5 Habits That Make Me a More Creative Blogger (and Writer)

Sometimes people ask me where I come up with my ideas— as a writer, as a blogger, as a content marketing specialist. If I am in a playful mood, I tell them about my ‘special fairy.’ But most times, I say that I practice thinking like a child.

And, know what? There is no creativity gene.

I taught first graders for several years. One thing I learned is that we all have it, this creativity thing. These kids came to school ready to explore, to try new things. And they were not afraid to fail.

Why? Because they didn’t know what failure looked like.

What is creativity, anyway?

Creativity is an ability. It’s the ability to try something new. If you are not a first grader anymore, the creative abilities you once had have slowly dissolved over the years. Sometimes school, the very institution that should nurture and grow our creativity, beats it out of us instead.

Creativity is an attitude. It’s being willing to accept change, to play with ideas. And it’s being willing to fail. Thomas Edison, in his search for the perfect filament for the incandescent lamp, tried 1,800 experiments, even down to whiskers from a friend’s beard,  before he found a solution. After 1,000 failed attempts, someone asked, “Don’t you get frustrated?” He said, “No, because I am learning so much. I now know 1,000 things that don’t work.”

Creativity is a habit. Creativity is a muscle. When I started teaching intellectually gifted students, it became crystal clear. By third grade, those open, spontaneous first graders were gone. Their creativity muscles had gotten lazy. But, just like stopping yoga, bicycling or walking, as soon as they started using it again, it came back—even stronger than it was.

5 Habits That Make Me a More Creative Blogger

1. I play.

“To stimulate creativity, one must develop a childlike inclination for play…” – Albert Einstein

“If you want creative workers, give them time to play.” – John Cleese

Funny how two brilliant people—Einstein and Cleese—are saying the same thing. Doing things just for the fun of it is the best way to free up your mind for all those percolating ideas. A creative guy I met on twitter, who calls himself a Business Awesomizer, believes so much in the value of play that he offers a full day of it to give people open highway momentum for their key projects.

And if you are budget-challenged, just picking up Julia Cameron’s excellent book, The Artist’s Way, with its ‘artist’s play dates’ will jump start your creativity in amazing ways.

2. I pretend.

The best blog posts have a way of getting into the reader’s head. If you can understand multiple perspectives, you can get creative with the stories you write or tell on your blog. Not only will you have an original blogging voice, but the people in your stories will have something unique to say, too.

Bob and I play a game where we turn the sound off a movie and voice new lines for the characters. He takes one character in a scene and I take the other. It’s a little like those contests where scenes are passed from one writer to another and the plot changes constantly. In addition to being good for laughing yourself sick in a short period of time, this game helps you build on an existing idea and change/add to it quickly. Again, good practice for the brain when it comes to generating ideas for your posts.

3. I compare.

This creative thinking skill may be summed up with, “This thing is like this other thing.” When asked to define infinity, a student said, “It’s like the man on the Quaker Oats box.” If you recall (and maybe you don’t), the Quaker Oats box used to show a picture of a man holding a Quaker Oats box, and on that box is a box of a man holding a Quaker Oats box. It appeared that it would go on forever and so this student compared it to infinity.

Analogies and metaphors can be very useful to compare one thing to another in a fresh, new way. For instance, comparing your blog’s readers to players and spectators in a game. Or  using the metaphor of house for your blog.

4. I invent. 

The best bloggers I know have an incredible ability to put a new spin on an old idea. But did you know that you can train your mind to get better at doing this? When my daughter was acting in L.A., she was a member of The Red-Headed Stepchild, an improv troupe. It was make-it-up-as-you-go-along fast, funny and smart. And they got very good at inventing.

The TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? was based on the same idea. For example, in the timed exercise called Props, the actors passed one prop back and forth and each time they had to invent a new use for it. Bob and I play this game at garage sales (okay, sometimes we get some strange looks). It works especially well when there are a lot of automotive tools and parts because I know nothing about them, so I don’t have any pre-conceived ideas. This exercise will help you get good at looking at things from a different angle and finding the new in the old. And those skills will transfer to your writing.

