Finding Your Creative Spark Again

My last year of college, I entered into a creative slump.

I recognized that something might be wrong, but I told myself that I was just focusing on school. I would regain my writing mojo when I graduated.

Then I graduated and my creative well was still dry. January rolled around and that year (2018) I made it my goal to finish a new manuscript. But none of my ideas seemed to work anymore. I tried writing for April’s CampNaNoWriMo and every hour was a struggle. I hated everything I typed.

For a few months, I was certain I’d completely lost my spark. Peaked and hit burnout before I could even lay hold of my dream.

Then I suffered a 5-day psychotic break with reality.

[If you need to PRESS PAUSE for a second… Hi! I’m Ally. I have a mental health condition where I have periods of depression and (separately) suffer symptoms of psychosis. Above break was my third (of four) significant psychotic breaks with reality. Yes, I’m taking medication and it seems to be working really well for the most part, thank you for asking.]

It struck like a supernova. Elaborate plotlines and scenarios overtook my conscious, and other worlds collided and cascaded through my mind. It was intense dreaming while I was awake. When I came to lucidity, I had an idea that shaped into a novel.

Now, I cannot stress how much I do not recommend seeking out psychosis to escape a creative slump. 0 out of 10. Terrifying. Drove half-naked. Lost job. Could have died. Awoke in a psyche ward wearing those stupid grippy socks. Don’t do recreational drugs and always remember to take your meds, kids.

But there were lessons I took away from the experience that I think can help others escape a creative slump as well.

First thing to do in order to escape a slump: Know that escape is possible. No matter how long it’s been, you can get out.

Next thing, try one of the items on this list.

1. Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you usually stick to reading, writing, and watching certain genres, branch out and try something different. Cross the lines of medium too.

For instance, if you are a science fiction reader then try a true crime podcast. If you are a fan of romantic comedy films, then try a cozy video game. If you are a writer, attempt watercolor painting. And so on.

You might find that, once you start trying new creative projects and experiencing different forms of art, your creative energy is flowing! It might not be in your original comfort space, but you might be able to take the forward momentum you’ve found back to your comfort-zone projects.

2. Take Five Minutes

Sometimes you can initially feel stuck, but the creative energy just needs a little nudge to get going. So, take a baby step. Tell yourself that you’re going to brainstorm, write, draw, or create for just five minutes.

Maintain focus for just five minutes. Write or create whatever you feel most inclined to create in those five minutes and don’t worry about whether or not it’s good. When your timer goes off, assess how you feel. Do you think you can keep going?

Answer YES? Go for it. Run in that direction for as long as you have momentum.

Answer NO? Don’t panic and don’t despair. This is just one tip of a multitude that you can try! Try the next thing.

3. Explore and Experience

Go beyond your blank page and look for new things to try. Visit an art museum, walk through a botanical garden, take a trip, change your scenery, and meet new people and ask them their stories.

Take notes about your new experience, and then write or draw something afterwards that reflects on that experience. It can be as simple as a journal entry or a sketch of something you saw. Maybe you’ll feel moved to write a poem or create a piece of abstract art.

4. Experiment

Try some exercises that stretch your creative muscles. I have found the vast majority of my writing exercises in What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. They range from writing a story in one-syllable words to taking a line of poetry and using it as the first sentence for a short piece of fiction.

Or you can try some writing prompts like the ones in Short Order as organized by Moria King. Sometimes having a starting point is enough to get your ideas flowing.

This final experiment is something I haven’t tried for myself, but I’ve heard it’s remarkably effective for some people: Try changing the font in whatever manuscript you’re working on. I hear Comic Sans is the popular choice.

5. Dream (At Night and By Day)

Dreaming is a lot like psychosis actually. Your brain moves uninhibited in a thousand different directions and makes connections you might never have thought of in the waking world. Several of my ideas have come to me in dreams.

Here are a few ways you can start unlocking the creative power of your own dreams:

  • Write down your dreams. Even if they feel mundane or uninspiring. Writing down your dreams builds your dream recall muscle and you may remember your more interesting dreams better in the future.
  • Try lucid dreaming. When you are conscious of the fact that you are dreaming, you experience dreams in a new way. Some people experience a certain level of control in their lucid dreams. Personally, when I realize that I am dreaming then I like to explore and just let the dream flow in its own direction. Lucid dreams are sometimes easier to retain when you wake up as well.
  • Do something mundane and daydream. When you’re doing something repetitive or dull, let your mind wander. Sometimes your mind starts to come up with scenarios or ideas just to fill the time.

My Spark is Back, How Do I Keep it?

I think creativity is just like a muscle. It can get stronger if you continue to use it. It can grow numb if you cut off its blood supply. I don’t believe it can ever truly be lost, even though it may feel that way.

So how do you keep a slump from happening again? Simple: Keep doing all the things you did to get it back. Even if it’s back in full-force. This way, you can maintain and push your creative energy to go even further.

