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Carbohydrates for Writers: Finding Creative Fuel

Image: Padurariu Alexandru
The thing about writing is that it is actually sometimes quite difficult. And when I say "quite difficult", I mean "sitting at the computer smashing your face into the keyboard, occasionally looking up to moan in agony and scowl at the general universe". And when I say "sometimes", I mean, "often". And the other thing about writing is that in order to finish a novel, you must write a lot, and for a long stretch of time. Weeks, at the very least. Or months. Or years. It is the creative equivalent of running a long distance marathon, and it requires endurance and perseverance and energy. And not just the kind of regular kind of energy that comes from eating and sleeping and drinking copious amounts of coffee, but the creative kind, which is vague and elusive, abundant at some times and nonexistent at others.

When marathon runners have a big race to run, they often load up on carbohydrates in order to give themselves lots of fuel to burn. And recently, I've been thinking a lot about how to do this as a writer, about consciously finding ways to load up on inspiring things that feed my creative energy, so that I have extra fuel to burn on this complicated, tiring business that is novel writing. And while finding the right fuel still doesn't necessarily make writing easy – just like eating lots of pasta most likely won't stop a marathon runner from being completely exhausted after running uphill for miles – they help keep me going all the same.

Here are some of my writing brain's favorite "carbs" at the moment:

Books. It's obvious, but it's so, so true. As long as you don't start comparing the highly polished writing you’re reading with your messy work in progress, books are the best source of inspiration in the world. For me, there really is nothing like reading a good book to remind me of why I'm trying to write one in the first place.

Music. I'm not usually organised enough to have particular songs for each scene, but I never start a novel without starting a playlist too, and the playlist grows and grows as I play particular songs until I've worn them out, and then seek out more songs to add to the list. I get most fuel from unfamiliar music, so I often spend a lot of time searching for wonderful songs I haven't heard before, especially ones which remind me of one of my characters or evoke my novel’s world in some way.

Daydreaming. I've written about this before, but I'll say it again: for me, taking time to sit around daydreaming about the story I’m writing is not just useful, but essential. My story ideas are almost always born from daydreaming, from playing make believe inside my head, from imagining characters and places and scenes until they’re crystal clear in my mind and the thought of writing them makes me swoon with happiness. And I find that if I've been working on a project for a while, it can be easy to forget that stage before I started writing, that glorious stage when the story was still a glowing mass of wonderful things all burning to be written. Daydreaming about the scenes still to come helps me find my way back to that place, and back to all the shiny sparkly things that made the idea so compelling when I first thought of it.

What fuels your writing fire?

Image courtesy of bulldogza /
Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. Hm. Literal fuel fuels my literal fire. Food fuels my inner fire. Kdramas, books, doctor who, talking to ppl, laughing, and friends fuel my obsessive, passionate fire.

    So what fuels the writing fire? Honestly I don't write enough so I clearly haven't found that ONE THING that sparks creativity or inspiration. Based on when I write the most... I'm going to say DOING THINGS fuels it. I know that sounds a bit WEIRD but it is honest... If I go hang out with friends, or go on a trip to the city, or anything like that, when I come home I'm all pumped up and energetic from having gotten out of the house and laughed all day and experienced new things or re-enjoyed old things!!!! It makes me write more.... I start out writing about the day and one thing leads to another and it is a giant writing session

  2. I love writing because I get paid to daydream. ;)

  3. Oh man, I thought you were going to tell us it's okay to eat lots of cake while we write because just like runners we need carbs.

    Anyway, I'd like to add two more items to your list. Outdoors and exercise. As writers, we spend a great deal indoors and sitting on our bums. Sometimes just going for a short walk and breathing fresh air can make the creative juices run wild (in a good way).

  4. Definitely daydreaming. It seems like that's the only place where I get my best writing done. I even like voicing out some of the lines in my own voices. However, I proceed with caution on openly reciting lines because my family thinks I'm just talking to myself like a loon. Thanks for the post! :)

  5. I'll second the books one, but also, what about a movie? Or a well-crafted TV Show? Lost helped me get in the mood for writing for 6 seasons.


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Item Reviewed: Carbohydrates for Writers: Finding Creative Fuel Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin