How to turn your creative sparks into a bonfire

Reading time: Just over 5 mins.

Clients often ask me how they can nurture their creative sparks. Here’s what I learned about creativity when producing my latest book.   

My new book, Your Happy First Draft, required a lot of creative sparks before it was published. But in today’s post, I’m going to talk about just one of them — even though it had nothing to do with writing. I think the idea is ‘translatable’ for writing projects and can help you turn your own spark into a fire.

One of my most surprising sparks was creating a promotional book video. I know almost nothing about video, except the little bit I’ve learned being the writer and voice for my weekly Write Question video podcast. Unfortunately for me, I had the book promo video idea shamefully late in the process — just three weeks before the book was due to arrive in my office. Oy!

By way of illustrating how you can turn your own creative spark into a fire, here are the seven steps I recommend:

1-Have a system for capturing your creative sparks

The best ideas inevitably come at the most inconvenient times. When I had the book video idea I was in the car with my husband. He was driving so I was able to make a note to myself using my phone. I don’t know about you but over the years I’ve accumulated more than 587,287 words in notes to myself (that number represents the length of War and Peace).

There were notes on my computer, notes on my phone, notes in notebooks, notes all over the freaking place. Over time, these notes became tattered and dog-eared and the ones in pencil often faded. Some went through the laundry, buried in my pockets. Others just disappeared, like missing socks.

About two years ago, I declared a STOP to this unsustainable process. Now, as a matter of habit, I always store my notes in Evernote. This wonderful software is free for basic use but I now have a paid membership (at the reasonable rate of $34.99/year). The two best aspects of Evernote? First, it allows you to save web pages with a single click. Second, it is web-based, so it is accessible anywhere you have an Internet connection. I have an Evernote app on my phone — and my phone is almost always beside me — so I can easily file my notes as soon as they spring into my mind.

2-Get the help you need

My son, Duncan, helped me start my Write Question videos so I called him first to ask if he could do the book promo video. He felt it was outside of his range of experience, so I called my friend Stu McNish at Oh Boy Productions in Vancouver. I told Stu how much I had to spend and told him the price was so firm that if I couldn’t do it for that amount of money, I’d have to let go of the idea.

Stu, who is vastly experienced in video, confirmed the price wasn’t enough to hire him, but said he thought one of the junior people in his studio, Greta Gibson, would be a good fit for the project. Two days later, I met Greta for coffee. We sketched out ideas on a napkin and I agreed I’d get family and friends to volunteer as actors.

I knew I wanted the video set to music so I spoke with my son (who is also an opera school grad) who directed me to a royalty-free-music website. I identified about a dozen pieces of music I liked and then sent the top five to Duncan and Greta for their views. Fortunately, they both agreed on the same one!

3-Give yourself mini-deadlines

Just like writing, the hardest most time-consuming work of video is the editing. But before we could get to that, I had to line up my actors and set a date and time to shoot the script.

Figuring out the timing was tough. How could we accommodate the working schedules of the volunteers when the video had to be shot on a weekday? Answer: We worked from 4 to 8 pm on a Thursday night. (Yes, it took us four hours to record a one-minute video!) Figuring out the schedule for shooting was like solving an elaborate puzzle — and sometimes it felt as though a piece or two might be missing.

When shooting was complete, Greta took just five days to produce a rough cut and post it to a private channel so I could review it. Then, we went back and forth several times with changes and revisions. In the end, I had the video before the books were in my office. Without mini deadlines along the way, that would never have happened.

5-Focus on the creative sparks

If I had focused on how many books the video was going to sell for me, I would have driven myself crazy. (Besides, how can one ever calculate a number like that?)

Instead, I put my attention onto the stuff that was fun. What could I learn about video-making? How could I help ensure the video looked great?

It helped hugely that three of the volunteers were opera-school classmates of my son. They had acting experience!  Also, I was astonished to see what an enthusiastic actress my sister Heather was. (She’s the person who’s ripping up a script.) Where/when did she get those skills working in marketing for law firms, I wondered? And my coworker Jen likes to draw. A funny coincidence that I’d assigned her to the role of drawing when I didn’t even know that was one of her natural talents.

If you want to write, don’t focus on the publication problem while you’re writing. That should be a job for another day. Do the creative work first.

6-Make sure your ‘well’ is full

It’s impossible to do creative work if you’re stressed to the max. I always advise my clients to make sure they’re getting enough time for themselves before they tackle anything that’s creatively challenging.

Are you getting enough sleep, I ask? (Adequate sleep is essential to creativity.)  Do you have time for coffee with friends? Are you getting enough exercise? Are you seeing enough movies? Going to enough concerts? Reading enough novels? Having enough time to sit on the couch and stare into space, without having anything else that you need to do?

I call this type of activity a writer’s ‘well’ or ‘bank account.’ If you have enough ‘water/money’ saved up, you’ll be able to ‘spend’ it on your creative output. If you don’t, you won’t.

It was hard for me to keep my ‘well’ full when I was in the final stages of my book, and producing the video to boot. But I focused on getting enough sleep and reading fiction. Both of these activities sustained me.

7-Put your doubts on hold

So many times, I came close to cancelling the project. Doubts ate me alive. So I did what I advise my clients to do: I forced myself to procrastinate on the question of quality. I said to myself: “It’s either going to be fabulous or a piece of garbage. I won’t know until I see it.”

When I viewed the rough cut, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It made me feel happy and cheerful. Just about everyone else who viewed the video in advance felt exactly the same way. Success!

My thanks to Greta Gibson (pictured at the top of this post) for the superb work she did and to Stu McNish for steering me in her direction. (Like me, Stu and Greta also make Hitchcock-like appearances in the middle of the video.) The video was a great creative challenge but also highly rewarding.

If you want to be a writer, I highly recommend taking more creative risks like this. In other words, the next time you get a creative spark, don’t let it just flare up and die. Use these tips to help yourself build a bonfire.


If you want to encourage your own creative sparks — or write a book, thesis or dissertation — consider applying to my Get It Done program. I’m holding a no-charge webinar Thursday, Oct. 17 at 1 pm Pacific to introduce you to the principles I teach in the program. Register by emailing  me.  If you already want to apply to the program,  go here, scroll to the very end of the page and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.


My video podcast last week aimed to help writers find their voice. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email,  Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


How do you foster your own creative sparks?  We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Oct. 31/19  will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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