These are just five possible ways to help unlock your creative energy again. If you’re still in a creative slump, then try seeking the counsel of other creative people. You will realize that you’re not alone in your feelings, and that many people have been through a slump that they later managed to escape.

You can do this. Happy slump-slaying!

Read my serial sci-fi story The Control only on Mythrill!

Like my content? You can support me through Buy Me a Coffee with single donations and monthly memberships.

Until next time, my glorious herd! Imagine, dream, and believe.

🦄 ❤️AllytheUnicorn❤️ 🦄

10 Activities to Lift a Low Mood (For Writers)

One of the tools in my mental health defense kit, right up next to my Future-Worth-Fighting-For affirmation candle, is something I like to call my low-mood list. This is a list of things that have helped me boost my mood in the past. The idea being that when I’m in a depressive state, I can refer to this list and give myself a mental boost. That list contains items like “Text/Call your sister,” and “Do a workout.”

As a writer, you might have a lot of cause to feel low. Rejection. Bad reviews. Low sales. Being creative is really hard, man. But I’ve become a big believer in the sheer power of changing your mindset.

This list is equipped with writing-flavored mood boosters. For the moments you feel low, try something on this list! If it doesn’t help, try something else. If nothing helps, I still have advice for you.

Get A Writer Goodie that Affirms You

Behold! My many affirming laptop stickers!

Crush imposter syndrome and own your writing identity with a Writer Goodie! What Writer Goodie? Get any kind of Write Goodie your heart desires!

We’ve got mugs, we’ve got t-shirts, we’ve got journals and notebooks!

I got some of my favorite writing stickers from LostinFictionDesigns on Etsy and the Scribbler subscription box. My “Future Bestselling Author” mug came from Books A Million.

(These are not affiliate links and no one has paid me any amount of change to recommend these products, I’m just recommending them cause I love them.)

Whatever Writer Goodie you get, wear it or flaunt it proudly. You earned it just by embarking on this hard journey of writing!

Create an Upbeat Playlist for Your Project

Spotify Playlist for The Control

One of the most beautiful sources of inspiration is a little upbeat music. Creating a playlist for a project is part of the creative process for me, and when I visit the songs and music pieces that make me think about my project, I can often find inspiration on where to go next in the story.

Create a Vision Board for Your Project

This is one I actually hadn’t tried out before I started this blog post, but I see other writers on Twitter and Instagram make these all the time. Similar to the Project Playlist, this is an exercise that helps you think about the visuals of your project and what kind of feel you want your story to have.

Try a Fun Writing Exercise

Dive into your craft and stretch your creative muscles with a fun writing exercise.

Some of my favorite exercises come from What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. Here are some examples:

  1. Write a story using only words that contain one syllable.
  2. Write about the items in your character’s bathroom cabinet.
  3. Write a story using a found line of poetry.
  4. Write a first sentence that begins your story in the middle of the action.
  5. Write a story where a character’s imagination is overtaken by an obsession.

One of these What If exercises directly led to my awarding-winning short story GET AWAY FROM THE WATER. You might be surprised where an exercise can lead you too.

Take a Writing Break

Sometimes, you just need to unplug. If you’re in a negative rut and having a hard time escaping, then it might be time to step away from the keyboard for a little bit.

Take a walk. Watch a movie. Read a book. Put writing on the shelf for a moment and let yourself be present in whatever you’re exploring in the world beyond your imagination.

Revisit Your Sources of Inspiration

As writers we are often inspired by the work of others who wrote before us. If you have a significant source of inspiration: a favorite author, favorite image, favorite film or TV show, or any other source, then revisit that place where you felt inspired and allow it to inspire you again. Sometimes when you’re thinking about the kinds of stories you want to tell, it can lift your spirit thinking about how your story could one day produce the same spirit of inspiration in others.

Make a Small Writing Goal (And Crush That Goal!)

Lack of progress got you down? Make a small goal. It can be something as simple as telling yourself to just write for 5 minutes or just write 100 words.

Then give yourself the dopamine hit of making it happen. Even better, sometimes all it takes to get really moving is just a little bit of forward momentum. That five minutes could turn into fifty-five minutes, and those first 100 words could easily become 1,000.

Organize or Design Your Writing Space

My writing desk back at my old apartment.

If you have an office space where you do most of your writing, then it might give you a quick mood boost to spend some time getting that space in order.

Back when I had a desk space in my apartment, I took great delight in decorating and daydreaming about making my space as magical as possible. It brings me great joy to put up pictures of loved ones and cover available space with happy knick-knacks and other goodies.

If you have a space already, spend some time tidying it up or organizing it so that it feels inviting and inspiring.

Read Back Over Something You’re Proud You Wrote

Sometimes, you can read back over something you wrote and feel a burst of awe. Did you really write that? That’s pretty darn good, if you do say so yourself.

When I’m feeling low and not as proud of my writing as I’d like to be, I revisit projects that I’m really happy with like GET AWAY FROM THE WATER, CREEPER, and even my old Sims 3 story. (Dare I link this? Eh, sure.) I feel a little glow of happiness knowing that I was the one who brought those words into being.

