Many writers struggle with the transition from “good” to “great.” To make that transition, and improve your odds of being published in a competitive industry, you will need to do more than just increase your output (i.e., practice). Writing at the level you have already reached will only deepen the rut. If you sense that you are capable of writing better stories than you are currently producing, try the following exercises to boost your creativity.

Stream of Consciousness Writing

The poet Percy Shelley referred to the completed work as “the fading coal” that is all that remains of the fire of inspiration. Many writers feel that their finished products do not match the potential of their initial ideas. Before each writing session, try stream of consciousness writing to come up with new and unexpected ways of expressing yourself. Take a phrase or image from your last writing session and run with it. Do not censor what comes out. Afterwards, look over what you have written critically and separate what is usable from what is not.

Writer’s Block and Visual Art

Use visual art to cure writer’s block. Visit local or online galleries and examine the art with a creative, rather than critical, eye. Let your mind wander. Can you give stories to the figures or images in a painting? What is the atmosphere of the piece, and how does the artist capture that atmosphere? Bring a notebook along to record your thoughts and impressions.

Explore Language

The greatest writers know how and when use exotic or poetic words. Explore language through nonfiction works—flip through books on topics like gardening, cooking, weaving, the history of a country you know nothing about, and so on. Make sure that it is a subject with which you have little experience. Not only will your vocabulary grow, but the discovery of new and beautiful words will inspire your creativity.

Seek out a Successful Writer: Find an Idol

Every aspiring writer has a published author (or several) that he or she aspires to emulate. Search the internet for interviews with your favourite authors. Pay close attention to their advice on the creative process. You may find that their process is very different from yours, but likely you will come across a few good writing tips. Advice that comes from someone you respect or admire will stay with you, providing motivation whenever you become stuck.

Above all else, keep your eyes and ears open for inspiration. Pay attention to details that you would otherwise ignore: the cadence and flow of the conversation between two strangers standing behind you; the smell and texture of rice; the colour of the light from a streetlamp. Adding evocative description to your writing will not only improve the quality of your prose, it will inspire you to write better than you ever have before.