Thursday, January 7, 2010

Creativity Tip: Using Sudoku as a jumpstart to Writing

Please welcome my friend Walt Mussell, an author who has a unique creativity tip to share.

Ten Minutes in the Morning

When I read Kelly’s book, Time to Write, one of first things I did was to make myself a schedule, trying to find pockets of time to write. The result was that I had time in the morning before I went to work. However, as I started rising early, I realized one thing: I wasn’t “ready” to write at that hour. I struggled to put words on the page, I would check e-mail or surf the net. It wasn’t a productive way to spend time.

Finally, I discovered something that let me get my brain in gear, even quicker than taking coffee via an IV…sudoku. A math puzzle may seem like the oddest way to spark one’s creative side, but I’m a total left brain. I have degrees in physics, finance, and accounting and I gravitate to numbers. (In the spring of 2009, I was a contest finalist for about two minutes, and then the contest coordinator read me my scores. Hopefully, one day, my writing skills will exceed my ability to do math in my head.)

To start, I bookmarked a website ( and I visit nearly every day to do puzzles in my head. There are five levels on the site. With a pen and paper, I can do the hardest ones, but I don’t want anything that challenging. Instead, I use a lower level puzzle as I want to be able to do it on-line without having to write things down. This is enough for me to get going. Also, I only want to take ten minutes on the puzzle because I want to get to actual writing. The website I use has a timer, so you can keep track of how long you’ve been at it. Finished? Unfinished? It doesn’t matter. After ten minutes, or if I finish the puzzle in less than ten minutes, I start writing.

As I’ve gotten better at sudoku, I’ve increased the difficulty level of the puzzle I do in the morning. However, I don’t go beyond my pre-set time limit. This may not be the best way for some people to get started, but it does work for me. It also seems especially geared towards editing.

I’m currently reading Kelly’s second book, Thinking Write, and trying to find better ways to tap into my creative potential. I’ve set a dream log next to my bed and started writing things down. (Being male, or just really left brain, I chose not to decorate it.) However, as I continue with my sudoku in the morning, I wonder if my current morning kickstart isn’t my version of a “mirror,” “pendulum,” or “arm in the air” as a way to focus. Hopefully, Kelly will respond on that.

Walt Mussell
"Walt's Place" (Auburn football: Sun)
"Daddy Needs Decaf" (Parenting: Tues & Fri)


Sudoku is one of those games that stimulates *right brain* alpha state creativity. It is similar to using the *arm in the air* technique that I write about in Thinking Write as a way to get in touch with the subconscious.

What games similar to sudoku have you found to rejunvenate your creativity? Leave a comment and be entered into a drawing to win a $5 dollar off coupon to one of Kelly's future online classes.


  1. Hey Walt,
    Even though I have an accounting degree, I can't imagine doing Sudoku before coffee. I can't think of a creativity-inducing game either, but I'm a firm believer in what you called a dream log. I often wake up in the middle of the night and scribble a terrific line of dialogue or a scene idea on the pad of paper on my nightstand. Of course, the challenge is being able to read the next morning what I've written half asleep in the dark.

  2. My husband LOVES Sudoku. It's how he unwinds...if I told him I was doingit to gear up I think he'd laugh at me...

  3. Diane, I'm new to using a dream log. I got the idea from Kelly's book. However, I do have the same issue that you do. Sometimes, I have trouble reading what I wrote in the middle of the night. However, I did add my first scene recently to my current WIP from a dream log.

  4. Kit, I used to use it to unwind, too. However, the fact that it gets me to focus was why I started using sudoku this way.

  5. Hi Walt- Sorry I'm late to the party. Love the Sudoko idea, I just wonder if I would stop at 10 minutes even with a time. I'm a little obsessive--one of the reasons I no longer play sudoko. It would give me a really good excuse to try again though, I'd love to quickly get my brain in gear first thing in the morning.

  6. Robin, the website I marked has a timer. However, I understand the feeling of wanting to continue. One of the things I did when I started this was to use easier puzzles. That way, I'd be certain to finish within 10 minutes and wouldn't want to continue.