Isn't it ironic that as I sat down to rewrite this blog post, I was suddenly overcome by a touch of writer's block? I can't help but laugh. After all, I've been writing since I was a kid. Whether it was stories, schoolwork, newspaper columns, articles, blogs or website content. I never stopped writing from the day I could pick up a pen. But it doesn't matter how long you've been writing, how experienced you might be – no-one is immune to writer's block. But when you're working on a project, perhaps an essay, a blog post or even a book, it can be the most frustrating feeling in the world!
Sat there at the laptop, or with a notebook in front of you, pen poised... But nothing comes out. Your fingers hover above the keyboard but they don't even twitch with an idea of where to start. It happens to us all. Your medium may not even be writing – it might be painting, drawing, sculpting, music – any creative outlet. We can all feel that familiar freeze wash over us as our brain empties of inspiration and we're left with nothing but tumbleweeds blowing through the empty crevasse of our mind.
What is creative burnout?
Have you ever felt completely empty and drained? Like you've got nothing left to give? This is how it feels when you're suffering from creative burnout. If you've been burning the candle at both ends and are physically exhausted, this can happen quickly and leave you feeling lost. Those creative juices stop flowing, you feel uninspired by everything around you. And worst of all, you can't seem to write, paint or create an original idea. You can end up feeling like you're going round in circles. That staring at the page will make it you insane or even that you're a failure as others go on creating around you. If you work in a creative industry, this can be particularly hard as it this is more than just a hobby, it's a livelihood.
What causes writer's block?
Writer's block is kind of like the feeling when you open your mouth but no words come out. You're struck dumb by your sheer inability to form words on the page and knit them together into a format that makes sense. It's a stumbling block that can spiral if you don't take charge of the situation quickly. But the good news is that even when you're stopped in your tracks by writer's block, there is always a way to get back to your creative basics. Writing is a skill, but it takes practice and it takes inspiration to help you create something special. Sometimes finding that inspiration might mean stepping back from writing and taking a break to refresh and reset. If writing isn't your medium – know that these tips also work for various other creative outlets. I'm also a keen photographer and use these tips to inspire my creative work and to enhance my camera skills.
How to cope with writer's block and creative burnout:
Stop trying to force it
My number one rule is never force creative work. It should flow naturally and come straight from your soul. If you feel like you're forcing it or trying to push through writer's block, you will do nothing but create rubbish. Stop. Take a step back and take a break. Don't let your burnout get worse, instead give your brain, and your hands a break and take some time away. If this is your job – why not reshuffle your schedule and work on some other projects for a while. Or even see if you can take some time off work to refresh? If it's a hobby, you have the luxury of time and can easily take a break. Sometimes if I'm struggling to write a blog post, I will just leave it in my drafts and will work on something else then return to it later on.
Get away from the screen
Working on a laptop or computer all the time is not only bad for your eyes, but it's not great for your brain. It can affect your posture, your sleeping pattern and much more. It's possible that these factors could also be affecting you creative mindset and could be stunting your flow. If you find you're suffering a touch of writer's block – why not take a break from the screen, rest your body and your mind? Taking a full 24 hours off from looking at screens can really work wonders whether it's a job or hobby. That means turning off your phone, computer, leaving the TV off. Instead get outside, socialise or read a book and see how much better you feel. I always feel inspired after a trip to the ocean.
Catch up with friends
If you're struggling to break out of the mindset of being blocked – get a change of scenery and catch up with friends. It's easy to lose perspective and to feel this creative block taking over. But seeing friends and talking it out could really help. Hearing about what they are doing or any problems they might have can really put things in perspective. They might even inspire your next creative piece! I constantly find myself inspired by friends and family to take on new topics. If nothing else, getting outside and seeing new faces can really give your mind the break it needs – after all we humans are a social bunch and we need variety of people and ways of thinking. Perhaps listening to friends will open your mind to a new way of thinking that will inspire your work.
