People often underestimate the value in brainstorming. You don’t have to sit down to work every day, ready to fire away and write full steam ahead. Sometimes the words just aren’t there. This is when brainstorming comes in handy.

Despite many people thinking brainstorming is a group activity, you can in fact brainstorm on your own. The goal in brainstorming is just to toss ideas into the air and see which ones land as you work to sort out a particular problem.

For example, I had this really long short story call “Blue Moon Story” that had a good IDEA, but the execution never excited me all that much. I knew the idea behind the story was worth pursuing, I just knew I’d gone about it all wrong the first time.

So on the drive home from work one night, I started throwing ideas out, talking to myself out loud. I had a character and an opening, but nowhere to go from there. What if this happens, I said? Where does the story go from there? Where do I want it to go? Okay, I know how I want it to end, but how do I get there?

I brainstormed ideas and directions for this story on the full 15 minute ride home and by the time I pulled up, I had the story ready to go and I tackled it the next morning, finishing a first draft in only a couple of days.

That’s not to say every brainstorming session ends with similar results, but at least you can walk away with a list of ideas that don’t work and directions you know not to take.

I’ve done this with titles dozens of times. Not every story has a title built into it. My STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE sequel short, “The Dichotomy of Monsters” went through a handful of possible titles before settling on that one, and each one was CLOSE, but not THE title. I used a brainstorming session one morning on the way to work to get that one.

Hell, even the name Midwest Creativity Control was the result of a brainstorming session with my team, everyone throwing out ideas in a group email and discussing each one until we finally came up with the right one, complete with rationale on why it’s the perfect name for our organization.

Brainstorming sessions can be a lifesaver to a creative, especially when you have a group of people involved, but even when it’s just you throwing ideas around yourself. I talk story ideas and details out with myself all the time, and they always bear fruit for whatever I’m working on.

Don’t feel pressured every day if you don’t know what you want to write about or which direction a story needs to take. The possibilities are nearly endless and you’ll find the right one with a quick brainstorming session.

You ever get halfway through a particularly long and challenging manuscript only to realize you’re bored? Not bored with the story or the process, just … your mind needs something else to ponder for a minute. Not a week, this isn’t one of those times where you need to take a week off and work on something else. Just a day. Maybe an hour so you can recharge. You don’t want to stop writing for the day, though, you just want to work on something different.

Diversity is important. Variety, as Morris Day said, is the spice of life. At these times I have a list of alternative things I could work on just for a minute, something to kick start my brain, put me into writing mode, but not bog me down in the same thing I’ve been working on for the past three months.

Reviews. I love writing movie and book reviews. They’re a quick way to force you to organize your thoughts, you’re getting to praise something you love, or learn from something that didn’t quite work, and you’re getting your fingers limbered up and your mind focused, ready to get back to work. Sometimes writing something that isn’t the thing you’ve been working on, even for an hour, is enough to make you miss the real work.

Blog posts are another alternative. Sometimes I’ll take a minute to post something quick, like what I’m currently reading, or the posters to any movies I’ve recently watched. I actually haven’t done this in a while, but once upon a time it was a regular thing. Back when I had more time to watch a lot of movies and whatnot. Or you can talk briefly about what you’re working on. No details, but a few words on what research you find yourself doing, just enough to tease.

Have you updated the CTAs (calls to action) in your books lately? This is another quick little job you can do when you need to get your mind on something else for a minute.

Something I love to do when I’m bored looking at the same page for the past two days is CLEAN MY DESK. You know your desk is the messiest part of your house, admit it. And it’s much easier to work on a clean desk. If you’re bored with your current work in progress, take the day off from it and clean your desk. And your office while you’re at it. And your inbox.

Sometimes I’m not bored, I’m just tired. I need to step back, take 20 minutes and rest. I often find when I do that, I can come back to it, maybe not wide awake, but not dozing off mid-sentence, either. Set a timer and close your eyes, the world isn’t going to end. And if it does, at least you didn’t have to see it coming.

