Writing fiction is a creative activity, so why would you need to spend time doing another hobby? Won’t that suck your brain dry of creative juices for the day, leaving you staring at a blank page while mental exhaustion closes in from all sides?
It’s a legitimate worry to have – but surprisingly, the evidence shows that writers who indulge in another pastime like painting, sewing or cooking tend to be more disciplined with their writing, and are therefore more productive than those who have no other creative outlet.
Creativity, as you can expect, means the use of ideas to create something. That something can be intellectual, like writing a book, or more physical, like building a quadruple-layer chocolate raspberry cheesecake.
Where some people get confused is in thinking that to be creative, you have to make something wholly original. Technically, anything you make is unique, even if it’s a cross-stitch sampler a thousand other people have made before you. There will be none exactly like yours right down to the last stitch.
As a writer, you know you’re creative. Nobody (unless they want to face serious repercussions) is copying a book word for word. Even the scribes duplicating tomes inside monasteries of the Middle Ages added their own unique flair (including some rather odd pictures like the ones you see here).
But if you shudder in horror at the idea of making an original piece of artwork, don’t worry too much. The goal of creative activities as a writer is not to make a living selling original oil paintings (though do send us some of that cheesecake if you’re a baker).
The goal is to help you write more productively, and produce higher quality work at the same time.
The Science Stuff
As mentioned earlier, people often think there’s a finite amount of ‘creativity’ inside them. That by baking a cake or sewing a dress, you’re using valuable imagination muscles that will be exhausted when you sit down to write. In reality, the opposite is true – but there’s a caveat.
Whatever creative activity you do, it needs to be physical. You need to do something with your hands (other than typing). In the end, you need a physical product you can hold up and say, ‘I made this.’
Why is that? Different parts of our brains are used for different activities. Writing is rather heavy going on the gray matter. Especially if you consider all the different aspects of writing: getting ideas, story building, imagining characters, judging word choice, editing down, and so on. But except for the tapping of fingers and turning your neck to gaze thoughtfully out the window for extended periods of time, it’s also a very sedentary activity.
So if that’s the case, then why not just go for a run? Surely that will give the brain a rest and your body a workout too, right? Sadly, creativity doesn’t work like that. No-one is saying you shouldn’t bother getting out for some exercise – because you should – but creativity is like a bunch of wild rabbits. The more you have, the more you get.
Using different parts of your brain at the same time to create offers you more all-encompassing stimulation. It’s like a full body workout, but for the imagination centre of the brain. It also allows time for your subconscious to mull over ideas, so that when you sit back down to write, those ideas are much more likely to flow from your fingertips in a more cohesive form.
We’re going to look at some possible activities that are easy to begin, cheap to buy starter materials for, and won’t take years to master. Yes, that means no discussion of the benefits of learning to play the tuba, sadly.
Hobbies to Boost Your Creativity
Each of the hobbies below will be rated for initial outlay:
$ – Cheap
$$ – Affordable for most
$$$ – Could get pricey
$$$$ – Expensive
And for difficulty/challenge in reaching a good standard of competency:
☆ – Very easy
☆☆ – Easy
☆☆☆ – Medium
☆☆☆☆ – Moderately tricky
☆☆☆☆☆ – Hard
Knitting or crochet
Knitting and crochet might seem the preserve of older generations, but it constantly seems to experience revivals among the younger set. As a hobby, it’s fairly inexpensive to start, especially if you trawl thrift stores for supplies. But unless you’re happy making mountains of scarves, it’s a skill that can be tricky to master.
Though once you’ve nailed it, you’ll be able to keep the entire family, and your pets, proudly covered in your creations. Knitting is also a pleasant cold weather activity, as you get to snuggle beneath whatever it is you’re making. The repetitive clacking can be soothing, and there’s an almost endless range of things you can make.
$ – $$$
The amount you could spend here is highly variable. Most of us have access to a stove, an oven, and basic tools. But if you really get into it there’s the food processor, bread maker, a thousand different slicers, the egg peeler, and cook’s blowtorch.
If you can follow a printed recipe (and have the tools needed), it’s reasonably easy to get the hang of things. Given that cooking is a massively popular hobby, there are loads of helpful resources to guide your journey, including things like YouTube clips to help you refine your technique.
And the best part? You can eat your creations! (Take that, crochet!) Whether it’s a sweet treat or a mid-week meal, there is so much a creative person can do with food. Don’t forget to take a snap and share your creations on your author platform before you eat them. Big hobbies have big audiences.
A standard HB pencil and some paper are all you need to start. There are more supplies you can stock up on, but many artists can make some incredible stuff with just pencil and paper. The best advice here is to see your creative drawing as sketching. If you want to grow into the realm of full realism, you’ll need to devote much more time and effort to develop your skills. It’s entirely up to you.
Whatever standard you aspire to – from simple comics all the way to photo-realism – there are loads of tutorials online that will give you tips and techniques to try.
You’re a writer – so unless you have a hidden talent or previous experience, don’t worry about painting masterpieces your local galleries will be queuing up to stock. Buy yourself some beginner painting supplies (watercolor or acrylic are a good option) and just go for it.
Given the completely subjective nature of visual art, we’ve ranked paining as ‘easy’ in terms of difficulty – especially since, thanks to the likes of Masterpiece by Numbers, there are kits you can buy that actually walk you through painting something you’d be proud to hang on a wall in your home.
Painting has also been shown to be very beneficial for stressed and depressed people, so this option might be good for you if you need a more soothing option that eases your mind.
Easy to do, but always more expensive than you think it’ll be. Of course, if you live in an apartment then your gardening can be limited to window boxes and cacti. That will be much cheaper. If you’re lucky enough to have some outdoor space, you can enjoy a huge range of options.
A vegetable bed, raised planters, your own mini meadow or wildlife pond – boost your curb appeal and enjoy an absorbing activity at the same time. Save some cash by going to seed swaps and asking family and friends to donate tools they no longer use.
Sewing, cross-stitch and embroidery
Unless you’re buying a state of the art sewing machine (and that isn’t advisable unless you’re an aspiring seamstress) sewing and cross-stitch are inexpensive and easy to start. Search through your local thrift stores and you’re likely to bag a few bargains.
For sewing, you could make cushions or even mini clothes for dolls out of scraps and worn out clothes.
Both embroidery and cross-stitch are enjoying a renaissance/ resurgence with plenty of modern patterns and kits for sale.
The choice of which creative hobby to take on – or whether you even give one a try – is entirely yours. Consider how much cash you might want to spend, and the time it might take to build your skills – after all, the goal isn’t to make you frustrated by lack of ability or progress.
Also consider the practicality of your new hobby. If you live and work alone, baking a family-sized dessert each week might not be the best idea unless you’re regularly giving it away. Getting outside with a sketchbook might suit you better.
There’s also the chance your hobby might turn into a ‘side hustle’ where you could sell your creations. That’s not the focus, of course, but who knows where it could lead? Whatever the outcome, be it a gorgeous bookmark or a sarcastic cross stitch, you’ll return to your writing with renewed vigor.
Do you feel inspired by any of these ideas? What do you do to keep your brain engaged besides writing? Share your thoughts in the comments – and if you’re already a fan of alternate artistic hobbies, show us some of your creations!