Picture this… it’s Monday morning and you proudly sit down to write next month’s social media content. You’re working ahead instead of leaving your content for the last minute! Go you!
But when your fingertips hit the keys on your laptop, you find yourself at a standstill. Whether you call it writer’s block, creative slowdown, mental block or something else (we kind of like the term “an empty creative cup”)… the point is that you cannot seem to come up with things to share with your audience. Sometimes when you sit down, you just don’t find yourself feeling very creative. Trust us, we have (all) been there. And recently when we found ourselves in this place, we’ve been reflecting on just what fills each of our creativity cups. Keep reading to find what each of us does when we need a refill on our creative juices.
I really love writing. it has always come naturally to me and I’ve even enjoyed doing it for fun. But when I started writing 5 days/week for work (and about topics that weren’t my own), I found myself feeling a bit tapped out some days. So here are some things that help me to fill my creativity cup:
The Proper Background Music – For me, the type of music depends on the topic I am writing about or the mood I am in. The correct music helps me get into the correct zone for my topic. (When I write for my nonprofit based in Tanzania, I prefer African music. When I write about something deep and reflective, I like piano. My default is something Indie, like James Vincent McMorrow or Bon Iver).
Research – Learning fuels me. I love to learn new things about any number of different topics that interest me. If I find myself stuck when creating content for work, I spend some time researching and learning more about the topic. This not only sparks interest for me, but allows me to find new things to write about too.
Quiet space outdoors – Although there is a lot of quiet space when you work from home, being constantly connected to social media and email can start to weigh on me after a while. When I start to feel heavy with content, I know it’s time to get some real quiet space. It is in these moments that I step away from my screens and get some quiet (usually solo) time somewhere outside. Being a stay at home mom, I usually can’t travel too far from my home, so my time outside is often limited to my front yard. But in a perfect world, I prefer to be near water or surrounded by trees. This helps me refresh and reset my creative brain.
Personality Test – I’m a self-admitted personality test junkie. For so long, I didn’t really understand or appreciate myself. But these days I love choosing the answers that best resonate with me until an answer pops up describing me and then pouring over the description, feeling like it was written just for me. Reading my results inspires me to create in my strengths.
I believe that you can work on creativity but sometimes she feels like a free spirit who can come and go when she pleases. Here are a few things that help be wrangle my creativity:
Moving my body – Whether it’s dance parties in my kitchen or a workout at a studio, movement has always helped me to process and recharge. Some of my best ideas have come to me during movement. And when I need to clear everything out to create space to think, sweating it out does the trick.
Completing easy tasks – This may be more of a productivity tip but being anxious about other tasks makes it difficult for me to be creative, my mind gets consumed by them. I love to get a few easy tasks off my plate to break through the mental clutter.
Buddy Brainstorms – I love working in collaboration. Talking with a coworker or friend about a project can really help my creativity surge. Fresh eyes and novel questions can help me push past blocks to new ideas.
Following the flow – When the creative moment strikes I seize it. You can find me jotting notes on a post-it or voice recording while driving because I don’t want to miss the moment. Do I get back to all the running lists…no. But I feel like it makes room for more ideas to come. You have to let the brainstorm happen.
Reading fiction – I love a good business or personal development book, but I find that a good fiction book keeps my imagination going. Being transported back in time or to another world helps spark a sense of wonder and empathy. It’s also a great way for my mind to take a break from thinking.
Doing something with my hands – My work is primarily thinking work. When I need to step away from the work to be re-inspired, I have been incorporating activities that are manual. Watering my plants. Painting with watercolors. Practicing calligraphy. Trying a new recipe. All of these things are tangible and have a beginning and end. This change of pace helps me see the work I’m thinking about in a new light.
A good work out – When my creativity is feeling blocked, I’ll often take a break for a quick workout. Moving my body and listening to a good playlist helps reenergize me. I allow my brain to think about the problem if it wants to, but I don’t force it. I often finish workouts with fresh ideas and creativity.
Leaving my house – Working from home is a great perk to many jobs, but if I am feeling stuck, nothing fills my creative cup better that relocating where other creatives are working. It’s a subconscious accountability in the air that helps me refocus.
Taking a break – This may seem counter intuitive, but if I am lacking the creative juices to do good work, I’ll simply stop working. Instead, I’ll put in a load of laundry, read a chapter in my book, eat lunch, go for a walk. I chose to accomplish something productive that I want to do which then resets my brain to get back to work later. Choosing to work at a time when you’re at your creative peak can make your time more efficient and fun.
External Process – Sometimes the only way to refill on creativity is to borrow some juice from a friend. I’ll seek out advice and conversations from someone else who has had experience or interest in the topic I am designing for and run it by them. Even just talking about a project out loud and doing a good old fashioned brainstorm-sesh can work wonders!
