Creative Problem: Dry Well

If you want to create, but find that your creative well has run dry (you feel like you have nothing to say), then trying to make something up can be painful. Instead of trying to make something, call a time out and prime the pump.

Priming the Pump

Getting an old well to work again requires two strokes: up and down. Creatively, we think of this as input and output.

Input: Feed Your Soul

Feed your creative soul by going out and looking at more stuff. Visual stimulation is a great source of inspiration and new ideas. Walks, museum trips, interviews, street tours…the list goes on.

If you want to take it a step further, formalize it by going on an artist date. Scheduling time with yourself, making it a priority, and honoring your creative spirit all go a long way to giving you something to think about and respond to in your work.

Output: Going Through the Motions

Equally important is to be going through the motions of creating, even if you are not trying to make something worth publishing. Journaling or morning pages are the typical example of this. Just by making the “clickety-clack” sound of the keyboard, you will start to rev up your creative engine and pretty soon you will find you have something to write about. If you are not a writer, still morning pages can be a simple and safe way to get ideas out.

I’ve learned that my job is to just sit down and start making the clackity noise. If I make the clackity noise long enough every day, the “writing” seems to take care of itself. On the other hand, if there’s no clackity noise, no writing. No little stories. The stories may be in there, alongside God knows what else, but there’s no way to know. You must make the noise.
— Merlin Mann, Kung Fu Grippe

Update: And I love this from the beloved Andy Iknatko:

I’ve been a writer for way too many years to put any stock in any sort of “I just wait for Inspiration to strike me and then it’s as though I’m merely a passive conduit for my Muse” self-pose. That’s the fantasy of someone who wants to write but never will. In truth, you’ve got to put your hands on the keyboard and keep pushing the cursor to the right and hope that you wind up with the kind of garbage that can be composted into something valuable, over time. —Andy Ihnatko, Productivity

For non-writers, consider the analogous activity in your discipline. For example, a composer might spend 20 minutes a day playing scales or simple exercises to limber up the fingers.

Why It Works

Fresh ideas combined with processing and getting ideas out put you in the right space for creative production. When new ideas emerge that appeal to you, it’s a smooth transition to processing these ideas and making something you really want to put into the world.

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