We can do the same with writing.
Despite hours languishing in front of the keyboard, intense word sprints, or writing exercises, another way to exercise the writing muscles is to participate in another form of creative activity.
But how can creative cross-training be helpful?
By training your brain to function in ways also applicable to writing:
1. In order to paint well, you need to observe details. The way shadows fall across the face. The curve of tree branches. How colors interact with mood. Then you can imitate/replicate them on paper. Likewise, writing is an art of observation. The closer we observe the world around us, the better we’re able to draw upon it with words.
2. With watercolor, overpainting is easy to do. You become impatient, hung up on those small details, and want to fix every little mistake. But in doing so we take out the simplicity and the imperfections that oftentimes make a piece special. We train our brain to recognize the stopping point.
Over-writing is similar. We beat our stories to the ground in order to make it perfect. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t revise, but at some point we need to put down the correction pen and be finished.
3. You can only control watercolor to a certain extent. Because half of the ingredients is water, the paint continues moving after you put it down on paper. A lot of the magic happens when you loosen control and stop nitpicking where the water should go.
The painting below began as a nebula. But as I painted, the pink blobs appeared to be more like jellyfishes than stars. I went along with it and ended with a much better jellyfish painting than a forced nebula.
4. Depending on the type of art, erasing mistakes can be difficult. For the most part, I’ve found the best way to get rid of my watercolor mistakes is to incorporate them into the work. Oftentimes, this requires my flipping the problem to look at it in a new light. When I’m stuck on a painting and don’t know what to do, I need to do the same thing—flip the problem and analyze it in a new way.
Sometimes the best way to solve plot (and revisioning!) problems is to flip and look at them differently. But this takes time and practice and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
5. I believe the creative muscle is the creative muscle. Any type of exercise will burn some amount calories. As long as you’re using your creative muscle, your brain is receiving the exercise and preparing for long-term use and healthiness.
In short, don’t be afraid to take a break from the keyboard and pick up some other creative activity. You don’t have to be amazing in order to benefit from it, and you may discover the spark you needed for your writing.