Choreograph a Happy Dance

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and play your way into creative discoveries. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

No one can stay in a funk when they turn on a happy song and dance. When you need a creative kick-start or have a happiness SOS moment, you don’t want to have to come up with a solution on the spot. Preparation is key! That’s why taking some time to choreograph your own happy dance is such an excellent creativity-boosting strategy.

When you’re designing your dance, you’ll have a blast of fresh energy that comes from thinking with a different part of your mind. Chances are, choreography isn’t one of your daily tasks, so the process will feel novel and will likely remind you of being a kid. After you’ve designed your dance, you will have a solution in your back pocket anytime you feel your energy lagging.

Try This:

  1. Choose a favorite song.
  2. Clear some space to move.
  3. Turn on your song. Experiment with different steps as you listen.
  4. Go through the song piece by piece, adding movement. Simple movement is perfectly fine. Remember, this is a happy dance! You’re supposed to have fun with it.


  • Big movement tends to be more fun than small movement.
  • Repeat patterns to keep things simple.
  • Listen to the words for inspiration. Many words or phrases provide excellent ideas for simple gestures.
  • If you have kids, make your dance together! Your happy dance can be a gloom-buster for the whole family.


Change Up Your Route

Visit the Writerly Play Attic to collect experiences and sensory detail to bring your creative work to life. Never heard of the WP Attic? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.


As many as 45% of our daily choices are driven by habit. What does this mean when it comes to developing characters?
  1. We need to know what they do every day.
  2. We need to know what circumstances might alter their routine.
  3. We need to know what impact “waking up” might have on their personality.

It’s easy to assign habits to characters unthinkingly.

Without intending to, we give our characters actions, thoughts or habits that actually are our own. What do you pay attention to when you go for a walk? Do you notice every leaf blower, and find detours to avoid them because the dust makes you sneeze?  Do you cross the street to say hello to every dog you see because you simply can’t resist?
You might find that these same habits show up in your characters. That’s okay, of course. Every character a writer creates is somehow woven out of his or her experience. However, sometimes we let these assumptions slip through unchecked. Or worse, we might create characters who walk in their neighborhoods without noticing anything at all. We’re so busy driving toward our next plot point that we allow our characters to be bland. They don’t have little quirks or pet peeves. They’re too busy saving the world to have a favorite snack or secret obsession, such as perfecting their cartwheel.
The best way to shake up our thinking is to start paying attention to our own habits. When we see the many small choices we make every day without even noticing, we can start to think about how our characters might choose differently.

Try This: Change up your Route

Is there somewhere you go weekly, or even daily? What if you took a different route? The fresh scenery might help you to notice what captures your attention. What do you see, smell, and hear? Take the time to notice, and as you do, also consider your character. Would he or she notice the same things? Something different? Would his or her reaction resemble yours, or would he or she feel differently than you feel about leaf blowers or dogs?
Try it out and then come on back and share what you notice. I’d love to hear how this strategy works for you. You can also connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.


Your Character’s Birthday Wish

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and play around the edges of your work to get to know your character. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

Whether you love your birthday or hate your birthday, it’s a day that celebrates you! That’s why it’s such an excellent opportunity to get to know a character. 

This month, I posted over at Smack Dab in the Middle on using birthdays as a character development tool. Check out the post here.

Or, if you want the cliff-notes edition, here’s a list of birthday-related questions to help you explore unexpected corners of your character’s personality.

On your character’s birthday:

1. What does she love to do?
2. Who does he spend time with? Does he prefer large groups or small ones?
3. Do her friends make her gifts, or are the gifts store-bought?
4. What do the gifts given reveal about him?
5. What does the reaction to the gifts reveal about her?
6. How does he change from birthday to birthday? What remains the same?
7. Does she plan her own birthday? If not, who plans the day? Is this what she would choose, were it up to her?
8. How does he feel about people singing happy birthday, or not?
9. What surprises come up on her birthday?
10. Which birthdays are most meaningful to him?

How do you use birthdays in your writing? Do you have favorite literary birthdays? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter

The Shape of Words on a Page

Visit the Writerly Play Workshop and build your revision skill set. Never heard of the WP Workshop? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

the shape of words on a page

Word after word on a page can easily lull our minds into numbness.