Celebrate Your Writing Victories

Count no victory too small. When I’m feeling low, I like to remind myself of the things that I have accomplished in the writing world.

I’ve had two short stories published by eleven40seven, and one of them won an award. I won third place in SciCom’s Science Meets Fiction Contest. My why-not pitch to Mythrill got The Control published on their platform. I finished NaNoWriMo after an 11-challenge losing streak in 2022. I’ve cut out and saved fun comments from my writing critique group.

Did you make a certain word count? Hear a bit of praise from a beta reader? Make a sale? File it away in your victory box and remind yourself of it when you feel low.

When Nothing Helps- I Still Have Advice

I’ve had days where I’ve tried everything on my low-mood list and absolutely nothing seemed to make any kind of impact. If that’s happening for you, don’t give in to despair just yet. Some of my emergency mood-boosters include intense exercise and a sharp temperature change (usually in the form of a cold shower or dunking my face in ice water). You can also aim to distract yourself with a fun video or a call to a good, caring friend. The idea is to interrupt the negative thought patterns long enough to start thinking truth again.

No matter what, remember that whatever low you’re feeling can pass. It hurts to think optimistically sometimes, but it really can make a difference if you let it.

I hope this low-mood list designed just for writers has helped lift your spirits for the afternoon. Keep writing and keep dreaming big!

Read my serial sci-fi story The Control only on Mythrill!

Like my content? You can support me through Buy Me a Coffee with single donations and monthly memberships.

Until next time, my glorious herd! Imagine, dream, and believe.

🦄 ❤️AllytheUnicorn❤️ 🦄

World Suicide Prevention Day

It’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and today in particular is World Suicide Prevention Day.

If you or someone you love is facing a mental health crisis, you can now reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in the US by dialing or texting 988.

Mental Health is a subject near and dear to my heart. Long before I suffered my first psychotic break with reality, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I’d been in emotional turmoil for almost a year before my official diagnosis.

I understand the suicidal mindset all too well. I have made two attempts to take my life.

Recently, I was reading about Vincent Van Gough and a theory that he didn’t die by suicide caught my attention. One of the pieces of evidence against his suicide was his hopeful demeanor in letters prior to his death. I’ve heard similar things said of other public figures who died by suicide. They couldn’t have killed themselves, because they appeared happy or they were making plans for the future.

Mental Health Can Be a Tug-of-War

I’ve been in periods of darkness that seemed without end. But I’ve also been in spaces where I’ve felt Hope and Hopelessness battling inside of me. Depression can sometimes feel like a Tug-of-War. If your loved one is battling severe depression and suicidal ideation, it’s important for you to understand that while periods of hope are a good sign, they are not the end of the battle.

I have to admit, I don’t really know when the battle ends. Maybe never.

There was a point in time where I felt like it was inevitable that one day I would lose. But right now? That inevitability doesn’t feel so certain anymore. I’ll take that as a good sign.

Right Now, as Long as I’m Fighting, I’m Winning

I know from experience that when you’re suicidal, you don’t necessarily need an inspiring speech. Sometimes you just need someone to sit with you and hold you while you cry for an hour. Sometimes you just need one reason to keep going for the next hour. Something as simple as petting your furry friend or calling a family member can stave off the darkness for a little while.

I consider each new day a victory. I look at the little candle on my bulletin board and I choose Hope for today.

I’m not a doctor or a counselor, but I am someone who feels like I’m surviving the darkness. If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, know that there are people who care and who want to help you. Sometimes, that’s all you need. ❤️

Read my serial sci-fi story The Control only on Mythrill!

Like my content? You can support me through Buy Me a Coffee with single donations and monthly memberships.

Until next time, my glorious herd! Imagine, dream, and believe.

🦄 ❤️AllytheUnicorn❤️ 🦄

In Defense of Hope: The Little Candle on my Bulletin Board

In 2012 during outpatient care for my first major depressive episode, I drew a little design to put on my bulletin board:

A candle with my new mantra on it.

A close up of a burning candle wick with the words: “You DO have a FUTURE and it is WORTH FIGHTING FOR.”

During those months in outpatient care, I imagined hope as a tiny little flame against a sea of infinite darkness. It felt too small, too weak, and too fragile to survive. But still it burned. Still, I repeated my new mantra to myself and carried forward.

There have been points I have wanted to rip that little candle down. There have been days I have looked at my candle and with tears in my eyes have said to myself, “No, THIS was not worth fighting for. THIS has not been worth the pain and the hardship that I have endured. THIS is not enough.”

Then there are moments where I feel that flicker of joy and realize that THIS, my life, my dreams, the future after my first attempt to take my life, has been worth embracing.

It has not been easy. But I think I knew that when I first wrote my new mantra. FIGHTING is not easy. Having HOPE is HARD.

But I count every blessing and celebrate every victory.