101 Easy-Breezy Ways to Get Your Creativity On

by Annie

in creative working

Pens and colored pencils in a jar, viewed from above

Release the first-graders! Creativity is fed by curiosity, mindfulness, and change. / Photo credit: June Collins.

Looking for cheap, easy ways to unleash the creativity tsunami you just know is building up inside you at this very moment?

You’re in luck. It’s Word Carnival time, and this month’s topic is “Creativity.”

And I’ve been inspired … well, sort of.

Don’t worry. I’ll explain that cryptic statement at the very end of this post.

But first, let’s establish a few ground rules. ‘Cause you know me. I love me some ground rules.

The Six Basic Principles of Creativity

  • Creativity is a natural state of being for every single human under the sun. That includes you. (Unless you’re actually an alien from another planet, in which case … I confess, I don’t know. But probably you, too.)
  • Creativity isn’t something you do — it’s a way you approach life and everything in it.
  • Creativity cannot be created, because it’s a form of energy. But it can be increased, and it can be triggered, and it can be managed.
  • Creativity is not something that strikes you, like the old trope of “the whims of the muse.” Screw that bitch. Creativity is a force that is always at your disposal. ALWAYS.
  • Creativity can be triggered and magnified by three things in particular: awareness (or mindfulness), change, and curiosity.
  • Creativity does not care one flying fig about being “right” or “perfect.” EVER.

Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s dig into the good stuff.

I’ve got 101 fun, easy, and cheap (or free) ways you can boost your own creative powers. Some of them are specific creative problem-solving approaches. Some of them are habits you can develop to be more creative day-in and day-out. Some are one-offs that are just fun to do.

Ready? Deep breath — here we go!

Annie’s Monster List of 101 Ways to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