But when we see


after word

on a page

suddenly we see


A few summers ago, I took a revision workshop with Linda Sue Park. What an incredible experience! One of Linda’s strategies has become a standard part of my writing practice. She asked us to take a manuscript page and break it into lines. No line could be more than five or six words. With breathing room, it became immediately clear where prose could be tightened, where words were repetitive, or where weak verbs or nouns could be strengthened.

Somehow, when the shape of the words on the page changed, I could see my writing with new eyes.

It’s a simple but powerful tool. Many, many thanks to Linda Sue Park for adding such a transformative strategy to my bag of tricks!

Try This:

  1. Copy a page of your manuscript into a new document.
  2. Break the paragraphs into short lines of no more than six words each.
  3. Read through and finesse the sound, rhythm and tone of your words.
  4. Once you’ve revised the prose in this format, put the writing back into paragraph form.
  5. Do a before/after comparison. What do you notice?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights! Share below or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

The Feel of a Shape

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and play your way into creative discoveries. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.
One of my first jobs was at Shanti Foundation for Peace in Evanston, IL. Indira Johnson, the artist-founder of the nonprofit, created many different kinds of community art, but my favorite was her work based on Rangoli drawing, in which women traditionally painted a pattern on the ground outside their homes. Family members would walk across this drawing each day, scattering the image, and in doing so, the blessing was spread across the community.
I had the honor of helping Indira with some of her community art sessions. We’d explore the meanings of a variety of shapes and then as a community draw a pattern that had meaning to our group. Then, the drawing would be transferred to the ground and filled in with bright spices and other materials. You can see some examples of final results here: Community Blessings.
I came to understand that each shape has a different feel, and a different historic significance. Molly Bang explores the feeling of various shapes in her book, Picture This: How Pictures Work. It’s a book I return to again and again because it takes this concept of shape down to the basic, underlying concepts. Molly’s images and clear explanations help me understand how shapes work in visual art, but also sparks thoughts about how shape shows up in my writing. What might the shape of a line, the shape of a poem, or the shape of a story add to (or take away from) my work?
Try This:
  1. Take out a few pieces of differently colored paper and cut out shapes. Cut some circles, squares, rectangles and triangles.
  2. Arrange your shapes into groupings. See if you can make groupings that have different tones. Can you make a calm grouping? A fierce grouping? A lazy grouping? A creative grouping?
  3. Choose one of your groups of images, and write a poem that captures that same tone.
  4. Arrange your shapes and words on a page, and then share your work with someone. Celebrate this small, creative act.
If this idea of shapes has caught your fancy, you might enjoy this collection of images.
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Are there shapes that have particular meaning for you? How does shape show up in your work? Feel free to comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

Dare to Fail

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and play your way into creative discoveries. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

Do you remember when you first tried to do a cartwheel? How easy was it for you to take a running start and plant your weight firmly onto your hands, flipping your feet up off the floor?
Or maybe you didn’t take a running start. Maybe you tried to play it safe, and rather than elegantly flipping heels over head, you flopped ungracefully onto the floor. Even if you did take a running start, you probably tumbled onto the ground at least once as you practiced and worked out the mechanics.
In theatre class, when we teach circle games, we often also teach the students to strike a “superstar” pose when a mistake is made. The point of the parameters in a circle game isn’t to humiliate people when they make a mistake. The point of parameters is to push players to engage with more intensity. Games are more fun when there’s a risk of failure. There’s an energy and excitement to taking on a challenge. There’s mystery, too. Will we succeed? Will we fail? What will happen?
Playing at the edge of your boundary, out where you might succeed and you might fail, where you honestly don’t know what will happen, is exciting. These boundaries are where surprises show up. They are where we make break-throughs.
Try This:
  1. Choose a project. 
  2. Dare to fail. In your next creative session, dare to create badly. Dare to write badly, or to be a bad actor. Let go of being careful. Forget what you know about craft and just throw yourself into creating.
  3. After you’re done, reflect on the experience. Much of what you did may have been over the top or poorly executed, and yet, you might find bits and pieces that have potential, too. When you throw caution to the wind, you move into new territory, and new territory tends to be full of discovery.
Daring to fail, even privately, isn’t easy. We like the idea of being accomplished, and it can bruise our ego to experience the humiliation of doing something poorly. And yet, it’s important to consider: How will you know what you’re capable of, if you don’t push beyond your comfort zone?
Daring to fail is like taking a running start at a cartwheel. You throw yourself into it, and learn from what works and what doesn’t. What might you be capable of, if you stop tiptoeing and go ahead and take a running start?
Try it out, and then come back and share your story. I’d love to hear about your experience and your courage. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

Solve Problems by Asking the Right Questions

Visit the Writerly Play Workshop and break your problem into pieces with this step-by-step strategy. Never heard of the WP Workshop? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

solve problems by asking the right questions

When you ask the wrong questions, you end up with the wrong answers. Seems logical enough, right? Most of us don’t intentionally ask the wrong questions. However, just because we don’t intend to ask low-value questions doesn’t mean we don’t ask them.

