Filling your creative well beyond writing
Ever feel like you’ve used up all the words you have at your disposal? Same.
Sometimes this feeling hits me after a particularly busy and productive writing season working on my own novel, but other times it’s a result of a heavy work writing season. I write nonfiction articles as part of my day job and during deadline season, I rarely have the creative energy to close my work laptop at the end of the day and jump right back into a creative writing project of my own. It can be immensely frustrating.
Rather than powering through, I’ve (mostly) learned to recognize the creative burnout and switch gears to something that will actively fill up my creative well again instead.
Now, there’s a fine line between this and just giving in to the exhausted inertia of watching six hours of TV and avoiding your project for months. Speaking, ahem, from experience. When I find myself staring into the middle distance after a busy work writing season, I’m best served by resting and then doing a creative task that doesn’t involve using my words. Bonus points if it also doesn’t involve a screen.
My creative well-filling activities tend to fall into two main categories: those that are primarily intellectual and those that are primarily physical. Sometimes there’s a bit of overlap or two activities–one from each category–can be done at the same time. Other times, it’s best to focus on just one activity with my whole self.
The intellectual activities could include reading, listening to audiobooks or music, watching an engaging movie (something with a bit of substance), or simply sitting and thinking. I know that last one sounds weird, but don’t knock it til you try it! Let yourself be bored! The physical activities could include walking or hiking, baking, or arts and crafts.
About a month ago, on a weekend when I was feeling especially drained and disappointed in my lack of creative energy to pour into my work in progress, I shifted gears and it worked wonders. Instead of staring at a blank Word document or zoning out in front of the TV, I took on an art project to fill a very neglected wall in our living room (physical activity!) and listened to an audiobook while I did it (intellectual activity!). Essentially, I spent the weekend playing with drywall mud, my hair a mess, and my 1970s smock donned. It was glorious.
I honestly didn’t expect the activity to do much for my writing, but by Monday, I had words again and I was excited to write them. It can be really tempting to just power through that burnout feeling, but in my experience, the words written in that state will need heavy revision or get cut entirely in the end. I’m not suggesting you take a month-long break from your writing, just that you allow yourself the time to step away and do something that will fill your creative well and enable you to continue producing good work.
When you’re feeling like you’ve run out of words, I hope you’ll allow yourself the time to fill your creativity back up by doing something away from your writing. It will help, I promise.
What do you do when you feel like you’re out of words? What activities fill your creative well effectively?