5. I copy.

Okay, before you tell me it’s not nice to steal, hear me out. If in work or school, you ever practiced brainstorming (Remember? There are no good or bad ideas—just ideas.), then you might be familiar with a term called ‘piggybacking.’ It’s one of the best ways to take an existing idea and make something new from it. We know that in brainstorming, usually the first idea is not the best. But with a little thought, an article or blog post you read can be added to, changed, and spinned into a post or piece of writing with your thoughts, your unique voice.

Because no one can write it in precisely the same way you can.

So don’t be afraid to be a ‘copycat blogger.’

Does play bring out your creativity?

What do you do for fun?

Make sure you don’t miss a post.

49 Comments

  1. Lori Gosselin May 22, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    Hi Judy,
    There are some great ideas here! You sum it up, I believe, with this statement: “Because no one can write it in precisely the same way you can.” Do you ever notice how certain themes go around yet, as you say, everyone has a different take on it.
    My blog is about life and I find when I strain to find ideas, or look for conversation-starting posts, I don’t do as well as when I just look into my own life, my thoughts and questions, and share that in a post. What I find interesting is when my life imitates my blog rather than the other way around. Sometimes the topic of my blog seeps into my life – yikes! That makes me all the more determined to keep it uplifting and avoid depressing topics LOL
    Lori

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 6:31 am #

      Lori,

      Good to see you. And thanks for tweeting about this post. I read your blog regularly but haven’t left a comment in a while. I’ll have to fix that. I know exactly what you are saying about certain topics hitting blogs at the same time. Sometimes I fear the blogger will think I copied her, but then, when I look at my post, it always, as you say, has a “different take” on the subject.

      You are a master of the looking at your own life for blogging ideas thing. And life imitating blog? I love that!

      Reply

      • Lori Gosselin May 22, 2012 at 7:23 am #

        LOL, Judy you may have given me (us?!) a new blog post idea – life imitating blog! Seriously, though!It happens! On the weekend a guest blogged about what makes for a perfect day and I had both my kids home and had 2 perfect days with them! It really gives me pause!
        🙂
        Lori

        Reply

        • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 8:32 am #

          That’s a fascinating topic, Lori. Look forward to seeing where you go with it. And, yes, it’s amazing how the truths in a blog post can manifest themselves in our lives. : )

          Reply

  2. Linda May 22, 2012 at 5:14 am #

    Good afternoon Judy!

    Me – I steal, steal, then steal a bit more!
    But always from different sources and then come up with a way of tying them together to make what is – hopefully – a unique and interesting post.

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 6:33 am #

      Hey Linda,

      Absolutely nothing wrong with getting inspiration from other blogs. Because even of we tried, we wouldn’t have the same take, the same voice. And no one has led the exact same life we have, so we have personal experiences to bring to the topic, too.

      Reply

  3. Michael May 22, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    Hey Judy,
    Great post! I love the sentence “Sometimes school, the very institution that should nurture and grow our creativity, beats it out of us instead.”It’s a shame that we place so much faith in an educational system structured to stifle creativity. In my opinion, the only thing schools do is provide training for future obedient employees.

    I like to ask questions of things I’m curious about in order to tap into my creative side which gets me into “the fun zone”. Things like, what would a pepper shaker say to the salt shaker if they wanted to plan an escape off the table? Or, How does a Doomsday Prepper go to the bathroom in their shelters? Did they plan on a septic system or do they use the waste to grow food?

    I love all of your creative habit suggestions but I think I’d change #5 to: Enhance an existing idea.

    Cheers!
    Michael

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 6:41 am #

      Michael,

      I don’t know if the U.S. education system has changed since I left (I rather think not with their emphasis on passing the standardized tests), but I was astounded that the teaching curriculum didn’t include critical and creative thinking skills until I left the regular classroom and began teaching gifted kids. Very sad because, of course, ALL kids should be critical and creative thinkers.

      You sound like me, inventing games that make you think in different ways. It’s that curiosity that says, “I wonder what would happen if…”

      On #5, I wasn’t going for the literal with “copy,” but then sarcasm is hard to pull off in writing. : ) You are right. Taking an idea and making it better (with your own spin on it) is exactly what I had in mind. Now, wanna go to a garage sale with me and play “Props”?

      Reply

  4. Michael May 22, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    I love garage sales! There’s stories in them there things. 🙂 I like flea markets too. It’s an incredible place to witness what kinds of junk people are willing to sell.

    I kid you not but I went to a flea market where a man was selling refurbished vibrators. Yes I said refurbished vibrators. For what ever reason, they stopped working. He would take them apart and install new motors in them.

    As you can imagine, when I saw this, the thud of my jaw crashing to the floor could have been measured by a Richter Scale.

    I think he was following and implementing #4, #5 on your list and then a #1 to see if they could sell.
    How’s that for being creative? lol

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 8:35 am #

      My kind of guy you are, Michael. That vibrator story is hilarious. And “refurbished” vibrators? Haha. Thanks for giving me my belly laugh for the day.

      Reply

  5. Patricia Yager Delagrange May 22, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Great ideas for writing new stories. Thank you, I really enjoyed this post, especially the idea of turning off the television and making up your own lines!
    Patti

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      Patricia,

      Bob and I found it works best with old black-and-white movies from the 40s but, really, any movie will do. The older ones were just full of so much more drama, though. Be prepared to laugh until your stomach aches. : )

      Reply

  6. Samar May 22, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Great post Judy! I first learned about piggybacking from Neil Patel. In one of his newsletters or blog posts – I forget which, he said (and I’m paraphrasing) forget trying to come up with original ideas. Open up an Excel sheet, write down the last 20-30 posts of some of the popular blogs in your niche and just… compare them. You’re guaranteed to find ideas of your own. Needless to say, he was right just as you are Judy 🙂

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 8:40 am #

      Your guy is right about that. I have even found a single sentence in someone else’s post and built an entirely new post from it. It’s amazing because the more you do it (piggybacking), the easier it gets. I used this so much in my teaching days that it became second nature. Thanks for giving us another resource. : )

      Reply

  7. Jack May 22, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Hi Judy,

    We all have different voices so I rarely worry about whether someone writes about the same topic as I do. Time and Newseek do it each week and people still read them.

    That is because our voice works for some and not for others.

    I am a big fan of playing and pretending. If we can turn off the inner critic inside and just write good things come from it.

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      Hey Jack,

      Definitely, voice is the key. And, in my humble opinion, it’s the thing that sets us apart from every other blogger. I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately to get a sense of the genre as I write my own and I can pick up on the voice-or-no-voice thing by the end of page one.

      I enjoy your blog very much and I can say that you have the voice thing down. : )

      Reply

      • Jack May 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

        Thank you. Voice is fun. I try to mix it up sometimes but I have found it challenging, sort of similar to writing with my left hand instead of my right.

        Reply

        • Judy Dunn May 23, 2012 at 6:36 am #

          Are you saying that you don’t always write with the same voice? When I read your stuff it sounds pretty consistent to me. And I love the way you sprinkle in humor.

          I tried on different voices when I was trying to claim mine, but now it comes so naturally that it’s almost effortless to me. : )

          Reply

          • Jack May 23, 2012 at 10:43 am #

            Hi Judy,

            My voice is distinct and like you I don’t have to try to present it because it has become a part of me.

            However I sometimes enjoy trying to mix things up and write with a different voice. I think it is useful and that it serves me well as a writer.

            Haven’t done it all that often, but I do try.