  1. You don’t have to turn the TV off, contrary to most popular advice on the subject. Simply watch it differently — mindfully, openly, actively. Question plot choices and acting styles. Pause and challenge yourself to come up with a better plot twist or to appreciate a particularly lovely composition.
  2. Take a different route to a frequently-visited place.
  3. Unplug. Spend a little time every day completely away from electronics.
  4. Do morning pages.
  5. Pick one new piece of produce at the market — something you’ve never tried before. And eat it.
  6. Cultivate mindfulness in everything.
  7. If you normally use a dishwasher, once in awhile do the dishes by hand. Or scrub a floor or a tub — but do it mindfully, focusing on the sensations.
  8. Create a new ritual to perform before you do creative work.
  9. Take a walk through your neighborhood. Choose a different path than usual. Pay attention.
  10. Take a sketchpad and charcoal pencils to a park or a coffee shop. Even if you think you can’t draw, draw. Sketch what you see. Don’t aim for accuracy. Just do short timed sketches of several different views.
  11. Make a habit out of being creative and doing creative work. Approach it ritually, at approximately the same time of day, every time.
  12. Think of twenty new uses for a common everyday object.
  13. Improve your vocabulary with a word-a-day site or widget.
  14. Listen to music that’s unfamiliar.
  15. Watch an unfamiliar movie with the sound off. Pay attention to colors, facial expressions, body language … can you guess what’s going on without hearing the dialogue?
  16. Get a cheap kid’s watercolor paint set and a few different sized brushes. Paint regularly. Select something unfamiliar to you — a city, a type of flower or plant, a kind of topography — find an image of it on sxc.hu or Google Images and then reproduce it. (Constraints actually help free creativity, believe it or not.)
  17. Develop the curiosity habit. Carry a small notebook with you all the time and whenever you hear or read of an unfamiliar person, book, place or subject, write it down. Then take some time regularly to consult the list and indulge your curiosity with a little purposeful web browsing (call it “research” if you want).
  18. Creativity depends on forming connections where connections didn’t exist before. So challenge yourself to find at least one new connection between two seemingly random, unrelated things every day. Example: an apple and the Eiffel Tower. Or a stormtrooper from Star Wars and a banana. (Can you tell I’m jonesing for some fruit right now?)
  19. Try a different art. If you sketch, write. If you write, dance. If you dance, write a song.
  20. Play around with unusual color schemes on Kuler. Then come up with a wildly creative name for the new scheme.
  21. Recite an unfamiliar poem out loud.
  22. Memorize a long complex poem.
  23. Play the alphabet game. Come up with a different type of the same thing from A to Z — animals, colors, cities, occupations, books, names …
  24. Pick your favorite medium and your favorite creative piece in that medium. Then reverse engineer it. Analyze it critically. Understand as much as humanly possible about the work and its genesis, why it works, why it speaks to you, how it was made, the artist … then try another, and another. Keep a written record of this in a separate composition book or journal.
  25. Take a classic poem, then make a new one using the old one as a recipe, swapping out verbs and nouns and adjectives for other verbs and nouns and adjectives.
  26. Challenge yourself with timed writing prompts.
  27. Read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
  28. Go to one of those painted pottery places and paint yourself a new coffee or tea mug.
  29. Go to a store that sells essential oils and lets you experiment with them. Create your own signature fragrance.
  30. Learn a new recipe — something more complicated than your usual repertoire.
  31. Clean your house. Make your bed, especially. Do it routinely. Creativity likes a blank slate.
  32. Get a big white board and several colors of dry erase markers. Jazz up a list of pending projects and deadlines with the pens — draw flowers, shooting stars, rainbows, whatever floats your boat.
  33. Get in the doodling habit.
  34. Write down your dreams every morning, in as much detail as possible. Our subconscious minds are The Shit when it comes to putting together unusual images in unusual ways.
  35. Throw a dance party for one in your house.
  36. Play with collages — not necessarily as a vision board exercise, just to play with images, colors, themes, composition … mainly just to play.
  37. Next time you wake up at 3 AM, do something different: assume it’s a creative wake-up call from On High and get your ass out of bed. Get up FOR REAL, and engage in an artistic pursuit of your choice. Writing is especially attuned to this exercise, for some reason, but that could just be me.
  38. Turn off the TV. Sit and listen — really listen — see how many sounds in your environment you can identify.
  39. Go see a movie by yourself. Experience it like a kid.
  40. Find out where and what kind of live entertainment is available in your area. Go to at least one live event.
  41. Go browse in a store you’ve never been in — preferably one that sells antiques or anything on consignment. Find one item that speaks to you in some way and create a story in your mind (or in writing) about its history.
  42. Or, do the same but this time predict where the item will go next. Where it will end up.
  43. Check out a museum or art gallery. Something about seeing art live and in-person triggers creativity in a way that seeing reproductions just doesn’t.
  44. Read Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg.
  45. Listen to Baroque music. There’s some evidence to suggest this style in particular has a beneficial effect on brain waves that impacts creativity in a positive way.
  46. When you’re stuck on a particular project, take a mind-map approach. Hand-drawn ones are best, I find, but apps can help make them more manageable.
  47. Learn the rules. Then break them. Like Picasso. Emulate a master in your field, then revisit the same subject matter from a rule-breaking perspective. Like Picasso.
  48. Read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
  49. Interview a kid. Present them with a problem (in terms they can understand, of course) and see how they would go about solving it.
  50. Change your environment up. Go to a different location to work. Coffee shop instead of couch. Park instead of coffee shop.
  51. Rearrange your furniture.
  52. Think of a problem that you’re facing. Hold it in your head, then turn on the radio or television. Listen for a message. (Yes, you’re kind of pretending here, but you will be AH-mazed at how often you actually come up with helpful approaches you hadn’t considered before.)
  53. Take a nap. Every day.
  54. Go inventory your wardrobe and list out all the colors you see. Then go buy an inexpensive piece of clothing — a scarf, t-shirt, socks, whatever — in a color you don’t see on the list. Wear it. Pay attention to how you feel in it.