And the last suggestion for when you’re bored working on the same manuscript every day: work on it anyway. Seriously, sometimes the best work I do on something is when I really don’t want to and I make myself get the words down anyway. I don’t know where the reluctance to work comes from, maybe I’m only bored with it because I know what comes later and I want to hurry up and get to a particular scene. But that’s not going to happen if you don’t write the damn thing. So the only thing to do is shut up, put my head down, and power through whatever downtime scene I’m on so I can get to the fun, exciting one behind it.

There you go, 6 tips to help fight boredom when you want to be productive but just can’t face that same story AGAIN. A quick diversion will keep you working, keep you productive, but give your brain and eyes the break it needs without convincing you that abandoning it altogether is the only option.

Now stop reading blog posts and get back to work. Slacker.

So here’s a question. When you sit down at your desk, or wherever you write, what’s the attitude with which you approach the work?

Are you coming at the day’s words as one who really doesn’t want to be here, but knows they need to get something done, so you show up begrudgingly and jot down a hundred words just to say you did it? Or do you attack the page, firing off a thousand words in thirty minutes?

Margot Fonteyn said, “My attitude has never changed. I cannot imagine feeling lackadaisical about a performance. I treat each encounter as a matter of life and death.”

Now, I’m not saying you should go to THAT extreme when you come to work every day, but whether you realize it or not, your attitude when you sit down to do that day’s work has a huge affect.

I’ve got this day job–night job, really–that I hate. And it shows every day when I get there. I’m always in a grouchy mood, wanting to be anywhere but there, and the waves of disgruntlement and discontent radiate off me. I get my work done, but that’s all I do. If the line is down for a minute, there’s just as much chance I’m standing there, silently waiting for it to start up again as there is I’m doing something productive like cleaning my area or changing the trash. Because I just don’t care. I want to care, I’ve tried to care, but I just don’t. And that attitude comes through loud and clear.

But when it’s time to write every morning, man I’m ready to go. I’m smiling inwardly, my spirits are high no matter how exhausted I am from the night before at work, and I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. That love for the work, that fire to get started, it comes through loud and clear as well.

And that carries over to every part of the process. No matter how slowly a story is coming along, or how mangled I feel the plot is, whatever the problem that’s keeping me from finishing this damned story already, my attitude is always positive because I know that, eventually, the plot will reveal itself, the twist will untangle itself, and no matter how stubborn a character or situation can be, there’s nothing better in the world than sitting at my computer, writing fiction. Even on a bad writing day, that’s still better than anything else I had planned for that day.

And on the good writing days … ho boy, that’s when the clouds part, and God smiles down on me. And I really feel a lot of that is due to my attitude about the work. At my old fast food job almost 30 years ago, they used to tell us to smile, even if we were taking an order through the drive-thru speaker, because the customer outside could hear your smile. At the time I thought it was a bunch of crap, but time, and doing work I love doing, has shown me that, yes, your attitude about the work comes through in the end product.

So when you sit down to get started every day, don’t let the bills, the spouse, the kids, the day job, the everything else get to you. Shrug it all off and just do the work you were meant to be doing, the only work you ever truly loved doing, and do it with a positive attitude knowing that, at least for these couple of hours, or however long, all is right with the world.

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.”
–Stephen King

When I was just getting started, a friend and I used to go to Perkins every night after work to drink coffee and write. More often than not, he wound up reading a book instead while I sat across the booth scribbling in a notebook on this story or that. Sometimes I read, too, but most nights I was writing or editing something.

I mentioned to him once about coming out there to write and how he always read a book instead.

“Gotta wait for inspiration,” he said.

I wouldn’t swear to it because we don’t talk much these days, but I’m almost positive he hasn’t written a thing in maybe a decade.

I’ll allow that ideas require inspiration. But if you’re a writer and your brain isn’t constantly on the lookout for story ideas even when you’re not trying, then you’re doing it wrong.

We don’t sit around and wait for inspiration. Not if you want to make a living at this, anyway. The grocery store isn’t going to hold off payment on a cart full of food for the week until you’re inspired to pay them. The mortgage company isn’t going to care that you weren’t inspired last month to create something new. They want their money.

Art is a business. Unless of course you have a cushy day job that you absolutely love and never want to quit. And if that’s the case, good on you. Most of us, though, want to quit the day job and get paid to make our art.

