Creativity is a renewable resource—but that doesn’t mean that it’s inexhaustible. Without sustainable use, the creative well tends to run dry, resulting in burnout or writer’s block. This post will address the need to maintain your creative reserves and suggest some ways to refill the well when you’re feeling drained, blocked, or out of ideas.
You don’t have to wait until you’re low on resources, either. You can’t overfill this well, so incorporating some of these methods into your daily or weekly routine will help keep your creative energy flowing long term.
What is “filling the well”?
The idea that our creativity exists an inner “well” or reservoir that requires replenishment comes from Julia Cameron’s classic book The Artist’s Way. Cameron calls art “an image-using system” and theorizes that “any extended period of piece of work draws heavily on our artistic well.” Feeling blocked can occur if we overuse our creative energy stores, depleting them before they can recover.
To fill our creative wells, Cameron believes artists need to allow ourselves time to play, seek new experiences, and absorb all the world has to offer, so we can draw on those images and experiences in our work.
With that in mind, let’s talk about different methods of keeping your creative well refreshed. Some methods may not work for you, but they’re all worth trying if you haven’t explored them before.
Engage with the page.
Cameron recommends “morning pages” as one method of keeping the well full and clearing out mental baggage. Morning pages are a specific kind of journaling—three pages of stream-of-consciousness freewriting by hand about whatever crosses your mind. Cameron also calls this a “brain dump,” which helps clear out anxieties and thoughts gumming up your creative gears.
If this doesn’t sound like your thing, there is no wrong way to journal. You don’t have to write three pages by hand—you might prefer to journal in an app or word processor, write one page per day with a to-do list (my current practice), or scribble as many pages as you want before you go to sleep at night. For me, journaling acts as a low-pressure way to process feelings, explore ideas, and work out problems.
It also creates a record for your future self, stores ideas you don’t have time for yet, and may help you organize your day. I know a lot of folks who swear by bullet journals with stickers and washi tape as a motivational tool. If you’re a visual artist, you may want to use a sketchbook or scrapbook instead.
Exercise your brain and body.
Like journaling, having a regular mindfulness practice helps clear out the noise in your brain. Mindfulness takes many forms, such as sitting meditation, yoga, breath work, relaxation or grounding exercises, affirmations, or other spiritual practices. Letting your brain find stillness brings a different kind of rest and refreshment.
Though mindfulness often connects with spirituality, it doesn’t require any belief system at all. The simple act of lighting a candle before you start a writing session will engage your senses and focus your brain. Mindfulness doesn’t require a still body or a quiet environment, either: you can meditate while walking, dancing, or listening to music.
If, like many writers, you’re accustomed to living in your head, connecting you’re your physicality becomes especially important. That’s why I put mindfulness and movement together in one section. Grounding yourself with your favorite form of exercise—as simple as a walk around the block or as complex as a team sport—gives your imagination a chance to reset and recalibrate.
Even daily chores can offer space for replenishment. There’s a reason that writers often receive bolts of inspiration while doing the dishes, taking a shower, or driving to work. Engaging the body or occupying your hands creates free space for your mind to play.
Respect the power of rest.
Cultural or internal pressure to constantly produce saps creativity faster than the work itself. Burnout will bring your productivity to a screeching halt, so give your soul the downtime it craves. Many writers don’t prioritize rest enough, especially when driven by passion for their latest project, but every one of us requires it.
Become curious about what you need to feel rested and refreshed. You may have to put rest on your to do list. Whether it’s luxurious naps, pampering yourself, enjoying nature, listening to music, or zoning out with reality tv, resting your body and mind provides a crucial counterpoint to creative work.
Many of us require sensory rest as well. If you become overstimulated easily, you may need tools to help turn down the volume. For instance, noise canceling headphones provide an oasis of silence for sensitive ears, but don’t neglect the other senses—adjustments to lighting, scent, taste, and textures can increase or decrease our ability to fully relax.
You may have to get stern with yourself and institute a “mandatory” writing vacation. For me, nothing gets me itching to write a new story more than deciding I’m not “allowed” to work on it. A smidgen of reverse psychology may remind you that writing is a choice, not a chore!
