  10. Read something completely unrelated. Are you writing fantasy? Read some science news. Working on contemporary young adult fiction? Detour into a biography or how-to article. In Imagine (yes, I LOVE this book), Lehrer has a wonderful example of scientists doing research on creativity and insights. They gave their test subjects a difficult puzzle that could only be solved by intuition—an “ah-ha!” moment. The researchers found that they could increase the likelihood that test subjects could solve a particularly tricky puzzle by exposing them to a seemingly unrelated story. (I’d share more details, but I can’t find the darned spot in the book!) The point, though, is that when you take a break from one problem and explore other areas of the world, you leave room for your mind to draw parallels and construct solutions you wouldn’t be able to reach by logic alone.

* Huge thanks to Laura Deal for these fantastic ideas! Laura is an expert in accessing the intuitive side of the brain, both as a writer and as a certified dreamworker. In keeping with the theme of intuition and creativity, this Friday we’ll be hearing more from her on how dreams can inspire and inform the creative process.

Your turn: Do you have a story of creative insight to share? What prompted your “ah-ha!” moment?

The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know - www.cherylreif.com

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


  1. says

    Writing around an image? That is something I should try out. But will I do it today?

  2. says

    I seem to have most of my ahas when I go for a walk. I write them down when I get home. Later, they may or may not seem all that brilliant, but reading this made me think that maybe I should do something to activate my intuition before I look through my ideas. Maybe if I get back into the same state of mind as when they came to me, I’ll be better able to see their potential and take them further.

    Great post, Cheryl!

    • says

      That makes a lot of sense. I get many of my ah-ha moments when walking, too–especially if I’m walking someplace beautiful and quiet :). Yesterday I discovered that I also get ah-ha moments in the wake of “random creativity”. I spent 2 hours doing writing exercises, and when I was finally still that night I couldn’t sleep because I had too many ideas in my head 😛

  3. says

    I was just going to say what Sue commented above–I get some great ideas when I’m out for a walk. Not necessarily NEW ideas, but I can work through my plot problems while walking with my dog. Unfortunately, the best way for me to do this is to talk it out, so it looks like I’m talking to my dog (or myself!) for 2 miles, but that’s okay. It’s what I need to do.

    I also find some great inspiration from looking at photos/art, like you mentioned above. The tricky part for me is to limit my surfing time or else I’ll spend an hour on Pintrest and have nothing written!

    • says

      Ha! Yes, limiting time online is a biggie. I’m posting a poll about that tomorrow, in fact. I don’t understand how some of my online friends manage to keep up their fantastic blogs, comment on others’ posts, stay active on Twitter, engage on Google-Plus, and so on, and still get any other writing done!

      I’ve also found that a dose of right-brain inspiration can go a long way. If I spend too much time harvesting insights, I don’t have enough time to do anything with them. A good problem to have, I suppose!

  4. says

    Thanks, Cheryl! I’m delighted that you’ve found inspiration through our writing play! I always find I get totally new ideas when I work with word pools, but if I’m deep in a work-in-progress then walking is the best thing.

    • says

      Hi Laura. I find it so fascinating that a few hours of completely unrelated creative work can leave me so incredibly energized for writing. Now I just need to find the time to implement all those great ideas….

  5. says

    How do you make your word pool? Add to it every time you think of a word or phrase you like? Pick from somewhere?

  6. says

    Hi Susanna, I’m so glad you asked, because I actually started to create a resource “word pool” document and got sidetracked with other projects. I’ll finish that up and post later this week.

    You create a word pool by scanning articles, advertisements, websites, books, and other written material for words that strike your fancy in some way. They can be common or uncommon, poetic or plain. I think the best ones are those that simply catch your eye for whatever reason–words with emotional connotations, or words you’ve never seen before or never used in that particular way.

    For the exercise I did in Laura’s workshop, I picked these words (at random):

    intellectual enthusiasm
    several bodies
    prodigious talent
    coral pink

    In that particular exercise, the challenge was to create a poem using each word or phrase as the end of a line. I ended up with something I liked quite a bit, although that’s not the point. The point is to get your brain thinking in different ways.

  7. says

    Nice list, maybe I could use those ideas to help me write more blog posts. Also, I have found that distracting yourself, or just getting away from the computer, is a big help in releasing creativity.