How to Find Inspiration When You’ve Run Out Of Things to Say

This post is part of the Break Through Your Creative Blocks series.

Break Through Your Creative Blocks!

If you have a creative block you’d like some help with, tell us about it – details in the first article in the series.

Last week, we looked at the problem of getting started, when you “don’t know what you want to to say”. But you can also get blocked further down the path. When you’ve been working in a creative medium for several years, you may reach a point where you feel like you’ve said or done everything you can. You feel tired, bored and/or in danger of repeating yourself.

This is the situation described by experienced blogger Heather Allard, when I invited Lateral Action readers to tell us about your creative blocks.

Hi Mark!

I’ve been blogging over at The Mogul Mom for 3 years, covering every topic imaginable for mom entrepreneurs.

Lately, I feel like I’m “all blogged out”. I feel like there’s nothing left for me to write about. I find myself referring to old blog posts when my readers ask me questions I’ve already answered. I feel like Forrest Gump when he says, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

Is being “all blogged out” a creative block?

Thanks so much!

(Heather Allard, The Mogul Mom)

Hi Heather,

First of all, I wonder whether you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to keep reinventing the wheel? As Sonia Simone pointed out a while ago, repeating yourself can be a very good thing. Linking back to your old blog posts is an excellent strategy, especially when you have a blog as rich in quality content as The Mogul Mom. Newer readers won’t have seen those pieces first time round, and even those who have been with you from the beginning can probably do with a reminder from time to time.

Another great thing about having a large archive to build on is that you don’t need to explain everything from scratch each time you write. As your blog evolves, there’s an opportunity for you to write shorter posts that reference your cornerstone content and add a new twist or application to your original advice.

Having said that, as an experienced blogger you still face the pressure to ‘make it new’ every week, which can be hard when you’re feeling “all blogged out”. So for the rest of today’s piece I’ll focus on ways you can recover the sense of freshness and enthusiasm you need to be at your most creative.

And I’ll start by letting you in on a little secret…

Towards the end of last year, I started to feel the same way. I’d been blogging about creativity and related topics for four years, with over a year of writing at least one substantial article a week for Lateral Action. I still had plenty of ideas stacked up, but new ones weren’t coming quite so thick and fast. Like you, I didn’t want to get to the point where I was repeating myself or my energy started to flag.

Fortunately, after all that time investigating creativity, I had one or two ideas about how to solve the problem. 😉

Here’s what I did – and what you can do any time you start to feel you’ve run out of things to say.

Take a Break

I was very pleased when the Christmas holidays rolled around last year. In the event, I didn’t get as long a break as I’d hoped for, but it was still wonderful to have a few days with the family and without my laptop. You may also have noticed that we’ve had a few more guest writers at Lateral Action this year. The impetus for this came from our readers coming forward with so many excellent articles that I’m very happy to feature them. And it also gave me the opportunity to step away from writing the blog for a few weeks.

The net effect has allowed me to step back and look at the big picture. As we know, ideas are much more likely to come when we’re relaxing than trying to force them. I’ve had lots of little moments of reading something or talking to someone and thinking “that would make a great piece for Lateral Action”. So my little notebook of ideas for blog posts has been filling up nicely, almost without me trying.

Takeaway: Take a break. Even if – especially if – you feel like you’re too busy. If you can’t manage a fortnight in the Bahamas, try a weekend with family or friends, or even a weekday afternoon in a cafe, gallery or strolling in the park.

Change Subject

They say a change is as good as a rest, which was lucky for me, as I had more of the former than the latter, when Brian, Tony and I spent an intensive few months putting together the Lateral Action Entrepreneur Course. It was actually harder work than writing the blog, but it felt fresh and different, because of the change of topic. Instead of writing mostly about the business of creativity, we were working on the creativity of business – marketing, entrepreneurship, business models, intellectual property and so on. And my module on emotional intelligence for entrepreneurs was an opportunity to bring together two of my interests in a new way.

The result was to give me a more well rounded view of the topics of creativity, business and personal development, triggering several more ideas for the blog.

Takeaway: Explore a new topic or revisit an old one. Or combine learnings from different topics to create a new synthesis.

Change Medium

It was a refreshing change to spend time recording audio lessons for the course. I hadn’t recorded many interviews for a while, and it was great fun to get into the flow of conversation, from which lots of new ideas emerge spontaneously, as well as the material with planned in advance.

Takeaway: Work in a new medium, or revive an old one. If you’ve been writing, experiment with audio, video, graphics or photography. Even if you’re not an expert in the new medium, it will show you new ways of thinking, and looking at the world.

Collaborate

Another great thing about recording the Entrepreneur Course was that instead of sitting alone at my laptop, I was working closely with Brian and Tony, zipping e-mails back and forth and recording the interviews themselves. I learned a hell of a lot from interviewing Brian about his fields of expertise, and listening to the conversations between Brian and Tony. And when Brian interviewed me, his questions prompted me to look at my material afresh, and drew out some new ideas that would never have occurred to either of us in isolation.

Takeaway: Collaborate on a project with someone else, preferably someone who has skills and expertise that are complementary to your own. You won’t be the first to discover that 1 + 1 = >2.

Change Form

Even the written parts of the Entrepreneur Course made a welcome change from writing blog posts. I was mostly writing worksheets to draw out the ‘action points’ from the audio lessons, so it was a different kind of writing, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much I had to say in this new format. And by the time I’d done the final worksheet, I was very happy to get back to writing blog posts! 🙂

I’ve also devoted a little more time to writing poetry in recent months, and was delighted when several poems virtually ‘wrote themselves’, with a form and tone quite different to anything I’d written before.

