It’s Katherine, writing from Ethiopia and enjoying what is quite possibly the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. As much as I love my job, sometimes it’s nice to take a break from stealing top-secret documents and indulge in my other passion: caffeine.

Because we work in publishing, Ahna and I get to collaborate with writers and artists every day, people who have made creativity their career. Yesterday we talked about how these people manage to stay inspired in their work.

I couldn’t resist doing some further investigating, so I checked in with some of our assets authors and illustrators, and I also consulted The Writer’s Book of Wisdom by Steven Goldsberry. Here are some more tried-and-true ways to get yourself in a creative mindset.

Read often, and indulge in marginalia.

In order to write well, you need to study the craft, and a good way to do that is through reading. While it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I think it’s a good idea for authors (both prospective and published) to make notes in the margins of the books they read. Underline passages; ask questions; write down any insights that strike you or details you want to remember. If nothing else, this practice forces you to think critically about the book. And you never know, your marginalia could lead to your next manuscript.

One caveat: do not indulge in marginalia when it comes to library books. As tempting as it is for spies like me to leave coded notes for our contacts in the margins of publicly circulated paperbacks, I’ve learned the hard way (I’d rather not say how; they might be reading this) not to do it. For the love of coffee: JUST DON’T.

Keep a magpie collection.

Many writers and illustrators benefit from having a magpie collection, a hoard of things that inspire them. Cassandre Maxwell, who created collage illustrations for her book Fur, Fins, and Feathers, is always on the lookout for paper and materials that interest her. If you don’t already do so, start keeping track of interesting articles, book excerpts, pictures, etc. Then, on a day when you’re not feeling inspired, go through the things you’ve collected. Finding creative juxtapositions is a good way to fire up the neurons.

Write as therapy.

Sometimes it’s hard to focus on a project because life gets in the way. When that happens, sometimes the best thing to do is to write about the very thing that’s distracting you. If you don’t keep a journal, then take out a piece of paper and treat your writing session like therapy. Write about what is on your mind, what you’re stressing about, what’s got you too excited to focus. Getting your thoughts down will help to clear your head, and those same thoughts can even serve as inspiration later on. Linda Vigen Phillip’s novel-in-verse Crazy initially began as a set of 20 poems that she wrote as catharsis.

Treat the first draft like a blue book exam.

We’ve all been paralyzed by a blank page before. You want your project to have a strong beginning, but you’re unsure how to start. I think the best way to overcome this is to approach your idea like you would a blue book exam. Give yourself a time limit (say, an hour or two), and write down everything you can think of. The end result will be messy, but you’ll have ideas on paper. And that’s a good place to begin.

I hope these ideas help you on your quest to get and/or stay inspired. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to decode the message I just found on the inside of my coffee sleeve.

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About Coffee Break Confidential:

This monthly column is where EBYR editorial assistant/vlogger/super spy Katherine Gibson divulges extra information from Coffee Break with EBYR that would otherwise be kept off the record. She’s researching topics related to children’s literature, posting her findings — and taking down some powerful militarized governments in the process. Just kidding about that last one. (Or are we?)