            Reply

        • Judy Dunn May 24, 2012 at 6:51 am #

          Well now.You bring up an interesting point. I have heard that if you are writing longhand and switch hand (use the left if you are right-handed and vice versa), it makes you use the non-dominant side of the brain as well as the dominant, thus activating both hemispheres, resulting in more divergent thinking. I haven’t tried that, except for a month last summer when I broke my wrist, but I don;t think it helped much then because my mind was fuzzied by painkillers. : )

          Reply

  8. Kari Scare May 22, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    In September, I am giving a lunch & learn talk to a group of business women about creativity. Your thoughts here fit perfectly with the points I want to get across to them. It is helpful reading this because I was struggling putting my thoughts on creativity into words up to this point. Thanks for the confirmation of ideas to get me going and also adding to what I was thinking. Glad you advocate copying!

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

      Synchronicity! I love it when that happens. Now you have more ideas to mull over and leave marinating in the brain. Sounds like that will be a very interesting talk.

      Haha. Hope the “copy” isn’t taken out of context. Wouldn’t want people to think that I approve of theft. : )

      Reply

      • Kari Scare May 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

        I love to collect ideas on a topic, to fill my mind up with it, and then see what comes to the surface when I go to craft a writing or teaching or presentation. That’s really how “copying” shows up in my work.

        Reply

        • Judy Dunn May 23, 2012 at 6:53 am #

          You are a lot like me. And reading is a great way to do that. I love to keep files on different topics and then go in for a refresher when I am writing on that subject. It just seems to jump start my thinking.

          Reply

          • Kari Scare May 23, 2012 at 7:49 am #

            I have noticed that the less I read and “collect” ideas, the more difficult writing becomes. Likewise, as I read often and consistently, writing almost seems easy. Not only is it a jumpstart, but it’s the fuel too.

            Reply

  9. Andrea T.H.W. May 22, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    Very interesting Judy, for me Creativity is being able to see things differently and/or finding lateral ways to solve a problem or reach a certain point. A “common” person sees one way, usually what’s been taught, to get to a certain point, a “creative” tens and hopefully choses the best one.

    One point on Edison, he was a creative but Nikola Tesla was the genius who discovered so many things on energy and electricity that most of his discoveries are still secreted and not available to the general public. 🙂

    Reply

    • Judy Dunn May 23, 2012 at 6:46 am #

      Andres,

      I love your description, “lateral ways to solve a problem.” I watched Jane Lynch of TV’s Glee deliver the commencement address at the Smith College graduation this last weekend (my daughter is a junior there and a theatre arts major). She talked a little about her beginning years in acting (when she was an unknown). She talked about “Yes…and,” one of the premises of improv. Actors take the line that came right before and add to it and/or change direction and they still have to make sense in terms of what the previous line was. It’s an amazing exercise in creativity. My daughter had just finished an improv class spring term and so it was very meaningful to her. That, I think, certainly has some lateral thinking.

      I love the way you educate me. Tesla is a good example. I know I always have you to keep me on the right track. : )

      Reply

  10. Loren May 24, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    I do the pretending when writing a lot and I find it a good strategy. It expands your horizon especially in creative writing.

    Reply

  11. Judy Dunn May 24, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Loren,

    “Pretending” is one of the best activities on this list! Thanks for sharing here.

    Reply

  12. JudyDunn May 25, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    Testing the system here. I just installed livefyre and am leaving my first comment. 

    Reply

  13. Craig McBreen May 25, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    Hi Judy,
     
    I recently read Jonah Lehrer’s book “Imagine” and this post reminds me of what he wrote regarding the “Fourth Grade Slump.” Described as the time so many kids completely lose interest. Creativity suffers because they are now aware that they might slip up. You know? Do something wrong, even thought there is absolutely nothing wrong, they just become self-conscious.
     
    We are so conditioned by society and school, so have to learn to become carefree kids again 😉

    Reply

    • JudyDunn May 25, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      [email protected] McBreen Hey, Craig. You have the distinct honor of being me very first comment since I switched back to livefyre. Don’t you feel special?   : )
       
      I think, as a former educator, that the schools are making a critical mistake by not teaching creative and divergent thinking. Only when I started working with kids in a program for gifted students did we get to spend time nurturing those skills. In our society and the 21st century workplace, we can’t afford to limit ourselves by looking for one answer, THE solution to a problem. When these kids were given the freedom to think, without being judged, they came up with amazing things. Lehrer’s book sounds like an interesting one. 

