That all-too familiar feeling.
Tapping your fingers on the desk and staring down that empty white page in front of you, as empty as your brain. What do you do when the great ideas stop flowing? When you not only can’t come up with tactful writing, but you can’t even think of what content to post? Are you just out of a job?
Coming up with new ideas every day is exhausting, and creator’s block is the evil culprit behind that moment when your creative well has run dry. It’s as deadly, if not more so, than the ill-famed “writer’s block.”
You must cope with the fact that eventually, you will run out of ideas for new content.
Now hold on, there’s no need to give up and mourn the death of your creative career! Overcoming creator’s block is like getting rid of a cold—there’s no guaranteed instant cure, but there are tools and tactics to help get rid of the symptoms until you’re healthy and inspired again.
Hit the books
I’ve avoided titling this subhead “research” because let’s face it: everyone hates homework. But if creator’s block is your common cold, research is your vitamin C.
Find out what’s going on in the world: politics, memes, current events, pop culture or upcoming holidays. You can tie in your content and your brand into the hip and now, driving traffic to your blog or social media channel. In fact, this is something you should already be doing, but it’s also a great way to generate new ideas.
Take a good look at what’s happening in your own industry. For example, follow bloggers and social media stars who do the same things you do. I’m not advocating plagiarism in any way, but it will help you understand what your audience is looking for. You can branch off from the ideas of your industry’s influencers.
Lastly, research outside of the industry as well. Become a renaissance man (or woman) and gather raw material from a wide variety of genres. Hubspot, a marketing software company, says that you should maintain a vast repository of information you can always pull from and cross-reference. No potential idea must escape from your mighty fountain of knowledge.
Connect the red thread
You’ve seen those crime shows where the detective spreads out photos and newspaper clippings on a bulletin board and then connects everything with a zig-zagging red thread, right? I’m telling you to do exactly that.
How do you expect to spark any ideas from staring at an empty piece of “brain-storming” paper? You need to see all your research out in front of you so you can form any possible connection, combination or relationship.
And I don’t mean metaphorically—I want you to print it all out and splay it around your living room floor like a mad artist. This is where including images come in handy to make it more visually interesting and easier.
Now you can synthesize all that hard-earned research into something useful. Stretch out that red thread as far as its limits will allow, and you just might find an unexpected but delicious pairing—like bacon on maple donuts.
Brain barf and regurgitation
Sorry to further the sickness analogy into the more graphic region, but I promise this section has nothing to do with actual vomiting.
I’m sure you’re so familiar with “brainstorming” that you can brush it off with an “I got this” attitude every time you hear it. Heck, I’ve been told to do this kind of exercise since elementary school, but there’s more to it than just spitting out anything that comes to mind. After researching and digesting that material, now you can stir up a brainstorm that produces more quality results.
The reason I call it “brain barf” is because it evokes a more “anything goes” attitude. Pour it all out into writing, even the stupid stuff. One thought’s trash might be another idea’s treasure.
Hubspot recommends these following tips when preparing for a brainstorm:
- Set a time limit and/or agenda so you don’t end with a distracted fizzling out
- Have something to write on and spare no details
- Brainstorm in a comfortable, inspiring atmosphere (consider both the room and the people in it if you are brainstorming with others)
- There is no such thing as a bad idea; write everything down!
Cristin Dickey, a film major at Brigham Young University, said that what helps her come up with new ideas for playscripts is “browsing through my Pinterest feed and creating a story once out of every five posts, no matter what it is.”
So how is “regurgitation” different from “brain barf”? Some better like the term “repurposing.”
I’ve always been so impressed by YouTubers Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal in their show “Good Mythical Morning.” Somehow, these two quirky, middle-aged men have managed to crank out a new ten-minute video every single weekday for the past six years. And I’m still entertained!
How have they not run dry of video ideas yet?
Their saving grace is repurposing. Rhett and Link air recurring episodes every now and then that were the same concept as ones before, but with a new twist. One of their most popular series is called “Will It?”, where they take a certain food and see if it tastes just as good in the form of a different food. In “Will it Cereal?” they tried eating goldfish, skittles, coffee beans, corn and bacon bits in a bowl with milk. They’ve made many more “Will It?” videos since then, including “Will it Nacho?”, “Will it Omelet?”, “Will it Pie?”, and “Will it Pumpkin Spice?” (ah, tying into the holidays too—double whammy!).
Taking something old and making it new is the heart of creativity. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to come up with something entirely new and different every time, because then you’ll be disappointed in yourself for failing at doing the humanly impossible.
Sometimes your mind works so hard that it hits a wall and you “cannot brain today.” Take a break!
I’ve heard once that simple sleep is the human version of information technology’s favorite phrase: “turning it off and back on again.”
Leave behind everything that has to do with content creation and do something else to clear your mind. A nap, going out to eat, taking a jog or walk, video games, reading, Netflix, chillin’, anything!
In her book “Everybody Writes,” Ann Handley says that she likes to take at least one day off between her first draft and her second, because “that amount of time seems to let my thinking season and mature. I feel better prepared to slap those words around a little, willing them to shape up on the page.”
This advice can apply to content creation as well. Coming back to your brainstormed ideas with fresh eyes will help you weed out the best ideas.
It’s in relaxing, non-work-related times like these when you randomly find that moment of eureka—when you least expect it. And when that time comes, you need to be prepared.
Be ready for eureka
I love to write fiction, and I absolutely hate running. Yet I run on a treadmill because “it’s good for me” or whatever, but I need something to take my mind off the misery of exercise. So that’s when I listen to music and think about my novel. These sessions of just thinking about my story—nothing in particular, but just the aesthetic and the heart of the narrative—are when I’ve come up with some of my best twists and ideas. When they decide to come to me, I immediately tap it out in a note on my phone.
These enlightening moments must be recorded pronto, or you WILL forget them. I have lost far too many great ideas by thinking I would never forget because it was so genius.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of these moments happen when you don’t have access to a sticky note or a journal (i.e. exercising, showering, traveling, trying to fall asleep, etc.), but since we now live with a phone literally attached to our hips, I see great wisdom in keeping organized electronic notes.
Yes, creator’s block is inevitable. There’s no way to prevent it. Like the common cold, we always become a victim of it eventually. No human on this planet can possibly think of amazing content ideas without ever running dry.
But when creator’s block does come, you know what to do now.
There’s no need to panic. There are many tips and tricks to pull you out of the hole as long as you try them all, just like how drinking loads of orange juice won’t work on its own unless you try taking sinus relief pills and sleeping more.
So, what do you do when you’re sitting around and waiting for inspiration? Do your homework, synthesize it, brainstorm, regurgitate, take a break and try everything. And when that inspiration comes, be ready.
What are your own creator’s block remedies? What has worked for you in the past? Comment below!
Monica Rich is a public relations student at Brigham Young University. She has been a member of PRSSA and interned in both government public affairs and external relations for the fine arts. Her favorite things to do are playing video games and eating grilled cheese sandwiches
Features photos courtesy of pexels.com