Here are a few sneaky questions that might pop up from time to time:

  • Why is everyone else succeeding faster than me?
  • Why didn’t I get started on this project sooner?
  • Why is this project so challenging?
  • What should I do about this mess?
  • When will things start working out?
  • What’s wrong with me?

Questions such as these may seem like a tiny, not-so-helpful habit. The truth is, questions such as these can completely derail us. Why? Because our mind goes to work on solving the questions we feed it. So, instead of tackling our problems, our mind is doggedly mapping out wrong turns, or collecting reasons to support our unintentional belief that nothing is ever going to change in our lives.

It’s not enough to realize that these questions aren’t helping us.

Knowing we shouldn’t do something usually doesn’t stop us from doing it. In fact, if we focus on the questions we shouldn’t ask, we’ll end up being unable to avoid thinking about them. If, instead, we have a strategy to help us find more positive, helpful questions, we will have a clear way to address any negative questions that arise.

When you find yourself in a low-value question spiral, ask yourself:

  1.  Is this question pointing out a real problem?
    • If yes, move on to question two.
    • If no, release the question and go do something playful or active. Move into a new, more optimistic space.
  2. What is the real problem?
    • State the problem in clear language, such as “I’m frustrated with how long it is taking me to finish the script I’m writing.”
  3. Review your past experiences. When have you had a win in a similar situation?
    • Think expansively. Maybe you’ve never finished a script before, but you have finished a project of some kind.
    • Keep reviewing until you find three examples of (even loosely) similar wins and look for commonalities between the situations. What seems to work for you?
    • Take note of situations where you definitely didn’t succeed. They may add an important element to your ultimate question.
  4. Shape what you’ve discovered into a clear, specific question.
    • Your question might now sound like, “How might I give myself a motivating deadline that doesn’t make me feel like I can’t breathe?
  5. Brainstorm elements of this question so that you can break the problem into smaller, easy-to-handle questions.
    • Answer your big question by tackling these smaller questions one at a time.
    • Your set of questions might look like:
      • WHY is this project important? What big-picture vision can I tap into? What will finishing this project mean for me and for others?
      • WHAT are the milestones between where I am and my completed project?
      • HOW LONG does it normally take me to write one scene?
      • WHEN might I expect to be done, given the milestones I’ve determined and my regular writing speed?
      • WHO might help me stick to my goal?
      • WHERE might I get stuck? What strategies might I use to overcome my obstacles?

The right question can transform an impossible roadblock.

A set of questions such as this can turn a desperate plea such as “Why is this project so challenging?” into a manageable situation. However, unless you’re superhuman, it’s unlikely that your first impulse in the midst of a crisis is to ask productive questions. That’s why the first four steps are essential. Once you have gently moved yourself out of downward-spiral thinking into a more confident, optimistic space, you are able to tap into the wisdom that’s there, inside you, waiting to be uncovered. No one is as much an expert on you as YOU. You know what works for you and what doesn’t. All you need is the reliable process to help you find what you knew all along.

What unhelpful question have you been wrestling with lately? How might this process bring momentum to a blocked area of your life? Go ahead and try it out, and then come back and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear your story. You can comment below or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

Here’s to you and your creativity! 

Create a Collage and See Your Project with Fresh Perspective

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and gain fresh perspective on your project with this visual thinking activity. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.
Wondering about your vision for a project, a vacation, a relationship, a character? Try creating a collage! Give your verbal thinking a break and let images lead the way. The answers you stumble across may surprise you. 

