A lot of authors, poets, bloggers, and other creative people outside of writing, talk about that intensely personal thing called “artistic process.” I wanted to just touch on this; it shifts almost daily — and certainly from year to year — so it’s hard to say with any certainty what is my exact “artistic process”. I can tell you, though, that there are a few things that will almost always spark my creativity.

1. LACK OF SLEEP
I say this with the caveat that if I’m too tired, my mind goes blank. There is a fine line between overtired and just tired enough that my Internal Editor—that picky, naysaying little voice in my head—has already gone to bed. I’m then left to throw a fun, albeit quiet, writing party without that party pooper getting in my way.

2. CAFFEINE
Again, moderation is key. Caffeine, as we all know (and count on!), wakes me up so I can put my fingers to the keyboard, or pull out that writing implement and paper, and expand on what I’ve begun to create. Combined with that perfect level of tired, caffeine gives that extra “oomph” to that writing party I’m having without that meddlesome Internal Editor telling me “no”.

3. EXTERNAL STIMULI
Certain movies, music, and books—especially ones that are fresh and new to me—will sometimes bring out a thought or feeling that I know I MUST capture before that feeling dissipates. The movie that did this to me fairly recently was Jupiter Ascending. Something about that world and its visual impact triggered a few pages of something that may or may not turn into anything. But I love when that happens: that sudden grip of “I need to get this down immediately”. I also got this way when I was reading the last of the Harry Potter books. Towards the middle of the book, every few pages I had to put it down and jot a note about something unrelated with the same sort of feeling as what I had been reading.

4. FRIENDS
I cannot stress this one enough. Without working through issues in my characters’ development or the plot of one of my latest ideas with at least one friend, I would not be in the same place with my works as I am.

5. DREAMS
Not the ethereal idea of “it’s my dream to be a novelist” or “it’s my dream to [insert goal here]”. I mean literal dreams, the images and emotions and physical feelings I get when I’m in the thrall of sleep. At least one of my characters in my present works has a name that came to me while I was sleeping. I’ve gotten several ideas for future plotlines, or small pieces of plotlines, from my dreams. I love it when my subconscious gives me something I can use for my novels. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I grab the images and pin them to paper with a nice sharp pencil.

My advice, then, is this: never underestimate the simplest thing. Anything can spark your creative fire. The other part of this is you have to be willing to drop everything and fan that flame. I’ll be the first to admit I’m horrible at the second part, especially if I’ve let myself fall out of practice of looking for and creating my own sparks. Too many bonfires have never been built because I was too lazy or disincentivized or doubtful or down to take the time to make the fire grow.