But in order to get to that point, you have to throw out that notion that you need to be inspired in order to create. And if the idea of living on the street doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.

The first step is to train your brain to ALWAYS be working on something, even if you’re not at your desk. Listen for song lyrics that could spark a story, or bits of conversation that might develop into a novel. I bet you could stop what you’re doing right now–reading this–and look around wherever you are and find one object that could be a full story.

Let’s see …

On a bookshelf to my left is a candle shaped like 5 skulls side by side. The middle three skulls have wicks sticking out of their domes. What if every time I lit one of those, one of my five closest friends died? Or better yet, every time I lit one, I got to choose who died. Not ME, of course, but the main character in a short story or novella. If handled correctly, I could see that being a very wicked and brutal story, and five minutes ago it didn’t exist.

But over 27 years of writing, I’ve trained myself to constantly be on the lookout for story ideas, so even when I’m not looking for them, I’m still looking for them.

So that’s the first step, train your brain to find the stories in everyday life.

Second step? Sit down and write them. No, you’re not going to wait for “inspiration” or “the right words”. You’re going to sit down every day and work. You don’t know how the story starts? It starts at the beginning.

I’m certainly not sitting here waiting for inspiration. I’m MAKING inspiration. I’m forming the story, sorting out the logistics and crafting the plot in my head, but I’m doing it at the keyboard, and within two minutes, tops, I would have a first sentence. And once I’ve settled on the first sentence, the next sentence would come a lot easier.

Because I’m suddenly inspired? No, because I write every day and have worked that creative muscle. I practice. I do the work.

Once you do anything enough times, it stops being an effort and just becomes second nature. Write enough stories and sooner rather than later you’re not even considering the idea of waiting for inspiration. Write enough days in a row and the idea of waiting for inspiration just sounds … silly.

Silly amateurs. They’ll never learn.

Well, they could. But it takes work.

Stop going about your day to day telling yourself “As soon as I’m inspired, I’m gonna run to my desk and start working.” If you’re telling yourself that lie, you might as well sell your laptop and your desk because you won’t be needing them. Inspiration like that doesn’t come at convenient times, it comes when it damn well wants to, more often than not when you’re at work or somewhere else that’s nowhere near your desk or your laptop or anything else you could possibly use to get started. Inspiration doesn’t care what you had planned today.

That’s why we say fuck inspiration. Inspiration doesn’t care about me, I don’t care about inspiration. I care about getting these words down and making this art. Every day.

It really is as simple as those two steps: 1) find the story. 2) write the story.

Anything more complicated than that, and you’re just stalling, wasting time you’d be better served using to get that promotion to shift manager at your fast food job, because that’s where you’re gonna be for a while.

I don’t think any creative person is immune to the fear of failure. Especially in public. It’s one thing to write a story that doesn’t turn out well, that’s jut for you and no one else ever has to see it. But to publish a story, or release a single, or make a movie and then to realize it’s a stinker … and the whole world knows it … that’s a hard pill to swallow.

But it happens to all of us at one point. At the very least, the act of releasing your art to the world leaves you open to that sort of scenario. But what’s the alternative? To write in secret and file them away, never to be read or enjoyed by anyone else?

That’s not why we do this. Sure, we SAY we’re writing to please ourselves, and that’s true to an extent. But secretly, we want nothing more than to be able to put everything we create out into the world and have it be loved and adored by everyone who comes across it.

So we release our work and, in doing so, open ourselves up to the possibility of failure, every single time.

Think about it, if you release 3 books a year and those 3 books are read by, let’s say 1000 people. That’s 3000 chances for you to fail, that’s 3000 chances for a bad review, 3000 chances for the entire world to see what a loser you are.

But we do it anyway. Why do we open ourselves up to that scrutiny? And how to we combat it?

First, we do it because, in our secret hearts, we all know we’re amazing creators. We know that this story, this is gonna be the one that touches people, the one they remember. This story is going to be studied in university level creative writing classes when I’m gone. They’ll explore the symbolism and subtext, they’ll talk about the themes and dissect the characters. How could I NOT write this one, it’s going to be important!

