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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Creative Quick Hits (to Knock Out Writer’s Block)

Kudos and props to Laura Sommers (www.wholebrained.com or Laura Sommers on Facebook) for sharing her experience and insight to inspire this post.

Like most of us, Laura has a lot going on: revising her novel, developing creative strategies with her husband to keep their business thriving in a slow economic recovery, keeping up with family stuff, having a life. So it would have been easy to dismiss the idea of making an apron for the friend who was hosting Easter dinner.

“But,” Laura said, “I’ve learned to not ignore these impulses.”

She found fabric she really liked, got a little innovative with the pattern she’d picked out and spent an hour or so for a couple of nights cutting, pinning and sewing the apron. Laura’s friend was delighted and another friend thought Laura should go into business designing and selling aprons.

“Oh no,” Laura immediately and wisely dismissed that idea. “This was a creative quick hit, not a long-term commitment.”

A creative quick hit is something you do for the fun of it for a short time. Quick hits invite you to play with something new and get immediate or nearly immediate satisfaction. A quick hit might be sewing, cooking, gardening, painting, folding origami animals, making jewelry, even blogging. Anything that you could do for Process  can be a creative quick hit; in fact, the two terms are pretty much synonymous.

Because the ego and time investment in a creative quick hit is low (Laura identifies herself as an emerging novelist, not a fabric artist), you’re freer to explore and take risks. Satisfaction can come as much from the experimentation as from the results.

For example, if you’re preparing chicken breast for a routine dinner, why not play with herbs and spices to invent a new marinade or try a fancy French sauce? If it turns out, great. If not, you can always order a pizza. Your quick hit successes show you that creative risk-taking pays off; your quick hit disappointments show you that failure is neither fatal nor permanent and strengthen your willingness to keep playing no matter what (a vital skill when facing writing resistance).

Because creative quick hits are a short-term engagement, you get the satisfaction of completion more quickly and frequently than you’re likely to get from your major project. A novel is not something you whip up in less than a week; an apron is. (The motivation that comes from this kind of satisfaction is one of the major benefits of having a Process habit.)

Best of all, a creative quick hit is a reminder that the process works. Laura divided the apron project into stages (cutting, pinning, sewing, finishing details). Spending time in each stage to complete the project reminded Laura that she has finished several stages in writing her novel and that small investments of time regularly repeated will see her through to completion.

The one potential drawback with quick hits is the temptation to try to make them substitute for the big project that is your true creative passion and desire (and therefore scarier). Quick hits are satisfying, but they’ll never give you the joy of working on your primary writing. As a supplement to your writing, they function exceedingly well; as attempted replacement, they’re just as frustrating as any other “second best” substitute.

I’m curious: please comment about what your creative quick hits are and what benefits they bring you. (For example, one of my quick hits is this blog and comments from readers are part of the reward.) Or if you prefer, use this as writing prompt: What are my characters’ quick hits? Are these effective supplements for their true ambitions or attempts to settle for second best?

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