Vacations, while fun, help us appreciate familiarity when we return. Even if writing feels like “home,” you still need an occasional break from it. With some time and space, your creative resources will regenerate on their own.
Take yourself on a date.
Just as our senses require rest, they also require nourishment. Time spent on learning who you are, what you like, and what replenishes your creative energy will feed your imagination and spark inspiration.
An artist date is time set aside to engage your senses and delight your inner muse. It can be a place to visit, a new or favorite meal, an activity, or even a state of mind. You don’t have to do it once a week, like Julia Cameron recommends, but setting a schedule and even putting “date nights” (or days) on your calendar might help you follow through on the commitment.
If you’re not sure what to do on your date, make a list of some activities or destination that tickle your fancy. Then pick one that appeals to you more than the others and try it out. Here are a few ideas for artist dates:
- Attend a live musical or theater performance
- Go to an antique shop or farmers’ market
- Take a class in something fun that piques your curiosity
- Wander around in an arts and crafts store
A nice thing about artist dates is that you don’t need another person to go with you. Ideally, you shouldn’t bring anyone else along. It’s important to have time in which you only need to please yourself.
Soak in stories and storytelling.
Reading presents an obvious refresher for writers. However, you might find that reading in the same genre as your work in progress prompts demoralizing self-comparison. If reading in your genre inspires you, that’s awesome—but if it doesn’t work, consider reading outside your wheelhouse.
I write SFF and love reading it, but contemporary romantic comedies offer me a brain break from speculative genre conventions. Engaging with other genres allow us to switch off our professional judgment and just have fun. Similarly, enjoying other modes of storytelling, like movies, TV shows, or video games, go a long way toward refreshing creative resources.
Note: it’s okay if those other stories influence your own. There is truly nothing new under the sun. Noticing the tropes and conventions that you love, hate, or hate to love may spark ideas you want to play with in your own work.
Writers—and perhaps all artists—are like magpies. We constantly collect bits of shine, intriguing images, and curious characters. We polish them, repurpose them, or just hoard them for love or novelty.
Be a magpie of ideas. Be greedy for story. Be cosmopolitan, self-indulgent, and shameless in your tastes, because inspiration strikes at random and what looks like junk at first glance may hold hidden treasure.
Switch your medium.
Another well-filling strategy involves switching gears to a different creative pursuit altogether. Many writers I know are double or triple artistic threats. If you haven’t discovered a secondary creative outlet you love, however, exploring other artistic mediums may spark new connections in your brain and refresh your inspiration.
If a non-writing art form intrigues you, don’t be afraid to try it out. Far from taking time away from your writing, your words will only benefit from diverse interests. Even if you don’t have neglected art supplies sitting around your house like me (hazards of the ADHD life!) technology offers myriad ways to experiment.
For instance, you can explore photography with your smartphone or download a free drawing, coloring, or karaoke app. If you want to take a new medium a little further, learning platforms like Coursera or even YouTube offer free introductory classes. If you prefer in-person learning, check out local community colleges or recreation centers.
A special sense of play and release comes with engaging beginner’s mind. If you’ve devoted significant effort to improving your writing craft, you might start judging your work too harshly, losing sight of creative joy. Letting yourself do things badly in a medium not closely tied to your self-image may quiet the inner critic and help you reconnect art with fun.
Connect with your community.
Writing often seems like a solitary pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t dismiss the power of a vibrant creative community to rejuvenate your passion for your work. Writing friends provide much-needed encouragement, motivation, and comfort through artistic lows.
Don’t discount the value of non-writing friends, either. Non-writers may not always understand the challenges and joys of writing, but that can make their company all the more refreshing. They can give unconditional support and important perspective easily lost when we’re fixated on the vagaries of the publishing world.
We may write for ourselves first, but our words are meant to be shared, or we wouldn’t seek publication. If your passion for writing is flagging, seek out people who will reignite your creative spark, support your growth, and cheer you on. In fact, connecting with artists of all kinds, not only writers, helps expand our creative imaginations.
Find what works for you.
For me, journaling, rest, mindful movement, enjoying a variety of media types, and engaging with my creative community all help me refill my creative well on a day-to-day basis. I hope something here connects for you. And if I’ve skipped your favorite means of creative reset, leave a comment so others can benefit from your process!
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