  55. Pick a color every morning and then throughout the day, see how many times and in how many contexts it shows up.
  56. Set your schedule on its ear. Shower in the afternoon. Have breakfast for dinner.
  57. Schedule daydreaming time every single day.
  58. When you take a walk, set an intention around a problem. Ask for guidance (from your subconscious brain, if you prefer, or from God, or your Higher Self). Then put it out of your brain and take a walk.
  59. Interview Future (successful) You. Write it all down with a kick-ass headline. Put a great photo of yourself in it — Photoshop it if you want, but it must “feel” like you. Then print it out and hang it where you can see it and be inspired by all that creativity that got Future You where s/he is.
  60. With every new creative idea you get, challenge yourself to figure out a way to launch it immediately. You don’t have to actually do it — just see if you can figure out how you could do it. Y’know. If you wanted to.
  61. When you’re problem-solving, REALLY brainstorm. No editing. Give yourself permission to write down as many wild-assed, completely impractical ideas as possible.
  62. Create an email-free space — also no phones or appointments — every week at the same time. Set up an appointment with yourself to do some high-level brainstorming for your business.
  63. Whatever huge dream project you’ve got going on — an ebook, a play or novel in progress, you really want to get back into acting, whatever — make sure you spend at least fifteen minutes on it every day. Commit to this. NO EXCUSES.
  64. Cut out the news-watching and gossip-site-reading. If something’s big enough, you’ll hear about it. If not, it’s just taking up your mental bandwidth unnecessarily.
  65. Challenge yourself to come up with five ways to improve something every single week. Even if it’s just the vacuum cleaner or the schedule at your kid’s school.
  66. If you do read news, look for the odd stories, and create a short plotline for a novel or movie around it. Make it a tragedy. Then turn it into a funny story. Then turn it into a mystery.
  67. Go to a large bookstore and buy a magazine you’ve never read before. Read it. Every single word.
  68. People watch with a purpose. Construct character sketches around the people you see.
  69. Pick a hot button issue on which you have a strong opinion. Research the opposing position thoroughly. Challenge yourself to see the other perspective. If nothing else, you’ll be in a better position to destroy ’em next time it comes up at the neighborhood bar.
  70. Buy fresh flowers “a la carte” and put them together yourself.
  71. Play the intuition game. Close your eyes and ask yourself a question. Open your eyes and pick the first three items your eyes happen to light upon. Find the answer to the question in those items. You may have to free associate for a bit for this to work.
  72. Read up on your hometown’s history.
  73. Play the alternate history game. What would have happened if Lincoln had lived? If Hitler hadn’t killed himself? If you’d said “yes” to that geek who asked you to the junior prom?
  74. Take a kid to the park and actually play with her. Swing ’til you’re dizzy.
  75. Design the ideal day — for your eight-year-old self. Then do it.
  76. Think of all the people who tried to rain on your creative parade throughout your life. Write a response to them all. Pour your heart and soul into it. Tell ’em what you really think of them and their uninformed opinions. Then burn it. Let it go.
  77. Challenge your assumptions when you’re stuck. Keep asking “Is it really true that _____?”
  78. Research a specific place you’ve always wanted to visit. Learn its history, its culture. Find ways to incorporate that place into your life. Cook the food. Listen to the music. Learn the language.
  79. Find the script to your favorite movie online. Watch it with reference to the script. Pay attention to what the writer intended and what choices were made by the director, the actors, the composer… figure out how it became the movie you know.
  80. Get in the habit of asking questions, especially open-ended and impossible ones.
  81. Before you research those questions you asked, brainstorm possible answers for yourself. Then do the research and see how close you came.
  82. Give yourself to suck at an initial creative attempt. Out loud. In writing. Say, “I have permission to write a shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott put it.
  83. Drink a large glass of tea or water before sitting down to starting to work on a creative project. Don’t let yourself get up to the go to the bathroom until you’ve worked for a certain amount of time.
  84. Read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
  85. Go cloud watching. Make the pictures as complex as you can.
  86. Have one place to capture your creative ideas. Take it with you everywhere. Write everything that occurs to you down — don’t keep anything in your head.
  87. Get a set of fridge poetry magnets. Do a poem a day.
  88. Try forming a new scent association for creative work. Get candles in one pleasant scent, and light them when you start working. Save that scent for creative work. (Then you’ll start to associate being creative with that scent. One whiff will put you in the mood to work.)
  89. Make a creative swipe file. Whatever inspires you, moves you, angers you … copy it. (Evernote is really good for this.)
  90. Have approved distractions — i.e., mini-projects you can work on when you start feeling a little burned out on your big project.
  91. Try stopping mid-stroke or mid-sentence when you’re ready to shut down for the day. This gives you a place to start next time.
  92. Conquer a fear.
  93. Play “what if.” Play it a LOT.
  94. Redefine sticky problems by trying to explain them to someone outside that field.
  95. Try writing or sketching with your non-dominant hand.
  96. Do a “Q&A” with yourself in writing, using two different colors of ink. Write the question down, then pick up the other pen and write the answer. Aim for free-association writing, stream of consciousness style.
  97. Go ahead and play Words With Friends or Mafia Wars or whatever competitive game you like. (Just set a time limit.) Indulge your inner winner.
  98. Have a conversation with the dog or cat or fish. Really. Imagine his/her/its end of it, too. Write it down, even.
  99. If you’re being flooded with negative self talk, write it all down. Give yourself permission to be as down on yourself and your abilities as you like. Wallow in your fears. Then, declare “enough” and burn that sucker. Let ’em go.
  100. Make a solid commitment to finish.
  101. But give yourself as many do-overs as you want and need.
  102. Set yourself an impossible and random goal. Something like “come up with 101 ways to be more creative and make the list into a blog post …”
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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Tea Silvestre November 30, 2011 at 12:34 am