I’ve created for myself and for companies, from offices and from home, on teams of hundreds and teams of myself. In each of those settings, these are a few tricks I’ve discovered that consistently help me fill my creativity cup.
A change of scenery – I love working remotely because it means I can work from anywhere! Some days creativity flows best in my desk chair, but other days I realize that desk chair is completely stifling my creativity. Even just a brief change of scenery like a walk around the block or a visit to a friend’s office can drastically improve my work flow. A few of my favorite scenery changes are coffee shops, airports, hotel lobbies, museums, the park across the street, my patio sitting area, and my living room.
Inspiration – Inspiration can come from anywhere. Even when I’m off the clock, I’m curating sources of inspiration and saving ideas for later. You never know what will inspire you! A few of my favorite sources of inspiration are instagram accounts, movies and tv shows, every single dog I meet, local businesses doing cool stuff in their community, and my awesome and talented friends out there doing their thing. Appreciating all of these wonderful things inspires me to make wonderful things of my own!
Exercise! – Creativity is a muscle; the more you work it, the stronger it will be. Even when you’re off the clock, keep on creating. Try things you wouldn’t normally try. Make things you wouldn’t normally make. Sign up for challenges, contests, daily prompts, or whatever you find that will help you get outside your comfort zone and keep working those creative muscles.
One of my favorite exercises is Lauren Hom’s weekly Homwork assignments; you can sign up here. They’re intended for letterers and designers, but can be applicable to content creators of all mediums.
Location, Location, Location – I’m at my most creative when I have my headphones in at a coffee shop, listening to music. If I work at home, I never work on the couch because that is a place I go to relax, so I make sure I keep my work in our home office with my bookshelves all around me to motivate.
Inspiration – Austin Kleon, in his masterpiece Steal Like an Artist, shares a creativity exercise where you put together your family tree of influences. It could be historical figures, authors, musicians, mentors, people you aspire to be like, or even fictional characters that have had a major impact on your life. Whenever I’m stuck on a problem and need to ask a question, I open up my family tree and look through the faces and ask them questions. I then think through how they would approach or answer my situation and what conversations they would have amongst themselves. I’m instantly inspired when I think about what Houdini and Cicero would discuss about any given topic and it causes me to look outside myself and be a little playful. I used to have all the faces printed out and hanging above my desk and would like to do that again, but for now because I keep editing parts of it, it lives in a document on my computer. It also helps me approach a new subject matter or book when I think, “Is this someone I would want to be on my family tree of influences and why?”
Exercise & Health Habits – Starting my day with a high intensity exercise wakes up my body and gets my brain working much better throughout the day. I am also sure to never drink coffee in the first hour or two I’m awake to let my body naturally wake up and adjust before introducing a stimulant like caffeine.
ANYthing Creative – Just starting anything that is creating something. I love to repurpose anything I can. I look for beauty in all things. So I have things in my home that I have had for decades but when I feel ‘blah’ about it, I paint it. Resurface it. Put it somewhere different. Even just painting a room is creative to me. I love how a color can transform and it is like therapy for me to paint even a wall.
MUSIC – My passion is singing. So music moves me mentally, spiritually, emotionally and often physically. But sometimes when I am being creative or need to be I turn on music. Songs that I have loved for a long time or just songs that move me.
ART – Matisse is my favorite artist. So when I need to be creative I look at his work. I have several in my home (posters, obvi, I WISH originals) that I can stare at for hours. His colors inspire me. I have read several books about him and his creative process.
NATURE – Sometimes when I really need a creative pick me up I head outside. Especially to a mountain hike or the beach. The beauty and colors of Earth never cease to amaze me. I love to feel at one with all the creation of the world. The colors, the lines, the smells, the sounds. I love sunsets and the way they can make me feel like everything is ok.
JUST DO IT – Sometimes I just start writing my thoughts with no real direction or purpose or idea what I am writing and let my heart lead my brain. I am an over-thinker and have been trying to overcome that most of my life. Over-thinking inhibits my creativity. I think TOO hard about what I want to do or how something should sound or look and then do nothing. I don’t even start. So the last several years when writing my thoughts or a song or revamping my bookshelves for the 100th time, I just do it. I don’t allow myself to overthink where I want to end up.
If you don’t take the space to check in on yourself from time to time, you may not realize your cup has a crack in it, resulting in a slow leak. Next thing you know, your cup only has a drop left and your content deadline is fast approaching. The ways in which we each restart, refresh, and refill our cups can be different, and some of them may even overlap. What is important is for you to find the different ways that work for you. We hope this little peek into our personal strategies helps you next time you’re running low.