Finding creativity when you’re not feeling it

Nobody is self-deprecating like a writer. Partially it’s because we trade in words and so we’re good using those words to gently mock ourselves, partially it’s because it’s so easy to feel impostor syndrome when we’re infinitely connected via social media with other people publishing short stories and blogs and novels and journalism and fantastic work around the globe, mostly it’s because when we’re staring at a blank notebook or Scriviner page or Word document with nothing but the lyrics to Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings’ in our heads it’s easier to laugh than to cry.

I’ve written before about my experiences with creative burnout, but it’s not just burnout that sometimes makes it feel like putting a few words on a page is an insurmountable challenge. Sometimes it’s just good old writer’s block. We’ve all felt it. Even if you’re not a writer, you’ve probably felt it staring down a deadline for an essay in high school or college. Or you’ve felt the equivalent—photographer’s block or knitter’s block or baker’s block (are any of these real terms? doesn’t matter)—regarding your preferred creative outlet.

So what do you do when you feel like you’re never going to write another sentence, or draw another picture or play another song? Here are some ideas:

(note: I’m directing these ideas toward writers, but of course they can be adapted for any creative pursuit)

Take a walk.

I’ve come to realise that my creative drive is directly proportional with how much time I spend in nature. One thing I don’t love about living in Melbourne is that it’s much more difficult to get away from the city; it’s large and spread out and the parks are manicured and obviously man-made. Still, even just getting outside into one of these crafted green spaces and seeing something that isn’t streets and skyscrapers makes such a difference in how inspired I feel to write. When my imagination wanes, taking a moment to reconnect with nature kindles it again.

Steal some inspiration.

Writing exercises aren’t just for students. If your block is coming from a lack of ideas rather than a lack of words, let someone else guide you. There are countless places to find fiction and nonfiction writing prompts online, from dedicated communities on Reddit to a search for journaling prompts on Pinterest. Pick something that strikes your fancy and give it a whirl (or pick something that doesn’t and try to make it work). While realistically you probably won’t stick with it in the long-term, it’s another way to get over the writer’s block hurdle so you can work on something you really want.

Be shit at something new.

Shitty first drafts” from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is practically a Biblical text to most writers. But nobody wants to feel like they’re not good at something important to them. Instead, try being bad at something else. If you’re a writer, grab a camera and take some shitty photographs. If you’re a photographer, paint a shitty painting. If you’re a painter, give a cake some shitty decorations. It’s easier to be okay with being bad at things that we don’t expect ourselves to be good at, and it’s still creative work that helps to get rid of the mental block.

Set the smallest goal. 

In On Writing, Stephen King said that he aims to write 2,000 words a day; sometimes it takes a few hours and sometimes nearly until sunset, but by setting a daily goal it forces you to push through the writer’s block and get the words out. In a perfect world, I would write 1,000 or so words per day. Sometimes that’s just not going to happen, though, so instead I set a goal that’s a minuscule percentage of that: 10 words. Just 10. One sentence, maybe two. Generally, once you start you’re not going to stop at 10, but even if you do you’re ending the day with 10 more words than you started with, and that’s something.

Start again.

We all tend to think that what we’re writing is trash while we’re writing it. It’s one of the reasons that NaNoWriMo exists, to force us to resist the urge to ruthlessly edit and cut and hack at our work whilst we’re writing until there’s nothing left. But sometimes what we’re writing is just not working. In these instances, set it aside and start something else. Pretend you’re done with that piece of crap story forever and put it in a folder named “trash”—don’t actually trash it, though. With some time away and the excitement of a new project in front of you, you’ll likely come back to that old, stagnant piece and realise it’s not half as bad as you thought.

SeptemberWriMo

We all have excuses for why we don’t write. Work, kids, Netflix marathons, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve written before about how difficult I find writing for fun when I write for a living. And yet, for one glorious, stressful month a year, we put all our excuses decide, meet up with friends and strangers in coffee shops and on twitter, and try to bash out 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month.

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Creatives for Creatives: my favourite podcasts about the art & business of creative work

I’ve written before about how much I love listening to podcasts during pretty much every waking moment. Walking to work? Podcasts. Freelancing? Podcasts. Out for a run? Podcasts. On a long drive? Yep, podcasts. Most of the time I listen to podcasts for entertainment, whether they’re fiction or true crime or, my favourite genre, folklore and paranormal. However, there are also plenty of great podcasts out there that can educate, inform, and best of all, help you with your creative work.

Obviously, podcasting is a creative medium in itself, but it’s also increasingly becoming a way for creative business owners to share their secrets, talk to other creatives, and discuss the process of creative work. Whether you’re a blogger, a wedding photographer, an artist, or just keen on learning about how you can enhance your creative process or maybe even turn it into a side-gig or a career, here are some of my favourite listens for getting the creative juices flowing.

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Reality is dead; long live Reality

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and I guess I was smart enough as a kid to realise that most fiction writers don’t immediately publish a bestselling novel and turn that into their day job, so I decided I wanted to be a journalist. Linda Ellerbee was my main inspiration for this, between her incredible educational news show Nick News and her Girl Reporter young adult book series.

I stopped wanting to be a journalist sometime in college. Although I loved my classes and my peers, and certain aspects of journalism like copyediting and researching are definitely right up my alley, and I do love the deadline-oriented nature of the job, I just couldn’t see myself doing it as a career. Sometimes I question that, especially when I look at the amazing work some fellow alums are doing, but for the most part I have no desire to step into a newsroom.

Still, I consider both Ellerbee’s work and my time at Ithaca College to have had a huge influence on shaping my life, but between them was something that was even more important: Reality.

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Anthony Bourdain was the traveller that I dream of being

I mostly try to avoid calling a celebrity a hero of mine. Being someone whose work I enjoy does not a hero make, and especially in recent years I am wary of heaping too much praise on (particularly a male) celebrity when I don’t know what they could have been doing behind the scenes on set or in the recording studio. But I have no hesitation in saying that Anthony Bourdain, who was found dead today of apparent suicide, is one of my heroes.

My three favourite things are travel, food, and writing, and Bourdain was an inspiration to me in all three. I’ve read several of his books, seen all of his shows (most episodes of No Reservations more than once), and any time I am going somewhere new one of the first things I do is check if Bourdain had done a segment there and what he had to say about it. He travelled the way I want to travel, and he ate the way I want to eat—not because of the variety and amount that he got to experience, but because of the way he honoured each place he went and each meal he ate.

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