Break your routine
Routine is a killer. Don't let it crush your creative talent. Instead, try shaking up your routine and see if that helps. For instance – don't get up in the morning and head straight to your desk. Why not try exercising – go for a run and get some fresh air, people-watch in the park. The combination of endorphins and changing it up might be just what you need. Try cycling to work instead of driving, get your coffee somewhere different and see who you meet. Or, why not change location? If you're struggling to write at home, why not work in a café or find a co-working space where you can be around people. You could even change the times that you are working each day – if you're working remotely, or pursuing this as a hobby, it might be easy to change your schedule.
Get away and seek inspiration
Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Maybe changing your routine isn't enough, maybe you need a fresh start or a clean break. If you haven't had a genuine break from work or holiday for a while – it could be you're just exhausted. Without realising you might be a slight workaholic – not because you're obsessed with work, but because you keep putting off your own time. Realising the value of your downtime is important – especially if you love your work and often let it take over. Getting a complete break is vital to your creativity. If you haven't had a proper break, why not plan a trip? Take a few days away somewhere – you could even plan a little staycation nearby your home to discover it in a new light. Or, if you budget and time permits, why not plan a holiday to a new country and let your trip inspire you?
Try something new
If you're taking a break from writing or creating, why not try something new? It could be the perfect way to overcome writer's block and get the creative juices flowing again. Take the pressure off yourself and just have fun! Try a new exercise class, cook a new recipe, join a club, go to an event – let the world inspire you. Not only will it distract you from your own problems – but it might help you meet new people while trying something new and exciting. After all, if you're going to write and create, first you must experience life and taste the inspiration you hope to translate to the page. You never know, it might even push you to take your creative work in a new direction. There are countless writers, artists and musicians who have taken their work in a new direction after trying something new.
Finish the drafts or delete them
Sometimes we're holding on to baggage that we don't even realise is weighing us down. Be honest, how many pieces of work have you got "in progress"? How many drafts are sitting in your folder, how many half-finished paintings in your home? Without realising, these half-hearted attempts are putting pressure on us to perform and finish the job. Just as Marie Kondo would encourage you to clear out your home and stop hoarding physical items – I encourage you to clear out your mind of these half-hearted attempts to create. Take some time to go through any half finished pieces and either finish them off, or hit delete. Often I find once started, it's impossible to return and actually finish a piece. I'm much better off taking a note of any key ideas and starting afresh next time. This way I get to tackle the idea in a brand new way with a fresh mind next time.
When you're struggling to finish a piece or create something special – it can be easy to slide into negative thinking. Don't fall into this trap and start to spiral into a web of overthinking. Instead, take back control of your mind and make a conscious decision to step back. Understand that you can do no more while you are in this mindset, and that you have to take steps to bring yourself back to creative health. Don't over-think, instead slow down and press pause. Get yourself outside, with friends, take a break and consume creativity instead of trying to push yourself to create. Clear your mind with exercise or meditation, stay positive and believe that you will create something great once you are ready.
Read, watch and listen to everything
When I can't create – I like to focus on consuming creativity. Filling my space with art, my ears with music and podcasts, and reading everything! By consuming a widespread variety of topics and creative mediums, you stand the best chance of finding something to inspire you. One of the best ways to be provoked into creating is to give yourself something to react to. After all, writer's block is a lack of words or creative expression. But you can't react without something that challenges your way of thinking. Read blogs, books, newspapers, listen to music, to debates, to podcasts and let yourself feel a response to the questions that arise. Let yourself get annoyed or angry, or emotionally involved in the stories of others. This is what inspires us to write and create our own responses.
Invest in your creative space
Now this one can easily sit on both sides of the fence so take care with implementing it. Sometimes it can be your creative space that is stunting your writing, whether it's the lack of light or the lack of space. Why not try giving your space a makeover, with some new furniture or paint to brighten the place up? You could get some art or prints for the wall that inspire you and make you feel creative. However, on the flip side of this, it can easily become procrastination if you're not careful. So don't let this be a reason to take on a huge job and put off writing for even longer. Look closely at your motivations and whether this is something you actually need or just want as a distraction.
Have you ever been struck down by writer's block or creative burnout? What did you do to get over it? What would you recommend to try for those who might be struggling?