And then it isn’t, it’s just another story, just another novel, read by some, forgotten by half. And then that new idea comes and we know THIS one, yes, forget that last one, THIS is gonna be the one they talk about a hundred years from now, I owe it to the world to finish this one and put it out there for the world to enjoy.

So, yeah, we do it because we can’t NOT do it. The same thing that compels us to take the time out of our day with its work and family and friends and television and the carpet needs cleaned and the dog needs groomed and the laundry needs folding, that thing that makes us sit down and just TYPE??? It’s the same thing that drives us to put it out there into the world. Call it ego, call it confidence, it all amounts to the same thing.

The normies don’t get it, they wonder why, how, what are we doing with our friggin’ lives? But those of us on the inside … we know. And when we meet another artist, we never wonder WHY, HOW, WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH THEIR FRIGGIN’ LIVES? Because we know.

Now how do we combat that fear of failure?

CAN we combat it? Look, we’re gonna fail. It’s the nature of the beast when it comes to creative endeavors. Not everything you create is going to be perfect and amazing, some things are going to be less than others, some are going to stink.

But we pick ourselves up and move on to the next thing. The next painting, the next song, the next novel. We HAVE to. To let that fear paralyze us into non-action is the same as death for a creative person.

So we fight through the fear and do it again anyway. Sure, this next one might suck. It might be great. We’ll never know. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because good or bad, this is the thing that you have to get out of you and into the world. This is the thing you’re driven to work on, and it’s going to succeed or it’s going to fail, but either way you have to do it.

So put your head down and lean into it, and don’t think for a second about what comes after. Focus on NOW, focus on GETTING IT DONE. What’s the saying in boxing, it’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up? The same principle applies here.

You are going to fail at least once. But you’ll dust yourself off, pop your knuckles, and say, “Okay, let’s try this again. Better this time.”

The REAL failure is in giving up.

by Caleb Straus, Snout Productions.

I hate that question. I mean, I love that question, but I hate that question. Mostly, I hate it because I could never quite narrow it down. I had a different answer every week, when I was young enough to be asked that question.

When I went off to college, I still couldn’t decide. I wanted to be an actor, a graphic designer, a musician, and a special effects artist. Or maybe a director. Or a writer! Ooh, squirrel!!

All the while, the pressure being put on me from well-intentioned outside forces to “pick one”.

Now, since then, I’ve learned it’s best to pick one at a TIME, but thanks to my experience with C. Dennis Moore and Midwest Creativity Coaching and one 90-minute phone call, I don’t have to pick one overall.

I run Snout Productions (www.snoutproductions.org), and we do it all. We make and release films, music, prose, visual art, and anything else the muse drives us to create and release. We did our due diligence in the beginning by simply EXISTING, in a market that typically demands specialization. We’ve put a few things out now, and I found myself at a crossroads. What next? Where to put my immediate attention for the next week? The next month? Where to start?

This is where what I now consider to be the key ingredient of Midwest Creativity Coaching came into play. The system Dennis set me up on was custom-tailored for my needs. We can do the same for you. The positives of this set up are two-fold, and one of them I actually didn’t expect –

1. I’m infinitely more productive (which I DID expect and hope for)

2. I am actually LESS BUSY( which I didn’t see coming). I’ll say that one again for the folks in the nosebleeds,

‘I AM ACTUALLY LESS BUSY.’

And that doesn’t mean I’m taking on less projects. Quite the opposite in fact. At this moment I have a one act play, two short films, two albums (going on three), and a book in various stages of production. I’m not stressing about any of them, I’m excited about all of them, and thanks to this new system, none of these projects are getting the short shrift.

I know what you’re thinking, “What’s the secret???” Well, that’s where scheduling the free consult call comes in. We won’t know YOUR secret, until we talk to YOU.

Take it from someone who’s been in the trenches a while; you need to get organized. If you are on this website, feel free to click on “contact us”, and end your search there. You won’t need to go anywhere else. And if you doubt my sincerity because I‘ve gone from client to consultant, consider the entire reason I work for this company is because of what it did for me.

I trust you’ll make the right decision for yourself.