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5 Tips to Break a Creative Block

Image via Wikipedia Commons

Creativity Takes Work

Anyone who has done any kind of writing for an extended period of time will eventually experience some form of writer’s block or creative dry spell. It simply comes with the territory.

I used to be a news reporter with multiple deadlines throughout the day and had to deal with writer’s block regularly.

You might think it would be easy to write about “news of the day” but that’s not always the case.

That’s especially true if I was assigned a low interest, low visual, low emotional story about something like a county drainage proposal, rezoning considerations or tax easement issue (yikes) – I don’t care if you write like Hemingway, such assignments challenge even the best writers.

It’s Easier to Write About – What You Care About

So the best counter strategy for me, would be to come to the daily editorial meetings with my own story ideas to pitch and hopefully cover that day.

However, that’s easier said than done.

To come up with 2-3 different ideas each day was a creative exercise that posed challenges.  Here’s what I would do (and continue to do today) to break through the creative block.

Breaking the Block

1. Read publications and listen to opinions I was philosophically opposed – the idea here would be to get a spark or kernel of a concept that might be flipped on its head into an interesting angle.  For example, perhaps a health teacher was passing out condoms to students because she believed “kids were going to have sex anyway.” That might be juxtaposed with the idea that perhaps a driver’s ed teacher should pass out radar detectors since “students are going to speed anyway.” To me, that’s an interesting discussion to engage and story to follow.

2. Stream of conscious writing – while it sounds weird, this can be a very effective breakthrough tactic. When I don’t know what to write or where to begin I’ll just start writing the first things that come to mind. I’ll continue doing that, going down whatever rabbit trail may appear. You’ll be surprised how quickly you may unintentionally coin a clever turn of phrase or make a mistake that connects to an idea that had been kicking around in your cranial database for some time. Give it a try.

3. Take a break – get up, stretch, do some Chi Gong, take a quick walk – do something.  I’ve found that in much the same way that your computer seizes up and needs a reboot, my creative CPU acts the same way sometimes. Often a quick change of scenery or light physical activity provides a useful reset to the creative system.

4. Start a unique hobby or interest – this is more of a preemptive tactic that helps keep the mental channel full of ideas. For instance, last year my daughters and I started taking karate classes together. We’ve now shared a variety of experiences, laughs, insights and lessons that I would not have known absent those classes. I did the same thing with marathons, selling books online, teaching communication courses, inventing a product, creating animated movie shorts as well as book authoring.  Each experience has helped fill my writing repository to draw from.

5. Be present and mindful when you engage people – I’ve found that other people are the single best source of content. Everyday, whether I’m at church, work, the gym or grocery store  I try to make an effort to engage somebody and find out something interesting about them.  I’ve come to discover that other people are much more interesting than me and thinking that way helps me glean creative nuggets of gold.

Question: How do you break the cycle of a creative block or dry spell?

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  1. The last one’s a biggie. You really do need to live life and engage with people, otherwise the well goes dry.

    The first one, too. It is easy to turn up bad writing and/or bad thinking which pushes me in the direction of “OK, this is why I need to write!”. Fortunately, I also find good stuff that encourages and inspires me as well.

    • Michael, great insight and perspective as always – it’s critically important to find positives that inspire and encourage. I really appreciate your participation here bro!

  2. I am currently with face flat against that brick wall which is Writer’s Block — but only for a project I absolutely dislike doing (and that I shouldn’t have undertaken in the first place, anyway).
    And I find that these feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction get in the way of my other writings — like a heavy stone that makes me drag my feet.
    Lesson learned: Focusing on What I Care About.

    • Ugh, I can totally relate Eleni! The fact is any professional writer is ultimately going to work on a project they don’t care much about – but we have to work through that. I do like you point that we should be selective when we can and focus on the things that matter to us.

  3. Awesome advice Tor. I’ve written about the same exact topic, but it is so nice to read about it from a different perspective! #5 is an AWESOME approach. I couldn’t agree more. It’s amazing what people will tell you if you just take the time to ask and listen.