Takeaway: Write something completely different. If you’re a blogger, write a short story, or a sonnet, or a news report, or an instruction manual. The same applies to other media – portrait photographers, have a go at crowd scenes or insects. Classical musicians, jam with a punk band. You get the idea.

Listen to Your Readers

Part of the feeling that prompted me to change tack on Lateral Action was the same feeling I get when I’m teaching a seminar, and I feel like I’ve been talking for long enough, and it’s time to hear what the audience think. At that point I’ll invite questions or feedback to open up the conversation.

And at that point on the blog, I had the idea of doing the Creative Blocks series. Primarily, I wanted to make the blog as helpful as possible to our readers, and help you all with the creative challenges you face. I also wanted to learn from you all, and understand what’s most important to you. As well as the articles in this series, your comments and e-mails have triggered lots of new ideas for things to write about on the blog…

Takeaway: What do your readers want from you? Read their comments, tweets, e-mails. Talk to them in person. Ask them!


And talking of listening to one’s readers, I’ll leave the last word on this subject to Heather herself – who took a proactive approach to solving her block by interviewing a number of prominent bloggers about how they avoid “feeling blogged out”, over at Problogger. It’s an excellent compilation of wisdom from people who have sustained high level creativity over a long period.


Over to You

Have you ever felt like you’ve run out of things to say in your work?

How did you deal with it?

Any tips for people who feel like they’ve run out of creative steam?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a creative coach with over 15 years’ experience of helping people get past their creative blocks and into the creative zone. For a FREE 26-week creative career guide, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

Table of Contents for Break Through Your Creative Blocks

  1. Tell Us Your Creative Blocks – and We’ll Help You Smash Through Them!

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

Jocelyn Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

More about Productivity for Creative People. >>

Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. Mark,

    Thank you so much for such a killer reply to my question! Wow – such great tips here.

    I love “1+1=>2” – never thought about it that way but you’re absolutely right.

    And once again, it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one feeling blogged out. 😀

    Thanks again!
    Heather

  2. Heather – thanks very much for taking part in the series, and raising an important issue. I’m glad you found the piece some help.

    And as you say – and your excellent interview compilation shows – it’s good to know we’re not the only ones who feel like that from time to time. 🙂

  3. 1+1=>2 for sure. Recently I’ve been having some conversations with people that have pried me out of my little corner. Just engaging in conversation, in these cases, without a thought to business or blogging or anything, I found I was asked things that led me to places I had no prior thought of going…and it was good!

    I had to allow myself to stop being too busy to relate to anyone else and voila, unclogged, feeling much less ‘too busy’ and able to get a lot more done better.

  4. Content for me became a lot easier when I started soliciting questions from people and reading the posts and tweets, like you said.

    Now I have endless amounts of content to address… a lot of it is overlapping – but I found that if I addressed to the one person that is asking the question, even if it’s the same advice as some other post or content, it’s masked by the personalization. And readers/subscribers love it!

  5. I love the take a break advice. You hear it all the time, it’s so valuable, but it can be so hard to do. Except it’s not really! 😉

  6. Mark,

    Thank you for laying out such approachable and concrete strategies to try when overcoming this particular sort of block. I can personal vouch for the success of changing subjects and collaborating.

    Last summer I was stuck a bit on my cooking and entertaining content so I shifted focus to local food for a while and have been re-energized. I have more ideas now that I have hours in the day to write.

    Also, I recently collaborated with a group of Austin-based food bloggers to create a guide for SXSW and the energy from the project continues to roll over me on a daily basis.

    Up next on my list is changing mediums, so I was glad to see you mention it here.

    Natanya Anderson
    Fete & Feast

  7. Switching things up usually helps me get around blocks, but sometimes I just have to stop. I write in my head all the time, so I get pretty sick of the sound of my own voice, so to speak.

    A fiction writing break works wonders when I start to burn out on the “helpful” stuff I usually do.

    At times I wonder how many ways you can say the same thing before people get tired of it, but the truth is, we learn in different ways, and what clicks for one person doesn’t work for another. And timing, as they say, is everything.

    Another great post, thanks, Mark.

  8. Hey Mark,

    Taking a break is definitely one of the biggest way I am able to rekindle and recharge my creativity. Very often when I’m feeling spent and especially in cases of writer’s block, it’s because I’m just trying too hard to write.

    Letting go for a while and taking a break from it lets me come back with a fresh set of eyes, and lets me think about it without pressure while I’m taking a break.

    Getting down to writing and “work” is important, it’s the only way to actually physically get things done – but if I’m too focused on a task for too long, I sometimes turn off or tune out my creativity (for lack of a better explanation) in lieu of grinding out the work that needs to be done. A break gives me a mental reset, and brings both the working side of me and the creative side of me back to the table.

  9. Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences and suggestions. Fascinating to see people working in different fields coming up with similar problems – and solutions.

  10. ever since I’ve stopped smoking weed, I’ve lost my desire to play the guitar… I’ve been playing for 15 years, and incidentally, smoking for 15 years.. its weird because without marijuana, I’m a more productive and outgoing person, but with it i become more creative and feel the need to play guitar and did so at least an hour a day. on the flip side, weed makes me borderline agoraphobic and paranoid, so i don’t want to smoke it anymore… its been a month since i quit and I’ve barely touched my guitar… i don’t want to start smoking again just to play my guitar, so what should i do to get me out of this rut? give it more time? or force myself to play an hour a day??