Try This:

  1. Grab a stack of old magazines.
  2. Choose a focusing question for your collage, such as “What do I want my vacation to feel like?”
  3. Flip through the magazines and tear out any images that speak to you. If words leap off the page at you, tear those out as well, but focus on images first. Don’t forget to consider color, texture and shape. These more abstract elements can add insights to your collage.
  4. Once you have a pile of images, sort through and start to arrange them into a coherent collage. You may want to go back and look for items that now seem important to round out the idea.
  5. Use scissors and glue to cut and paste the images onto a thick sheet of paper.
  6. If you decide you need additional words, go back and find the words, or find letters so you can spell out the words. Or, be creative and create letter forms of your own to layer over your images.
  7. Once your collage is complete, share it with a friend. When you articulate the meaning behind what you have created, you will become even more aware of what the collage means.
  8. Before you put the collage away, ask yourself, “What actions might I take, now that I have this insight?” Take advantage of the insights that your playful mind has provided.
Note: I’d highly recommend magazines over a Google search. In a magazine, you’re likely to stumble across an image you’re not expecting, and surprises often lead us to the most compelling insights.

Fuel Your Creativity by Visiting a New Museum

Visit the Writerly Play Attic and collect ideas from your life with this creativity sparking activity. Never heard of the WP Attic? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

One way to move yourself out of a creative funk is to feed your mind fresh images and ideas. Where should you look? Museums are excellent places to encounter ideas and images that you might not seek out otherwise. In a museum, you step into a world curated by someone else. You’re likely to find at least one gem that fuels new thinking.

A quick search of museums in my community includes:

  • American Bookbinders Museum
  • Cable Car Museum
  • Computer History Museum
  • Pacific Pinball Museum

I’m sure that immersing myself in any of these worlds would set off creative fireworks for me, particularly because none of these topics is related to my current work.

A quick note: If you decide to go collecting ideas by visiting a new museum, go with an open mind. Rather than forcing connections, allow yourself to be an explorer. If you don’t come away from the experience with a quantifiable new idea, that’s still okay. No matter what, you’ll gain creative energy. The more you allow yourself the play, the more likely it is that an inspired idea will show up.

So, why not take your creativity on a field trip? What museums might you discover in your community? Go check one out and then come back and share. I’d love to hear about your experience!

Writerly Play Studio: Create Productivity Playlists

Visit the Writerly Play Studio and tap into divergent thinking with this Productivity Playlists activity. Never heard of the WP Studio? Learn how Writerly Play thinking strategies supercharge your creativity here.

productivity playlists

Everybody loves a shortcut.

A playlist is not only fun to make. It’s also a creativity shortcut. Why? Sound provides a doorway into mental spaces that are shaped by your memories, your emotions and your internal rhythm. We don’t have to dig into scientific tomes to know this is true. We’ve had the experience of encountering a song we haven’t heard for years and been transported back in time, sometimes so vividly that we can even smell a remembered place.

If you’re interested in the science of how music affects your brain, here is a video you might enjoy: How Music Affects Your Brain

Music is a powerful tool.

That’s why it’s important to use it strategically. For instance, you don’t want to be distracted from today’s tasks with unrelated blasts from the past. That’s why a productivity playlist is an excellent solution. If you curate music for specific tasks, rather than being distracted, you’re transported into the exact environment you need.

A caveat: There is definitely some research out there that points to silence as the best soundtrack for deeply focused thinking. You may find that playing a short song or two before a creative session is actually the most productive use of playlists for you. In any case, there are likely tasks that will flow better with music, and others that will not. The only one who can determine what works best for you is YOU!

Create your Productivity Playlists:

  1. Brainstorm two or three types of thinking you need to do in your day. Maybe you’re working on a novel or a screenplay. Maybe there’s a part of your day when you want to keep up your momentum and move quickly through email. Maybe you need to spend part of your day on detail-rich tasks, such as spreadsheets or on the back end of WordPress.
  2. For each thinking mode, ask yourself: What mood matches this task? List two-five adjectives. Think beyond emotion into sensory feelings. You might even ask yourself: If this task had a genre, what would it be?
  3. With your adjectives in mind, head to your favorite music source to create your playlists. Here’s an article with some fantastic tips for choosing the right music for your perfect playlist. Music for Optimal Productivity
  4. Test out your playlists and revise them as you go. Beware of over-optimizing your playlists before you even put them to use. (Over-optimization is fancy procrastination!) You’ll know what isn’t working when trouble shows up. You can fix problems as you go.

That’s it! Go try it out, and then come on back and let me know how this strategy works for you. Share your comments below.

P.S. Need a shortcut for your shortcut? Here’s some ready-made curated playlists for specific purposes. 

P.P.S. While we’re on the topic of playlists, here’s an powerful post from Mandy Davis on playlists as a tool to work through grief. Absolutely worth a read.