Holy-freakin-COW, Batman! You’ve really outdone yourself this time, Annie. Can’t wait to share this with the world. ((snoopy dance!))
Tea Silvestre recently posted..Brainstorming 2.0: 15 Juicy Ways to Use the Internet

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Annie November 30, 2011 at 12:51 am

YAY! Thanks, Chef Tea. I always find myself aiming for BIG when Word Carnival comes around. Glad I hit the target! :::Linus boogie:::

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Jason Fonceca December 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I 100% agree with Tea (tay-ah?) !

This article is on a subject that is near and dear to my heat. I teach it, I preach it, and I love it.

I really loved the 6 Basic Principles Of Creativity, and I totally agree with them and I know for me, they’ve led to massive amounts of creations.

I would like to add that for me, the language of ‘force’ (used in principle #4) is… well… kind of loaded. It feels a bit… forceful 😀

So for my personal understanding, I think of it as Always Having Access To My Own Creative POWER.

‘Power’, to me, is a purer, more accessible word.

Either way, I am so thrilled to be here, and really appreciate your comment on my 8 Failed Businesses In 6 Years post on FirePoleMarketing.com – you were the first commenter and you really got me thinking!

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Annie December 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Thanks Jason! I enjoyed your post quite a lot. “Force” in this sense is like gravity or electricity – not in the sense of being “forceful” – but it’s also appropriate to think in terms of energy. I believe there are several kinds of energy — creativity’s one, plus physical energy, intellectual energy, spiritual energy… whatever works for you is what you should use! And thanks for stopping by. Always lovely to meet new friends. 🙂

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Jason Fonceca December 19, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Woohoo! Thanks so much Annie, I enjoyed yours and I think we’re on the same page. The comparison to gravity really hit it home 🙂

Friends rock!

