Writing and the Creative Life: What to do when you feel out of touch with your creative energy

When a creative spark seems so very far, far… FAR… away…

Awhile back, I received this question from a reader:

Scott, I’ve been reading your blog. I’ve been feeling out of touch with my creative energy as of late.Tell me, does this happen to you at all?

And how do you get through it?

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Do I ever feel out of touch with my creative energy? The answer is a decided yes. Sometimes writing is the last thing in the world I want to do.

Anything. Else. But. Writing. Please!

How to get through it?

First, consider this. You know how when you’re standing at the end of a long line, say at the post office or grocery store? Then when someone gets in line behind you, you feel better? It’s not like your wait is going to be any shorter, rather it’s a comfort knowing someone else is going to suffer like you? There’s a certain amount of comfort that can be found in realizing that virtually all writers, indeed, all creative types suffer from occasional bouts of ennui.

In other words, feeling down in the dumps creatively is not unique to you or me.

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Being down in the dumps is not even unique to humans witness poor Karl here.

Personally a great resource in this regard is a book called “Songwriters on Songwriting.” [I’ve written songs since I was 14]. When I read an interview with Paul Simon, Carole King, or Burt Bacharach, and learn that they have periods of time where they simply can’t write a decent song, even moments where they think they’ve actually lost their creativity, it makes me realize we’re all in the same boat.

Note: You can read my series “Songwriters on Songwriting” here.

I’ll bet if you go through the dozens of interviews with writers I’ve got archived on this site, you’ll find plenty of them who say the same thing.

So first thing: Really try to absorb the fact that all creative types suffer through periods of inspirational malaise.

A second thing I’ll do is ‘rattle my cage.’ This can take many shapes — anything from reversing my writing schedule (instead of writing at night, which is my natural instinct, I’ll write in the morning), go for a weekend away to commune with nature, or blind typing before every writing session — but the idea is to shake up my routine and by doing so hopefully break me out of my doldrums.

I wrote about this as a “Dumb Little Writing Trick That Works”: Get Un-Comforatble.

A third thing is to watch some great movies. Or read great scripts. Or lose myself in a great book. For me, there’s nothing more inspirational than seeing or reading a great story well told. It’s uplifting spiritually and creatively.

Be sure not to overlook an obvious consideration: Do you have a strong emotional connection to the story you’re writing? The simple fact that a writer feels a strong resonance with a story is usually enough to help pull them through tough creative times. If you’re not feeling inspired, Julian, perhaps it’s because you’re really not all that into the story you’ve chosen. Why not explore writing another story?

Finally, sometimes you just have to write your way through your creative funk. There’s a great quote from author Anne Tyler: “If I waited until I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.”

Feelings are fleeting. Energy comes and goes. But the work… the words… the writing is always there… waiting for us.

Sometimes, perhaps even oftentimes, the simple act of putting words down onto paper begets more words… and leads us to a place that restores our creative energy.

Readers, how about you? Do you ever go find yourself in a creative malaise? If so, how do you deal with it? Let’s see if we can’t come up with some solutions for folks who might be flagging creatively just now.

Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

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