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The Key to Staying Creative

I’ve been so busy writing that I’ve forgotten to take the time to just observe life. I’ve neglected taking walks to soak up my surroundings. Watch people. Find new places. Listen to conversation.

Time to change that.

The Secret Cause of Burnout

I think a hidden, sneaky cause of creative burnout is a lack of life experiences to draw from. Unless you have forty years of observation built up, you must regularly refuel your creativity with observation. Walks. Tours. Trips.

So today I’m on a people-watching excursion, reserved for nothing more than paying attention to the other humans around me. It's like going to the Character Store and browsing through the options. It builds up my understanding of human nature. Plants seeds in my imagination. Hides ideas in my mind that will pop out in later stories.

In the past, I have stressed out to create original characters—while hundreds of them pass by me every day. I’ve ached for creating believable motivation in my characters while there are thousands of people with desires, dreams and deadlines swarming around me.

I don’t have to make up scenarios out of thin air—I can harvest them from real life.

I don’t have to make up scenarios out of thin air—I can harvest them from real life.

I have to remind myself that this truly is productive. Sometimes writing isn't putting words on a page; it's putting words on your heart. Authors who churn out multiple novels a year say that writing is doing anything that feeds your novel: watching a movie to learn story; reading a book to learn voice; taking a walk to clear the mind.

How to People Watch

Today, I’m having fun envisioning the people around me as they were as kids. This helps me get a quick impression of their personality, their background. Questions come to mind, such as: What kind of kid were they? Were they the class clown or the class recluse? What were their dreams as a kid, before life knocked the wind out of their sails? What were they afraid of, what did they love?

When I watch people, I try to see them as if I have known them all their life. I pay attention to their personality—are they an introvert or extrovert? Happy or depressed? Fulfilled or frustrated?

What ways can you take time to watch people? If you’re in school, you can start doing character portraits of the people around you—friends, strangers, teachers, staff. You may never write a character who is a carbon copy of your second period teacher, but she may inspire a different character someday without you realizing it. If you’re a homeschooler, you can watch people while shopping, taking trips, going on walks. If you're working, notice your customers, coworkers, managers—the workplace is one of the best places to get a clear picture of human nature.

One last note: you don’t have to be “casting” your next novel to justify people watching. Just look around and let humanity inspire you, directly or indirectly. You may never write these exact people, but they will inspire your daydreams whether you realize it or not.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be cutting this post a little short as I go back to strolling around malls and shops with no apparent direction at all. If I pass you today and retrieve a palm-sized notebook from my back pocket, relax. I’m not the FBI. I’m just a writer.

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Joshua Sword

I'm twenty-six and work as a livestream producer by day. I'm highly facetious. It's very hard to take me seriously, a fact that I carefully nurture and protect, because I don't want people calling me Mr. Josh and kissing my hand and handing me scotch or whatever they do in the serious world. I like my own world just fine.

Can I send you something?

Are your characters stuck? Download my quick guide, The Character Generator, to create a motivated, conflicted character in five minutes. Or all your money back. (Well, it's free. But you get the idea.)

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