Ever feel like you’ve got ideas for days… until you actually sit down to write?
You’re not alone!
Creativity comes and goes. Just because you were bursting with ideas yesterday doesn’t mean you’ll be brimming over with them today. And when your mind is a barren idea desert… it doesn’t mean it’ll always be that way.
You can get through those dry spells and get your writing “mojo” back. Here are five ways to go about it.
1. Push through it.
Sometimes the biggest obstacle we face as writers is lack of confidence. I like to think of it as a little gremlin that sits on my shoulder, shouting about how terrible all my ideas are as soon as I write them down.
If nothing “good” comes to mind when you sit down to write, and your gremlin is particularly verbose… don’t panic! You can silence the little monster.
First, mentally let yourself off the hook. Know that every writer gets stuck, sometimes — no matter how many successful projects they’ve completed. You’ll inevitably get stuck, too. And you CAN get out of it. But you have to believe that in order to push through.
Next, write something the great Ann Handley calls “TUFD,” or “The Ugly First Draft.” In her book, Everybody Writes, Ann’s process is to first know your objective, then write an outline, and then… just write. Let all of the words flow out of you, no matter how terrible they are.
“Very often, the people you think of as good writers are terrible writers on their first drafts. But here’s their secret: They are excellent editors of their own work.” – Ann Handley, Everybody Writes
The trick, here, is to speed past that uncomfortable “gremlin zone” by acknowledging to yourself right off the bat that what you’re writing is not your final draft — and it might not be good, yet.
Personally, I think you can do this even before you have a solid idea or outline for your piece. Sometimes it takes a while for a good idea to come… and even to come up with an outline.
I find writing a few terrible paragraphs can sometimes jumpstart whatever needs to happen in my brain to uncover a good idea.
This can work with headlines and subject lines, too. Tell yourself you’re going to write a few terrible headlines. Then start writing. Usually, I’ll write one, then hit enter, write another one, hit enter again, and write another one, and so on… until I have seven or eight to choose from. Often, they get better as I go.
2. Change your surroundings.
There are actually studies showing how working from coffee shops boosts creativity and productivity. Turns out the background noise stimulates your brain in just the right way.
But there’s something more to it — and it’s not just caffeine and cookies (though those help, too).
Working from a coffee shop (or a library… bookstore… or even a bar) can help a lot if you usually work from home and need some time away from your loved ones asking you questions… your dog needing to go outside… or the snacks that constantly beckon from the fridge.
It can also give you a sense of urgency, if you block out, say, two hours to sit at the coffee shop and knock out that blog post that’s due tonight.
If there’s no way for you to leave the house while you’re writing, and you have a smart TV, you can also try simulating a different environment by opening up YouTube on your TV and searching for “coffee shop ambiance.” You’ll find loads of different simulated “coffee shops” that play background noise. Works in a pinch.
3. Stop writing.
But sometimes, the best thing you can do for your creativity is to give it some air — literally.
If you’re not on a tight deadline, and nothing is coming out right… stop writing, leave your computer, and go outside.
Back in 2014, a Stanford study showed that walking boosts creativity by a whole 60%!
So, leave your writing behind and go for a walk.
My extra trick for this one is to bring your phone along, and use a voice recorder app to capture any ideas that come to you while you’re out walking. Sometimes, if you’re thinking through your ideas as you go, THE big idea you need will come to you. Make sure to record it, so you can get right to it as soon as you sit back down!
Other times, it’s best to come back the next day. Get your walk in, drink plenty of water, take a hot shower, get as much sleep as you can, and then start fresh in the morning. The difference a day makes can be astounding.
4. Listen to focus music.
In order to create effectively, the best possible scenario is to enter into a “flow” state, where time melts away and your project feels like it’s writing itself.
Now, that’s not going to happen every time you write. But you can increase the odds that it will by listening to some science-backed focus music, sometimes known as “brain” music.
My two favorite services for focus music are brain.fm and focusatwill.com. Each employs a different method, but I find both work for me, and it’s nice to have more than one to choose from, so you can switch if you get bored of one or the other.
5. Try pomodoros (focused work sessions).
If you’re someone who can already focus for hours at a time, this might not be the trick for you. But if you, like me, have “squirrel brain” and can’t seem to focus without your thoughts jumping all over the place, you might benefit from short, creative bursts.
The Pomodoro Technique is simple. You set a timer for 25 minutes, then start writing. When the timer rings, you take a five-minute break. Then start over again.
This can be great for very large projects, because it breaks them down into less-intimidating, doable segments. You’re never working for longer than 25 minutes at a time.
It can also be great for very small projects — as you can add urgency by trying to complete them before the timer rings.
Now, here’s how to use this method to really supercharge your creativity…
Put on your tennis shoes. Then, for every five-minute break, walk or run around the block. You’ll get the benefit of fresh air and circulation while also improving your focus.
No matter what you do to improve your creativity, remember that some days are just going to feel “easier” than others. But the more you write, the faster you’ll be able to get back to a place of creativity and ease.
So, write as much as you can. And know that, even if a draft is bad, it’s still making you a stronger writer in the end… and you can always edit a bad draft to make it better. But you can’t edit what isn’t there!