      Reply

      • Craig McBreen May 25, 2012 at 11:28 am #

        [email protected] I get a prize? 😉
         
        I agree with you and this is how I feel about it: http://spinsucks.com/entrepreneur/are-schools-killing-creativity/

        Reply

        • JudyDunn May 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

          [email protected] McBreen Your prize is my calling you “special.”  : )
           
          I’ll definitely go in and take a read. Thanks for the link. Having been a school principal, too (disclaimer: It was the mid-90s, so things might have changed), it became obvious that the state department of education, the pubic and the federal “No Child Left Behind” law were only interested in numerical scores. A lot got left behind, including arts and the humanities (how can we learn what it means to be human in a society without them? How can we develop empathy and nurture our souls without them?). A child is not a number! 

          Reply

  14. annedreshfield May 25, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Hi Judy, welcome back to Livefyre! I love your list here, and as a writer, I’ve done all of the above. Sometimes my creativity just needs a kick in the pants, and I can’t let it fall by the wayside. I’ve found that when I abandon my creative works for academic papers and homework, it’s often even harder to get back into it. This was a good reminder that I should try and write creatively every day, even if it’s only for a little while. 

    Reply

    • JudyDunn May 25, 2012 at 9:56 am #

      [email protected] to be back, Anne. I love exploring the stuff around creativity. I love that topic deeply.
       
      Jeremy went so above and beyond the call with me yesterday. bobwp interviewed him for a video I’ll be putting on my site, with screen shots of the features and a how-to-comment for new users. Very helpful. We told Jeremy that we’ll be in San Francisco August 4-5 for WordCamp. We were going to pop into your offices but it’s a weekend. : (

      Reply

      • bobWP May 25, 2012 at 10:23 am #

        [email protected]@annedreshfield Yeah,, looking forward to getting that video up on her site… and I might even snag it for mine after a bit : ) Yeah, too bad we are there on the weekend, but I’m sure you’ll have a representative at WCSF to say high to : )

        Reply

        • annedreshfield May 25, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

          [email protected]@JudyDunn Can’t wait to see the video! Jeremy’s awesome, that’s for sure. Hopefully we can see you when you’re in town! 

          Reply

  15. Ashley_E_Prince May 28, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    I am a new follower and I am absolutely loving this blog. 
     
    These are come really interesting habits and I can see how they would spark creativity. I particularly love the pretend one where you make up your own lines. I think I might try that one day. 

    Reply

    • JudyDunn May 29, 2012 at 7:04 am #

      [email protected]_E_Prince Welcome to the Cat’s Eye community. #2 is both fun and inspiring. My problem is that since we pulled the plug on cable TV, I don’t have as many movies to watch. We purchase them to watch on our flat screen but if you’ve seen a movie dozens of times, it gets harder to get the real lines of dialogue out of your head.   : )

      Reply

  16. AdamBritten June 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    I applaud you for advocating for pretending and playing. Some are quick to dismiss these as “childish” or “immature,” but they can be quite helpful, especially for writers.

    Reply

    • JudyDunn June 10, 2012 at 7:11 am #

      [email protected], childish. But that is something I hope I always will be.   :  )  Because that is the sign of a truly open and creative mind.
       
      I always thought it would be fun to get a bunch of writers in the same room and do some of this stuff. 
       
       

      Reply

  17. JudyDunn July 31, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    [email protected] to people like you and some of my other readers, I am learning more about Tesla. And your point is true. We couldn’t copy others if we tried (unless, that is, we cut and pasted their post or article and reproduced it word for word). Because, yes, each of us has our own unique style. Thanks for sharing these important points.

    Reply

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