  4. Tor, you forgot tip number 6. If in doubt eat chocolate! works for me every time. :)

  5. Great ideas, I sometimes need the reminder that I am not the only one getting blocked. It’s good to know even the most seasoned writer has difficulty some times.

    • Thanks Dyrene, I think every writer runs into a creative block from time to time. If they’re not – I question whether the writer is really stretching themselves. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. So far writer’s block hasn’t hit me too hard. I take trips and write about them, so it’s always pretty obvious what I need to write next. But of course I get stuck from time to time, and for me, listening to music I love for 10-15 minutes usually helps. Good stuff Tor.

  7. excellent ideas thanks

  8. At the moment, I have less “writer’s block” and more “writer’s distraction” (AKA my children). :)

  9. My mouth runneth over… I have never had the problem of a creative WRITING block. A creative solution to product design- not too often.
    I think it’s because I do read a ….load of stuff- from all points of view (even from those that clearly have not a clue of what they speak/write), never sit still (Tor can vouch for that, too), and love to engage in conversation.
    Given those facts, you can see I agree with Tor’s recommendations.

  10. Caylie Price says:

    Fantastic post Tor!
    You are absolutely right. Some topics are just not ‘sexy.’ Being proactive minimises our ‘resorting’ to boring stuff.
    I really loved your first point – it’s something I have yet tried.
    Thanks for your comment on my blog too!
    Cheers, Caylie

  11. Thanks for these tips! Sometimes I get blogging ideas from my hobbies or reading a magazine or online news.

  12. Victoria says:

    Definitely encouraging to know that even career writers get writers block!

  13. I love that you included stream of conscious writing. For me, it’s my only form of writing. Very seldom do I actually plan anything out. Sometimes I gather ideas from conversations and from interactions with others, or from what I’m reading and I bring it all together to make a single piece of writing…but most of the time it’s all flow for me. I like your suggestion of starting a new hobby or interest. Thanks for this!

    • I’ve got several friends who take the same approach to writing and it works for them. That type of writing style tends to be much more conversational, so readers connect well with it. Thanks for the comment Raven! (great name by the way)!

  14. Great tips! I usually take a break when I can’t think of anything.

  15. Excellent suggestions, Tor. I read Voltaire when I want that mental kick to challenge my beliefs (love his writings on religious freedom, but not his views on religion itself). Or Emerson’s early writings when I want something to get my creative wheels turning without the argumentive fire.

    Your last suggestion about watcihng for ideas in other conversations and interactions is where most of my blogging ideas come from. Just listening for questions I can answer or challenges I can help people work past.

    • Michelle, thanks for the thoughtful comment. My “challenging” reading choices are Descartes, Hobbes and Nietzsche – they get my blood boiling! Thanks again for all you’re doing with the Ultimate Blog Challenge.
      To any and all bloggers out there – please do yourself a favor and visit Michelle’s site, it is PACKED with great information about all things blogging and such:

  16. This is awesome and so in line with The Uninspired Chronicles project that I am having over at my blog :) Don’t worry I won’t spam your site.

    I think I might take up a new hobby! :D

  17. I have found that doing other creative things helps to break through a creative dry spell. I have a box of crayons and coloring pages that I often turn to. Sometimes I grab my camera and go take a walk. I’ve even pulled out a bunch of old magazines and made a collage. Sometimes I just need to get away from the subject at hand and immerse my brain in something else.

    • Jamie those are fantastic suggestions – I completely forgot about those. At my desk I’ve got a container of silly putty that I’ll mess with as well as one of those piles of ball-bearings-on-a-magnet-sculpture-thingeys I’ll play with as well to clear my mind. Awesome – thanks!

  18. i get to this territory quite often and some how manage to use point 2 to get myself out. the whole blog could be described that way, a stream of conscious writing or just nonsense – but that’s ok ;)

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