What to Do When Your Creative Well Runs Dry

by • December 19, 2013

well, creative, writing, adviceOne of the most common questions writers are asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” While every writer answers this question differently—read author Neil Gaiman’s answer here—it boils down to two things: observing the world and thinking about what you experience. Despite that seeming simplicity, sometimes the well runs dry.

Every creative person runs into this problem from time to time. Call it writer’s block, call it burnout—whatever you call it, it’s not fun. Suddenly the ideas just aren’t coming, and you find yourself staring at the same blank page for hours…or playing Candy Crush until your eyes cross. It’s frustrating, especially for the full-time freelancer or fiction writer whose livelihood depends on being creative.

Joss Whedon, creator of the beloved TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the writer/director of The Avengers, had this to say: “The last piece of advice on that level is fill the tanks, fill the tanks, fill the tanks. Constantly watch things and things you don’t [normally watch]. Step outside your viewing zone, your reading zone.”

Here are some ways to refill your tank and get writing again:

  • Push through it. This isn’t the most comforting advice when you’re blocked, but sometimes the only way out is through. Set a goal, sit down, and start typing. Even if you’re just describing what you had for breakfast, eventually the words will start flowing again.
  • Read something great. One of the best ways to inspire yourself is to read someone you admire. Aspiring to write like the masters can spur you to new heights.
  • Read something terrible. On the flipside, sometimes the greatest inspiration comes from reading something really, really bad. After all, you could write something better in your sleep, right?
  • Exercise. Not only does exercising get blood—and therefore oxygen—flowing to your brain, but it also releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that’ll help you to feel more optimistic about breaking through your block.
  • Get some culture. Go see a film, stroll through an art museum, or listen to some music. Enjoying the work of other artists is an enriching experience—and it may help you get out of your creative rut.
  • Watch the news. Whether you’re a novelist or a copywriter, staying current with what’s going on in the world is a good idea. Not only will you be a more informed citizen, but you may also see a story that gives you your next spark of inspiration.
  • Browse the web. To clarify, I don’t mean spending time on a gossip blog or falling down the rabbit hole at tvtropes.org. Instead, explore sites that relate to your interests. If you write copy for entrepreneurs, check out business blogs. If you write historical fiction, delve into the history of your favorite era.
  • Learn something new. Take a class in a topic that’s always interested you or brush off an old hobby. Try something outside your comfort zone, like salsa dancing. You can find clubs on meetup.com or continuing education classes at your local community college.
  • Talk to your network. When you’re stuck, it can feel like you’re the only person who is suffering from writer’s block. Check in with your network, whether in person or online, and commiserate.
  • Go on an adventure. While it’s not possible for most people to drop everything and get on a plane, you can go exploring closer to home. Take a walk in a part of town you don’t normally visit or pick a direction and go for a drive. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, and even smells on your odyssey; all of these things refill your tank, drop by drop.

Have you tried any of these strategies before? What do you do to break through a block? Let us know in the comments!

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