Sharon Hurley Hall November 30, 2011 at 12:42 am

Oh, I am sooo bookmarking this awesome post, Annie. This is an amazing list of ways to awaken our dormant creativity. 🙂
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Thankful – Without Thanksgiving

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Annie November 30, 2011 at 12:51 am

::::bow:::: Grazie, bella! Glad you find it helpful. 🙂 Can’t wait to see yours!

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Nick Armstrong November 30, 2011 at 12:58 am

Annie! Nice list, holy cow. You were in the zone!

I love 93 – Playing “What If” — this is probably the best business practice you can get in to.

This seems like it should be an ebook on its own, Annie. For reals.

As an aside, Morning Pages is a very difficult habit to get into for a lot of people – when you’re afraid of sounding like an idiot, permanent proof that you write and think like an idiot in the morning can really be a damper on your mojo.

Instead, I usually pitch that people should do affirmations along with a page from a coloring book or Sudoku or some other left-brain distracting tactic. Still frees up your mind to be creative without the permanent evidence that you need more or less sleep. 😀
Nick Armstrong recently posted..Steal Like an Artist

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Annie November 30, 2011 at 11:07 am

Interesting idea, Nick … I may have to try that. Especially for writers, who feel the pressure to produce the written word… that could be very helpful!

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Nick Armstrong November 30, 2011 at 10:37 pm

No kidding. Let me know if you need help w/ it.
Nick Armstrong recently posted..Steal Like an Artist

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Michelle Church November 30, 2011 at 1:04 am

Mz. Annie you did the damn thing on this one…I haven’t even read them all yet, but I will. I love YOUR creativity. 90 is great that took away my guilt, I always switch between projects so I don’t get bored. I need to do more of 62…LOVE YOU!

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Annie November 30, 2011 at 11:07 am

YAY! Love you too, Ms. Michelle! Go rock it. 🙂

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Clare Price November 30, 2011 at 1:15 am

Wow! This list is truly amazing and should get and keep everyone’s creative juices flowing forever! 🙂 I especially like 18, 35 and 59. Oh on 91 I actually do that for most of my writing projects. Works like a charm.
Clare Price recently posted..Creativity: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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Annie November 30, 2011 at 11:13 am

That’s awesome, Clare! I’m always glad to get some validation. 😉

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Eugene November 30, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Holy s#!t Annie! Can you say viral material? I’m off to share.

But before I go…I agree…the muse can go screw herself.
Eugene recently posted..8 Steps to Writing Successful Content that Drives Action

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Annie November 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm

:::fanning face:::: Oh, Eugene, you say the sweetest things…

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evan austin November 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Home-girl, i always get both validation and inspiration from you! (Does that make you a muse? Yipes!)

i LOVE #s 2, 3, 10, 12 reminds me of my “20 Circles” video http://youtu.be/q4XSrB-dZWw, 13, 14, 32 has been on my to-get list for a while, 34, 49 hooray for child consultants!, 54, 61 YES! – fearless…no ego, and 88 is awesome!

i’mma print this and tuck it inside my copy of “Caffeine for the Creative Mind”. Thanks, love!
evan austin recently posted..Naked Creativity: What It Is & How To Get It

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Annie November 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Whoot! OK, maybe muses aren’t ALL shifty-eyed bitches … and DUDE, I LOVE that video! EVERYONE needs to go watch that, like, NOW.

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Nicole Fende December 1, 2011 at 5:55 am

I feel like such a slacker now… 101 Ideas? Holy cow batman. And these are real ideas, not just two or three words thrown done. I do have one question, what is a morning page?

My personal faves are #33 (do this a lot), #41, #73 (have you ever read Heinlein?) and #95

And yes, this is now bookmarked!
Nicole Fende recently posted..Creative Finance That Won’t Get You Arrested

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Annie December 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Yikes! I forgot to link to the morning pages post. BAD blogger… will take care of that pronto, Nicole! YES, I have read Heinlein. My dad was a huge fan. 😀 And my ex was a big fan of alt-history fic in general.

