The Writer’s Handbook: Managing Creativity by T.C. Harrelson

This is the second in a series of insights and lessons that I’ve learned during my time as a novel-writer and published author in a series entitled “The Writer’s Handbook.”

Creativity. It’s the one thing every writer needs. It can strengthen your narrative voice, energize your plot, and create unforgettable characters. It is the essential ingredient to a successful writing career. I only wish I could bottle it…

If you’re like me, you have your fair share of creativity. It’s managing it that can get kind of tricky. Allow me to explain.

Early in my writing experience, it seemed there were times when my creativity flowed from my soul like a mighty river; I only had to channel it in the right direction. Other days, I had to send bloodhounds to find it; my brain just couldn’t communicate with the empty page. And that’s the thing I learned about creativity—it’s elusive.

Over time, I began to pick up on this phenomenon. I began to notice that there were certain times of the month that I was more creative than others. And even certain times of the day that my mind just seemed to work better. And, of course, I found the inverse was true, too.

In a perfect world, I would put aside some of my creativity for the dry spells. (Just take it off the shelf, blow off the dust, and plug it into my brain). But, since I’m stuck in the real world, I must resort to managing my creativity as best I can.

So, to maximize my time (see The Writer’s Handbook: Managing Time by T. C. Harrelson), I now structure my writing time around my periods of greatest creativity. On a daily basis, that means putting aside some time at night when my brain seems to function better. On a monthly basis, it means taking advantage of that week or so of greatest creativity to get as much accomplished as possible. Usually, this entails moving along the novel in rough form; I edit later when my creativity is low.

That’s the way I manage creativity. And I often wonder if I’m normal. I look at great authors (e.g. Stephen King, John Grisham, Tom Clancy) who seem to release bestselling novels as often as I release my tax returns. Are they bursting with creativity? Or do they simply have a good system?

What do you think?


T. C. Harrelson is the author of The Beast of Macon Hollow, available from Second Wind Publishing


Filed under writing

4 responses to “The Writer’s Handbook: Managing Creativity by T.C. Harrelson

  1. Nyx

    That’s such an interesting approach, and something I had never thought of before. I will go ahead and try to chart my own creativity because of this. Obviously I notice clearly the days when my creativity is low, but I pay much less attention to when it is high – probably because then I feel it is normal and not worth noticing.

    But I recognize myself in your approach to edit when your creativity is low because that is something you can call forth much more easily. Even if you are not feeling creative you can see what sounds good and what doesn’t.

    Also, I think it is possible to summon your creativity as it is (or should be) a response in your brain. As with all other emotions and responses it should be possible to trigger it and teach your brain to enter into that stage. However, it’s much harder than it sounds.

  2. I do my best work when I am already doing something creative. This is kind of a bad loop because if I have a dry spell, it’s very hard to get started again. The fact I’m most alert at sunrise doesn’t help either. My brain doesn’t work well after about 4PM and I’m not good at staying up late either, so that schedule does not bode well for having a day job or a night job while being alive enough to create something before or after. For me, like many artistic types, having to “work” every day at something uncreative has always been a bit of a soul killer.

  3. dellanioakes

    I have the same problem with my creativity, though I haven’t consciously planned and explored it the way you have — I also have attention problems, which probably accounts for that in large part. During the day, I have distractions from my family and the phone. My husband works at night, so I don’t really get quiet until he goes to bed. Since my son is in school, I have a small window of time when he’s gone, husband’s asleep and I have some quiet. It’s also my “sleepy time”, so I don’t get much accomplished.

    My best work is done late at night, but since I’ve got to be up in the morning, I can’t stay up past 1:00 or I’m in trouble. I’d much prefer to work until early morning hours and sleep in, but I don’t like my husband to come home to an empty house after working all night, so I make the effort to be awake when he comes in.

    My father was also an author (non-fiction) and an editor. It wasn’t unusual for him to stay up until four or five o’clock, but he didn’t have classes (he was a college professor) until afternoon, so he could sleep in. I’d love to have that schedule!

  4. I love that comment, “Just take it off the shelf, blow off the dust, and plug it into my brain”. How true! There are times I can’t keep up with the ideas and other times when I stare blankly at the computer. Nice post.

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