Running out of Ideas? Got Writers Block?

Have your ideas dried up? Has your creative project come to a screeching halt? Are you staring at your computer and the words won’t come?

You’re in the right place.

I love to write. There are many times when my mind’s on fire and it’s a joy to have my fingers flying on the computer keys, trying to keep up with the flow of thoughts pouring out of my head.

It was a surprise then, when I was working on my book Tongue Fu! for School, and writing became hard work. I was grinding it out because I had to turn my manuscript in to my publisher at the end of the month, but I wasn’t liking what I was producing.

I would re-read what I had written (I know, a fatal error) and would go “Euch.” I knew it didn’t sing, knew it wasn’t “alive,” but I kept slogging it out because I had this deadline to meet.

I was creatively procrastinating one morning (reading the newspaper instead of writing) when I came across a fascinating article in USA Today about David Kelley, Hollywood’s former “Golden Boy.”

The article pointed out that, for a while, writer/director Kelley could do no wrong. He was the first person to receive an Emmy for Best Comedy (Ally McBeal) and Best Drama (The Practice) in the same year. Incredibly, Kelley was writing and directing BOTH shows at the same time – a grueling, almost unimaginable feat.

Then, for some reason, his pilots were getting cancelled and his shows were tanking in the ratings. The reporter’s opinion was that his plots were getting increasingly bizarre and middle-America viewers were having a hard time relating to his unrealistic story lines.

When asked why Kelley seemingly couldn’t do anything right, a TV critic said tongue-in-cheek, “Of course he’s lost his golden touch. He’s married to Michelle Pheiffer, he lives in a $15 million dollar home, and all he does, 24/7, is write, drive to the studio, direct the shows, and drive home. He’s become disconnected.”

A light bulb went off in my head. Here I was trying to write a book about dealing with difficult people in schools – and I wasn’t spending any time in schools. I had lost touch with my audience and writing had become an intellectual exercise. I was trying to think up the book instead of accessing my target audience and asking what THEY thought, what THEY wanted, what THEY encountered.

I got up from my chair and drove over to my sons’ school. That day I interviewed several teachers, the principal, a guidance counselor, and a few of Tom and Andrew’s friends.

Sample questions included, “What do you do when a parent accuses you of not caring for their kid? What do you when teachers complain that they’re not getting paid enough (which is true)? What do you do when a fellow student bullies you?”

By the end of that day, my mind was filled with the angst, frustration, mini victories and mixed feelings of pride and powerlessness that are a fact of life for many educators and students.

I sat down to the computer that night and the incredibly compelling stories I had heard, the confrontations I had been told about, the insightful responses they shared poured out. One afternoon of re-connecting with my intended audience renewed my passion for my project and brought it alive – because I had gotten out of my head and into the world of my readers.

Has your creative project come to a screeching halt? Have the ideas dried up? The passion disappeared?

Perhaps you’ve allowed this project to become an intellectual exercise. Perhaps you’re grinding it out because you’ve got a deadline and you’ve become completely detached from your topic, audience, and purpose.

That doesn’t work because that’s isolated creativity. That’s simply purging what’s in your head – without intent. If your intent is simply to finish your project, you can accomplish that – but that won’t make it sing. You will have a completed project, but it will be lifeless and working on it will be joyless.

For creative work to become transcendent, we must have a clear intention of how it will deliver tangible value for people. We need to visualize individuals in our target audience and imagine how this project, product or program will solve a problem they’re facing. We need to get up from our chairs and go out into the field and talk with our readers and customers and ask what they think. Find out what keeps them up at night and then go back to work with their voices, issues and concerns in your mind so your project, program or product reflects and meets their needs.

Do you have a suggestion on how to keep those ideas coming? Have you developed a way to beat writers block? If you’re one of the first three people to share your idea-generating suggestion with these blog readers, I’ll send my CD I Can’t Believe I Wrote The Whole Thing to you, free.

  1. These are great suggestions–I found myself in a similar situation (and used a similar solution) when I graduated college and wanted to write a novel.

    When I was in college, I wrote all the time–in class, when I was supposed to be writing notes… After I’d been out of school for a few years, I’d sit myself down at the computer to write, and nothing would happen. I was completely frustrated–I finally had more time to write (while I was in school I worked two jobs and took extra classes to finish quickly) but wasn’t actually *doing* any writing.

    One day, I realized that writing in class had worked for me, not because I hadn’t had any other time to write (which was why I’d done it at the time), but because being in a lecture was oddly inspiring. Once I realized that, I signed up for a community college English class and happily wrote my way through each session.

    To this day, I still use this technique whenever I find myself stuck–I sign up for a class, or find a seminar, meeting (small town hall meetings are great, I’ve found), or other venue where someone will be talking for a couple hours, and I happily write for pages and pages.

    Thank you for sharing your writer’s block tools!


  2. My method is to take some time off!

    I sometimes get designer’s block when making new stencils for my shirts.

    Knowing that I am usually very creative and passionate about shirt designs gives me the confidence to put them aside until I feel compelled to design. The block is only temporary!

    Creative endeavors are supposed to be enjoyable and energizing. If they stop feeling that way, it’s best to step back until the spark reignites. Trust that it will!

  3. Thank you for the great tips. I am a staff writer for a trade publication in my industry and have to produce an article for each issue. When I get stuck for ideas, I read. Online, it’s blogs, articles, websites, etc. Offline, it’s books, magazine articles. I specifically look for information to read that is not in any way related to my field. I never copy but, as I read, new ideas are generated and some of my best writing has been the result.

    I think we sometimes get so tied into our our field, that we need to obtain new inspiration from those in other fields.

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