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Libby December 1, 2011 at 9:40 am

It all takes TIME.. thats what ticks away from me everyday and I wonder what I actually achieved at day’s end…..
Cheers for great writing
Libby
Libby recently posted..How you can Save on Crafts for your Wedding

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Annie December 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Merci, Libby! If time’s a problem for you, then you’re at the right blog! I am ALL about ways to get your art done. Thanks for your comment.

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Teena Pie December 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Wow this is a really long post but it’s really touching and meaningful. I belong to a creative circle of friends and I will share this to them because I know they will love this list as well! Thank you and more power!

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Annie December 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Yay for sharing! Thank you, Teena – hope your friends enjoy it, too! Yes, it is long. But it’s meant to be used in a “pick one” kind of way. There’s no way we could do all of these things in a given week and still actually – y’know – create.

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SandyMc December 4, 2011 at 8:40 am

Annie, seriously you blow my mind! Anyone else noticing how these posts are just RAMPING UP!

2. Different routes: Whoo, really challenging! 6. Cultivate mindfulness. Such sane advice. 9. Neighbourhood walk. I can vouch for this, it works. 17. Curiosity and the notebook. Great habit to get into. 30. Try a new recipe. Pick them up while in the waiting room/hairdressers and copy them down. You’ll make them that way. 36. Collages. What fun. Waiting for the grandkids for that one. 37. Getting up at 3am. Much better than facing the wee hour monsters. 40. Live music. No excuse if you live in a modern vibrant city. And you’re supporting other creatives. 55. Pick a colour: Like watching for 11.11. Try that too. 58. Like 30 – excellent therapy. 63. The doing of creativity, absolutely essential. 73. Playing alternative history. SCARY. 76. Raining on your parade. Best therapy advice ever. Thanks Annie. 89. Evernote – its been ubiquitous in this series, must go and check it out. 96. I think this is accessing Left and Right Brain and as such must be a really great exercise! 100. Completion. Such a good space to be in.

Thank you Annie for this wonderful reference to creativity.
SandyMc recently posted..The right brain, left brain thing and content curation

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Annie December 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Thanks Sandy! I LOVE the 11:11 thing. It’s awesome when it happens spontaneously, too – like a little universal validation from On High. Also, yay for supporting other creatives. I’m not a big fan of the whole Law of Attraction thing but I DO believe, absolutely, that we tend to get back what we give out. Supporting other creatives is, therefore, our mandate and our honor.

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Someone January 2, 2012 at 7:11 am

Great post! This is a great list, I plan to do as many of these as I can! Strangely enough, I stumbled across this post/website from your comment on an article a ew.com. I’m glad to have stumbled upon this list, i love it.

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Annie January 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

I am literally LOLing here. (Seriously, the cat’s looking at me weird. Sometimes, he scares me… like, what exactly is he thinking about doing to me?) This is a first for me – a reader from a comment on one of those entertainment sites I’m strangely addicted to! Well, I’m tickled pink you found me and left a comment, Someone! Do come back. 🙂

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Someone January 3, 2012 at 4:10 am

Oh, I will. Your site is great, I’ll be back. And the cat thing, now I’m literally LOLing here! My cat freaks me out when she looks me in the eye, if she looks at me too long I literally have to leave the room until she stops! I cannot write with those yellow eyes staring into my soul. :S

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Annie January 3, 2012 at 12:38 pm

It’s unnatural, isn’t it? Like they’re possessed or something!

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leather ipad case February 1, 2012 at 8:09 am

If you commit to doing something in relation to your creative activity either at a set time each day or to produce a certain amount then you’ll find that eventually the creative juices will flow without effort.

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Tanya August 21, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Like Wow, holy cow, all this creative juice in one post. I could do one a day for three months and still have a couple weeks left. *Happy dance*

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