That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

How to nurture your creativity

When I die, I want to be composted. My mum, who has already booked and paid for her burial plot, would be horrified by this idea. I’m all too aware this body I inhabit is a loaner, and I’m all too happy to slip it into the returns bin on my way out.

Composting takes the original thing – shrub, carrot, person (sorry mum) – and breaks it down to its most basic parts to form a natural fertiliser. The combined nutrients then feed back into the soil and eventually, these parts get new life and grow into something else.

Keeping a creative compost heap – of quotes, snippets and scraps of ideas – is just as important to nurturing your writing as it is for gardeners in feeding their garden. Writing is in many ways a form of recycling; taking something from real life and breaking it down and reusing it in story form. Good stories grow from rich beginnings. While nothing will replace the importance of sitting down and writing (ie/ doing the work), this heap will feed and nourish your creative work in surprising and novel ways.

We planted out one of our vegetable beds this week, but not before preparing the soil with worm castings and compost, a rich mix of broken down vegetable matter, newspapers, and chicken manure from our hens. It struck me as I spread the mix – noticing last summer’s mango pips and avocado stones – that it was comprised of last summer’s fruit, of which we are yet to enjoy this year because it’s still growing somewhere in this big land. A bit like those big stories which haven’t come to us yet, they’re just fragments floating around, waiting for connection, growth and the moment of realisation when they turn into something else.

10 things to add to your Creative Compost Heap


Like a traditional compost heap, newspapers are a great source of material in a creative compost heap. Full of human stories, pain, suffering, success, struggle, newspapers are the well we draw from. Keep a clippings file to draw upon when you’re combing for ideas.

Take notes, everywhere.

Take notes, everywhere. In the supermarket. The doctor’s surgery. At the tip. The sly glance of the girl on the bus. The way the old man feeds the ham to his dog under the table in the cafe. The terse words overheard at school pick up. This is all good material. If something strikes you, write it down and toss it into your heap.

Read good books

This one is a no brainer, right? Learn from the masters. Once upon a time there was no such thing as studying creative writing at university. All the greats learnt the craft from sitting at the feet of the masters and observing their movements. If you have a library card, you’re well on your way.

Read bad books

I love reading good literature, but sometimes bad books can teach us just as much about the writing process as good books. If you find yourself stomping through a crap book, try to pin point the qualities that make it bad. Prose? Plot? Characterisation? Structure? Voice? Try not to do those things in your own writing.

Listen to your good ideas

If an idea or image or character won’t leave you alone, it’s probably worth pursuing. Write it down! By following your gut, you’ll soon develop a knack for knowing which ideas to keep, and what to toss.

Keep clutter

Allow yourself some clutter. I know the dominant trend in our busy, work and style obsessed world is to kill the clutter, but creative people need clutter. It’s like oxygen, and forms the basis of stories that live and breath. Keep scraps, ideas, half formed sentences. You absolutely never know when these things will pop up again. If you feel the urge to keep something – a photo, a ribbon, a button – do it. If space is an issue, take a picture of the object and file it on your computer. Or if you work on paper, keep a visual diary – sketch, clip, paste, print, write, play.


Music can take you out of your own head and into someone else’s. The right kind of music (depending on the piece of writing you’re working on) can motivate you to keep working.

Move around

This isn’t so much an ingredient for your compost heap as a technique to encourage your creativity to flourish. When you can’t write, go for a walk or a ride or a run or a drive. Catch a train to nowhere, then come home again. Consider it like turning your heap, churning things over to allow a change of scene, of temperature, to encourage further development of ideas and voices. Whenever I get stuck, a walk will always yield new ideas or a fresh perspective.

Be a passive observer

Turn on your listening ears and open yourself up to the stories around you. Really listen.

Take your time

Enjoy what you do. Writing is a craft. If you are heavy handed and rush yourself, it will show. Keep your touch light, and your creative compost heap will grow dense and rich and continue to feed your writing, so long as you continue to feed it. Good things take time.

How do you nurture your creativity?

22 Responses to “How to nurture your creativity”

  1. Kelly Exeter (@kellyexeter)

    Interesting that you said ‘read bad books’ because recently I have read two books that, while they weren’t ‘bad’ per se, really agitated me. I realised after the fact that in both cases, it was because I didn’t believe in the relationships in the books. In making that discovery I think I have ensured that should I ever dip my toes into novel writing, making the relationships believable will be front of mind!

    As for nurturing my creativity – I read, I run (or walk) and I have long showers! These three things are pretty crucial to keeping the creative cogs turning in my brain.

    • sarah

      I am using this list Kel as a way to reason away my chick lit obsession. Books I can knock over in a day. Nothing gets my brain clear like a bit of love obsessed fluff.

    • Rhythm & method

      It’s really important to think critically about how writing is structured. It’s easy to spot good writing, but it’s another to explain why it’s good (or conversely, why bad writing is bad).
      Sounds like you’re taking very good care of your creative muscles Kelly. 😉

  2. Jess WhoaMamma

    Oh I love this post, Karen! I know that I have a lot of stories floating about inside me, and you’re right, they need the right nutrients to feed them, to help them grow, until they are ready to be born and blossom. I love the ‘Motivation’ list you’ve compiled too. Music is a great trigger for me, so are conversations with my grandma. x

  3. Cat

    I love this and had never thought of it in this way before which is a knack you have! Life as a compost heap is a powerful metaphor indeed. There are some really great ideas to keep my brain and creative self alive her K, thank you. Xxx

  4. Green mama

    I think I’m pretty good at all the steps you list above, I have a rocking writers notebook. The translating scraps of genius into stories? Not so diligent… Still, I figure I have a lot of fodder for when I pull my finger out!

  5. sarafoley

    I love the compost analogy :). I have quotes/beautiful words/Images files – and I know this sounds silly, but I use facebook as an inspiration file – cool articles, and information all get saved on my page. Meditation is a big one for me. If I can sit and be silent in a sacred space for even 15 minutes, inspiration comes 🙂 I love the idea of taking a notebook everywhere – although I went to a meeting as an observer the other day with a notebook and pen – and ended up taking the minutes! Trapped …

    • Rhythm & method

      What a great idea, Facebook as inspiration file. Makes sense, I visit mine most days and all your ‘shares’ would be in the one spot.
      I wish I could meditate. I find it hard enough staying in the one room while I brush my teeth …

  6. Lipgloss Mumma (@LipglossMumma)

    I really love this post. Filling the soul and mind can only be a good thing. I particularly like to do a wide selection of reading. Blogs, books of different genres, magazines, newspapers. it is amazing how much the brain can actually soak in to use as inspiration later. x

  7. C.B. Wentworth

    Fantastic list. Creativity is living and breathing all around us and inside of us. We just have to be brave enough and aware enough to notice it. 🙂

  8. Gill

    Driving, showers and washing the dishes. My phone is my new notebook, it’s compact and always with me. I’m the geek stopped at the red traffic lights, reciting blibs and blobs of creative thought into my phone. Fabulous analogy. Promise to look at my recycling in a whole new way…

  9. maxabella

    Snap! I did a creative kids post this week. It was amazing to put together. As ever, even after all of that, you’ve stretched me! x

  10. ameliadraws

    Ah so much lovely permission here! The poet Grant Cadwell once called the process of combing through all those scraps as “harvesting”. Today i am harvesting through a four year old journals…. find abondoned lines i hope to stich together elsewhere
    you have such a gorgeous prose

    • rhythm & method

      Thank you, for the harvesting reference (love it!) and for the kind words.


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